Suggestions for city based skill challenges.

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I'm planning to make this Sunday's game more role playing based, our last few have been very heavy roll play based combat as we practiced with the 4E powers and fighting.

The party is arriving in a city.  I have two ideas that I think will make decent challenges. 

One. They have a dragon hide they are looking to sell.  I was thinking of a simple challenge based on finding a merchant that deals in dragon hides.  With the results of the skill challenge flavoring how honest of a dealer they find.

Two. They don't know it yet, but they have a price on their head from an organization they have unknowingly thwarted a couple of times.  I'm thinking that this organization have framed the group for the death of a count in their home town, and that the city guards on looking for them to question about this matter.

As an appetizer, I'm planning to run a vignette where they play the guards getting the word to look out for this party coming to town.  Let them set up how the guards are dealing with the assignment, then that is what the party will have to handle when they arrive at the gate.

Comments, suggestions, ideas for another challenge or two I might work in?

Any Master's advice on how to organize and write up challenges to an apprentice DM would not go un-thanked either.

TIA
Ian
I'll work up a longer response when I have a chance, but in the meantime I invite you to post this question over at the 4e Skill Challenges group, community.wizards.com/skill_challenges_4...

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

For my two cents, I'm a bit of a sucker for having an ally/rooftop chase sequence though a city as a form of challenge.  This can be the party being chased.  An example being because they were set-up as in your option two.  This can also be the party chasing someone who has given the party sufficient reason to follow the person.   Another example  being a thief who nabbed their dragon hide (or a small enough but valuable portion of it to effectively run with) while they were researching places to sell it per your option one. 

The idea with many skill challenges is to look at the strengths of the party, and to place individual sub-challenges which mesh neatly with the various non-combat abilities the party has.  Also try not to make one challenge series only play to a single player's strengths.

I hope this helps.
I'm planning to make this Sunday's game more role playing based, our last few have been very heavy roll play based combat as we practiced with the 4E powers and fighting.

Sounds good. Here's something I like to remind people about though: Combat is not the opposite of roleplaying.

The party is arriving in a city.  I have two ideas that I think will make decent challenges.

One. They have a dragon hide they are looking to sell.  I was thinking of a simple challenge based on finding a merchant that deals in dragon hides.  With the results of the skill challenge flavoring how honest of a dealer they find.

Be wary of challenges that involve trust. A character might distrust someone even if every Insight check indicates no deception. Be prepared for the PCs simply to decide that they'll go with someone other than the dealer their skill checks indicate is the most honest.

If I may, what about just positing that their buyer is honest, but then put the bureaucracy and criminal elements in their way? Their buyer quotes a price, but can't make the transaction right away. They have to make it to the time and place of the trade without drawing too much attention to their commodity. If the government learns about it, they'll tax it or confiscate it. If the criminals find out, they'll pressure the buyer, or threaten to tell the government. Offer the PCs various legal (Hard DCs) and illegal (Easy DCs) ways to get their full price. Depending on how interesting you find that kind of thing, you could make it a series of challenges based on the Negotiation in the DMG.

Two. They don't know it yet, but they have a price on their head from an organization they have unknowingly thwarted a couple of times.

"That you did not know you stole from him is the only reason you are still alive...."

I'm thinking that this organization have framed the group for the death of a count in their home town, and that the city guards on looking for them to question about this matter.

That sounds interesting. Focus on what success and failure would mean. The big downer about city adventuring is the idea of having to be careful about laws or risk combat with the guards. I advise against going down that road. Don't make them choose, for example, between defending themselves, and obeying the law.

As an appetizer, I'm planning to run a vignette where they play the guards getting the word to look out for this party coming to town.  Let them set up how the guards are dealing with the assignment, then that is what the party will have to handle when they arrive at the gate.

That sounds interesting.

Comments, suggestions, ideas for another challenge or two I might work in?

I agree with the idea for a chase. The group I'm in just came into town and are involved in an investigation, so that might be fun. Research can be interesting.

Any Master's advice on how to organize and write up challenges to an apprentice DM would not go un-thanked either.

As I said, combat is not the opposite of roleplaying. Skill challenges (which many people equate with "roleplaying" are designed to fit right into combat, should you so choose. See Dungeon Delve 11-3 for an example. If they get into a fight in the city, add a skill challenge element to it, such as having to protect innocent by-standers, or having to negotiate during battle. Have failure complicate things and success simplify things.

Embrace the abstract: Don't worry about exact locations or timescales. Don't model every action; not everything they do will require a roll, and not every roll needs to matter directly to the challenge. Jump-cut to when and where things get interesting. Transition between separate teams at tense moments.

