Thursday, 21 May 2009

Part One: The Sultan's Claw

Howl of the Carrion King kicks off with a variety of skill-based challenges, and this first post shall concern itself with the update of these scenes to the 4th Edition Skill Challenge format. I do plan on adding some conversions of material in the players guide and the bestiary at a later date, but for the moment we'll look at the adventure itself.

4th Edition's Skill Challenges have been something of a controversial introduction to D&D. This might be in part due to the errata that came out very soon after the publication of the rules, or a number of other factors, but I do think that a framing tool for non-combat events, it can work very well. I do think that the best skill challenges are those broken down into several, smaller, interrelated challenges that run concurrently or else as one part of a combat. The opening to Howl of the Carrion King is an excellent set up for interrelated challenges, with four events all happening at once, each requiring some degree of attention from the players. I have added a few more "knock on" effects between the different events so as the players work on how to balance their resources between the various crises, they hopefully see some of the interplay of how the events interlink.

To start with, introduce the scene and allow the players to introduce their characters as described in the book. With the introductions taken care of, lauch into the scene of the fire as they approach the caravan camp, briefly describing the four areas where the characters can help out.

The four skill challenges (all level 2 challenges, three at complexity 1 and one at complexity 2) are detailed below in a format fairly similar to that used in the later Wizards of the Coast books and Dungeon magazine. A slight differce in my format, the bracketted notes after most skill check DC headings genearally contain details of: how many successes toward the skill challenge a successful roll will gain; how many failures a failed roll accrues; and how many may assist with an Aid Other roll. In cases where these are ommited, default values should usually be assumed (1 success on a good roll, 1 failure on a bad one, and allowing up to four assisting uses of Aid Other mechanics) unless otherwise specified in the text.

Skill Challenge: Put Out the Fire


Almah, Garavel, and soldiers run back and forth between the burning wagon and a second, uncovered wagon loaded with a huge barrel of water.

Complexity: 1 (4 successes before 3 failures)

Level 2 (125 XP)

Victory: The fire is doused before destroying treasure parcel 9 of level 1, which can subsequently be found with a search of the cart. Victory in this challenge may automatically lead to success in the Pull Wagon Out of the Way challenge, reduces the difficulty of some checks in the Calm Frightened Animals challenge, and may help in the skill challenges to befriend some members of the caravan later.

Defeat: Treasure parcel 9 is destroyed along with the rest of the cart. On a defeat with 0 successes, it will hurt the party’s chances in future diplomacy skill challenges with the camp as they are seen as having done nothing to assist in a time of emergency.

Special: On the second failure of the challenge, if the party has not yet achieved a victory in the Pull Wagon Out of the Way challenge then the second wagon is lit by an errant spark, turning that into a skill challenge with similar conditions as to this challenge.


The Fire Unchecked – Special (1 failure).

Each round in which the party do not achieve any successes in this challenge or at least one character does not assist with the bucket line, the fire grows in intensity and the challenge accrues one failure.

Helping with the Buckets – Special (0 or 1 success).

A character may assist by grabbing a spare bucket and running to throw water onto the fire. One character doing so does not count as a success towards winning the challenge, but having at least one character assist in this manner does prevent accruing a failure if no other successes are achieved in this round. If at least three characters assist the bucket line in a round, this does garner 1 success.

Athletics DC 7 (0 successes, but assists the Helping with the Buckets check above; no assists).

A character grabs and hefts an extra bucket, counting as the contribution of two characters in the special section as detailed above.

Athletics DC 11 (0 successes, but two successful checks may lead to 4 successes; 1 failure, maximum of 2 failures; maximum of 1 assist).

A character can move the barrel with a DC 11 Athletics check. The first successful check moves the water barrel close enough that one character assisting with the bucket line in a round is enough to accrue one success in the Helping with the Buckets check, with any further characters helping with the line that round accruing a second success. If the character makes a second successful DC11 Athletics check, they can dump the entire water barrel onto the fire, gaining 4 successes (and thus, completing the challenge) but at the cost of the camps drinking water.

