Looking Over Book of Challenges: A Familiar Situation
An absent wizard has ordered a shipment of potential familiars, the incompetent courier broke their cages, and now it’s up to the PCs to wrangle them back.
This is an encounter that doesn’t lend itself to simple combat or skill checks, particularly at the intended encounter level. Depending on how the PCs respond, it could lead to some interesting moral developments that influence play well after it’s over.
The NPC present is written in such a way that he can provide information and commentary without taking over the situation.
The “Tactics” part gives reasonable ideas for how to play each of the animals, which could be useful for GMs who don’t have much actual experience with them in real life.
The whole situation feels very contrived, what with the PCs just so happening to arrive shortly after the courier broke the cages and the animals entrenched themselves in various parts of the room. A better set-up might be for the PCs to be escorts for the courier (particularly if the GM wants to also use the idea of having an activist interfere to free the animals), though that might risk feeling too gamey for some players.
A dead-end room at the end of a corridor seems like a poor fit for both the background provided and the situation as a whole. I think it’d make more sense as either an independent dwelling or as an entrance foyer of a dungeon.
There aren’t any interactions between the animals as written, so it risks feeling like five separate encounters in a single room instead of one completely chaotic situation if the GM doesn’t add that extra element themselves.
The write-up mentions the potential for hostile monsters to inject themselves into the situation, but it makes no mention of the NPC who ordered the familiars in the first place.
The treasure manages to be paltry (in a vacuum) and excessive (compared to the value of everything else in the room) at the same time, on top of being boring (just a pile of money in a chest). Make it interesting with some quirky items and/or spread it around the room, and have the NPC comment on the moral implications of the PCs taking it (assuming he’s in the room when they consider doing so).
The suggestion to make it more difficult by having the animals drink random potions is rather contrived, considering that animals tend to be picky about what water they drink in real life.
Having four different map views for one simple room that shouldn’t really need a tactical map is just wasted space, as are the sidebar on how various first- and second-level spells could be used and the repetitions of rules from the core books for grappling and subdual.
Since the situation is a relatable one where choosing whether or not to resort to violence would make a strong moral statement if it happened in real life, I think it has great potential as a prompt for getting players to define their characters in actual play. There are plenty of obvious opportunities to apply creative problem-solving, too, which makes for a much more engaging puzzle than just rolling dice to disarm a trap. If the wizard NPC is left absent, it could even serve as a minor mystery for the players to figure out why someone wanted a bunch of animals delivered to a dungeon.
All in all, it’s a pretty simple situation at first glance, but it’s one that can have plenty of depth depending on how it’s run in actual play. The more I think about it, the more I like it.