Confusion about Dark Sun - Skill Challenges and Desert Survival

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I've been reading up on Dark Sun, and a few aspects confuse me.

First, I don't get the advantage of traveling at night, but that may be because I'm not understanding the rules. It sounds like you can spend a survival day to have no negative consequences from traveling, but only during the day, while if you travel at night you're always at risk of losing a surge. If you don't spend a survival day, then during the day you're at risk of sun sickness, while at night you're not, but sun sickness makes a fortitude attack that can cost you a healing surge while traveling at night still can cost you a healing surge, so the point seems moot. What is the advantage to traveling at night? Also, is there warm clothing or the like that can protect you at night?

Second, if I'm running a skill challenge that involves desert survival like Guiding a Caravan or Surviving the Desert, should I also impose a risk of sun sickness, or is that subsumed into the way the skill challenge is put together already? Should Nature checks to forage add to the skill challenge successes as well as provide survival days?

Third, any other cool skill challenges out there for Dark Sun, besides in the Campaign Setting itself? I'd especially be interested in something for making weapons, since I'm considering an adventure that involves plopping the characters in the middle of the desert unarmed (or possibly unarmed except for a bone dagger, if that's more workable).
i haven't really messed with survival rations. to make the system a little more streamlined i just use sun sickness attacks during the day, and increase monster chances during the night. if the party is a group of proper adventurers with access to the necessity's i would assume there SAK has clothing for both night and day traveling. if not, i would just refluff sun sickness into a night time version that uses cold instead of heat.

as far as a penalty to skill challenges, i would base that decision on how the party RP's the skill challenge. and yes, i would allow for nature (or any other skill the party has a good reason to use) in addition to the base skills. maybe only to give a bonus/penalty to the core skills.

a quick google search for 4e skill challenges will turn up a ton of premade challenges that can be refluffed and adjusted to fit virtually every scenario.
heres a fantastic resource on skill challenges.
www.critical-hits.com/features/skill-cha...
i have used city ablaze and it went quite well. looking forward to trying many more off this page.
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />as far as a penalty to skill challenges, i would base that decision on how the party RP's the skill challenge.



Could you clarify this? How would RP change whether or not the skill challenge was designed assuming that sun sickness was going to be dealt with alongside it? What sort of RP would make foraging only give a success on a skill challenge vs. giving a survival day?

Thanks for the skill challenge resources. The prison break one seems of interest.
I've always read the rules as suggesting that Survival Days mitigate the normal dangers of travel, whether by day or night. You can alter that to fit your preference, of course. By default, the system encourages PCs to carry 1 survival day for each day of expected travel, and if they are unsupplied they face one of the dangers depending on whether they travel by day or by night.

When it comes to skill challenges for traversing the open desert, I like to make mine event driven and to keep things a bit unpredictable with regards to what might happen to survival days. For example, on day 3 some event might present the chance that survival days would be lost. This could be a sandstorm, where some number of survival days can be spoiled by the sand (depending on amount of success/failure), or it might be an attack by monsters targeting and consuming survival days, or it might be traders/raiders demanding survival days.

We've taken a few different approaches at skill challenges in the Ashes of Athas campaign adventures and you can also see some of my blogs for my home campaign here, should they help.

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I've always read the rules as suggesting that Survival Days mitigate the normal dangers of travel, whether by day or night. You can alter that to fit your preference, of course. By default, the system encourages PCs to carry 1 survival day for each day of expected travel, and if they are unsupplied they face one of the dangers depending on whether they travel by day or by night.



Ah ok, that makes more sense. It seems sort of poorly worded, and I'm still a bit worried that the choice between "Fort Attack or lose a Surge" and "Endurance Check or lose a Surge" isn't especially meaningful, but this at least clears things up.


When it comes to skill challenges for traversing the open desert, I like to make mine event driven and to keep things a bit unpredictable with regards to what might happen to survival days. For example, on day 3 some event might present the chance that survival days would be lost. This could be a sandstorm, where some number of survival days can be spoiled by the sand (depending on amount of success/failure), or it might be an attack by monsters targeting and consuming survival days, or it might be traders/raiders demanding survival days.

