Looking Over Book of Challenges: No Loose Ends
An ogre and its orc minions have turned a bridge into a trap.
There’s actually a tracking-type skill check that gives fairly reasonable feedback.
The Search DCs indicate that it should be easy for players to discover something fishy is going on with the bridge. That’s probably as close to handling searching well as 3E modules ever get.
Climbing out of the chasm seems difficult but possible. This is a nice touch to (a) present choices with uncertain outcomes and (b) reward players who think of ways to get out of the chasm without climbing.
The word choices in the two spots of boxed text conflict about the speed of the river. Given that nothing in the write-up indicates the speed of the water should pose any problems, I’d go with it being slow, though a faster flow could help disguise noises from the hidden enemies.
The distance from the bridge to the cave on the other side is undefined. Context clues imply it’s about 30 feet away after crossing the bridge, but I’d have expected some indication on the encounter area drawing.
Assuming the PCs have a light source, the hidden orc’s darkvision should be irrelevant for seeing them.
As written, the creatures are waiting to ambush the PCs no matter what. I’d allow some consideration for catching them off-guard if the PCs have a particularly stealthy approach towards the bridge, assuming this isn’t used as part of a larger encounter.
I’m not normally a fan of creatures who’re waiting to launch an ambush losing their patience quickly, so I’d probably change the 5-minute countdown to something else (either a longer time or a chance per 10 minutes). This becomes more of an issue with the scaling up advice to give the creatures either magic items or skills to help them hide more effectively.
The drawing of the encounter area omits the two most important details: the bridge being supported by a single rope and one end of that rope extending to the hidden orc. Without either of those being noticeable, it’s just a piece of lackluster art.
The treasure is rather all-or-nothing, though that doesn’t bother me much in this case since it is a very small and simple encounter.
On its own, this encounter is nice example of a simple fight made more interesting by using terrain and traps to restrict freedom of movement, like an enhanced version of Close Quarters. I think it’d work even better as part of either a running battle or infiltration of a fortified location, where the ambush would be used to counter overaggressive pursuit or as a consequence if the infiltration is detected, respectively. In any case, though, it’s once again a good way of getting interesting returns for a little bit of extra complexity. Additionally, an encounter like this can get players thinking about what they can do to give themselves an advantage when they’re on the other side of a potential ambush.
As an aside, I got a laugh out of the advice for scaling up to EL 7 mentioning that PCs at that level will likely have magical means to bypass the bridge easily, mostly because I don’t think that thought comes up again for the rest of the book, all the way to expecting PCs to climbs walls or use ropes in the EL 21 encounter.
All in all, this is a handy trick to keep in mind when the players are facing intelligent opposition (it’s even doable without relying on magic items), and thinking about it should inspire other similar ideas for both players and GMs.