“As you look on to the dirt stained treasure map, you can clearly make out, that you arrived at the right place. The old ruin lurks in the trees just ahead, gleaming in the last sunlight of the day. The green tainted stone shines mysteriously and weird heads made out of the same material make you feel unsettled. Their beards resembling roots growing over the stone and their mouths slightly opened. But the weirdest thing are the eyes, as the lighter stones in the sockets, seem to look at you and judge your every movement. You would not be still alive, if you wouldn’t suspect some sort of trap here, protecting the treasure, and in this moment you really wished, that all of the writing on the map would have been readable.”
The Green Man Ruins are a short idea for any roleplaying game. They might be used as a random encounter, a location the players stumble upon, or a puzzle in a bigger treasure hunt.
It is a rather simple idea, but it shows, that with the right circumstances, even a simple idea might make for a fun encounter. And you are of course free to use, change or ignore this idea for your own roleplaying sessions.
I will first describe the encounter and things to consider for it and then summarize the post with an actual play report.
Somewhere in the Green Man Ruins there is some sort of treasure, which can be a MacGuffin, or an actual useful artifact or item, the players want to have. Maybe the ruins hide the entry to an underground dungeon. Whatever it is, there is something, that gives the players a reason or motivation to potentially interact with the ruins.
Whatever is hidden in the ruin can only (atleast without creativity) be reached by crossing a walkway/corridor or yard similar to the image, which results in passing by many of the weird heads. Of course the heads are magical in nature, maybe some old culture enchanted them or they are creatures on their own. But whatever the case, they protect this place from secret intruders by simple means: If someone sneaks passed them, they begin to open their mouth and a green-grayish smoke engulfs the area. Whoever stays in there to long will slowly turn to stone.
Therefore the secret to passing the heads, is to make as much noise as possible. Which might seem ridiculously easy, but with the right circumstances and mind games, the players might find it hard to come to this conclusion. Additionally, I found the idea of a burglar detection system, that just detects if someone is moving suspiciously silent, slightly hilarious.
Note: The trap works best, if there is some delay, between the entering of the corridor and the opening of the mouths. Else, players will just exit the corridor, as soon as they see the smoke emitting. But if they are in the middle of the corridor, when it starts, it might get more interesting…
How to sell the Puzzle
There are multiple steps to this. First, there should be some kind of warning, that there is a trap. Then we should consider giving a hint to the solution of the puzzle and thirdly we should make the players desire to move silently.
Warnings for this puzzle are quite easy to do. Show the players the effects of the trap. Depending on how well you think you players are at interpreting your warning or what you want the difficulty to be, you can adapt them to be more or less obvious.
- “You see some (lifelike) statues in weird poses scattered all around the yard” – If they continue investigating these from afar, they might recognize that most of them have a facial expression of fear.
- “You see, that some of the grass (or flowers), that burst through the stone plates over many years of rotting, has turned grayish and looks rather solid like rock”
- Have the surrounding area be themed around petrification
- Maybe an adventurer escaped and wrote a warning, visible to a keen eye
- “The eyes of the heads seem to follow you and judge your every movement, but it might just be your paranoia setting in”
- Direct Warning: “As soon as you carefully (and silently) set your foot into the yard, the mouths of all heads began to open and with a cracking sound gape at you. A gray smoke begins to emit from them and spreads around the area, crawling in your direction.” (Might take away the impact of the trap, see above) – An alternative would be to just let the mouths open, if someone enters and start the smoke if they sneak up to the middle
Hints offer a way for the players to figure out the puzzle without too much guesswork and rather thinking and deducing. And remember, that even if you think your hints are very easy to understand: If you want your players to understand something, prepare at least 3 hints.
- Give the players a treasure map, including some handwritten notes, that unluckily are not completely readable. Maybe they find the map at the corpse of a nearby adventurer or are given it by a contractor, who orders them to find the treasure. The notes might include some information about the puzzle (including a warning). It can be nice to do the notes in the form of a poem with a missing line, so that the players have a chance at guessing a solution based on rhyming (example see below).
- “Some tracks of a rather big animal are crossing the yard, as if it was stampeding through.”
- The players find a corpse of an adventurer that might have been on the same search as them. He carries a musical instrument, which seems oddly out of place.
- “The heads seem to even have ears, that seem to follow you and the sound you are making.”
Making it interesting
So for now we have set up warnings and hints for the players, but we are left with one final problem.
If your group just enters the ruins and does not explicitly specify, if they are moving silently, then you are left with two options.
