Help invent a mechanic for this...

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I need the help of my fellow DMs...

Reader's Digest version:  My players have opted to rescue twenty-five humans who had been enslaved by orcs.  (The humans have been implanted with Illithid larvae)  The heroes created a portal to the Feywild and ushered the slaves through it to escape, in order to avoid a drawn-out and bloody battle with the orcs.  So... here they are, for the first time, in the Feywild...

Our story is that they have to get these slaves to Tiandra, The Summer Queen.  Only she can remove the Illithid larvae without killing the host or driving him mad (with a single strand of her hair she can entangle the little pink tadpole without so much as leaving a scar upon the mortal flesh... yeah, I know... but it sounds cool).  I am giving the characters a month to make this trek across the Feywild to find and gain audience with The Summer Queen; after that, the slaves will begin the transformation into Mind Flayer-dom.  One side-note:  One of the players has also been implanted, adding to the sense of urgency and duty.  (Even if they let the slaves perish, they'll want to save him)

So...  I don't want to keep up with (nor do I want the players to have to keep up with) these 25 slaves individually.  Their challenge will be to keep these humans alive as they traverse the dangerous Feywild.  This will probably stretch over a few play sessions and at least 7 or 8 encounters.  I thought about giving each of the five players a card with five slave names on it and telling them "ok...these five are your responsibility to keep alive until you reach your destination.  Help me come up with a mechanic that I could plug in.

My thoughts:  There could be some kind of skill challenge inserted into combat encounters.  The players have their full compliment of actions, but somewhere in their turn, they will make a skill check that will only be for the benefit of the slaves they are trying to keep alive?  Perhaps a bonus to the roll if the player gives up a standard action to make this roll?  At first I thought that maybe a failure means the death of a slave, but that could be heavy. Maybe the slaves have a pool of, say, three HP each, and a failure means the loss of a HP.  That way, over the course of the journey, they would have to be mindful of the health of each NPC.

I would also like to insert some checks between combats.  Endurance checks along the way (what should happen on a failure?)  Heal checks to regain NPC HPs?  (Successful check gains number of HP for the players to disperse as needed?)  I wondered if the NPCs could be a resource that the characters could ever use as a benefit in battle...  Two/Three completely healthy NPCs can give a + to the attack roll of their benefactor?  I'd love your input!

Any thoughts on a mechanic that might be fun for the players to have to manage, without keeping up too much with each one individually?  Your creativity is requested!          
Just a couple ideas:

I'd make the slaves minions, but allow for them to gain THP at the expense of a PC's healing surge.  This could signify the PC's having to put their own safety at risk to protect their charge.

Depending on the combat encounters, you could have the PCs protect the slaves with a skill challenge, but what happens if they fail?  Do they lose one slave per failure?  What are the story consequences?  What do the PCs gain or lose if they save all, most, few, or none of the slaves?

It could also be fun to have a combat encounter where the PCs are actively trying to protect the slaves.  They will need to use terrain, proper tactics, and may even have to fight on two fronts in order to stop the horde they're up against from breaching their lines and getting to the tasty soft flesh behind them.

As for the endurance checks, I'd consider having failed endurance -- and possibly heal checks -- result in the PCs making slower progress.  If they push the slaves harder, a couple may die.  If they go slow, whatever is chasing them has a chance to catch up, and they may need to make a place to hide, cover their tracks, and see if they can evade team monster that way.
If you're representing the slaves in combat, I'd make them a swarm. I do this whenever my players rack up a lot of allies (they like to do that). I put them in a group and represent them mechanically as a swarm. An aura and a basic attack, which is what most swarms are represented by, is very easy to keep track of. Plus the occasional area or close attack against the swarm makes for good tension as they're vulnerable to that.

As far as making the challenge protecting the slaves, this is definitely a skill challenge, maybe even two skill challenges running concurrently. The way I would do it is have an overarching skill challenge that represents the hardship and travel which can apply in or out of combat. Then I'd have skill challenge in each combat to represent specific complications that follow the theme of that particular encounter.

If that's an approach you'd like to take, I'll help you design it. I came up with a new skill challenge format that is really good (in my opinion). It's much more dynamic than the one WotC presents. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

If you're representing the slaves in combat, I'd make them a swarm. I do this whenever my players rack up a lot of allies (they like to do that). I put them in a group and represent them mechanically as a swarm. An aura and a basic attack, which is what most swarms are represented by, is very easy to keep track of. Plus the occasional area or close attack against the swarm makes for good tension as they're vulnerable to that.

As far as making the challenge protecting the slaves, this is definitely a skill challenge, maybe even two skill challenges running concurrently. The way I would do it is have an overarching skill challenge that represents the hardship and travel which can apply in or out of combat. Then I'd have skill challenge in each combat to represent specific complications that follow the theme of that particular encounter.

If that's an approach you'd like to take, I'll help you design it. I came up with a new skill challenge format that is really good (in my opinion). It's much more dynamic than the one WotC presents. 



Thanks Isereth... that would be great!  Yeah, I am still on the fence about statting out the slaves.  I don't want to have to represent them on the battle mat for one thing.  I thought about just letting the players know "hey, they are there, just not represented as minis".  But I thought that it would get the players competitive juices flowing if they each had five to babysit, to see who could keep theirs alive throughout.  Dunno... could be swayed (I could just let one slave mini represent each players group I guess)

I like the idea of two concurrent skill challenges, one over-arching with endurance checks, heal checks, nature, etc... and one inside of each combat.  I'd love just a simple mechanic that wouldn't add much to each player's turn in a combat, but would erode slowly at the slaves will-to-live/physical health/morale/slow descent into mind-flayer madness, etc...


I'd love to hear your ideas about the skill challenge stuff...    
You're welcome. I'll try to put a skill challenge up tonight and you can pick it apart.

Another way I've done this that might work is to represent the slave group as a terrain power. The PCs can make skill checks to "activate" certain abilities it has or move it on the tactical map. (Maybe it's a "huge" mini.) If you reach the end of a combat round and at least 1 enemy is adjacent to the slave group, then it gets a "strike." Three strikes and the slaves are taken out (resets after the encounter). On strike 2, there's a complication, for example, the slaves move around erratically or something else to increase the challenge or stakes.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Ideas presented are good stuff!  This is what I would do for Encounter mechanics:  Simbly Assume 25 slaves will always be huddled & move together.  I would just cut out a 5x5 paper as mini and place that on the Grid. Makes more sense to me Then swarm mini filling 1 space.  I would also give shared health of 250 health, movement speed of 5.. Nothing else. This represents the slaves (one mini) covering 5x5 on the grid.

You made the slave central to the plot so in combat, Protect the slaves should be central to the encounter.
When the slave mini is bloodied, (125 health), every 5 hit point loss after = loss of 1 slave.  Until it gets bloodied, you shouldn't start losing a slave... Or else party will have 0 slaves left after couple encounters. Reason why each slave shouldnt be assigned hit points. Players can heal the slave mini to make sure it don't get bloodied & start losing slaves.

If players lose slaves, you can simply cut the 5x5 mini, to appropriate size to fill appropriate amount of space, for the next encounter, and adjust the total health.  (23 slaves, cut 2 squares off the mini. Health is 230, bloodied 115.. Etc.  This math can be done all the way down to last slave.) 

Now you got a workable, make sense, solution with enough flexibility to make encounter work involving these 25 slave, pure combat mechnic wise.

This is what I would do.  







If you're representing the slaves in combat, I'd make them a swarm. I do this whenever my players rack up a lot of allies (they like to do that). I put them in a group and represent them mechanically as a swarm. An aura and a basic attack, which is what most swarms are represented by, is very easy to keep track of. Plus the occasional area or close attack against the swarm makes for good tension as they're vulnerable to that.

