Salutations, nerds! I’m back this week with another set of skill challenges for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and this time around we are dealing with Athletics — the things that strain the body and make you push to go faster and farther. The kind of skill challenge that boil down to one solitary question: Dost thou even hoist? As previously, the idea is you could take any of these five Athletics skill challenges and drop them right into your 5E D&D game to give a character who leans heavily on this skill a moment to shine and solve a smaller problem.
5E D&D Arcana skill challenges
Our illustrious heroes have reached their destination somewhere out in the wilderness. Perhaps this is attached to a gate around the area leading into the dungeon they were meant to be travelling or blocking the road from one side to the other in some kind of mountain pass but one way or another there’s a portcullis and the windlass meant to lift it doesn’t work. Whether this is because of a broken rope or enough rust clogging up the works is hard to say, but one way or another the only way this portcullis is coming up is by dead lifting it.
Use When. You need to slow characters from getting to an objective site.
Result of Failure. The characters have to find another way around. Some parties will just try again until it works, others will try to climb the wall or resort to magic. Some might make it a group effort. There has to be some way for them to pass though, unless the portcullis leads into an optional area.
One of the characters spots a vase falling from a high window down a crowded street. It’s falling at a normal velocity for a vase and directly toward the head of a civilian standing beneath it. The Athletics check here is to close the distance between where a character is and where the person stands to get them out of the way before they get hit by the heavy falling object. Characters might decide to yell a warning instead. Feel free to have them make a Wisdom (Insight) check when they suggest doing this and then tell them doing that is more likely to make the person look up than make them move. Alternatively turn this into a Charisma (Persuasion) check depending on the kind of vibe you’re trying to invoke with this. If they succeed they might get a reward from the civilian in the form of a hot meal and a free place to stay for the night, or perhaps the party acquires a superfan any time they’re in this city.
Use When. You need to break up the monotony of being in the city, or you’ve just described something significant and need to misdirect the players from it for foreshadowing reasons. It’s also pretty useful for introducing a new NPC — players get attached to people they have helped.
Result of Failure. Somebody gets hit by a vase. That could easily be lethal but the characters aren’t likely to get in trouble for failing to save this person. It might also just hurt a lot and turn into a Medicine challenge instead. The stakes can be as high as you want them to be here.
An NPC flags down the strongest looking party member in a small town. I like to make this NPC a woman or a flamboyant man just too fancy for the area they are in. Think the powdered wig and one of those fans in a town where the major exports are cattle and corn. The important thing though is they’re offering a significant amount of gold to move the furniture in their house. And the furniture is not light. Basically the task is moving objects from one room to another or just rearranging a room. This NPC does not lift a finger to help the entire time but might make helpful comments about the physique of the character they flagged down to help them if your party is into this sort of thing. There’s a certain kind of character who will play into these circumstances.
Use When. You need to puncture the tension with something a little bit lower stakes after a really rough time.
Result of Failure. Having to leave the house embarrassed they weren’t able to live up to this person’s expectations and with some pity gold because “you tried darling.” That doesn’t sound like a lot but I promise most characters will hate this.
Retrieve the Keys
Something has been thrown onto a roof. Something important the party really needs. I’m basing this challenge off of this one time my friend Eric was boasting about how he was a ninja and my other friend Patrick took his keys and threw them on the roof of the friend we were all visiting at the time. So it could be a situation like that, it could be a situation where a bird or lemur has taken this object or if one of the characters is spinning their keys around their finger the chain could just break (which is also something that happened to my friend Eric). This could be quite comical. The important part is it involves climbing on a roof.
Use When. Again, you need to puncture the tension or raise some laughs with your players. In fact this might be a good note to start on just to get everyone involved in the game.
Result of Failure. You end up in one of those situations that involves trying to get the object down without climbing up there. And there are a ton of good ways to do this. If I know anything about D&D players it’s they will leverage any obscure thing out of their inventory trying to solve a problem if doing so conventionally doesn’t work.
Dig a Hole!
Characters have a treasure map and X marks the spot. But it isn’t as simple as just saying, “I dig a hole to get the treasure.” Athletics! Moving dirt around is hard!
Use When. You want to throw one last challenge in there before characters complete a treasure hunt, or they really need some funds and you don’t want to come up with some big involved thing to give it to them.
Result of Failure. There are probably four people in your party at least. One of them is going to succeed on their check to dig this hole. If all of them fail, they’ll either rest and try again or try to hire someone to do it — though I suppose if they’re broke that won’t work well. This one isn’t particularly high stakes. “You don’t get the gold” is a thing.
This has been five Athletics skill challenges for 5E D&D. Next time around we’re going to play with lies and liars with Deception. As always, we all know the dungeon never survives first contact with the players, so if you decide to use any of these please let me know how that went for you in the comments below. Stay nerdy, folx!