Friday, January 21, 2011

Building a Challenge

Ok, let's do this thing:

Climbing the Mountain
Ok, the mountain. It's big, it's windy, it's snowy, there are bad things living there that want to eat your face. You guys need to get to the top, probably because there's some ancient city or something up there. I dunno. Make something up. For reference, let's say this is about a level 5 challenge. I want to make it a big, but not hugem one, so I'm going to create a budget based off about 3 monsters. That's 192 situation points to play with

The baseline challenge here is probably going to be the ongoing storm. I could probably do something complicated revolving around decreasing temperatures or the like, but honestly, it's a to simpler to treat this as straight damage. So, let's start from this baseline:

Winter Storm
Initiative: 0
SP: 192 (82 after budgeting)
AC: - Fortitude: 20, Reflex: 19, Will: 17[1]
Icy Winds (Standard, At Will)
+9 vs fortitude; 1d8+2 cold damage against all targets

With nothing more than that, the challenge would be simple: Every round the storm attacks, and every round the players make skill attacks, following this general logic:

Circumvent - Take risks to do cool things like cross ice bridges and otherwise look awesome, mostly with athletics or acrobatics.
Manipulate - Really, this is just a matter of sucking it up and struggling on.
Understand - Find paths and routes that minimize exposure to the storm, using Nature or perception.
Smash - Smashing isn't really an option - you can't fight the storm, so it's not really on the table.
Powers - Using a power with a strong movement component counts as a skill use. If it has a damage component, then use that, but if not, then for an encounter power do 1d10+4 base, and for a daily, 2d8+4.

Base damage will be (1d6+4/1d10+4/2d8+4) + Stat + 1/2 level. Since I want to reward certain options and diminish the effectiveness of others. I want the rangers and such to get their chance to shine here, so use of Nature will get a damage bump of one step (Possibly up to the 4th level, 3d6+4). On the other hand, just slogging along is kind of dull, so I think it will drop damage by one step.

That's enough to cover the basics, so now we need to jazz it up.

First, let's start thinking about things that can happen to jazz it up. It's a wintery mountain, so attacks by monsters and avalanches both spring to mind.

For monsters, I'll throw in a pack of half a dozen wolves (Level 5 critters) using their stats as normal, so I'll take 60 SP out of the challenge to budget for them, making them 10 HP apiece. And, actually, I'll take another 10 to make the leader of the pack a grizzled, scarred old alpha with 20hp and +1s across the board (a poor man's elite).

Now, I could do the Avalanche by making it an attack the storm makes (effectively an encounter power), but I want it to have a little more substance, so it's going to be it's own problem. I'm going to take another 40sp from the budget for it. That's low enough that it's not going to be too tough to overcome, but it's not trivial.

Initiative: 0
SP: 40
AC: - Fortitude: 21, Reflex: 18, Will: 19
Wall of Snow (Standard, At Will)
+11 vs Reflex, 2d8+4 damage and target is Scattered

"Scattered" is a special status, indicating someone's been separated from the group. On the plus side, they can no longer be attacked by the Avalanche. On the downside, if the wolves comes, no one can help you out. A scattered character cannot make any attacks against the storm. To remove the scattered status, a character (either the scattered character or another character who is not scattered) must make a nature check with a DC of 20 (effectively passing up a chance to attack the storm.

Attacking the Avalanche

Circumvent - Outrun it, or do something like jump from passing boulder to passing boulder (Acrobatics)
Manipulate - Ride it out! (Athletic or endurance)
Understand - Find Shelter! (Perception or nature - as with the storm, nature gets a damage bump.
Smash - No options
Powers - Using a power with a strong movement component or with a Wall component (something that might create shelter) counts as a skill use. If it has a damage component, then use that, but if not, then for an encounter power do 1d10+4 base, and for a daily, 2d8+4.

OK, I think that covers it. Does that seem playable?

