Looking Over Book of Challenges: Zyphur's Cryptic Spellbook


It's just cover art

Premise

A spellbook is guarded by a cipher puzzle.


Good

For those who like letter substitution codes (cryptograms), the sidebar on how to set them up and how to make them harder to solve is good advice.


Salvageable

The dragon “doesn’t like to kill” and favors nonlethal disabling abilities, but if fought in an area where he can fly, he starts “blasting invisibly from high above”. At that point, shouldn’t he just fly away? To be fair, that is exactly what he does if he feels pressured to summon his guardian, but there’s a substantial gap in between those situations.


The book’s lock regenerating instantly if broken is something that ought to be mentioned by the dragon if the players speak with him. It’s still a rather ridiculous thing, but at least it won’t feel like railroading if they’re informed about it upfront.


Bad

Two sentences into the intro, we’re presented with the mad wizard excuse. Eccentricities happen, but this one is more than my suspension of disbelief can handle.


The boxed text is essentially “you stumble across a dragon looking at a book in annoyance”. My suspension of disbelief was merely broken before; now, it’s shattered.


Listing all of the spells within the book on the cover is just about the dumbest way I can think of to provide more information to solve the cryptogram.


As ever, rolling checks to get hints for puzzles is lame. At least read magic provides its modicum of information without needing any extra dice rolls, I guess?


Overall

I always forget about this puzzle because it’s so awful. There are others that I’ve said are bad, but I think this is the only one where I’d say the write-up itself has no redeeming qualities. I wouldn’t even consider putting this in a funhouse dungeon.


All in all, when the only worthwhile part of an encounter is the sidebar, something went really wrong. This isn’t even the only EL 11 encounter in the book, so I’m not sure why anyone thought including this would be better than cutting it out before publishing.

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