I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.
Yeah, I broke down and told the group what adventure we were playing. The combat this past session was extremely frustrating, with dazing auras and devastating attacks from the monsters, and one of the players commented that the punishment for failing to solve the puzzle on the first try – the monsters appearing – was really kind of out of proportion.
So I told them that they were playing the new Tomb of Horrors, and suddenly they understood. Punishment in this adventure is always going to be out of proportion to the infraction.
We picked up the game after an extended rest, and the party investigated the sundial and brazier. They had no idea what it was for, and eventually decided to move on. The way led outside, and across a bridge, into another large, strangely shaped building. This one, in addition to the runes, had a number of tapestries hanging on the walls.
Now, one of these tapestries was important, and described in detail, and had an illustration. The others were sort of glossed over. I didn’t like the idea of zeroing the players in on this one tapestry right off the hop, so I didn’t show them the illustration right away, and I made up a descriptions of each of the other tapestries that they looked at. This had mixed results; it made them have to work a little more to find the tapestry that was actually important, but it also made them pay a lot of extra attention to the other tapestries.
They discovered the important tapestry by going around the walls, ripping down tapestries, and the enchanted one wouldn’t come down. That’s when they got the illustration, and they pretty quickly figured out that puzzle, using the platinum key they had discovered earlier. They also discovered the two secret doors in the room, but were unable to open them.
Then it was into the other half of the room, with a tall torch and numbers arranged on the walls. They figured out that they needed to cast a shadow on a number, but got distracted by the tapestries, and picked a number that seemed to indicate a time represented in the tapestries. This got them a heaping helping of mad wraiths and a rather brutal combat.
I have a sort of love/hate relationship with puzzles like this in games. When they’re fun, they can be a lot of fun, but eventually, they stop being fun and just become frustrating. As a GM, I find myself having to watch the players carefully, and judge when the puzzle is starting to shift from interesting to annoying. At that point, it’s best to give little clues and nudge the characters in the right direction. I mis-timed this one, and wound up having to be much more explicit than I would have liked in order to head off the frustration and annoyance.
Still, the fact that they party had to go back and play with the sundial to find the right number to cast the shadow on should – I hope – illustrate the fact that the solution to a given puzzle is not always immediately present in the room where the puzzle is. We’ll see.
That’s where we left it that evening, after the revelation about the adventure’s identity. There was more exploration and problem-solving this game than combat, which is certainly something I want to encourage, but the combat was pretty long and brutal. The fact that we were down two players also slowed things somewhat.
But it was fun, and we’re looking forward to the next one.