Playing a low level/early stages 5e + homebrew game with a few friends. Though our DM is fairly new they have put in a ton of really amazing work at setting the scene for us these first few sessions.
However, they have also just put our cheery NPC tour guide that was introduced at the start of our travels in grave peril from a quickly approaching supernatural force. The creature and our NPC is about 200 feet away from the party at the start of the session and the NPC is frozen in shock or mesmerized.
We have no chance of beating or even distracting this entity with our attacks (we are told us as much in the introduction of the scene), and the DM says we are to do a set of skill challenges to get the attention of our petrified friend and have him run for cover/snap out of it/save him. We have some spells that could maybe work, like Message or Command, maybe a non-lethal attack to try and rouse him, but those are treated as non-applicable. We end up using some creative solutions focused on our proficiencies to pass the skill challenge with two failures and six successes.
The DM then just says, yeah, none of that worked you were too far away and the NPC sees you too late so the character is obliterated, there’s nothing left of him, just red a confetti of gore.
I get that they were hoping for and had written a downer, and that’s fine, it’s set in a kinda grim dark world and these things happen all the time. And I found it a bit comical as well as sad, but I think the thing that bothers and is still bothering me is the invalidation of our successes in the challenge and the limitation of our options. Feels like they have not honored the way the dice fell and the descriptions and performances we sold, and just went through with what they were planning on doing because they had written it that way.
Is this fair play as they designed it or an appropriate use of a skill challenge? Is it often that the results will be just struck down like that? I would prefer not to participate in another if that is the case.
If the creature had only cut him in half due to our success and then he later succumbed to his wounds, if he had died off screen and we found the body as a mystery hook, if the NPC was touched by it, corrupted, transformed and turned on us, those all seem like better ways to hook in a way that gives us a gameplay/action specific way to respond to it (I get that the DM may want our hook to be revenge).
How else might the skill challenge’s pass/fail outcome have been defined to make it both narratively sound and fair to us the players?