Skill Challenge: Playing With Fire

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 12, 2009

Fire is fascinating. Dancing flames look almost lifelike. Fire is both beautiful and dangerous. The sound of a voice that cries out “Fire!” instills fear in all who hear it, especially if that cry awakens you from a deep night’s sleep.

One of our loyal readers requested that we build a skill challenge about fire. It’s an interesting concept that can be handled in many different ways. A great skill challenge called City Ablaze is already available from At-will, in which the PCs start from a position of safety and rush to save people and property as they work to put out the fire.

We at Dungeon’s Master decided to approach this scenario from a different perspective. What if the PCs begin the skill challenge inside a building that is already on fire? Do they bolt for the nearest exit? Do they try to search for others trapped in the fire? Do they try to save valuables? What if they can’t get out? Checks for handling all of these scenarios are presented below in our latest skill challenge: Playing With Fire.


The PCs are sleeping soundly in bed until cries of “Fire!” wake them during the night. They are trapped inside a burning building. This skill challenge can play out in various ways.

  1. Escape the burning building.

  2. The PCs grab what they can and attempt to get out of the burning building as quickly as possible.

  3. Rescue trapped victims.

  4. The PCs ignore the possible dangers to themselves and try to save other trapped in the blaze.

  5. Survive the fire.

  6. The PCs attempt to escape the burning building only to discover that it’s impossible without help. They realize that they’re best chance for survival is to find a safe place and wait for rescue.


The Complexity will change based on the number of successes the PCs manage to accumulate before they escape the fire or are rescued. Reward XP accordingly. The number of strikes resulting in failures is always 3.

The level of the challenge should be high (recommend PC level +2 or higher) since the PCs will likely take an extended rest after the fire is extinguished. If the DM intends to push the PCs into action, such as combat, without allowing them to take an extended rest, then the complexity level should be equal to the PC level.

Primary Skills

Athletics, Acrobatics, Bluff, Diplomacy, History, Nature, Perception

  • 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.

Other Skills

Heal, Religion

Sacrificial Bonus

At any point during the skill challenge a PC can gain a +5 bonus to their skill check by allowing themselves to be injured by smoke and fire in order to help others (such as holding up a burning section of a wall or running through a burning hallway to scout ahead). In the process of making this heroic sacrifice the PC looses one healing surge and suffers -2 to his next check. PCs may choose to take the sacrificial bonus for any check, but they can only do so once each round.

Required Check

At the beginning of each round the party must make a special group Endurance check as described below.

Endurance (moderate +2 DC)

The extreme heat and the thickening smoke are making things difficult and uncomfortable for everyone.

Success: For a party of five, three PCs must make successful Endurance checks to earn one success towards the overall skill challenge. If the average of all checks made that round (including the successes and the failures) exceeds the DC by 5 or more, two PCs get a +2 bonus to their next check.
Failure: If more than 2 PCs fail their Endurance check then all PCs loose a healing surge and it counts as one failure towards the overall skill challenge.

Athletics (hard DC, maximum 2 successes)

Fallen debris blocks your path.

Success: You lift or hold back debris to allow the PCs to pass safely.
Failure: The debris you’re holding is extremely hot. In order to hold it long enough for the PCs to pass, you get burned and you loose a healing surge. If you drop the debris before getting burned you do not looses a healing surge, but the PCs cannot pass this way.

Athletics (hard DC)

A section of the floor in front of you has collapsed. You can attempt to jump
over it.

Success: You make the jump without difficulty.
Failure: You fall through the floor and take damage accordingly.

Acrobatics (moderate DC, maximum 2 successes)

Fire explodes in front of you unexpectedly.

Success: You manage to dodge out of harms way without getting burned.
Failure: You weren’t quick enough. You get burned and loose a healing surge.

Bluff (moderate or hard DC)

You try to convince other victims trapped in the fire to follow you to safety. They are scared so you have to tell them something spectacular in order to convince them to follow you.

Success: They believe you and follow.
Failure: They are too scared and don’t believe you. They refuse to leave.

Note: If the PC making the Bluff check has lost a healing surge due to fire the DC is hard otherwise the DC is moderate.

Diplomacy (moderate or hard DC)

After finding other victims trapped in the building, you try to calm them down with soothing words of encouragement.

Success: They believe you will lead them to safety and follow.
Failure: They are too scared and refuse to leave.

Note: If the PC making the Diplomacy check has lost a healing surge due to fire the DC is hard otherwise the DC is moderate.

Endurance (hard DC, maximum 2 successes)

The smoke is getting thick making it harder to breathe. You create a makeshift mask to filter your breathing.

Success: You gain +2 to your next physical skill check.
Failure: You loose a healing surge.

Heal (moderate DC, assist)

You treat a wounded ally who has lost a healing surge to fire.

Success: The ally regains the lost healing surge.

Note: A successful Heal check does not count as a success or failure towards the overall skill challenge. PCs can only regain healing surges lost to fire damage during this skill challenge. Regaining the healing surge does not negate the failure that caused it in the first place.