As far as making the challenge protecting the slaves, this is definitely a skill challenge, maybe even two skill challenges running concurrently. The way I would do it is have an overarching skill challenge that represents the hardship and travel which can apply in or out of combat. Then I'd have skill challenge in each combat to represent specific complications that follow the theme of that particular encounter.

If that's an approach you'd like to take, I'll help you design it. I came up with a new skill challenge format that is really good (in my opinion). It's much more dynamic than the one WotC presents. 

I was thinking swarm as well.

Another technique that might work would be to flesh out the personality of just one of the slaves. He carries the torch and speaks for the rest of the NPC group. Make sure he/she is as helpful as possible, aiding on skill checks when possible, and generally making him/herself useful. If the orcs attack, of course, this one is the one that gets hurt/killed. One by one, have a new 'leader' of the NPCs emerge.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
THE TRAIL OF THRALLS
8 successes before 3 failures
It will take a month of trekking through the Feywild before reaching the court of Tiandra, the Summer Queen. 

   | 

Complications: Aberrant Interference, Brambles & Creepers, Dense Forests, Extreme Weather, Faerie Tricks, Feywild Curse, Field of Vipers, Mesmerizing Enchantments, Soaring Mountains, Stalking Predators, Thrall Infighting, Vast Chasm.

Consequences (player choice): Attacked!, Lose Some Thralls, Personal Sacrifice.

Setback: Take -2 forward on next PC’s check (player describe it).

DC High: Success
DC Med - High-1: Success plus setback
DC Med-1 or less: Failure plus setback and consequence
DC 10+1/2 level: Aid Another

Draw upon an asset (NPC, monster, circumstance, item, terrain feature, trope, etc.) to gain a +2 bonus to a skill check. You can only use a particular asset once to gain this bonus.

Victory: The PCs make it just in time to the Court of the Summer Queen. They receive a boon from a deity unfriendly to mind flayers or the like.

Defeat: The trek takes too long. The PCs cannot reach the Court of the Summer Queen before the remaining slaves turn into feral mind flayers and attack! Braaaaaains!

That is a quick skill challenge I threw together for the travelling portion. I think you can do even do a generic "Protect the Thralls" skill challenge which I'll take a look at doing if what I've done so far is up your alley.

How to Use It to Run a Shared Storytelling Session:

Describe the overarching activity. Make sure the stakes (Victory & Defeat) are very clear to the players. Ask them why they care. Ask them which of them is willing to die to see it through. Ask them what they think the Feywild is like, what they've heard of it in fairytales. What things do they expect to see or encounter? How dangerous do they perceive it to be? What steps have they taken to prepare themselves? Solicit everyone's input. Keep it rolling like a good brainstorming session. Write it all down, use some of it for your Complications and Consequences list. No answer is wrong that doesn't contradict what someone else has already said or what is known to be true in your game.

The questions above plus follow-up questions that spring to mind will be a good warm-up exercise to encourage them to get into a creative mode and ready for improvisation. When you think they're ready and you have plenty of things down on paper, hit them with a Complication. You can roll it randomly or pick one. I go for the latter because I can pick something everyone focused on during the warm-up. Describe the complication and how it's a problem for them. Then ask, "What do you do?"

The next part is tricky. The urge is to ask for a bunch of skill checks. Don't. People will likely be suggesting different things and collaborating on a plan. When they start taking actions, let them just do it. The fighter doesn't need Athletics to hack through Dense Forests. He just needs a machete and patience. Only ask for an actual check when a player(s) suggests taking an action where success and failure can both be fun. When it's pivotal. When it really matters toward resolving a Complication. If it's definitely something the whole group has to work on, make it a group check where the majority (high, middling, or low) result is the overall result for the check. Otherwise, just let one person hog the glory (or the shame). Try to share the spotlight equally over the course of the whole challenge though.

On a high DC roll, their plan goes off without a hitch. Awesome - mark a success. On a middling DC roll, their plan works, mark a success, but there's also a Setback. If you've been soliciting input this whole time, you should have a lot of context to work with for ideas on what that setback is or better yet, just ask your players. When the next Complication arises, ask them how the Setback works against them in this situation. For example, a middling roll to deal with Dense Forests may mean leaving an obvious trail (Setback) for Stalking Predators to find. So the next check to, say, hide from the fey panthers will be harder. A failed check means both a setback on the next Complication and a Consequence. Offer one or more of them to the players and let them choose the one that is most interesting to them and ask what it means in context. What happens to the thralls? What was your personal sacrifice? Of course, they'll probably choose Attacked! because who doesn't like a good combat? Good. You said you'd have some encounters along the way anyway!

Now, the DCs are set fairly high for unfettered success, because from a shared storytelling standpoint (which is what a skill challenge is), you want to encourage the PCs to work together (Aid Another) and to use their environment to their benefit (Asset). So if they are dealing with a Vast Chasm, then a player might suggest there is an immense fallen tree and take a +2 bonus to the check by working that into the action. It costs them nothing to do this, so encourage them to take advantage of it. It simply adds more details to the shared story.

And that's basically it - punctuate it with planned encounters as you like, transition/interaction scenes, or whatever else. Let me know what you think. I'm trying to refine this skill challenge design so I'd appreciate any input.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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isereth's idea is genious.
I will definitely use that...and I'm not the OP.
Thanks. The format is standard. Just change the Complications, Consequences, DCs, and Victory/Defeat and you're good to go. The "method" of how to do it remains the same. I was never happy with how WotC presented/formatted their skill challenges. It wasn't very intuitive in my opinion and turned a lot of people off of the shared storytelling that skill challenges were supposed to evoke. This is what I've worked my way into over the years.

Skill challenges do two important things: They frame the scene or activity clearly and they have a pacing mechanism. Framing and pacing are hugely important to running a good game and they are both often overlooked to the detriment of the game. Clear framing and tight pacing can make even a fairly unoriginal game premise good.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

THE TRAIL OF THRALLS
12 successes before 3 failures
It will take a month of trekking through the Feywild before reaching the court of Tiandra, the Summer Queen. 

   | 

Complications: Aberrant Interference, Brambles & Creepers, Dense Forests, Extreme Weather, Faerie Tricks, Feywild Curse, Field of Vipers, Mesmerizing Enchantments, Soaring Mountains, Stalking Predators, Thrall Infighting, Vast Chasm.

Consequences (player choice): Attacked!, Lose Some Thralls, Personal Sacrifice.

Setback: Take -2 forward on next PC’s check (player describe it).

DC High: Success
DC Med - High-1: Success plus setback
DC Med-1 or less: Failure plus setback and consequence
DC 10+1/2 level: Aid Another

Draw upon an asset (NPC, monster, circumstance, item, terrain feature, trope, etc.) to gain a +2 bonus to a skill check. You can only use a particular asset once to gain this bonus.

Victory: The PCs make it just in time to the Court of the Summer Queen. They receive a boon from a deity unfriendly to mind flayers or the like.

Defeat: The trek takes too long. The PCs cannot reach the Court of the Summer Queen before the remaining slaves turn into feral mind flayers and attack! Braaaaaains!

That is a quick skill challenge I threw together for the travelling portion. I think you can do even do a generic "Protect the Thralls" skill challenge which I'll take a look at doing if what I've done so far is up your alley.

How to Use It to Run a Shared Storytelling Session:

Describe the overarching activity. Make sure the stakes (Victory & Defeat) are very clear to the players. Ask them why they care. Ask them which of them is willing to die to see it through. Ask them what they think the Feywild is like, what they've heard of it in fairytales. What things do they expect to see or encounter? How dangerous do they perceive it to be? What steps have they taken to prepare themselves? Solicit everyone's input. Keep it rolling like a good brainstorming session. Write it all down, use some of it for your Complications and Consequences list. No answer is wrong that doesn't contradict what someone else has already said or what is known to be true in your game.

