Bats cracking into charcoal and beholder being a blasted blob, the party paused to catch their breath. In burst the town elder, Hesta the Half Elf, in her night gown and heavy woolen cloak. She looks around and fastens her eyes on the elf Poppy. What happened here? she asked, suspicious of foul play. Seconds later comes a shout from outside the tavern. “The barn’s afire!”
So began a two-part skill challenge: Save the barn and Investigate the attack. They could be done concurrently or one after the other. The party decided to focus on saving the burning barn before dealing with the cause of the beholder attack. For the skill challenge we used the method of going around the room one by one and saying what they do and which skill they use.
Aside: I have issues with the way skills are done in 4e. There is usually a big difference between trained and untrained skill points, especially with attribute-optimized characters. The difference is large enough that most players will never attempt a skill that is outside their trained list. i have implemented two things to combat this. The first is that if the PC really wants to use a different skill than the situation or the dm is calling for, then I will suggest making two rolls. The first roll is the skill of their choice, and a success with this roll will provide a bonus to the next roll, the roll that the situation or dm calls for. A example of this would be trying to detect whether some one was telling the truth using perception rather than insight. I will let the PC make a perception check at a moderate level, and a success might garner a bonus (+2 or more) for the insight check to follow. This ties in with the second way of helping the skill system, and that is if a player wants to use a skill for which they are untrained, then they can look around for situational modifiers to boost their rolls. For example, if a PC with Hedge wizard gloves but untrained in arcana is attempting an arcana check, they might use their mage hand to add a bonus to the roll, if they can think of a creative way in which an extra magic hand could aid success. In some ways one could look at it in this way: a trained skill PC already takes into account all situational modifiers to their maximum potential, thus the higher bonus, but an untrained PC might be able to pick some or all of these bonuses up through usage of other skills or through good ideas.
Now then, in the first skill challenge, the system worked flawlessly. It was soon evident that the barn could not be saved, so the pc’s centered their actions around saving the various mounts and animals – 20 horses, 4 yaks, and their 2 mules and wagon. The flames were centered on the Bronzebottom brothers merchant wagon, and the loft above had already started to light. the elf Poppy unlocked all the gates while the bristling shifter druid Felipe roused the animals to flee. Meanwhile he two barbarians stalked among the crowd of gathering villagers, inciting them to action. The other elf managed to pull a single iron-bound trunk out of the inferno that was the dwarven merchant wagon. The burning barn skill challenge was a success: the animals and their wagon were rescued. the rest of the animals, including the dwarven yaks, and the rescued dwarven chest were also part of the success.
However, the problem arose when the party, fresh from their victory in the barn, were treated by the suspicious villagers as outsiders who brought the ruin with them. This problem was exacerbated by a few factors, including a critical failure intimidate check during the barn challenge – which I described as the half orc barbarian roaring at a frail old man to pick up buckets and start heaving until he had a heart attack and died on the spot. This seemingly innocuous flavor text, which I thought was hilarious at the time, turned out to cause some bad feelings among some players. A second intimidate by the same half orc was met with automatic failure during the second challenge, and a second villager death was clearly not funny the second time around. Then, when the elf ranger failed a diplomacy check while asking the town elder about the druid enclave nearby, it provoked feeling of more anger amongst the crowd, as they saw the party trying to shift blame. One bright note in the challenge is that Tara saved the Bronzebottom strong box of gold, thus the dwarves at least were appreciative of the efforts of the party. They opted to remain behind in Hommlet to study their opions (and apparently go on a long term drinking binge.)
Meanwhile, other characters were making progress on the Investigate the attack challenge. Poppy rolled a natural 20 on her check for tracks, and discovered two sets of humanoid-sized crows feet walking from the barn to the front door of the welcome Wench, and around the corner of the inn. A pair of booed feet walked amongst them. They led into a field behind the inn and stopped at a burned circle about 15 feet in diameter in the farmers field. It was determined to be a teleportation circle, used twice recently. Felipe discovered that while both their wagon and the merchant wagon were searched prior to being set ablaze, it was strange that their pathetic slave wagon should be the object of any scrutiny, especially since it was virtually empty, other than a few horse blankets and coils of rope. The party abandoned the challenge and left Hommlet to camp as far away as they could ride.
Aside: This encounter led to some drama during the game that detracted from the fun. It all came down to the way the villagers reacted towards the party. It was argued they should have been better disposed towards the party, especially since they defended the town against the recent beholder attack and saved the steeds from the barn. It is a good argument, to be weighed against the natural suspicion to outsiders the villagers have as well as the failed skill checks, letting the rolls count as it were. Perhaps through the parties good deeds they should have been given some bonuses to the social skill checks, I can totally see an argument made for that. It is important to remember the main purpose of playing this or any game is to have fun, and if anything is detrctin from that, then adjustments need to be made, the sooner the better. As dm, it is my duty to oversee the fun. I am the Fun Master, the FM as well as dm.On the other hand, sometimes failures happen, they make success all the sweeter, but it is my duty to make sure even failure turns to fun. But however it went, it led to a distinct lessening of fun, that could only be saved by a surprise attack of trolls from under a bridge.
What else, eh?
The next day saw the party on their way to Fallcrest, with Felipe scouing ffty feet or so ahead of the wagon. She crossed a small stone bridge of ancient dwarf craft and while she was at one end and the wagon just toipping the rise at the other end, 3 trolls gripped the sides with their long arms and leapt up. Her perception prevented the trolls, expert at ambushing from under bridges, from gaining a surprise round. We went to initiative.
With Felipe out front, she was assailed by two of the behemoths, while a hird one climbed up from he opposite end of the bridge near the wagon and adjacent to Thokk. In a twist from the previous encounter, the trolls were suscepible to fire, thus the party was quite adept at keeping them from regenerating, thanks to nature checks from Tara and Poppy to discover this legendary weakness of the beasts. evwertheless, they were able to dish out some serious damage, these 3 cave trolls. On a successful atack a PC was grabbed, first Felipe, then Thokk. Felipe broke free the first ime, bu Thokk kept hacking away with his devestating axe and ignored the fact that he was grabbed. At least until the troll’s turn came around again, at which poit, Thokk was used as a weapon to batter Tara, damaging the both of them.
Tara had her lion Glimmer out to help with flanking, and she attacked with her flickering quick-striking blades. At some point she jeered at the troll, provoking him to shift targets from the barbarian, then as an immediate interrupt did some big damage to the troll. On top of the wagon stood Poppy calmly firing here elemental arrows at the trolls, one by one setting them alight. Felipe followed with various firehawks and fireseeds. and in short order the first two trolls had fallen, leaving only the blue troll left. He was not even bloodied, but seeing his comrades fall, he decided o grab for Felipe and run for it. Unfortunately Felipe was having none of that ad stopped him cold, so he stood and fought to his grim death. It was a short but sweet battle that left the trolls slain and the party with little more than a scratch or two. With wide eyes and grasping hands they peered under the bridge to find what loot they might. Alas it was 10 pm, the loot would have to wait for next session.