log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D 5E Riding a Roc - need help designing a skill challenge

toucanbuzz

Legend
I didn't play 4E, so I'm rusty on skill challenges, but I've got a scenario that screams for one:

If players want to gain favor from a legendary Spirit of the Land (a druidic guardian roc), they simply have to not fall off on a ride through the mountains (no assistance or magic, 7th level).

Any ideas for turning this into a wild ride and using skills?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Quickleaf

Legend
I often start designing skill challenges by asking about failure consequences. Do you really want the consequences of failure to be "the party falls over 200 feet to their (possible) doom?"

If yes, no problem. But if those stakes don't sit right with you, the first step is rethinking how you want failure to look like.

After that, I ask whether there are stages which I can neatly define narratively. In your case, that could be legs of an aerial journey. But maybe you want something more straightforward – it's all pretty smooth flying over forests and plains to the mountains, no conflicts, no high winds, no obstacles. So no legs of the journey to speak of.

Then I'd look at what do the PCs have control over? What's the scope of their activity? What change can they bring about? Are they controlling the roc or guiding it somehow?

If they are simply "holding on for dear life", then that's probably not something so involved as a skill challenge, and more like a group skill check.
 

I often start designing skill challenges by asking about failure consequences. Do you really want the consequences of failure to be "the party falls over 200 feet to their (possible) doom?"
This is a very good point. I'm okay with poor decisions, or a run of bad luck killing PCs, but I'm not happy if it's a single bad dice roll. If you know someone in the party has feather fall, that might change things, put personally I prefer to avoid designing around PC abilities. What happens if the PCs don't gain the favour of the spirit of the land? What happens if they choose not to attempt the challenge? How good is the spirit at detecting cheating?
 

AtomicPope

Adventurer
Here's how I go about creating skill challenges for 5e:
1) Setting a goal: You did that. The PCs must ride the Roc without falling off. That tells us the skills and the narrative.
2) Creating the narrative: You did that. The PCs must ride for a very long time without falling off, but you can add to it. Skill challenges are great for reinforcing the themes of a campaign and serving as a live interaction with the exposition. The PCs will be able to explore their world in ways they never dreamed of. That's where you need to put a little time creating boxed text to read. After they fly over an area they visited maybe the locals will recognized them and cheer. Or perhaps they see an area in distress, like a town they once visited is now on fire. Use this moment as a time to reflect and look forward.
3) Setting some parameters: Here you may have shot yourself in the foot when you said things like "no high winds". The unexpected should be expected by the DM and factored in. Making it a smooth ride removes that drama. Also, it removes the PCs from interacting with dangers of the world. I suggest you plot a course through your world. Choose places that you want to showcase. Include places they've been and places they should go. Then figure out what the weather will be like: rain, snow, heat, wind, etc. Each of those will add complications which will push them mentally and physically. When it rains they might need to used either Strength (to hold on) or Wisdom (to tough it out). When it snows or there's blazing heat they'll need Constitution. Wind might require Dexterity (balance) or Intelligence (repositioning yourself to avoid the worst of it).
4) Choosing a Thematic Required Skill : I like to make one mandatory skill check to reinforce the theme of the challenge. Because you made this a test of endurance I would suggest making an Endurance check (Constitution + either Athletics or Survival) as a required roll. Each PC must make a check before rolling the appropriate skill for that leg of the journey. If they succeed, no penalty. If they failed they suffer a -2 penalty on their skill check for this round. If they succeed by 5 or more, give them a +2 bonus. I typically make this an average roll, somewhere around DC 8-10.
5) Tailor the Skill Challenge: everyone needs their time to shine. Get a good idea of all of the PCs and their skills. Some PCs will have the endurance part no problem. If they have a good Constitution and proficiency then they'll do well no matter what. Don't worry too much about them. Instead, think of the others a little more and build on that. Before I talk about that I want to move on. Sorry but it's important.
6) Consequences of Failure: falling a thousand feet might not be the best course for a Skill Challenge. Essentially, that's a save or die event. The consequences of failure will tell you what kind of skills are at play. Instead of "don't fall off" it could be "guide and steer" the Roc. That opens up a dozen skills that can be used. Let's talk about some of the PC activities for the Skill Challenge...

Skill Checks
Acrobatics - Moving safely around the Roc. Could act like a "help" action.
Animal Handling - steering the Roc is necessary. However, it might not be something you need to do every round. It's up to you.
Athletics - endurance checks, withstanding the rigors of a long flight.
History - could serve as a navigation check, identifying landmarks and such.
Nature - an alternative to survival rolls as it can identify weather hazards.
Perception - spotting potential hazards. Could act like a "help" action.
Survival - negating the penalties imposed by weather. If this fails then give everyone a penalty or make a saving throw based on the situation.

Rules for skill checks are simple:
1) Everyone rolls - you're all in this together
2) Can't use the same skill twice (except for the rider) - Make the Pilot's DC harder. That encourages others to help.
3) Cannot advance to the next scene without a successful Animal Handling check.

