Looking Over Book of Challenges: Fire and Water


It's just cover art

Premise

A contraption for manipulating pools of lava and water hides some treasure.


Good

The lava in the pyramid top remaining liquid seems like a gap in logic at first, but I like to read it as actually hinting at the presence of the mephits.


I like that the mephits initiate dialogue by default, and the notes about what they want and what tactics can help win them over are useful. Having them act high and mighty despite likely being outclassed (three CR 3 creatures for an EL 7 encounter) is a nice bonus.


Salvageable

While the area 1 boxed text is mostly decent, details like the lever colors or the positions of the corpses can be delayed until the players ask about them.


I’m not a fan of the lever order not matching with the order of the instruments each operates. I understand that’s meant to be part of the puzzle; I just don’t see it adding much and would rather cut out that bit of busywork.


The Strength check to throw the levers feels unnecessary.


All that’s left of the previous adventurers is “two badly charred corpses”, and one of them is holding a scroll with hints for the puzzle, hints which the pair had simply copied from a treasure map. This feels like a rather contrived set-up that begs the question of how the scroll survived whatever burned the adventurers (presumably the mephits). Better to either have the PCs find the treasure map elsewhere or put the map in a container on one of the corpses that could’ve kept it safe.


Bad

The portcullis paragraph is a slog to read.


By what logic can a simple Search check determine that the levers operate parts of the moat/pyramid? I’m all for players being able to figure out connections between elements of a puzzle, but there should be a sensible relationship between the action taken and the information gained. From what’s presented, it’d seem just as if not more sensible to discover the levers operate the instruments.


The trap details don’t say how long the PCs need to wait before it’s safe to drain water after draining lava (or vice versa).


There’s no way to refill the water in the moat. Given that this contraption has existed for years, the water should have all evaporated from being in a chamber with a big pool of lava and three heat-themed mephits.


It’s not clear why the mephits would have reason to believe that operating the levers could drain the lava. It’s clearly something that hasn’t happened before (since there’s no mechanics to refill the lava pool), and the write-up gives no reason to believe the mephits were placed there by the wizard who set up this whole thing (though, in fairness, there’s no reason to believe that wasn’t the case, either).


Overall

What we have here is a logic puzzle built on an illogical foundation where each part can only be operated once and, by a strict reading of what’s written, sets off a permanent zone of damage if solved incorrectly (though I’d wave that off as just being left for the GM to fill in). To say that I’m not a fan would be an understatement. This is one of the stupidest things I’ve seen, and that’s without getting to the mandated tedium of jumbling which levers operate which instruments or needing to make a Strength check to throw a lever. Speaking with the mephits could be fun, but the puzzle itself is terrible.


Also, the solution provided in the text is only the most efficient if the players are set on avoiding combat. Realistically, the most efficient solution is to just drain the lava and kill the mephits.


Maybe there’s some place for this in a funhouse dungeon, but I feel like there’s so much more you could do in that context that using this would feel like a letdown for not being funhouse enough.


All in all, the only things to take away from here are considering how the presence of certain monsters could alter the environment (the lava that never cools, in this case) and that statistically-weak monsters can still feed into enjoyable interactions. Put the mephits in a lava pool somewhere else, and you get all the good points with the added bonus of needing a more creative solution to access the treasure.

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