Friday, July 24, 2009

Rewriting Skill Challenges

I like skill challenges... when they work. I've been through a few that were fairly drab or didn't make sense or a few that were incomprehensible. Now, most of the "packaged" skill challenges that I've seen have been from Dungeon's Scales of War Adventure path. Due to the creativity of the multiple authors that have contributed to the series, I've seen many different spins. some have worked better than others.

My take on skill challenges is that series of small skill challenges work better than one large one, so when I looked at the "Walls Come Tumbling Down" challenge in Beyond the Mottled Tower, I think it needs a re-write. The basic premise of the challenge is that an inn is collapsing due to an apparent earthquake and the PC's need to save the Inn's patrons and themselves before the inn collapses.

Now the interesting thing about the challenge is the sequence of events that happen during the collapse of the inn. Here are a few things that are described as part of the collapse:
  1. A patron is hit on the head by a falling beam.
  2. A patron is trapped under rubble.
  3. A terrified patron hides under a table and needs to be convinced to out.
  4. The floor collapses, trapping PC's and patrons.
  5. There's a fire.
  6. The whole building will collapse in 7 rounds.
The presentation of the events piles everything into two groups: one complex skill challenge with 12 success required before 3 failures, and a time line of events. As well the reward/drawback for the outcome of the challenge is a little bit non-sensical. If you succeed at saving the inn's patrons - you get some extra time to save a villager outside the inn, but of you fail (eg if you leave the inn without saving the patrons) you get less time.

I'd rather run this as a set of simpler skill challenges - with any round not getting a success toward one of the challenges counting as a failure. The challenges would each have their own reward/drawback - and it's not going to be time.

The four challenges would be:
  1. Starting on round 1: the drunken patron struck on head; athletics, heal; on success drunk patron is saved; reward: potions
  2. Starting on round 2: terrified and trapped patrons: athletics, diplomacy, intimidation, insight; on 5 success all villagers are safely out; reward: saved villagers help with fire in this and next encounter
  3. Starting on round 3: crumbling floor: athletics, acrobatics; on success patrons that have fallen into the basement escape; on 3 successes villagers in hole are saved: reward: saved villagers aid in rescuing villagers and PC stuck in collapsed building
  4. Starting on round 4: fire: athletics; in 3 successes the fire is out; reward barkeep reveals knowledge.
  5. Collapse of building - not a skill challenge - rounds 6 and 7 is the last chance to save any patrons trapped inside.
Perception checks may be made to notice new events as they happen (possibly providing a bonus). The general penalty for failure is enmity from the villagers, and lack of help from them in the upcoming (combat) encounter.

I'll see how the challenge runs this weekend.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


It has been a while.

I've been running two D&D 4e campaigns and have resorted to using Dungeon adventures for all of them. My Sunday group has been playing "The Last Breaths of Ashenport", which is an 8th level Cthulu-esque adventure. And I've been bringing my Saturday group through the Scales of War campaign from Dungeon as wel. Even using prepared adventures, the preparation time investment to running all these is enough to suck up my time and not allow for much that's original, or all that interesting to write about.

No more! Things, they are a changing. I've been hinting (complaining) about it for long enough that *two* of my players have stepped up to try their hand at dungeon mastering. So I'm now a player! This makes me happy.

For the Sunday group, I have "about 2 months" of a break according to my new DM while he goes through an original adventure that he's been working on. It's a Celtic, Dark Ages themed, low magic campaign. I'm playing Carric, a 1st level paladin - who's acquired his Divine magic by being possessed/ridden by a spirit/demon. It's an interesting take on the nature of magic, reminding me of "The Curse of Chalion".

For the Saturday group, I'm trading off every second week with one of my players who is running "Keep on the Shadowfell". I'm semi-familiar with that adventure based on forum discussions I read back in the early days of 4e, but I'm hazy enough on the details that it's still a refreshing play through. I've been playing Pallas, a 1st level eladrin tactical warlord for that adventure. He technically died in the first session (4 level 1 characters going up against the Irontooth fight is pretty bad, we narrowly avoided a TPK). He's got a pass though, so he's made a miraculous recovery, despite the fact that nobody but me has either any healing powers nor the ability to roll a 15 on a heal check... whatever. I'd have been more than happy to roll up a new character, but in the interests of continuity, Pallas lives.

