Looking Over Book of Challenges: Path of Deceit
The party comes across some evil elves riding spider eaters just as they’ve paralyzed an aranea.
After how most of the boxed text in this book has been either worthlessly dry or loquacious drivel, it’s nice to get one that highlights a few notable details and then stops.
It’s nice that the PCs can befriend the aranea.
The scaling advice of adding a pit trap in the passage that’s meant to alert the elves rather than deal significant damage is a nice touch. It’s more than a bit contrived by itself, but if it fits with the greater context, giving the PCs a chance to stumble into that could be an appropriate boon from the cleric’s luck deity.
The elves passed through the passage where this encounter starts “less than an hour” ahead of the PCs. Similar to Trouble Cubed, the GM should provide some hints of their presence so that it doesn’t feel so contrived when they show up.
The elves attack either immediately (if they can’t fool the players into trusting them) or at “their next major battle”. And then GMs wonder why players never trust their NPCs. The elves should have some actual personalities and act based on them.
The “Tactics” section ignores many of the elves’ useful spells. Of course, since they’re given complete stats like PCs, they have quite some spells to choose from. I’d suggest listing them out with a brief note on when each is likely to be used (e.g. confusion: 3+ targets within 15’ radius [Will save] or divine favor: unable to attack/buff and no healing needed). Make sure to consider the targeted saves when aiming offensive spells.
Reusing maps is lazy, but this one is even worse about it than Troll and Pets because it doesn’t even use a specific one, opting to instead point out a couple from later encounters that fit the vague criteria given.
Not that alignment means much, but nothing about the way these elves are written (from being described as “bloodthirsty” to backstabbing the PCs at the first good chance they get) points to Chaotic Neutral alignment. I’d wager that was chosen just to foil anti-evil abilities and spells.
The elves’ possessions are basically all mathemagical equipment and healing potions. The cleric’s scrolls are a little better, at least, but ultimately, the elves are about as boring as two seventh-level spellcasters can be.
Minor nitpick, but given that preparing a spell is a game mechanic in Dungeons & Dragons, the text “[i]f [NPC] is able to prepare spells before the characters arrive…” should’ve been “if [NPC] is able to cast spells before…” or “if [NPC] is able to prepare before…” instead.
The advice to scale up the challenge by increasing the levels/HD of the elves and their mounts is even worse than the usual advice to alter the number of creatures, since it then requires extra work to adjust spell selection, attack bonus, etc.
As written, this encounter is rather bland despite having some of the best boxed text in the book. Giving the elves actual personalities, having a background for how they got their mounts, having a reason why they were chasing the aranae, etc. can all go a long way towards making it interesting, and it’s all rather necessary effort to make this work in play because what’s written is the most threadbare filler possible. Those details needn’t be elaborate; even just making them a couple of lovestruck sociopaths who raised the mounts from birth and hunt intelligent arachnids with them as play would be a huge improvement; but they need something to serve as a basis for interacting with the PCs.
All in all, the laziness of reusing a map carries through the effort shown for the rest of this encounter. It’s not worth the work required to make it playable, and there aren’t even any noteworthy ideas to steal. It doesn’t even make good on the promise from the intro to “lead to deadly misinterpretations” if the PCs use their tracking.