Looking Over Book of Challenges: Trouble Cubed


It's just cover art

This is collection of four simple encounters featuring gelatinous cubes, so I’ll give a breakdown of each individually before my final assessment.


THE PIT AND THE PORTCULLIS

Premise

A portcullis trap signals a gelatinous cube to chase people into a pit.


Good

Having the gelatinous cube react to the sound of the portcullis dropping is a cool idea.


Salvageable

While it’s not the worst boxed text this book has had to offer, approaching a T-intersection through the stem means that the PCs are in a side passage, not the main hallway.


The portcullis seems to be triggered by a magical motion sensor. That should be modified if it would be out-of-place.


There’s no reason why the gelatinous cube has to be waiting in a dead-end.


Bad

Perhaps I’m expecting too much from the boxed text, but having no mention of differences in the condition of the walls and floor (and possibly ceiling) at the intersection seems like a missed opportunity to justify the text’s existence.


STICKY PIT TRAP

Premise

A gelatinous cube waits partway down a pit trap.


Good

The tactical set-up is pretty cool, with whoever has fallen into the pit being separated from those who haven’t and possibly paralyzed; meanwhile, the gelatinous cube can reach both the top and bottom of the pit with its melee attacks, if needed. It seems like a terrible situation at first glance, but anyone falling is no worse off than if the cube had attacked them directly while the cube is now being pincered, so it may be possible for the players to turn that to their own advantage.


Salvageable

As written, whoever is at the bottom of the pit is going to have about 7 tons of gelatinous cube fall on them, either by the cube’s choice or when the cube dies, and no amount of “the cube’s amorphous form limits its destructive force from a fall” Hand Waving can excuse that from being a death sentence in my eyes. I’d add a passage at the bottom of the pit, giving anyone down there the option to dive further into the unknown to avoid an oozy death.


Bad

While there are arguments to be made that the ledge could support the gelatinous cube, it breaks my suspension of disbelief for the cube’s own body to support itself over an 8’x8’ opening after having one or more people plunge through it.


NOT-SO-ITSY-BITSY SPIDER

Premise

A gelatinous cube has consumed a potion carried by a recent victim and gained its boon.


Good

Monsters using magic items to present greater threats is always welcome, and having a plausible explanation for an unintelligent ooze to do that is a great surprise.


The list of alternative effects that can interact well with gelatinous cubes is nice, even if most of them are obvious generic boons that just about any target would benefit from.


Salvageable

The exact scenario described requires the GM to give some indications of the nearby NPC rogue’s presence to avoid feeling completely contrived, and it’ll likely still come off as somewhat contrived. It’d work better with an alternative explanation, such as magical glyphs etched on ceilings that grant boons when touched (which also opens opportunities for the players to use that to their advantage).


Bad

This is one of the competitors with Curse of Iron for the worst boxed text in the book. While it lacks that one’s potential contradiction, it makes up for it by consisting of twelve consecutive words with zero value added by any of them.


I feel insulted by the book granting me permission to make a shaft lead anywhere I want.


MULTIPLE CUBES

Premise

(none; this is closer to general advice rather than an actual encounter write-up)


Good

Using passages of varying sizes to control who can travel where is a nice use of terrain that also allows players to pick their challenges in an intuitive and sensible way.


Salvageable

Just reversing pit traps into ceiling traps is a meaningless change in and of itself.


Bad

Excusing contrived designs with “a mad wizard did it” is one of the laziest and least satisfying explanations possible.


Overall

While I’m not a fan of mimics, I do a certain fondness for the various oozes and jellies of Dungeons & Dragons since they feel more like an exaggeration of natural decomposition microorganisms than a mean-spirited screwjob. Granted, gelatinous cubes may be my least favorite of the lot because of having a defined shape, but aside from that minor gripe, they’re still full of oozy goodness (and I have my ways of tweaking the shape matter to suit my tastes when needed).


However, when it comes to the actual encounters described here, only one of them doesn’t have obvious issues; the other two are forced set-ups at best while the last isn’t even a real encounter. There are some ideas worth exploring in those three, but for me, they fall into the category of being easier to make my own encounter around that idea than to make the written encounter work.


All in all, the first encounter is a good one (not surprising that it’s Matt Colville’s favorite from this book), and the rest have some decent inspirational concepts. A solid entry overall.

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