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Creating Exploration Challenges

The exploration challenges here provide a plethora of ways to make journeys impactful and memorable, but Narrators can also create new obstacles for their campaigns.

Step 1: Start With a Problem

Come up with a problem the adventurers need to solve. When creating an exploration challenge, keep in mind that its purpose is to provide something to overcome on their journey to other, greater things (the campaign’s plot, the next big conflict, and so on). A good exploration challenge is something that the party doesn’t just react to, but can also directly apply their skills, gear, and ingenuity to overcome.

Step 2: Add Challenge Traits

Many exploration challenges have traits that add mechanics to change the way the adventurers can interact with them or details for the party to discover. For example, the Magical Effect trait says that the challenge can be overcome or simplified by using the spell dispel magic, and it gives the DC for doing so successfully.

Other traits grant adventurers bonuses or penalties depending on which strategies they employ. For example, an adventurer that uses fire to deal with plants gain a bonus to checks made against the plants.

Also consider the size of the challenge. Exploration challenges that gradually deal damage should be large enough in area to threaten adventurers, but not big enough that it means certain death for the party — unless it is being used to create a barrier that the PCs must circumvent or otherwise advance in level before attempting because something crucial to the campaign waits on the other side.

Step 3: Brainstorm Solutions

The solutions provided by each encounter challenge are by no means an exhaustive list of ways around the problem, although they do suggest which approaches should be harder or easier to attempt.

For example, bandits waiting by a falling net have seen plenty of violence in their careers, so it might be easier to persuade or deceive them than it is to intimidate them. In that case, the Intimidation check might be at disadvantage , while a Persuasion check would not.

Certain solutions might also have an added cost or penalty associated with them. If adventurers would rather take the time to engineer a solution to a broken bridge instead of just trying to jump over it, then that should take more time to overcome.

When an exploration challenge makes it to the table, players might present a completely unexpected solution and that’s okay! Use the existing solutions to gauge how difficult this new solution should be in the situation, and the DCs for each Challenge Rating listed in the sidebar on Setting DCs.

Step 4: Determine the Consequences

There are usually four outcomes to consider in an exploration challenge: critical failure, failure, success, and critical success. Not every exploration challenge follows this structure, but those which are based on a group check or an individual ability check often do, and these outcomes can be applied at the Narrator’s discretion.

Step 5: Challenge Rating and Experience

To determine the appropriate challenge rating and experience points to reward for a new exploration challenge, use the same calculations used for a new creature (averaging the DCs for ability checks and using them in place of Armor Class). Otherwise compare the consequences of failures between the new exploration challenge and those listed in this chapter.