The questions above plus follow-up questions that spring to mind will be a good warm-up exercise to encourage them to get into a creative mode and ready for improvisation. When you think they're ready and you have plenty of things down on paper, hit them with a Complication. You can roll it randomly or pick one. I go for the latter because I can pick something everyone focused on during the warm-up. Describe the complication and how it's a problem for them. Then ask, "What do you do?"

The next part is tricky. The urge is to ask for a bunch of skill checks. Don't. People will likely be suggesting different things and collaborating on a plan. When they start taking actions, let them just do it. The fighter doesn't need Athletics to hack through Dense Forests. He just needs a machete and patience. Only ask for an actual check when a player(s) suggests taking an action where success and failure can both be fun. When it's pivotal. When it really matters toward resolving a Complication. If it's definitely something the whole group has to work on, make it a group check where the majority (high, middling, or low) result is the overall result for the check. Otherwise, just let one person hog the glory (or the shame). Try to share the spotlight equally over the course of the whole challenge though.

On a high DC roll, their plan goes off without a hitch. Awesome - mark a success. On a middling DC roll, their plan works, mark a success, but there's also a Setback. If you've been soliciting input this whole time, you should have a lot of context to work with for ideas on what that setback is or better yet, just ask your players. When the next Complication arises, ask them how the Setback works against them in this situation. For example, a middling roll to deal with Dense Forests may mean leaving an obvious trail (Setback) for Stalking Predators to find. So the next check to, say, hide from the fey panthers will be harder. A failed check means both a setback on the next Complication and a Consequence. Offer one or more of them to the players and let them choose the one that is most interesting to them and ask what it means in context. What happens to the thralls? What was your personal sacrifice? Of course, they'll probably choose Attacked! because who doesn't like a good combat? Good. You said you'd have some encounters along the way anyway!

Now, the DCs are set fairly high for unfettered success, because from a shared storytelling standpoint (which is what a skill challenge is), you want to encourage the PCs to work together (Aid Another) and to use their environment to their benefit (Asset). So if they are dealing with a Vast Chasm, then a player might suggest there is an immense fallen tree and take a +2 bonus to the check by working that into the action. It costs them nothing to do this, so encourage them to take advantage of it. It simply adds more details to the shared story.

And that's basically it - punctuate it with planned encounters as you like, transition/interaction scenes, or whatever else. Let me know what you think. I'm trying to refine this skill challenge design so I'd appreciate any input.



Hey Isereth... one question... when will this skill challenge example be in an issue of Dungeon/Dragon?  This is great man.  There is a lot here that I can adapt.  I'll tell you the things that really called out to me.

1.  I really like the gradient skill challenge DCs application (easy, med, hard), that each success or failure has degrees of success or failure and that aid another can do more than just give the player rolling a static success or a failure, but can enhance a success. 

2.   "Write it all down, use some of it for your Complications and Consequences list. No answer is wrong that doesn't contradict what someone else has already said or what is known to be true in your game."  We do this regularly anyway.  We call that our "Blue Sky Sessions" (from the Disney Imagineers folks).  It means that no idea is a bad idea, you're just throwing things out there.

3. I like the mechanical application of the categories Asset and Complications and what they mean in the challenge as far as enhancing or complicating rolls. The Yin and the Yang.

I will probably jot down a few ideas to take to the table to "prime the pump" and then let the players have an opportunity to show their proficient knowledge of All Things Fey that the party might encounter (Thanks too for the list of possible complications!)  As the DM, I am always trying to balance our game between the "you couldn't see this coming" and the "what do you guys think should happen?" style of play.  But there is a lot of solid gameplay here.

I would love to hear your ideas about the "Protect the Thralls" skill challenge.  That sounds like it might be a great challenge to run concurrent with a combat encounter.  Too, do you have any thoughts about a resource management of the thralls/slaves throughout the journey.  I just thought that in their failures, if the slaves were either losing from some pool of HP/losing morale/ beginning the change into mind-flayerville or whatever that a sense of urgency and tension could be created that time is running out. 

Great stuff Isereth! 
Hey Isereth... one question... when will this skill challenge example be in an issue of Dungeon/Dragon?  This is great man.  There is a lot here that I can adapt.  I'll tell you the things that really called out to me.



Thanks. How much do they pay? I'll probably break that post out of this thread and start a new one with it to elicit further comments/critiques.

1.  I really like the gradient skill challenge DCs application (easy, med, hard), that each success or failure has degrees of success or failure and that aid another can do more than just give the player rolling a static success or a failure, but can enhance a success.



Yes, same basic range of success, but it's less binary and thus potentially adds more to the shared story. I took this concept from Dungeon World (which is based on Apocalypse World). I do this for all skill checks in our 4e games. I also collaborate with the players on what the setbacks are.

2.   "Write it all down, use some of it for your Complications and Consequences list. No answer is wrong that doesn't contradict what someone else has already said or what is known to be true in your game."  We do this regularly anyway.  We call that our "Blue Sky Sessions" (from the Disney Imagineers folks).  It means that no idea is a bad idea, you're just throwing things out there.



Glad to see you already do this! Normally when I suggest something as radical as, you know, asking players to establish some details on their own, I get labeled an apostate and burned at the stake. "Ask your players?! What are you, crazy?! The whole game will just come apart!" So many benefits come out of this very simple approach.

3. I like the mechanical application of the categories Asset and Complications and what they mean in the challenge as far as enhancing or complicating rolls. The Yin and the Yang.



Yes, one of the things I noticed about WotC skill challenges is that they'd describe an activity, but they'd kind of leave it open as to the specific complications. I don't think many DMs "got" that they were supposed to stick something in their players' faces to react to. Rather, they'd just say, "Okay, here's the activity. So, uh, yeah, do it." Then players had no context or fiction to work with outside of a vague end goal, leaving them in the wilderness of totally freeform storytelling which can be very challenging. It then become easier for them to constrain their descriptions in the context of their trained skills rather than consider the whole scene and do things that aren't necessarily checks, but might be. Complications give them something specific to deal with in the context of the larger challenge, providing useful creative constraint to their available approaches.

The basic idea for Assets I took from Marvel Heroic RPG which is based on Cortex+ rules. Offer an optional bonus in exchange for establishing new fiction and everybody's happy.

I will probably jot down a few ideas to take to the table to "prime the pump" and then let the players have an opportunity to show their proficient knowledge of All Things Fey that the party might encounter (Thanks too for the list of possible complications!)  As the DM, I am always trying to balance our game between the "you couldn't see this coming" and the "what do you guys think should happen?" style of play.  But there is a lot of solid gameplay here.



Yes, good idea. I prefer to build my Complication list from player ideas, but I always write up some of my own just so I have something. A two- or three-word descriptor ("fictional tag") is all you really need to get the pump primed as you say. It's also fun brainstorming them as a group. Lots of "Oh, that's a good one!"

I would love to hear your ideas about the "Protect the Thralls" skill challenge.  That sounds like it might be a great challenge to run concurrent with a combat encounter.  Too, do you have any thoughts about a resource management of the thralls/slaves throughout the journey.  I just thought that in their failures, if the slaves were either losing from some pool of HP/losing morale/ beginning the change into mind-flayerville or whatever that a sense of urgency and tension could be created that time is running out.



I'll try to come up with something today for "Protect the Thralls." I feel that's probably something that's very encounter specific though. I'm not sure what kind of encounters you're planning. The more I think about it, the more I am leaning toward no skill challenge for protecting the thralls in combat. I'd probably make them a terrain power as I described above. After all, you should already be having the focus of the complications in shared storytelling focused on how those things threaten the PCs' goal of keeping the thralls alive. For example, Vast Chasm probably isn't much of a concern for the PCs... but it becomes one when they have 25 thralls to get across it. Boiling it down to the encounter level seems redundant. Maybe you can tell me about your planned encounters and I'll have some inspiration. What level is the party?

