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Aside

 

As you know, I love myself some maps, and I’ve recently developed a warm feeling for hexcrawls.

Dyson’s Dodecahedron has a nice little article up showcasing an example of one such map.

Hexcrawling north of Sabre Lake.

Hexcrawling north of Sabre Lake

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Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Adventure Site – Dhunraven, City on the Wildlands

As you know, I use this blog as a repository for my old, forgotten, unused, untested, or well loved DMing materials. I always thought it was a shame that most DMs let all their hard work vanish into obscurity – so I decided to share my notes publically.

On a whim, I figured I would compile the map and notes I had left over for a previous 4th ed. game I was running with friends who have long since moved to various corners of the world. An easy addition tot he blog – I’ll just compile and reformat some notes, touch up the grammar, add a few stat blocks and that will be that.

Oh, and I’ll provide stats for those using the D&D Next playtest too.

And, you know, a few more NPCs while I’m at it.

Turns out it became a major project that I just couldn’t relent on until it was in decent shape. Maybe a waste of time, maybe some good exercise in writing adventure sites. Maybe I’ll come back to it. Hopefully you’ll get some use out of it! The document covers Dhunraven as an adventure site (think of it as a mini campaign setting that can be slotted into a much larger overall game).

Dhunraven is inspired by one of my oft mentioned favorite low-level generic D&D adventures: The Dead of Winter. Since it was locked away on the Character Builder disc that came with the ORIGINAL 3rd edition PHB it isn’t easy to come by, but I just might have a little link to help you out, in case you are interested in the source material.

File Download —> Castle Dhunraven – City on the Wildlands

 
 

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Guest Post – Hexual Intercourse: Art of the Hex-Crawl

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A trusty mount – the hexcrawler’s best friend. Also, a delicious morsel for those 1d4 griffins following you!

A little while ago I sounded the horn for submissions, and they have started rolling in! Not every guest article will fit the usual MO for “Save Vs Weekend” but they’ll all be valuable for you to apply to your games in some direct way.

Our first post comes from a player and sometime DM from my own core group of gamers – guys I have been playing with since high school. He recently ran a short-term “hexcrawl” style game, and wanted to share some of the nuts and bolts of that style of play (A type of game I’m rather enamored of and intrigued by. It has a very “sandbox” world style. Your own little Skyrim at the table!). It was part of a phase we went through in which we tried going “back to basics” and exploring some tenets of the retro-cloned old-school…with mixed results.

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So, this is my summary for my hexcrawl game. I’m sharing the format with TheYoungKing despite the fact that he played in the game, so he’ll have to feign ignorance if we start it back up again. [He’ll also take the luxury of inserting the occasional comment in these brackets.] The Hexcrawl was a common game type in the 80s; they fell out of fashion but they’re system agnostic, and a blast to run if you’re used to completely plot driven games. In essence, the GM has a map, and you wander around on it. The best example I can think to explain it is Baldur’s Gate. You wander from area to area; there’s an overall theme (in Baldur’s Gate, it’s the Iron Shortage), but the vast majority of your encounters are random, or mini-quests. Here’s the basic outline of how I set up my game.

