Skill Challenge for exploring the desert?

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I'm trying to find some examples of skill challenges outside the campaign guide. Particularly, travelling through the desert. Anyone run one that went particularly well?
Having only a few months of actual gameplay of 4e (as in me running games) maybe you could stretch a skills challenge over a period of time like each round is 2 hours in game the game world. 

The skills could all be used and they could be used to describe how the characters themselves survive the perils of the desert. You could also split the skill challenge up throwing in a couple of encounters in possible locations that you as the dungeon master choose/ say to describe there continuous walk through the sandy wastes.

Hope this helps slightly in your final idea or flares off into a new one

- Chris
The Blood Sand Arena has skill challenges like this, check out crossing the stony barrens.

I think your primary skills will be: Athletics, Endurance, Nature and Perception.

Secondary skill can be almost anything, but I suggest: Diplomacy, Heal.

The DC's will depend on the character level or what you want to achieve.

If I have missed something, I'm sure it will be pointed out.
I think basically every 4E Dark Sun publication so far has included some kind of travel skill challenge.  They're trying to establish that getting anywhere in Athas sucks.  But continual travel challenges may incite hostility in your PCs.  I think the travel skill challenge is probably the most common and most hated type of skill challenge in D&D.  And they are kind of filler, but then again, so are the random encounters with monsters in the desert.  I don't really know, point is that in Dark Sun, someone needs to have Athletics, Endurance, and Nature or the group is kinda screwed.

Vampire Class/Feat in 2013!

I prefer Next because 4E players and CharOpers can't find their ass without a grid and a power called "Find Ass."

Well, I ended up using the skill challenge out of Vault of Dorom Madar. They worked out pretty alright, the PCs avoided combat for the most part. Until the Dray Warden got exciting, and charged a group of kruthriks. Overall it worked out okay, but it felt more mechanical. I was starting to run out of fuel by that point, so I had trouble being off the cuff created. Not sure if I'll do it this way again, as it didn't seems TOO compelling, but if offered a nice mix up between just plain random encounters.
The travel skill challenges get a little old on both sides of the screen fairly fast. We've pretty much just defaulted to, if your character has water you are okay, if not, your character loses one healing surge and then makes an Easy to Hard Endurance check based on terrain type, or they lose another healing surge, at the end of each day.

Also, I've done away with the failure = encounter with hostile creatures. Random encounters should be just that, random. They also include mundane, and even beneficial encounters. Things like ruins, sand storms, wild Aprigs, small springs, caravans, Tamwar tribes willing to barter, etc. This is something I don't think gets included in most random encounter tables, which may be why people don't like random tables. Usually encounters with animals or monsters in the wild are avoidable (depending on contested perception checks) if the PC's spot the threat first. I'm going to make my players a hand drawn map, that way they can use to mark their finds on it. So hopefully in the future they will be able to bust out their map and say, "we are heading to this spring, loading up on a few days water then cutting across here and heading toward here".

We've even adopted something I saw posted around here (I think). Creatures provide a number of survival days based their size.

Small = 1 survival day
Medium = 2 survival days
Large = 4 survival days
Huge = 8 survival days


So if my group kills a couple of Crodlu they get 8 survival days.

As groups gain levels they should become accustomed to making preparations necessary for survival. They should also become more adept at survival in the wild.


I'm trying to find some examples of skill challenges outside the campaign guide. Particularly, travelling through the desert. Anyone run one that went particularly well?

Nature - To make preparations and sun coverings. Navigate most desert area's.
Dungeoneering - to pick a way through boulder fields, and dusty canyons(think Star Wars Tatooine where the Jawas captured R2D2.
Endurance -to deal with the blazing heat, and scorching wind(DC may be lower if a successful nature check is successful above.
Perception to spot track and signs of dangerous creatures in the groups path.
Acrobatics- balance over high rock shelves (maybe instead of Dungeoneering above).
History -to recognise specific old ruins to navigate by.

