Looking Over Book of Challenges: Jann Lair


It's just cover art

Premise

A group of jann built a fortress in exchange for a room that would never be disturbed, which they’re prepared to defend from any intrusions.


Good

The premise alone is loaded with hints of faction dynamics and hooks into further adventures.


While the boxed text for the outer door is weighed down by excessive elaborations, the actual description of the door itself is evocative and sends a clear signal that it’s something different from the rest of the fortress.


Boxed text loquaciousness notwithstanding, the theatrics of the jann’s entrances are nice.


Having the trigger to part the mists be drinking from the bowl without doing anything to indicate that isn’t something that would suit everyone’s tastes, but I like it. In my mind, putting a bowl of water in an unusual room presents an obvious temptation. Giving players the opportunity to discover the connection without providing any hints will make it a more wondrous and rewarding experience if they choose to engage with it, while the lack of hints signals that engaging is completely optional (barring any greater context to the contrary).


The secure door-knocker is a nice bit of treasure. It seems like something the writer came up with just to suit the encounter, but I could see it being a useful magic item for creative players.


Salvageable

“Cool description buried in overwritten flourishes” is a common theme to all the boxed text in this encounter (why this encounter gets four boxed texts containing six paragraphs when Dropping like a Stone had but two sentences is also odd, but I digress). There are good parts in there, but it needs vigorous pruning to be reasonable for the intended use in actual play.


Minor gripe, but it always annoys me when descriptions mention water in a situation where there’s no reason to assume any clear liquid is water.


Given that the leader warns the party about their trespassing, it seems very odd that she uses only the most obscure language that she knows. I can understand being defensive about strangers entering your private quarters and being quick to use violence against them, but if you’re going to try communicating first, at least use a language that the others are more likely to understand than windspeak.


At just 15’ across the flats, the room is pretty small for a space meant to hold four human-sized creatures capable of doubling their size. I’d probably double the scale (i.e. 10’ between major gridlines) to make it feel less cramped.


It’s a bit disappointing that there’s no way of using the misty thresholds to go to the jann’s homes.


Related to the previous point, it seems like a huge waste that there isn’t something the players can do with the bowl other than parting the mists.


In keeping with the Dungeons & Dragons fluff that jann are a combination of all four primary elements, I’d have the explosions of the teleporting chest change which type of damage they deal each time instead of sticking with just fire.


It seems odd that the brass box contains the key that could unlock its lock, which just happens to be unlocked if the players find it. It’d be more interesting if the box was locked.


Bad

There’s an off-putting smarminess to the writing for this entry, from the start (“…no one has bothered to tell the characters anything about [the arrangement to never disturb the jann’s room]”) to the end (“[The characters can find] a piece of parchment spread flat against the underside of the lid. This is actually an arcane scroll…”). At best, it’s unnecessary attitude that gets in the way of reading the encounter’s details. At worst, it’s a toxic undercurrent that promotes unhealthy behavior between the GM and the other players. It’s baffling how this made it through an editor’s review, because I don’t think there’s this much of it in any other encounter.


The “Tactics” section is lacking in any actual tactical advice.


The scaling advice is the usual dross of changing the number of enemies.


Overall

Putting aside complaints about how it’s written, this is a great encounter. It works on its own, provides additional character to any setting it’s used in just by existing, has obvious potential to hook into greater context, and can work as a broader encounter (i.e. not just a forced combat) by just modifying how the creatures respond to the PCs’ intrusion. Add in the mystique and wondrousness of the encounter itself and that the jann’s magic can give tactical complexity that the set-up is missing, and I almost want to force someone into playing a game right now just so I can run this.


All in all, this is fantastic and easily one of the best encounters in the book. It’s got worldbuilding, wonder, mystery, tactics, an interesting magic item as a possible reward, and (potentially) roleplaying all wrapped up in a neat little package. I think it’d be hard to find a player who wouldn’t enjoy this.

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