An Inscrutable Ruin

This inscrutable ruin is a backdrop for a puzzle and a combat, making both more colorful. Its backstory is left intentionally mysterious. What function did it originally serve? How is it so well-preserved? What value did it hold for its creators? There is no way for the PCs to answer these mysteries. Since it’s intended to be a backdrop, it provides little for the players to latch onto, so they don’t go chasing down an unintended rabbit hole.


Spiral pillars support stone archways, surrounding a wide plaza of perfectly flat dressed stone. One of the archways supports a swinging boom, like a crane, but without the cable that goes up and down. At the center, there’s a deep hole – a well so wide a man could fall down it spread-eagle and not brush the walls.

The plaza is heavily trapped. Like the rest of the ruin, the traps are in an immaculate state of preservation. Unless the PCs take steps to avoid traps, they’ll trigger a relatively harmless one as they cross the plaza. The floor flips over beneath the lead PC. She and anyone near her need to succeed on a tough dexterity check or get tossed into a dark, cramped space beneath the flagstones. If the trap is triggered again, the floor, in the process of flipping over, will scoop captured PCs out and toss them ten feet away. The point of this trap is to warn players to expect more of them. Examples of other traps are presented later.

The boom doesn’t do anything – it doesn't even reach to the edge of the pit. But it may be fun in the combat!

At the bottom of the dry well, there is a fabulous treasure. But the way down is guarded. A band of copper spirals down the walls of the well. There is not a speck of tarnish or corrosion upon it. It cannot be harmed by mundane means or by low-level magic. Once, this copper band was was the track for an elevator platform. No sign of the platform remains. Any metal touched to the band (rings and weapons, for example) seal to it as if by a magnet. They cannot be removed by ordinary means, but creative solutions might work. A few metal buttons cling to it from a previous expedition’s abortive attempts – a warning to the party. If anyone’s ring gets attached to the copper band, that PC may have to worry about degloving her finger.

Separately, I wouldn’t Google ‘degloving’ while at work.

Let your players describe the wondrous artifact that awaits them at the bottom, provided it is about the size of a bread box. My players described a wooden Chinese puzzle box made from never-before-seen woods, completely unweathered, and slightly warm to the touch.

At the bottom of the well, the treasure lies in shadow. If exposed to direct sunlight, it emits smoke. If dropped while smoking, it catches fire. It burns as hot as magnesium for one hour before stopping. The artifact is not harmed by this process. Smothering it in sand will halt the fire, but it will resume if the artifact comes in contact with air or anything flammable.

The artifact sits on a pressure plate. Removing the artifact without replacing it with an object of equal weight causes the floor to drop by a foot. This exposes foot-high grates along the base of the wall, which spew forth acid. The bottom fifteen feet of the pit will fill at the rate of one foot per second.

Once the PCs have the artifact, it’s a great opportunity for a fight. Maybe rival treasure hunters followed them here. Maybe monsters from the wilderness around the ruin are looking for easy prey. Maybe the ruin is guarded by the shades of its builders.

The swinging boom might come into play here. Reward PCs that use the crane in their attacks with bonus damage.

The wide pit (which may now be full of acid) is an obvious piece of cool terrain.

And there are the traps! Clever PCs can spot them and trick their opponents into triggering them. Example traps include:

- The floor flipping over, as described above

- Shooting small bolts of lightning

- Acidic gas

- A bear trap under the flagstone snaps through the floor, trapping your foot

- A scything blade comes up from between two flagstones. It moves in an arc like the hand of a clock, but with lightning speed.


Everyone needs content for their RPG campaigns: adventure hooks, puzzles, NPCs, political machinations, combat encounters, and adventure sites. That’s what this site provides! I draw RPG content from real-life fact and folklore, then give advice on how to adapt it to your fictional campaign. I believe content that is grounded in reality (however fantastical) is richer and more vibrant, and your players will appreciate the difference.


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