Focus on success and failure and the rest will follow: If your adventure stays interesting if they succeed and gets even more interesting if they fail, then you basically can't go wrong with any other aspect of the challenge. Pick the skills, DCs, and complexity that you think make sense and go. Players are players and they won't do what you expect, so don't expect victory or defeat. Make sure both are interesting.

Put the skill challenge on the offensive: Keep the world dynamic and give the players things to react to. If they're neglecting a challenge, or aren't sure what to do next, make something happen that makes it clear that events are unfolding and that they can get involved. You can also use this to sting the party when they put their most skilled member at the front of every check. If it's diplomacy, have an NPC ask a question directly of the strong, silent one. Have the runaway ox-cart be bearing down on the bookish PC. Don't force players to roll when they don't want to, allow them to narrate their way out if they want, but throw the glove down and see who takes up the challenge. Anyway, having an active challenge is just more fun to describe anyway.

Three related pieces of advice.

Don't worry too much about engaging every character with every challenge. At best, you wind up with challenges that have shoehorned in extra skills for no logical reason, just so every character can contribute. Stick with skills that are easy to justify, and then let the PCs justify the use of other skills which you can allow for a Hard DC and/or once per challenge, per the DMG. Most challenges only require a handful of skills in their write-ups.

Stay focused. Don't make a single challenge about staying incognito and searching the city. Make one challenge for each goal, or else they will, for example, wind up finding what they need by just staying hidden, or avoiding detection by looking around. It is possible to explain this sort of thing away, but some people find it jarring. Multiple smaller challenges help alleviate this, and you can have success or failure in one challenge modify another. Don't let them perform the challenges sequentially, make them perform them concurrently.

Give everyone one or more things to do. This may seem to run counter to the first bit of advice, but as I said these are all related. If you keep the challenges simple and focused then you can have more than one challenge active at one time, which increases the number of skills that can plausibly be brought to bear on the situation as a whole. Some PCs can be arranging the meet with the buyer, while others are trying to trick the local gang into being in another location. Etc.

Best of luck. I need to go slap this all into a blog post.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Combat is not the opposite of role playing.



We are aware that it is not, but the last couple of sessions ended up being very combat heavy.  This is also a concerted effort to practice the skill challenge aspect of the game.

Be wary of challenges that involve trust.



I'm thinking of framing the challenge about asking around, looking for and finding the buyer(s), not interrogating any particular one.  I.E.  They could choose to look for the above board, pillar of the merchant class buyer for the easy sell, but get less for the hide, or they could try to find the shadier side of the town for a less upstanding dealer that might be willing to "cut out the middle man" for a better price to the players.  The different branches involving different skills and risks.

That sounds interesting. Focus on what success and failure would mean. The big downer about city adventuring is the idea of having to be careful about laws or risk combat with the guards. I advise against going down that road. Don't make them choose, for example, between defending themselves, and obeying the law.



I'm planning to again offer two main branches, go above the board and deal with the bureaucracy, or go sneaky and try to hide from the guards, which could complicate the dealings to try and sell the hide, having to avoid patrols, etc.
Combat is not the opposite of role playing.



We are aware that it is not, but the last couple of sessions ended up being very combat heavy.  This is also a concerted effort to practice the skill challenge aspect of the game.

Glad to hear that. Too often "roleplaying" is used as shorthand for "non-combat" so I'm touchy.

The approaches you suggest sound good, and I'm glad to see you posted this over at the skill challenges group.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

What you could do to spice up the encounter with the merchant is use the skills to direct the PC's to a different merchant.

Diplomacy for initiating the discussion,
Bluff if the PC's are going to make out the Dragon Hide is something that it isn't.

Have the merchant offer low'ish and check on Insight tell's the players that he is holding back but despite his apparent indifference that he really want's it.

When pressed the merchant want's to buy the Hide but cannot afford it and he has a buyer for it at a much higher price, a local mage.
Knowledge Arcane or Streetwise for local knowledge on the mage.

Then the players 'hopefully' will either use the merchant to broker the deal or find the mage themselves.

The mage then tell's the group that he want's the hide but in order for the true value of the Dragon Hide there is a hidden ruin close by but the mage isn't inclined to dirty his hands but will pay the group to find a scroll contained within.

The mage can teleport the group to the ruins( or if you set them close enough just let the PC's ride) depending on level.

The ruins can then be protected by a hidden door (impossible to find) but a riddle in the first room will reveal the door.
Maybe a more complex puzzle where a group of mirrors need to be placed at particular positions in the room to direct a beam of light from an image of the sun to an image of the moon.
Maybe the moon and sun are shown in the wrong position and need to be moved ( Arcane to get the correct position of the sun and moon) maybe the image is also of a Religious story and again three of the figures, a paladin, an angel and a demon need to be moved( Religion to get the correct location).
Getting all the stone blocks of the figures, the sun and moon, requires an Athletics check and Endurance check( failure costs a healing surge as the character strains something, but a Heal check can remove the failure but not the healing surge lost).
Finally getting the position of the mirrors in the image correct is a Thievery check.

