Taking some advice from one of the terrific Mordite Monday posts (this one: https://www.mordite.press/puzzle-dungeons), I’ve decided to include a puzzle in my next TB session! Here’s a little flavor and some details. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!
Bearing the shards of the Grinning Sword, a dragon’s liver, and that which a demon loves most, our stalwart adventurers have arrived at the Forge of Arefaxtos to reforge the blade!
Alas! Instead of hammer, anvil, and bellows, our beleaguered wanderers find some dread machine. Levers and buttons. Tubes of copper and spheres of fine-blown glass. Conductors of forces both natural and arcane. A circle of spine-shivering runes surrounding seven concentric bronze dials with occult etchings. Gears and pulleys and an altar of strange, smooth, bitter cold stone.
Quoth the wanderers: “With harrowing experiments and treacherous trials, we reforge the Grinning Sword on Arefaxtos’s awful construction!”
This is how we dropped the curtain last session, and I’d like to open the coming session with a special conflict, a puzzle conflict, to see if the players can achieve their stated goal of activating the dread machine and reforging the blade.
Using the machine is highly complicated, about as complicated as a correctly aligning several Rubik’s cubes, where the number of cubes varies with the lunar cycle, each of which must be solved differently, but it’s not clear what the end configuration should be on any of them, and every time you change one, a possessed abacus gives you a qualitative rating of your progress in rhymed couplets. So it’s definitely not just a single roll, and I want to elicit a puzzle-like atmosphere for the players, where they try pulling levers and pressing buttons, examine the runes and etchings, turn the dials, place the fragments on the altar, and so on.
Rather than coming with an actual way to work the machine (which I don’t want to do) and watching my players figure it out (which I also don’t want to do), I thought I’d couch the idea of struggling to understand deep, occult, possible abstract concepts in the conflict mechanics.
Player Intent: Activate the complicated machine in order to reforge the Grinning Sword
Roll: Arcanist or Scholar
Add to Rank: Will
Hit Points: The party’s hit points represent their frustration and morale, so being knocked out should be interpreted as giving up. The Forge’s hit points represent how close it is to yielding its secrets and activating to reforge the blade.
Player Weapons: I am skipping this for the moment. If a player has a truly cool idea, I’ll cook something up in the moment.
— Attack: Will. For players this could be trial and error. For the machine, it sits silent and still as the players throw their wits against it.
— Defend: Will. For the players, this could be careful recording and organizing of results and schematics, or even just getting fresh air and a clear head. For the machine, it could be the sheer complicatedness of the thing.
— Feint: Arcanist or Scholar. For the players, this could be a single, cunning experiment that generates significantly more results than simple trial and error. With but one tribulation, they have tricked the devilish construction into revealing myriad secrets! For the machine, it’s a red herring — excess wiring, vestigial alchemical plumbing, or pieces of the machine that seem to be in working order but are actually broken beyond repair, or strange sounds and movements of the machine that seem related to the players’ actions but are not. Bagh! How confusing!
— Maneuver: Arcanist or Scholar. For the players, this could be actually tinkering with the machine and trying to manipulate it with tools — a weapon perchance! For the machine, this could be… I am open to suggestions!
Players Win without a Compromise:
— They activate the machine and reforge the Grinning Sword!
Players Win with a Compromise:
— The machine breaks.
— A demon is summoned.
— Angry or Exhausted
— The sword is reforged, but possessed of a new, dark purpose
Players Lose with a Compromise:
— They understand how the machine works but need just one more ingredient…
— They understand how the machine works but the Forge’s denizens have come upon them!
— They don’t waste their precious ingredients.
— The machine yields none of its dread secrets, but you take notes to study later.
Players Lose without a Compromise
— All participating players are Angry, and must change the circumstances significantly before attempting to try again (e.g., find the instruction manual, summon Arefaxtos’s spirit, or take extensive notes and sketches back to town to study).
The Forge of Arefaxtos
Use the Machine: 12
Attack: +1s, dusty silence
Defend: +2d, inscrutably complicated design
Feint: +1s, spinning dials and whirring gears
Instinct: Never work right the first time.
Special: The circle of runes in the Forge’s center is a circle of summoning. If the machine is misused too long, the fire elemental trapped in the machine’s core will be summoned forth!
Let me know what you think!