- You assume, they are moving silently, thus springing the trap. This is bad, because you just decided upon something the characters did, without explicitly establishing it in the fiction. Which might lead to confusion from sides of the players and make the puzzle harder to solve, as the hint about their movement is not explicitly given.
- You assume, they are moving normally, thus not activating the trap. Well now you’ve got the problem, that the encounter just got skipped.
The advantage of having this danger in place is, that the question: “Do you approach the ruins silently? Ok, then make a stealth check (or whatever is the equivalent in your system)” is perfectly natural and the player, if he has not figured out the solution or workings of the puzzle, will probably say yes and thereby spring the trap.
And if the players figure out, that they have to be loud, they will have a danger to take care of.
In Actual Play
Up until now, two groups in my Wildmark campaign (see here for some infos on Wildmark) have come to the Green Man Ruins. I will focus on the first, as the visit of the second group was rather short.
The group (2 Players) had heard of a rich man, who offered a treasure map. His only demand was one part of the treasure, a family heirloom, that was stolen once by a famous but dead bandit in this region. The map contained a location (the Green Man Ruins on top of the hill in the Green Man Woods) and an old handwritten poem. As the rich man explained, the poem was written by the bandit himself, who apparently had an interest in poetry, riddles, and wanted to give his treasure to whoever solved these. The poem itself was in German, so the following is only an approximation, that rhymes in English:
In green woods lies forgotten stone
Watched by men without a bone
If you step foot onto their ground
Step careful, but make sound
“If you step foot onto their ground”: Which gives the trigger of the trap away, as in if you step onto the ground they are looking over.
So they ventured into the woods and found some locations that fit the theme of a culture which had a thing for petrification and masonry(a gargoyle, a pond of ‘living’ stone fish, ruins with masterful stone masonry). And in the old ruins of this civilization a giant Sabretooth Ogre has made its home. With thick skin and a height of nearly 4 meters, the group decided to stay away from this one. Additionally he had a petrified arm, that he used as a weapon, which gave another soft warning about the ruins.
Soon they found the “forgotten stone” (or ruin) from the poem, but the Ogre was nearby scratching joyfully against some trees on the other side of the wood clearing. The yard inside the ruins was filled with many stone statues in weird poses, but as they saw no clear threat, they decided to step into the yard. I asked: “Do you approach the ruins silently?” And they answered along the lines of “Of course, we do not want to have the attention of the Ogre”, which was excellent.
So they sneaked onto the yard, on the lookout for the treasure, and came closer to the statues, as they realized, that one of them had a map in their hands, that was very similar to theirs. And on another look the statues all gazed in shock onto the ground or their hands.
That was, when I decided to spring the trap. The smoke quickly began spreading out of the opening mouths and they became scared and realized, that they found a trap. So they wanted to quickly exit.
But as I reminded them of the Ogre they wanted to do it as quietly as possible, therefore not deactivating the smoke. They failed the check and the smoke quickly came very close to them and their feet and fingers began to feel numb.
They began to ran, ignored the potential danger of the Ogre and just ran loudly.
The check was successful and I stressed that the smoke was flowing back as they were loudly exiting the yard.
And it was funny how the solution being right in front of them ( in me speaking), did not occur to them. But maybe it was because they had other problems. In this case, hiding from the Sabretooth Ogre.
Figuring it out
They did so successfully and came back. Upon further investigation of the ruins, they found big tracks of the Ogre inside the yard, who did not seem to be affected too much, except for his stony arm. Which was the second hint, I gave to the solution of the puzzle. They again tried to enter silently, as the Ogre was still nearby, and the smoke was emitted again. They ran out immediately, and the smoke fell back too. They finally pieced together, all the information they had: The poem, with a last line, that probably ends on the word sound, and a loud Ogre, who successfully can run through the yard, as well as their tries of sneaking through and the fog leaving, when they ran. The conclusion was rightfully, that they had to move loudly.
And realized, that the Ogre would hear them again, if they did. So they worked out a plan to lure away the Ogre, which amazingly worked very well, and then used their knowledge to successfully reach the room in the ruins, where the treasure presumably was. Only to find four more riddles, leading to four more locations all around the Wildmark. They concluded, that the legendary dead Bandit, was kind of a annoying troll, and that their characters might go on a much longer treasure hunt, than they expected.
It was amazingly fun for me as a GM to watch them figure this out, step by step, and giving small hints about the workings of the trap in my wordings.
Therefore I wanted to share the idea and I hope you like it too and leave a comment if you use it, to tell me, how it went.
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