Friday, October 26, 2018

Fire Temple

The primary DM in our 2014(?) Pathfinder campaign lifted a whole temple from, I think, one of the Zelda games. Parts of it translated more easily than others.
Nintendo DM: "This next room is packed with tall stacks of big clay pots."
The Party: "Do we detect magic, undead, etc inside the pots?"
Nintendo DM: "..."
Nintendo DM: "Don't you want to break one? It might have rubies!"
The Party: "We squeeze by one at a time, not touching the pots at all."
The Wizard: "Then once we're all through, I turn around and fireball the room to break as many pots as I can."
The Party: "SO MANY GHOSTS NOW why did you do that aglghghl"
Everything I can remember of the temple puzzles below the cut, plus spitballing variations.

If I remember right, the temple's very first room had six sarcophagi and we detected undead in several of them. There was a big lever either out in the open or in one of the empty sarcophagi, which if pulled would awaken (and free) the undead; the actual way onward was via secret stairs in one of the sarcophagi occupied by undead. I think I'd reuse this basically as-is, with or without an additional trap, treasure or clues, and maybe elementals or radiant prismatic spirits or hibernating vermin (or elemental prismatic vermin) in place of the dead.

One room, magically dark with a single safe path winding among numerous deadfalls, surprised the DM by being so much easier on tabletop than in the videogame. This would've worked better if the room had multiple exits and there was someone else in the temple we didn't want to let past us, or if the party realized (because of distinctive carvings they've seen elsewhere?) they had to reach into a dangerous area (strewn with tentacles, vines, paws, dripping ooze?) across the pit or down into a pit for a lever or tchotchke or something.

Maybe the route through the room is twisty with forks and dead ends, so that when a wall begins grinding across the room it quickly traps characters on unsafe, unknown or disconnected paths, such that if they don't get creative within a certain amount of time they get pushed into the whispering pits between; put safe rungs or grips near certain distinctive floor carvings, which still make the character hang frighteningly close to uncertain noises; maybe also give the party reason to expect safe alcoves in side walls which can be leapt to (say, every room the party's been through has had an alcove directly opposite the doorway)(and maybe this alcove grants brief access to matching alcoves in the grinding wall?); and make getting to the other side of the scraping wall a beneficial shortcut. The rear side (in a separate magical darkness) should have at least one spot a person could get crushed and at least one passage to somewhere else. Preferably the easiest passage to find is a dead end with a mediocre treasure or just a neat chamber, while a less obvious path (like handholds up the backside of the wall, continuing up a short chimney) leads to a shortcut or concealed overlook to a more important chamber which they could still access some other way.

...I feel like someone else has written a more extensive essay on interesting ways to use darkness but I'm having no luck googling it. 

Are there magic lanterns which burn oil like normal but project magical darkness instead of light? Seems like there should be.

A simple five-lever logic puzzle surprised the DM by taking us much longer (at least forty minutes, quite possibly more than an hour) than in the videogame. It's enough moving parts that it's hard to visualize without props (we eventually resorted to setting five dice in a row and sliding them up and down), only one person can really interact with the DM at a time, and the DM can't process each lever's effects as rapidly as a computer can. A common tabletop solution is to simplify this to "everyone gets one button, and everyone pushes their buttons simultaneously." (For extra fun, have one or two more buttons than the party has characters + Mage Hands + familiars, so they at least have to figure out how to press extra buttons which are out of reach.)

...and I just spent way too long trying to come up with a faster, easier way to implement lever puzzles for tabletop before I remembered that "lever puzzles" are just the computationally simplified view of literally any multi-step interaction with multiple ordered inputs.

A simple improvement would be, instead of levers, there's three big statues with pressure plates in their laps and a bunch of little statues to distribute between them, and somehow the party needs to figure out that the Mantis Cleric statue wants the three house-cat shaped weights (the mantis has three eyes, slit like a cat's?), the Bull Thief statue wants weight equal to a keg's weight of rum (cup in hand and faint marks in lap and in corners of the room?), and the Parrot Soldier statue wants matching husband and wife icons (wedding iconography?) but one of the pair is missing, and everytime the party loads the pressure plates with the wrong weight, a pillar in the middle of the room glows brighter and hums louder until reaching a destructive threshold (the party is injured and stunned, then a secret panel opens to release guards, but there's no guards since the temple is abandoned, and if the party figures out the architecture they can break through the guardroom wall to wherever placating the statues would have put them).

The Fire Temple had an interesting pair of rooms near the end. One was a maze of spiked pits, scything blades, spouting flames and so on, but completely illusory and intangible; a mirror spanned one wall of the room, reflecting all the hazards but with the adventurers absent. An adjacent room with identical dimensions appears completely empty but has invisible hazards exactly matching the ones shown in the other room, and the mirror in this room reflects emptiness but does show the adventurers. If I remember right, opening the door to one room forced the other one shut so the party couldn't just relay directions to whoever was making the crossing.

I enjoyed navigating that room from memory, but for people who don't, or for characters who have an eidetic memory, the room is little more than an overwrought obstacle course - a skill tax and HP tax. If there were additional complications to the room, I don't remember them well; there may have been simulacrum adventurers running the course in reverse opposite us, matching our progress; because of how the doors shut, anyone sighting them in the illusory room would be unable to warn their companions in the invisible room.

I think the important thing about the invisible room is that it's interior is predictable, but that it changes from what was seen in the illusory room - if nothing else, scything blades don't have to come into action until pressure plates are activated, and some sections of floor can rise, tilt, or drop away unexpectedly. For extra depth, it would be great if the illusory room has an illusory object which exists there but not in the invisible room, which can only interact with other illusions, and the party finds illusory NPCs elsewhere in the temple who can come and retrieve the illusory object for use elsewhere in the temple.

This might've been an illusory crown in my friend's version. [Edit: Or maybe it was a sceptor, which looked a lot like the crystal balls and wooden staves we'd been using to advance from room to room. /Edit]

The mirror separated the two rooms. I don't remember if "solving" the room deactivated the mirror, if we broke it, if we looted it, or what; but it'd be pretty great to have, or to try and sell, a whole bunch of 5x5 segments of magic mirror which swaps 3D projections of everything in 30ft (or however many ft) line from in front of one face to in front of the other.


  1. I'd be surprised if those 'dark lanterns' didn't exist. They're the exact kind of magical item you'd expect of D&D.

    I also like the mirror shards. They've got the one obvious use, but still enough small ones that adventurers could get creative with them.

    1. re mirror shards: you'd think, right?

      re dark lantern: hah, "exactly what you'd expect from D&D" maybe isn't the strongest endorsement, but I agree. They're in a kind of weird design space where I'm pretty sure there's easier ways for PCs to get a Darkness effect, but I still an item which can sensibly appear in century-old dungeons without maintenance and yet still require refueling when the PCs get hold of them.

      Also wanted to say, that while we didn't use the ghost pottery in a particularly clever way, I've seen other people use it better (as a complicating factor in a trap or other encounter), and I think the idea has legs.