Looking Over Book of Challenges: Primary Thinking


It's just cover art

Premise

A puzzle built over gas vents and around a gaggle of golems protects a renowned wizard’s tomb.


Good

The golems forcing interaction with the gas trap if left unchecked is a nice touch, bringing the trap to players who are being passive.


I like the unwritten implication that players who identify the source of the gas could neuter the trap by constantly throwing flames at the stairs until the gas stops.


I like that the force field around the sarcophagus is written as a unique effect, distinct from any codified spells or abilities.


A rod of splendor and some “eye” gems are nice treasures.


Salvageable

Instead of telling players that the inscription on the door is written in an archaic form of a language they know, it’d be better to simply give them the message in an archaic form. Looking at literature from at least a century ago is a good way to get inspiration (e.g. for English, Shakespeare’s plays are a fine source of fancy, outdated, poetic ways of speaking).


If the players need a clue to have a fair chance of solving a puzzle, gating that clue behind a dice roll that they can fail is poor form if they have no alternative sources for the information. I don’t think the clue that the wizard was known for studying metallurgy, mathematics, and object animation is important in this case, but there are also basically no other clues as-written (saying “prime importance” in the statue’s speech is a terrible clue that only makes sense in hindsight), so I’d give that as a free recollection to whichever PCs might know it.


Area B is not irregular, it’s pentagon-shaped or (as the boxed text says later) arrowhead-shaped.


Just make the golems out of copper with the same stats as iron golems instead of needing them to be iron golems clad in copper.


Making the keys invisible to thwart people looking under the statues’ feet without touching them seems contrived. I’d rather have there be visible iron keys in all of the hollows, but the ones under the golems are welded to the ground. Tweak the first statue’s speech to say “a hexad of unfettered keys” instead of “six keys”, and the change is done.


I dislike the golems activating on a timer if none of their other triggers are tripped. My gut instinct is that they should have one or the other means of activation, not both.


The multiple turns per key feels like a busywork exercise tacked on to the puzzle to delay completion artificially. I’d get rid of it.


Bad

I don’t know why an entire long paragraph was necessary to say that the rubble in the corridor was dislodged centuries ago and that the intact structure is still sturdy.


The paragraph about the door isn’t as long, but it could still have been reduced to: “The door is made of iron sheathed in copper, now coated in verdigris. Despite being unlocked, it is stuck firmly in its frame due to warping”.


The wall of boxed text for describing area B is likely a death sentence to enjoyment in actual play.


Nothing in the area B boxed text suggests the presence of the various gems and statuettes.


The fact that other adventurers have come to area B and failed introduces issues with this encounter: why is the door still jammed in place, where’s the damage to the room/statues from the gas explosions, who put the keys back after intruders presumably found at least one of them, etc. As written, the adventurer remains feel less like evidence of past exploration and more like meaningless dressing.


It would’ve been nice if the write-up had identified the actual gas(es) used as inspiration so that the GM could research them to enhance the description. At a look over one listing of the hazards and general characteristics of some notable gases, hydrogen sulfide seems like the likeliest fit (the heavier-than-air densities of arsine or hydrogen selenide disqualify them).


This entry competes with Release the Hounds for the worst art in the book. There’s so much going on that it takes significant effort to make out what the drawing is supposed to be, and then you get to appreciate the awful details like the sword’s handle being longer than its blade.


Scale down the challenge by removing creatures, scale it up by increasing HD, the advice of worthless filler.


Overall

Even though I only had four “Good” points for this, I do like the actual trap/puzzle. It’s bad as written (no real clues, questionable pattern since 1 isn’t a prime number under the most common classifications, the numbering of the statues isn’t reflected in the imagined world, etc.), but it’s flexible enough to adjust easily. Alter the threat and characteristics of the gas, change the statues to fit an appropriate theme/pattern; add actual clues via rumors, NPCs in the area who’re willing to talk, differences between the real and fake statues, scraps of lore found on previous adventures, etc.; change the treasure as needed. None of those are difficult changes, and any or all of them can add character and/or interactivity to make the encounter pop in actual play.


Tying in with greater context is also pretty straightforward. Raiding lost tombs and ancient repositories is a very normal activity for the typical adventurer. It can work as a random diversion or as the target climax for an adventure. Reshaping the area itself to fit a different geometry has little impact on the encounter, and similarly for changing the backstory in the write-up. Even the flint floor can be modified to any other material that can spark easily, or it can be removed entirely if blowing up the gas isn’t desirable (since that makes its toxicity less threatening).


All in all, the written encounter is bad, but it provides a solid framework for making something good without needing as much effort as working from scratch. It’s impressive to still have that flexibility in a high-level encounter from an official 3E product.

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