  • I started with a concept; in this case, the players were explorers. Really any type of plot could be factored in, the hexcrawl is much more of a setting than it is anything else.
  • I then built a large map in a program called “Hexographer“, from Inkwell Ideas. Each hex is (naturally) 6 sided, with a terrain type; i.e. mountains, plains, ocean, etc.
  • Using general principles of geography (i.e. which side of mountains have vegetation, rivers run downhill, etc.), I filled out my map with a few continents.
  • Now that I had continents with forests, rivers, and hills, I placed towns appropriately (i.e. near coasts, intersections of major rivers, etc), then supporting villages for those towns (i.e. within a day or two of travel to their “parent” town).
  • Now that I had my towns and villages mapped out, I drew borders of countries, based on obvious geographic limitations (i.e., most borders were either on major rivers or mountain ranges).
  • So now I’ve got a continent, with countries, and cities. You’ll notice I haven’t named anything yet; this is important.
  • In my opinion, the #1 time-waster in world-building is spending time creating content that your players will never see. To that end; I spent 20 minutes brainstorming country names, and placed those randomly. I then zoomed in on 1 particular village in 1 particular country, and named it. This was the seed of my first adventure. I then started mapping (i.e., adding content) for the hexes around that village (i.e. the village was raided by orcs, so traveling in nearby hexes has a risk of… running into orcs!)
  • I went to the next closest village. I named it, gave it a few inns, a blacksmith, and a temple. I named the temple and blacksmith, gave a general overview of their services. The inns I populated with rumors. Some of the rumors were false, some were tied to monsters in locations (i.e., there’s a basilisk southwest of here!), some were tied to dungeons (The abandoned barrows are haunted!).
  • I then populated the appropriate hex with the basilisk encounter; then wrote a short (5 room) dungeon for the “Dungeon” rumor. From there, I started going to other (i.e. potential choices of my players) villages, and filling them out similarly. At the same time, I started filling out the other hexes in their anticipated route of travel. Were there any monsters they may encounter?
  • So, at this point, I’ve got something like 100 hexes mapped with content. Probably 5-10 are villages or towns (towns are basically the same as villages, except they have a few more inns, and maybe a marketplace). I’ve also go 5-10 full on “dungeons”, where I wrote room descriptions, gave them a theme, populated them with monsters, and treasure. Another 5-10 of the hexes are the “encounters” I described, which effectively are just 1 room dungeons, i.e. a location and a challenge.
  • So that means of my 100 hexes, 70 or so are just random monsters the player could run into. Since I am mapping these iteratively, I’m able to make it so that the monsters are in similar areas, i.e. if you go to any of the hexes north east of a particular village, there’s a chance you’ll run into some goblins in the area. I don’t really have “random encounter charts”, thus far I’ve only tied 1 type of monster to each hex (just to save myself the work). Odds are, the players either run into that monster or they don’t. The players didn’t complain, because they’d travel enough that they may run into 4-5 different types of monsters in the general area.[The players DID complain when those monsters were manticores…but enough of my sulking…]
  • Next steps are to continue filling out towns and villages, which then feed me having to create content based on the rumors I come up with, which leads to more encounters and dungeons.
  • To keep track of all of this, each hex has a numeric code, i.e. 71.22. I then have an excel [Or numbers, or GoogleDrive, pick your poison], which I tie to that particular hex information. Hexographer’s Pro version allows you to write notes directly on hexes, so for non-dungeon tiles, I just use that. For my dungeons, I just use excel (GoogleDrive née GoogleDocs would also work).
  • I would not have been able to run this game without Hexographer, or the great guide available on the Alexandrian blog.

This type of game can be a lot of work. You can and will create content that your players will never see; the advantage of a plot driven game is that all your great encounters are on the rails, so the players face them no matter what [It’s also not impossible to hold onto some of those good ones and slot them in later. It violates the ethos of the sandbox world a bit – but anything in the name of fun is the right choice]. That said, it can even more rewarding when a trap you set 5 weeks ago comes into play; I’ll give an example.

My players were following up on a rumor that if they caught a fairy to the west of the town they were visiting, it would be forced to grant them one wish. The players outfitted themselves with nets [Do you know how much a cold-iron net costs?! A lot!], jars, and other “fairy-catching” equipment. However, they did not know they were pursuing a *false* rumor; the area to the west was actually lousy with bandits, who had started the rumor in the first place.

It was a while ago that I ran this game, and looking back there are several things I would have changed that would have added more flavor to the game.

First and foremost, I would have come up with some overarching plot. Baldur’s Gate without the iron shortage is rudderless; it also would have allowed me to plan a bit better which direction the players would have headed; instead of having to map in a circle outward, I would have had a better chance of mapping a “path” of hexes the players were likely to go through.

Second, I would have been much more mysterious about what was out there. In my rumors, I named specific monsters the players were likely to encounter; instead, I wish I had said there was a “dark force” or “an unknown evil”, describing what it had done. Keeping the mystery of the unknown is a key portion of any exploration based game.

Finally, I wish I had had more time between sessions. As a result of trying to keep a fairly rapid pace, the quality of my encounters suffered. I am not a great encounter planner, so I am afraid several of my dungeons were rather mundane as a result of having to plan several of them at once in a few weeks time. Getting something right rather than finished I think would have added an extra layer to my campaign. [This is where resources like the One Page Dungeon contest or…ahem…Save Vs Weekend come into play – they can be used to fill in coherent “random” dungeons or encounters to populate a larger world.]

