Looking Over Book of Challenges: An Object Lesson


It's just cover art

Premise

A creature of Chaos has taken over a maze and animated its furnishings as defenders.


Good

I’d been dubious about how much shale can be polished, but a bit of research turned up that some shale can have high quartz content, so it actually isn’t a ridiculous material choice to get an end result like privacy glass with muddy inclusions. Granted, shale deposits with so much quartz would probably be called quartz instead of shale, but it’s close enough to reality that I’ll let it slide.


A freestanding piece of wall that can animate to attack is a wonderful ambush.


Living tapestries wrapping around people’s heads and ropes reaching out to strangle passersby are fun classics.


There’s some interesting treasure in the armoires.


Aside from the mention of minotaurs, the advice for making mazes is fairly reasonable. It isn’t great, and I’m not sure why it’s connected to this encounter instead of Displacer Beast Maze, but it can help a GM bridge the gap from “I want a maze” to “I have a maze map”.


Salvageable

A dead-end maze with an extra-dimensional being at its heart is really begging to be the focus of an adventure, not just something thrown in to have an interesting way of filling some time.


The whole reflection misdirection gimmick feels weird and invites too much thinking about the actual physics of light reflection. That distraction doesn’t seem worthwhile for a mere minor penalty to Spot checks. I’d rather get that effect from general discomfort and illogic due to the creature’s influence, such as seeing curves in straight lines, objects blending together when pressing tightly, blinks of movement in the gaps between time, and other nonsense.


It’s a shame that the moving wall just chases the party to attack them instead of fulfilling its original purpose of blocking the door out of the maze. That turns what could’ve been a devious trick into just another fight.


I feel like eight shields would’ve been a more interesting encounter in area B than two shield racks, or even all of them at once. Likewise for the sword and spear racks.


Bad

Genetic Memory is one of my most disliked tropes. Recognizing carvings as schematics because of being a dwarf is bad fiction in my eyes, akin to assuming any person of German descent could quote Mein Kampf.


The mandate that there are no decorations or objects in the maze aside from the animated furnishings and the occasional schematic carving goes against the advice to “[g]ive the adventurers the feeling that their surroundings might come to life and attack them at any moment”. If every object is animated to fight them, there is no discomfort and uncertainty because the results of coming across anything are entirely predictable.


Adhering to the 20-round duration for the creature’s animation effect is silly when it is apparently employing that power with omniscient knowledge of the PCs’ locations and there is no limit to how often the power can be used.


The “Creature” section for area A refers to the non-existing area 1 (should be area I).


The boxed text for area B gives information that should not be visible from the assumed entrance.


The details for area H feel like the author didn’t understand how spiking a door closed works. The spikes are supposed to be driven into gaps around the door to act as wedges against opening, not put through the door and into the frame like nails. Also, I have no idea why the lock on the door would matter if the hinged are broken, especially when it’s been spiked in place from the outside.


The boxed text for area I doesn’t mention the armoires and does mention more than three miscellaneous objects. It’s a horrible mismatch for the mechanics details.


Overall

This encounter has a cool concept and a couple nice ideas for realizing it. At the same time, it feels more like it should be an adventure in itself, with a story for what happened and a reason why the players should care, and most of the animated objects are either implements of violence or storage racks for them, which are both rather unimaginative. With some extra dressing and narrative effort, this could be great. With what’s written, it’s dull dross that has no purpose beyond its existence.


All in all, while it does need some significant effort to bring this up to where I’d want it to be, there’s enough promise in it that I’d say it’s worth the effort. A diamond in the rough.

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