It was Friday, and I was really hoping to duck out early. A couple of the illithid were having a thrallfight that night, and I wanted to catch a bite and then get a good seat. As the kingdom’s best diabolical traps designer, I didn’t have a boss to contend with, so I figured it was smooth sailing. I grabbed my coat, slung it over my shoulder, and stepped toward the door…
The sound of knocking erupted from the door, followed by a whining “Hello? Hello?” voice. Damn, a customer. I couldn’t sneak out, since the door was the only way out of my office, and if I tried to brush off the client, it could hurt my reputation.
I recognized the voice as Randalph, and swore to the gods that it HAD to be him. Out of all of my wonderful customers, the guy showing up on a Friday afternoon was the most needy and annoying of them all. Randalph was supposedly some great wizard, who had inherited a nice obelisk a few years ago and promptly hired me to fill it with “challenges sure to test the mettle of my intrepid visitors.” This was followed by a couple years of him changing his mind about things… one trap was too deadly, another was not brutal enough… and him constantly following me around with ideas that he and his zombies thought were great. But the worst of it was that I had originally signed him into a 99-year support contract. I would do just about anything to get out of that stupid contract, but it was signed in demon blood and incorporated six layers of legal geas.
I sighed and opened the door. At first I tried to look busy in the hopes that he would realize I was preoccupied and leave me alone, but one look at his face told me that there was no getting rid of him. He looked frantic, and nearly pounced on me as soon as the door was ajar.
“There’s something wrong with my challenges!” he exclaimed as he pushed his way into my office. “They made it all the way in, and even picked up the guy in the Magic Mealy Room!”
“Randy… so nice to see you,” I began, trying to replace the contempt in my voice with something a little more boring. He hated when I called him Randy, but this time he didn’t notice.
“They broke my windmill machine, and killed those nice ladies, and piled up all the mashed potatos. What a disaster! Now they are all asking questions from my magic book of great answers! Do you know how MUCH that costs me?” He paced agitatedly around the room, gesturing wildly to accentuate his words.
I didn’t know where to start, but I really needed to cut this conversation short. I foolishly jumped to the end. “Randy,” I asked, “wasn’t the whole POINT of your little set of challenges to ‘test the mettle of your intrepid visitors’? So didn’t these guys prove their worth? What’s the problem?”
Randalph gave an angry frown. “Well, I certainly didn’t intend for them to read my book of great answers. I was just keeping the book there because it looked good on that little end table. The table was empty without it. Feng shui.”
“Why did you have me program the illusory automaton to tell people to read the book?” I asked of him, not really caring to hear the answer.
“I told you to make his voice sort of mocking and sarcastic, so that people would know he wasn’t serious about the book, and would feel bad,” claimed the wizard.
I sighed and grabbed the specifications folder from the top drawer of the desk. I flipped through the sheets of parchment until I arrived at the script for the illusory automaton, and pointed at the relevant section. The official text specified “courteous and thoughtful” and Randalph had scribbled “LOL make him sound like he’s happy and proud of a cute puppy that did something cute” and had then initialed and dated his note.
Randalph barely glanced at it. “Nonetheless, nobody should have made it this far! I wanted the challenges to test the mettle of my intrepid visitors and then kill them.”
I shook my head in disbelief. We had gone over this countless times. When I first constructed the traps, all of our focus groups died, which is what the wizard had originally requested. I was a diabolical trap designer, after all, not a curiously perplexing trap designer. If he was looking for nonviolent challenges, he could have gone to a half dozen other engineers. But then he decided that he wanted certain types of adventures to get farther, so we redesigned and tested until he was (momentarily) happy with the results. In effect, a party with a wizard who could cast two magic missles at once would all die, whereas a party with a wizard who could cast four magic missles at once would all survive. A party with a wizard that could cast three magic missiles at once would experience mixed results.
“These adventurers should not have passed,” he shouted. “Only one of them died! They kept camping in the middle of each trap!”
That was another Randalph request. He wanted to keep the teleportation gates open for ‘a gazillion rounds’ after a trap was bested, to allow maimed adventurers enough time to get to the next trap. I had brought up the possibility of people resting, so he had me place a provision against it in the official rules. Unfortunately, he also had me hide the official rules as a ruby-rubbing in a tiny square on the ceiling of the first room, because ‘nobody wants to see all those boring rules.’
I paused, and began the breathing techniques I had learned from my therapist after I had taken the Randalph job. Once I had settled down, I calmly asked, “Randalph, what do you want me to do?”
He replied immediately. This time, at least, he knew what he wanted. “Find out how they beat the traps, and make them harder! Make it so that the traps can only be beat by a party with a wizard that can cast one more magic missile at a time than this party’s wizard can.”
“Fine,” I said, and walked to my desk. I was not happy, but Randalph wasn’t going away. “I’ll bring up the footage from the most recent excursion, and we’ll see what happened.”
“You can do that?” asked Randalph, obviously surprised.
“Sure,” I told him. “I installed remote scry recording during the focus groups, and we still have it running. I record the activity on to a memory moss array that is recycled on a weekly basis.”
The wizard’s face grew pale. “Y-y-you don’t have it in the Magic Mealy Room, do you?”
“I have it everywhere,” I said. “Why, what have you been doing there?”
Randalph refused to answer. He was still visibly shaken by the time I set up my crystal scrying ball and tuned it in to the feed from his obelisk. I adjusted the view to show the hallway past the elemental room and scanned through the memory moss archive until I saw the recent activity. We both squinted into the crystal ball and watched the action.
A group of adventurers popped into view, one by one. We saw a halfling – presumably a rogue of sorts – and an armored dwarf adorned with holy symbols. They were followed by an elf who left a trail of musical instruments, who was certainly a first-circle minstrel who had just learned the Summon Instrument spell. They were joined by a robed gnome who looked too dumb to be a wizard and therefore must be a sorceror, and a robed human who looked too dumb to be a wizard and too ugly to be a sorceror.
