Looking Over Book of Challenges: Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty
A magical cat that had been the guardian of a gnome village has been seduced by a feral mate, and the villagers want the PCs to convince it to come back.
As with A Familiar Situation, I’m a fan of challenges where just rolling dice until someone runs out of HP isn’t a good approach.
The basic idea of an adopted guardian animal being drawn off by its natural urges is a neat dilemma, and it can inspire players to use a similar approach for getting around beasts that they don’t want to fight directly.
The graduated rewards (in terms of XP, treasure, and reception at the village) depending on how the PCs resolve the matter is solid.
The idea for scaling down the challenge (that one of the cats ingested something dangerous and is being protected by the other) is great. I wouldn’t even mind that being the whole reason why the guardian cat went missing in the first place.
Asking around the village can give an obscure hint that the guardian cat was feeling anxious to respond to the mating calls of a female in heat shortly before it disappeared. I’d lean harder into this, since a cat in heat is typically not subtle about it (a little research may be required for GMs who haven’t been around cats pretty much all their lives).
The advice to have the village change over time if the PCs stick around long-term is a nice idea, but the actual tips on how to implement that range from worthless to terrible. If the GM has some knowledge of how communities grow in the real world, this is a reasonable place to display that; if they don’t, it’d be better to just leave the village as it is and let the players’ sense for adventure draw them elsewhere.
Like most examples of tracking in games (video or tabletop), what’s described here for following the cat’s trail is little more than magic Hand Waved as mundane. Not to say that it can’t work (most players take that as a reasonable break from reality), but it shouldn’t take much extra effort to provide a more immersive experience (again, remember that a cat in heat often wants to leave indications of its presence).
Having the cats react aggressively as soon as they detect the PCs doesn’t make much sense. Seeing as they’re backed into a dead-end, they ought to start out by hiding, then making warning displays (including their scare ability, if spotted), and only resorting to the screech if they feel threatened. Having them attempt to flee past the PCs rather than staying to fight could also be good, assuming the cats don’t outnumber the PCs (and even if they do, having them flee if the PCs prove capable of defending themselves would still be reasonable).
The treasure in the cave feels like it was thrown in there for no reason other than to have some treasure. I’d replace it with some valuable prey animal (either valuable to a villager, something with innate value, or perhaps the MacGuffin of another adventure) that one of the cats caught and brought as an offering to the other.
The boxed text is terrible. I’m not a fan of that stuff in the best of times, but when all that’s offered is a generic description of a village that gives zero indication of anything interesting going on, it’s beyond worthless.
All of the other details about the village pretty much just back up that they’re a collection of incapable incompetents with no capacity to take care of themselves. Maybe my real-world biases are coloring my opinions here, but it breaks my suspension of disbelief that they could’ve inhabited the village in the first place with such a complete lack of self-sufficiency.
As written, the search for the cat is just an arbitrary number of skill checks to find its lair, and failing any of them would seem to end the search. Combining bad mechanics with lazy writing is the worst of both worlds.
This was not a good entry. The set-up tries to hide the adventure for no good reason, the execution of the search is awful, and the encounter at the end is basically a simplified rehash of A Familiar Situation. It’s disappointing that the variant idea for scaling it down was actually more interesting than the main one.
All in all, while there are a few good points here, I feel like it’d be less work to build a better encounter around those bits than to fix the weak points of this encounter as written.