Here's the latest skill challenge in Mac's campaign. I am always impressed at the creativity of my DM and all my fellow PCs - and now you can be, too!
Professor Finchley and Erek the Mage await you all in the library of Brilidien. Finchley speaks.
"Adventurers! It is a great task you have taken upon yourselves. Your journeys to find the answers you seek will lie far beyond this world, to the Center of the Universe itself.
"I can give you this starting advice; I have tended this library for many, many decades, and there is only one scrap of information here from which to start your research. The race of Ettin are two-headed giants, typically enormously stupid. A long time ago, one was born of surpassing brilliance. The two heads were smart enough to plot against each other, and one night, while one head slept, the other cast a ritual to try and draw magic from the Abyss. The energy he unleashed blasted the head off his shoulder, and the backlash drove the other head mad. He lived for one month, during which time he spoke in riddles. An eladrin mage contained him, and wrote down all he said; much of it has been proven true, and all of it pertains to the Abyss. Ours is a small kingdom, very much rooted to this world, and our library's knowledge of the other planes will not be extensive. The one page I have, copied from that mage's notes, is your best bet."
He holds up a piece of paper, burned around the edges, trapped between panes of glass.
"Not much directly relates to you, but this might help; 'To retrieve that which the Abyss has taken from you, you must travel to Sigil, City of Doors, and find the Rule-of-Three'. Not much to go on, I know. But it is one clear destination.
"Our services are at your disposal. We will each do whatever we can to help you find your way across the planes to Sigil."
"Sigil... City of Doors... Sigil... Sigil..." Something about that rings a faint bell for Kismet. He grew up in this library and, with one shining exception, these books were his only friends. Of course he would never claim the same mastery over the written word as Professor Finchley, who knows the library's every codex and epistle like the back of his finely veined hand. But sometimes Kismet can almost imagine that the books themselves speak to him, eager to share their secrets with the one that loved them best.
He asks Tancha and Shirk to scan the library's most extensive atlases, but Kismet himself simply closes his eyes and begins to wander between the shelves. The creak of the floor boards, the smell of parchment and leather, the feel of the book spines against his fingers... all these things call forth distant memories. In his mind's eye he sees a small tiefling boy, tucked into the one sunny spot by the Western window. On his lap is a dusty tome almost as big as himself. One chubby finger runs over a map, tracing a path towards adventure. And there, just there, that finger lingers for a moment on a strange word...
Kismet puts his hand out, picking up a book instinctively. When he opens his eyes he sees that it is the same book from his memory. Or was it a daydream? Perhaps the library had worked some kind of magic on him, or perhaps the reverse was true. Perhaps he's just a damn fool. "Only one way to find out," he mumbles to himself.
He opens the book.
While others are regaling in musty tomes, or reuniting with old friends, Travok heads outside. Squinting in the late afternoon sunlight, fresh air fills his lungs. It doesn't soothe quite the same way the dark and dust of the mines do, but there is something almost refreshing about the air in this town.
He notices the spires of a temple to Avandra towering over the neighborhood. Harkening back to his childhood, he remembers the Avandra Dwarves. Travok was never quite sure what to make of their tales, but he can recall most of them... And Travok never quite was sure of what to make of gods, or of prayer. But Avandra was supposed to be a patron of adventurers.
[Travok watches a group of halfling clerics performing a ritual, and hums along with their various chants.]
Graciously thanking his hosts for the ruminative moments and hospitality, Travok offers to treat them to grog at the closest tavern where they then all tell jovial stories, and he picks their brains about Planar travel and Arvandor, the plane of Avandra. Would that same knowledge be able to go to and from the Abyss?
Late into the night, they all retire.
Travok settles into bed, chuckling to himself that like a wee lad he should hope for a message from Aasterinian, that blue dragon messenger. A reason. A guide. Motivation to join on this journey to the Abyss. An adventure most sane people wouldn't dare, if it's even possible.
"A library?" thought Valna. "Swell."
She had been many places on her adventures. Ruined castles, dungeons, dangerous forests, and more towns than she could count. Hell, even the Abyss sounded like fun. But...a library? Here she was about as useful as nipples on a man.
Of course, Stumbleduck and Kismet were prancing about as if they owned the place. And for all Valna knew, they probably did. Libraries were about as far from her idea of a good time as it was possible to get. All the books, scrolls, maps, it made her head spin. Anywhere where she could breathe fresh air and carry a sword, or even anywhere with monsters that needed killing, felt like home. But here was entirely out of her element.
After a few minutes of trailing behind the group, trying to pretend that she had any idea what that Mage fellow and the (actually very attractive) Finchley were talking about, Valna stopped in the middle of one of the stacks. This was getting her no where. She needed to be useful, dammit! There didn't seem to be anything in the vicinity that needed immediate killing, so she tabled that idea for the time being. She could always revisit it later.
Valna knew she wasn't a great thinker. Her talents leaned more towards the physical. But her Grandfather had taught her a few tricks to focus her mind--it was the only way to control her rages when she was younger. "Think," she whispered to herself (Valna didn't really do the whole interior monologue thing). "Focus on your strengths. What are you good at?"
While talking to herself, she turned in a tight circle looking around. And then her gaze passed by one of the reference librarians working behind a large desk. A very good looking reference librarian. "Ahhhh," she murmured. "That's what you're good at."
[Mac asks Maggie to write out Valna's pick-up line for a bonus to her check.]
"Hey there. You look like someone who enjoys...a challenge. My friends and I are looking for some information. If you can help us find it, I can promise you a big. fat. reward. Oh, oops, I dropped something!"
*Valna completes a perfect bend and snap*