1 - These defenses are about a point high for a monster of that level. That's intentional, since skills are going to be a bit higher than attacks at this level.


  1. Seems very playable and interesting for me. Of course it needs testing, but seems solid on the first glance. Pity that all my parties are far away form snowy mountains now, but maybe I can try in out next week.

  2. What are the ramifications of making Smash ineffective for the entirety of the challenge?

    Could you add smash back in by use of weather controlling or affecting powers or rituals? Or even just a power that deals fire damage?

  3. @Justin I considered the fire angle actually, but allowing a fire attack to diminish an avalanche seemed more Exalted than D&D.

    I did intentionally go smash-light on this, but it's not totally exempt - the Wolves are there for smashing, and that's actually a big deal. They may not seem very threatening, and they're not if they're just thrown at the party willy-nilly. But if the GM keeps them in reserve until after the avalanche and uses them to go after stragglers, that gets much more scary, much more quickly.

    That said, more broadly - I don't think there's any real problem with exempting a specific avenue (some things can't be circumvented, for example). That said, I suppose it might be nice to put in an AC in case a player thinks of some particularly awesome stunt that merits it.

  4. One thing that bugs me a bit is the fourfold action matrix, since I'm not that used to 4E, but otherwise this is SPLENDID.

  5. Wow, I think you've hit onto something I can use in terms of Skill Challenges. I have always had a hard time understanding their structure. Yours, however, is very straightforward and it looks easy enough to design and play out.

    Gamefiend on Twitter this morning said that your system should have been Core 4e, and I have to say, after reading over this series, I agree.

    Well done.

  6. I tried this in a quick-and-dirty on-the-fly sort of way running a 4e game over the weekend, stealing hp from the lead monster to set up a "figure out how to get across the stream to safety" situation and it worked great; some PCs worked on building a bridge, another focused on fending off the bad guys, and one spent the whole encounter trying not to be swept downstream. It was beautiful.

  7. Hey, just wanted to give some feedback on this as I used a rough version of it this past session. After learning that the creature terrorizing the countryside would be something fierce, a creature that could shred the party if the party did not find some way to create an advantage for itself. They decided to set up an ambush and it occurred to me at the table that I could try using your method to chop away at the hit points of this beast, rather than letting all of the prep work to create the trap ride on a single to hit roll when the beast triggers the trap.

    I didn't tell the players what I was doing as far as their skill checks were concerned, since I don't really like to expose skill challenges in general. Because I didn't want to expose that something different was going on, I didn't have them roll separately for damage. Instead, I just took their skill check totals and subtracted five for those things that would have less impact. The creature was four levels higher than the party so a sixth level monster. They did what I would expect them to do for setting up a trap, building the trap, finding a good location, and then luring the beast in.

    It's a party of two defenders, two controllers, one leader and one striker. With the doubling of defenders and controllers, even a second level party can lock up a solo creature for a couple of rounds. In all, they did about one third of the damage needed before combat even started via the ambush. They used all of their dailies, all of their action points, to take the beast out in three rounds. The creature was dazed the entire encounter, spending its action points to put a severe hurt on the party. If the creature had one full round to act, likely half to party would be dead, but thanks to the ambush the party never allowed the creature a chance to unload. Afterward I told him what I'd done with their skill checks and they thought was a pretty cool way of handling the situation. So yeah, I think I definitely would use this line of thought again, tweaking things here and there.

    Incorporating something like this has a couple of benefits too. One, it breaks up combat with solo monsters, which often can be a grind. This gives a solo encounter at least two distinct phases. Kind of like the gearing up phase. It also had the nice effect of setting the monster in the world. It didn't just exist in between rolling for initiative and the kill shot. by breaking it up into phases, you can give solos truly devastating powers, because you don't have to worry about the players surviving a 10 round battle.

  8. Nice material, i only could see it now. I'll sure use on my d20 campaings :3
    Only one doubt: when the storm n the avalanche causes damage, they do it on the player's SP, rite?


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