Looking Over Book of Challenges: Displacer Beast Maze


It's just cover art

Premise

An ivy maze is the hunting ground of a displacer beast.


Good

Handling attacks through the maze walls/ceiling as granting significant cover/concealment is a simple solution.


The implementation of the secret passages in the maze walls is nice.


Attacking from behind walls is one of the better ways of enabling hit-and-run tactics in Dungeons & Dragons.


Salvageable

The maze is underground just to be weird. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but there’s also nothing wrong with moving it to a more normal location, if desired.


While handling traversing the ceiling as “moderate difficulty to climb up, fairly easy to walk on but with some risk of falling if struck” is good, I’d ditch the chance to fall when walking normally. Making the effort to break through the ceiling and climb up there is a fine idea for handling the maze, and a better response to make it challenging is to have something else that can attack characters up there.


Having only a single creature in the maze means the group might be in for a boring time once it’s defeated. I think the encounter would work better with multiple weaker enemies, especially since the maze set-up and hit-and-run tactics should limit how much any given one is exposed to focused fire. Alternatively, the GM may want to facilitate getting through the rest of the maze swiftly if time spent in exploration isn’t a key point of play. Adding random encounters that are aligned with neither the PCs nor the maze’s master is also an option.


While it’s certainly possible to come up with interesting explanations for why the beast is wearing a gem-studded collar, I think it’s safe to guess that the real reason was the author wanted some lazy treasure. Scattering some treasure throughout the maze would be a much better approach that (a) allows for more interesting finds and (b) would add some incentive to spend time in the maze. Given that the intro even ends with “hunting for something within the maze provides a stronger incentive for unraveling such an elaborate puzzle”, it’s mind-boggling that nothing was presented to that end.


Bad

Not related to this specific encounter, but since the intro mentions it, the thing of minotaurs not getting lost in mazes in WotC-era Dungeons & Dragons has always been silly, given that the original minotaur was trapped in the Labyrinth of Knossos because it could never find its way out.


The sidebar about mapping and mazes says a lot of words that are technically true but of no practical value.


Overall

Mazes are a classic puzzle, and making mazes fun is a classic TTRPG challenge, for which the best solution is highly dependent on the group playing. That said, the maze itself is mostly a backdrop in this case. Unless the GM does something to reward exploring it or small-scale time spent in exploration is important, there’s little reason why it can’t be replaced with a more straightforward arrangement, perhaps with some means of spraying mist/fog/water to essentially replace corners for breaking sight lines.


The stronger part of the encounter is providing an example of designing an area to facilitate hit-and-run harassment. There are certainly ways to expand on it (using enemies with ranged attacks, for starters), but as a simple way of showcasing such tactics, this is a fine set-up.


All in all, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but as long as the maze isn’t allowed to bog down play in a degenerate fashion, this is a reasonable way of featuring a different style of combat than the usual “fight until one side wins or flees”.

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