Skill Challenge: Travelling Underground

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 2, 2009

The PCs travel through a particularity hazardous section of underground passages.


  • The PCs are searching for a long lost treasure or artifact. Their search has led them deep underground.
  • Miners from a nearby community discover a preexisting passage that leads deep underground. The PCs are hired to explore the cavern and see where it leads.
  • An escaped criminal flees through a cavernous mountain passage. The PCs are hired to capture him.

This skill challenge is broken into five encounters. In order to overcome the skill challenge the PCs must complete all five encounters. The DM can present the encounters in any order he sees fit. Each encounter will indicate the maximum number of successes that can be earned during that encounter. Failures are cumulative and carry forward through the entire skill challenge.


5 PC level +2 (requires 12 successes before 3 failures).

Primary Skills

Acrobatics, Athletics, Dungeoneering, Endurance, Heal, Nature, Perception, Stealth

  • Each skill can only be used to accomplish 1 success towards the overall skill challenge unless noted otherwise.
  • Skill checks denoted as assist do not count as a success or failure towards the overall skill challenge.

Secondary Skills

Dungeoneering, Perception

Skill Encounter #1
(maximum 4 successes)

Strange plants cover the path before you. They glow with an eerie phosphorescence.

Dungeoneering (hard DC)

A trained PC can identify the plants. You know that they are indigenous to caverns like this and that touching them, or walking over them, will result in spores being ejected into the air. Inhaling the spores will make the PCs sick.

Dungeoneering (medium DC, assist)

Your familiarity with underground terrain allows you to accurately predict which areas of this cavern are not as heavily overgrown. +2 to the next Perception check made by you or another PC to find a safe passage through the cavern.

Heal (moderate DC, maximum of 3 successes)

You provide aid to characters who breathed in the poisonous spores. A successful Heal check lets poisoned characters make one save to regain the lost healing surge. If your Heal check succeed by 5 or more you provide a +2 bonus to the save.

Nature (moderate DC)

A trained PC can identify the plants. You know that touching them, or walking over them, will result in spores being ejected into the air. Inhaling the spores will make the PCs sick.

Perception (hard DC)

Realizing that there is no way to completely avoid stepping on the plants, you look for areas that may not be as densely covered in an attempt to make travelling through the room somewhat safer.

Group check
Endurance (medium DC)

As you step on a patch of the plants, spores explode into the air poisoning the PCs.

Success: You hold your breath quickly enough to avoid harmful effects.
Failure: You breathe in spores before you can hold your breath. You loose 1 healing surge.


  • A successful Dungeoneering or Nature check made to identify the plants provides two PCs with +2 to their Endurance check.
  • A successful Perception check made to find a safe route provides all PCs with +2 to their Endurance check.

Skill Encounter #2
(maximum 4 successes)

A sinkhole 15 feet wide has formed in the path before you. There is no way around.

Acrobatics (hard DC)

You throw a hooked rope into the rocky outcropping above so that you can swing across the sinkhole.

Success: The rope catches and you’re confident it will support your body weight.
Failure: The rope doesn’t hold.

  • A failed check of 5 or less means the rope falls before anyone attempts to use it to swing across the sinkhole.
  • A failed check of 6 or more means the rope does not fall until someone attempts to use it to swing across the sinkhole.

Acrobatics (moderate DC, maximum 2 successes)

You use the rope to swing across the sinkhole.

Athletics (hard DC)

You climb the wall to better secure a rope in the rocky outcropping above so that you can swing across the sinkhole.

Athletics (hard DC, maximum of 2 successes)

The opening doesn’t look that wide so you attempt to jump across. Once across you can secure a safety line for the rest of the PCs providing +2 to all subsequent checks made to cross the sinkhole.

Success: You clear the sinkhole with room to spare.
Failure: You miscalculate the distance and fall. Fortunately the sinkhole is only 20 feet deep. Now you have to climb up. Climbing up does not count as a success towards the skill challenge.

Skill Encounter #3
(maximum 4 successes)

Sharp rocks jut out from the floor and walls of the path in front of you. You’ll have to proceed carefully to avoid getting cut.


