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I am currently designing an adventure filled with several puzzles. The point of each puzzle is to get a character to use a power they don't know that they have in order to proceed. For example, for the character whose power is Speak With Dead, they are put in a chamber with an endlessly spawning supply of grappling zombies, and told the only way to make it stop is to get the necromancer who created the trap to speak a word of power, but they find only the necromancer's corpse (in this case the power is a SLA with a casting time of a standard action, instead of the usual 10 minutes). For those of you familiar with Eberron, this is a Test of Siberys.

I have most of the necessary puzzles designed, but I'm stuck on two; one requiring Animate Dead and one requiring Halt Undead. I've got a few ideas for both but I'm not sold on any of them yet. I was wondering if anyone here had any good ideas. They don't need to be overly complex. Most of my players are still fairly new and they don't really metagame if only because they lack the required knowledge.

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3 Answers

The use of animate dead could, of course, be almost anything, but I particularly like simply having a switch in an area too hazardous (gas, radiation, whatever) to send a living thing, but some necromancer’s interrupted animation ritual available somewhere nearby. Black onyx already in place (though SLAs don’t actually need it), body prepared and ready (though animate dead doesn’t seem to actually require that either, and an SLA would reduce it to a Standard Action anyway), so they can make it happen.

Halt undead is trickier. My thinking is something like having a skeleton marching in a predefined pattern endlessly, but they need to get it to stop somewhere on the route to trigger something (hold down a switch, its negative energy react with a crystal, whatever) to get the prize. This isn’t really as interesting, but then neither is halt undead itself. Since halt undead targets 3 undead at a time, you could maybe make that a part of it. Or even something more complex, where you have separate groups of undead that need to be frozen in place at different points to produce the correct pattern. That relies on the SLA being usable more than 1/day, though.

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Years of 16 bit video gaming seems to come into full swing! To tell the truth, I don't see why these two spells can't be the same puzzle but here's a few ideas:

  • Pressure Plate Puzzle: The door to the next room is a Prismatic Wall. There are seven creatures in the room and the player must navigate them through a small maze to the pressure plates in the floor. Whenever an undead steps on the right plate in the order you choose, it dispels the next tier of the wall. The catch is that the players have to protect the undead from low challenge rating creatures such as small Earth Elementals because losing one means they have to go back and find another creature to sacrifice. Such a fun ethical quandary depending on alignments.
  • Moving Platform Puzzle: Fun when you actually have the dungeon planned out. Some large brutish zombie has a platform on its head and either wanders aimlessly unless guided by the players somehow, or on a pattern (such as hitting a wall and turning around). These zombies are in pits and once the halt spell is cast it provides a temporary bridge for the party.
  • The Old Scales and Lifts Gag: Move the undead into pulley oriented elevators and spring loaded platforms. The best of both worlds, this means that the party is in a centralized room of the dungeon. Creating platforms in the right places by propping weak catwalks or by lowering some by certain undead strategically placed using both animate and halt as desired. The paths created allows the
    players to access different rooms, sometimes "rescuing" more undead
    to lead back to the center to complete more of the path.
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How about a puzzle that involves reaching a switch that's located somewhere that can only be reached by flying? A platform floating in mid-air, perhaps, or a ledge on a wall that's covered by a continuously flowing, magically re-supplied stream of slippery goo that makes Climb checks unfeasible.

Depending on what other powers your characters possess, they would need to recruit something that's able to fly up there for them - and there's some corpses of winged creatures in the room, or perhaps in the previous room, requiring them to go back and fetch the bodies of monsters they just had to defeat in combat, 'dungeon recycling' if you will.

Winged zombies can fly, but if the party's Animate Dead spell gives them skeletons, they would need a creature that had a magical flying ability in life - winged skeletons can't fly. Again, depending on their caster level, a Beholder Skeleton might be out of their HD range, but a Tiny little Beholderkin Skeleton would certainly be a possibility.

