Skill Challenge: The Revolving Door

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 13, 2010

When the party finds themselves in front of a locked door it usually falls to the Rogue to search for traps and then unlock it. It takes two rolls and about 30 seconds of game play. It’s a boring, even for the Rogue.

As a DM I’m always trying to find new and creative ways to challenge the party. On top of that, I like to throw typical conventions upside down. So when I was creating a recent dungeon and needed to place a “door” between the PCs and a secret chamber I opted for something unconventional. I wanted something that required more than a quick Thievery check to bypass. I also wanted something that required the entire party to work together to overcome. And that’s where the idea for the revolving door originated.

Depending on how a DM wasn’t to incorporate this into his campaign, it can be a straight up skill challenge or it can easily become a dangerous hazard. I’ll describe how the door works and then provide the skill challenge mechanics afterward.

To make things clearer, I’ll be referencing the map to the right. Clicking on the map will enlarge it and open it in a new browser window.

The PCs begin in the chamber to the right. They know (or suspect) that there is a hidden chamber somewhere to the left. In my campaign I had bas relief carved into the wall. This provided the PCs with clues for where to look for the door itself.

Once they discover the door they need to figure out how to activate it.

The circle on the map is actually a solid, giant cylinder capable of rotating. Alcoves big enough for one medium sized creature are carved into the cylinder where the letters A, B, C and D are noted. When the door is activated the cylinder slowly rotates. Each round it makes a 1/8 rotation. So a PC who enters an alcove will eventually reappear back at his starting point after eight rounds. Assuming, of course, that the door remains active (more on that eventuality below).

Although I’ve denoted the letter A facing the chamber, the alcoves are actually located at a 1/8 rotation when the revolving door is initially discovered (otherwise they’ll see the alcove immediately). Depending on how difficult you intend to make the activation phase of the skill challenge, you may want to taunt the PCs by showing them the alcove right away knowing that they’ll have a hard time activating the revolving door.

In order to make this skill challenge even more treacherous I added other dangers to the situation. Firstly I had monsters hot on the party’s heels. The PCs arrived in the secret door chamber before the monsters, but they knew that they didn’t have a lot of time to find the secret door and get through it. Secondly I had other dangers awaiting the PCs once they made it through the revolving door. My intent wasn’t to outright kill the party, so I did present them with some outs. The guardians in the secret chamber wouldn’t activate or attack unless a brave (stupid) PC ventured more than 3 squares away from the door.

The entire scenario presented the party with difficult choices. Once they realized they had to split the party to get through the door they needed to decide on the order they’d go through. Do they send the Rogue through first since he’s got the best Perception and Stealth? Do they send the Paladin through since he’s got the highest AC? Or do they send the Wizard through first since he’s best able to fend off many monsters simultaneously? On top of that, they had to think about who was left behind to face the monsters on their heels. If they didn’t all get through quickly enough the last guy through might be fighting for his life while he waited for the next alcove to rotate into view. This situation created great role-playing opportunities and the timeline created extra tension.

Skill Challenge

The mechanics of this skill challenge are going to be presented using the Inside Out Skill Challenge approach we presented last week. Rather than list a bunch of skills I’m going to present various tasks and possible methods for overcoming them. The DCs are left to the DM, but I’d suggest that a few of the key checks be hard DCs.

Task 1 – Locating the Door

As described above, you may just want to have the alcove visible when the PCs arrive. If not, I’d recommend giving them some hits and clues, such as carvings on the walls. Most likely the PCs will resort to what they can see and touch (Perception) to locate the door. They may also examine the rocks and stonework for anything unusual (Dungeoneering) or they might focus on the relief carved on the wall (History). If time is a factor then locating the door shouldn’t require too many checks. After all, activating the door is where the real challenge lies.

Task 2 – Activating the Door

Getting the cylinder rotating and the alcoves moving requires a combination of magic and physics. Expertly crafted mechanics are an integral part of the revolving door. Working this part of the door can be done with applied knowledge (Dungeoneering, History, Thievery). There’s likely to be some sheer force required to get things started (Athletics, Endurance). The level of success should determine how long the door remains active before stopping on its own. Without interference I’d recommend that the cylinder makes one and a half full rotations before stopping. The PCs would have no way to predict this and it might leave someone trapped inside the door until it can be reactivated by someone on the outside.

Task 3 – Manipulating the Door

After the PCs get the door moving they can try to manipulate it. Using magic they can try to speed up the rotations (Arcana, Religion). If successful the door makes a ¼ rotation on the next round (rather than the usual 1/8 rotation). If the success is high enough the DM may opt to let it keep spinning at ¼ rotations for more than one round. Similar checks can be used to keep the door spinning once the PCs realize that the cylinder stops after a few turns. Each check can only be used to accomplish one objective.

A really generous DM may include a control panel on the other side of the revolving door. PCs who make it to the other side can manipulate the door using the control panel (Dungeoneering, Insight, Thievery).


Creative PCs may try to get more than one person through the door simultaneously. I’d recommend using these guidelines. Two PCs can try to squeeze into the same alcove, but they:

  • cannot be wearing armor (cloth only)
  • cannot carry shields
  • grant combat advantage when they exit the alcove until they act.

The overall success or failure of this skill challenge depends on how deadly the DM choose to make things. If the PCs take a long time finding the revolving door and then figuring out how to activate it, they should face some combat before they get all the way through. Likewise on the other side of the revolving door. If the PCs had little to no difficulty getting through the door then the DM may choose to throw a few monsters at the PCs as they exit the door on the other side.

Don’t forget that clever monsters may also figure out how to get the revolving door working. If they do they’ll be able to follow the PCs through. Intuitive PCs may think of this eventuality and try to disable the revolving door. It’s up to the DM to decide how long such a deactivation attempt will last or if someone must actively work to counter attempts to enter.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Fedora.Pirate October 13, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I love this whole encounter/challenge/event thing, I may just have to steal it for my game.

2 Ameron October 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

That’s precisely why it’s here. Feel free to use it exactly as I’ve presented it or just harvest the bits and pieces you think will work best for your campaign.

If you liked this, be sure to check out our library of Skill Challenges. Just click the tab conveniently located above the Dungeon’s master banner.

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