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I’m of the opinion that 4th ed D&D is a perfectly feasible platform to run a hexcrawl. True, the resource management of 4th ed centering around encounters doesn’t particularly favor a model in which most conflicts occur only once a day, and night’s to rest in between run-ins are frequent. But that requires some slight modification tot he encounter format:

One method is to make travel encounters exclusively of the ‘Hard” and “Very Hard” variety. That way the players are almost always expending their dailies and relying on potions and other consumable resources, giving random encounters a significant impact, event hough the players will likely rest for 8 hours right after.

Another, (and perhaps the more favorable) implementation, is to always make overland travel a simple skill challenge: perhaps calling for rolls with every hex traveled. The particulars are up to the DM and various published adventures might have some insight, but generally calling for Endurance checks for each day travelled, and consuming healing surges when those checks fail (and allowing a small number of healing surges to be replenished while traveling overland) could easily create a resource tension in travel without requiring much tweaking of the original game. It stands to reason that resting on the hard ground in a chilly tent after 7 hours of forced march and resting in a soft, warm inn bed after strolling around town or slowly creeping through a dungeon would provide different levels of physical replenishment.

TL:DR – The hexcrawl…try it!

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Guest Post, Playtested

 

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Incidents – The Long, Cold, Road

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I know I’ve been a tad remiss in my posts of late, and did not want to leave you all hanging before the year switches over. This week’s post is a short one: just a few inserts to make travel in your game more interesting.

The horrid winter weather that has assaulted my native Cleveland got me nostalgic for last winter’s video game foray into Skyrim; so I took a brief detour from the games I should be playing right now. My character, battered, low on resources, and still leagues until she reached a settlement, happened upon a patrol of Imperial soldiers escorting a prisoner. They were heading in her direction, and so I decided to tag along for mutual protection. That’s the sort of organic encounter that made that game great, and its an element I think we tend to forget about the D&D world sometimes as we get wrapped up in our Encounter building. The world is full of other people, going about their day-to-day lives, and that can easily run up against your PC’s plans in any number of ways.

The road is a dangerous place and hardly empty of anyone but your PCs – but wether the random passers-by are going to alleviate or elevate the danger is another question entirely!

While traveling on a road between settlements, the PCs bump into fellow travelers who seem interested in accompanying them for mutual benefit. Roll 1d6 and conult the chart below:

1 – Two slimy looking merchants begin to tag along. They constantly and rudely pester the PCs to consider purchasing some of their wares, which are overpriced and shoddily crafted. When meal time comes, however, both prove to be magnificent cooks.

Time spent on the road with the merchants grants each PC who ate their meals a +1 bonus to their FORT defense until the end of their next combat encounter.

2 – A handful of dragonborn mercenaries offer to follow along with the party, sharing stories of battles fought and monsters slain. They appear to be very concerned with honor and decorum, and behave quite chivalrously, especially to any women present. After a couple nights of travels the PCs awake to find one of them is missing. Not far away, the mercenaries have the vanished PC, bound and held hostage, a blade to his or her neck. The mercenaries then attempt to ransom the captive back to his/her friends (insistently bartering for any mounts the PCs possess).

This tense standoff might end in a combat encounter, but bear in mind that the hostage PC will need to escape the bonds confining him/her before they can jump into the fray. The mercenaries are more interested in negotiating. Even then, clever or willful PCs might manage to trick or intimidate the dragonborn into yielding.

3 – Four young, brash men accompany a lovely young half-elf named Dara, explaining that they are escorting her as she flees from the cruelty of her foster parents to make a life for herself in the next town. Dara has secretly promised marriage to each of the cocky youths, insisting that the other men are “just friends” eager to help her make her journey. In all truth, Dara has no interest in marrying any of them, and merely enjoys the attention. None of them is particularly skilled at travel on the road, and it is clear they need the PCs aid and expertise more often than not.

