Designing Extended Challenges: The Core Rules

In this link, or below the “read more” tag, are the rules for running 13th Age Extended Challenges

Which means I’m finally done!

Or, perhaps not.

These rules only really cover running the challenges – great if you have an adventure module in hand that uses them, but given as we haven’t released any of those yet not all that useful.

So the new goal is that next week I’ll provide a set of guidelines for building Extended Challenges suitable to your party’s level – along with some examples.

After you read the rules below let me know what you’d like to see in the encounter building guidelines: and what you think the rules have missed!

Extended Challenges

The dangers faced by heroic adventurers go far beyond combat, and sometimes it is useful to make those non-combat challenges more developed than simply a discussion or montage with perhaps one or two skill checks.

Extended Challenges are built for those cases where you want a journey through the wilderness or a tough negotiation to feel every bit as serious as facing down a gang of goblins.

Basics of an Extended Challenge

Within a challenge the players take it in turns to contribute progress towards their goal through the use of skill checks and by expending limited resources such as daily powers and spells. As with combat the players act in rounds – and in an extended challenge the GM acts at the end of each round, after all the players have taken actions in whichever order they chose.

There are two main types of challenge: 

  • Those where a set amount of progress must be gathered to achieve the goal (such as the heroes reaching their destination, or successfully unlocking an ancient vault) which have penalties at the end of each round until the task is complete.
    • For these challenges the default requirement is 2 points of progress per character to complete the task – but for longer tasks it can go as high as 4 per player character.
  • Those with a limited number of rounds (generally representing the limited time available to complete the goal) which have a level of reward/penalty depending on how much progress was made during that time limit.

Earning Progress

On each player’s turn they describe an obstacle their character can overcome, or an opportunity they can take advantage of, and then they make a skill check using a relevant ability+background against the “normal difficulty” DC for the challenge’s environment. If they beat the DC they earn a point of progress – they have moved closer to achieving their goal.

If a player is struggling to come up with an appropriate way to contribute, the GM and other players may suggest obstacles or opportunities for them. Premade challenges should come with a list of potential contributions that can be made with each ability score – these lists are not intended to be comprehensive, merely to provide inspiration when stuck.

Once a player has successfully earnt progress using a combination of ability+background any future rolls using the same combination are against the hard DC for the environment – encourage players to branch out and avoid simply using their best ability+background repeatedly.

Flashbacks and narrative influence

Be open to players making rolls for actions that occur at a past point 

GM Actions

At the end of each round the GM gets an action, which will generally make things harder for the players.

Common GM actions:

  • The heroes are imperiled, and may take damage or lose recoveries.
    • This may involve an attack roll, a saving throw or a skill check, or may be entirely automatic.
  • One or more additional enemies are added to the next combat encounter.
  • The heroes’ quarry is slipping away, they lose some amount of progress and if that takes them down to zero progress they lose the trail entirely.

Often the actions will escalate as the rounds go on. For premade extended challenges, such as those in Artemis Games wonderful adventure shards, they may be displayed in a chart like the following:

Round 1Players lose a recovery from exhaustion if they fail an easy save (6+)
Round 2-3Players lose a recovery from exhaustion if they fail a normal save (11+)
Round 4-5Players lose a recovery from exhaustion if they fail a hard save (16+)
Round 6+All players lose a recovery from exhaustion. No save.

Advanced Options

If you like a little more crunch in your system, these additional options each add something extra to enrich the gameplay of extended challenges.

Risky Challenges

Players may choose to make a Perilous skill check, one where whatever they’re trying to do stands a significant chance of just plain going wrong. If they do so and fail the roll they suffer from a complication – each challenge using these rules should have a default peril (such as loss of a recovery from overexertion, or triggering a trap)

Success in a perilous check by five or more points results in an additional point of progress towards the goal – so for instance in an adventurer area a perilous check of less than 15 would cause the penalty, 15-19 would gain a single progress point, and 20+ would earn two.

Support Actions

Instead of making a roll on their turn a player may use an “aid another” action to help an ally – they choose an appropriate ability score and background (e.g. if aiding someone in climbing by tying ropes for them to climb you might choose dex+“master of escape”) and add the total of those to the allies next roll.
Careful: Don’t include the +level modifier, only the base ability score modifier.

Alternatively a player character may do something that will give their whole party a boost for the duration of the challenge – for instance, procuring better equipment, preparing meals or raising spirits with a rousing song.

In such cases they roll against a DC five lower than the baseline, and the party receives a Support Point for every 5 they beat the DC by. For instance if the standard DC is 25, a roll of 22 would get 1 Support Point while a roll of 31 would get 3 Support Points.

Support points may be spent by any party member to boost a roll result after the roll is made, each support point spent gives +1 to that roll.

Feats and Talents.

At their discretion the GM may allow particularly relevant feats or talents to be used as though they were backgrounds with a value of +2 – for instance the Linguist feat could be useful in interacting with members of another culture, while a roll of Charisma+Further Backgrounding could keep a conversation going.

Expending Daily Resources

(or a recharge as though it were a daily)

+1 automatic progress and can reuse a past background+ability combo for this round’s skill check – encouraging use later in the challenge when players feel like their best combo is needed.

Single-use items can do the same. Items of a lower tier may not give automatic progress on a failed roll, only on a success

Icon Dice

Icon Dice provide extra actions and allow reusing background+ability combinations – fives may be required to be risky checks, have a small roll penalty or have a storyline complication, as determined by the GM

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