Content of the article: "Mousetrap Rooms I: Draugr Under Glass"
This is part of a series I'd like to run. I'm not the greatest writer, and some of puzzles are easier in person, as I can white board the designs. If this gains any kind of traction, I'll add more. If it's terrible, please let me know and I'll sit back down.
If you are trying to up your puzzle room game, and you haven't read the Book of Challenges, I highly recommend it to get your mind working in the right direction (it's a 3 / 3.5 book, but puzzles are, of course, edition agnostic). You can download a PDF for free, these days, if you are strapped for cash. To summarize a portion of their introduction, puzzle rooms – much like mousetraps – should have bait, a trigger, and an illusion of safety. Moreover, you should have hints prepared ahead of time, locked behind relevant skill checks, in order to easily provide forward momentum.
In order to assist in the illusion of safety, be sure that this room appears after a very simple trap door. The players should be able to DR 5 lock pick, or DR 7 perception check for traps, maybe find a trip wire trigger and dismantle falling rocks or something. This sets the tone of the room as both not-yet-opened, but also that they have already surpassed the danger for this region. If your players are still uneasy, play up the cobwebs in the room, the dust on the floor, and the rusty hinges of the door swinging open. If this only sets them on edge, explain that the room appears safe with a perception check. This is good practice for all mousetrap rooms, in order to spring a proper surprise.
In that vein, here is the first OC puzzle I've created to hopefully be used in your dungeon!
Mousetrap I: Draugr Under Glass
I like to give away the ending at the beginning, so you can understand what you are reading ahead of time.
The players will encounter a large scales of justice. Rather than platforms, there are two glass boxes, one with the needed item within, and one with an undead creature or dead NPC. The undead is the heavier of the two objects, and once its weight is removed from the left, the right side will come crashing down, freeing their bait.
Battle heavy campaign: Doing so also frees the undead, and if they haven't dealt with it yet, it will attack.
Roleplay heavy campaign: Have the undead instead be a dead NPC, and they need to animate dead to remove its weight (or any other solution they come up with).
The Set Up
The party enter a massive circular room, and the ceilings are nearly 60 feet high. On the left half of the room, 10 or 15 feet from the nearest wall, is a large translucent cube. It appears to be made of very thick glass. Within the cube, there is a creature of formidable CR for their level, rotting in eternal slumber. It appears to have been placed there in a burial ritual on a slab that is bolted to the side of cube.
There is no bottom to the cube, and the walls meet flush with the rooms floor. Atop the cube, is a large fisheye bolt connected to a long chain running upwards towards the ceiling.
The chain connects at the top to a long bar on a gear acting as a fulcrum. As their eyes follow the bar to the right, they see that another chain connects on the right, hanging down – and again, connected to a large glass cube. Within the cube the party can see their bait. This can be an item to progress your story, a magical item they've been searching for, or a key they are fairly certain opens the gate they left behind three tunnels ago. Bait should always be worth the effort of the room, otherwise your PCs are likely to quickly start trying to break your traps or leave them altogether.
Clearly there are myriad ways this room can be solved. The key is to ensure that your players feel like they've earned the bait. If they quickly solve the animate dead piece, great. Let them have it. If they just try and lift the case, make sure it's electrified, and they take some damage. If they've spent 20 minutes in the room trying to think it through and then try a strength check, then it is a DR 20. Have at it.
Make sure that you aren't punishing your players for not understanding this challenge.
Perception check You notice that the slab the undead sleeps upon is not anchored to the floor in any way.
Wisdom check The cubes don't quite appear to be the same size. It's logical that they are equally weighted given the absent bottom of the larger one. If the objects were removed, they could likely be balanced.
Necromancer relevant skill check If only there was a way to remove the weight of that dead guy.
Making it Harder
This challenge would work well with a lower leveled party, especially one that has picked up some relevant skills. If you're working with a group that is likely to try and break the trap first, here are some recommendations:
The cubes are magically immovable or impregnable. Arcana checks could clarify this.
The chains appear to be magically enhanced. Maybe electrified and doing Xd6 damage.
The entire set up is only visible from a balcony, and the contraption is hanging hundreds of feet above a floor a few levels below. The dead NPC now must be convinced to die yet again in order to offset its weight. Once he's fallen, and their item crashes below, the party now knows they've freed their prize, but must finish the dungeon in order to get down to it. In this scenario, you'll need to find a way for the right cube to disconnect and fall. hand-wavey DM magic, maybe. I'd really play up the fear in the animated dead in this case. They do NOT want to jump down, and possibly even plead with the party to save them somehow.
Maybe the room it is within has a forcefield of some sort around it, in order to keep them from jumping to it.
The glass is actually a stone that has been altered to be translucent, and is thereby unbreakable, or requires a deus ex blow torch to get into.
Once the prize cube is down, it doesn't break. The party now needs to get at their prize.
The prize cube is hovering over an open pit of lava. getting it down will destroy their prize if they're not careful.
I hope this is usable for some of you, or at least inspires you to create your own awesome mousetrap!
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