Re: resource management, I'm not a fan of it. To make it a thing in the game though, it would be as simple as adding Spoiled Food or Tainted Water to the Complications list. Keeping track of resources isn't as important as what sort of drama or action they generate in the context of the shared story. "After a couple weeks of traveling through the Feywild, you realize that the food your brought to feed yourself and the thralls is spoiling rapidly. What's causing it? How do you deal with the Spoiled Food?"

I was thinking how I might structure this particular game. If I were running it, I'd have the overarching "travel" skill challenge above certainly. Then I would punctuate it with 2 big nasty set-piece encounters where the thralls were definitely being threatened (alternative goal), probably after the 3rd and 6th check on the overarching skill challenge. (Or three encounters after 2nd, 4th, and 6th checks). I would also prep some difficult but less elaborate encounters for the Attacked! results, in case the players choose those as options should they accrue failures. Then I'd prep the thrall combat just in case they are defeated in the skill challenge. That'd basically be it. Pretty easy prep that produces 2 to 3 four-hour gaming sessions loaded with both tactical play and plenty of engaging shared storytelling.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Que bueno! Iserith is back to the forums! (And some trolls are gone!)

I have played in games with Iserith when I am in Colombia. The style he use for these skill challenges are so much fun! I recommend you try it! 
Statistically, this skill challenge will almost always result in a failure.

12 medium successes before 3 failures almost never works. 
And in this case you are saying that a medium dc means a penalty to your next roll, and the only real way to success is a hard dc.


It wouldn't take much to tweak this tho.
So to keep everything a little more tuned and in the flavor of traveling on a clock, i'd suggest something like this:
Say the players have exactly 14 days to get to where they need to go, and the journey takes 12 days of solid travel. Make one check every day using all of the methods Iserith describes. A failure means that the players spent too much time doing something and actually lost time (adding a day to their travel time). An overly successful one means they were able to shave some time off the clock. This should ratchet up the tension as you get to the last few days...

This is quick and dirty, but i'd set the dc's somewhere closer to this:
Lower than Low DC: failure (a day gets added to their travel time)
Low DC -> Medium DC: Players lose a little time. Nothing major, but these can add up to cost them. Setback
Medium DC->high DC: Success
High DC (maybe high dc+1 or 2 depending on the level): Players succeed, and they are able to make up some of the time they lost (counts as 2 successes, or removes 1 failure at the player's option).

This still has the odds stacked against the players, but it is much more possible now...
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Are you taking into account the bonus from Asset and from Aid Another? The DCs are set purposefully high to encourage the players to use those options. From a shared storytelling perspective, that's additional fiction being added with each attempt at giving a bonus to the person rolling the "primary" check. On average in a party of 5, I'd bet that's around a +6 bonus plus three new elements to add to the scene.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I'm not.
For 2 reasons:
Hard dc's DC's get really high in paragon tier to the point where the difference between a med and high dc is easily more than 10 points. If you allow all the players to assist, and they all succeed you will get +8. That still requires a roll 2 points higher than the medium one would have. Which means you'll still get overall failure (unless you have some lucky players). Granted an asset will balance this, but you end up with +10. And even with all of that: statistically they will lose if they have to make 12 (adjusted even) 'medium' dc's before 3 failures.
 So in essence you aren't encouraging group cooperation, you are forcing it. And the final reward for them? Statistically it's failures. 

But let's look at a more likely scenerio: if a player attempts to assist and fails, it actually provides a -1 penalty. So in the average party of 5, with 4 people assisting, assuming 3 succeed and one fails, you only get a +5 bonus. So it still takes a roll 5 points better than the medium roll. The odds of failure keep climbing...

All in all, your players would have a better chance if you just stuck to medium dc's and didn't allow assists.
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Thank you for the feedback, very helpful. Disclaimer:  I'm not much of a math guy, so I'm going to have to take your word on any of that stuff.

Anecdotally, I haven't seen many failures with this approach. I couldn't exactly say why that would be the case. Perhaps it's because I don't use many 12 success skill challenges? Could you tell me at which point it becomes "fairer" as far as successes against failure? My skill challenges run 6 or 8 successes, usually.

EDIT: Also, as far as chance of success, what are we assuming as far as the skill investment in this example? Is it low like in that other thread or are you using some other value?

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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To avoid a lot of math, let's jsut break it down into simplistics...

Let's assume we are riding the default math curve of 4e, so players will typically succeed on a roll of 8. This means either it's sort of an average guy with training, or someone who has that stat as their primary, but doesn't have training. Or some combination where it is a secndary stat but he has a few bonuses from a race or item of something...

So if i fail on a roll of 1-7, it's close enough for estimation to say i fail 1/3 of the time, and succeed 2/3 of the time.
So if i roll 3 times, i'll typically fail once, and succeed twice. 
If i roll 6 times, i'll typically fail twice, and suceed 4 times
If i roll 9 times, i'll typically fail 3x and succeed 6x.

So statistically, getting to 6 provides the most even chances of success and failure, it could literally come down to that last roll.
Getting to 8 is a bit tougher, but it kinda works out since you'll probably have at least a few pc's that have higher bonuses since they may have trained their primary stat, or got a +2 from a background or theme or something.
Overall these are probably the most balanced 2 types of skill challenges and the most likely for most groups to pass reasonably often; regardless of tier or Op level 
Getting to 10 and 12 successes isn't even possible most of the time unless the skill challenge has been specifically desinged to allow it....


Naturally these things can get harder depending on the dm's adherance to the rulesset. For example, if you use the rules in DM Kit/RC, every time you succeed on a skill, it's dc increases by 4. This is to basically stop the players from using the same skill over and over, but it becomes kinda silly when you need to have 12 successes and can't realistically reuse skills...
Again, it only works if the challenge was designed to allow it. And we do that by allowing other types of boons: like letting high dc's count twice or remove a failure, or having one skill come in at a low dc, and success grants a bonus to a subsequent roll....

But yeah all in all, in heroic/low paragon your challenge would probably work fine since the dc's are close enough together that a +5 is actually significant. Also, this would work perfectly fine in almost any tier as a 6 or 8 success challenge. It's jsut the 10's and 12's that really take a lot of work on the dm's part to actually challenge the pc's while giving them a chance...
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Cool, thanks. It's interesting to see it broken down like that. I guess I stumbled upon that "sweet spot" intuitively. 10's and 12's are a blindspot for me because I just don't seem to do them for whatever reason.

Ideally, I'd like to revise my skill challenge above to account for this realization. Given the setup I propose, where would you put the DCs for this 12 success skill challenge? My goal in setting those DCs (if that goes into your calculation) is to encourage but not force Aid Another/Asset.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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Cool, thanks. It's interesting to see it broken down like that. I guess I stumbled upon that "sweet spot" intuitively. 10's and 12's are a blindspot for me because I just don't seem to do them for whatever reason.

Ideally, I'd like to revise my skill challenge above to account for this realization. Given the setup I propose, where would you put the DCs for this 12 success skill challenge? My goal in setting those DCs (if that goes into your calculation) is to encourage but not force Aid Another/Asset.




The first step is figuring out what level/tier you want it... 
And i'm wondering if we should continue this in another thread? 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
The first step is figuring out what level/tier you want it... 
And i'm wondering if we should continue this in another thread? 



I think we're still on topic since the OP mentioned he'd be using at least elements of the approach. Ideally, I wouldn't mind coming to some decent guidelines on what those ranges are by tier (as compared to official "baseline" maybe?) and then I'll amend the above skill challenge example, with credit to you, and then I can break this into another thread that generally discusses skill challenges plus this approach at some point. Thoughts? I think balanced math plus this approach would be quite useful to the DMs here. I'm just not a math guy!

