Archive for the ‘ Skill Challenges ’ Category

Matter Undermined

For every encounter I make, I try to have a strange and fun gameplay hook that your players will find interesting – something to draw them into the moment. Usually it’s something simple like climbing on giants, gaining a special movement or terrain power, or controlling a giant golem, but I have a few stranger ones lurking around that should really wow your players. This is one of those ideas; I won’t ruin it here, but I promise it’s worth the download.

If you only read through one of my little adventures, make it this one! At least check out the Special Features part of it and read about the Mind Warp ability – it’s something I thought of a long time ago but had been waiting to fit into an encounter. I guarantee it will be something your players will find exciting and memorable, so try it out if you’re looking for something new!

Matter Undermined is a standalone encounter designed for five 19th to 21st-level adventurers. An ancient temple has been unearthed, releasing the power and influence of Ythilus, the elder brain from a destroyed illithid empire, which has corrupted the minds of nearby humanoids in an attempt to regain power. The players must descend into the temple and fight off the mindless thralls and kill the elder brain, all while maintaining their sanity.

It has long been said that the mines of Letharas are cursed. Started for the search and excavation of mineral and gold deposits, the diggers soon unearthed the remains of an enormous temple buried within the hills. After a considerable effort to open one of its doors, the temple revealed strange but pristine architecture in excellent shape; shimmering halls of purple stone and crystal, preserved against elements and creatures. A search for life found nothing but crystal-laden, ornate artifacts, untouched, as if the temple—and everything inside—were abandoned and sealed long before its decent.

Those who stayed in the temple for an extended period of time began to develop splitting headaches and left; others, unwilling to leave in the face of exploration and treasure, stayed, and were driven mad—wandering into the deep black of the lower floors, disappearing into the darkness forever. Sensing a dark presence, the excavators agreed upon sealing the temple once more. Although most of the adventurers and explorers decided to leave the artifacts and treasures behind, some of the greediest excavators filled their satchels and arms with the strange crystal artifacts, carrying them to the surface as the doors were closed behind them.

Within days, the artifacts corrupted the minds of their owners, filling their thoughts with whispers and beckoning them back to the temple. One by one, the former explorers left their homes and lives behind, carrying the artifacts to the temple, which had been broken open once again. Inside, deep within its darkest corridors, an ancient elder brain waits, the sole-survivor of an ancient illithid empire. Now, waiting in the depths of the temple, it uses its expansive psionic power to call and command those within its reach, using its newly-created thralls and slaves to dig into the temple’s underbelly in search of artifacts powerful enough to create a portal between this world and the far realm. If successful, the elder brain will be able to summon in powerful illithid to defend it, growing in power until the empire’s former glory is restored.

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From Dawn Till Dusk

When it comes to vampires, you’re usually trying to last the night and wait for dawn. Not this time!

From Dawn Till Dusk is a standalone encounter designed for five 17th to 19th-level adventurers. A vampire named Brilus has taken up residence in an old manor, terrorizing a small village nearby. The players will enter the house with a limited amount of time to find the vampire’s coffin and weaken it before dark, when Brilus awakes to attack.

The village of Solisuan began as a shortcut over the marshy wetlands, and little has changed in the years since. Many of its buildings rest upon wooden terraces and raised platforms that once formed a long and crooked bridge across the swampy terrain. Some live on the swamp itself, in shacks and houses built on the occasional patches of dry and stable land. Together, the many scattered households and shops make up a small and close-knit community; last names are an uncommon and unnecessary formality. The villagers toil through the hot and humid days, skinning and tanning animal hides to make leather for trade, waiting until the cool dark of nightfall, when the village comes alive with music, games, and drinks. Dancing and laughing under the subtle blue glow of the swamp’s luminescent plants, Solisuan has always had a vibrant night life.

Lately, however, nights in Solisuan have been a little more lively—and deadly—than normal. Taking up residence in an old, dilapidated manor outside of the village, a powerful vampire lord name Brilus has come to the marsh in search of a reliable food supply. So far away from civilization and hosting a reliable amount of traffic from travelers and merchants, Solisuan has proved to be an ideal hunting ground for Brilus. With an ever-changing population of people passing through town by the bridge, and an unchecked population of giant swamp monsters, it’s almost impossible to tell if someone has gone missing—and if so, how or where they disappeared. Taking advantage of the situation, Brilus sets upon the village and bridge each night, choosing a victim from the groups of drunken, dancing wanderers.

Although Brilus normally attacks visitors passing through the village, he has, on occasion, taken residents of Solisuan. In such a small community, these abductions were noticed immediately, and it wasn’t long before Brilus was discovered and his house attacked—to no success. Enraged by this effrontery, Brilus has begun targeting the villagers, vowing to turn each and every one into a mindless servant. Under the cover of daylight, the villagers stormed the manor again and again in hopes of finding a weakened Brilus, but the coffin is never found, and each attempt provokes another onslaught of brutal attacks from the vampire.

