Last time I wrote about Tiny Adventures I suggested that they’d make a great model for writing your own role-playing scenarios. The Skill Challenge system could be used as an evolution of the Five-Room Dungeons concept where each Skill check is effectively an encounter in it’s own right.
With the normal Skill Challenges mechanism, 4 passes automatically means you’ve succeeded the whole task. I’d modify that a little to the more straightforward “three strikes and you’re out”. For a single session, a Complexity 1 Skill Challenge feels about right; the 4 successes and 3 fails meaning there’s 7 encounters in total. Set a Quest XP value if they succeed right to the end of the adventure, and award them 1/4 or 1/2 that value if they stumble (get 3 fails) along the way.
Each encounter should suggest an applicable skill and DC level in line with the level of the party, though if the players (as is their wont) want to try a different solution, let ’em. For example, if the encounter revolves around rescuing a peasant from a bog and you call for a DC 15 STR roll but instead the Wizard levitates them out, that counts as a success too.
Part of the key to using the Skill Challenge system to drive the adventure is using it as a framework – just get them to roll the dice 7 times and the adventure is over in five minutes. Instead, each scene should be played through in full with the roll for that encounter being the “climax” of that segment. What they do up to that point gives modifiers to the roll. Especially in the case of 4e, the key is teamwork and planning; reward the players with bonuses to the skill check for clever use of Aid Another and great ideas.
Another technique is to “zoom in” to an encounter; it might be a combat encounter that’s fully played through with battlemat and miniatures, or even another Skill Challenge (fractal Skill Challenges! Yummy!). The players get a “check” for that encounter if they win the combat, succeed that Skill Challenge or whatever.
There’s a number of advantages to taking the Skill Challenge approach to adventure design. For a start it breaks away from the combat-combat-trap-combat-combat cycle that’s too common in Five-Room Dungeons and opens up the entire skill system for use (and abuse). Set a Skill Challenge around getting permission to enter the Tomb of Fairly Horrible Things from the Civic Council, or require the to make Nature checks to find safe drinking water in the Vasty Sandy Desert (with a -2 Dex penalty and the squits if they fail).
Skill Challenges also separate the physical layout from the constraints of the adventure. That can be done using the Five-Rooms Dungeon concept too, but it’s all too easy to think of a Five-Rooms Dungeon adventure as….. well, a Five-Rooms Dungeon with each encounter being just a little further down the corridor. Put 7 skill-based situations that all occur while the characters are stuck in a jail cell (hopefully ending with their release) and you’ve got a night’s entertainment.
Finally, Skill Challenges-based adventures give all of the players a chance to shine. If you’ve got 4 or 5 party members, make sure that each one gets a chance to use their highest skill bonus to tackle a challenge. Add in a couple of full combat encounters and you’re done. The trick is to come up with unusual uses for their skills, and see if they figure them out :D .
Here’s a quick example.
The Circlet of Etnom
Lord Mearls, Baron of these parts, is a keen huntsman. A few days ago his hunting party was startled by a Wild Boar and in the scuffle he lost the Circlet of Etnom, an artefact that shifts the alignment of everyone (and everything) by one step in an ever increasing radius. The Lord used this to ensure that his Barony was a force for Good in the world, making it a safe haven for all amid the surrounding darkness. Unfortunately, it seems Something Evil found it in the forest, and even ordinarily Unaligned animals are turing to Evil. You are quested to find and recover the artefact before the whole Barony is a land of Evil. Quest XP: 1250.
1.As you enter the forest a small herd of Deer attack! Count them as Minions, 2 to each player. Nothing beats starting an adventure with a fight against Evil Deer.
2. The trees twist and bend, blocking your path. Their roots tangle one of the characters – make a DC 15 Athletics check or start to take 1hp damage per round due to the increasing pressure. They’ve still got to get through those blocked trees somehow. If they suggest using fire, the DM is allowed to throw dice at the players. d4s hurt the most, I’ve been told.
3. You find a small temple to an unknown God in a small glade. This area seems to repel the surrounding Evil and may be a safe place to make camp. In the night though, that changes as Evil breaks down the barriers. Have the character on watch make a DC 10 Wisdom check to sense the shift in the air. If they alert the other characters in time, there’s a chance they wont get caught in the Temple’s collapse (count as 20′ falling damage, DC 15 Ref save for half)
4. Eagles fly overhead. They attack. Nasty buggers, Evil Eagles. One for each player, plus one.
5.You spy a small gathering of Evil Animals – count as a large Swarm. Make a DC15 Stealth Check or suffer the consequences.
6. One of the local woodsmen lays recently gored and is in serious need of attention (Heal, DC20). If he recovers he points to a recently made track of broken foliage. If he dies, a DC 10 Nature check will find it but this counts as a fail.
7. You find the Circlet! Unfortunately, it’s atop the head of a Fiendish Dire Boar that stands 6′ tall, it’s wicked yellow eyes level with your own. By it’s side stands 6 Fiendish Dire Boar Piglet Minions. Good luck with that. If you succeed, they’ll taste delicious and the Baron will host the Best Barbecue Ever in your honour.