A failure in Navigating could result in the group getting a bit lost and using up an additional survival day.
Failure in Endurance means sun sickness and\or loss of a Healing Surge ( a Heal check could prevent this as the person spots for signs of the person flagging.
Failure in Perception means the person missed important clues and this is probably an encounter with the group being ambushed. This may as an alternative require the group to flee as dozens of ex-slaves or small insect like humanoids start bombarding the group with poisonous stings, projectiles etc and the group must run (second Endurance check) and an Extra Navigation check. A failure on these means injury and more time running around (loss of a healing surge for each...the desert is harsh. The group cannot fight the creatures because their is literally hundreds of them and even if they kill a dozen the other 150 bombard the group...simple really..RRUUUUNNNN!!!
They could use an area effect power to give the group a breathing space (power check).   

Any time spent in the wilderness is generally lethal, even for paragon characters potentially as their is some seriously nasty stuff out there, land lobsters that can fry your brain, dominate you to attack your collegues or summon a swarm of stinging bugs. Like I said..Nasty.

Thus even the Sorcerer Kings don't often wander the wilderness.
My goal for any skill challenge is to tell a story. You are going from A to B... what is the story? I like to have the story have to do with one or more of the following:


  • The geography/terrain involved (ex: treacherous mountain passes that are bone-chilling at night but offer lots of creatures shelter during the day)

  • The cultures involved (ex: Meet Gulgan slave traders one day that are searching for escaped slaves... meet the slaves the next day... and the traders again when they reach Gulg)

  • The creatures that are iconic for the area (ex: gith in the mountains hary the adventurers above as PCs cross a narrow stone bridge)

  • The campaign story (ex: the PCs angered a mechant house, now they meet a competing house on the road)

  • The part of Athas you haven't covered yet (ex: shifting sand dunes make finding a trail very difficult)


Based on the story I then craft the skill challenge. A common method is to place a two-part skill check for simple navigation and survival. For example, high DC nature or perception by one PC taking the lead for navigation, and if successful the PCs gain a +2 to a required group Endurance check. In addition I have skill challenge scenes every couple of days that tell more of the story. For example, successful interaction with merchants (using social skills) gives them hints about the terrain ahead or warns them about a danger or prevents those merchants trying to ambush them. Another example is having a sandstorm, horde of insects (too many to fight), insane heat/cold, or some other threat on one day.

A fun trick is to have an event cause supplies to be used up. For example, a bunch of minion silt runners run at the PCs, and instead of attacking they grab a survival day off of them. PCs can either attack or (more effective) use skills to stop theft. X rounds of this, and at the end the PCs are left with some (smaller) number of survival days that makes the voyage very difficult. Sandstorms can turn supplies into sand. Extreme heat can unexpectedly double consumption. Getting lost or circumventing a threat they spot can extend the trip. Etc.

If you create story with your skill challenges they should not get old.

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What Alphastream said!  Seariously, use the setting, the description of where the characters are and the environment is crucial to a Dark Sun game.  Athas is deadly and not just the monsters that inhabit it.  The world itself is dangerous and needs to be described as such.  
Thanks for the perspective, guys. I was getting too wrapped up in thinking Athas had to bring you to the brink of death every time you adventured into her. I'll make sure to put this to work next weeks session. 
There is nothing wrong with Athas bringing you to the brink of death every time, either. There should just be a reason for it.
A fun trick is to have an event cause supplies to be used up. For example, a bunch of minion silt runners run at the PCs, and instead of attacking they grab a survival day off of them. PCs can either attack or (more effective) use skills to stop theft. X rounds of this, and at the end the PCs are left with some (smaller) number of survival days that makes the voyage very difficult. Sandstorms can turn supplies into sand. Extreme heat can unexpectedly double consumption. Getting lost or circumventing a threat they spot can extend the trip. Etc.



I love it.  I will be using the Silt runner minions in my next game.  thanks for the great ideas.

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