When it is dramatically appropriate; a fight breaks out among the suitors, who have realized the ruse. Blades are drawn and the argument quickly escalates to near-violence. Though conscious of her manipulation, Dara ad no intention for the bluff to come to bloodshed, and desperately begs the PCs to intervene. If not, the young men, eager to prove their mettle to both the girl and the adventures, will fight until only one survives, badly wounded and in need of medical aid if he is to survive the fracas.

4 – Six individuals (each of a different race, and possibly culture) are taking to the road on a pilgrimage to a famous shrine (or so they claim). But from early on the PCs detect unease in their new companions – details are inconsistent, the six seem to know little about one another, and even less about this shrine. None are dressed as pilgrims, nor do they have the typical holy symbols and accoutrements one would expect. They make no violent or dangerous overtones, but exude an air of constant vigilance.

In truth, they are all refugees, escaped from a nefarious slave trader. They each made a go of settling down in the last town they came to, but their master posted a substantial reward on each of their heads. Having no friends or family, they banded together (their fear outweighing the poor sense of keeping themselves in one place, sweetening the deal for anyone who would re-capture them). The PCs might find out about this from the escaped slaves if pressed, or perhaps another roadside traveler imparts the information casually, not realizing that half the traveling companions ARE, in fact, the valuable escapees themselves.

5 – The PCs start to pass an old man and his donkey. The old-timer will beseech the PCs to permit him to follow along. But as they journey forward, it seems that the party is harried by unusually frequent attacks from monsters. The old man hold back, cowering during a fight. But in a moment of desperation, he unleashes a magical attack, coming to the aid of a beleaguered PC.

This man is a “Wild Mage,” an arcane caster who frequently loses control of his spells with often catastrophic (always random) results. While many of his kind learn to hone their chaotic skills, this poor old novice never quite got the hang of it. Unwittingly, he cast a curse upon himself that makes him smell and taste incredible to monsters – a fact that has made travel quite dangerous. If the PCs continue to allow him to tag along, they will be faced with frequent attacks unless they can remove the curse.

6 – An amiable Halfling jeweler is traveling in a wagon full of his wares, along with his family and a few rough looking guards. They offer to ride along with the PCs, and might even do some buying/trading if the need suits. While with the party, the jeweler tries on a new acquisition of his – a strange amulet that is covered in the iconography of a dead Goddess. The amulet appears to have no negative effects on his person.

Shortly after, the group stumbles into a bandit ambush. During the fight, the jeweler brings the amulet to bear on a fallen bandit or caravan guard, reanimating their corpse and using the resulting monster as a loyal underling. The jeweler, fascinated by the power, decides to keep the amulet, seeing nothing wrong with such a gift. It is hard to say if the artifact genuinely has any corrupting influence, or if it is simply a tool of great necromantic power. What the PCs decide to do, is up to them.

**In game terms, the item is a +2 Amulet of Wee-Jas. It can be used as an implement by clerics. As a Daily Power (Standard Action) it can reanimate one dead medium humanoid into an undead creature of the corpse’s level (This creature is either a standard or minion monster. The kind of monster is up to DM discretion. Undead made in this way are under absolute control of the current wielder of the amulet. These undead remain functioning until destroyed.)**

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Incidents, Not Playtested

 

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Incidents – Prisoner Exchange

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Circumstances
While traveling along a road

Event
The PCs come across two armed bands – one of elves, the other dwarves – screaming at one another and on the verge of violence. It seems the elves are hunters searching the wilds for dangerous monsters and more common game. The dwarves are a rag-tag local (and unsanctioned) militia who insist that the hunters are instead spies for the nearest elven community (this is actually true, though the dwarves came to this conclusion by suspicion rather than evidence. Besides which the elves would claim to be on a “fact finding mission” rather than admit to conducting any actual espionage).

Hostilities broke out between the two groups a few days ago and while nobody was killed, some on both sides were wounded, and hostages were taken. Tentatively, messengers on both sides approached to make arrangements for a prisoner exchange. The Pcs have stumbled into the middle of this negotiation, which has rapidly deteriorated. This might be the last straw, and if the PCs do not intervene – either to end negotiations amicably or to choose one side over the other – then the confrontation will likely end in mortal combat.