Now, resigned to their fate, the villagers ward off travelers and spend the nights hiding indoors, huddled together while they wait for the first rays of sunlight to breach the horizon each dawn—giving them precious few hours to fight back before night darkness falls once again.

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Life Is a Lonely Business

I’m trying to introduce some new combat hooks to make your players put away their cell phones and lean in. In this encounter, there are two planes, right on top of each other, that the players can switch between. They can still see the other room as ghostly images, but they’ll need to touch an orb or be pulled into another plane by the monsters. There’s also an optional skill challenge for the players after the encounter has been resolved. Enjoy!

Life Is a Lonely Business is a standalone encounter designed for five 15th to 17th-level adventurers. In an attempt to solve the puzzle of life and death, a cleric named Alfrenk has breached the thin wall of the Shadowfell, inadvertently releasing ravenous wraiths and restless ghosts. The players must defeat the spirits in both the living realm and the Shadowfell, passing between the two planes during combat.

Formerly a crowded city of bustling markets and towering buildings, Vicene now lies quiet and forgotten, left behind by the masses as more profitable trading routes emerged. For those remaining in the city, relocation was never a choice; poverty, sickness, and fear of hunger deterred the weakest residents from travel, and the city turned into a ghost town. The boisterous laughter of crowds were replaced by the hollow echoes of wind and empty streets, the skittering and chattering of vermin, and an almost inescapable silence—for all purposes, the city was dead.

Although most avoided its ghostly streets, others were drawn to them. Arriving in surprising numbers were followers of the Raven Queen, who felt an instant connection with Vicene and those remaining in it; the cold and lifeless town seemed to emanate the inevitability of death and passing on. Temples were erected to the goddess of death, the streets were adorned with her symbols, and as far as the rest of the world was concerned, Vicene and the Raven Queen became inexorably linked.

Death in Vicene comes and goes without emotion, curiosity, or regret; each passing is considered natural and necessary. Those who would delay or fight their demise are scorned, mocked, and often removed from the city, for the Raven Queen would not approve their actions. Each and every life comes to an end how and when it should, the circumstances and timing each demise are unimportant—mere details of the inescapable embrace of death.

Lately, however, death has been embracing the residents of Vicene with startling frequency. Rejecting the Raven Queen in an attempt to conquer death, a masterful cleric named Alfrenk has discovered an entrance to the Shadowfell, and, hoping to release the souls within, has opened a gate between the two worlds. Unfortunately, the only spirits to pass through were ravenous wraiths, which quickly turned their insatiable hunger toward the souls within the city and growing more powerful with each spirit they devour. If something isn’t done soon, the ghost town of Vicene will change once again—this time into a town of ghosts.

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Surface Tension

From now on, encounters will appear on Wednesday mornings each week. Monday is D&D night and will let me test and tweak some ideas, and I won’t need to be up late on Sundays due to my inevitable weekend procrastination. Hopefully that won’t bother more than two of my three readers. 😉 I threw in another detailed skill challenge into this adventure, which determines where and how the encounter begins. Enjoy!

Surface Tension is a standalone encounter designed for five characters between levels 6 to 8.

The city of Stonegate was built on an expansive series of canals and aqueducts, used long ago to divert and carry water to neighboring cities. Now, the sewers are home to a variety of dangerous creatures, including a band of murderous sahuagin. The sahuagin climb to the surface each night, killing and kidnapping the city’s residents, who call for any brave enough to enter the aqueducts and dispatch this new threat.

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Example Skill Challenge

In my opinion, the best way to introduce a skill challenge is to weave it into the story you’re telling as a sudden problem or goal they need to reach, and describing the nature of the challenge–all without actually telling them it’s a skill challenge and laying out the complexity, # of successes needed, and applicable skills. You can also limit the number of times a skill can be used (if your players are just using that one over and over), or limit who can be the primary on assisted skills (if that player is doing all of the work), which is why I don’t include hard limits for maximum successes.

Click through to see the example.

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A Timely Undeath

This week’s encounter has a little bonus, a skill challenge added for the players to attempt after the fight is complete. Enjoy!

A Timely Undeath is a standalone encounter designed for five characters between levels 7 to 9.

The swamptown of Brelt is no stranger to death; most of its residents are wanted men and often arrive with problems in tow. Interred in an ancient cemetery that long predates the town, many of these brigands find peace for the first time—until a mysterious necromancer arrived, that is. Now, the cemetery seems to have become insatiable, and there are rumors of dead bodies being seen the marshlands at night. With nowhere to run and death knocking at their doors, the hardened residents of Brelt have begun to panic—because something tells them the end of their lives is only the beginning of their problems.

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