Once done the vault is open and the PC's can get the scroll and sell the Dragon Hide.

After the sale an ambush could be set up by someone hiring a group of local bravos, who if captured were hired in a particular Inn (Intimidate to question or Streetwise to find out where the bravos frequent). If the players ignore the attack have it happen again but a bit more serious.
At the Inn they can use Streetwise to blend in and ask discreet questions, Perception to listen to conversations and Insight to spot one figure who is watching the group Nervous, sliding out of the door.

This can lead to a brief fight as the group tries to follow him then a chase through the streets using Athletics to run faster to keep up, climb or jump obstacles, he gets onto the roof's and Acrobatics to follow leading to a final showdown as the fleeing man bumps into more friends and the PC's must defeat them to get to him.

Just a small suggestion.
 
 
What you could do to spice up the encounter with the merchant is use the skills to direct the PC's to a different merchant.

Diplomacy for initiating the discussion,
Bluff if the PC's are going to make out the Dragon Hide is something that it isn't.

Have the merchant offer low'ish and check on Insight tell's the players that he is holding back but despite his apparent indifference that he really want's it.

When pressed the merchant want's to buy the Hide but cannot afford it and he has a buyer for it at a much higher price, a local mage.
Knowledge Arcane or Streetwise for local knowledge on the mage.

Then the players 'hopefully' will either use the merchant to broker the deal or find the mage themselves.

The mage then tell's the group that he want's the hide but in order for the true value of the Dragon Hide there is a hidden ruin close by but the mage isn't inclined to dirty his hands but will pay the group to find a scroll contained within.

The mage can teleport the group to the ruins( or if you set them close enough just let the PC's ride) depending on level.

The ruins can then be protected by a hidden door (impossible to find) but a riddle in the first room will reveal the door.
Maybe a more complex puzzle where a group of mirrors need to be placed at particular positions in the room to direct a beam of light from an image of the sun to an image of the moon.
Maybe the moon and sun are shown in the wrong position and need to be moved ( Arcane to get the correct position of the sun and moon) maybe the image is also of a Religious story and again three of the figures, a paladin, an angel and a demon need to be moved( Religion to get the correct location).
Getting all the stone blocks of the figures, the sun and moon, requires an Athletics check and Endurance check( failure costs a healing surge as the character strains something, but a Heal check can remove the failure but not the healing surge lost).
Finally getting the position of the mirrors in the image correct is a Thievery check.

Once done the vault is open and the PC's can get the scroll and sell the Dragon Hide.

After the sale an ambush could be set up by someone hiring a group of local bravos, who if captured were hired in a particular Inn (Intimidate to question or Streetwise to find out where the bravos frequent). If the players ignore the attack have it happen again but a bit more serious.
At the Inn they can use Streetwise to blend in and ask discreet questions, Perception to listen to conversations and Insight to spot one figure who is watching the group Nervous, sliding out of the door.

This can lead to a brief fight as the group tries to follow him then a chase through the streets using Athletics to run faster to keep up, climb or jump obstacles, he gets onto the roof's and Acrobatics to follow leading to a final showdown as the fleeing man bumps into more friends and the PC's must defeat them to get to him.

Just a small suggestion.
 
 

Good suggestions, I can definitely incorperate many of these ideas into my larger story.

Now I just need to figure out how the think about these challenges and write them up to be used in the game tomorrow.


Trouble is, if you read the PHB it just gives very basic descriptions of the skills but reading the DMG and DMG 2 plus some experience with LFR adventures you start seeing the skills as much bigger than demostrated in the PHB.

Streetwise is as deep understanding of the common streets, people, alleys, sewer runs and can be used to convince someone of how they must help the common folk because they are short on food or turning to crime in desperation. It's not just a method of doing the Gather Information action from 3rd edition.

Now I try to use the skills in a much more involved way of the game.

One thing though, it's still a roleplay system and the player needs to roleplay the use of the skill.
For my two cents, I'm a bit of a sucker for having an ally/rooftop chase sequence though a city as a form of challenge.  This can be the party being chased.  An example being because they were set-up as in your option two.  This can also be the party chasing someone who has given the party sufficient reason to follow the person.   Another example  being a thief who nabbed their dragon hide (or a small enough but valuable portion of it to effectively run with) while they were researching places to sell it per your option one. 

The idea with many skill challenges is to look at the strengths of the party, and to place individual sub-challenges which mesh neatly with the various non-combat abilities the party has.  Also try not to make one challenge series only play to a single player's strengths.

I hope this helps.



DDi has an adventure Cross City Race you can use for just such an encounter.

As far as other city encounters, let's not forget the old tavern drinkin' contest!  Wink