My remote scrying was able to see through the hallway’s magical darkness, but the hapless adventurers were not so lucky. I watched with amusement as they tried to generate light and then began to feel their way down the hallway.
The trap was pretty simple… I had put memory moss at regular intervals along the hallway, which would cause confusion. Then there was a room with a disappearing-floor-over-spikes trap triggered by the handle of a door on the far side of the room.
I watched as a couple of the figures stumbled past the memory moss and into the room. For some reason, the other party members stayed where they were in the hallway. The two members of the advance team wandered around in confusion until one of them tried to open the door. The trap sprung, but it only caught the two of them. A few minutes later, once the confusion had worn off, the rest of the party carefully joined them and safely negotiated the room.
“See,” exclaimed Randalf. “Completely ineffectual!”
I thought about what we had seen for a few minutes, then determined what the issue was. “I designed this trap to affect a cohesive party. Someone would go ahead, get hit by the memory moss, and stumble forward in confusion. The next party member would hear his distress, and would run to join him, setting off the memory moss as well. After one or two party members were confused, one of them would try to open the door and they would fall into the trap. The rest of the party would try to assist, but as soon as they hit the memory moss they would forget all about the danger up ahead, and one by one they would emerge from the darkness and fall into the pit. Sort of like lemmings, but even funnier.”
“But your trouble here,” I continued, pointing to the images on the crystal ball, “is that nobody in this particular party cares if the others get hurt. So there was no incentive for the rest of them to rush in to help. They just waited until all the hazards were revealed and their own individual paths were safe. In summary, this trap doesn’t work against chaotically-evil adventurers like these guys.”
I then skipped around the scenes a bit. “Let’s look at the windmill golem,” pleaded Randalph, but I refused. The windmill golem had been his idea, and it was probably the stupidest thing I’d ever been asked to build. It wasn’t much of a trap, and the only way to get past it was to destroy it. Every time someone destroyed it, Randalph called me in to fix it, claiming that the service was part of his maintenance contract.
I passed over the footage of the Magic Mealy Room, only briefly seeing the party meet up with a new member who had, based on the amount of mashed potatoes piled up around the room, been trapped there for quite some time. I tuned in briefly to the slide-in-to-lava room. This trap was a fun one… I had created a normal-looking room with stairs at the far end. But once someone started up the stairs, the stairs would immediately turn into a slick ramp and the floor of the room would start to pull away, revealing lava! It was a vast improvement over my earlier prototype, which worked similarly but used wax instead of lava. In the lava room, invariably the thiefy-type adventurers would end up on one side, and the armored guys and wizards would end up on the other. I could still remember the focus groups… time after time, pudgy dwarves in full-plate would try to vault the gap and would fall into the lava.
This time, the trap worked exactly as it was supposed to. I chuckled to myself at the stupid dwarf bobbing in the lava. Then I watched as the bard guy snapped a whip around the dwarf’s throat and pulled him out of the lava. Priceless! Even Randalph forgot his anger for a moment and giggled.
Finally, I skipped forward to the last challenge. This was a particularly nasty trap. It was a tiny room with a heavily-trapped door and a murky well. The well led to an underwater maze with a special key at the end. Someone could, in theory, hold their breath, navigate the maze, and grab the key. But at that point, the maze reconfigured itself! Even worse, a secret door would spring open and the Eye of the Deep would swim forth. The Eye of the Deep was similar to a beholder, but far more powerful, and the last of its kind. It had cost me… well, Randalph… a fortune, but was the perfect addition.
If a party entered the water all at once somehow, they would be picked off one-by-one by the Eye of the Deep. If they sent one party member in at a time, he would surely die, and the rest of the party would either need to keep sending people in, or starve to death. This particular party had opted to send the whole group in, apparently under the benefits of a water breathing spell. I looked forward to an epic slaughter… but then I remembered why Randalph was here. Somehow, the party was going to survive. Something was going to go wrong.
The minstrel guy had turned into a fish-man in order to explore. Once he discovered the key, he sent the rest of the party back toward the entrance. He expected something to happen once he grabbed the key, and was apparently hoping that he would be able to deal with it himself. He picked up the key and started to swim, but was caught heading in the wrong direction when the walls of the maze switched.
The secret door disappeared, but the Eye of the Deep didn’t appear. Instead, a pair of sea hags swam out.
“Randy, where the hell is the Eye of the Deep?” I asked him incredulously.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I forgot to feed him,” he explained.
“You didn’t need to feed him,” I told him. “He lived off magic and fear!”
“…and tasted like crab,” Randalph said. “Anyways, the sea hags were a good replacement. I wasn’t going to rent them the room, but then they started making a scene about me discriminating against them because they were two sea hags instead of a sea hag and a sea dude, so I let them move in.”
The party, though, made quick work of the hags, and only a couple of them received deadly curses for their troubles. They swam out with the key and went to claim their prize – an audience with Randalph’s magical book.
I turned to Randalph, preparing a debate to get myself out of more work, but he was smiling.
“What’s the deal?”, I asked him. “You came in here all pissed about the adventurers. What are you smiling about?”
“I just remembered,” he exclaimed. “I’m a GOOD wizard! Thank goodness they’re all safe. I need you to make sure all of the traps are a lot safer. I bet you gave these poor guys quite a scare.”
Silently I drew my dagger and plunged it through Randalph’s eye. He screamed and disappeared with a ‘pop’ as his teleportation contingency kicked in. Unfortunately it wouldn’t kill him – it never did. This is how we ended all of our conversations. But hopefully it would buy me enough time for a night on the town