Alternate and Additional Rules
As your mastery of a skill improves, you can achieve more difficult feats with it. An expert climber can scale a sheer, slippery surface that a neophyte would find impossible. By the same token, a veteran learns to complete simple tasks with greater efficiency, skill, and panache. An inexperienced climber might take a while to clamber up a rocky cliff, but a skilled mountaineer can scramble up it faster. Skill challenges reflect an expert’s ability to perform routine tasks with superior grace and efficiency. They also allow you to attempt heroic deeds otherwise unavailable to you by making already difficult skill checks even harder. With a bit of luck, skill, and good planning, you can achieve the impossible.
The challenge system was designed to make skills more useful across all levels. Without challenges, your skills would become less important as you gain levels. The total result you need on a check might be low enough that, at some point, improving the skill makes no difference.
A skill challenge allows you to increase a skill’s Difficulty Class by 5 or suffer a –5 penalty to your check. In return, you can achieve an extra benefit in addition to the standard benefits of a successful check. If you fail due to this penalty or increased DC, you fail the skill check as normal. Note that, if the skill imposes a drawback for failing by more than a certain margin, you suffer the drawback as normal if you fail to meet your newly increased Difficulty Class. For example, characters who miss a Disable Device check by 10 or more accidentally activate the trap they attempted to disarm. If a trap’s standard DC is 20 and your challenge increases it to 25, you activate the trap on a skill check result of 15 or lower. Skill challenges on static skill checks require you to increase a skill’s Difficulty Class. The check penalty applies to opposed checks and in cases where the result of your check becomes the DC for an opposed check. For example, your Disguise check result becomes the Difficulty Class for the Spot checks other characters must make to notice your deception. Any challenges you accept on a Disguise check would lower your total result.
You can accept more than one challenge to a skill check. In some cases, you can take on a single challenge more than once to gain its benefits multiple times. Such challenges are noted in the skill descriptions.
Generally, skill challenges allow you to gain added benefits when you face a low Difficulty Class and you have a high total skill modifier. You can also use skill challenges to attempt heroic actions, even when faced with a high Difficulty Class. You might need to make a Balance check (DC 30) to move carefully across a thin wire. However, since the evil archduke is about to escape, you might need to take on a skill challenge to complete your Balance check faster than normal.
The challenges below apply to any skill check, unless noted differently in the “Challenges” section of the skill description. Most of the skills in this chapter also include additional skill-specific challenges you can take when attempting a check. Your DM has the final say on whether a challenge applies to a specific situation. Remember, each challenge applies a +5 modifier to a check’s DC or a –5 penalty to your check result.
Basic Challenges Take Multiple Times? (Maximum)
Fast completion Yes (twice)
Risky prospect Yes (twice)
Simultaneous action No (n/a)
Superior assist Yes (unlimited)
Fast Completion: You reduce the time needed to complete the skill check. If the skill check is normally a fullround action, it becomes a standard one. A standard action becomes a move action, while a move action becomes a free action. For checks that require time expressed in rounds, minutes, or larger units, reduce the time needed to complete the check by 25 percent. You can apply this challenge’s benefits twice to a single check. If you apply it twice to an action that takes an amount of time expressed as rounds, reduce the time needed by 50 percent. You cannot make a skill check as a free action if it normally requires a standard action or longer to complete.
Risky Prospect: Sometimes you can take a calculated risk on one action to make a later one easier to complete. For example, you could use Tumble to open yourself up to a cultist’s attacks in order to avoid a giant’s club. If you succeed at this skill challenge, you gain a bonus equal to the total penalty you accepted if you use the Tumble skill again your next action (to evade the giant). You gain this benefit only if both checks involve the same sort of circumstances. For example, you could not use a risky prospect to try to climb a small rock before tackling a daunting slope. The two skill checks must be somehow related, and the first, penalized check should carry some consequences for failure.