We've taken a few different approaches at skill challenges in the Ashes of Athas campaign adventures and you can also see some of my blogs for my home campaign here, should they help.



I guess what I'm asking is, when you're running a "traversing the desert" skill challenge, do you also require the players to have enough survival days for the normal length of the journey, or do you just cost them survival days when they fail checks in the challenge?

In particular, I'm kind of curious about the Surviving the Desert skill challenge. It's already got a bunch of mechanics for losing healing surges, I'm wondering if I should impose sun sickness on top of that (since the players would be going in unsupplied and thus without survival days). And if I am imposing that, then would a Nature check to gain a success in the skill challenge by foraging also give them a survival day like normal foraging, or should they have to do two checks to accomplish both?
I guess what I'm asking is, when you're running a "traversing the desert" skill challenge, do you also require the players to have enough survival days for the normal length of the journey, or do you just cost them survival days when they fail checks in the challenge?

In particular, I'm kind of curious about the Surviving the Desert skill challenge. It's already got a bunch of mechanics for losing healing surges, I'm wondering if I should impose sun sickness on top of that (since the players would be going in unsupplied and thus without survival days). And if I am imposing that, then would a Nature check to gain a success in the skill challenge by foraging also give them a survival day like normal foraging, or should they have to do two checks to accomplish both?


I take a very different approach to skill challenges. First and foremost, I try to get away from the dice and the name of the skills ("This thing happened, everyone give me a Dungeoneering check") and to the story.

The PCs are traveling from one place to another. How supplied they are should be their decision, based on their legwork, which I try to weave into the adventure. They might be seeking something, and in unearthing clues they might also learn about the voyage. Then I think about what they might encounter. I look at the map and the terrain, consider travel routes, think about cool monsters and encounters I have been wanting to use.

If they are well stocked and the terrain is normal, and they've already experienced some desert skill challenges, there might be no skill challenge at all. Some trips are uneventful. (And running a skill challenge every time becomes boring for players.) If I thought a skill challenge made sense, I would probably construct the skill challenge as a backdrop overarching the travel. Something like this:

- Trip takes x days
- Each day, no checks unless run out of survival days. Each day consumes a survival day. Exceptions noted below.
- Day 1: Encounter NPCs, role-playing, decisions can impact skill challenge (maybe lose Survival Days in a bet, maybe trade for stuff, maybe have them stolen, etc.)
- Day 3: Encounter with monster, and monster might have attacks that can damage survival days.
- Day 4: Check again to see if survival days are now an issue.
- Day 5: Sandstorm or unusually hot weather, further reduces number of survival days (maybe they need 2 each day)
- Day 7: might have an optional encounter, such as nests of giant Athasian bees, where PCs could collect survival days at high risk.
- etc.

Does that make sense? In general I try to create a story around how these survival days end up being used and how the terrain is threatening them.

My problem with the Surviving the Desert skill challenge in the book is that it starts with skills as a menu and then somehow is supposed to convey accomplishment ("Hey, you are out of survival days for some reason. What skills do you want to use? You can choose from a-z. Ok, since you chose Athletics and succeeded, that means you jumped over rocks.").

I would rather break up the ideas in that skill challenge and let players react naturally. After the monster destroyed half of their survival days, they continue on their journey. As the sun climbs it becomes unusually hot, and up ahead a line of tall rock blocks their progress. What does the party do? They might climb it (using skills, magic, whatever), or might go around (perhaps using Nature to track what others do, etc.), or surprise you by doing something else. The result of that may be skill checks or something else, but in your mind as a DM can be a "success/failure" on the skill challenge. And as the players take a stake in their actions, they head further down that skill challenge as part of a narrative. They climb up the wall and now see the bee hive. They decide to go for it, but it goes poorly. They might use skills such as Health or Endurance to deal with the bee stings as they continue on. The "Setbacks" in the skill challenge might become additional events based on success, or just to add flavor.

