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How to make an encounter with falling great distances interesting and dangerous, but not deadly?

[MENTION=7006]DEFCON 1[/MENTION] Actually, you're reminding me to apply what I do during exploration – offer players a choice between varying differentiated paths – to the ascent. You see two routes: vines hanging under the walkway that you could swing along, or the rotting walkway itself with oddly spaced support beams you could balance across.
 
Do the PCs need something from the aarakocra? You could make each fall (and how the PC deals with it) affect the group's prestige or reputation in the aarakocra's eyes, providing a modifier on social interactions when they try to negotiate.
The PCs are interested in going to the aarakocra settlement to trade. They've been in the wilds for 20 days, gathering all kinds of treasures (gems, weapons, trinkets, minor magic) which they want to offload. They also could use re-supply of their provisions.

What they don't yet realize is the aarakocra leader is very old and has assembled a lot of lore which may be of use to the PCs, not the least of which is a ritual which can grant them flight for 3 days (a great boon for exploring the jungle/traveling faster to the Forbidden City they're seeking). Lore & this flying ritual may be other things the PCs want from the aarakocra.
 
You should design a reward for completing the task within a specific time frame. Maybe the bird people will offer more help and give more respect if they complete it faster.

Then, give them two ways to ascend - and easier longer route where the risk of falling is a minor set-back (represented as 1 or two levels of exhaustion, or loss of HP or spells) but no real chance for succeeding within the deadline because it might take several days (going up a path around the mountain.)

The second way is much quicker but deadlier. Harder rolls, higher falls, more risk. Falling is a major set-back but with a chance of succeeding even if they fail the first time because they can climb it in 6-12 hours. (following a multi-pitch climbing route)

In this scenario, falling doesn't represent character death, it represents a serious set-back. IF the character loses all their HPs, they are not dead but unconscious and now they have to carry them or wait for him to wake up, the character has broken a leg and is at 1/2 movement or has broken an arm and some of the challenges require the other PCs to haul the PC up etc...The injured player has mechanical penalties that last days (this is homebrew now, obviously). And having to start over will be even harder because that storm is setting in and the winds are getting high and the rock is getting wet.

If you give the players two options, they can choose the easy way and you can hand-wave the journey and dealing with the NPCs will become the harder challenge. If they choose the difficult way, the reap the benefit at the end.

The important thing is the players choose whether they want this to a challenge that takes centre stage.
Love your user name :)

Interesting, yeah you and [MENTION=6702445]jayoungr[/MENTION] make similar suggestions about the aarakocra disposition toward the PCs being determined by how their climb goes. Off the top of my head, the aarakocra saint is supposed to openly offer a flight ritual to the PCs once she learns of their quest, but perhaps that's reserved for those she finds "worthy", and those who are "less worthy" would need to perform a quest for the aarakocra in exchange for the flight ritual.

Thing is, it's important to the narrative that there is no easy way up to the aarakocra settlement from the ground. Otherwise it wouldn't be such a unique sanctuary, and would be dealing with the same dangerous jungle conditions and roaming undead as everyone else down on the ground. A big part of the character of Kir Sabal is that it's above the challenges faced by ground-dwellers. Being hard-to-reach is its only defense (well, and air elemental summoning). An easy longer way up would undermine that.
 

clearstream

Explorer
Thanks for your insights! So, I definitely am not looking to make this a dice-rolling smorgasbord; 18 check would be an absurd exercise in "when do I fail?", and it's evident the adventure writers realized that too, which is why they wrote the ascent as just 3 checks. However, their design kind of neuters the tension of the ascent.
Yes. To offer a perspective, how many dice do players throw in combat? Maybe 4 for initiative, and perhaps 8 to as many as 40 per round taking into account attacks, extra attacks, bonus action attacks, saving throws, damage dice and death saves. So a combat is perhaps as many as a hundred throws, right? Maybe two hundred. The skill system lacks the nuance to consistently interesting for that many throws. That said, I think an evening could be happily spent playing through a well-constructed skillful encounter.