Simultaneous Action: You have such talent with a particular skill that you can use it while completing other tasks. To attempt simultaneous checks, first make the skill challenge check, then make a second skill check using the same or a different skill. Your secondary check suffers a –10 penalty or a +10 increase in Difficulty Class. Some skills work together without penalty, such Hide and Move Silently. The simultaneous action challenge normally applies only to skills that you would not normally attempt at the same time, such as using Open Lock and Disable Device at the same time to open a chest and defeat the trap that protects it.
Superior Assist: If you aid another with a skill check (see above), you can attempt to provide a greater than normal bonus to the other character’s total skill check. This challenge reflects the fact that a highly trained person can render better help than an untrained or fumbling assistant. In return for increasing the aid another skill check Difficulty Class by 5 (to DC 15), you boost the bonus you provide the other character by +1. There is no limit to how high you can push the Difficulty Class and the bonus, but remember that a skill challenge is an all-or-nothing risk. If your check to aid another fails, you provide no bonus.
OTHER SKILL CHALLENGES
In addition to the sample skill challenges given here and the specific ones designed for each skill, you can create your own in the course of play. The challenge game mechanic is flexible enough to cover a wide variety of situations. In essence, you can propose a challenge to your DM and he can either accept it, reject it, or decide to increase the Difficulty Class by more than 5 to reflect a particularly daunting use of a skill.
Skill challenges show their true strength when you use them to handle actions that fall outside the bounds of the rules given in this book. DMs should think of challenges as another tool in your bag of tricks. If a player wants to gain an extra benefit from a skill check, make it a challenge, and you’re ready to roll. Players should look at skill challenges as an opportunity to take actions that might not fall under the normal rules. They are an invitation to creativity and exciting game play.
The key to using skill challenges is to always keep in mind that they are flexible—but with that flexibility comes some responsibility. Don’t use them as an excuse to make your skills overpowering.
Remember that the DM has final say on how the rules work. He might decide a challenge is simply impossible or nonsensical. He might also revise a previous ruling, especially if further play reveals that he has inadvertently opened a loophole in the rules. Challenges aren’t an invitation to abuse the system. They are tools meant to handle actions not covered in the rules.
DMs, remember that challenges ought to make a skill check more useful. The following guidelines cover the typical benefits that a challenge can grant:
• A +2 bonus to attacks for the current round. • A +2 bonus to damage for the current round. • A bonus to a skill check equal to the challenge’s penalty (often –5). • The opportunity to complete a complex or unusually difficult action. • The ability to combine two skill checks into one, such as using Tumble to avoid an attack of opportunity while springing over a wall. When adjudicating challenges of your own, use these basic guidelines to inform your decisions. In general, a skill challenge is roughly equivalent to a feat with a mastery rating of 1 (see Chapter Five: Feats).
A skilled weapon master slashes at a gray ogre’s eyes, drawing blood that temporarily blinds it. If the master’s aim were the slightest bit off, his attack might have missed. An armiger shrugs off his opponent’s blows, allowing his armor to absorb the hits as he prepares to deliver the killing strike. In these situations, a warrior accepts a level of risk in return for a potential reward. Combat challenges work a lot like the skill challenges presented in Chapter Four. In return for a penalty to your attack or defense, you gain a bonus to your actions or inflict a penalty on your foe. Normally, this penalty is –2 to either your attacks or defense, but in some cases it is steeper. In return for this penalty, your attack gains an additional effect, such as a bonus to damage. A defensive challenge might give you the option to move faster or provide a bonus to a skill check. Attack challenges increase the risk that your strike may miss. Defensive challenges lower your defense, making you more vulnerable to your foe’s attacks.
