Don't Wake Sentries
Don't Wake Sentries is a custom skill challenge for D&D based loosely on the board game "Don't Wake Daddy." In it, the players must make their way through a series of rooms and make skill checks at each stop. Originally it was designed to represent sneaking through a large, heavily secured complex. However it can be used to represent any sort of skill challenge in which the players need to make their way safely through a hostile location, or it can be used as a stand-in for any regular skill challenge that you want to spice up a bit.
You have a board with 20 rooms, which you can just draw onto a dry (or wet) erase map, or use tiles to represent each room. Players each take a turn, roll a die to determine which room they move to, and must overcome a challenge at each room. The first player to make it to the end wins the skill challenge for everyone, and should additionally receive an extra bonus for being first (I gave them a personalized magic item).
Every room is numbered 1 through 5 counting 1,2,3,4,5, and then starting over again at 1,2,3,4,5 for the next group of rooms. So for 20 rooms you should have 4 of these such groups, and you can add or remove a group of these rooms to adjust the length of time the game takes to play. Within each room is an event that the players have to complete. You could do a small puzzle or other such challenge if you so wished, but I used skill groups. The skill groups that I used and the skills they are related to are:
- Athleticism: Acrobatics / Athletics
- Knowledge: Arcana / Religion / History
- Subtlety: Bluff / Thievery / Stealth
- A Smile: Diplomacy / Insight / Heal
- Practicality: Dungeoneering / Nature
- Ass-Kicking: Endurance / Intimidate
- Attention: Perception / Streetwise
When a player lands on a room they choose one of the associated skills to use and must pass a hard DC. Make sure you use the new skill DC rules that were updated in Essentials (a group of level 6 characters has a hard DC of 23). If the player successfully makes the skill check, they are "safe." If they fail the skill check, they cause the party to accumulate "suspicion." Each room should have a suspicion value in parenthesis next to the event. For example, one room could read something like: "Room 2, Subtlety (5)". With your board filled out it should look something like this:
Now you can play. At the start of the game everyone rolls initiative, and the player with the highest initiative goes first. You then continue in a clockwise rotation around the table. At the start of your turn, roll a 6 sided die. If the number is 1 through 5 then move to the first instance of that numbered room. If you roll a 6 and you're not the leader, then move 1 room ahead of the leader. If you're the leader roll again, and if nobody is on the board (everybody is at start), then move to the first room. So if you're standing at the start, and you roll a 2, you would move up two rooms to room 2. Then on your next turn if you rolled a 1, you would move up four rooms to room 1 in the next group.
When you land on a room, you need to complete that room's event. Thus if it's subtlety, you need to roll stealth, bluff, or thievery. If you succeed, you're "safe" and you can remain in that room. Otherwise, add the room's suspicion value to the party's total suspicion (everyone shares the same suspicion pool).
When a player builds suspicion, they are fine so long as suspicion is 3 or lower after adding. Once suspicion reaches 3, every point of suspicion you gain after that requires you to make a saving throw per point. For example, if suspicion is 0 and you gain 4 suspicion, then you would need to make 1 saving throw. Whereas if suspicion is 2 and you gain 5 suspicion, you would need to make 4 saving throws (2+5=7-3=4). You do not need to make extra saving throws if suspicion is already over 3, so gaining 2 suspicion when suspicion is already at 4 means you only make 2 saving throws, not 3. If you succeed on all your saving throws then you're also "safe." If you roll a critical on any one of your saving throws, you can stop making saving throws. So if you have to make four saving throws and crit on the first one, you don't need to make the other three and are considered "safe".
If you fail any one of your saving throws, then you WAKE SENTRIES! The sentries, or obstacle, or villain, or whatever threat the players are attempting to avoid within this location finds them and does something unpleasant to them. You lose a healing surge and go back to start. If this happens your character gains a +5 bonus to the skill that you just used for the rest of the encounter. And, you choose a party member to give a -5 to in the same skill. After all, you're only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.
There's also one more way to be "safe" besides succeeding at a room's event or succeeding in all of your saving throws. Some rooms, instead of an event, can simply be "safe." Which means there's no event to perform in that room, and you get to stay in that room. Additionally, if you land on a "safe" room, you get a +2 to your next skill check. You also get this bonus if you crit when completing a room's event. There should be only one safe room per block of rooms (if that), and note that all skill changes, regardless of source, are cumulative. If you gain a +2 to your next skill check 3 times, then you will have a +6 to your next skill check.
If you're "safe" either because you succeeded on a skill check, succeeded on all your saving throws, or landed in a "safe" room, then before your turn ends you can choose to "Risk It!" When you choose to "Risk It!" you draw a card from the "risk" deck, and do whatever the card describes. The "risk" card should be a mix of good, bad, and somewhat neutral. Here's the ones I used, feel free to make your own:
- Safe: You gain a +2 to your next skill roll.
- Butter-Fingers: Add 2 to suspicion.
- Swipe: You gain 100gp!
- Decoy: Everyone gains +2 to their next skill roll, you get -4.
- Take Credit: Choose a skill and party member. For the encounter you gain +5 to that skill, while they take -5.
- WAKE SENTRIES: You wake the sentries!
- Distract: Remove 2 suspicion.
- MAKE SENTRIES: You wake the sentries! ...for someone else (your pick)
Make sure to make a few copies of each, or shuffle the deck after every couple draws. Once you roll the d6, move to a room, complete the event, and choose whether or not to "Risk It!" then your turn is done and the next player goes. Continue until someone makes it to the final group of rooms. When a player reaches this point you enter victory territory, and you can win in one of two ways. If there are no rooms to move to between you and the ending, so for example, if you're standing on the final room 2 and you roll a 1 or a 2, then you win. Or, if another player is standing one room away from the end, so if they're standing on the final room 5 and the end is the next room, and you roll a 6, you win the game because you go one room ahead of them, which happens to be the end.
The main job of the dungeon master when running this encounter is to keep track of all the skill changes (because there will be many), and also help direct the game and hand out bonuses for good role play. One thing you can do, for example, is have the players describe in a free form sort of way the nature of the obstacle that they overcome, and if they do a good job describing it give them a +1 to that skill check.
When running Don't Wake Sentries, you can abstract out a lot of the tedium involved in manually going room to room within a large location. That does not however mean that you need to abstract it ALL. While playing you can mix things up by having the players visit an actual room after every couple rounds, where they need to play as normal and do either some sort of puzzle, or combat, or social encounter, or whatever. You could also add a nemesis character that you control, that the players need to beat to the end.
I've run this with a few different groups now, and had a blast each time. If you're looking to spice up your skill challenges a bit, this might be a fun break from the norm or even a whole new way to run your skill challenges. If you're looking for more ways to improve your skill challenges, I wrote an article on adding maps and powers to skill challenges.