I deliberately want to avoid combat or the risk of it as a time pressure (because pacing reasons & several players leap into combat if a situation smells like a fight & aarakocra would sound alarm and launch counter-offensive), however as [MENTION=21843]Dioltach[/MENTION] mentioned I could do something with inclement weather. Generally speaking, the situation as presented is a roughly 1-2 long difficult/technical climb, no external pressures.
Impending bad weather sounds like a strong candidate for time pressure. It should narrate well, it can escalate nicely, and players should easily understand the threat.

I'll be tracking their progress on a map of Kir Sabal which I'm printing at 18" x 32" and mounting to foam core, creating backing so it stands up at the table, and cutting little slits along the walkways and sticking/adhering cardboard through to simulate the walkways. Players will move their minis along these walkways. And I have some invisible flight stands we can use for stuff that doesn't fit the mold.
Sounds cool!
 
Love your user name :)
Thanks!

Interesting, yeah you and [MENTION=6702445]jayoungr[/MENTION] make similar suggestions about the aarakocra disposition toward the PCs being determined by how their climb goes. Off the top of my head, the aarakocra saint is supposed to openly offer a flight ritual to the PCs once she learns of their quest, but perhaps that's reserved for those she finds "worthy", and those who are "less worthy" would need to perform a quest for the aarakocra in exchange for the flight ritual.

Thing is, it's important to the narrative that there is no easy way up to the aarakocra settlement from the ground. Otherwise it wouldn't be such a unique sanctuary, and would be dealing with the same dangerous jungle conditions and roaming undead as everyone else down on the ground. A big part of the character of Kir Sabal is that it's above the challenges faced by ground-dwellers. Being hard-to-reach is its only defense (well, and air elemental summoning). An easy longer way up would undermine that.
It doesn't have to be easy. I just mean that it's easier. It still presents challenges and is narrow and scary and easily defensible. And, in fact, maybe the last stretch - a 50 foot cliff straight up is only easily made because the Aarakocra have made a pulley with a lift to bring up allies and merchants. So, if the players go the long way, they fail to make it up in a 'worthy' way and have to suffer the embarrassment of submitting to the Aarokocra and ask them the favour of pulling them up the last stretch(how pathetic!). The PCs would already be one favour in the hole :)

You could still go with my last suggestion without the easy way, though. The time limit gives it urgency.
 
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Draegn

Explorer
A social challenge to see who can make it up without being covered in pigeon poo. The cleanest in the eyes of the elder is the leader of the party.
 

Satyrn

Villager
EDIT: Part of my dilemma is figuring out what's at stake.
What leaps out at me is: Respect.

The quicker the players make it to the top, the better they get treated. Like, if the players rocket their way up (taking shortcuts and never resting) the aaracokra monks treat them as grand "Fliers Who Never Leave The Ground" and treat them like champions, while if they dawdle, resting every chance they get, the monks treat them as worthless nobodies.

The players will probably end somewhere in between, so get treated well if they're closer to rocketing up, or just tolerated if they struggle up but pushed a little.
 
When I'm doing this sort of thing, I generally plan out a series of complications which the PC's are expected to handle. In other words, I hand wave away most of the ascent and skip to the exciting moments of it. The generic skill check thing is fine, but it's too generic. I'd tend to do things more like:

1) A footbridge on the trail collapses. This provokes one of the three checks to avoid falling. The players have to describe what they do to rescue those that have fallen, and how they negotiate the gap.
2) A brief rain storm brings wind and rain. This provokes one of the three checks to avoid falling. The players have to describe what they do to rescue those that have fallen, and what they do to mitigate the fact that the rocks and gear are now wet.
3) A rock slide blocks the path. Crossing it provokes a check to avoid falling/caught in landslide. The players have to describe what they do to rescue those and avoid triggering additional slides.

Things like that. With a bit of brainstorming I could probably keep going. As this is prolonged exercise, I typically also force endurance checks (con saves, or whatever fits the system you are using) to avoid becoming fatigued during the ascent. Fatigued players are obviously at greater risk on future challenges.