Failures

What are the consequences of failing? A simple metric would be to give different outcomes for failing:
1) Weather Effects - PCs take damage.
2) Navigation - PCs are off course. This costs time. It's strenuous to get back on course. PCs Con saves or suffer Exhaustion.

Can the PCs succeed this skill challenge even after failing rolls? Yes, but not if the rider steers the Roc in the wrong direction. That's an easy way to focus everyone's attention and get them to succeed at that one thing. So now you want to craft 3 to 5 difference "scenes" that will showcase certain skills. Think of areas in your campaign that you want them to either visit for the first time, or revisit. Telling the story is the most important part of a skill challenge.
 

You might take this approach:

if the adventurers try to outrun the astral dreadnought, Janara takes the helm and pilots the vessel. However, she needs help from the adventurers, who must draw on their unique mix of skills to assist her. This calls for a series of skill checks, which is handled as follows. Have the players roll initiative. On their turn, each player must nominate which skill they are using, and describe how it helps them outrun the dreadnought. The player then makes a DC 15 skill check and adds it to a running tally of the results. This continues until the party meets the success or failure conditions (see below). Restrictions. There are some restrictions on which skills can be chosen. A player cannot choose a skill that they chose last round, and they cannot choose a skill that the player immediately preceding them in the initiative order chose. This reflects the fact that a variety of skills is needed to overcome a heroic challenge. Skill ideas. It may not be apparent at first to the players how they can assist Janara but encourage them to be creative and allow them to push the boundaries of a skill. For example, a character might use Perception to spot some floating debris they can dodge around, Athletics to secure some loose rigging on the astral skiff, Arcana to tinker with the propulsion unit, Persuasion to encourage Janara, Insight to predict the monster’s next move, and so on. Don’t be afraid to award inspiration for a particularly brilliant suggestion. Success. If the party accrues 8 successes, they outrun the astral dreadnought. If they are in Titans End, this means they leave the dreadnought behind. If they are in the astral skiff, it means they clear the forbiddance zone, and Janara can planeshift them back to the Material Plane. Failure. If they accrue 3 failures, the dreadnought catches them and tears their vessel apart, inflicting 5d10 bludgeoning damage on each adventurer (make a successful Dexterity saving throw for half damage). The dreadnought then either turns and searches for the adventurers amidst the debris or simply plow on into the void. Your call.

It might be worth adding that I did run this with my players. They quite enjoyed it, but failed and had to fight the monster.
 
Last edited:

Lyxen

Great Old One
Why a skill challenge ? Why turn a roleplaying adventure into just rollplaying ? Just make a series of steps along the ride, a steep dive, navigating a canyon, high winds, other rocs flying by, the attention of a female roc, unexpected attack by flying pests, a storm, whatever, describe the event and ask of the PCs are coping with the event.

You have the advantage of playing 5e which can be much more freeform than 4e and in which the players are not limited to skills and rituals that would not be applicable because they take too long when riding a roc. They have non-combat powers as well as many spells that might be applicable to the situations.

If you absolutely want to track how they are doing about impressing the Legendary Spirit of the Land, track their successes in each of the steps above, and set a threshold for success, but I would even advise against this, because they could have a spectacular success or failure along the way which might count more than simple failures (or successes) along the road.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
A very good point I'd like to reiterate here is: do you want them to succeed? And what happens if they don't gain the favor of the spirit? Because if not gaining that favor will stop the adventure in its tracks, I'd seriously rethink using a skill challenge - after all, the nature of rolling dice means sometimes things don't go your way.

If failure just means that they need to take another, more dangerous path (say, going through the Mines of Moria instead of over the pass through the mountains), then cool. Or maybe failure just means the Spirit grants them passage through the land but no protection while passing through it. Fine, it's an adventure.

But if failure means they can't accomplish their goals at all, I'd rethink even having rolls involved.
 
Last edited:

Lyxen

Great Old One
A very good point I'd like to reiterate here is: do you want them to succeed? And what happens if they don't gain the favor of the spirit? Because if not gaining that favor will stop the adventure in its tracks, I'd seriously rethink using a skill challenge - after all, the nature of rolling dice means sometimes things don't do your way.

Exactly, I don't advocate fudging or railroading, but for me it's dangerous to box in the future of the story on dice rolls which can go completely one way or another, and to actually pre-steer you adventure based on arbitrary initial choices for DCs and skills that the adventurers might use. Don't close yourself off to player inspiration and imagination, and the use of spells and powers.
 


For me, personally, I feel like this thread in the VERY last post by Wheelercub, is the best example or way of doing 5E Skill Challenges. Complete with rules and all that. Especially with how you can use things like spells or what not to alter/affect the DC of the Skill challenges. Which in a way, allows everyone to contribute in some fashion.
 
Last edited:

NotAYakk

Legend
How about sketch some narrative structure of this bit of plot? Instead of starting with mechanics, start with the flight path of the roc. Because the PCs aren't going to be controlling the roc, this is a natural airborn railroad.

We can introduce an interesting story. Then we can attach mechanics to it in a way that makes the story better, instead of starting with a mechanical goal and attaching a story to it.