ACCEPTING A CHALLENGE
You can take on one attack challenge and one defensive challenge per round. You must state that you wish to accept an attack challenge at the beginning of your turn, before you take either your move or standard action. You could not move, draw an attack of opportunity, and decide to accept a defensive challenge before striking. Even if you do not gain any of the benefits of the challenges, you still suffer the penalties. These penalties last until the start of your next action, though all of your attacks gain their benefits. An attack challenge’s penalties and benefits apply to any attacks of opportunity you make, in addition to your normal attacks. Note, however, that many of these effects cause named penalties. Be sure that their effects stack depending on their type. (For more on stacking effects, see the sidebar on page 179.) Defensive challenges work a little differently than attack challenges. To gain a defensive challenge’s benefits, you first must expose yourself to the risk associated with it. You can use a defensive challenge only if at least one opponent threatens you. You gain its benefits only to melee attacks. When making a reckless strike, you allow an opponent to take an easy shot at you. In return, you throw your full weight behind a strike and batter aside his defenses. If you want to use a defensive challenge, you must declare your intention during your action. You then suffer the appropriate penalty to your defense until your next action. On that action, you gain the challenge’s benefits. This stricture ensures that a character suffers exposure to the challenge’s drawbacks. From a realism standpoint, it makes sense that you would have to drop you guard before gaining the benefits offered by a defensive challenge. Each challenge provides a different benefit. The minimum drawback you can suffer is a –2 penalty to defense or attacks, though some grant you greater benefits in return for a stiffer penalty.
Attack challenges break down into three categories based on the penalty they levy. Lesser attack challenges cause a –2 attack penalty, moderate ones inflict a –4 penalty, and major ones carry a –6 modifier. Each category presents successively greater benefits, as befits the penalties they cause. Unless otherwise noted, an attack must hit and inflict damage (in other words, your damage beats the target’s damage reduction) in order to grant you the challenge’s benefit. You only gain an attack challenge’s benefits if you make an attack during your action. If you do not attack, you gain neither the benefits nor the drawbacks levied by the challenge. Following are examples of attack challenges you can accept.
LESSER ATTACK CHALLENGES (–2)
Bonus Damage: You make a wild swing at your opponent, one that compensates for its inaccuracy with raw power. You gain a +1 bonus to melee damage.
Fight Defensively: You keep back from your opponent, making tentative strikes as you focus on defense. You gain a +1 active bonus to defense.
Hamper Movement: You tangle your opponent’s legs, slash at his thighs, or otherwise make it tough for him to move. He suffers a –1 square injury penalty to movement for 1 round.
MODERATE ATTACK CHALLENGES (–4)
Force Movement: You drive your foe back with a mighty blow, forcing him to cede ground in the face of your advance. Your target must move one square to allow you to move into at least one square that he occupied. Your opponent chooses where he wants to move. If all the available spaces present any sort of physical or environmental threat, such as a fire or a pit, he does not have to move. You can force an opponent to move only once per round, and you do not gain this benefit on attacks that are not made as part of your standard or full-round action. For example, you do not gain this benefit on attacks of opportunity.
Improved Bonus Damage: As described above for the bonus damage lesser attack challenge, except you gain a +3 bonus to damage.
Improved Fight Defensively: You make only a few careful swipes at your foe, preferring instead to concentrate on parrying. You gain a +2 active bonus to defense.
Wild Flurry: You gain an additional, highly inaccurate attack. You strike one extra time without the benefits of your base attack bonus and Strength or Dexterity bonus to attacks and damage. Your other bonuses apply as normal, as does the challenge penalty. You may use this option as part of a standard or full-round action.
MAJOR ATTACK CHALLENGES (–6)
Improved Force Movement: As described for the force movement moderate attack challenge above, except you choose where your opponent moves. If you attempt to force him into a square that would inflict damage to him, such as a burning fire or a pit, your target may attempt a Reflex save (DC 10 + half your base attack bonus) to cancel the movement. In the event of a successful saving throw, your target does not move and you cannot move him. Additional attacks against him lose the benefits of this challenge until your next action.
Improved Wild Flurry: As above for wild flurry, except you gain the benefit of your Strength or Dexterity bonus to your attack and damage, if applicable.
Superior Bonus Damage: As the bonus damage lesser attack challenge, except you gain a +6 bonus to damage.
Defense challenges, like attack challenges, break down into three categories based on the penalty they levy. Lesser defense challenges cause a –2 defense penalty, moderate ones inflict a –4 penalty, and major ones carry a –6 modifier. Each category presents successively greater benefits, as befits the penalties they cause. Remember, you only gain the benefits of a defensive challenge after you have accepted its penalties for 1 round.