On the second failure when attempting to move the barrel, it slips out of the hands of the character attempting to carry it, smashes to the ground and splits open, spilling the water. The camp has also lost its drinking water in this case, but it also means that the bucket chain can no longer be maintained, which likely means the eventual failure of the challenge without some particularly clever thinking on the part of the party.

Insight DC 5 (0 successes, but hints at the possible use of a Diplomacy check; 0 failures; no assists).

If the party take a moment to take stock of the situation, they come to the realisation that the bucket line is not the most efficiently organized, with the rushing fire-fighters having several near misses, nearly colliding with one another. This suggests the possibility of using Diplomacy to organize a more efficient method.

Diplomacy DC 11 (1 success, maximum 1 success; 1 failure, maximum 2 failures; maximum 1 assist, further attempts reduce the roll by -2 each as things become too confusing).

The bucket line is rather haphazardly organized and one of the characters may decide to step forward to take charge of the situation, organising the fire-fighters in a more coherent manner. If successful, then one character assisting with the Helping with the Buckets check each round is enough to garner one success, with any further characters assisting netting a second success.

If the player has a plan for how to organise the fire-fighters more efficiently (for example, forming two chains to pass the buckets along) then grant them a +2 bonus to the Diplomacy roll.

If the Diplomacy roll fails then the attempts at organisation only serve to confuse the fire-fighters. After the second failure, Almah forcefully reminds the character that they are “supposed to be helping” and forbids them from attempting any further “harebrained schemes”.

Arcana - Trained only DC 16 (1 success; 0 failures).

Using your mystical knowledge, you attempt to extinguish the flames by drawing off heat, conjuring a frost, or some other mystical solution.

Skill Challenge – Pull Wagon Out of the Way


Mercenaries struggle to pull an enclosed wagon away from the flames before a stray spark causes the fire to spread.

Complexity: special (4 successes needed before the second failure of Putting Out the Fire challenge)

Level 2 (125 XP)

Victory: The wagon is pulled out of the way and removes the risk of the second wagon catching fire.

Automatic Victory: If the party succeed on the Putting Out the Fire challenge before they accrue two failures in that challenge, they automatically succeed in this challenge also as there is no longer any danger of the second cart catching fire.

The Fire Spreads - Special: With the second failure in the Putting Out the Fire challenge, stray embers alight on the canvas of this cart, setting it aflame. At this point, replace this challenge with one with the same set up as Putting Out the Fire, except that there is no risk of the fire spreading to a third cart.

Defeat: This cart contains food and supplies that will be lost should the party fail the second challenge.

Special: There is no requirement to track the failures for this skill challenge, unless the cart catches on fire.


Enduring the Fire – Endurance DC Variable (0 successes; 0 failures; no assists).

The cart is very close to the first fire and the smoke, heat, and flame take their toll on anyone attempting to assist with moving the second cart out of harms way. Each round, everyone assisting needs to succeed at an Endurance check at a DC of 4 + 2 for each failure accrued in the Putting Out the Fire challenge. On the first failed check, the character takes a -1 to Strength-, Dexterity-, and Constitution-based skill checks until the end of the encounter. On the second failed check, this increases to a -2 penalty. The second and each subsequent failure also causes that character to lose one healing surge. If the character has no healing surges to lose, that character falls unconscious and loses one healing surge worth of damage each round until pulled away from the flames.

Athletics DC 11 (1 success).

The party can attempt to shift the cart by brute force. The four mercenaries are available to assist with this check: if they make a DC 10 check, they add the usual +2 bonus to the roll. The mercenaries have a skill of Athletics +1.

Thievery DC 10 (1 success, maximum of 1 success).

By applying some torque and engineering knowledge you ease the turning of the wheels and make the wagon easier to move.

Hooking up the camels – DC 5 Nature or DC 10 Diplomacy (1 success, maximum of 2 successes; 1 failure).

If the party attains a victory in the Calm Frightened Animals skill challenge, they may attempt to harness up to two of the camels to help pull the cart. For each success, one camel is strapped into the harness and grants a +2 bonus on further Athletics checks to move the cart.

Skill Challenge – Heal Wounded Fire-Fighters


A white-haired old man dressed in clerical robes tends to the wounds of two severely burned figures: a man and a woman dressed in mercenary gear.

