Why do we even HAVE that lever?









Back in the day, my old gaming group used to play a game called “why do we even have that lever?”. It works like this:

1. Person A describes a puzzle or trap – the sort of bizarre adventurer-shredding contraption you might encounter in the course of an old-school dungeon crawl that makes absolutely no sense if the dungeon in question was ever supposed to be a facility that people actually used.

2. Person B proposes an explanation for what the “trap” in question is really for – i.e., why it’s not a trap at all, but a totally practical feature of whatever sort of place the dungeon originally was.

3. Person B then describes their own trap to keep the game going.

The only hard rule is that the explanation offered in step 2 absolutely can’t be “it’s a puzzle” or “it’s a trap”; you have to propose some pragmatic function that actually makes sense in the context of the dungeon being the ruins of someplace where people lived and worked. The way it currently works can be justified as a consequence of it having malfunctioned or partially fallen apart, but there has to be some plausible purpose it could have originally served.

For example, I might ask:

“Why is there a room where the entire ceiling is a giant magnet?”

… and you might respond:

  • “It’s a security checkpoint for the armoury of magical
    weapons that lies beyond. The presence of the magnet means that weapons
    can only be safely brought in and out of the armoury using special
    weighted cases, making it very difficult to steal or substitute items.”
  • “It’s
    a laboratory formerly used for experiments involving dangerous
    creatures from the Elemental Plane of Earth. The powerful magnetic field
    wholly paralyses all but the mightiest earth elementals, allowing them
    to be studied at one’s leisure.”
  • “It’s the old Queen’s
    gaming room. During her reign, a game of strategy involving man-sized
    stone pieces on a multi-level board had become fashionable. Though most such games required large work crews to move the
    pieces around, the Queen’s magnetic chamber – in conjunction with large
    metal bars driven into the core of each piece – allows the pieces to be
    manipulated by a single person. Many of the pieces still lay scattered
    about the room, in various states of disrepair.”

Then you’d describe your own trap.

I’ll start us off with a simple (and apropos) one:

Why is there a lever that drops a giant stone block on the person who pulled it?

It was originally part of a grist mill–the lever was supposed to set off a series of stones that grain for grinding would flow through. The metal fasteners have all rusted through at this point, so activating the device just makes the stone fall out of it.

Why are there jets in the walls that shoot waist-high streams of fire?

It’s a sterilization chamber for excavated artifacts. Because they’re almost indestructible, the easiest and fastest way to clean grime-encrusted artifacts is to bathe them in fire. Anything that doesn’t burn off is the artifact.

Why does this statue shoot eyebeams at any door you try to open?

The statue was originally a sentry. When someone approached a door under its watch, it would examine them with a powerful divination spell in order to verify their identity and goodwill. Should either test fail, or should the subject attempt to avoid being examined, the guards would be summoned forthwith.

However, both the castle and its enchantments were constructed during a fallen age when the power of magic was at a low ebb. In this modern era of high sorcery, the ambient magic level has risen considerably, and with it, the intensity of the statue’s gaze – to the point that its scrutiny now has the unfortunate side effect of exploding the subject’s head.

(Several other dweomers throughout the castle have gone similarly awry. The room that immolates itself in a white-hot blaze of all-consuming flame if you touch a certain part of the floor? Self-lighting fireplace. An examination of the far wall reveals the blast-shadow of the armchair that once stood before the hearth – as well as the adventurer who was incautious enough to sit in it!)

Now… why is there a treasure chest where when you open it a skeleton jumps out and bites you in the face?

It was designed as a gift from the King of the Gnomes to the King of the Dwarves. Old friends, the two kings had one day gotten to talking about matters of security. 
The Dwarf King Bragged about his massive stone fortifications, his legions of elite soldiers, and the strength and honor of the Dwarven people. 
The King of the Gnomes laughed and said “All that means nothing. You Dwarves are too predictable, too set in your ways. Why, I bet if my Armies attempted to storm your keep, we could take the very crown from your brow”.