And so forth.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Why not implement this as a 4E style Skill Challenge? Predetermine the number of successful skill checks before three failures, but don't predetermine which skills can be implemented; let that be determined by the players' declared actions. Consequences for individual failures, i.e., before failing the SC entirely, could be some predetermined range of falling damage for the individual PC, burning a hit die, stepping up the next skill check to a higher DC, etc. Failing the SC entirely could be stumbling into a combat encounter unprepared at some point of progress along the way, height determined by how many successful checks they have made towards completing the challenge. Then, climbing the rest of the way is cut off to them, but (failing forward) they have the opportunity to ascend through other means (perhaps through some item or route revealed after defeating the combat), or descend without risk of injury, or ... you get the idea.

This. I never played 4e, but Matt Coleville put out an excellent video discussing using 4e skill challenges in 5e and I used his advice to in my Curse of Strahd campaign when for the travel up the frozen winter pass to the Amber temple. How I handle it is I ask each player to explain how their character is contributing to the challenge. In this case, it would be getting the entire party safely up the cliff. It needs to be reasonable, or at least cool enough to let all reason go to the wind. Then each player makes a skill check relevant to the how they explained their character was contributing. Based on how well or how poorly they role, complications, encounters, or cool finds may result.

I try to come up with complications and successes that are more interesting than "you fall" or "you scale the cliff in half the time". Complications could be:

Player says he is looking for hazards, safe footholds, and just finding and easier way up. But he rolls poorly on his Wisdom (Perception) check.

So he didn't notice the be hive, which the party has no distrubed. They need to fight off a swarm of bees while making Dex (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) checks to keep hold of the ropes/handholds.

But a great roll on perception could be that they find some pitons left in the cliff by a past adventuring party, but they better make an investigation check because maybe one of them has become loose... Or they find a hidden cache of loot. The loot should be cool enough that they will want it, but perhaps cumbersome and they'll need to figure out how to safely bring it up the cliff.

If you don't mind a beer & pretzle approach, it can be fun to throw in some silly encounters. You could re-enact Spock surprising Kirk while he was climbing El Capitan in Star Trek V. While the party is climbing, perhaps a curious Aarakocra hovers around them trying to engage in conversation. First, if they are surprise, that have to make a check to hold on. Two, perhaps they have disadvantage on perception checks making it more likely that they'll miss the bee hive. Third, if they roll poorly on a check to persuade the bird man to go away, or if they rely on intimidation, maybe they will offend him and Aarakocra will be less hospitable to the players and they won't get the food and rest they need when they get to the top.
 
What leaps out at me is: Respect.

The quicker the players make it to the top, the better they get treated. Like, if the players rocket their way up (taking shortcuts and never resting) the aaracokra monks treat them as grand "Fliers Who Never Leave The Ground" and treat them like champions, while if they dawdle, resting every chance they get, the monks treat them as worthless nobodies.

The players will probably end somewhere in between, so get treated well if they're closer to rocketing up, or just tolerated if they struggle up but pushed a little.
Totally. :) I've crafted a story that Aerdrie Faenya once sacrificed her wings to uplift humanity (which is reflected in how the aarakocra saint Asharra running the monastery can give up her wings temporarily to magically bestow flight upon the PCs). Purportedly, the monastery holds a white feather of Aerdrie Faenya who made an arduous ascent up the holy plateau without her wings and left a feather with the monks at Kir Sabal. This story is remembered by aarakocra of Kir Sabal whose traditions demand that supplicants to speak with the living saint Asharra must likewise scale the plateau as their goddess once did.

As far as respect... One question is will the saint Asharra be so impressed by their climbing up Aerdrie Faenya’s route that she offers the Dance of the Seven Winds ritual with no strings attached, or will she demand a favor in return for the ritual?

Maybe.... if PCs work with one another & NPC companions, fall no more than 3 times as a whole, and don’t cast rituals or attempt a short rest (i.e. no lallygagging), Asharra is impressed enough to offer the ritual free of charge?