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
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Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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I second the sudgestion to make them a huge size swarm, and have the represented in combat.

Letting the players spend surge(s) to give the slaves hitpoints also seems like a sound idea.

Besides any normal skill chalenges, I would add in a couple specific scenarios during combat encounters. In these encounters the slaves wouldn't be in the standard "swarm formation" they use as the players defend them. For instance;

An encounter where everyone must cross a weak bridge, that spans a ravine, or rushing river. It only holds 4 at a time, so the players must defend the front from bad guys long enuogh for everyone to cross. One player must go back and forth with them, to draw the attention of a flying or aquatic monster (or 2). Increase from 4 at a time to 5 at a time to make the minimum rounds 7 instead of 9.

In the middle of the night, the slaves begin to be lured away by will-o-wisps, the party must run back and forth between the slaves, using minor actions to snap them out of it, while trying to kill the willowisps If a slave is lured more than X squares into the forest, they are lost/eaten/whatever.

For the rest of the combat encounters, I would make them pretty standard, with the swarm huddled/defensive somewhere nearby. Have the PCs decide what move action (if any) the slaves take. The slaves initiative is rolled, but the PC's can always delay, or have the slaves delay, to get a more favorable order. Occasionally the monsters might try to move in on them, but generally the players keep the monsters attention.

In addition to this, have some random mechanic for something the slaves do every round on thier turnThe . I would recomend using a "deck of cards" or "pieces of paper in a bag" so that every effect is seen at least once. Once all of them have been used, they are replaced, and the players now "know what to expect" out of the salves in the future.

Effects would include;
-A slave panics and breaks off from the group, running in a random direction! Someone grab him before he gets himself hurt! (minor action while adjacent)
-A slave decides to try and be a hero, he grabs a weapon (or stick) and tries to engage the monsters! The slave has gotten the monsters attention, and must be defended before he is killed. (medium DC diplomancy or intimidate after 1 round to get him back in the swarm)
-A slave hurls a stone at a monster, hitting it squarely in the eye! The monster takes X damage and is blinded until the end of it's next turn.
-The slaves all panic, and run as a group to different location on the field (then they regain composure)
-The slaves freeze in fear, and are imobilized until a player suceeds on a hard DC diplomacy or intimidate.
-The slaves are startled and stumble over themselves, the shift one square, and take Xd6 damage as several of them are trampled in the confusion.
-The slaves hurl a volley of improvised projectiles at a monster, the monster takes Xd6 (substantial) damage and is dazed until the end of it's next turn. The monster will atempt to attack the slaves for the rest of the encounter (if possible)
-The slaves seem indecisive, move them to the bottom of the initiative.
-The slaves seem ready for action, move them to the top of the initiative.
-The slaves yell in horor, gaining the attention of all monsters for a turn. (monsters will atempt to move and attack them for at least 1 turn, and then until they are attacked by a PC)
-The slaves seem to have composed themselves very well, they move 2 squares, lay prone, and stealth. Monsters must make a difficult perception check if they ever wish to try and attack them.
-A slave breaks into histerics, running over to a PC and grabbing him, yelling "Save me, save me." The PC must escape the grab (difficult).
-A slave is about to break under the preasure. Roll a d20, on a 5 or lower, the slave commits suicide by dagger.
-A slave atempts to save his own skin, pushing another slave 4 squares toward the nearest monster. The pushed slave gains the monsters attention.
-One gives first aide to another, the swarm gains 3d6 THP
-The slaves chear on the party with a war-chant. All party members gain a +2 to hit until the end of the slaves next turn.
-The slaves rally and charge 10 squares toward a monster. roll 1d20, on a crit, the monster is stunned (save ends), 19 or lower, and the slaves suddenly freeze with terror at the last second, leaving themselves open to the monsters next attack.
-The slaves yell wildly, trying to gain the attention of the nearest PC. The yelling is distracting, and the PC has a -2 to hit until the end of his next turn.
-A slave doubles over in pain, grabbing his head, as the illithid squims inside. Roll 1d20, on a 1 or 2, the slave dies, and an illithid spawn bursts from his skull. On a 3 or higher, the swarm takes 1d6 damage.
-The slaves rally themselves suprisingly well. Before the end of the encounter, the next time the swarm is attacked, they automatically block/dodge the monster.
Cool, thanks. It's interesting to see it broken down like that. I guess I stumbled upon that "sweet spot" intuitively. 10's and 12's are a blindspot for me because I just don't seem to do them for whatever reason.

Ideally, I'd like to revise my skill challenge above to account for this realization. Given the setup I propose, where would you put the DCs for this 12 success skill challenge? My goal in setting those DCs (if that goes into your calculation) is to encourage but not force Aid Another/Asset.




The first step is figuring out what level/tier you want it... 
And i'm wondering if we should continue this in another thread? 



Hey, I'm listening, so don't move the thread conversation on my account.  I am absorbing the collaboration here.  I am the one who will be running this skill challenge on Thurs this week!

I have to work most weekends so I drop out of the loop a little, but I'm back and paying attention.

Our game is at 9th level, 5/6 players who have the gamut of skills covered.  I have also devised a list of five slaves per player that I have named and placed on cards, each player getting one card.  Beside each name is a description of who that slave/thrall is/was back at the Keep.  Like... 

Vlad  Underwood - an old hay merchant, was delivering a wagon when the Keep was attacked by orcs.  Speaks proficient goblin.  Missing a finger.

The idea is, that on each card will be slaves in the care of that player who have specialized skill sets like speaking another language, a former cook, a ropemaker, etc... folks who, should the players care to incorporate their skills, would give a bonus to checks also. 

I have almost resigned myself to not setting an arbitrary win/fail ratio in this challenge (unless I am convinced of the faults in this way of thinking).  Rather, that the party has four weeks to cross the Feywild, gain audience with the Summer Queen and then convince her to help them.  Successes, wild successes, failures and setbacks will either slow or hasten their journey.  So, instead of an arbitrary number set, it will be here is the calendar; let's start marking off days as they happen.  You will have to rest your companions.  You can't drive them without diminishing their resolve/strength/morale. The challenge is over when you reach your destination.

Ok, which opens up the other mechanic that I mentioned that I'd like to try out.  Isereth, I mentioned in an early post about a "resource management" mechanic, and I wasn't very clear. (You thought I meant resources like food and water)  But what I meant was a mechanic for the players to manage their rescued travellers (remember, each player has a card of five); that failed skill checks, failed objectives in combats, etc would drain from a HP pool for each slave.  The idea being that throughout the journey, the slaves could be getting weaker and weaker.  Driving them an extra day might make up some time, but would cost each slave/thrall one of their HP.  A failed skill roll might cause that player to lose HP on some of his/her thralls (Thought about making that random, like have the player roll a D4 to see how many of his thralls lose a HP... dunno...)  Also, successful skill checks (healing, resting, morale boosting song and dance, etc...) could actually give the players a chance to gain a D4 healing to disperse throughout their small party.

   I thought about 5 HP for each slave/thrall.  The skill challenge?  Not 12 successes vs 3 failures, but, how many of these guys can the players keep alive until they reach ther destination?  It's ambitious I guess, but it wouldn't be terribly complicated. I know that that's not a typical template for a skill challenge, but, I could see my players really enjoy watching out for these folks.  I am definately open to input and ideas.  I've already liked a lot of what I have read. 


Instead of hp's consider a mechanic similar to death throws and diseases.

