December 28, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 8: Holding the Line

The Skill Challenges of War is an ongoing series here at The Core Mechanic written by me, and two excellent guest bloggers: MadBrew and Gamefiend. Please check out the previous posts in the series and let us know what you think or if you are planning on using any of these skill challenges in your game. Previous articles in the Skill Challenges of War 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
Part 6 - Skill Challenge: Flush Out a Spy
Part 7 - Skill Challenge: Break the Seige!

The position you and your company hold has significant strategic importance. You must hold your position while facing overwhelming odds until additional reinforcements arrive.
The PCs are responsible for holding the line or maintaining control of a specific location on an active battlefield. Although they may be in command of a small company of soldiers, they are likely to be significantly outnumbered by the enemy and have decided to hunker down to defend their location, if need be, with their lives. In addition, the players are encouraged to use the supplemental skills Powers of War and Blood from Stone to mitigate the skill challenge.

Powers of War
Players can expend powers to get bonuses to a skill check. When expending powers, have the players describe how the power is being used. For each type of power used, the following bonuses are gained:
• At-Will: +0 to skill check
• Encounter: +1 to skill check.
• Daily: +3 to skill check.

Blood from Stone
Facing overwhelming odds, the players gamble with their lives hold back the tide of enemy forces. The party can elect for each member of the group to take damage equal to their healing surge value in exchange for a +2 bonus on an individual skill check. This action can be taken more than once for the same skill check, and can occur after the die is cast but before the skill check is resolved.

SETUP: You must defend your position long enough for reinforcements to arrive.

LEVEL: The PCs’ level +1.

COMPLEXITY: 3 (8 successes before 3 failures).

PRIMARY SKILLS: Athletic, Bluff, Endurance, Heal, Intimidate, Perception.

Athletics (Hard DC): The hurry yourself and the defending company into ideal defensive positions before the enemy makes their first attempt at breaking the line. Success provides a +2 bonus on the next skill check and serves as a success for the overall skill challenge. The enemy cannot, however, be fooled this way more than once.

Bluff (Hard DC): You feign defeat and bait the enemy to advance carelessly on your position. Once they move in, you spring the trap and your company launches a well executed surprise counterattack that drives the enemy out from your location and hampers their future efforts. A success counts as two successes for the overall skill challenge. A failure counts towards the overall skill challenge and costs each player a healing surge in addition.

Endurance (Moderate DC): Overcoming exhaustion, you press back against the surging enemy forces and stand your ground. You cannot use this skill in this way more than once for this skill challenge.

Heal (Moderate DC): You manage to heal the wounded in your company during an unexpected lull in the battle. A success restores one healing surge to each member of the party and counts towards the overall skill challenge. A failure counts towards the overall skill challenge and prevents its use again as the enemy sees that you are down and vulnerable.

Intimidate (Hard DC): You rally your spirits and put on a strong show of force. Even while facing overwhelming odds, you manage to strike fear into the hearts of the enemy. They retreat for a time, while they regroup and prepare for the next attack. A failure prevent this skill from being used in this way again.
Perception (Moderate DC): Your keen senses find way to best use your terrain and environment for defense. Using this skill does not count as a success or failure for the challenge, but instead provides a +2 bonus or –2 penalty to the next character’s skill check.

Defensive Stations (Basic melee attack vs Moderate DC): You and your troops fight valiantly and hold their ground.

Success: Reinforcements arrive or you have successfully driven back the enemy. The location you were defending is now secure and does not run any immediate risk of falling into enemy hands.

Failure: The enemy has overrun you and your company. You fail to hold your defensive position and must retreat to a safer location.


  1. Thanks for the commentary. I guess we just have different solutions to some of the same problems.

    Anyway, I really like this series here. I played a whole bunch of "Kingdom Builder" style games last year and the mass ground combat involved seemed really... incomplete without rules along these lines. Cool stuff.

  2. "Powers of War" is a huge conceptual leap for skill challenges. One of the things that feels most gamist about 4E is that I might be able to light a bunch of minions on fire with Scorching Burst, but it doesn't give me any ability to, say, light a roof on fire or cause a distracting fire burst. By bringing powers into the realm of skill challenges, you're bringing them out of combat and into the realm of realism and roleplay.

  3. I'm glad you guys are enjoying it. MadBrew, GameFiend and I will also be giving out a free PDF with all the Skill Challenges of War wrapped up into one document once this series is finished (this week or next).


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