Conversely, you could have a puzzle involving flying undead that have already been animated, and are winging around in pre-determined flight patterns inside a large cavern. Beneath them, there are pressure plates, but they're placed on top of large pillars jutting out of a deep chasm. The pressure plates are too far away for the PCs to simply throw stuff at them, so they'll need to use Halt Undead to make one of the undead (giant zombie owls, perhaps, to stick with a theme of 'only those possessed of Wisdom may pass through here') land on a pressure plate; this triggers a mechanism that deploys a bridge across the chasm, which the PCs can use to go cross. Even trickier, the PC will have to time their spell just right (perhaps requiring a Dexterity check, a Spellcrafting skill check, or an Initiative check) to get the undead to land where they want. Perhaps one of the previous puzzles rewarded the PCs with a potion that boosts their speed, or Spellcrafting skill, which would help them in this situation. Or you could allow one of the other PCs with a high Dexterity to act as a 'spotter' to the spellcaster's 'sniper' - e.g. the party Rogue could an aid another action to act as a look-out, giving the spellcaster a bonus to their roll. You might allow the caster to make a Concentration check, if that gives them better odds, since this situation could be seen as "the spellcaster is just about to cast the spell, but is holding back the arcane energies until the Rogue says 'Go!'".

Or you might be a nice GM and just let them hold a readied action to cast the spell until the undead is in the right position. The best solution is probably to let the PCs come up with their own strategy for timing the spell, and the roll with it (and for it).

Alternative: Chamber full of tiny zombie owls, and one of them is carrying a key that the PCs need to unlock the next door. The door might be completely bereft of keyholes of doorhandles, but there is a sign with the embossed letters:

THE WISDOM THAT STILL LINGERS HERE

UNLOCKS YOUR MIND FROM ALL ITS FEARS

SMALL IN SIZE YET GREAT INDEED

WILL BRING THE ANSWERS THAT YOU NEED

The PCs can make Spot checks to find the zombie owl that's different from the others - a glint of metal from the item it's carrying, perhaps. The DC shouldn't be too high, even if there's lots of owls; flying zombies are clumsy, according to the rules, nowhere near as agile as living birds. They then need to cast Halt Undead to make it stop flying, at which point it will, of course, plummet to the ground, allowing them to collect the key.

Elaborating on KRyan's great idea to use the Animated Undead's invulnerability to several threats that would be lethal to living creatures, you could have a puzzle with Death Rays that need to be blocked to allow the PCs to pass. For example, the PCs just passed through a chamber that had lots of cute little woodland creatures in it, perhaps with a puzzle for a Druid or a Ranger. Some of the animals follow the PCs into the next chamber, frolicking happily around the most nature-friendly characters - and then stumble directly into the path of a sickly green laser beam and drops to the ground, stone cold dead. This way, the PCs are immediately alerted to the danger that the beams present. (Of course, if you want to be a not-quite-killer GM, you could have the beams do some kind of non-lethal stunning or Sleep effect.)

If the players are unaware of the fact that undead creatures are immune to death effects, let them make a Knowledge skill check with a low DC to find out; after all, the chamber is probably decked out with a skull-and-bones motif, the floor littered with the decayed remains of previous visitors.

Alternative: If your players are familiar with 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince', they probably remember the puzzle with a large font filled with dangerous liquid that had to be emptied, before Dumbledore and Harry could get the locket on the bottom; however, the only way to empty the vessel of its enchanted contents was by drinking it. This time, if the players are smart, they could just Animate some Dead and let THEM do the drinking.

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Unfortunately Animate Dead says "The undead can follow you, or they can remain in an area and attack any creature (or just a specific kind of creature) entering the place.". They would need Command or Control Undead to direct them. –  CatLord Nov 22 '13 at 19:02
    
@CatLord: Not so - Animated Undead follow the directions of their creator. –  Jeff Nov 22 '13 at 21:37
    
What I quoted is direct from d20 SRD. Will look into RAW. –  CatLord Nov 23 '13 at 4:26
    
Can only findmy 3e book atm but the wording is identical to SRD –  CatLord Nov 23 '13 at 18:29
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