The Forge of Arefaxtos: A Puzzle Conflict

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.

Actions:

— 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

Might:

Nature: 5

Descriptors:

Conflict Dispositions

Use the Machine: 12

Weapons

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!

4 Likes

I suppose it depends on how everyone actually plays it out, but this strikes me as too similar to “skill challenges” in D&D 4e. The way I would run it is to have some actual idea of the machine and how it works and let the players experiment with it or be able to find some writings on it that they can interpret.

No reason you can’t do both. If the players research it, tinker with it, etc. before going all-in, give them tests to suss out special weapons for the conflict: one maneuver weapon, one defense, one attack and one feint. Also, I think I’d use Loremaster instead of Arcanist for puzzles (Arcanist is casting spells from the aether, whereas Loremaster’s list of factors contains the following text:

Recall Lore: fairy and folk tales, curses and halfbreeds, enchanted places and magical phenomena, magical and arcane symbols.

2 Likes

Hello and welcome, Vlad!

Good stuff.

I agree with Jared that Lore Master might be better for the primary attack action. You might also consider working in Scholar with it as an alternative Attack action since it sounds like researching and figuring out stuff is what will get the players to their goal. Lore Master/Scholar for attack and feint makes sense to me.

I like the Will for Defend. That’s quite perfect to regroup-sheer willpower.

For Maneuver, perhaps an Armorer could lend insightful information that would setup or better position the group. Although the Armorer in the group can’t actually make this thing, having the knowledge of crafting swords might help to reverse engineer how this demonic machine would go about it.

Regarding the conflict compromises, the losing side offers up the first compromise. It is good to have a list like this in your back pocket. As a GM, most conflicts have some compromise and you are really playing “toward a compromise” (in a way), so this is all very good thinking. A Might of 4 would certainly spice things up and lean more toward a compromise of some sort.

For Descriptors, maybe: Forging, Generating, Mystifying

Maybe the special ability is just a note since it wouldn’t be used in the conflict. Seems like it could be a major compromise though.

1 Like

Awesome! Thanks for the feedback, and thanks for the welcome! Here are some thoughts:

No reason you can’t do both. If the players research it, tinker with it, etc. before going all-in, give them tests to suss out special weapons for the conflict.

I love this idea. In fact, one of my players has been really into learning her adversary’s weapons prior to conflicts, so I bet she’ll try to do that. I think it works well in this situation anyway: they tool around a bit with the machine, little tests here and there, translate the inscription, follow the tubing, so on, and then try to activate it.

I think I’d use Loremaster instead of Arcanist for puzzles

I now agree. My original thinking was that this is a magical machine, so they’d better be using Arcanist. But no. It’s research, experimentation, trial and error, and just plain luck. Good call. Thanks.

You might also consider working in Scholar with it as an alternative Attack action since it sounds like researching and figuring out stuff is what will get the players to their goal. Lore Master/Scholar for attack and feint makes sense to me.

My thought on Attacking with Will is that I’d like to stick with the paradigm that two actions use one skill or stat and the other two actions use another skill or stat. Feint and Maneuver seemed very Scholarly, so I went with Will because it worked so well with Defend. What are people’s opinions about breaking that paradigm? I am rather opposed to three actions all having the same skill. How about this configuration? Attack: Scholar. Defend: Will. Feint: Scholar. Maneuver: Loremaster. Attack and Feint are interpretable as experiments, Defend is interpretable as sheer determination, and Maneuver is interpretable as relying on one’s learning.

For Descriptors, maybe: Forging, Generating, Mystifying

I like these, with a couple tweaks: Forging, Confounding!, Generating (strange energies).

Thanks again for the quality feedback! If there’s any more, I’d love to hear it!

2 Likes

What if the Turning It On wasn’t the Conflict? What if actually Forging the Sword is the Conflict.

In this way, the machine is Active when it rolls against your heroes - it spews clouds of smoke, it leaks coolant, gears fall out of place.

Additionally, failure might mean that the Sword comes out a total mess, or you can invoke a compromise where the Sword’s properties have changed.

Attack: +1s, crushing pistons
Defend: +2D, unremitting gears
Maneuver: +1s, malfunctioning components
Feint: +1D, blasts of burning steam

What if the Turning It On wasn’t the Conflict? What if actually Forging the Sword is the Conflict.

I imagined activation and reforging together within the same conflict. Perhaps the machine lies dormant for a bit before sputtering to life: Attack (the Forge sits silent), Attack (the Forge sits silent), Feint (steam blasts from the copper tubbing and the gears begin to churn! It must be working now!). Basically, I want to work the activation into the narrative of the conflict, changing the interpretations of the machine’s actions after activation. Maybe this isn’t the right way to go. I’ll give it some thought.

Maneuver: +1s, malfunctioning components

I really like this. This machine is ancient and probably in some disrepair. I’m using this. And I think I’ll rework my other weapons to be a bit more evocative about the machine’s noises, lights, and so forth. Really ham up the machine’s strange responses to the players’ stimuli.

Thanks for the feed back!