The Predator Skill Challenge

Maybe I’ve been playing too much Batman: Arkham City, or maybe after all this time playing Star Wars Saga Edition, I’m really starting to stretch my arms in regards to encounter design. Either way you slice it, I was struck tonight with a concept for an encounter for a module I’ve been working on, and it does draw a lot of inspiration from way that the Dark Knight’s latest two console/PC releases have handled the gameplay.

There are times in the game where it is better to be stealthy that it is to run in, fists swinging, dropping foes one at a time from various areas and degrees of cover and stealth, be it dropping down from the rafters and grabbing a hapless foe, dangling him from your perch until he passes out, or dropping down behind one as he passes you and putting him in a sleeper hold. Meanwhile, the enemies patrol the area you’re in (usually contained to a single room or area of the map), and will occasionally do searches of the room, and go on alert if and when they find the body of another goon.

This led me to envision a new type of encounter for a GM to run – a Covert Ops Skill Challenge, or a Predator Skill Challenge. Here’s the basic concept as I’m seeing it:

You stat out the CL as normal. The goal of the PCs however is not to hit a certain number of successes before accruing three failures however. Instead, this is run as a pseudo combat encounter, with the PCs either needed to make it to a certain spot on the map, or defeating all of the enemies before accruing a certain number of failures (I’m thinking five or maybe even a few more to account for the increased risk inherent in running this kind of encounter).

Every one rolls for initiative, and you break out the battle map. The enemies, on their turns move in a set patrol route on their Initiative. If, from the direction they are facing, any of the PCs enter their line of sight, the PCs earn a failure and must immediately move back to the nearest square on the map where they are out of line of sight. That enemy (or enemies if they’re linked by radio) also enters into the “alert” condition (more on that below).

Restrict the skill list to ones that make sense in the situation and assign them DCs as normal. If they’re in a shipping yard, Knowledge (social sciences) and Survival probably aren’t going to be useful to the task at hand. For skills like Stealth, or Deception (to create diversions) or wherever it’s appropriate, assign them an opposed Perception check from the nearby patrols. If you want, you can have the patrols all make Perception checks and not the results down when their turn in the initiative comes up.

When the player starts his turn, he can take a move action and a standard action. The standard action is to make a skill check, or to take out of an opponent should he be positioned to do so (more on that below as well). With his move action, he can well… move. There should be a discernible location on the map that they should be moving towards (unless the encounter design is “take out all of the bad guys in this room”). If they all make it there before accruing the requisite number of failures, they succeed. If they take out all of the enemies on the map, they succeed. If they fail the challenge, the alarm gets raised and they have a fight on their hands.

Should the PC be in position to take out an enemy, he can do so with his standard action in lieu of making a skill check. He needs to be adjacent to the enemy and not have been noticed (sneaking behind him, around a corner, above him, etc). The PC then makes an attack roll against the target’s Reflex Defense. A hit means the opponent’s down, regardless of what his hit points are normally. But should another patrol find the body, he and any nearby patrols gain the “alert” condition.

Just what is this “alert” condition? Well, it can mean what you want it to mean. Maybe they get a +2 circumstance bonus to their Perception checks. Maybe they get a Perception reroll, keeping the second result. Maybe they alter their patrol routes. Maybe they pair up. Maybe some combination of any or all of the above.

I plan on putting this idea to the test in the module I’m currently working on, with the PCs needing to escape a shipping yard after smuggling themselves onto an Imperial Detention World without being seen to avoid mucking up the entire operation. Should make for an interesting encounter at the very least.

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