When roleplaying this encounter, be a real jerk. Both sides are hot tempered, angered at previous offenses both real and perceived, and behaving very childishly in an effort to squeeze out the better deal – out of pride if for no other reason. Take reasonable arguments and twist them around, throw out will accusations, set up straw man arguments, make ad homonym attacks – behave in a way that would make any Speech and Debate class professor twitch.

Have combat stats for both sides ready, and balance them so that either party would be a moderate challenge to the party. There is the possibility that the PCs could screw things up so catastrophically that both parties turn on them – making this combat a real challenge indeed. Otherwise they will be aiding either the elves or dwarves in a rather one sided engagement – which will hopefully be an appropriately hollow victory. After all, neither side has evil intentions; they’re just idiots.

Possible EXP and Rewards
Grant the party experience equal to a monster of their level. Treasure would be an unlikely outcome of this negotiation (though if it ends in combat, the loot might be significant). However, the PCs could easily earn some favorable opinions on one or both sides of the conflict; potentially leading to access to a community that is usually chilly to outsiders. Members of a satisfied party might serve as contacts in the future or provide information and leads to the PCs current or future quests.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Incidents, Not Playtested

 

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Incidents – The Lake-maiden’s Lament

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Cuircumstances
While passing a lake

Event
The party spots a blonde half-elven girl, gorgeous and naked, standing thing deep in the frigid waters and looked dazed. Her skin is pale, her lips blue, and her long hair is snaked with pond-weeds and algae. She mumbles something about a tipped boat, and repeatedly states how cold she is, her striking eyes beseeching the nearest male (or receptive female) character for comfort. This sad, lost soul is a Rusalka – a reanimated young woman who was the victim of drowning, and is now cursed to drag her would-be rescuers down to a similar fate.

Any who approach within arm’s length she will reach out to and hug for warmth, crying into their shoulder and apologizing as she drags them under the water with a vise-like grip.

The Rusalka
Though a monster, and very dangerous, the Rusalka poses little threat in open combat, and as such does not require a full stat block, but a few rules to keep in mind in case they come up:

  • AC 10 + player level, FORT 10 + player level, REF 10 + player level + 2, WILL 10 + player level +3
  • The Rusalka is treated as a minion, having only one Hit Point. If she is destroyed, but her soul has not been properly laid to rest, she will reappear in 1d10 weeks, ready to claim another sympathetic passerby.
  • If threatened, the Rusalka sinks into the water and vanishes, refusing to reappear to any of the PCs who were present again.
  • The Rusalka will not chase down a target, but any victim who comes near arms reach will be caught by her (she lashes out lightning quick, no attack roll necessary). The PC caught by the Rusalka is considered grabbed and restrained. At this point, the Rusalka has supernatural strength, and no amount of pulling or aid will detach her as she drags the victim below the water to drown them. The Rusalka will let go if she is destroyed by violence. Clever players who attempt to use some means of escape (tying a rope around their waist) will find that the rope snaps, or if an appendage is bound, that extremity might even be pulled off!
  • When adjudicating this creature, keep in mind the Rusalka is bound to drown her victim, and is given inexorable strength by the curse that keeps her inn this world. There is no malicious intent.
  • Rules for suffocation are on page 159 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Finishing the Unfinished Business
The players have the opportunity to set the Rusalka’s cursed spirit free and letting her move on to a natural death. Let the player’s creativity win out here, even if their resolution is simple and requires little work – if it rings true, it is the right answer. They are doing an act of kindness for a pitiful girl who had no intentions of becoming a monster. Some suggested resolutions to the curse are listed below:

  • Using a skill challenge to convince the Rusalka she has passed and must move on of her own accord. Keep the complexity on the lower end, ideally 1 or 2. Suggested skills: Diplomacy, Insight, Nature, History, Religion, Arcana, Bluff.
  • A divine character could use their Channel Divinity power, in conjunction with a Religion, Hard check to purify the girl’s spirit and end the curse.
  • Swimming to the bottom of the lake, a PC would find a few pieces of the Rusalka’s jewelry from when she was alive, still mostly intact. These might jolt her into the realization that she has not passed on properly, or provide a bonus in any skill challenge made to do the same.
  • The Rusalka appears in many forms in various culture’s folklore, and interpreting her as a spirit rather than a corporeal undead is also a valid approach. In this case, showing the sad creature her own remains would convince her that she is dead, and allow her to pass on.
  • Finding any of the girls still-living relatives and bringing them here would also help the Rusalka to move on. A mother, sister, or perhaps even a husband or fiance. The girl may have drowned a few years ago, or her last kin might be long grey and wrinkled and still troubled by their lost loved one. It might be particularly poignant to have a family member offer themselves up as a sacrifice, embracing the Rusalka and giving her the warmth and comfort she needs as they both vanish beneath the rippling lake forever.
  • Though undead, the tragic nature of the Rusalka and her attachment to a body of water is much in affinity with the hearts of many fey creatures. If the PCs could convince a dryad, nymph, woodland spirit or other potent fey to take pity on her, they might release the girl of her curse.