 Evey day where the npc's get worn out (either because a skill challenge failed or because the pc's forced them to exert themselves) have the slaves roll a saving throw. Failure means they get one step closer, success means no change.
A particularly easy day may mean they either automatically improve one step, or they get a chance to roll to improve one step.
Also, at a certain gestation period interval (maybe 2 weeks) everyone automatically gains a failure.
As you'd expect, 3 failed saves and they convert. You could even say that a nat 20 and they become cured.

This combination will ensure that each slaves will get better/worse at individual rates, but with an easy to follow mechanic... 


So it seems that the trick then becomes trying to integrate this with a skill challenge? 
Probably best to combine this with elements of Iserith's travel challenge, while keeping the clock factor.
For example failure to cross the chasm in a timely manner means that the players must make up the time by extended marching, which will force a save...

Now the hard part is determining the correct number of challenges and their dc's so that it's possible for at least most of the slaves to survive, but difficult enough to keep it interesting.
Before we get into complex math, what do you think so far?


EDIT - the problem with a HP mechanic is that by RAW, every heroic teir npc/monster with 2 or more hp's has 1 healing surge. They don't have the ability to second wind, but they can use the surge if a powers lets them. Which means every night your leader jsut casts healing/majestic/whatever Word on them in succession and they are filled up with HP's. Yeah, 2 heals every 5 minutes means he can 'only' heal 24 of them in an hour.
It's far too easy to keep them alive that way... 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Overall, I'm a fan of abstraction rather than complex mechanics for the purposes of simulation which means stuff like tracking days and such isn't my bag. I won't be able to be much help there. (And I say that without judgment as to people who do. It's just harder to wrap my head around it. I know my limitations.) 

I do like the disease track idea. And I also like throwing out the 12 success skill challenge in favor of something with less successes required plus overlaying the disease track idea onto the slaves. I'd like to see this further explored, even if YoungOnce isn't down with it.

How about something like this: You do an 8 success skill challenge as I have above instead of 12. That puts it into the "sweet spot" statistically. Each Complication is a group check in that skill challenge with the level of success (high, middling, or fail) being determined by majority (or a +, 0, - method). Assets get limited to the skills the slaves bring to the table, since you have them all statted up and presumably want the players to use it in their fiction. Consequences (on each failed group check) mean losing slaves by some fair resolution method. It feels a bit more meaningful and consequential to me to lose those slaves without taking saves and such - those slaves didn't make it across the chasm. Cross off their names and mourn their loss.

I also agree that the Victory and Defeat conditions could use a looking at in terms of the overaching "Travel" skill challenge. If you're losing slaves as Consequences, what does failure on the overall challenge look like? And how is it interesting?

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
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Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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I also agree that the Victory and Defeat conditions could use a looking at in terms of the overaching "Travel" skill challenge. If you're losing slaves as Consequences, what does failure on the overall challenge look like? And how is it interesting? 




This is why i'm a fan of tracking each slave individually. The bookeeping isn't that hard, each player has 5, so each player rolls 5d20 when it matters, and marks an X next to the guy that failed. Three X's and we have a brand new mindflayerzombie thing.

The interesting thing about this is what happens when you have a few slaves at two X's. The clock is running low, but if they fail at a certain hazard (meaning it takes too long), the players have a choice: if they press on, they might lose some of them; if they don't the clock may run out...

The end result and process to get there is much more dynamic than simply "fail to ford the river and 3 of them get washed away...sad times. Moving on". 
 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
This is why i'm a fan of tracking each slave individually. The bookeeping isn't that hard, each player has 5, so each player rolls 5d20 when it matters, and marks an X next to the guy that failed. Three X's and we have a brand new mindflayerzombie thing.



Okay, I think I see what you mean here. Correct me if I'm wrong: Are we definitely planning on having to "cull the herd" of mindflayerzombie things once we've completed the various Complications day by day? So final day of trip, we add up how many slaves have XXX on them and that's the battle? Or are we just marking them off completely when they've gotten their triple-X and  they're "gone?"

The interesting thing about this is what happens when you have a few slaves at two X's. The clock is running low, but if they fail at a certain hazard (meaning it takes too long), the players have a choice: if they press on, they might lose some of them; if they don't the clock may run out...

The end result and process to get there is much more dynamic than simply "fail to ford the river and 3 of them get washed away...sad times. Moving on".



I can see either approach here being impactful depending on how you go about administering the skill challenge and shared storytelling.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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This is why i'm a fan of tracking each slave individually. The bookeeping isn't that hard, each player has 5, so each player rolls 5d20 when it matters, and marks an X next to the guy that failed. Three X's and we have a brand new mindflayerzombie thing.



Okay, I think I see what you mean here. Correct me if I'm wrong: Are we definitely planning on having to "cull the herd" of mindflayerzombie things once we've completed the various Complications day by day? So final day of trip, we add up how many slaves have XXX on them and that's the battle? Or are we just marking them off completely when they've gotten their triple-X and  they're "gone?"



The latter, I'm seeing it more of a zombie movie thing.
Once each one of them gets 3 X's, it is obvious that the mindflayer larvae has taken over and there's no real turning back. The Dm could really take the time to ham it up as a Rp experience, Maybe the first one converts overnight and attacks the party in the thier sleep. Then the second one notices he has the same symptoms when he sees a reflection of himself: his eyes are clouding up, and growths are appearing on his chin. He tears up and in a choked raspy voice turns to the party and says "kill me before i turn" ...
Mechanically this is as easy as a coup de grace, but there really isn't a need for combat (rolling init to kill 1-2 minions seems like a waste of everyone's time)...
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
The latter, I'm seeing it more of a zombie movie thing.
Once each one of them gets 3 X's, it is obvious that the mindflayer larvae has taken over and there's no real turning back. The Dm could really take the time to ham it up as a Rp experience, Maybe the first one converts overnight and attacks the party in the thier sleep. Then the second one notices he has the same symptoms when he sees a reflection of himself: his eyes are clouding up, and growths are appearing on his chin. He tears up and in a choked raspy voice turns to the party and says "kill me before i turn" ...
Mechanically this is as easy as a coup de grace, but there really isn't a need for combat (rolling init to kill 1-2 minions seems like a waste of everyone's time)...



Okay, I understand now. You're right, I wouldn't do it as a combat "in that moment."

But you could keep it abstract and have the players know what's going to happen just before they reach the gates of the Summer Court, even if their characters aren't sure. Then based upon the number of slaves that "turned" (some minimum threshold required, otherwise it's handwaved as you say), you could have some kind of encounter and not all would have to be minions. There's nothing to suggest they aren't standards or elites that could comprise a challenging final encounter. Just an idea.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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True.

But having them all turn at the goal's doorstep just seems cheesy. I think the tension would be better if the actual consequences are played out over a few sessions....

Besides in the real world, people get sick and heal at different rates.
It's a very relatable thing, to see someone so incredibly sick they can't really be moved.
But if you don't move them (across 200 miles of feywilde), they die.  
Heehee, What's a pc to do?
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Instead of hp's consider a mechanic similar to death throws and diseases.

 Evey day where the npc's get worn out (either because a skill challenge failed or because the pc's forced them to exert themselves) have the slaves roll a saving throw. Failure means they get one step closer, success means no change.
A particularly easy day may mean they either automatically improve one step, or they get a chance to roll to improve one step.
Also, at a certain gestation period interval (maybe 2 weeks) everyone automatically gains a failure.
As you'd expect, 3 failed saves and they convert. You could even say that a nat 20 and they become cured.

This combination will ensure that each slaves will get better/worse at individual rates, but with an easy to follow mechanic... 


So it seems that the trick then becomes trying to integrate this with a skill challenge? 
Probably best to combine this with elements of Iserith's travel challenge, while keeping the clock factor.
For example failure to cross the chasm in a timely manner means that the players must make up the time by extended marching, which will force a save...

Now the hard part is determining the correct number of challenges and their dc's so that it's possible for at least most of the slaves to survive, but difficult enough to keep it interesting.
Before we get into complex math, what do you think so far?