The rocks are incredibly sharp, yet remarkably sturdy. If the PCs try to destroy the sharp edges with picks or hammers, they’ll quickly learn that this is not a practical option. The work will be time consuming and very noisy. DMs should be encouraged to have wandering monsters investigate the noise if the PCs take this course of action.

Acrobatics (hard DC)

You dodge and weave between a series of sharp rocks in an attempt to pass through the hazardous area unscathed.

Success: You manage to avoid damage all together.
Failure: You are cut numerous times and loose 1 healing surge.

Athletics (hard DC)

You jump over larger outcroppings and use you momentum to get through unharmed. A running start (minimum 2 squares) provides a +2 bonus to this check.

Success: You manage to avoid damage all together.
Failure: You are cut numerous times and loose 1 healing surge.

Endurance (moderate DC, maximum 3 successes)

Getting a few cuts doesn’t both you. You decide to help the weaker members of your party by carrying them through the dangerous areas.

Note: This approach can be used to gain multiple successes. Each time a PC carries another through the dangerous area he automatically looses 1 healing surge.

Success: You carry your companion through the hazardous area. They are unscathed, but you loose 1 healing surge in the process.
: You get half way through the hazardous area and have to put your companion down. You cannot carry anyone else until you take a short rest. You loose 1 healing surge.

Skill Encounter #4
(maximum 4 successes)

Recent seismic activity has dislodged rocks from the ceiling, partially blocking the path before you. The debris is not packed tightly and some gaps allow you to see through to the other side.

Athletics (moderate DC, maximum 2 successes)

You decide to dig. The use of an appropriate implement or tool provides a +2 bonus.

Success: You manage to clear debris.
Failure: You strain yourself and loose 1 healing surge.

Dungeoneering (moderate DC)

You know what needs to be done to ensure that the digging doesn’t compromise the structural integrity of the passage.

Endurance (easy DC)

You provide direction to anyone digging (yourself included) on how to get the most benefit while expending the least amount of energy.

Perception (moderate DC, assist)

You see or hear signs of an impending cave-in. You immediately alert the diggers to stop. +2 to the next Dungeoneering check.

Skill Encounter #5
(maximum 2 successes)

The tunnels all start to look the same. Hopefully you don’t get lost or end up going in circles.

Dungeoneering (moderate DC, maximum of 2 successes)

You manage to keep on the trail and avoid getting lost.

Dungeoneering (hard DC)

You hide evidence of the party’s passage through this cavern.

Perception (hard DC, assist)

You find signs of others creatures that have gone this way recently. You manage to keep the party on the right trail and avoid getting lost.

Stealth (hard DC)

You move ahead of the party acting as the scout. Your presence is undetected by anything lurking ahead.


You’ve successfully navigated your way through the caverns and arrive at your destination. This could be a lost treasure horde, a way out or a hidden lair. If you were chasing or tracking someone you manage to catch up to them.


Your path has inadvertently led you to the surface, possibly even back where you began. If you were following someone they managed to get away or put substantially more distance between themselves and the PCs.

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1 Judd March 3, 2009 at 3:32 pm

I’m not too excited about your failure options.

I’d want the players to come to the surface in the middle of an ambush or end up in a deep part of the underground where they just didn’t want to be, also in a brutal combat, most likely.

Ending up frustrated, where we started just feels too much like bad junior high play to me.

2 Ameron March 3, 2009 at 7:53 pm


Thanks for stopping by. I’ve found that coming up with failures for skill challenges is often the toughest part of creating them. You want the party to realize that they’ve failed, but you don’t want your campaign to come to a halt. Regardless of the failure the campaign should not be in jeopardy. I really like your suggestions and may just use one of them when I throw this skill challenge into my next campaign.

3 Judd March 3, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Thanks, Ameron, glad they worked for you.

Coming up with the consequences of failed conflicts is a big part of GMing Burning Wheel, the game I’ve been playing most in the past few years. So when I saw skill challenges, that part of it all kind of clicked.

But what scares me, the skill that I have never been particularly good at is coming up with challenging encounters. I am hoping the DMG combined with some published adventures will walk me through this process and I’ll have some system support.

If you use any of those suggestions, please let me know how they turn out.

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