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I'm running the Tomb of Annihilation adventure, and my players are about to come to Orolunga.

There's a particular "gateway" challenge there:

Access to the shrine at the top of the ziggurat is protected by magic, and there are different things one must do at each level of the ziggurat to get past. These are vaguely reminiscent of Indiana Jones puzzle kind of things, except, as described, each challenge is magically impossible except by doing something that there's no way to really figure out. Instead, we're told that after a few minutes of trying each one, the players notice a chwinga doing whatever is needed to pass, and the answer is "mimic that!". (The module specifically says that every other approach just doesn't work.)

The text says "It might help to think of the whole situation as a fairy tale; it doesn’t need to make sense, because the magic of Orolunga is on a mythic scale that overpowers the ability of any mortal." That's all well and good, but when I played through this section as a player a few months ago in Adventurers League, it didn't feel like a fairy tale. It felt like a boring series of hoops to jump with no ability to use my character's abilities or skills — let alone my own brain.

I'm not looking for random ideas to change this, but rather specific experience from anyone else who has run this bit and done it differently in order to make this more interesting and fun. What did you do, and how well did it work?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify what exactly you're looking for from responses? What sort of thing do you believe would give players a greater sense of agency, or make it more interesting and fun? If we can narrow down the precise issue you're having, people can do a better job of addressing that problem. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 17 '18 at 22:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: How do I add player agency to a canned adventure? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 17 '18 at 23:00
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So I had much the same reaction to it upon reading. But running an AL table, I didn't really have a lot of leeway to change it and ran it as written. And I've realized two things from that:

  • Even though the players caught on pretty quickly that they just had to mimic chwinga, they still enjoyed it more than I'd have expected. Eight months later they razz the one character who couldn't hold down their snake. (Blech.)
  • This works really well to set up some other chwinga scenes later in the book. The players totally trust them to be helpful little guide-spirits, and that's come in pretty handy.

So I don't have any suggestions for how to change it, but I'll suggest that in my experience you don't need to change it. (Though it's understandable to think to change it.) At worst it's a quick 20-minute skill challenge and you're on to the oracle.

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Since my PCs had a very positive response to my version of Orolunga, I thought I'd share.

I don't think my solution would work as well in every party, but I was lucky because by the time they reached Orolunga my three-player group had picked up a healthy handful of hanger-on NPCs. The way I highlighted the "test" aspect of the encounter was by having those NPCs vanish one by one at meaningful points in the ascent, as though they had "failed" the test. Rather than forcing the players to mimic the chwinga, I just let the most interesting idea they came up with be the "correct" answer to the puzzle. I think it succeeded in creating a spooky fairy-tale atmosphere as the PCs took turns descending and climbing the steps of the ziggurat, and one by one their friends vanished in the mist.

  • Guide disappears as they approach the ziggurat.
  • FIRST TEST: VINES. Party appeases the chwinga with gifts and praise, chwinga gives Ranger a seed. Ranger climbs down to the jungle floor to get some soil, brings it back, casts druidcraft on the seed, and the enormous tree that grows pushes the vines out of the way with its roots.
  • Acolyte of Savras disappears as they're talking to the chwinga.
  • SECOND TEST: CRUMBLING STAIRS. Warlock goes back to the chwinga and gets another seed. Climbs down to the jungle floor and feeds the seed to a bird, who leaves a feather in his hand. Anyone who holds the feather has light steps and can cross the stairs.
  • Gladiator disappears as they climb the steps.
  • THIRD TEST: SNAKES. This is where it gets fun, because Warlock is secretly a Yuan-ti in disguise. Snakes don't bother Warlock. Cleric goes back to the chwinga and gets another seed. Climbs down to the jungle floor and feeds the seed to another bird, who sits in her hand. When she feeds the bird to a snake, they all turn into a whirlwind of flying snakes and attack Warlock, who disappears.
  • Ranger (neutral-aligned) disappears as Cleric (good-aligned) reaches the top of the ziggurat.
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    \$\begingroup\$ 100% glad to hear your experiences and ideas even though this is much later. I'm planning on running this again for a new group (although as a sandbox without the death curse countdown), and definitely welcome ideas. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Aug 16 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Good first answer! :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 16 at 21:22
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Consider that in the Fae tales of old even the right answers were completely dependent on the whim of the fae associated with them. When I did this I went through all the various courts of the fae and it's well known characters and presented red herring puzzles where answering the puzzle did nothing at all. for example:

You arrive at an area with 12 by 12 rune covered tiles each glowing softly. Next to this area stands a statue of Puck. How do you proceed?

The players start turning over tiles each one causes a random trick but no pattern seems to accomplish anything. see the trick section in DMG. Finally the Chwinga arrives plays a trick on one of the characters and the statue laughs and allows him to proceed.

The summer court demands a kiss,

For the winter queen demands a story, etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I'm not sure I follow. Are you saying you replaced the written "challenges" with these fae-themed puzzles? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 21 '18 at 3:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ How was your modification of the adventure received by your players? Did you and they feel it gave the players agency? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Aug 16 at 21:23
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Use Puzzles to Challenge Your Players

Players often enjoy puzzles from gatekeepers at glowing portals to statues blocking tomb entrances. What sort of puzzles can a stressed GM use?

  • Riddles: You can find online sources of riddles as well as in your public library. For example: An inscription reads "What occurs once in every minute, but never in a whole day?"

    The letter "M", which when pressed opens the gate.

  • Physical Puzzles: You can give them a hand-held, actual physical puzzle, like the "15 Puzzle" and explain that it is an analog of some huge object the players must manipulate. Rubik's Cubes, interlocking ring puzzles, and puzzle gift boxes are inexpensive challenges that can entertain your players.
  • Physics puzzles: You can describe puzzles that your players must solve by clever thinking. For example, the players are presented with a large seesaw-like trough that is shaped like a shallow "U" . In the center are two glowing orbs the size and mass of bowling balls. The balls must be placed at the ends of the seesaw to get the gate to open. Magic prevents them from being lifted out. Tilting the seesaw allows you to roll one in to place, but tilting it back to get the other into place unseats the first one. The solution:

    Spin the seesaw. The balls will be move to opposite ends.

In any case there is an entire stackexchange group devoted to puzzles. Describe the sort of challenges you're looking for and they can probably help.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried out any of these ideas? As it is currently written, there's no indication that it fits the "specific experience from anyone else who has run this bit and done it differently in order to make this more interesting and fun." part asked by the question. If you did try it out, please describe how so, and, more importantly for the answer, what was the outcome from the players perspective? Did they have fun, was it even more boring than the original adventure, what happened? \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 4 '18 at 7:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're right that this is not campaign specific. I didn't see the qualifier to restrict answers to those that people have used to specifically address this module. Should I delete my response? \$\endgroup\$ – Kieran Mullen Jun 4 '18 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Deleting or not is on you. If you think your answer can help him with his problem even though it's not exactly what he asked, I wouldn't delete. Otherwise, yes, delete it. IMO, you've given a great answer, but not to this specific question. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 4 '18 at 18:18

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