Looking Over Book of Challenges: Capstan Water Trap
A room that turns into a deathtrap unless the PCs keep doing the “wrong” thing.
Given how often gargoyles are disguised as statues in games and other media, it’s refreshing to have statues disguised as gargoyles for a change.
It’s quite charming that the trick to stopping the trap is to keep making things worse until it all loops around to reset. It’s almost like the TTRPG version of a variable overflow bug in video games.
I like the guidelines for how the flow from the statues’ mouths affects actions in the room. The effects presented are overcomplicated because they’re written for 3E, but the actual basic ideas are elegant (moderate rain > heavy storm > forceful jet) and ought to be easy to model in other systems.
Replacing the water with acid is a very nasty way of scaling up the challenge, and I appreciate that the text considers some impact for inhaling fumes in that case.
Just how “slightly raised” the alcoves are is never defined. The ceiling height isn’t defined, either, though it’s implied to be 10’.
The word “gargoyle” tends to bring a specific image to mind for Dungeons & Dragons players, one which doesn’t include a fish’s head. I’d include that detail at the first mention of gargoyles instead of leaving it to the end of the boxed text.
It’s disappointing that there’s no mention of marks on the walls or floor from flooding/draining. If modern bathtubs can get rings and streaks, surely dungeon walls will as well. Some remains of previous victims or damage from their failed attempts at escaping might be nice, too.
I’m not a fan of self-closing doors where the only interaction is a saving throw to zip past, so I’d take a cue from Pool of Endless Froglings and give the character an option to hold the door open on a successful save, at least momentarily.
I’m having a hard time seeing what purpose the vipers serve. Either make them more dangerous to ratchet up the pressure (as mentioned in one of the suggestions for scaling up the challenge) or ignore them to save on bookkeeping.
I’d prefer if the vent/grating were visible initially and only became covered when the trap is triggered.
A dead-end deathtrap where the only reward is getting out? As written, it’s not easy to imagine any use for this outside of funhouse dungeon play.
The map doesn’t indicate the extent of the “slightly raised” area for the alcoves. Then again, that elevation difference has no impact on the encounter, so it’s probably best to just get rid of it.
Like I said for Pool of Endless Froglings, contrived deathtraps like this are tricky to judge without greater context. I think the book is underrating how lethal this trap can be (continuing to make the situation worse until it suddenly resolves is very counterintuitive), so it needs more caution in deciding whether to use it than the EL 4 rating implies; even for high-level groups, the baseline version can realistically be lethal unless they have magical means of either escaping or breathing underwater.
The complete lack of treasure is also definite punch in the gut. That’s fine if it’s intentional, but I don’t see much harm in having some treasure caught on top of the drain grating if it’s going to be covered by default as written.
That all said, in a situation where it’s suitable, this is a great trap. The de facto timer is slow enough to allow plenty of interaction while still putting constant pressure on the players, the whole thing is simple enough to run without needing to reference notes, and it’s honestly easier to justify having it in an inhabited area than many later puzzles or traps since someone who knows the solution will just get a bit wet if they trigger it on accident. Just have some thoughts on where the water (or whatever liquid/gas/fluidized media) comes from and drains to.
It’s also not critical for this to be a dead-end room. Put in more doors, and it becomes a decorated intersection with a devious way to kill unwary intruders, quite suitable for a mad wizard’s stronghold.
All in all, this is like a more dangerous version of Pool of Endless Froglings that drops the pattern-recognition puzzle for a harder solution.