Treasure Advancement (Feb 12, 2013)
Adventure Path Math (Feb 7, 2013)

Skills came up the other day in “Treasure Advancement.” I suggested the very real possibility of creating Skill Challenges based around the acquisition of treasure. It gives you a clear goal (the treasure) and the theme around which to base it.

Choosing items is straightforward. As previously mentioned, you need about five for a group of five adventurers: one at each their level, level plus-one, level plus-two, level plus-three, and level-plus four. You can scale the difficulty of skill checks to match.

Last time, I gave you four main steps for setting up a treasure-centric Skill Challenge: detect the item, locate the item, acquire the item, and verify the item. You can skip a step to change up the pacing (e.g an NPC hires the party, tells them about item).

Failing at any step along the way, you generally want to allow the party to proceed “with the plot,” albeit adding complications. If they fail to learn about the item, give them the information anyway but exaggerate its powers.

I don’t remember when it came up in D&D Insider, but I recall a series about Skill Challenges that recommended using multiple small Challenges at once. Run them into each other and overlap them wherever possible. Allow each player to choose which Challenge to work on, and treat the whole thing as a single encounter.

Cultivate a mindset that a given skill check or Challenge ending in failure doesn’t halt the group’s progress but rather complicates it. Should the rogue fail all his lockpick checks, allow him to open the door but evidence of his passing is there.

If you aren’t using every failure of the party as an opportunity for another adventure, you’re doing it wrong. Bad luck is a part of adventuring. It’s only in combat where failure might cause the end of an adventure, and only if that’s what you want.

You can also run these sorts of Skill-based Encounters from the other end, say a given NPC is trying to acquire an item, and it’s up to the party to prevent them from doing so. That gives the players an opportunity to create enemies.