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.