Complexity: 2 (6 successes before 3 failures)

Level 2 (250 XP)

Victory: Both Trevvis’s and Kallien’s wounds are brought under control and both will be able to recover with some rest and basic medical care.

Defeat: On a defeat with 0 success, both Trevvis and Kallien both die. Otherwise, one or the other may pull through as appropriate to the narrative flow of the skill challenge, i.e. if the party concentrate their resources on one of the mercenaries that will be the NPC who survives. However, don’t be afraid to have both die if they have a low numbers of successes in this challenge and it seems more appropriate to the situation.


Caring for the Wounded – Heal DC Variable (special; maximum 1 assist).

Both Trevvis and Kallien each need to be tended with a DC 12 Heal check at least every other round to prevent their situation from deteriorating. If either of the two mercenaries doesn’t receive a successful check for two rounds, the challenge accrues one failure and the situation of that mercenary worsens: they will now require a DC 14 Heal check every round or contribute one failure to the challenge.

Heal DC 17 (1 success; 0 or 1 failure; maximum 1 assist).

If a character wishes to be more proactive with their tending to the wounded they may make a DC 17 Heal check. The player must make the choice of whether to attempt this higher difficulty check rather than attempt a Care for the Wounded check before making their roll. Success on the roll grants one success in the challenge; failing the check by 5 or more accrues one failure. Succeeding on this check also counts as a successful Caring for the Wounded check.

Father Zastoran – Special. Father Zastoran is growing increasingly agitated as he attempts to tend to the burned mercenaries. For the first four rounds of the challenge he is able to reliably make a Heal check of 14, alternating between Kallien and Trevvis (starting with Kallien) and thus fulfilling the Caring for the Wounded check to prevent their deterioration. However, in the fifth round of the challenge, Father Zastoran’s nerves get the better of him and he needs to make Heal checks each turn with a penalty that gives a net Heal skill of +2. If the situation of either patient deteriorates at this point, Zastoran comes close to a nervous breakdown and his Heal skill decreases further to a net value of -1.

If another character takes over the task of administering to the wounded, Zastoran’s nerves are calmed slightly and he can use the Aid Other rules with a Heal skill of +4 under these circumstances.

Insight DC 5 (0 successes; 0 failures; no assists).

A successful Insight check allows a character to access the situation and realise that Father Zastoran is not coping well with the situation at hand and if he is not either calmed or relieved of his duties, he is liable to make a fatal mistake sooner or later. This check hints at the possible use of the Diplomacy skill in this challenge.

Perception DC 8 (0 successes; 0 failures; no assists).

A perceptive character may note the alchemical stains on the sleeves of Father Zastoran robes. If they enquire further, Zastoran confirms that he has alchemical supplies in his cart, but dare not leave his patients long enough to fetch the potions of healing housed there.

Diplomacy DC 11 (1 success, maximum of 2 successes; 1 failure; maximum of 1 assist, further attempts to assist add -2 penalty as Zastoran begins to feel too crowded).

A character may attempt to bolster Father Zastoran’s confidence or sooth his nerves with calming words. The first success at Diplomacy allows for Father Zastoran to reliably achieve a Heal check of 14 (or an automatic +2 if he is using Aid Other) for two more rounds. The second successful Diplomacy check settles Zastoran enough that he may continue making such checks reliably for the remainder of the challenge. Failure at the check only serves to further fluster Zastoran as he misconstrues the meaning of the words, his mind being otherwise preoccupied.

Nature DC 15 (0 successes, maximum of 1 check per character; 0 failures).

A successful Nature check identifies a plant growing nearby, the sap of which may be used as a balm for sunburn. While not perfectly apt in this situation, use of the sap does allow for a +2 bonus on a Heal check in this challenge. Enough of the plant may be gathered for two applications of the balm.

Potions and Other Healing – Special (1+ successes, maximum of 2 successes – one for each mercenary; 0 failures).

Administering a potion of healing or any other healing effect gains 1 success for each healing surge that it allows for, but each mercenary only has one surge remaining for use in such a way. If a player sacrifices a Daily power in this manner, they also receive a +2 bonus on all remaining skill checks in this challenge.