The result of all this is that I'm having fun playing, and I have *one* adventure to DM every second Saturday. Which gives me lots of time to stray off the written adventure path for the Scales of War campaign that I'm DMing every second Saturday. I think I may add a little divergence to next week's game. I'm thinking Zombies!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Vengeance is Theirs!

Last week, our heroes, comprised of:

Aeldrick, 6th level Human Warlord
Minos, 6th level Minotaur Fighter
Rendrill, 6th level Halfling Rogue

having discovered the connection between the dragons Dre and Oran returned by boat to the port of Shinar in Prolia where they went to report their findings to King Yutsen and met up with

Lindark, 6th level Elf Cleric

Lindark is being played by Voden's player, and is a Dex/Wis based Cleric with some Ranger powers and archery.

While Aeldrick and the rest of the party went to confer with the King about their plans for dealing with the "Dragons" Minos, his usual boisterous self went to recruit some help at the bar, where he met up with a loudmouth warrior/knight named Gaston. (Think of Disney's Beauty and the Beast's (no one fights like Gaston!) combined with a little bit of "The Tick") Anyway, Gaston has heard of Minos and his great exploits with the party, and insisted on joining up. Gaston was modeled as a level 1 Soldier - decent AC and attack for a level 1 NPC and 25 hit points (20 AC, longsword attack +6 vs AC; d8+3 ).

After spending a day and night in Shinar, the party headed out on the road toward Derros and the tower where they met the Dragons before.

There was much discussion of just how to deal with the Dragons, who up till now were summoned to the tower with a silver bell. A few minutes after the bell at their door was rung, one of the dragons always answered, and the party was welcomed into a cold-but-warming room withe a freshly lit fire, which looked un-lived in. They argued about whether they should scout out the tower before approaching. They argued about whether they should ring the bell at all or try to break in the front door, and they also argued about what tactics they should use. All this went pretty much nowhere except for one thing. Because they expected that their opposition must have some illusion or shape-changing ability, so they created a challenge response code of two numbers which should add up to 5. So if they suspected that Minos was not himself they'd say "three" and Minos would have to say "two" to prove that he was himself. Minos barely was able to comprehend this, and it was *way* over Gaston's head.

Ultimately the party and Gaston decided to trundle up to the front door and ring the bell, which began the first combat encounter of the evening.

From the ground, rose a group of undead. 2 Ghouls, 2 Corruption Corpses (zombies that use ranged necrotic attacks), and 1 Zombie Brute (a powerful Ogre-sized zombie). Gaston, arrogant and overconfident way beyond his experience immediately charged the Zombie Brute, the biggest and meanest looking target in the battle, and proceeded to get walloped by it while the party both attempted to keep Gaston alive, and to deal with the undead.

Everyone survived although Gaston got a Healing Word, a Cure Light Wounds and several temporary hit points from Sacred Flame from Lindark and still came near death almost every round.

After resting from the initial combat (all the while wondering if they'd be attacked by ambushing Dragon-pretenders) the party decided to try to get into the tower. Rendrill attempted to pick the lock - and failed despite a spectacular Thievery skill check. Minos got out his axe and began chopping down the very solid looking front door, which surprisingly was bust-in after only a couple of hits.

Cautiously the party entered, to search the empty-seeming premises.
  • The party admonished Gaston, out of healing surges and wounded from the last battle, to stay outside and rest. Being near-death he complied.
  • The party found the main room as they'd seen it before. There was small kitchen area, with a fireplace for a hearth fire (unlit), a door leading to a stairway to the cellar, a comfortable sitting area with several chairs surrounding a lit fire, and a wide stone stairway leading higher into the tower.
  • Minos guarded the main floor, while Rendrill decided to scout the second floor and the rest of the party checked the cellar. Stepping off the last step onto the second floor, Rendrill fell through the floor - which was apparently illusionary.
  • Un-phased, Rendrill joined Aeldrick and Lindark in the basement.
  • Unbeknown to the party exploring the tower, Oran the "Elite Succubus" snuck up on the wounded Gaston resting outside, slayed him and mimicked his appearance.
  • Oran, appearing as Gaston, wandered into the Tower claiming to feel ready for combat. Minos, unsuspecting, tried to convince him to take it easy and keep himself safe and was open to a surprise attack by Oran who used "Charming Kiss" on him.
  • The party discovered nothing downstairs except for a few sacks of root vegetables. Returning to the main level the party began searching the main floor more closely.
  • Upon returning upstairs, Oran (still appearing as Gaston) dominated Minos into attacking Aeldrick when was heading out the front door - and would have seen Gaston's body.

