Make Monster Parts Puzzles For Your Adventures

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1103

Over at my Campaign Community forum, Doug the Winter shares a great campaign war story. And in that story lies a fantastic tip: use monster parts as puzzle pieces.

Here’s a snippet of his story:

The Situation

The group has been stuck in the feywild due to an ongoing feud with a night hag coven. The coven has had a few encounters using phasing and some homebrew dreamcatchers to elude the party.

Some local fey have given the party information as to how to find a “Terravore.”

This monster is a modified Roper, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The driving factor for the party is the lore that the Terravore is a native to the feywild that eventually eats everything.

Like an inverse apex predator, detritus and dead alike eventually follow the downstream effect to a low point that the Terravores make their lair.

Since this thing is known to eat anything native to the feywild, it has an innate ability to lock things in its immediate surroundings into the current plane and phase of existence.

So the party makes its not so merry way to the lair of a Terravore with the fishhook that this beast’s heart will give them the temporary ability to lock the hags out from phasing when they plan to kill them.

Amongst the several cool ideas in Doug’s story, that last paragraph really caught my imagination.

What if you allowed monster parts to retain a key ability or property post mortem?

In Doug’s campaign, the Terravore’s heart retains the anti-phasing power.

Then Doug set up a foe that relied on this power to foil the PCs.

Smart players who understand you can use monster parts this way can solve their problems.

Roleplay could resolve things too. Create one creature that can become an ally willing to help the PCs against another foe.

Helping Players Learn

Great campaigns offer emergent gameplay. Players use the Law and Lore of your milieu to solve puzzles.

I read a post on Reddit the other night about a player who wanted to knock foes unconscious with their backstabs.

This type of attack wasn’t in the rules, and the GM asked what to do.

The top-voted answer involved chaining two skills together. Use stealth then medicine skill checks. Then make an attack roll.

Whether you agree with the skill selection or not, it made an effective use of skill challenges and got more of the character sheet involved in play.

This offers a good example of emergent gameplay. Use your core mechanics (skills, in this case) to work out complex actions.

Many players, however, will stick to the rules. They’ve been taught to paint just within the lines.

If you choose to use today’s tip, then we need to let players know monster parts are puzzle pieces. Here are a couple ways.

NPC tells them. The first time you do this, make it part of the quest debrief. “To defeat the coven, you must take the heart of a terravore and throw it at their feet. This will disable the hags’ phase power.”

NPC shows them. Perhaps rivals employ this trick against the PCs. Or the party witnesses the act as part of an encounter. “The evil goblins rip the still beating heart out of the blink dog and begin popping in and out of existence, laughing at their new toy. Then a chaotic, shifting brawl ensues as they start fighting over it!”

Add knowledge to treasure. Put the idea in discovered books or art. “You discover a tome of dragon lore. Deep in the middle there’s a poorly drawn diagram that apparently shows a knight shearing off an adult dragon’s wings and being able to fly with them.”

Once players see an example or two, they’ll get curious and try experimenting.

Parting Shots

Think one-off magic items. To keep campaign balance, consider monster part powers a one-time use magic item.

Set a time limit. Give each monster part a limited time effect to add more tension. “The terravore’s heart beats only until sunset once removed from the creature.”

Rarity throttles power. Common creatures would mean easy harvesting and players wielding special powers more often. Make the power based on creature rarity. For example, eating goblin brains reduces social skills just by two points for one minute.

Use skill checks for part removal. Another chance for dice tension and under-used skills.

Find another way. Be prepared if players don’t solve your puzzle or fail to acquire the monster part.

Use Law. When building the puzzle, read the creature’s stat block and find the special thing(s) it does. That’s your puzzle key.

Add Lore. Drop stories and details about your puzzle creature into your campaign in advance. Feature the creature’s special ability in your Lore so players can solve your puzzle.

A Monstrous Idea

Thanks for the fantastic war story, Doug the Winter. You are a creative GM! RPT GMs, try this out in your campaign and let me know what puzzles you’ve concocted.