Skill Challenges (Example)

This is an example of a skill challenge I wrote up with a friend a few days ago. It is fourth edition D&D, the party is about 8th level, and at the beginning of the challenge, they are low on resources and fleeing from a pair of hags and two powerful displacer beasts. This is built on the no failures model where a failed check makes things harder or adds a complication instead of stopping the party from achieving their goals.

Skill Challenge: escape and regroup.
Phase One Breaking Contact with the bad guys
A “You have made good time leaving the hags’ lair, and you think that you might be able to take a short breather. You find a small glen a little off the path where you can rest, hopefully unobserved.

Hearing the pursuit at a distance. Perception Moderate DC

Success: Off in the distance you hear the sound of a great cat calling out a trail. It is unfortunately similar to the howls of the displacer beasts you were running from. Happily it sounds far enough away that you may still be able to lose it. (Go to A2)

Failure: You lean against the tree trunks, your whole world consumed by the sound of heavy breathing as you and your companions catch your breaths. You get the noise under control only to hear the crunch of a heavy branch breaking not too far away. You peer around the sheltering trees and you see, not 100 feet off, the displacer beasts and one of their hag masters. She sees you looking and she freezes for a moment before she screeches out a warning into the woods. (At this point the pcs should run) (Go to B)

A2 False Trails Nature Hard DC
You have enough lead time to try to lay a false trail and slow down the pursuing enemies.

Success You split the party, with the better climbers taking to the tree tops for a few hundred yards and the rest breaking a false trail. You end it in a creek that you exit with the aid of your more arborial companions.You continue along the main path, and shortly thereafter you hear your enemies following the false trail (The extra time allows the party to negate one failure now or any time in this phase or the next ) (Go to B)

Failure Unfortunately you don’t find a great place to lay a false trail, and the one you do set out only confuses your enemies for a few moments. You don’t lose any ground, but neither do you gain any. (Go to B)

B Gaining some ground Athletics DC Easy (group check The check is passed if half the party succeeds and failed if less than half succeed)

Success: You run full out along a stretch of the trail that is still in reasonably good condition. It allows you to make good time without leaving an extensive trail for your enemies to follow. After half an hour, you no longer hear the sounds of close pursuit, though you doubt that they gave up so easily. Unfortunately you lose the main trail in your flight. (The party gains a +5 bonus on the next check) (Goto C)

Failure Try as you might, you just can’t seem to open the distance between you and your pursuers. Unfortunately you lose the main trail in your flight.

C Breaking trail Nature Medium or Perception Hard “There is a deep ravine ahead. It cuts across your path and though you won’t be sure until you reach it, you suspect that it is too deep and wide to cross easily,”

Success
You have managed to refind and follow the old trail to the ravine. Unfortunately it is more than a hundred feet wide and nearly 40 feet deep. Fortunately for you, you have managed to find an old decaying rope bridge to cross it. (Go to D)

Failure
You come to the ravine and it is definately too deep and too wide to cross. You never did refind the trail, but now you see where it intersects the creek, a quarter mile away. You make out a rope bridge in the distance. It would appear that your pursuers have managed to find some reinforcements, because a smaller displacer beast is prowling the edge of the ravine between you and the crossing (Fight scene. If the party finishes it within 10 rounds, they areable to cross with no problem.) (Go to D)

D The Bridge Acrobatics Medium or Athletics Hard “The bridge is worse than you thought it was. One of you is going to have to cross it alone in order to stabalize the structure in the face of the damage that weather and neglect have done it.

Success You have a few misstarts, but you quickly cross the bridge and secure your end of the safety line to a nearby tree. The remainder of the party crosses more easily with the addition of safe hand holds. Once the last of the party crosses the bridge, you rush back across and remove your guide line. A third crossing and you manage to cut the bridge’s rotting ropes just as your enemies reach the other side. The Hags scream in frustration and the displacer beasts roar (Go to E)

Failure:
You slip and nearly fall twice during the crossing, but you finally make it to the other side. The adrenaline rush from your near misses makes it hard to secure the rope on your side, but you get it done and none too soon. The last party member is 3/4ths of the way across when the displacer beasts arrive. They both spring out onto the ropes, seemingly unbothered by the precarious footing. (last member) gets across and the rest of the party desperately cuts the ropes. One of the displacer beasts leaps across as the bridge starts to collapse, while the other is forced to leap back to the far side (Combat then Go to E)

E You are not sure how long it will be until your pursuers find another way across, but it seems likely that you will have plenty of time to find a safe place to rest and recover. (nature dc medium)