And so, the Bet was on, with a chest full of precious stones as the prize. The rules of the war game were set, and a battalion of Gnomish soldiers approached the Dwarven Keep. They were soundly defeated, Gnomes “Died” horribly when struck by blunt crossbow bolts, or tagged by wooden training weapons. When the Gnomish general surrendered, no Gnome had so much as passed the first gate. 

And So, the Chest was brought forwards, the Dwarf king opened it to examine his prize, only for a skeleton to jump out, grab his crown in it’s teeth, and scamper towards the Gnomish lines as quickly as possible. 

Everybody had a good laugh. 

Unfortunately, the Skeleton is a pretty simple animated construct, precisely calibrated to bite at Dwarven Crown-height. If anybody taller than the King were to open the chest…

Now…Why does this statue try to break the neck of anybody who walks in front of it? 

This was the throne room, and that’s the King’s Bodyguard. It was a time of great strife within the kingdom, which meant there were tons of assassins trying to get to the king. To prevent this, the statue was enchanted so that if anyone without the proper magical tattoo approached too close to the throne, it would spring to life and take them out. Modern adventurers, of course, don’t have the proper clearance according to the enchantment, despite the King being long gone.

Why does this room fill with poison gas when you step on a hidden tile?

The gas isn’t poison – at least not to dragons, for whom it’s merely a sedative. This is the room where the queen kept her greatest military asset, a young dragon captured in war who cut a deal with the queen: keep the dragon alive and she would gladly protect the queen and the kingdom in its darkest hour. The queen was cautious, however, and arranged for the dragon to be kept in a room where she would be routinely sedated, essentially kept asleep until her assistance was needed. The tile that activated the sedative gas was unmarked so that the dragon would not discover the mechanism and destroy it. Unfortunately, after the dragon was released to protect the kingdom and the chamber no longer occupied, its purpose was forgotten, as was the unused gas still in the pipes, waiting to be released into the room.

Why is this room flooded with water when someone reads the ancient inscription on the wall aloud?

What you’ve got there are the ruins of an old merfolk embassy. Most of the building was filled with seawater (transported overland at positively hideous expense), with certain chambers – like this one – serving as airlocks, or more properly waterlocks, to permit ground-level passage between the air- and water-filled portions of the facility.

What’s supposed to happen is that once the air in the chamber has been completely exchanged with seawater, the door facing the water-filled portion of the embassy automatically pops open and you swim on your merry way. However, the building’s watertight seals have long since failed, allowing all of the seawater to drain into the basement, and the enchantment’s designers didn’t take into account a scenario where neither one of the chamber’s doors led to a water-filled passage.

The conditions for ending the spell can thus never be met, and both doors remain stubbornly sealed until all of the water inside the chamber leaks out on its own – which happens fairly rapidly, but not nearly quickly enough to save any hapless air-breathers bottled up inside!

Shifting gears from water to fire:

Why is the floor lava? For that matter, how is the floor lava? We’re eight floors above ground level, and the rooms below are conspicuously not filled with magma.

This is actually the Mortuary of the Royals. Traditional funeral rites dictated that the bodies of the deceased be dipped, candle-style, in molten precious metals, and set to rest, preserved, alongside their ancestors.

The heated pool, in the days of its use, was usually filled with gold or silver (with lead, copper, or aluminum sometimes mixed in, depending on the wealth of the kingdom at the time), each with melting points below 2000*F. In contrast, the lining is made of thick, insulated layers of titanium, with a melting point just above 3000*F.

While the floor-spanning pool is still full, and kept molten with an enduring heat spell, everything else in the room has fallen into disrepair. The little operation booth at the far end of the room has had its window shattered, and near the ceiling, you can still see the​ broken remnants of the crane arms used to lower the corpses down into the metal.

Why does a haze of dark energy fill this hallway, and why does it converge and leave voidy burns on anything that passes the threshold?

from Tumblr http://ift.tt/2va8Ala


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