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Use Skill Challenges to Start Combat (Part 3 of 3)

Belmont Abbey Bell Tower, Camille Enlart (1921)[previously]

As you enter the abandoned monastery, you notice scrawled chalk markings covering the floor and walls. They all appear to be variations on the same obscure religious symbol. In the center of the room, next to a badly decayed corpse, is written the following:

“Beware the setting sun. Something comes from the forest. The monks’ wards are…”

The dark stain of the corpse’s lifeblood has, unfortunately, blotted out the rest of the message. Grasped in his right hand is clutched a piece of chalk; in the left is a small, leather-bound tome, propped open to a certain page by his decomposed thumb.

The rest of the monastery has been ransacked and vandalized. An overturned table has been crushed by a massive bookshelf. Altars lie empty of idols or holy symbols. Shutters wave open in the wind, revealing an orange orb just beginning to touch the western horizon.

If there is information to be gained, it must be done quickly…

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Encounters of Fortune: The Tower of Zazerlae (Part 2 of 5)

painting by Victor HugoTo celebrate the impending release of Open Design’s Soldiers of Fortune sourcebook for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, author Matt James brings you additional material for a military campaign.



Encounter Background

During the last encounter, the PCs located the entrance to the abandoned dungeon and were attacked by roaming giant camel spiders. Now, they must enter the dark and mysterious complex.

Any PC who makes a successful History check (DC 22) knows this location was once a vibrant and wealthy city. Sadly, the city was lost to a great cataclysm that left the entire area buried under leagues of sand…

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Use Skill Challenges to Start Combat (Part 2 of 3)

Alberto Pasini, An Arab Caravan[previously]

The shipment is supposed to be food for the prince’s wedding. The route is supposed to be one of the safest traveled by the merchant caravans. The wagons, well defended as they are, are thought to be at little risk.

Yet you have been summoned to investigate rumors of a planned ambush.

“Stop that ambush,” says the king’s armorer. “You will be well compensated. More so if you can capture the leader of these brigands.” Why this man has an interest in this caravan is a complete mystery.

The High Ground, or the Higher Ground

This skill challenge is meant to be a quick piece of information gathering. Better information will let the characters obtain better positioning when the combat starts. Each success grants one important piece of information. Three failures and the enemy is tipped off, making all the information gained worthless (or worse)…

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Use Skill Challenges to Start Combat (Part 1 of 3)

1866, Bierstadt, Storm in the Rocky Mountains“I got it!”

Mekken considered for a second. The sun had already begun to set, and the shadows of the forest grew darker, creeping rapidly closer to the abandoned hilltop monastery.

An ominous presence could be felt in those shadows.

“Thaln, gather variegated blue-leaf thyme from outside. Aildrer, I think the powdered crystal we need is under that bookshelf—can you lift it? Rojib, take this chalk and inscribe the floor with the Kyrian Kthariac styling of Her most holy insignia.”

This was a gamble Mekken was willing to take. He had great confidence in the skills of his companions…

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Action: Failure

FoxhuntingWhen it comes to skill challenges, failure is not an option.

“Of course,” you say. “No one wants to fail a skill challenge.” But this means something else entirely. Skill challenges are generally meant to represent situations or tasks which move the story forward—nonviolent encounters which carry just as much importance as those dealing with combat.

Combat challenges notwithstanding, a skill challenge is a great place to include the idea of partial victory. Consider the diplomacy skill challenge example from 4th Edition—as written, it allows for success or failure in convincing a lord to act or remain uninvolved. Reconsidering the results for partial victory might look more like this…

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