Hopefully that makes sense. At a very simple level, my suggestion would be to move away from having a skill challenge be a list of skills and each day the players select skills and roll. Instead, create a story or the trip and have the events create opportunities for skill use and other options. Success and failure of those events drives, dynamically, what happens, based on your judgment. Very simply, the trip can consume more or fewer skill challenges and take longer or shorter. At a more complex level, success and failure can link into many aspects of your campaign, tie to PC backstory, or create special events you create on the fly. Practice with a few simpler ideas and explore options from there.

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Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

^^ Thats what i mean ;)
First, I don't get the advantage of traveling at night, but that may be because I'm not understanding the rules. It sounds like you can spend a survival day to have no negative consequences from traveling, but only during the day, while if you travel at night you're always at risk of losing a surge. If you don't spend a survival day, then during the day you're at risk of sun sickness, while at night you're not, but sun sickness makes a fortitude attack that can cost you a healing surge while traveling at night still can cost you a healing surge, so the point seems moot. What is the advantage to traveling at night? Also, is there warm clothing or the like that can protect you at night?


I've always found that a bit confused. I feel they tried to do too many things without letting them interact with each other. I just rule if they use a survival day then they don't get sun sickness, unless it's unusually bad weather.

I guess what I'm asking is, when you're running a "traversing the desert" skill challenge, do you also require the players to have enough survival days for the normal length of the journey, or do you just cost them survival days when they fail checks in the challenge?

I personally would charge them a day - just like if they were travelling through some lovely woods in Eberron they would still be eating rations while doing a skill challenge to find the Hidden Temple.

Could you clarify this? How would RP change whether or not the skill challenge was designed assuming that sun sickness was going to be dealt with alongside it? What sort of RP would make foraging only give a success on a skill challenge vs. giving a survival day?

RP is most of the skill challenge I think, so depending what the story of the skill challenge is, the merchants might be giving them supplies (as an example), or the PCs may be transporting prisoners, so the PCs may give out additional survival days to keep the prisoners alive.

The way I do skill challenges is "here is the situation at this point in time, what do you do?" For example: The caravan they are protecting comes across some of the road reclaimed by the Silt Sea, and cannot cross. One character may suggest using their athletics to jump across with a rope. Another player suggesting using Perception to estimate how deep the silt is, another could use dungeoneering to make a quick bridge, another use nature to calm the inix. Everyone rolls, success/fail happens for that round, and then we move on. Next situation appears - maybe 5 minutes later, maybe 3 days later in character. I think it allows people to play to their character concept, and forces each player to involve their character in the event. Regardless of success/failure, we narrate the results and that bit is over.
You never want to travel through the desert at night; you can't see and everything's pitch black.  If you mis-step, you can break an ankle and then you're screwed.

The best time to travel in a desert is as dawn comes right as the sky starts to change color until past noon when the hottest time of the day arrives; spend that time resting or doing simple tasks or forage for food, water etc.  Cook the food during sunset.
Famous Athasian last words: "Hey, you're wrong. I know elves, I've played AD&D for eight years. They're noble, sylvan creatures who will honor their word." In the desert, everything's further than it looks.
I use a more complicated system for dying of thirst/hunger that makes it much more dangerous ("lose a surge" is such a weak who-cares consequence), but that only comes into play if they run out of survival days.

normal desert travel sometimes just happens. sometimes I do a skill challenge, written specially for the leg of travel they're on. sometimes, if I have a specific encounter in mind, I'll just say that X days of travel pass uneventfully (mark off X survival days each) and then on X+1 day I start to run the encounter.

travelling at night would realistically be SUPER dangerous. many more predators/monsters about, plus the simple fact that you are much more at risk of turning an ankle, etc. As a rule of thumb, I say that people usually travel for 4 hours or so in the morning (8am-12pm), rest during the heat of the day (12pm-4pm), and then travel 4 hours or so in the evening (4-8pm), with 8-10 hours for making camp, sleeping, etc. and a couple of hours tacked onto any of the other parts depending on the weather, time of year, ease of travel, whatever. When we calculate travel times we don't really go down to the hourly level and do it by day (25mpd at speed 5, 30 mpd at speed 6, etc.).

