Last time around, I gave a lengthy discussion of a format I’m using for skill challenges in my 13th Age game and the rationale behind it. This time, very little discussion and lots of examples. Have at ’em!
RACE THROUGH TOWN
Multiple PCs are attempting to race through an urban setting, hoping to outrun their pursuers.
DC: 25 + κ Fail Threshold: 15 + κ
- Cause 1 negative single-use Relationship die with a notable NPC or Icon (collateral damage)
- Everyone loses a Recovery
- Can only outrun some of pursuers
This is a straightforward scene for the most part. If the PCs burn through all three failures, it could lead easily into a single battle or small sidequest. If everyone drops out of the challenge before it is completed by some chance, it’s definitely time for an ambush! Also, I really like assigning one-shot Relationship dice to things since 13th Age’s economy modelling is almost nonexistent.
CLIMB THE CLIFF FACE
PCs must scale a cliff to reach a tower, keep or similarly fortified position.
DC: 21 + κ Fail Threshold: n/a
- The alarm is sounded
- One thing the PCs wanted to stop in the location happens
Only two failures and the’re both narrative since you don’t really want to spend a lot of time on this. The checks to look for here are not “do you climb” but “how do you climb stealthily?”, “how do you climb quickly?” or maybe “how do you plan your entrance route?” Remember you can use the failures in either order, so pick the one first that makes sense for what actions the PCs choose to describe.
TAME THE MONSTER
The PCs have captured a fearsome beast, which they now try to domesticate… or at least train to not attack anything that moves.
DC: 22 + κ Fail Threshold: n/a
- The first PC to fail is out of the challenge and the beast will never listen to her/him.
- The beast is only tame so long as it has a constant minder
- The beast is only sort of trained (PCs lose control on a d6 roll of 1 under dangerous or stressful conditions)
Like the cliff face challenge, mostly narrative. The final failure is basically a reversed Relationship die.
RESEARCH A SPELL
Multiple PCs are attempting to devise a new 5th-level spell, “Heedless Bond” which compels one character to remain Nearby another or be weakened for the duration of an encounter. (It will then be Ritualized to make a love spell as a separate roll).
DC: 30 + κ Fail Threshold: 20 + κ
- The spell becomes save ends (16+)
- The spell becomes save ends (11+)
- The spell ends up being 7th level instead
- The spell only requires line of sight, not actually being Nearby
Due to the nature of the thing being made, the Failure Threshold is important. This is one of the few times where a complete failure is appropriate if all PCs get forced out of the challenge. My players used a form of this skill challenge to build a firestorm cannon. O_o
CLOSE THE PORTAL
The heroes must close a portal to the Abyss while they fight off the demons emerging from it. The demons grow and evolve at a stupefying rate.
DC: 28 + κ Fail Threshold: n/a
- Unlock one of the hordeling’s abilities (x4)
Start with a number of hordelings equal to one less than the number of PCs. Each round the portal is open, add one or two more hordelings. Unlike other challenges, this one would not actually end when all four failures have been reached, but there is a fight going on as well to keep everyone moving and engaged. By escalation 6 (and assuming a level 4 party) your PCs have an automatic +16 to hit that closing DC so they shouldn’t have too much problem with it by the end. I would increase the escalation die only with successive rounds of combat – not failed skill checks – but play around with it to see what works for you. As a bonus, have a hordeling:
Hordeling – Level 4
Initiative +6 Resist: fire (12+)
AC: 19 PD: 15 MD: 15
M: Claw – +10 vs. AC, 9 damage
18+: Fury Swipes – increase to 16 damage
Hit (even): Acid Secretion – reduce the target’s AC by 1 (cumulative) until the end of the encounter
Wing Guard – gain +1 to AC for each additional Hordeling engaged with the same target
Rapid Growth – add +10 to current and max HP
Vile Aura – any target engaged with the hordeling only heals half the normal damage
The PCs are appointed to act as arbiter between two hostile factions. The factions both have reasons to like the PCs. Before starting the challenge, a representative of each faction comes to a member of the party in private and offers a reward if the negotiation ends well for that faction. The factions have three disputes between them, of unequal importance.
DC: 16 + κ, DC 19 + κ, DC 21 + κ Fail Threshold: 11 + κ, 14 + κ, 16 + κ,
- One faction will not give its reward at the end.
- Neither faction will give its reward at the end.
- The highest DC dispute will not get resolved during this negotiation.
- A saboteur or spy from one of the factions is caught and exposed (a purely narrative failure designed to make the PC’s re-evaluate their stance)
Here we have three minor skill challenges thrown back-to-back. If the PCs attack the smallest one first and work their way up, the odds will always be about the same. Alternatively if they tackle the big one first, the rest get easier faster. However, the Failure Threshold is now only 5 rather than 10 so that if everyone fails out, the factions go right for each other’s throats. This challenge also uses purely narrative failures to mark time and heighten the fiction without messing with mechanics.
Six example skill challenges – if you try one out, please email me or comment to let me know how it works out. I love getting feedback from readers. Also, Quinn has other ideas for how 13th Age skill challenges might run; look for his counterproposal in the near future!