D&D General Help Making a Puzzle Room

Lackofname

Explorer
I'm wanting to design a sort of "maze room" that the party has to traverse. But rather than a static maze, they are able to create their own path.

The idea is that each square has two blocked sides and two open sides--think of it like a section of pipe. Most sections are a straight pipe and then some are a curve. Each square can be rotated so that the open ends of the pipe line up and they walk through. Part of the play here is that they move towards sections that are positioned advantageously--say two squares are lined up right, saving them time.

While they're doing this, traps are going off and an enemy is attacking through arrow slits in the ceiling.

What I need help with is ironing out the mechanics of the pipes. My concern is giving the players something to do or contribute. Only one (or two?) PCs will be rotating the squares to line the pipe up, leaving the rest to follow behind boredly.
 

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MarkB

Legend
Rather than just having random attacks while they try to solve a rotate-the-pipes puzzle, how about introducing a tactical element? Have some paths lead through encounters with monsters, while others lead through traps, with the players being aware of roughly what sort of challenge they'll be facing in each case. Introduce a risk/reward system whereby aiming for harder challenges may allow them to traverse the maze more quickly or give them access to useful treasures or resources along the way.

Perhaps introduce some form of competition - a creature or group of creatures who are actively affecting the layout of the maze. Either they're turning around or sabotaging pipes to block the PCs' progress, or they're trying to make their own way across the maze, with a different starting point and end-goal than that of the party.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
1) Because multiple combats would take too long. Traversing the room is already going to be long as is.

2) It doesn't fit the story of the room itself.

The idea being this is was an underground facility with an Important Magical Device built into the bottom floor. The facility's entrance was collapsed to prevent an invading force from getting to the McGuffin. A warforged has been stuck alone for about 800 years. That's left him a bit crazy. He believes he is a general, the sole defender of The McGuffin, and this room was built as his first line of defense against any threat.

The intention of the room is turning an empty space (like let's say, 50x50) into a much larger obstacle, slowing intruders down long enough to be whittled down by the traps and the warforged. It wouldn't make sense for the design to allow intruders to actively AVOID traps.

For instance one of the traps is that there's 7 or 8 stones in the walls around the room, and every round, a beam of energy will randomly lance between two of the stones, hitting any squares between them.

That said, having an obvious obstacle makes sense. Say one square is completely blocked--it's a pillar they have to go around. The pillar is an obvious Trap. But that doesn't resolve the core issue of: what are the players doing.
 
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aco175

Legend
There can be sections that present options for the players to stop a bit and choose the next path. Give them an option of a couple paths. Maybe they can see one path with lots of ramps and angles and another with water and low ceilings. This allows the PCs to use options of things they have. Maybe they have a portable boat or roller blades or something that helps in certain situations.
 

IMO there's two ways to go about this: as a simple puzzle or a skill challenge.

A simple puzzle is where the players aren't making any rolls, except those related to the traps. They're simply working out as a group how to traverse the maze. They're sucking up the attacks from the warforged, unless they figure out a method to stop it (such as killing it). This allows the entire group to be part of the puzzle, but it also runs the risk of "quarterbacking," where one person just calls the play. This is the fastest method to handle the room, and will work more as Theater of the Mind, rather than a battlemap situation.

A skill challenge will be set up in rounds, where everyone takes an action each time, and it looks like this is something you're looking for. In this setup, you'll need to design the size of the squares, since PCs will be taking up a 5 ft space, making the party work as a conga line if the squares are only 5 ft. In addition to taking actions dealing with the warforged, players might make checks, take the Help action, or cast spells towards getting through the maze. Suggestions for checks:
  • Str/Athletics to rotate an adjacent section 90 degrees
  • Wis/Insight to determine which direction to rotate (if the section is a turn, it's different)
  • Wis/Perception to determine location of traps
  • Int/Investigation to determine how big the overall room is (opens new options, should be a high check)
    • Int/Investigation to determine direction to nearest edge
    • Int/Investigation to determine number of squares to edge
 

Here is what I would do. Set up your room on a battle map. Put the PCs at the entrance to the maze. Scatter all over the map a bunch of random tokens face down. These tokens represent monsters, traps, and treasure. The players don't know what they are until they reach that square on the map and flip it over. Put at the center, opposite side of the map, or wherever, the macguffin the players need.

Pass out to each player five cards. Each card has a passage. Some are straight, some are curves, some are T's, and throw a few dead ends. Have a deck of extra passages they can draw from once they play a card.

