5 Arcana Skill Challenges for 5E D&D

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Salutations, nerds! It’s Arcana day. I’ve been doing this for a couple of posts now as part of the D&D Skills 101 series but let me rehash for those of you just joining us. The idea is you can take any of these five skill challenges and drop them right into your fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons game to give a character who leans heavily on any particular skill a chance to shine and solve a smaller problem. Or to eat some time if your adventure is going by a little bit faster than you expected. Because we all like extra stumbling stones. Today we’re going to be focusing on Arcana in 5E D&D, so put on your wizard’s hats and lets get to work.

5E D&D arcana skill challenge presto wizard D&D cartoon
Illustrator Robson Michel describes this as a redesign of the Presto character from the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. Older and wiser after the years, his arcane mastery grew just like his beard, as expected from any respectable magic wielder. Now he is curious for the next adventure, and to discover new playlists! [Art by Robson Michel]

5E D&D Arcana skill challenges

Counterfeit Charm

A person at a shop or a booth in a bazaar sells enchanted objects, good luck charms and protective items. A detect magic spell shows an object as enchanted but it is actually under the effects of an arcanist’s magic aura that fades within 24 hours. A successful Arcana check reveals the spell the shopkeeper is trying to pass off is not quite right for what he’s trying to sell.

Use When. Your players are on an extended shopping trip and you need to make something interesting happen.

Result of Failure. Worst case scenario someone buys a charm that doesn’t do what the shop keeper said it would and they find out the next day and probably go back to confront them about it anyway. This one is fairly low stakes.

Farce of a Trial

There’s a person being held on trial in the public square for robbery and every time they try to speak in their own defense they choke on the words. A successful Arcana check reveals the person’s tongue has been bound, and finding the keystone of the spell should free him. The person who did it, a guard who planted the evidence and wants the man out of the way, has a keystone — a coil of the person’s hair woven into a binding cord. Untying or burning the keystone allows the person to speak again and exonerate themselves.

Use When. The PCs are just entering into town and you want to set the tone of the town as being a place where the guards have a degree of corruption.

Result of Failure. An innocent person is sent to prison. The party might be inclined to break them out if they believe the person is innocent. However, there are consequences to success as well. If the party does manage to prove the guard is crooked, the other guards begin to look upon the party unfavorably.

A Storm of Wild Magic

A storm rolls in and when it starts raining drops of violet, it is immediately clear something strange is going on. A successful Arcana check reveals this is a magical storm and everyone should be safe as long as they don’t just stand outside in it — though there can be benefits to doing so as well. Any caster standing outside in the magical rain regains 1d4+1 worth of spell slots. You might roll on a Wild Magic Surge table whenever lightning strikes if you want to make this feel more immediate.

Use When. You need something to break up the monotony of travel or you just need to make something happen. This can also be useful when your players have blown through their spell slots too quickly and you want them to have a chance to get some back without having to take a proper rest.

Result of Failure. Enjoy your player’s paranoia as they try to figure out what this purple rain does and fear the touch of it.

Fey Happenings

A grove in the woods is tinged with the presence of the Feywild and as a result events and activities there work on fairy tale rules. A banquet has been set out, full of dewy plums and mixed nuts — the bounty of the forest. A successful Arcana check reveals this to be what it is — a trap. If the party partakes of the food a satyr walks out from behind a tree and demands aid from them, which could lead to a combat with the satyr or a side quest now that the party have partaken of the food of the Feywild and admitted a debt owed to them.

Use When. You need a potential hook for a fey based side quest or you want to run combat with a satyr. You probably know which one your players are likely to engage with.

Result of Failure. Being pressed into a satyr’s service or possibly having to fight one. Oh, dear.

Counting Crows

Seven crows sit on a fence outside of a building that is a front for the local thieves guild. The business is a bakery, or a tailor’s shop or something seemingly innocuous but a successful Arcana check reminds the character that seven crows represent a secret never to be told.

Use When. You want to draw attention to the thieves guild, of course. If you have plot with them upcoming and would like to allude to their presence in advance without calling them out completely.

Result of Failure. The party simply won’t know there’s a secret in the building and it can bite them in their rears later on.

This has been five Arcana skill challenges for 5E D&D. Of course pop back in next time for the Athletics edition of the series. As always, we all know the dungeon never survives first contact with the players so if you do end up using any of these please let me know how it went in the comments below. And of course, stay nerdy!

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Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Megan R. Miller lives in southern Ohio where she keeps mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. She has a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and she is happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Her fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.
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