When I'm doing this sort of thing, I generally plan out a series of complications which the PC's are expected to handle. In other words, I hand wave away most of the ascent and skip to the exciting moments of it. The generic skill check thing is fine, but it's too generic. I'd tend to do things more like:

1) A footbridge on the trail collapses. This provokes one of the three checks to avoid falling. The players have to describe what they do to rescue those that have fallen, and how they negotiate the gap.
2) A brief rain storm brings wind and rain. This provokes one of the three checks to avoid falling. The players have to describe what they do to rescue those that have fallen, and what they do to mitigate the fact that the rocks and gear are now wet.
3) A rock slide blocks the path. Crossing it provokes a check to avoid falling/caught in landslide. The players have to describe what they do to rescue those and avoid triggering additional slides.

Things like that. With a bit of brainstorming I could probably keep going. As this is prolonged exercise, I typically also force endurance checks (con saves, or whatever fits the system you are using) to avoid becoming fatigued during the ascent. Fatigued players are obviously at greater risk on future challenges.

And so forth.
Yes, I agree, I also felt it was too generic as presented. Here's what I've concocted so far... Still need to figure out the final fifth section of the climb...



The Ascent to Kir Sabal
The base of the ascent is marked by a sandstone obelisk carved with the likeness of a flying swan and littered with bones and trinkets (a 10 minute search turns up 1 trinket per PC searching). A stone ramp rises up 450 feet through a series of switchbacks, then transitions to weathered wooden walkways that rise the rest of the way to the monastery some 550 feet above the jungle floor. Players notice a red-robed aarakocra watching from the highest point.

Ascending the stone ramp part takes about 45 minutes. Thereafter, each segment of the climb takes 10 minutes, with an additional 5 minutes for each fall that occurs.

When a PC falls, they may take a reaction to escape plummeting to their doom (see below).

The Stakes
Will PCs make it up before dry & sunny skies give way to heavy rains in 3 hours? The heavy rains impose disadvantage on all checks, wreck havoc on communication, and cause a small waterfall to pour between parts B and C.
Will Asharra be so impressed by their climbing up Aerdrie Faenya’s route that she offers the Dance of the Seven Winds ritual for free, or will she demand a favor in return? If PCs work with one another & NPCs, fall no more than 3 times, and don’t cast rituals or attempt a short rest, Asharra is impressed.
Which human (N)PC will Mwaxanaré become infatuated with? Whoever doesn’t fall once becomes the subject of Mwaxanaré’s infatuation.

A. Triple Gap (500’)
Switchbacking stone ramps take you up 450 dizzying feet above the jungle floor. However, where the wooden walkway should begin there is a 20-foot gap, soon followed by a 15-foot gap, and a 30-foot gap. Running long jump = Strength score in feet. Small moss-covered handholds along the cliff can be climbed across with a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check; Small PCs have advantage, PC with climb speed auto-succeed, jump spell bypasses.
Fall Reactions: Drop prone at last minute, Land on a lower walkway, Grab a vine.

B. Strong Winds (520’)
Strong winds (30-50 mph) buffet the cliffs unless magically countered. Flying creatures must land by end of the turn or fall, and verbal communication requires a DC 10 Perception check with disadvantage to hear. A free hand is required to stabilize oneself against the cliffs, and a character may drop an item to free up a hand as a reaction; anyone without a free hand must make a DC 12 Strength save or fall. Dropped items fall off the cliffside. Loose items (e.g. capes, cloaks, hats, scarves, open satchels, scrolls without cases, etc.) have a 1-in-6 chance of being torn free and fluttering off the cliffside.

There are two Ruined Cliff Structures PCs may opt to explore here.