LESSER DEFENSE CHALLENGES (–2)
Defensive Roll: You roll with each hit you suffer, making yourself easier to strike but harder to injure. You gain a +1 bonus on all damage reduction checks for armor. This option works best against highly skilled opponents who have an excellent chance to hit you.
Reckless Strike: You drop your guard to focus solely on hitting and injuring your opponent. You gain either a +2 bonus to damage or a +1 bonus to attacks for 1 round after accepting this challenge.
Steely Focus: You set aside the chaos and din around you to focus on an action. You gain a +2 bonus to a single skill or ability check of your choice as you lower your defenses to complete the task before you. You must complete this check on your next action after taking on this challenge.
MODERATE DEFENSE CHALLENGES (–4)
Heedless Strike: You pay little mind to your defenses as you leap forward to attack. You gain either a +4 bonus to damage or a +2 bonus to attacks for 1 round after accepting this challenge.
Hustle: You press ahead, reducing your defenses in favor of covering ground. You gain a +1 square (5-foot) bonus to speed. This bonus applies to your base walking speed. Determine other movement modes, such as climbing, based on your improved speed.
Improved Defensive Roll: As for the defensive roll lesser defense challenge, except you gain a +2 bonus to damage reduction checks.
Improved Steely Focus: As for the steely focus lesser defense challenge, except you gain a +4 bonus to your skill or ability check.
Lashing Strike: You gain the ability to make an additional attack of opportunity on the round after you accept this challenge. This extra attack works just like any other attack of opportunity—you gain no special ability to make multiple attacks of opportunity against a single target, for instance.
MAJOR DEFENSE CHALLENGES (–6)
Focused Determination: You reduce your defenses to buy yourself time for a skill or ability check. After you suffer this challenge’s defense penalty for 1 round, you may attempt a skill or ability check without provoking attacks of opportunity.
Improved Hustle: As for the hustle moderate defense challenge, except you gain a +2 square (10-foot) bonus to speed.
Suicidal Strike: Your opponent’s blows slam into you with vicious accuracy, but you shrug them off in your relentless drive to conquer your foe. You gain either a +6 bonus to damage or a +3 bonus to attacks for 1 round after accepting this challenge.
Superior Defensive Roll: As for the defensive roll lesser defense challenge, except you gain a +3 bonus to damage reduction checks.
A stunt is an action in combat that falls outside the normal bounds of the rules. Iron Heroes defines a wide variety of different combat actions you can take. The stunts cover everything else. These rules are a tool to help you come up with imaginative, clever, and exciting actions in combat. If you can imagine it, the stunt rules allow you to attempt it. You might throw a fistful of sand in an opponent’s face to blind him, run along the narrow top of a wall to maneuver around a foe, or crack open a keg of beer to send a stream of liquid into an opponent’s face. Stunts reward you for coming up with interesting and visually engaging actions in combat.
The mechanics behind a stunt are relatively simple. When you attempt a stunt, first you pick out the effect you want to create. The following sections list several different possible results for a stunt, broken down into three categories: offensive stunts, defensive stunts, and maneuver stunts.
Next you describe the stunt. How do you attempt it? Do you use the terrain and combat situation to your advantage? What do you expect to happen if the stunt succeeds? Think of the game as if it were a movie, and describe the scene as you put the stunt into action. As part of this step, you must choose the mechanical effect you want to gain from the stunt. For example, the inflict penalty offensive stunt allows you to force an opponent to take a penalty to his defense or attacks. When you attempt the stunt, you announce the total penalty you wish to inflict. A small penalty calls for a much lower Difficulty Class than a higher one. In the case of an opposed check, seeking more powerful effects forces you to accept a penalty to your check.
The DM then picks one or more skills for you to use for the stunt. You make this “stunt check” against a Difficulty Class chosen by the DM or one determined by the effect you are seeking. Some stunts allow one of your opponents, such as the target of an offensive stunt, to make a skill, ability, or base attack check to foil your stunt. If the stunt check succeeds, you gain its benefits or your foe suffers its effects.