Oranthidirian Level 9 Elite Controller (Based on Succubus)
Medium immortal humanoid (devil, shape-changer) XP 800
Initiative +8 Senses Perception +8; dark vision; HP 180; Bloodied 90
AC 25; Fortitude 17, Reflex 23, Will 25 Resist 20 fire, Saving Throws +2
Action Points: 1 Speed 6, fly 6
(Basic Melee) Corrupting Touch (standard; at-will); +14 vs. AC; 1d6 + 6 damage.
(Melee) Charming Kiss (standard; at-will) ; Charm; +14 vs. AC; on a hit, the succubus makes a secondary attack against the same target. Secondary Attack: +12 vs. Will; the target cannot attack the succubus, and if the target is adjacent to the succubus when the succubus is targeted by a melee or a ranged attack, the target interposes itself and becomes the target of the attack instead. The effects last until the succubus or one of its allies attacks the target or until the succubus dies. If the target is still under the effect of this power at the end of the encounter, the succubus can sustain the effect indefinitely by kissing the target once per day. The succubus can affect only one target at a time with its charming kiss.
Dominate (minor; at-will) ; Charm; Ranged 5; +12 vs. Will; the target is dominated until the end of the succubus’s next turn.
Major Illusion (minor; at-will) ; Illusion; The succubus can take on the appearance of any creature of size tiny to huge, including a unique individual, and can also make convincing insubstantial illusionary areas that fool all five regular senses. (Insight DC 25, to detect)
Alignment Evil Languages Common, Supernal
Skills Bluff +15, Diplomacy +15, Insight +13
Str 11 (+4) Dex 18 (+8) Wis 19 (+8)
Con 10 (+4) Int 15 (+6) Cha 22 (+10)

The combat with Oran was a fairly long affair, fought around the "sitting area" of the main floor. Oran maintained "Charming Kiss" on Minos through the entire fight (nobody attacked him and he stayed away from Oran through most of the fight) and each turn Oran used a minor action to dominate Rendrill into attacking Aeldrick (and usually succeeded due to his low willpower). The dual leaders (Aeldrick and Lindark) were enough to weather the onslaught, and as Oran was deciding that it was time to flee by flying away the heroes managed to slay her.

After Oran's death, the illusion of the tower dissolved in to the ruins of a stone cottage, the party found a magical longbow which Lindark will use, and some crumpled vellum papers with Infernal writing which the party will attempt to extract more clues about the location of Dre and what he's been up to .

At the end of the session, Rendrill's player mentioned that he was wondering why I had everybody make Insight rolls the first time the entered into the Dragon's tower. And now he knows why. Nodding sagely, I smiled and said nothing. In fact, I don't remember making the players check their Insight. It's the type of thing I do every once in a while just to keep them guessing. I hadn't really decided what was going to happen with the Dragons at that point, but it seems my trixy DM ways have everybody convinced that this betrayal had been planned since we started playing this campaign six months ago. I see no need to reveal that they're over-estimating my planning which is rarely more that two session ahead of them. :)

Speaking of planning, I need to do some soon. I imagine the party will have to deal with Gaston's body. I'm curious about how they will do so, because Gaston was an errant son of a powerful Empire noble. There may be consequences for being involved in his death (maybe assasins?) - or he may be back from the dead (not everybody get Raised from the dead, but being a rich noble helps). Gaston was a fun NPC. I'll be wanting to expand on how they deal with Gaston's death at the beginning of next session, which will be this weekend.