C. Exposed Beams & Rotted Planking (530’)
The walkway is offset from the cliffside by a good 15 feet, and the cliff is starting to overhang the darkened rickety wooden walkway. Intermittent holes where the walkway has worn away reveal oddly spaced supporting beams. A character can carefully survey the walkway for signs of rot – DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) – to safely cross. Alternately, a character can balance on the support beams – DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) – to safely jump across. Climbing speed doesn’t help here
Fall Reactions: Fall into a ruined cliff structure, Grab a vine, Land on a lower walkway.
Increased Risk: Increase distance of any falls by +30 feet (+3d6).

D. Dwellings (540’)
Curious aarakocra young flutter around you, cloaked aarakocra whispering in Auran watch you skeptically from the archways of cliffside dwellings, and colorfully plumaged aarakocra offer the fastest climbers among you orchid-and-nut garlands while encouraging you upward.

E. Last Leap? (550’)
###
Fall Reactions: Fall into a ruined cliff structure, Land on a lower walkway, Grab an aarakocra.
Increased Risk: Increase distance of any falls by +50 feet (+5d6).

Falling
When a character falls without using a reaction (see below)…
  • Control fall: If you have a rope safety system, take 1 level of exhaustion, arresting your fall so you take no damage, and climbing back into position. If you’re tied to a (N)PC, they must make a DC 12 Strength save or also suffer a fall. If you’re anchored to a piton, whoever placed the anchor must make a DC 10 Dexterity or Intelligence (Climber’s Kit) check or the piton rips out and is lost, and you fall for 20-80 (2d4x10) feet.
  • Long fall: If you don’t have a safety sytem, and don’t use a reaction, you fall 500 feet. If you hit the ground, take 20d6. If you’d still be falling, then you (or an ally) can use an action next turn to try and save yourself.

When a character falls, as a reaction they choose one of the following (options limited by section of ascent):
  • Drop prone at last minute: Realizing you’re not going to make the jump/climb, you drop prone at the last minute, clutching the edge of the walkway for dear life. You take no falling damage, but you drop anything in your hands and have psyched yourself out, suffering disadvantage on any Athletics or Acrobatics checks for the rest of the climb.
  • Fall into a ruined cliff structure: Fall for 2d4x10 feet and roll 1d6 on Ruined Cliff Structures table.
  • Grab an aarakocra: Make a Strength (Athletics) check contested by the aarakocra’s +2 Dexterity (Acrobatics); on a success, you stop your fall entirely by grabbing it, on a failure you and the aarakocra fall for 2d4x10 feet.
  • Grab a vine: Make a DC 12 Dexterity save. On a success you grab a vine and take no damage! However, roll on d6 on Vines of Chult table to determine what you grab. On a failure, you fall 3d4 x10 feet.
  • Land on lower walkway: Fall for 30 feet, make a DC 12 Constitution save or crash through that walkway and fall an extra 2d4x10 feet to another walkway below, losing one item at random which falls all the way to the ground.
 
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Blue

Orcus on a bad day
Because of ease of long rest, damage nor a single level of exhaustion is any stakes at all.

I'm make the stakes Respect. You mentioned that they saw climbing it as a test of the person - have it impact the character's (and to a lesser degree the party's) opening RP with them. Could be fun if the high CHR, low DEX person fell several times and they didn not want to talk to them.
 
This. I never played 4e, but Matt Coleville put out an excellent video discussing using 4e skill challenges in 5e and I used his advice to in my Curse of Strahd campaign when for the travel up the frozen winter pass to the Amber temple. How I handle it is I ask each player to explain how their character is contributing to the challenge. In this case, it would be getting the entire party safely up the cliff. It needs to be reasonable, or at least cool enough to let all reason go to the wind. Then each player makes a skill check relevant to the how they explained their character was contributing. Based on how well or how poorly they role, complications, encounters, or cool finds may result.

I try to come up with complications and successes that are more interesting than "you fall" or "you scale the cliff in half the time". Complications could be:

Player says he is looking for hazards, safe footholds, and just finding and easier way up. But he rolls poorly on his Wisdom (Perception) check.

So he didn't notice the be hive, which the party has no distrubed. They need to fight off a swarm of bees while making Dex (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) checks to keep hold of the ropes/handholds.