History (hard DC)

You recognize an item or art object that is extremely valuable. You don’t feel right leaving it to burn in the fire.

Perception (hard DC, maximum 2 successes)

You search through the smoke and fire for an alternate route of escape.

Perception (easy +2 DC)

You hear cries for help in a nearby room.

Nature (moderate DC)

You have an intuitive understanding of the nature of fire. You can accurately predict how it will move and are able to avoid hot spots.

Success: +2 to the next check.
Failure: Your prediction is inaccurate and you get burned. You loose a healing surge.

Religion (hard DC, assist)

You pray for good fortune and a positive outcome.

Success: +2 to the next two checks.


You manage to escape the fire, rescue others trapped inside and save valuables as you fled the blaze.


Option 1

You were unable to find a safe route out of the burning building. You did manage to find a safe place inside the building to wait for rescue. Additional Endurance checks may be required to battle the thickening smoke and extreme heat.

Option 2

You barely managed to escape the fire with your lives. You were burned and suffered from smoke inhalation during your route to freedom. You haven’t been out of the blaze for more than 10 minutes when your services are needed again. A hero’s job is never done and it looks like you’ll b facing your next challenge while you’re at less than you best.

The Skill Challenges tab at the top of the page provides easy access to all of our skill challenges and skill aides.

1 Chase Dagger May 12, 2009 at 12:39 pm

Wow; I’m back from vacation and catching up on my Dungeon’sMaster reading.
This a great skill challenge to see! Thank you very much.
I think this is a really exciting approach. It’s a nice twist to just another boring rest at an inn or something.

I am a little confused about Saving valuables, and Rescuing others from the fire.

Valuables: As I understand it; the PCs can make 1 successful history DC to find and save 1 valuable item. This success or failure counts towards the over all success or failure of the challenge. (Please correct me if I’m mistaken.)
I feel like it could be interesting to have multiple valuables lying around, the more the PCs try to take the more time they waste from escaping and the more they are weighed down by the items (resulting in -1 to physical skill checks.) Does anyone see a potential problem with that as a mechanic?
I find it hard to understand how taking an valued item would count as a success towards the overall success of the challenge, it almost feels like the benefit is the GP it will be worth. Mind you I can see how taking the item would count towards failure, or at least penalties to the next check (as I mentioned above.)

Rescuing others: As I understand it; the PCs can make a perception check and if they succeed they hear cries from a nearby room. If they succeeded this unlocks the opportunity to make a Bluff, and Diplomacy checks. If they succeed in the later checks the people are considered rescued. All three successful checks count towards overall success. (Please correct me if I’m mistaken.)
Similar to how I viewed the saving valuables; it seems odd to me that rescuing others would count towards ultimate success of the skill challenge, but I can kind of understand it.
I would like to award my PCs for rescuing for each group of people they rescue (2 seems to be the maximum.) I might allow a third group to be rescued as well, but I don’t want to alter the main skill challenge.

Any further clarification or additional ideas to add more to these parts of the challenge would be appreciated (but not needed.)

I am so happy you printed this fire challenge I really think it’s a great set up and an interesting spin in general.

Thanks again very much! 🙂

2 Rook May 12, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Your timing could not be better! My group is staying in a small town that is about to be ravaged by fire-wielding goblins. Guess I know how to bring them into the fray now. Thanks and well done, as always.

Rook’s last blog post..A Runt Rant: Race names

3 nemomeme May 12, 2009 at 8:54 pm

My second ever skill challenge involved the party rescuing a wounded priest from a burning hunting lodge. All pretty much freeform and with many of the same elements described above. It’s a great set piece; very vivid and almost any skill can be rationalized. They saved the priest but lost a few healing surges in the process.

4 Ameron May 13, 2009 at 8:18 am

@Chase Dagger
You asked, we listened. That’s just the way we roll here at Dungeon’s Master. I’m glad you liked this skill challenge. Let me see if I can clear up the fuzzy parts of my skill challenge.

Valuables: I leave it up to the DM to determine how important this is to the skill challenge. If the PCs have spent the last three levels recovering an item, I don’t think they want to let it burn in a fire, so its recovery would be an important check. If they just decide to save a painting because it looks valuable, then it may not count as a success towards the overall skill challenge. But it may curry favour with the owner of the burning building if they ever need to go to him for a favour down the line.

Rescuing Others: I see this almost like a sub-challenge within the larger skill challenge. If the PCs make a successful Perception check, then they see or hear other people trapped in the fire. Then they need to do the following:
1) Get to the others (Athletics, Acrobatics, Perception)
2) Convince the others to follow them (Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Heal)
3) Carry or force the other out (Athletics, Endurance, Perception)

The number of successes (and there for the overall complexity) will differ depending on how long the DM wants the PCs to be in the fire. If you’re going to throw in the rescue elements then it will be worth more XP and will be a higher complexity.

If you use this skill challenge, let me know how it works out.

Thanks, glad we could help. As with Chase Dagger, please let me know how this skill challenge works for your group.

I think you’ll find that there are only so many options the PCs can take in a skill challenge of this nature. I’m glad that I wasn’t too far off the mark with my suggestions.

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