it gets trickier, however, when you have a party full of weird races. some races could only rest for 4 hours instead of 6-8, so theoretically could squeeze out another few miles. muls can march through the night sometimes. elves are super fast (in my campaign they have an overland speed of 9 when running, without other elves slowing them down). so sometimes you need to do a little calculating. generally, though, even if 5 characters can move a little faster, they're not going to leave the single slow one a couple of miles behind, so it's not usually a problem. 
Here's an example of one skill challenge I used. DCs might need tweaking. I presented it in a different way than other skill challenges...I think you really need to do each skill challenge differently based on the needs of the situation, and not be super-rigid in one style of doing it (like "NEVER TELL UR PLAYERS U THEY ARE IN A SKILL CHALLENGE!!!!" Sure, sometimes don't. But sometimes do). I made it very clear to them at the beginning that they were making it to Tyr, so there was no fake threat. The challenge was specifically about how tough the journey was. It was nice and fast--took 10-15 minutes--and gave them a sense of real accomplishment rather than, "Gee, we made it to Tyr. Didn't see that coming."


Travelling from Altaruk to Tyr


The journey from Altaruk to Tyr (175 miles, usually 6 days of travel along the roads at speed 6) will be handled as a Skill Challenge rather than roleplaying out individual days.


 



Travelling to Tyr


Setup: This is a brief skill challenge representing the journey back to Tyr. Each player should describe in very general terms how he or she is using a skill to contribute to the party’s travel and make rolls in initiative order. When we’ve reached 6 successes or 3 failures, the challenge ends and I will describe what happened along the way.


Special: If the PCs are decked out in desert clothing, they receive +2 on Endurance checks made as part of the challenge. If the PCs took special care in planning for the trip, such as buying a kank to haul supplies, they begin the challenge with a free success.


Level: 6 (DCs 11/15/23)


Complexity: 2 (6 successes before 3 failures)


Primary Skills: Diplomacy, Endurance, Heal, Nature, Perception


Diplomacy (DC11): The character negotiates a helpful deal with a passing merchant—either for supplies, transport, or protection. Max 3 attempts.


Endurance (DC15): The character soldiers on, despite the tearing winds and harsh sun. Max 2 successes.


Heal (DC15): Bandaging scrapes, tying up sprains, and keeping everyone hydrated, the character keeps the group moving. Max 2 attempts.


Nature (DC15): Whether watching landmarks to navigate or watching the weather and sun to optimize travel conditions, the character uses her knowledge of the natural world to ease the group’s travel. Max 3 attempts.


Perception (DC23): Keeping a wary eye out for bandits, rockslides, or other dangers, the character helps the group move safely through perilous terrain. Max 1 success.


Secondary Skills: Athletics, Bluff, History


Athletics (DC15): Broken wagon wheel? Need someone to haul a heavy backpack for awhile? Run ahead and check for ambushes? Athletics can do it. Max 1 attempt.


Bluff (DC17): Tricking a passing merchant caravan—or even a bandit group—that it’s in their best interest to help you. Max 1 attempt; on a failure, additionally suffer -2 to future Diplomacy rolls.


History (DC23): Recalling the history of the route—Tyr’s wars with Kalidnay and Urik especially—might warm the heart of a merchant caravan. Max 2 attempts.


Outcomes:


Excellent outcome: 6 successes, no failures. The journey took 6 days and consumed only 4 survival days per person. Additionally, each character gains 1d100gp from various means on the trip (finding it along the trail, earning a tip from a merchant, etc.). The PCs arrive in Tyr with 2 action points, having reached a milestone on the journey.


Average outcome: 6 successes, 1 failure. The journey took 6 days and consumed 6 survival days per person.


Poor outcome: 6 successes, 2 failures. Poor navigation and planning hindered the party. The journey took 7 days and consumed 7 survival days per person. The PCs arrive in Tyr with half of their total healing surges.


Failure: Any number of successes, 3 failures. The party did a terrible job and barely made it to Tyr. The journey took 9 days and consumed 9 survival days per person. Additionally, each character loses 1d100gp from various mishaps—dropping money accidentally, paying merchants along the way, whatever. The PCs arrive in Tyr with no action points and no remaining healing surges.