[RPG] How to design a climb up a cliff challenge


If I understand the RAW on climbing correctly, climbing up a cliff means making a Strength (Athletics) check every round and moving half your movement speed. Which means a character with 30' movement speed would need 7 checks for a 100' cliff, and 28 checks for a 400' cliff. Not sure if you can "dash" and move twice per round, and whether that would need one or two rolls. Anyway, that is a lot of rolls to do. It takes forever and even at low difficulty somebody sooner or later rolls a 1 and falls. While that might not be deadly if the character has a climber's kit, they would need to do even more rolls, taking even more time.

In the adventure I am playing, depending on the decisions the players make, they might end up at the foot of a cliff (adventure says it's 400', but I could change that). I would like the players to be able to climb up if they want. I would like the climb to be some sort of challenge, but I don't want it to take forever, nor be potentially deadly. How can I design an interesting climbing challenge, without completely breaking the written rules?

Best Answer

When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions: Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure? Is a task so inappropriate or impossible- such as hitting the moon with an arrow-that it can't work? If the answer to both of these questions is no, some kind of roll is appropriate. (DMG 237)

Thus asking for a roll or not is left up to the DM. If you rule that getting up a cliff using appropriate gear can be done if given time and care, you can skip the dice and this is RAW.

For it to be a challange, something needs to be at stake. You made it clear that getting to the top is assured, and falling to their death is also not on the table. I recommend two alternatives:

  • Time: Can you get to the top before the vile cultists finish their ritual? Call for a group check or one check from all the PC-s with 3 possible results:

    • big fail: you arrive with 2 rounds left until the end
    • fail: 4 rounds left
    • success: 10 rounds left
  • Resources: There are Rocs/Harpies/(insert flying monster here) near the cliff and they pick off their gear and/or HP if they take too long climbing (similiar check as above) or not fend them off fighting while hanging onto the cliff for dear life.

Be sure to communicate the risk of the climb before they make their decision. Otherwise their decision will lose all meaning.