If either of the mercenaries use a healing surge, they avoid any chance of deterioration as if they had received a successful Heal check under Caring for the Wounded heading, but also have an extra round for which they will remain stable.

Father Zastoran’s Supplies – Special. A character may think to gather the potions from Father Zastoran’s cart. It will take three rounds to reach his cart, having to detour around the burning cart and the fire-fighters. If the Put Out the Fire and the Pull the Wagon Out of the Way challenges have both already resulted in victory, this time may be reduced by one round. A DC 12 Endurance, Acrobatics, or Athletics check likewise reduces the time by one round. Father Zastoran has plenty of supplies, but the character will only be able to collect three or four vials without needing to take an additional round.

Skill Challenge – Calm Frightened Animals


A number of pigs, goats, sheep, and camels have become spooked by the fire and have escaped their enclosures. They now run panicked about the campsite while a man and woman, both middle-aged, chase after the animals, attempting to shepherd them back into their pens.

Complexity: 1 (4 successes before 3 failures)

Level 2 (125 XP)

Victory: The animals are rounded up back into their pens. If the Pull the Wagon Out of the Way challenge has still to be completed and the cart has not yet caught fire, the camels may be used to assist with pulling the cart.

Defeat: The animals only panic further and almost all flee into the surrounding hills. Not only will the animals need to be rounded up later (some of which may have fallen prey to predators by such a time), but the rampant animals also disrupt other events in the camp: randomly select one of the other skill challenges still in progress and incur one failure in that challenge. On a defeat with 0 successes, inflict a second penalty on another randomly selected challenge still in progress; this may be the same skill challenge as the first failure was applied to.


Nature DC 6 (0 successes, maximum 1 check per character; 0 failures; no assists).

The character recalls some habits or knowledge of some of the animals running loose in the camp that may assist in rounding them back up. A successful check allows a +2 bonus to the next check in this challenge.

Nature DC 11 (1 success; 1 failure; maximum of 2 assists).

The character attempts to round up the animals and herd them back into their pens. If there are no longer any carts on fire in the camp (i.e. the party has succeeded in the Putting Out the Fire challenge without the second cart catching alight or else this has also been extinguished) reduce the check to a DC 9. Hadrod and Hadrah may both attempt to Aid Other with their Nature +4 skills.

Diplomacy DC 16 (1 success; 1 failure; maximum of 1 assist).

Talking animals around isn’t quite the same as talking people around, but there are a few tricks applicable in both situations. If there are no longer any carts on fire in the camp, reduce the check to a DC 14.

Bluff DC 14 (1 success; 1 failure; maximum of 1 assist).

In a battle of wits with a goat, the characters are bound to come out on top, right? If there are no longer any carts on fire in the camp, increase the check to a DC 16 as the lessened panic means the animals are slightly more aware of their surroundings.

Athletics DC 12 (1 success; 1 failure; no assist).

The character attempts to wrestle an animal physically back into the pen, but failure just panics them further.


The results of these Skill Challenges will have repercussions in upcoming Challenges where the party may attempt to befriend the other members of the caravan. Some other fallout may create other concerns: if the food or drinking water has been lost, replacements are going to need to be found, and if the animals fled into the hills, they will need to be found before something else does. Something with an appetite. These events could be additional reasons to impel the party to clear out the monestary for use as a temporary base of operations in the second part of the adventure.

In any case, one of Almah's chief concern is that the fire might not have been accidental and wishes for Garavel to investigate. Whether she includes the PCs in this request depends on their successes or failures in the skill challenges: if they have lost significant resources (water, food, animals, and/or mercenaries) then she will hardly be willing to task the party with something as important as investigating the fire. Garavel will be more forgiving in such circumstances however, and will suggest to the party that the investigation would be a good way to return themselves to Almah's good graces.

If the caravan lost supplies in the fire, scouting out new resources may provide a perfect opportunity for the party to interview the NPCs without being too obvious about conducting an investigation. Feel free to work the interview skill challenges that will be posted in a future blog into part of other encounters that might occur while hunting food, water, or the lost animals.

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