Possible Rewards and Experience
It is possible that as the PCs turn to leave, they hear a tiny metal clinking, and find a piece of jewelry the Rusalka owned in life, now enchanted – a sign of gratitude for lifting the curse.

This Incident should be worth EXP equivalent to a single monster of the player’s level +1.

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Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Incidents, Not Playtested

 

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Incidents – Dwarven S&R

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A friend of mine and I were discussing his campaign when he noted a lack of “things” for his players to do around town or while traveling on the road. Now sure, there are no dearth of random encounter tables of all shapes and sorts and sizes…but what kind of gamer would I be if I didn’t eschew all those years of painstaking writing and playtesting to jot out my own ideas? Unsolicited I started weaving together a list of “incidents” for his players to run into while en route to bigger and better things.

Don’t get me wrong, I like 4th Edition D&D a great deal. But I sometimes feel that the organized and structured streamlined sexiness of the system leaves out a lot of the excitement of not knowing that is part of why tabletop games are so great. Random tables don’t exist so DMs have an excuse to throw unreasonable challenges at their players – they exist to add a little mystery and suspense to the game. And after all, D&D is in part about exploration, which is all about mystery and suspense. Combat encounters and Skill Challenges are great ways to keep scenes moving smoothly and resolving them in a satisfying way – but sometimes their rigid structure doesn’t account for all the possibilities, or doesn’t encourage the players to really stretch their problem solving muscles. This is primarily where I wanted the “Incidents” to head. Somewhere between a full on encounter and a simple plot hook was where they would dwell.

Well I’ve been sitting on a few pages of them and I got antsy. Not to mention the fact that I feel a tad guilty leaving you all hanging for so long while I penned a fairly rudimentary (if complete!) adventure last month – So I decided to start posting these Incidents halfway through the week as a regular segment, to tide you over till the usual full encounter.

They are a little sparse, and will rarely have much in the way of game stats (making them useful for other editions and other games) but will hopefully give you some inspiration to get your characters involved in the game world beyond “I hit the monster with a sword, then History the crap out of this talking statue.”

Dwarven S&R

Circumstances
The PCs are traveling overland, and near a river.

Event
The players hear loud shouts from upstream. The noise is coming from two dwarf scouts, calling out desperately to their friend. The trio was panning for gold when their partner fell from an escarpment and banged his head, leaving the dwarf unconscious as he is washed down river. The dwarves are shedding burdens and hustling after their companion, but time is short, and the PCs are much closer to the wounded gold hunter.

Possible Resolutions
Though the emphasis should be on problem solving and how to safely remove an injured person from a raging river with the tools available, this situation could also call for a short skill challenge. Given the dire circumstances, you may elect to allow only one failure, or raise all DCs to hard. Regardless, a challenge of Complexity 1 or 2 would be all you need. Suggested skills are:

  • Athletics
  • Acrobatics
  • Endurance
  • Heal
  • Nature

Leader classes should also be allowed to use their minor action heal power or other “healing” keyword capabilities to contribute somehow.

Possible Rewards and Experience
The dwarves are grateful for anyone who could save their friend, though a failed attempt, no matter how valiant, might be met with their distraught admonishment.

Grateful dwarves would solemnly part with some of the gold they found, or perhaps even some gems that came up while searching for minerals. Since they have been camping in the area for a while, they likely know rumors about the region. If your campaign has any major organizations who might employ dwarven scouts, this rescue could be used to curry favor with the group.

This Incident should be worth EXP equivalent to a single monster of the player’s level.

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