EDIT - the problem with a HP mechanic is that by RAW, every heroic teir npc/monster with 2 or more hp's has 1 healing surge. They don't have the ability to second wind, but they can use the surge if a powers lets them. Which means every night your leader jsut casts healing/majestic/whatever Word on them in succession and they are filled up with HP's. Yeah, 2 heals every 5 minutes means he can 'only' heal 24 of them in an hour.
It's far too easy to keep them alive that way... 



Onikani and Isereth... thanks for being an awesome brain trust on this skill challenge.  I love it that you both bring different strengths to this conversation.

Okani, I like this idea... makes sense to have the save throws against the disease.  I really have to start thinking about the numbers and how to balance the difficulty of managing the timeline.  We have already established in our story that the party has four weeks before the "osmosis" will be complete.  I guess I need to establish how long it would take to travel to Senaliesse with no setbacks (say two weeks?), then break down the skill rolls into periodic disease checks?

If you were to propose a methodology, what structure would you look at? (assuming that a skill challenge with travel complications and companion deterioration would be something that the players might enjoy)  If I tried the typical skill challenge structure with a 8/3 ratio, would you...   

1.  Present skill challenge to group from our list (chasm/river crossing, murder of fey crows, storm, etc)

2.  Resolve with success or failure: success: (pick up some time, gain + to disease roll, gain successful disease roll, etc)  Failure: (get lost, penalty to disease roll, combat, etc)

3.  Have players roll for their "team", mark successes and setbacks (If a crit 20 auto heals thrall, would you have a crit 1 turn him?  Why not!) 

4.  Rinse and repeat until they arrive before Tiandra.      


Or, if I pursued the non-typical structure of no success/failure ratio, but, tried the "You have four weeks before your thralls are turned.  The Summer Queen is two-weeks journey, if all goes well, but it won't all go well..."   how would you mark the time?

1.  Roll to see if something complicates the party's travel day maybe? (What would be a good ratio that would be fair.  They shouldn't have to have a major roadblock every day.  What if for each day that nothing happens, the group accumulates a bonus to their disease/morale/strength rolls on the next challenge?  Too much?)    If something occurs, then present skill challenge to group from our list (chasm/river crossing, murder of fey crows, storm, etc)

2.  Resolve with success or failure: success: (pick up some time, gain + to disease roll, gain successful disease roll, etc)  Failure: (get lost, penalty to disease roll, combat, etc)

3.  Have players roll for their "team", mark successes and setbacks (If a crit 20 auto heals thrall, would you have a crit 1 turn him?  Why not!)

4.  Rinse and repeat until they arrive before Tiandra.   


I am with your ideas so far.  Isereth's too.  Like you said, to integrate the math to be fair and not too hard with Isereth's travel skill challenge could be a marriage made in heaven.  To answer Isereth's last question, I think that Success or Failure may or may not be complete, i.e.  will the players keep everyone alive and get them back to their families? (The players already saved these NPCs loved ones... these are just the male slaves that they are trying to return)  It could be that they save most but not all of the men. It could be that they save only a few or could even get them all killed.  How will their reputation take that?  Will they be heroes or reviled?  Will it be a success if they save only one?  I think that this will most likely be a matter of degree in success or failure, and how the people around them respond to their efforts.  I could see that being very interesting.  I think that my players would too.
            
True.

But having them all turn at the goal's doorstep just seems cheesy. I think the tension would be better if the actual consequences are played out over a few sessions....

Besides in the real world, people get sick and heal at different rates.
It's a very relatable thing, to see someone so incredibly sick they can't really be moved.
But if you don't move them (across 200 miles of feywilde), they die.  
Heehee, What's a pc to do?



I'm getting giddy just thinking about the quandry my players will see in all of this.

Okani, I like this idea... makes sense to have the save throws against the disease.  I really have to start thinking about the numbers and how to balance the difficulty of managing the timeline.  We have already established in our story that the party has four weeks before the "osmosis" will be complete.  I guess I need to establish how long it would take to travel to Senaliesse with no setbacks (say two weeks?), then break down the skill rolls into periodic disease checks?



How long it takes to get there under perfect circumstances will be determined by the skill challenge you use.
If the challenge is just to get there and not have the slaves get eaten by feywilde beasts, then it doesn't really matter if it takes the party 2 weeks or 3 weeks. This seems to be the case in your first example (quoted below).

I am assuming that the 1 month gestation was set in the default world, in which case you could say that the magic of the feywilde is causing the larvae to grow faster in some slaves than others. This not only sets the mood for the urgency, but it gives a bit of legitimacy to the disease mechanic i mentioned before (the second example, also below).



If you were to propose a methodology, what structure would you look at? (assuming that a skill challenge with travel complications and companion deterioration would be something that the players might enjoy)  If I tried the typical skill challenge structure with a 8/3 ratio, would you...   

1.  Present skill challenge to group from our list (chasm/river crossing, murder of fey crows, storm, etc)

2.  Resolve with success or failure: success: (pick up some time, gain + to disease roll, gain successful disease roll, etc)  Failure: (get lost, penalty to disease roll, combat, etc)

3.  Have players roll for their "team", mark successes and setbacks (If a crit 20 auto heals thrall, would you have a crit 1 turn him?  Why not!) 

4.  Rinse and repeat until they arrive before Tiandra.      



for a typical challenge with a 8/3 ratio, the mechanics you're describing are at odds with the final outcome (yes i realized we've discussed them but hear me out).
The party meets a challenge as presented (ravine, crows, whatever). They fail, they lose time, they 'forced march' to make up some time, slaves make a save. Well, statistically only 50% of the slaves get an X.
We march on, second challenge, second failure, second strenuous day making up time, second set of throws. 25% of the slaves still don't have a mark, 50% of them have exactly 1 mark, and 25% of them have 2 marks.
After the third challenge? 12.5% still don't have a mark, and 12.5% are converted. The other 75% have either 1 or 2 marks, but it doesn't matter because technically the skill challenge is over.

But why? The group has not lost any time, since they walked extra hours to make up the time they 'lost'. And only 2 of the slaves have died.
So why is the challenge over? Have they finally arrived? And if they can arrive there by failing all 3 challenges with only 2-3 of the slaves dying, then why bother with the challenge?

By the way, in reference to number 3, i would not have a 1 be an autoconvert, jsut as i don't have a 1 be an autodeath when a player is making death throws. This version of the diesease mechanic is meant to mimic the death throw mechanic. Which is why 1-10 is a worsening of the condition, and 11-19 is no change. A roll of 20 should be a benefit, if not an immediate cure, then at least the removal of an X (or the slave is cured if he roll a 20 while having zero X's). 



Or, if I pursued the non-typical structure of no success/failure ratio, but, tried the "You have four weeks before your thralls are turned.  The Summer Queen is two-weeks journey, if all goes well, but it won't all go well..."   how would you mark the time?

1.  Roll to see if something complicates the party's travel day maybe? (What would be a good ratio that would be fair.  They shouldn't have to have a major roadblock every day.  What if for each day that nothing happens, the group accumulates a bonus to their disease/morale/strength rolls on the next challenge?  Too much?)    If something occurs, then present skill challenge to group from our list (chasm/river crossing, murder of fey crows, storm, etc)

2.  Resolve with success or failure: success: (pick up some time, gain + to disease roll, gain successful disease roll, etc)  Failure: (get lost, penalty to disease roll, combat, etc)

3.  Have players roll for their "team", mark successes and setbacks (If a crit 20 auto heals thrall, would you have a crit 1 turn him?  Why not!)

