Looking Over Book of Challenges: Avaard's Dilemma


It's just cover art

Premise

A necromancer is trapped in a room accessible only by a shifting passage.


Good

The familiar trying to steal spell components from the PCs for the necromancer is a cute touch.


Similar to the knocker is Jann Lair, I’m fairly sure the magical spoon here was intended to dismiss questions about how the necromancer and his rats could live without food, but it’s actually an interesting magic item for creative players to work with.


Salvageable

As ever, traps that are triggered by magical proximity sensors will need some reworking to fit settings where that would not be appropriate.


There ought to be some signs of the shifting walls, such as tracks on the floor/ceiling, gouge marks and/or sheared surfaces (if the shifting walls are flush with the floor and/or ceiling), an ancient bloodstain on the wall that cuts off with a sharp vertical edge, and/or a continuous vertical seam on the wall (as well as a horizontal seams of the shifting walls aren’t flush with the floor and/or ceiling). How obvious any of them are depends on the individual game’s context (how often do they tend to get triggered, when was the last time they triggered, how much of the operation is magic vs mechanical, etc.) and metagame expectations, but unless it’s a hardcore funhouse game, there should be something that observant investigation can discover.


If any characters are actively examining the sliding walls, I think it’d be fair to give them some warning (or at least a check to notice something is happening) a round before the walls shift. This is more of a concern for the resetting procedure, where there are multiple opportunities for characters to get stuck permanently between the walls (or at least until the trap is triggered again). Requiring mobility magic to escape is not unreasonable for EL 9 in and of itself, but if the characters are stuck taking 6d6 damage each round between walls with no gap, they’ll probably be unable to actually use that magic.


Unless the characters are anchored firmly to the ground, they should get knocked around when the walls are shifting. It’s not necessary for that to cause damage (there’s enough of that with the chances to get crushed), but it should at least be mentioned narratively.


As written, the necromancer’s opening use of his wand of fear is somewhat likely to catch his minions in the area of effect and send them into the far room. Whether that’s desirable or not is up to how much the GM wants his madness to handicap his decision-making.


Of the various trap-as-monster creatures from old editions, green slime is my most disliked. Granted, it isn’t as bad in 3E as it used to be, but I’d still favor replacing or reworking it over using it as written.


Bad

With the way the trap works, it would have to be located somewhere with absolutely no chance of random passersby setting it off in order for the necromancer to have been stuck in area 2 for “many years”.


The scale is half of what it needs to be to match the dimensions in the text description of area 1.


As ever, boxed text drawing conclusions continues to annoy me.


The text really should’ve marked which of his spells the necromancer can’t use instead of leaving it up to the GM to check the details (by 3E rules, he can’t use mage armor and scare of his prepared spells, nor ghoul touch, protection from arrows, gentle repose, and slow of the spells in his book).


None of the creatures can see in total darkness, and none of them have any sources of light. I get that the necromancer has the Blind-Fight feat, but I feel like that by itself doesn’t justify how he and especially his rats respond with no hesitation or handicap to the PCs likely carrying the first light source any of them have seen in years (or, alternatively, to the PCs effectively being invisible).


While it’s not as prevalent as it was in Jann Lair, mentioning how certain wall movements “…[trap] any characters stupid enough to be standing between [them]” still leaves a bad impression on me.


I’m not sure what a normal growth of nonacidic slime is supposed to be, unless the statement is just written poorly (“…mixed in with the normal growth of moss and nonacidic slime”).


Overall

This one is even more of a funhouse dungeon encounter than the earlier watery deathtraps. While that’s not necessarily bad since it’s a fun way to play with the right group, it is limited in its possible applications. I could imagine using those other encounters in a “serious” game, but I don’t really see that working out well for this one.


The trap by itself might be usable elsewhere, but it’d almost have to be a “lost tomb”-type dungeon where nothing is supposed to be moving around aside from ghost. The encounter by itself is pretty bad because there’s no opportunity for parley and it’s an EL 9 encounter that’s probably over after one fireball (two if the PCs want to clear the slime chamber as well). There’s a chance the shifting walls separate the party for some interesting tactical impact, but the corridor is so long (20’ from the trigger point to either end) that it wouldn’t be a surprise for the entire party to get caught by it at the first activation.


All in all, this was a pretty bad encounter without much of anything to redeem it. At least the treasure might be interesting to use as part of a better encounter?

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