Skill Challenge: Surviving the North

My PCs have conquered the bad guys in “A Darkness Gathering” and now head off to the North in “Masters of Eternal Night“.  The PCs need to go from point A to point B in arctic conditions – approximately a two-week journey.  I initially just rolled up random encounters for each day but decided that, based on experience, that’s actually not very fun.  So I threw it all out and I used a skill challenge instead.  I took inspiration from the random encounters included.

My PCs got for successes with no failures. They helped the refugees but didn’t take the bait about the fey bandits, avoided the conditioned village, ignored the wolf pack and fought Lady Maline at the frozen village. The skill challenge ended in a running sleigh duel between the Thralltakers and the PCs.  The PCs disabled the Thralltakers sled and left them in the dust, but, they persisted in annoying the PCs.

It worked well and I felt it was more engaging.

I’ll add links to the related encounters as they are published.

SURVIVING THE NORTH SKILL CHALLENGE

You head north following the sigils directions. Your steps are soon dogged by a mind flayer hit squad known as the Thralltakers.

Setup: Characters will always get to the destination which is 2 weeks away on foot through arctic weather conditions. PCs need 4 successes before 8 failures. Both success and failures lead to an encounter, however, successful encounters do not automatically trigger combat encounters – combat is optional on successes. It is automatic on failures. Success encounters are marked in green (1-4), failure encounters are marked in red (5-8).
Complexity: 3 (requires 4 successes before 8 failures)
Primary Skills: Survival (DC 15) and Nature (DC 20) plus others as determined by the PCs. DC of other skills is 25. Each skill can only be used once by each PC. This represents the best attempt with this particular skill. PCs need to describe which skill and how they are using it. Only PCs proficient in the skill can make a related check.
Special: PCs level of preparedness affects the DCs. If the PCs have a reasonable plan to deal with the cold, food and shelter while travelling the DCs stay the same. For each one of these that don’t have a reasonable preparedness level (for example not taking insulated tents or Leomund’s Tiny Hut spell) increase the DC of the checks by 5.

Success: PCs fight the Thralltaker encounter along the way to the crater. The Thralltaker encounter increases in difficulty by 1 step for each failure. See the encounter for details. Each success also triggers one of the first 4 encounters below.
Failure: Each failure triggers an encounter from 5 to 8:

  1. Refugees. The party encounters a group of 11 refugees – a mix of human adult males, females and children. The group is grateful for any concrete assistance and tell of how they fled their village due to the cold and were a much larger group, but they were attacked and robbed by a group of elven bandits. If using XP grant the party a quest reward of 100 XP each if they provide real assistance – food, magic, survival gear etc. If the PCs investigate further, they trigger the Elvish Retribution encounter.
  2. Dark Out (Conditioned Village). The area’s ambient light visibly darkens. A large black spot appears on the face of the sun. The temperature plunges within minutes, cutting throw all but magical defences and natural fire or shelter inflicting 1d4 HD of damage per minute (If a PC loses all their HD, they start suffering levels of exhaustion instead at the same rate). The light slowly returns to its previous levels after 1d4 minutes soon after the party stumbles upon a conditioned village (see adventure for details).
  3. Wolf Pack (White Out). The lowering white clouds blend perfectly with the plain of snow, and it is impossible to distinguish the earth from the sky! Pack of wolves starts stalking during the morning but do not attack unless provoked. In the evening the PCs spot a white dragon – Sleet – winging its way north. It seems not to see you (it does, and this triggers the dragon encounter at the Crater).
  4. Blizzard (Frozen Village). This small village lies utterly abandoned and it is clear as to why: The unnatural cold has frozen the crops in the field and the cattle on the range. Many townspeople died of starvation and exposure, it the mass grave covered by a pile of rocks and snow in the centre of town is any indication. Apparently, the folk of the town destroyed many of their wooden houses for use as firewood. However, it looks like as if some of those fires burned out of control as many of the remaining structures are only ashen frameworks. A thorough search of the town unearths some valuables (no more than 100gp in jewellery and coins) – though most everything was burned or stripped by survivors who fled the town, vainly seeking warmer climes to the south. PCs camp at the village and they are approached by Lady Maline, Vampire. See the encounter for details.
  5. Thin Ice. You see a pair of bears roaming about looking for food. You decide to avoid them and inadvertently step on thin ice. The PCs have travelled over thin ice which opens up below a random PC creating a 10-foot diameter hole. Each PC in the area must make a DC 15 Dexterity check or fall through the ice into freezing water. Each round the PC is in the freezing water he suffers 1d4 HD of damage. If a PC loses all their HD, they start suffering levels of exhaustion at the same rate. There is a 15% cumulative chance per round that a current pulls the PC under unless they make a DC 18 Strength (Athletics) check in which case he pulls himself out. On a failure, the PC is swept away and must hold his breath or die. He may then make an attack against the ice to create a hole to climb out of (as previously). The ice cracks and breaks if a single attack does 10 points of damage of any type. If any PC in the water fails the saving throw by 5 or more (or on a critical failure) they contract hypothermia dying in the next minute if they don’t receive healing in that time. See a sled in the distance may be a day behind you. The Thralltakers are catching up.
  6. Blizzard (Snow Crust). The PCs have travelled over a snow crust which opens up below a random PC creating a 10-foot diameter hole. Each PC in the area must make a DC 15 Dexterity check or fall through the ice bank and tumble down 10 to 60 feet into a chasm. There is a 30% chance that the tumbling PC gets wedged and needs assistance to get out. If not already run the bear cave encounter can occur at the bottom of the chasm.
  7. Blizzard (Raiders in the Snow). This looks like another frozen village form the distance. If the PCs investigate see the named encounter for details.
  8. Frozen Lake (White Out). The lowering white clouds blend perfectly with the plain of snow, and it is impossible to distinguish the earth from the sky! White-out conditions last for the next 1d4+3 hours. For every hour a party attempts to press onward, it stands a 20% chance to wander onto Thin Ice. Additionally, for every hour a party moves in the whiteout, one of its members must make a DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) check with disadvantage or else the party moves in a random direction. If no one possesses the proficiency, choose one player character to make a Wisdom check with a -8 penalty every hour. Once a party becomes lost, it is conceivable that it could take several days for them to discover the error (roll a DC 15 Wisdom (Survival check) after the whiteout until the party gets a success – each failure indicates how long before the party notices they are off track). The party inadvertently stumbles onto a frozen lake encountering great crabs.
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