At each node in the story, we can attach interesting consequences to the mechanical aspects as a bonus.

"Not fall off" becomes a narrative aspect instead of a mechanical one. While the story is about crossing the mountains without falling off, the mechanics don't have to be about not falling off. You are already in a dramatic situation (on the back of a Roc).

So what interesting things can happen as you rode a Roc bareback? What interesting places?

Brainstorming:
  • Wind
  • Storm
  • Lightning
  • Sleet/Ice
  • Hail
  • Rain
  • Cold
  • Sunlight
  • Mountains
  • Cliffs
  • Waterfalls
  • Rivers
  • Trees
  • Valleys
  • Other flying creatures
  • Other not-flying creatures
  • Other creatures on the roc
  • Roc riding another creature
  • Mountains/terrain as a character

"Lasting" Consequences:
  • Damage
  • Exhaustion
  • Combat
  • Social/political
  • Information
  • Consumable resources
  • Death

The Roc could visit various "factions" of the mountains (need not be creatures; a storm spirit is a faction). How the PCs have to deal with each faction could determine longer term plot stuff.

At least one use of combat mechanics from the back of the Roc. These can even be length limited; the Roc flies down a valley, and Giants throw boulders at the PCs. PCs don't have to kill or defeat Giants, as the Roc will leave the valley in a few rounds.

Checks to mount the Roc securely and defend against weather, where failure results in Exhaustion levels.

The spirit/Roc can even give the PCs explicit challenges. Like, "This storm is bored. Entertain it or it will make you dance with lighting."

Some creature wants a pine cone. Get one as the Roc flies over the trees.

At least one thing goes "wrong" (unplanned). PCs have to do something to save the Roc.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Something else that you might use is maybe the Spirit gives to the player enchanted feathers (Quaal Feather Token) that give them a one-use Feather Fall effect (and it might even fade in a few days if you don't want the players holding onto them for later), so that the aim can still be "ride the roc for as long as you can to impress the spirit", but if a player fails, it does not mean instant death.
 

toucanbuzz

Legend
I often start designing skill challenges by asking about failure consequences. Do you really want the consequences of failure to be "the party falls over 200 feet to their (possible) doom?"
Yes, it will appear that way. It's a high-cost venture with a strong reward: a 1/year revivify effect. If a fall results in "death," the Spirit will preserve the body at 1 hp and claim the future spirit for the land. Should the character die, they cannot be raised. I envision variable heights over rivers, fields, and fatal rocky terrain.
Then I'd look at what do the PCs have control over? What's the scope of their activity? What change can they bring about? Are they controlling the roc or guiding it somehow?
I envision finding ways to hang on, whether Animal Handling or Grappling or Climbing, with twists and turns over a chaotic route.
 

toucanbuzz

Legend
What happens if the PCs don't gain the favour of the spirit of the land? What happens if they choose not to attempt the challenge? How good is the spirit at detecting cheating?
Nothing, it's totally optional though they did gain political capital for their barony by promising a druidic-minded church they'd befriend a spirit of the land. Unknown about catching cheating. I like having more options.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Yes, it will appear that way. It's a high-cost venture with a strong reward: a 1/year revivify effect. If a fall results in "death," the Spirit will preserve the body at 1 hp and claim the future spirit for the land. Should the character die, they cannot be raised. I envision variable heights over rivers, fields, and fatal rocky terrain.

I envision finding ways to hang on, whether Animal Handling or Grappling or Climbing, with twists and turns over a chaotic route.
My read of your scenario – where the PCs are essentially passengers with very limited control – is that you actually have a group skill check on your hands. Just with a bit of narrative massaging.

There's just not enough happening (in terms of meaningful player choices & power to shape the scene) to merit a skill challenge format.

So instead of all rolls happening / being resolved at once, you're going player-by-player to build tension and weave your narrative of the flight path, the sharp turns, the wingtips brushing an escarpment, etc. But the resolution mechanic is straight-up the group check rules from the DMG.

Instead of limiting it to one predefined skill, it becomes "whatever skill, ability, spell, power, or creative idea makes sense." Cleverness or resource expenditure might gain an automatic success, for example. If half or more of your group succeeds, they reach the mountain destination. If they fail they fall... and you resolve that however you wish.
 

Rabulias

Hero
Not sure if this fits with what you want to accomplish, your DMing style, and/or your players' likes, but I am thinking if this could be secretly a roleplaying challenge. The old trope of "failing the test to pass the test." They are told they must ride the roc, but something is seen or happens along the way that is a threat to "the land" or the interests of the Spirit of the Land, and the players must abandon the ride to deal with it, even if it means jumping off the roc. I don't have much detail now, but for example, they see a group of people below beginning to burn down a large tree (perhaps a treant/dryad tree?) or killing a number of animals for sport. Intervening to stop whatever violation is going on , even if it means failing the test, could be the "right" answer. Some players may see the cliche and not be challenged by it; others may feel "tricked" if they continue the ride. You can decide if that fits your campaign setting and tastes for you and your players.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top