Looking Over Book of Challenges: Ladies of the Lake
Some evil creatures seek the treasure of some good fey in an underground oasis.
Using a non-damaging alarm trap that also sets off a follow-up by some harmless animals is a decent way of setting the tone for what’s to come. I’m not entirely sold on it, because raccoons “assaulting” the PC just to eat some honey is a little too Granola Girl for me, but I can imagine it going over better with many people.
Having a reasonable chance to start out on friendly terms with the fey without making it a sure thing is nice. Aside from signaling that it needn’t result in combat, it opens a door for the players to manipulate the situation to their advantage while still retaining flexibility for other approaches.
The fey not knowing the standard names for the evil pair is exactly as it should be.
The background detail that the fey were kidnapped by an evil druid and the implication that they’ve essentially been confined to the oasis is great and sets groundwork for connecting to greater context.
The treasures in this encounter singlehandedly outdo all of the previous ones combined, in terms of being interesting and varied.
The scaling up advice of giving each pair a unique protector is a nice way of adding more tactical variety.
Similar to Displacer Beast Maze, this seems to be underground just to be weird. No complications are caused by moving it to a more normal location, if desired.
There’s a slight contradiction in the “Tactics” for the fey between “The two women are frightened of strangers [and] try to run from anyone they think is a threat” and “the two are initially very curious […and] if the feys’ attitude is friendly or better, they happily converse with the characters”. I think it’s supposed to be inspired by how animals can be wary and curious at the same time when faced with something unfamiliar, or maybe it’s just a bad presentation of two different situations (their reaction if surprised and if not). In either case, some effort is necessary to smooth out the bumps.
I think the fey are supposed to tell the players about area E if they become helpful, not area D. The former actually involves the word “peace” and is explicitly described as having treasure the fey don’t need, while the latter is an ambush set by the evil pair.
The hag changes herself to look like the nymph and “pretends to hide”, yet the Spot DC to see her is higher than the DC to notice the disguise? I’d flip those difficulties, and I wouldn’t mind sending a link defining “pretend” to the author if I knew which designer worked on this encounter.
In keeping with slight contradictions in the text (the editor for this encounter was not up to the task), the lamia “moves to attack any PC outside combat” but also “prefer[s] to attack entangled or otherwise helpless-looking PCs”. I assume that means she prioritizes helpless PCs, then PCs who are on guard but not in combat, then PCs who are entangled, and finally anyone else.
Rather than expecting the PCs to climb the marked tree for the feys’ treasure, I’d have the tree give it to them if they read the word, touch the marking, or do something else along those lines.
This encounter suffers from being presented in a format that doesn’t support the play experience it aims for. This was forgivable for stuff like L2 – The Assassin’s Knot or N1 – Against the Cult of the Reptile God because those were written in the early 1980s when the dungeoncrawl was the only format. Making the same mistake with a product from 2002 is just bad.
Mandating that the fey will attempt to charm “handsome males” is not only asking for real problems at certain tables, it clashes wildly with the paragraphs around it that talk about how the fey can be friendly and are themselves kidnapping victims. If the intent was to make the fey come off as alien beings with different moral standards, this was not the way to do it.
The boxed text for area C assumes that the PCs both learned the feys’ names and didn’t kill them. The hag’s initial tactics write-up assumes the PCs will do as she says.
The evil pair seem to have no reason to be hostile towards the PCs aside from just because they’re evil. Given their stated goal and problems in the intro, it seems like they ought to be inclined to befriend or at least to not engage the PCs until the feys’ treasure is found.
The boxed text for area D assumes that the PCs engage the “giant” in melee (or at least at close range).
More sloppy editing as area D repeats the text that the evil pair avoids the vines’ entangle effect.
Why would hippy fey carve a word into the bark of a living tree?
To get the skeevy part out of the way, yes, an encounter about a pair of magical female creatures who can weaponize their beauty being opposed by another pair of magical female creatures whose inner evil is reflected by exterior ugliness that they try to disguise does have sexist and homophobic undertones. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad encounter (having something bigoted in a game doesn’t mean the GM or anyone else at the table supports that bigotry), but it is worth considering if that should be played into, glossed over, or removed by changing the creature details.
That aside, this encounter feels like someone put a lot of effort (the full write-up is almost three pages) into fleshing out the least interesting parts of it. Rather than all of these details about semi-scripted reactions and combat tactics that may never come into play, I want to know how the evil pair are trying to go about actually finding the feys’ treasure, why they can’t just find the marked tree, what other creatures in the forest aren’t normal animals and plants, what happened to the evil druid who brought the fey here in the first place, and what (if anything) is keeping them confined. I can understand that those are left open for the GM to fill, but they strike me as far more interesting than the actual encounter write-up.
All in all, this feels like a case of a strong adventure set-up being led awry by how WotC wrote content for 3E. While the encounter as-written is one way that it could play out, I think it’d be better to take things back a step and prepare this as a set of tools for a scenario rather than a plot. It’s hard to say if the foundation here is good enough to justify that effort; I’m enough of a fan of fey that I’d be willing to do it, but I can’t say it’s good enough to deserve a blanket recommendation.