December 23, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 6: Flush Out a Spy

Mad Brew returns to The Core Mechanic from a weekend of scavenging body parts for the creation of his new pet, George. While waits for a brain donor to make a voluntary donation, Mad Brew wants to share another Skill Challenge of War. Perhaps that spy that he kindly quartered in the dungeons would like to help out George...Here are the previous posts in this series:

Part 1 - The Concept
Part 2 - Complexities of War
Part 3 - Skill Challenge: Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance
Part 4 - Skill Challenge: Rally the Troops!
Part 5 - Skill Challenge: ...The Body will Die

Flush Out a Spy

No matter what sly, clever, or inventive tactics and strategies you employ, the enemy seems to know every move. You are convinced that one of your officers is a spy for the enemy and you need to flush him out before you plan your next offensive [1].

The PCs must employ counter intelligence, extract information from prisoners, and use their instincts to uncover the spy in their midst to ensure their next battle does not meet with failure.

Setup: You must ferret out a spy in your ranks that is leaking intelligence to the enemy before you devise your next move.

Level: The PCs’ level +1.

Complexity: 3 (requires 8 successes before 3 failures).

Primary Skills: Bluff, Insight, Intimidate, Streetwise.

Bluff (Hard DCs): You set up a Canary Trap by feeding different versions of sensitive information to your officers to see which version is leaked to the enemy. A failure on this approach earns a cumulative -5 penalty on future attempts of this approach as the spy becomes more wary of your methods.

Insight (Hard DCs): You converse with your officers and troops to discover who may have something that may be used as leverage over them (friends, family, or possessions), who may not believe in the cause, and other general indications of reasons for spying.

Intimidate (Moderate DCs): Your forces managed to capture an enemy courier crossing the frontlines. You use some persuasion techniques to extract details about your spy. This approach may only be attempted once.

Streetwise (Moderate DCs): You ask “sympathetic” criminal organizations if they have acquired any information about who the spy may be. Each attempt at this approach yields a cumulative -2 penalty as contact with such organizations becomes more difficult.

Success: The PCs have found the operative and have secured a minor advantage for the next battle. If the PCs were successful using the canary trap (Bluff), then instead they have a major advantage.

Failure: The PCs still do not know who the spy is or how they are getting their information. The PCs have a major disadvantage in their next battle against the enemy.

[1] Image courtesy of Wizard's Martial Power art gallery.


  1. I see there being a LOT of potential for skill challenges, as they evolve.

    Travel between destinations could be arranged as a skill challenge with Rangers or rogues getting a small bonus to a single check if in urban or outdoor areas - failures dictating the "random encounter, as well as it's difficulty.

    It's gonna take some getting used to, having skills that actually matter for something...what a concept!

    Great work you guys, Bravo.

  2. Thanks! I think I can speak for all three of us when I say we really enjoyed doing the series.

    While I have used skill based challenges in previous editions, I haven't ever structured them like this and I look forward to applying these soon.

    And At-Will has a ton more stuff on Skill Challenges.

  3. Bluff (Hard DCs): You set up a Canary Trap by feeding different versions of sensitive information to your officers to see which version is leaked to the enemy.

    What if your player has never heard of a Canary Trap? Will you let him say "I roll Bluff... somehow" and let you tell him the way it works? At Will says that's not the right way to do it. But does that mean he doesn't get to use his Bluff skill unless he can think of some other way Bluff applies?

  4. I can't speak for MadBrew, as he authored this post, but in my own Skill challenges I do not let the players know how they are supposed to use the primary skills to make successes. This may be what the RPGA does - but I feel it boxes players in to thinking they can only use the "primary skills" in the way the texts lists them. I just usually say - skills XYZ are the primary skills for this SC, but you can feel free to try anything you want. So, i would say "bluff" can be used - but then it would be up to the players to figure out how.


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