STUNTS AND ACTIONS
Listed next to the name of each stunt is the action required to complete it. Most stunts require a standard action to complete, but a few qualify as attack actions. The attack action stunts require either a standard attack or a full attack action.
STUNTS AND SKILLS
The DM chooses the skill you must use to complete a stunt and the skill your target uses to oppose your efforts, if applicable. He can also decide to replace a skill check with a base attack/defense check or an ability check. Each of the stunt types includes a short list of skills that are a good match for its effects. While the DM can choose any skill he wants, he should pick one that makes logical sense based on your description of the stunt. Remember, though, that the DM has final say on how a stunt works.
When you announce a stunt, you can choose to cancel it and use a different action if you do not agree with the skill the DM decides to use. Never argue with the DM on this point. Wait until the game session is done if you have any concerns. For DMs, remember that the players trust you to make fair, impartial decisions. Don’t pick skills simply to penalize the players or make stunts more difficult than normal. By the same token, be consistent when the NPCs attempt stunts. If you consistently force the PCs to make illogical skill checks to defend against stunts, particularly if you choose skills that they have few ranks in, the players will quickly become frustrated with your game.
To see some stunts in action, turn to the Example of Play on page 210.
There are three types of offensive stunt. All of them count as attack actions.
ATTACK STUNT (FULL ATTACK)
You use a full attack action to combine a stunt with an attack. Usually this stunt check requires you to make an acrobatic maneuver as you deliver an attack or somehow use the environment to improve your attack’s potency. The target of this stunt makes a skill or base attack check opposed by your own check. You gain either a +1 bonus to your attack or a +2 bonus to damage. You can increase either of these bonuses, with no maximum limit, in return for a –2 penalty to your stunt check for each point of increase. You cannot gain both a bonus to an attack and a bonus to damage. You must choose one or the other.
You enjoy this bonus until the end of your action against the foe who opposed your stunt check.
Failure: If this stunt fails, you attack without the bonus to your attack or damage.
Special: If you use Climb, Jump, or Tumble with an attack stunt, you may move up to half your speed as part of this stunt action. For example, if you use Climb to scramble up a wall and then, in the next round, jump down, sword first, to impale a monster, you could move half your speed following the attack to represent you rolling away from the beast or bouncing off it after the strike. This movement does not draw an attack of opportunity from the stunt’s target if the stunt succeeds. It draws attacks of opportunity from other creatures as normal, regardless of success or failure. Fast Stunt: At higher levels, you might want to use a stunt to improve your attacks while still gaining a full attack action. In this case, you can attempt a stunt as a free action. You cannot move as part of the stunt (as described under “Special,” above), and you suffer a –5 penalty to your stunt check. If you fail the stunt check, you suffer a –2 penalty to your attacks as your stratagem fails to trick your foe. Otherwise, use the standard rules given above.
Examples: Use the Jump skill to leap over a foe and attack him from above. Use Balance to run along a giant’s club and slash at its arms. Use Tumble to dodge between an ogre’s legs while slashing at it from behind.
DISRUPTING ATTACK (FULL ATTACK)
You fire an arrow into a dragon’s maw, leaving it unable to breathe fire for a short time. You splash ink onto a basilisk’s face, nullifying the effect of its gaze to turn your friends into stone. These are example of disrupting attack stunts. The disrupting attack stunt works a bit differently from the other offensive stunts. You must bid on the Fortitude save DC your target must beat to continue using a supernatural ability or an extraordinary ability. Once you pick the DC, you then must make a skill check with a DC equal to the chosen save DC + 10. If you succeed, your foe loses the use of the attack mode of your choice for 1 round. If the creature randomly determines how often it can use an ability, increase the time it must wait by 1 round. For example, a dragon might be able to breathe once every 1d4 rounds. If you successfully used this stunt against it, it would have to wait 1 extra round before breathing again.
Failure: If this stunt fails, the creature continues to use its special ability as normal.
