Looking For Clues and Making It Up
By Jason Campbell
My regular TTRPG group is playing in the Ptolus setting, there are 5 players plus me as the GM. Here’s what happened in our latest session. Please let us know in the comments any advice you have, or stories from your own games.
As many GMs have likely experienced, many times you write a scenario with a puzzle or riddle and think it’s so obvious, but then your players struggle finding a solution. The best advice is to not have a single solution to the puzzle. Note that in the following story I did not do that here, regrettably.
The PCs are following a magic map that only contains symbols so it’s a bit vague. They were searching for the next part of the map which they knew involved finding the City of the Dead. They’d read and heard that the City of the Dead was a part of the past, that it doesn’t currently exist and it was a place 500 years ago. They’d also found an artifact that let them at least see through time once per day, and the more information they had about a specific place or thing the more power they have to see into the past. I thought that at this point they might go to the place where they knew the City of the Dead was and try to use the artifact. They didn’t so I had an NPC they knew appear and reinforce the idea that the City of the Dead hasn’t been here for 500 years. They were still stuck so I had her give them an ancient map of the City of the Dead. Still they were stumped and wanted to explore a nearby cave which they’d explored a long time ago. I had to go ahead and tell them that once they held the artifact and the map, they saw a vision of the City of the Dead and knew that they could now use the artifact to travel time to the City of the Dead. Sometimes you have to make the scenario act on the players to keep the plot moving.
However, the players were still obsessed with exploring this cave which they’d previously explored (they’re currently 9th level – they explored the cave back when they were 1st level.) I had prepped a lot of what I’d expected they might do, but I never anticipated they’d do this. I had the old map, which was an underground goblin hideout. Hat was long ago and the heroes had eliminated all the goblins, so I quickly thought about what would be down there now. A big part of the Ptolus city setting is the presence of ratfolk, often in the sewers and usually seen as a menace by the city dwellers. I decided that the caves had been taken over by a gang of ratfolk who were using it as a lair for their stolen goods fencing operation. They encountered two ratfolk who were guarding the entrance and I randomly chose a fake “Jersey” accent (no offense to the people of New Jersey, I was only using the stereotypical accent used in many TV shows and movies.) The players had fun interacting with the gang, and I’m not sure if they knew the whole thing was improvised. Sometimes that’s necessary and often it’s just fun for GMs!
Let us know in the comments if you’d had any similar experiences. What would you have done?