Skill Challenge: Harrying a Column on the March

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I created this skill challenge for last session of my Dark Sun game and thought I would share it with the DMs. It could use a little tweaking, especially the secondary skills. It uses a mechanic where the players must track how well they succeed on the various rolls to determine the final results, and also incorporates the use of daily powers and action points.

For a little more background: the PCs have discovered that an unknown actor is paying Tyr's "Dragon's levy" of a thousand slaves this year, after King Tithian openly defied the Dragon and refused to pay. They infiltrated the ragtag column of mercenaries and Night Runner elves escorting the slaves deep into the Altaruk mountain range. At an opportune moment, they broke away from the column and melted into the surrounding hills, joining up with a slave tribe made up of escapees from former levies (see the Dragon magazine article on the "Altar Skulkers"). Now, with the slave tribe as allies, they spend the night harasing the column as it slowly marches up to the Dragon's Altar, attempting to kill slavers and free slaves. (They've heard that if they can get the count of slaves below a thousand, the Dragon will make up the missing slaves from the slavers, which pleases them very much).

I felt the DCs seemed a little low, but it worked out well anyway, especially because they were trying to exceed the DCs significantly and rack up points toward the ultimate goal.



Harrying the Column Skill Challenge


Setup: This challenge will end when we reach 12 successes or 6 failures, whichever comes first. Unlike most challenges, we will be keeping track of the points you exceed your DCs on each roll. (Failures will simply be tracked as “one failure”). The end result of the challenge will be determined based on the totaled points.


Level: 6 (DCs 7/12/17)


Complexity: 5 (12 successes, 6 failures)


Additional Factors:


* -2 to all checks for characters without Low-Light Vision if the challenge occurs at night


* +2 to checks for characters wearing red clay cloaks.


* +10 to a single roll if an appropriate Daily power is expended


* Free additional roll if an Action Point is spent


 


Primary Skills: Athletics, Intimidate, Nature, Ranged Basic Attack, Stealth


Athletics (DC12): You use your muscle to push rocks onto the column; alternatively, you scramble over rocks and gaps to put yourself into a good position to attack.


Intimidate (DC12): Manipulating shadows, using noises, pushing rocks, hurling weapons; you’re able to frighten the mercenaries, who shrink close to each other and look around wildly.


Nature (DC7): Knowing the likely nooks and crannies and terrain of the mountain, you’re able to move smoothly into position and set up deadfalls, boulders, sliding terrain, and other nuisances. This skill can be used to gain no more than three successes during this challenge.


Ranged Basic Attack (DC12): You launch a series of attacks using ranged weapons or spells on the column, killing or wounding a number of mercenaries. This skill can be used to gain no more than six successes during this challenge.


Stealth (DC7): You sneak close enough to launch an attack against the mercenaries. This skill can be checked (success or failure) no more than six times during this challenge.


 


Secondary Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, History


Bluff (DC14): You convince some slaves it would be safer if they ran; alternatively, you convince the mercenaries that they are facing a greater threat than they really are. This skill can be used only once (for each style) during this challenge.


Diplomacy (DC14): You convince some slaves to bolt. This skill can be used only twice during this challenge.


History (DC17): You recall a piece of the history of the payment of the Dragon’s Levy and use it to your advantage (for example, that wounded mercenaries were worse than dead ones, because they slowed the column; that spurring the mercenaries into killing too many slaves could invoke the wrath of the Dragon on them or their city-states). +3 to all checks until the end of your next turn.


 


Success or Failure: Total the accumulated “points” that exceeded the DCs. If the characters gained 12 successes before 6 failures, add 20 to the total. If the characters accumulated 6 failures before 12 successes, subtract 20 from the total. For every 5 points accumulated, 1 mercenary was killed and 1 slave was able to escape. If the PCs accumulated 0 or fewer points, they are reduced to Bloodied by return fire, falls, and exhaustion.



 
The PCs came up with a bunch of great tactics I didn't think of, too: targeting the water-wagon (forcing the column to slow to repair it), using Stealth to push mercs off the edge of cliffs...the shardmind even rubbed glowing moss on himself and used his Dazzling Ray daily with his Intimidate skill and pretended to be a glowing "spirit of the hills" (and rolled a natural 20 on that one).
Looks good and I imagine it was a lot of fun to describe.

What does the failure actually result in? If they're bloodied can't they just heal and start over?

Does this take place over enough time that extended rests could take place? Or would resting for that long enable the caravan to get away?

The standard success/failure ratio after an early update was changed so that 3 failures ends a challenge. Were you unaware of this, or do you simply prefer the original ratio?

The skill DCs were also updated. The updates appear in the Rules Compendium. At 6th level the checks are recommended to be 11/15/23.

(The success/failure ratio and skill DCs don't matter as much as having interesting results for success and failure, which you appear to, but I thought I'd mention them.)

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Good questions. Like any skill challenge, you'd have to tailor this to the campaign.

This skill challenge occurred after they had already undergone 2 combat encounters with no opportunity for an extended rest, and culminated with them arriving at sunrise at the Dragon's Altar, where they will presumably face a deadly encounter (either with the Dragon, with other mercs, or with something else). The session's planned for early September so I don't want to give away too much yet in case they read this. So ending up bloodied (and short on dailies and heal fruits, potentially) would be a real problem; even though my players succeeded, they're still exhausted and on edge and worried about what is upcoming. So no, no extended rests.

I wasn't aware of the update, but I think the whole challenge would have to be re-engineered if only 3 successes would end it (in terms of the ratio of "points exceeded" to kills/freed slaves). Good to know, thanks.

I've been confused about the repeated Difficulty Class updates. I used the updated DCs that are currently listed in the DMG errata on the website here:

www.wizards.com/dnd/files/UpdateDMG.pdf

Are all the DMG errata assumed to be rendered obsolete by the RC now? I didn't realize they so thoroughly left it behind. I do have the 11/15/23 DCs but assumed the errata updates were more current.

Thanks for pointing those things out! I'll use them for future skill challenges.

If you choose to use this challenge for your own campaign and use the higher DCs, I would also alter the ratio. Perhaps 1 dead merc and 1 freed slave per 4 or even 3 points, instead of 1 per 5.

Are all the DMG errata assumed to be rendered obsolete by the RC now? I didn't realize they so thoroughly left it behind. I do have the 11/15/23 DCs but assumed the errata updates were more current.

Thanks for pointing those things out! I'll use them for future skill challenges.

Well, not really "obsolete." The old numbers and ratios work fine, just a bit differently. The important thing are the success and failure results, which you handled quite well in your design. Published skill challenges use the new DCs and ratios, but are often still bad because they don't understand this, or other key aspects about skill challenges.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

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