Special: If you use a base attack check to complete this stunt, you inflict your attack’s damage without any bonuses. In this case, you trade brute force for accuracy and precision. If you use an improvised weapon, you do not gain this benefit.
Examples: Use a base attack check to injure a creature’s eyes, preventing it from using a deadly gaze. Use a Spot check to target a gorgon’s throat before firing so that your arrow disrupts its breath weapon.
INFLICT PENALTY (STANDARD ATTACK)
You attempt to inflict a penalty to an opponent’s attacks, defense, or skill and ability checks (your choice). You throw sand in his eyes to disrupt him, tangle him up with a length of rope, or otherwise confuse his efforts. Your foe opposes your check using the same skill or ability, or with a base attack check. (The target chooses one of the two.) You inflict a base –2 penalty for 1 round. You can increase the duration by 1 round and/or the penalty by –1 by accepting a –2 penalty to your check. There is no limit to the total penalty or duration.
Failure: If your stunt fails, the target suffers none of the penalties you attempted to inflict.
Examples: Use a base attack check to throw sand in an ogre’s eye. Use Bluff to trick an opponent into letting his guard down for a moment. Use a base attack check to slam your shield into a foe, knocking him off balance. Use the Use Rope skill to lasso a foe and hinder him for a few moments.
The defensive stunts all count as move actions. Most of them providea benefit to you if you complete them on your turn.
DEFENSE BONUS (MOVE ACTION)
You use a combination of the terrain and your abilities to improve your defense against a single opponent. Your stunt check is a skill or base attack check opposed by your foe’s check. If you succeed, you gain an active bonus to defense. You gain a +2 active bonus to defense if you succeed at this stunt. You can increase this bonus by +1 in exchange for a –2 penalty to your check, with no limit on the bonus you bid on. This bonus lasts until the start of your next action.
Failure: If this stunt fails, your opponent gains a +1 bonus on attacks against you until the start of your next action.
Examples: Use Bluff to trick an opponent into thinking you dodge left when you break to the right. Use Jump to leap into the air and over an opponent’s attack. Use Sense Motive to see where an opponent aims his attack. Use Tumble to dodge around the statue that stands behind you.
SAVE BONUS (MOVE ACTION)
You take action to foil an opponent’s special attacks. Maybe you cut your thumb on your knife, using the pain to throw off a witch’s charm. Or perhaps you hold your breath rather than breathe in poisonous fumes.
You must make a skill or ability check as your stunt check. You gain a +2 bonus to one type of save against a single effect or opponent of your choice with a DC 20 check. You increase this bonus by +1 for every 5 points you increase the Difficulty Class, with no limit on the bonus you can gain. This bonus lasts until the start of your next action.
Failure: You suffer no special drawbacks if this stunt fails.
Special: Unlike other stunts, the save bonus places limits on the skills and abilities you can use to gain its benefits. To gain a bonus to Reflex saves, you must use a Dexterity or Dexterity-based skill check as your stunt check. For Will saves, use a Wisdom or Wisdom-based skill check. For Fortitude saves, use a Constitution or Constitution-based skill (in other words, Concentration) check.
Examples: Use Concentration to ignore a poison’s crippling effects. Use Tumble to dodge a lightning bolt. Use Sense Motive to resist a medusa’s attempt to ensorcel you.
The single maneuver stunt makes it easier for you to move across the battlefield.
IMPROVED SPEED (SPECIAL ACTION)
You spring off a wall, swing along a length of rope, or use a steep slope to increase your speed. You may make a skill check (DC 20) to gain a +1 square bonus to your speed for the round. You can increase your speed bonus by +1 in return for a +5 modifier to the DC. You cannot increase your speed by more than double in this manner.
You make this check as part of your movement, and the bonus applies only to your current move or standard action used to move. You can use this stunt once per round.
Failure: On a failed check, reduce your speed by the amount you attempted to increase it.
Special: You can only use skills based on Strength or Dexterity, or those two abilities, to attempt this stunt. Examples: Use Balance to sprint down a slope. Use Tumble to roll across a slippery bridge. Use the Use Rope skill to swing across a ship’s rigging.