But a great roll on perception could be that they find some pitons left in the cliff by a past adventuring party, but they better make an investigation check because maybe one of them has become loose... Or they find a hidden cache of loot. The loot should be cool enough that they will want it, but perhaps cumbersome and they'll need to figure out how to safely bring it up the cliff.

If you don't mind a beer & pretzle approach, it can be fun to throw in some silly encounters. You could re-enact Spock surprising Kirk while he was climbing El Capitan in Star Trek V. While the party is climbing, perhaps a curious Aarakocra hovers around them trying to engage in conversation. First, if they are surprise, that have to make a check to hold on. Two, perhaps they have disadvantage on perception checks making it more likely that they'll miss the bee hive. Third, if they roll poorly on a check to persuade the bird man to go away, or if they rely on intimidation, maybe they will offend him and Aarakocra will be less hospitable to the players and they won't get the food and rest they need when they get to the top.
Love the idea of finding pitons left by past adventurers! And I do plan to have curious young aarakocra try to communicate with the PCs – most of the aarakocra speak Aarakocra and Auran, which none of the PCs know (nor do they have comprehend languages), but it will be fun nevertheless. Oddly enough, I am including a missing aarakocra scout named Kiirk who boldly went where no aarakocra had gone before...though I digress. ;)

It may be that we play with players who have different styles, but I haven't had success giving these players a blank canvas problem and then saying "what do you do?"

For example, not too long ago the party was separated by an erosion. Long story short, 2 PCs were left high a canyon on the east bank overlooking a river, and the other 3 PCs wrecked along west bank at the water's edge. The 3 on the west bank were trying to catch up to the two up high on the east bank. I asked how they were meeting back up and the druid cast speak with animals to get recon, then water walk to get party across, then rogue with climb speed set up a rope system to scale the 90-foot canyon wall, druid polymorphed into an ape with climb speed and carried bard on his back. So no checks were needed at all.

The point of my example is that – for this group – I need to tweak the typical climbing scenario to make it interesting (e.g. I'm including a section where having a climb speed won't help). They're not going to, of their own accord, start asking to make creative skill checks like your Perception example to spot handholds. It's not that they're not creative, but when a scenario smells like something they've overcome before, they default to standard operating procedures unless otherwise incentivized. IOW, I as DM need to prompt them for stuff like that.
 
Because of ease of long rest, damage nor a single level of exhaustion is any stakes at all.

I'm make the stakes Respect. You mentioned that they saw climbing it as a test of the person - have it impact the character's (and to a lesser degree the party's) opening RP with them. Could be fun if the high CHR, low DEX person fell several times and they didn not want to talk to them.
Mhmm. Damage here is only relevant insofar as the PCs stay above 0 hit points, yes.

Exhaustion is relevant because disadvantage on ability checks applies to social checks made with the aarakocra (there is a bit of intrigue at the monastery), while stacked levels of exhaustion mean the PCs need more than one long rest to be back to normal...and there is an ongoing campaign threat that's progressing the more time they take.

Yeah, I'm not sure how to track that reputation exactly. Maybe a "3 Fall Grounder" is shunned by most of the aarakocra, not given access to their scavengers market, and struggles with trade. Not sure how I'd differentiate that from the reception a "2 Fall Grounder" or "1 Fall Grounder" gets...
 
My immediate response to the title was “Elemental Plane of Air.”
Ah man, that's brilliant. :) Working under time crunch to unexpectedly rewrite this section of the adventure for Sunday's game, so don't know if I'll have time to expand on your idea to do it justice. But so much potential there.
 
Well, speaking of respect, if they fall and grab an aarqkocra and drag it Down with them, they’ll definitely lose face.

If you want to do elemental plane of air then, instead of them climbing, they are falling towards the temple. They’d better impress those aarokocra and get that flying spell before they hit the ground! :)
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
I’ll second the call to just have them take levels of exhaustion if/when they fail a particular challenge as they attempt the ascent. It’s a gradually increasing threat rather than sudden like falling damage, but it nicely communicates the suffering the PCs go through as they climb.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
@Quickleaf

Use Exploration Turns and Wandering Monsters/Random Encounter clock.