Have the players all roll initiative. Go through initiative order and they can each place down new section of the maze and move their character. They can chose to avoid the tokens and play it safe but they'll miss out on rewards in the process. This will also allow the players to split up and explore different routes simultaneously.

I suspect that this approach will take a long time to play out though.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
IMO there's two ways to go about this: as a simple puzzle or a skill challenge.

A simple puzzle is where the players aren't making any rolls, except those related to the traps. They're simply working out as a group how to traverse the maze. They're sucking up the attacks from the warforged, unless they figure out a method to stop it (such as killing it). This allows the entire group to be part of the puzzle, but it also runs the risk of "quarterbacking," where one person just calls the play. This is the fastest method to handle the room, and will work more as Theater of the Mind, rather than a battlemap situation.
This is exactly what I had in mind, however I can't imagine this working without a battlemap or fully visual representation of some kind. The puzzle element, of turning the pipes into the correct path, requires a visual aid. Especially given that some squares are curves rather than straight, etc. Creating a correct path from A to B is the puzzle.

The thing I have been worried about is yes, the quaterbacking. Although maybe I shouldn't be as concerned about it. If I let them handle it things would move faster.

An idea I had to suddenly get more characters involved is this: Each square rotates to line the pipe up. In addition, suddenly a 4 square section rotates. This would separate a PC or two, forcing them to create their own paths to link back up with the group.
 

Lackofname

Explorer
Pass out to each player five cards. Each card has a passage. Some are straight, some are curves, some are T's, and throw a few dead ends. Have a deck of extra passages they can draw from once they play a card.

Have the players all roll initiative. Go through initiative order and they can each place down new section of the maze and move their character. They can chose to avoid the tokens and play it safe but they'll miss out on rewards in the process. This will also allow the players to split up and explore different routes simultaneously.

I suspect that this approach will take a long time to play out though.
This is on Roll20, so I have no idea how I could do that. Especially given how little control it permits players to have over moving or controlling things besides their own token.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
This is on Roll20, so I have no idea how I could do that. Especially given how little control it permits players to have over moving or controlling things besides their own token.
Logistically, in Roll20 you can double click on anything on the Token Layer, and then you can set who has control over that token – you click and get a drop-down list of all players in the game, including an option for "everyone." So there is a way to handle it in the VTT you're using, though it can get a bit messy if you have players running Roll20 on their phones or tablets, where they might intend to move their PC's token and instead accidentally move a section of the puzzle.
 

This is exactly what I had in mind, however I can't imagine this working without a battlemap or fully visual representation of some kind. The puzzle element, of turning the pipes into the correct path, requires a visual aid. Especially given that some squares are curves rather than straight, etc. Creating a correct path from A to B is the puzzle.
If going route, I'd go for a full battlemap, since there's a lot going on; a simple visual representation could be used if it was the first option. On Roll20, I'd use Fog of War (without dynamic lighting) and make each square a token on the map. The player can ping or describe which square they want to rotate, then you rotate the square and reveal the section (if applicable). I wouldn't give the PCs control, mostly due to the possibility of them accidentally messing up the map.

An idea I had to suddenly get more characters involved is this: Each square rotates to line the pipe up. In addition, suddenly a 4 square section rotates. This would separate a PC or two, forcing them to create their own paths to link back up with the group.
This might be a bit problematic, depending on how you do it. I'd suggest instead having a random square rotate every round (hint at it, as they'd hear the movement in the distance), but only rotate it if on on/near a PC is randomly chosen. This means the players know they have to hurry, since they don't know when they might get separated. Once separated, the players should be able to communicate by yelling, but this will still severely increase the difficulty.

One thing to consider if you split the party is how to handle the warforged. Logically, the warforged should either focus on the group closest to success or the smallest group. The first helps defend the structure, but could give away the fact that they're close. The second is more logical, increasing the probability of killing an intruder, but this can be devastating if a lone PC is left behind to die.
 

This is on Roll20, so I have no idea how I could do that. Especially given how little control it permits players to have over moving or controlling things besides their own token.
You could create a deck of cards in roll 20 with the images for the passageway. Deal the cards to the players and have them drop them down onto the virtual table top. Unfortunately, Roll20 is a bit of a pain when it comes to uploading multiples of the same card. Want ten straight paths? Upload it ten times. There's no way to duplicate it as far as I know. It would require some work on your end to make this idea work. Sorry. :(
 

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