4.  Rinse and repeat until they arrive before Tiandra.   



Time moves at the speed of plot... if you are allowing the larvae to develop at a different rate in the feywilde than you can do whatever you want with the timeline. I recommend this approach since it's the only real way to have people getting sick at drastically different rates. If this is the actual case, then the one month deadline becomes arbitrary since there is no garentee that the slaves will last that long.
 
In this model, the goal realistically isn't to get there within a month;  it's to get there as fast as possible. So we don't have a typical success/failure model. But if the players always take their sweet time, and avoid stressful situations then there is no mechanical reason to rush. 
This is why i suggested having every slave automatically acquire an X at certain time intervals. The players will realize that the disease is progressing at a steady rate (which gets amplified through strenuous days) and will continually have to adjust their strategy to the current situation.
Thus, this model means that each failure means that some measure of time was wasted. So the pc's have a choice: attempt to regain that time through strenous action (causing half the slaves to gain an X) or sit back and hope they make it to the destination before the next disease interval (when ALL of the slaves gain an X).

But we need to have it tied to some kind of timeline so we know what the absolute maximum amount of time they can take is...
So you've mentioned you'ld like to keep it to a 2 week journey, and we'll set the new 'feywilde' incubation period at like 6-7 days.
Give them like 7 challenges; every failed challenge sets them back a day (it took 1 day to get down the ravine, and another to get back up, so we're a day behind now). 
This way the players can fail up to 2 without feeling the need to make up time. In fact they can fail all 7 of them, but then they have to double time for 7 days, to ensure they still arrive before day 18. Sadly, this will result in a loss of most (if not all) of the slaves.
Somewhere in the middle is where tension will be high since their decisions will have a very definate effect on how many live or die....


I am with your ideas so far.  Isereth's too.  Like you said, to integrate the math to be fair and not too hard with Isereth's travel skill challenge could be a marriage made in heaven.  To answer Isereth's last question, I think that Success or Failure may or may not be complete, i.e.  will the players keep everyone alive and get them back to their families? (The players already saved these NPCs loved ones... these are just the male slaves that they are trying to return)  It could be that they save most but not all of the men. It could be that they save only a few or could even get them all killed.  How will their reputation take that?  Will they be heroes or reviled?  Will it be a success if they save only one?  I think that this will most likely be a matter of degree in success or failure, and how the people around them respond to their efforts.  I could see that being very interesting.  I think that my players would too.
         



IMO, The marriage of the two is basically using Isereth's ideas about the types of encounters with my idea of the disease mechanic.
The time mechanic is a combination of the 3 of us. Then the only trick is setting up the numbers so everything lines up correctly: 
Your basic goal is to have the pc's feel the need to get there without wasting time. We got this covered, and we've even fixed the need for there to be an absolute deadline (trust me, the players are going to try their damnedest to get there in as short a time as possible). 


The awesome thing about setting the challenge up this way is that you will almost certainly have partial success. As long as the players succeed on a few of the challenges, at least some of the slaves will live...and how well the hero's are recieved for it, could also depend on that number.
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
I second the sudgestion to make them a huge size swarm, and have the represented in combat.

Letting the players spend surge(s) to give the slaves hitpoints also seems like a sound idea.

Besides any normal skill chalenges, I would add in a couple specific scenarios during combat encounters. In these encounters the slaves wouldn't be in the standard "swarm formation" they use as the players defend them. For instance;

An encounter where everyone must cross a weak bridge, that spans a ravine, or rushing river. It only holds 4 at a time, so the players must defend the front from bad guys long enuogh for everyone to cross. One player must go back and forth with them, to draw the attention of a flying or aquatic monster (or 2). Increase from 4 at a time to 5 at a time to make the minimum rounds 7 instead of 9.

In the middle of the night, the slaves begin to be lured away by will-o-wisps, the party must run back and forth between the slaves, using minor actions to snap them out of it, while trying to kill the willowisps If a slave is lured more than X squares into the forest, they are lost/eaten/whatever.

For the rest of the combat encounters, I would make them pretty standard, with the swarm huddled/defensive somewhere nearby. Have the PCs decide what move action (if any) the slaves take. The slaves initiative is rolled, but the PC's can always delay, or have the slaves delay, to get a more favorable order. Occasionally the monsters might try to move in on them, but generally the players keep the monsters attention.

In addition to this, have some random mechanic for something the slaves do every round on thier turnThe . I would recomend using a "deck of cards" or "pieces of paper in a bag" so that every effect is seen at least once. Once all of them have been used, they are replaced, and the players now "know what to expect" out of the salves in the future.

Effects would include;
-A slave panics and breaks off from the group, running in a random direction! Someone grab him before he gets himself hurt! (minor action while adjacent)
-A slave decides to try and be a hero, he grabs a weapon (or stick) and tries to engage the monsters! The slave has gotten the monsters attention, and must be defended before he is killed. (medium DC diplomancy or intimidate after 1 round to get him back in the swarm)
-A slave hurls a stone at a monster, hitting it squarely in the eye! The monster takes X damage and is blinded until the end of it's next turn.
-The slaves all panic, and run as a group to different location on the field (then they regain composure)
-The slaves freeze in fear, and are imobilized until a player suceeds on a hard DC diplomacy or intimidate.
-The slaves are startled and stumble over themselves, the shift one square, and take Xd6 damage as several of them are trampled in the confusion.
-The slaves hurl a volley of improvised projectiles at a monster, the monster takes Xd6 (substantial) damage and is dazed until the end of it's next turn. The monster will atempt to attack the slaves for the rest of the encounter (if possible)
-The slaves seem indecisive, move them to the bottom of the initiative.
-The slaves seem ready for action, move them to the top of the initiative.
-The slaves yell in horor, gaining the attention of all monsters for a turn. (monsters will atempt to move and attack them for at least 1 turn, and then until they are attacked by a PC)
-The slaves seem to have composed themselves very well, they move 2 squares, lay prone, and stealth. Monsters must make a difficult perception check if they ever wish to try and attack them.
-A slave breaks into histerics, running over to a PC and grabbing him, yelling "Save me, save me." The PC must escape the grab (difficult).
-A slave is about to break under the preasure. Roll a d20, on a 5 or lower, the slave commits suicide by dagger.
-A slave atempts to save his own skin, pushing another slave 4 squares toward the nearest monster. The pushed slave gains the monsters attention.
-One gives first aide to another, the swarm gains 3d6 THP
-The slaves chear on the party with a war-chant. All party members gain a +2 to hit until the end of the slaves next turn.
-The slaves rally and charge 10 squares toward a monster. roll 1d20, on a crit, the monster is stunned (save ends), 19 or lower, and the slaves suddenly freeze with terror at the last second, leaving themselves open to the monsters next attack.
-The slaves yell wildly, trying to gain the attention of the nearest PC. The yelling is distracting, and the PC has a -2 to hit until the end of his next turn.
-A slave doubles over in pain, grabbing his head, as the illithid squims inside. Roll 1d20, on a 1 or 2, the slave dies, and an illithid spawn bursts from his skull. On a 3 or higher, the swarm takes 1d6 damage.
-The slaves rally themselves suprisingly well. Before the end of the encounter, the next time the swarm is attacked, they automatically block/dodge the monster.



Hey Vitamin,  there are a lot of great ideas to incorporate into the skill challenge in here.  I was definatley thinking of an old rope swinging bridge over a ravine too!  I like the mechanics ideas too... Since my game is tomorrow, I'm trying now to get all of this into a coherent package...
This got a bit away from me and I'm catching up. It looks like you have everything you need ahead of tomorrow's game. If you end up using the skill challenge format/process I suggested, please let me know how it goes. It works really well for our groups and sounds like it would for yours as well. Good luck!

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Yeah. there's a lot of good stuff all over this thread!

If you can get some kind of something together tonight, i'll take a good look at the math.
Otherwise, good luck and let us know how it went! 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis