Water trap puzzle – an encounter for 5e

I’m currently working through Castle Amber, as mentioned in previous posts. However, I’ve got bored of just running the encounters and rooms in the module, so I’ve started to go off-piste.

This is a room I added in place of the Green Man – area 41 – and the empty room where they have to find the trap door to progress (without any clues that there is a trap door there) – area 42.

This still has the trap door in the floor, but the room will eventually guide them to finding it even if they don’t think of looking, while providing a puzzle (and some clues for later).

There are three things in particular which are starting to annoy me (and, I think, the players):

  • there are very few breadcrumbs to show them what they need to do to get out
  • most encounters seem to assume the characters fight through them
  • anything which isn’t fighting seems completely random – there are no clues to guide the characters as to whether something might be good or bad

This was interesting to start with, but now it’s just a slog of more of the same. So this is me starting to rewrite things to be more to my taste.

Feel free to take this encounter and tweak it to your taste, use it (or parts of it) in your campaign, or whatever.


Black room

Ebony paint covers the walls and ceiling of this 30’ diameter circular room. Polished black marble covers the floor. The scent of henbane, assaofoetida and hellebore root fills the room. An ornate water fountain stands in the centre with three nymphs holding jugs above a shallow bowl; all is completely dry. Five portraits hang at equal intervals on the walls, each with a name below them:

  • A portrait of an serene old man with wrinkled skin and white curly hair who stands cradling a scroll and surrounded by books has the name Gohen on a plate beneath it
  • A portrait of a dark-skinned woman in shining armour wielding a glowing sword and a glistening white-lacquered shield has Orare on the plate beneath it
  • A portrait of a blind-folded man with a white stick has Hasah on the plate beneath it
  • A painting of a wolf looking out of the forest around a gnarled tree trunk has Eraro on the plate beneath it
  • A fair-headed man with exquisite features and fine clothing has Nehog on the plate beneath it

As soon as the whole party is in the room, the room starts spinning. All players must succeed on a DC15 Athletics or Acrobatics save (whichever they are better at) or fall prone and slide towards the walls, taking 3 (1d6) damage when they hit. Characters who succeed on their save remain on their feet but still slide towards the walls, catching themselves with their hands for no damage. It spins for a round, then stops abruptly, causing anyone still standing to have to succeed on a DC15 athletics or Acrobatics save or fall prone abruptly, taking 1 (1d3) points of damage.

Once everyone picks themselves up, they notice the door has disappeared.

If they try to lift any of the paintings off the walls, they start the room spinning again.

If they investigate the fountain, they see each nymph has their hand near a protrusion on the jug. Pressing on any of them starts water pouring out of all three jugs.

  • After one round, the bowl is full
  • It then starts overflowing, and the room starts filling
    • one inch deep after the second round
    • three inches deep after the third round
    • six inches deep after the fourth round
    • 1 foot deep after the fifth round
    • 2 feet deep after the sixth round
    • 3 feet deep after the seventh round
    • 4 feet deep after the eighth round
    • 5 feet deep after the ninth round
    • 6 feet deep after the tenth round
  • The water from a given nymph can be stopped by tweaking its ear; which slows the process by 1/3 per nymph, otherwise the water stops after ten rounds
  • Once it stops, the water starts draining away at 6 inches per round, forming a whirlpool centred on a single 5’ square space on the floor
  • Characters need to make an Athletics check with a DC of 5 + 1 for each 6” of water remaining or be swept into the whirlpool, taking 1 bludgeoning damage each round
  • Characters caught in the whirlpool can swim out or stand up with a successful Athletics check with a DC of 8 + 1 for each 6” of water remaining; if they fail their check by 5 or more they are underwater and cannot breathe

If they inspect the point where the water ran away to, they can feel a grille on the floor (which was hidden behind an illusion. This can be lifted with a strength check with a DC of 12 + 1 for each 6” of water remaining. If lifted while the water is still draining, anyone who has lost their footing must make a DC10 Athletics check + 1 for each foot of water remaining or be swept down the tube, taking 7 (2d6) bludgeoning damage in the process and being left washed up on the sandy floor below where the water drains through a set of holes in the side walls.

The grille leads to a vertical tunnel 30’ high. There are sufficient hand- and foot-holds to safely climb down.

Once at the bottom, the characters see a 6’ high tunnel roughly bored through the rock, which runs slightly uphill for 30’ then ends at a plain wooden door which leads to area 46.

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