Success About three miles into the woods, you find a gargantuan downed tree that dell into a small dell. The clearing it created in its fall is overgrown with a dense thicket of young trees, making it a good place to hide and the giant trunk gives you a defensive position in case the do find you. (go to E2)

Failure You find a shallow limestone cave in a stream bank. It is sheltered and provides you with an adequate defensive position should your pursuers find you. (Goto F)

E2 The Shrine The fallen tree seems to have landed on some sort of shrine or obelisk. It is glowing with an inconstant faint blue aura. (Arcana Hard)

Success The monolith seems to have been the focus of a major spell of abjuration. You examine it closely, unable to figure out what it was originally. Your examination shifts it accidentally and the main body comes in contact with one of the broken shards. There is a bright flash and the blue glo rapidly expands past the edge of your sight. The stones themselves lay dead and inert on the ground. (The energies of the obelisk spread throughout the forest and linger for a few days. Magical creatures are irritated and distracted by it, allowing the party a better chance in a fight against them (free suprise round against hags and displacer beasts if they fight them in the next day. (goto F)

Failure, you make a mistake while examining the obelisk and its energy discharges safely into the ground. Whatever it was, it is lost now. Goto F

F Finding the bad guys:
Now that you are well rested, it is time for the hunters to become the hunted. (Nature Medium)

Success You backtrack your opponents. They seem to have spread out for the search and gathered some reinforcements. As well as the hags and the remaining dopplegangers, they seem to have a small force of (twig blights?) backing them up. The good news is that you can call the shots and either set up an ambush or try to attack them in smaller groups.

Failure You don’t find their trail, but just as you are getting ready to give up, you run almost directly into them. They have found reinforcements, so along the way they have come to number 2 hags X displacer beasts (1 or 2) and a small group of twig blights.

Elves Elves Elves,

Elves, elves, elves.

Na Esad Has three distinct populations of elves. There are the Fang-bound, the elves who, for one reason or another, live somewhere on or in Vostin’s Fang, there are the Elves of the Seven Isles, urbane elves who live on sculpted flying gardens and who produce magnificent skyships, and the Feral Tribes who live in the great mushroom forests on the cavern’s ceiling, the shaministic society that formed during the Howling Years.

Fang-Bound
This is the smallest group of elves in the caverns, usually numbering around a thousand members. They live in communities with other races and are the most cosmopolitan sort of elf. The majority live under the dome of Sanctuary, making their livings as craftsmen. Many elves who come in through the gates wind up amongst the Fang-bound. There is a small sub-population of drow whose excesses have been tempered by the absence of their goddess and the difficulty of maintaining a slave empire with only a few hundred masters. They by no means make comfortable neighbors, but there are other communities within the caverns of Vostin’s Fang that are far worse. Over the centuries, more than a few dual scimitar wielding reformed dark elves and compassionate skyclad priestess-dancers have arrived in Na Esad via the portals only to fall into a deep depression as the locals completely failed to be first mistrustful, and then amazed at their breaking of set in stone racial stereotypes.
A number of elves older experienced elves have created isolated homes for themselves within the caverns, pockets of incredible beauty and deep solitude. Some weave magics to bring about the illusion or the reality of their lost forests and some have created new beauties in the medium of the receptive stoned of the Fang. Finding out how to best approach these isolationist elves can be a quest in itself. These secluded grottoes can be the site of almost anything you can imagine.
Many of the young and middle aged members of the Fang-bound join unofficial hunter teams, using their centuries of experience to help protect their adopted homes from powerful threats. They especially hunt the undead and demons through the caverns of the Fang.

Elves of the Seven Isles

The seven refers to the seven floating islands that the elves grew from the flying fungi that Vostin summoned to provide his first stable platform for spellwork. Each island floats in a predictable orbit around the base of vostin’s fang, hundreds of feet below the canopy of the mushroom forests on the cave’s roof. The elves of the Seven also grow great flying ships that sail beneath the roof of the caverns. They are one of the best ways to move large amounts of goods from one point in the cavern to another, and while they mostly ply trade routes around the fang, the elves occasionally send a brave crew to explore other regions of the cavern. There are a few places that they don’t send ships, since no crew has ever returned from expiditions in those directions. They have found several important resources over the years, including the Pyrotrophic Ironwood groves that provide them with much of their export production. They also provide a point of contact between the hunters and gatherers amongst the feral elves of the cavern ceiling and the rest of the peoples of Na Esad. Their cities are astonishing places of sculpted beauty, one of the few places where actual trees grow, each one trained to provide support for the fragile Islands.

Unfortunately, the seven are no longer seven in number. Their predictable flight paths bought several of the Islands their doom. While the feral tribes control most of the great mushroom forest, there are a few goblin kingdoms, one of which mounted a successful assault on the cities and . The remaining cities of the seven declared war on the goblins, who fended off their attackers several times. An uncomfortable peace was brokered after a particularly humiliating campaign ended up with the entire elven force captives of the Goblins. The Goblins exchanged all of their prisoners, including a surprising number of survivors of the initial conquest in exchange for the elves’s knowledge of how to maintain the flying fungus. The past five hundred years has seen an uneasy peace between the goblins and the Elves of the Seven Islands, though the Feral Elves occasionally organize raids against the fallen cities, and disaffected “rebel” elves from the seven almost always accompany them. The Seven Islands remain the center of Elvish Arcane lore in Na Esad.

The Islands are home to a trio of Elven liches who ascended to lichdom during the Howling Plague. They were originally three of the greatest of the Elven magi, and they realized that they were dying of the disease that was rapidly taking the elders of elven society. They were desperately searching for a cure for the disease, or even the cause, but they feared that they would succumb before they succeded. Becoming undead halted the progression of the disease and allowed them to focus their researches, though they were warped and twisted by the necromantic powers that were required to keep them functioning long enough to save their people. They are also the oldest survivors of the Howling plague, having failed to find a cure until after it had slain all of the middle aged and older elves. They helped rebuild their society, they taught the arcane arts to all of the promising students of the surviving generation, and then they entered seclusion in an effort to not spread their own corruption to the reforming society that they sacrificed so much to save. They are respected elders of the Islands, though their undeath and their evil is enough to make most elves almost sufficiently wary of them. A portion of each subsequent generation since their seclusion has, during the foolishness of youth, become enamored of the undead saviors, taking on their mannerisms, and often tattooing their faces to mirror the bony visages of the liches. Some of these young elves embrace the evil that has overtaken their idols, but most of them follow the strict self control that is practiced in public by the wizards.

Feral Tribes

When the ability of elven society to maintain itself collapsed during the Howling years, many of the young elves who found themselves without guidance or direction formed gangs and then tribes in the great fungal forests. Their culture became an aggregation of vaguely remembered lessons from their childhoods, instinctive behaviors, childhood games and stories grown in power and the basic tools of survival. Almost none of them had any magical training and they lost the essences of their religions in the chaos pf the dissolution of their societies. They have formed an incredibly competitive, in the moment society that is lead by shamanistic leaders, elven druids of a self taught bent. They posses the hauteur and sense of superiority and competition inherent in elven psychology without the weight of a strongly traditional society to temper their excesses. They live their lives as the expression of a great game. While the elves of the Seven Isles build elegant flying craft to bring them beyond their islands, the Feral Tribes raise various flying creatures, mostly giant bats, giant wasps, giant owls, and zephyr motes. They test themselves in races and fights, games and duels. Though a few of the tribes nearest Vostin’s Fang are reasonably peaceable, many of the outlying tribes see any non-elvish group to be fair game for an impromptu hunt and are a constant threat for caravans on the great spiral trade routes. Even when they are facing opponents they can’t defeat, they tend to do things like counting coup. It is not uncommon for a feral elf to have burn scars from raids on the brass tower.. While most outsiders present themselves as prey, if one of their targets presents an interesting challenge before elven blood has been spilled, it is possible to redirect a raid’s focus to a contest instead of a mere smash and grab. Feral elves are dangerous when they are among other races, but for the most part they restrain themselves when they are visiting other peoples’s cities.
While the eves devote most of their lives to the game of blood and the game of speed, their entire culture is devoted to the game of making. The game of making is a grand contest that was developed by their shamans. Each successful turn of the game sees a new obelisk on the ceiling of the fungal forest. Each of the obelisks creates a region of reversed gravity, allowing the ceiling to act as a forest floor. There is a patchwork of reversed gravity zones scattered across the reach of the forest, allowing the formation of occasional lakes and even a few small rivers. The transition zones are sudden and often unmarked save by the collection of debris in the canopies of standard mushrooms. The zones themselves extend less than a hundred feet from the cavern’s roof, far enough to encompass the mushroom canopy, but not to reach far below it. There have been a few hundred successful games of making since they started a thousand years ago. Each game is different, and each game is overseen by different spirits of the land. The game binds the local spirit, but at the same time it empowers it.