I created a marvelous little puzzle, including a secret map, a mysterious verse, hidden pressure plates, and a dangerous trap, and it’s all so simple, you could use it in your game this week!
Here’s how it goes. The party receives a secret map of a dungeon and cavern complex from the local loremaster, on behalf of the Lord Mayor of the city, who implores the adventurers to assist him in some task (escorting the Princess out of the city, rooting out bandits troubling the roads, whatever you like). A promise of a share of the recovered trade goods, or a reward from the princess’s father should be sufficient to motivate the party, and they set off.
A close investigation of the map (moderate check) reveals a hidden verse written on the back. The verse reads as follows:
The sun shines first upon the sky, where little birds and dragons fly,
And then upon the sea it glows, with towering waves and rippling foam.
When once upon the land it’s shown, it warms the Earth and rends the stone,
Then last into the dusk expires, and fills the evening sky with fire.
PCs love a hidden verse. I made the map and dungeon of Dwarven origin, but the verse was written in Elven.
The party makes its way through the dungeon and eventually defeats the BBEG, but they only recover a fraction of the expected treasure. In looking more closely, they notice an unusual tile or plate laid into the floor with wavy lines etched into it, and remnants of blue paint. It appears to be a rune plate for “Water.”
They recall the verse, and begin searching for the three remaining plates, but unfortunately the cavern has fallen into disrepair. There are piles of rubble and fallen cavern stones strewn around the chamber, and after their search, they can only locate the plates for Sky and Fire. They can’t find the Earth rune plate.
They begin experimenting with the plates, and discover that they are pressure plates. If they’re cocky, they may even step on one, at which point they’re either blasted with freezing air (Sky), shocked with lightening (Water), or burned by a jet of fire (Fire). Each of these hazards comes down from the ceiling of the cavern, and the attacks appear to be arcane in nature.
Eventually, someone has the bright idea that the “Earth” plate must be under one of the piles of rubble. The pressure plates have to be activated in the correct sequence, or they will trigger a trap for Xd6 + Y damage, but the Earth plate is already activated because the stones that fall from the ceiling are piled up on the plate. Design flaw.
The players must find the correct pile of rubble using a moderate check to see if the ceiling looks any different in one spot, compared to the rest of the ceiling, or they can take apart all of the rubble piles, which reveals the correct one after Xd4 attempts. Once the correct pile of rubble is located, the players must remove the stones with moderate checks in X number of rounds, or else the Kruthiks attack.
Once the stones are clear and the Earth plate is no longer being activated out of sequence, the characters must step onto the plates in the order of Sky, Water, Earth, Fire, as hinted at in the hidden verse. Completing this reveals a hidden exit, a horde of treasure, or some other spectacar reward.
It might take some fine-tuning to fit perfectly into your campaign, but it’s totally flexible and adaptable. And it’s a compelling change from the standard hack-and-slash adventure.
The featured image for this article is An elaborate dungeon setup by Flickr user Benny Mazur. It is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.