Per the DMG, the Dungeon Scale:

1) 20 sq/min (Slow - Advantage)
2) 30 sq/min (Normal)
3) 40 sq/min (Fast - Disadvantage)

A turn is one of these units. Every 2 Turns = check the clock; 17-20 and some obstacle/ill omen emerges (wandering avian/cliff/bridge toll monster, framing fails, an important item comes loose/unbuckled, sudden gathering of storm clouds portending a soon deluge of rain, a phrase scrawled into the structure indicates the monks may have a sinister past/duality about them).

On failed Saving Throws or Ability Checks Fail Forward (the situation escalates or a new threat emerges).

Every 4 Exploration Turns requires 1 turn of Rest (which would tick the clock towards another check) or Save vs Exhaustion.

EDIT - In case it isn't clear - this should be player-facing. The players need to understand the mechanical implications of their decision-points and the potential snow-balling effects/opportunity cost.
 
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I think I have something for tracking individual PC reputation among the aarakocra. This ties into various side quests the PCs can perform to improve their bartering reputation with the bird folk.

0 Falls/Failures: Respected as “Fliers Who Never Leave the Ground”, unrestricted access to the monastery, gain a free service/good during barter. If male human/half-breed, may also attract infatuation of Mwaxanaré living among aarakocra.

1 Fall/Failure: Treated fairly, barter as normal.

2 Falls/Failures: Aarakocra aren’t forthcoming, not welcome in monastery, disadvantageous barter.

3 Falls/Failures: Mocked and/or shunned by aarakocra as “Earth Bound”, not welcome in the scavenger’s market nor monastery, impossible to barter with anyone except the saint Asharra. If Small, may also gain attention from young Na living among aarakocra who takes PC “under his wing”.
 
@Quickleaf

Use Exploration Turns and Wandering Monsters/Random Encounter clock.

Per the DMG, the Dungeon Scale:

1) 20 sq/min (Slow - Advantage)
2) 30 sq/min (Normal)
3) 40 sq/min (Fast - Disadvantage)

A turn is one of these units. Every 2 Turns = check the clock; 17-20 and some obstacle/ill omen emerges (wandering avian/cliff/bridge toll monster, framing fails, an important item comes loose/unbuckled, sudden gathering of storm clouds portending a soon deluge of rain, a phrase scrawled into the structure indicates the monks may have a sinister past/duality about them).

On failed Saving Throws or Ability Checks Fail Forward (the situation escalates or a new threat emerges).

Every 4 Exploration Turns requires 1 turn of Rest (which would tick the clock towards another check) or Save vs Exhaustion.

EDIT - In case it isn't clear - this should be player-facing. The players need to understand the mechanical implications of their decision-points and the potential snow-balling effects/opportunity cost.
Thanks for the suggestion. ☺ It reminds me of AngryGM’s exploration musings.

Looking it over...there’s a bit of dissonance between the “dungeon exploration turn with roll for complication” & the narrative, at least for me. It’s a climb up a cliff side following a pre-existing route (which makes the otherwise staggeringly difficult climb possible but still perilous).

There aren’t rooms/areas to explore. I mean, I could add that...but strapped for time needing to unexpectedly rewrite this part of the adventure. Writing up new area descriptions is just more than I can realistically do before Sunday.

The dungeon 150’ per minute movement rate assumes walking carefully, not climbing. It’s seems too fast. Back when I climbed the Currecanti Needle (a 700’ spire in Gunnison, CO) that took several hours to get a group to the peak. The height here (550’) is comparable.

Given that there’s a pre-established route, I’d expect a DM-defined series of challenges needing to be overcome as the primary challenge, rather than random complications. But I’m very open to suggestions for interesting complications I can throw in! All I have right now are Strong Winds.
 

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