Help me design a skill challenge


First Post
Party is 6 PCs all level 2

They are investigating a dungeon complex near a keep (not that one). Inside the area they are currently investigating is a band of NPC mercs hired by the someone in the keep to help stage a coup and do other nefarious things. They are very near where the mercs are holed up. basically the mercs are in 3 groups; 3 scouts in a room of their own, 5 mercs of various types in a section of their own, and the leaders (2) of the mercs with a couple of wolf pets in a room right behind a door where the 5 mercs are likely to be encountered. Any one of these groups by themselves will be a standard encounter for the group. If any 2 are encountered together it becomes a hard to impossible encounter. I dont want to overwhelm the party. The leaders are not going to be convinced to change sides or give up the mission, they are loyal to the person that hired them. The scouts are unaligned and only in it for the pay. The group of 5 mercs are split. a couple of them are really into the idea of a coup and a couple of them are only in it for the money, which leaves 2 that are "convincable".

I was thinking a skill challenge with the 5 mercs to try to convince the 2 to change sides, if successful pits the party plus 2 allies against 3 mercs and the leaders, which becomes a fair fight.

I haven't run a skill challenge yet formally so I am looking for some good ideas, and some things to watch out for if I decide to do it this way.

The PCs havent really accumulated enough cash yet to successfully buy more than 1, maybe 2, of the mercs off who might be so inclined.

All of your ideas will be appreciated.

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I think I would start off with the PCs hearing the mercs argue about their situation, making it clear that two of them are griping about not getting paid and are thinking about calling the whole thing off.

The other ones are calling them wimps.

Depending on what your group thinks is fun, I might declare "Skill Challenge!" or just go into it with the roleplaying without the explicit declaration.

Then I'd just roll with it.

Success means that both mercs jump over. 1/2 the required successes means that one of them jumps, while the other stays.

You might set some kind of bonus to rolls - or an auto success - if the mercs are offered cash. Such as: An offer of 25 gps gives the PCs a +2 bonus to their next roll; offering 100 gps counts as a success.


I was thinking a skill challenge with the 5 mercs to try to convince the 2 to change sides, if successful pits the party plus 2 allies against 3 mercs and the leaders, which becomes a fair fight.
Sounds okay if you also allow 'partial success' where the 2 mercs simply give up and leave instead of actually switching sides.

I haven't run a skill challenge yet formally so I am looking for some good ideas, and some things to watch out for if I decide to do it this way.
Partial success is the most obvious one. If you're using the errata'd rules (and you should, as they changed both the complexity and DC charts), a complexity 2 challenge at 2nd level would be starting at DC 10 and require 6 successes before 3 failures. I'd say 3 successes would grant partial success.

Beyond that, skill-wise, it's kind of up to you. Easy checks are DC 5, hard ones are DC 15. It depends on the personality of the guys you're looking at. Does their courage quail under intimidation or do they just get madder? (That may depend on the merc leaders' style. If they're used to knuckling under in the face of threats, they'll be easier to intimidate than if they trust their leaders.) Diplomacy should certainly work, and bluff should probably vary depending on the nature of the bluff.

One idea would be that Intimidate works only early on, to that partial success tier. Once the PCs have 3 successes, Intimidate becomes automatic failure (thus convincing the two guys to leave sooner rather than later). You can intimidate them to convince them to leave, but you can't intimidate them into helping.

Insight could help out by letting you figure out what they want. I mean, consider what money will bring into this. If the guys are really in it for cash, the PCs should be able to buy them off. Perhaps after an insight check, they determine that these two are just in it for money, and at that point they can make a better offer (figure out what -- 50 G each sounds about right to me) to gain an automatic success. Or possibly that option will only work after they have 3 successes already, so offering cash might make them hang around and help fight their previous allies, but won't help convince them to go away. Or you could do both, with a lower money value to buy them off and a higher to retain their services. (Say 25 each to go away, and 50 each to help. Or whatever. Figure the numbers how you want to use.) The "go away" money doesn't have to be higher than their pay; a merc is always risking his life to make money, so free money for NOT risking ones' life is a good deal. Pointing that out (diplomacy) might even lower the cost to buy them off, though not to retain their services.

A show of strength with a str check DC 15 might boost the next intimidate check, or count as an intimidate success.

A History check might reveal something about that particular merc band that could be helpful, and Streetwise could tell you something about them too, or reveal something about one guy's history that helps out. For example, you might recognize a tattoo as a gang symbol from back home and use that as leverage to drop future diplomacy checks to Easy.

I think the best advice I can give you is this: Have your information in front of you (as far as Hard, Moderate, and Easy DCs and such), and stay flexible. Don't try to write hard rules about skill challenges; you want the players to be inventive. If one of them thinks he can pick a guy's pocket and use it to bluff that the leaders plan to kill off the new guys (more profit!) then go with it. Have fun.


First Post
Thanks guys. Great suggestions. I will be monitoring this all day and print it out after work.

Originally when the party approaches the merc barracks they were going to hear the sound of combat, which in reality is sparring, but now I am definitely going with an argument. I think I will change the layout a little to make the bosses room not so close to the mercs area so it isnt unrealistic that he didnt hear the quibbling and put a stop to it.

I am definitely using the errata skill challenge rules. And level 2 difficulty 1 is what I was going to shoot for.

This will be the players first exposure to a skill challenge also so I might make mention of it but not necesarily make a formal declaration.

Again, thanks for these great suggestions. I will be sure to report back tomorrow about how it goes.


First Post
So, we ran the session last night, including the skill challenge and it went really well. I see room for improvement on my part and the players parts but it went very weel.

The ranger snuck up to the door of the mercs barracks and overheard a tense discussion consisting of 5 seperate voices. She noticed that there was discontent in 2 of the voices and they were discussing their lack of confidence in the mission and the likelihood of actually getting paid for it.

The PCs debated over whether it was better to burst in and surprise the group or try to start some kind of parlay and see what shakes out of it. Finally, cooler heads prevailed and they decided to try to lure someone out of the room and see hwo things proceeded.

The wizard used ghost sound to draw the attention of the mercs. The mercs sent 2 members, rolled at random, out to check on the noise. As it turned out they sent out one of the discontents and one of the mercs who was ok with the mission and the promised pay.

After the mercs came out of the room and down a short corridor the PCs made their presence known and the party Paladin stepped between the mercs and the entrance to the corridor back to the barracks, cutting off retreat if things went bad.

They calmly explained to the mercs that they didnt want any trouble and that no one needed to get hurt. At that point we went into skill challenge mode. I explained that they needed 6 successes before they got 3 failures and what the primary skills were and how others could help if they didnt want to try a primary skill.

This lead to a really well played challenge in which lots of roleplay ensued and lots of fun was had. By the time the skill challenge was over, they had parlayed with all 5 mercs and won 2 of them over to their side which then segued to a battle against the remaining mercs and the 2 merc bosses, which would have been a slaughter of the PCs without the 2 extra mercs on their side.

Thanks all for your suggestions.

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