Today I had a vision of how I want to handle an encounter: I want a skill challenge leading up to combat with the success or failure of the challenge dictating the advantage the players get. I also wanted all the players rolling and describing their actions so that everyone is participating.
The Setup: The players are tromping through the woods in pursuit of the fell spiders when they hear screams in the distance.
Rules: For the next 5 rounds the screaming continues along with the growing sounds of battle. After the end of the 5th round the noise ends abruptly. Assuming the Characters run toward the battle every round the characters must make several skill checks.
A player running full out can make it to the encounter in 3 rounds.
The ideal situation is to be quick (athletics), precise (perception) and quiet (stealth). Additionally if you are agile (acrobatics) or have wood land guile (nature) you may be able to find a better route. Given the undergrowth having some stamina is also of importance (Endurance). Some skills get easier the closer to the encounter, other get harder. Those that succeed in a roll may "spread the wealth" of any overage that they got on their roll to help those that failed.
If there are more successfull athletics checks in a round than failures then the group(s) will move one range increment tward the encounter. Failing (more failures than successes) result in only making 1/2 a range increment progress during that round. Using Acrobatics or nature may shorten the distance by 1/2 range increment per round (re-check each round). Note that Acrobatics check success may not be shared but nature checks can be.
Blasting off the path into the dense undergrowth is difficult and tireing.
A hard perception check to find the direction; an moderate athletics check to start moving; an easy stealth check will keep their movements unnoticed.
Note for this perception check is still a group effort even for the maverics.
Webfilled deadfalls and bramble bushes hamper progress.
Moderate athletics to make progress, Easy endurance checks to keep going (or suffer a -1 on athletics checks until a short rest). Easy stealth checks to avoid attracting attention. Moderate perception checks to find an easier path (+2 to athletics checks next round) success may be shared by the people within a group.
The brambles become very dense as the cannopy of trees thins for the upcomming clearing.
Hard athletics checks are required to make it through the undergrowth; Stealth check are moderate in the lush grenery. Another round of individual endurance check is need to avoid being winded (-1 to attacks until a short rest).
Round 1: There is a distant trio of voices screaming (a hard insight will reveal 1 male, 1 female and possibly a child's voice).
Round 2: The voices continue shouting and screaming but are closer.
Round 3: The panniced voices are very close and you can hear the chattering and hissing of spiders.
Round 4: The trio of voices dwindles a bit for a moment, and then regains in volume and urgency as a pair (insight says that the child has fallen).
Round 5: The pair of shouts changes to a single sobbing screaming male voice.
Round 6: The lone male voice abruptly goes silent.
If all three stealth checks have more success than failures then grant a surprise round and combat advantage until the end of the next round.
If two stealth checks were successful, grant a surprise round.
If only one Stealth check was successful, grant combat advantage.
With no successful stealth checks, grant the enemy combat advantage until the end of the turn.
If all three athletics checks were successful, grand full cover and range 2 from nearest creature.
If two of the Athletics checks were successful, grant partial cover, but the range is 4 to the nearest enemy.
If only one Athletics check was successful, grant partial concealment, but the range is 6.
With no successful athletics checks arrive at the edge of the battle map (range 10).
Mavericks that push ahead and arrive prior to round 5 will be gifted 1 extra minion per round of early arrival (so arriving at round 3 will result in there being 2 extra minions).
As far as XP goes I would treat this as a normal (at level) encounter/quest.
The fate of the three victims is to be determined later.