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Help to design a "riddle"

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#1 boulash



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Posted 22 November 2017 - 11:10 AM

I'm trying to design a scene that should be stressful, fast and be based around the resolution of some kind of riddle (think falling ceiling in a D&D game, only for CoC).


The situation will be like this:

- To discover the name of a demon, one of the investigator's spirit wandered in another plane of reality (some kind of Dreamland, but not Lovecraft's dreamland, reached through drugs or rituals). The others are gathered around his/her unconscious body.

- The name is found, some nasties start chasing the spirit, the body starts getting twitchy

- The spirit reaches a"windowpane" through which he/she can see the "real" scene (his/her own body surrounded by the others). Of course there is no windowpane in reality.



The idea here would be:

- the other investigators would have to do something to allow the spirit to come back (go through the windowpane if you will),

- the spirit knows what is to be done, but cannot communicate directly

- the spirit is under attack, which shows on his/her body (seizure-like maybe)


I'm playing on a VTT with Teamspeak, so what I want to do is to play round by round, switching back and forth beween the spirit player and the others (by switching channels). The spirit would tell me what they try to do (they could have some kind of power on the reality, limited telekinesy, distorted voice...) and I would switch to the other players, tell them what they perceive from this attempt and check what they do. And then back to the spirit, etc


The obvious "riddle" would be to have the spirit "spell out" the name, there would be a series of 26 paintings or statues of faces showing the lip movement of all letters, the investigators would have to figure that out and the spirit could move them or signal them in order, and once the name is spoken out the spirit can come back.

I'm only half-satisfied by this because I don't see a subtle way to put the investigators on track if they just can't figure it out. They should solve it, it's just that taking too much time will have dire effects on the unconscious investigator.


Do you have any other idea for the "riddle" and its answer (which could be something else, accomplishing some ritual or whatever) ?


Thanks a lot !

Edited by boulash, 22 November 2017 - 11:13 AM.

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#2 GBSteve


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Posted 22 November 2017 - 01:28 PM

Players will try to use skill checks to help them solve the riddle. After all, they are not their characters. What's the skill for lip reading?

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#3 Tony Williams

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 02:31 PM

playing on a VTT with Teamspeak - so what does that mean ?


None of the players are in the same (physical) room ? Can they see each other on their computer screens ?

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#4 Eusebio



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Posted 22 November 2017 - 02:33 PM

I'm going to think out loud for a bit here, you're free to do with it what you want :)

First of all, I love the idea of the body being visibly under stress. This will immediately warn players they are a) taking too long or B) doing it wrong.

If it is that kind of manic tension and possible panic you want to go for, why not let each player do a different task simultaneously? (and yes, this will be hard on you as a Keeper).

One player could trying to translate a text to get the right incantation, another could trying to be drawing a certain sigil or circle, someone tries to find the right ingredients needed amongst a huge collection of bottles and jars and a fourth could be trying to communicate with the spirit and relay whatever it tries to communicate (and possibly make errors in doing so),  ...


A neat little trick I sometimes use is setting some kind of time-measuring device like an hourglass. You can make it visible to all players, or perhaps only to the spirit. 
It adds to the sense of urgency.


As for the ritual itself; it should combine the subtasks. For example, if you use a pentagram, a certain action should be performed (lighting of a candle, burning of incense, ...) at the right point of the pentagram, in the right order.

If you want a back-up plan on how to aid the players if they get it wrong, I think Luck points could be your friend. Simple rolls are tricky: the dice can bodge even on the highest score. Luck points can act as the old Know or Idea rules back in earlier editions. Maybe you could use a one-time rule, allowing them to spend Luck points for a hint (You feel how a gust of wind blows through the room and for a moment, you can hear the voice of the spirit clearly, as if he was standing next to you).

Personally, I would go rule-light on such a scene and focus on the actual drama and tension of it. You can do the 'book-keeping' (costs, rewards, sanity, ...) afterwards.

#5 boulash



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Posted 22 November 2017 - 02:41 PM

playing on a VTT with Teamspeak - so what does that mean ?


None of the players are in the same (physical) room ? Can they see each other on their computer screens ?


We are not in the same room and normally they won't see each other (it's technically possible but I'd rather go without it).


The advantage is that I can switch from group to group very quickly because there's no physical displacement involved, so I want to use this to make it frantic.


Love your ideas Eusebio, and I totally agree on the rule-light aspect, I want them to feel the adrenaline while racking their brains :)

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#6 Gaffer


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Posted 22 November 2017 - 03:09 PM

First, let the harm be more serious than bad dream twitches and moans. Actual bleeding lacerations appear on the body, one by one as time runs out. Be specific, even gruesome with the appearance and location of the wounds. The lost HP can be restored when body and spirit are reunited. In the spirit realm, these wounds are caused by spirit creatures actually devouring the spirit form, bit by bit. Again, the HP will be restored, but there should also be a gradual Sanity cost that will persist and maybe some residual physical effects like numbness, weakness, or even arthritis (long-term or permanent loss of DEX or STR or CON).


The windowpane manifests in the real world as a painting or mirror that becomes translucent but heavily misted. The spirit can trace visible letters on the surface for communication. Remember, the tracings will be reversed in the real world.


To restore spirit to body, two things are necessary.

1. The body must not be in contact with anything crafted in the real world. It must be naked and not lying on any crafted surface like a table or floor. (Bonus points if there is a hard-to-remove ring.) The other investigators must hold it suspended in their hands. Their clothing also must not touch it.

2. The body must be oriented in a particular way, maybe with the head pointed at the north star or similar. This may be a three dimensional  orientation with the body kept at a particular angle. Trial and error may be the investigators' only way to get this right. It may need Luck (rolls or spending) to maintain it.


Finally, a word must be chanted several times while the naked body is properly oriented. This word should be composed of letters that read the same fore and back, like: MAXIMOHVATYM. Hopefully it will be written or read wrong way round at first.


Finally, be prepared for them to fail and the investigator to be lost. Maybe an evil spiriit will use her shape for ill purposes later.

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#7 johnmcfloss


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Posted 22 November 2017 - 03:54 PM

A neat little trick I sometimes use is setting some kind of time-measuring device like an hourglass. You can make it visible to all players, or perhaps only to the spirit. 

It adds to the sense of urgency.


I've used a deck of cards for this before. Every [increment of IC time] I flipped a card, with certain values representing that something had gone wrong (you could also, I assume, play some kind of Blackjack variant, with a much higher target number). The party could choose to end the ritual at any time, but the longer they held out, the more useful it could be, and they'd generally have an estimate of quite how risky the next card would be. So rather than being a race against time, it became a question about how far they were winning to push their luck

(specifically in this case, a member of the party was dying of snake venom in a ritual to ask Yig some questions. Each question was a card, and he was in a separate room to the rest of the party. Although they bought the Antivenom off the cultists they were unsubtlely investigating, so it didn't actually work anyway, and he only got back by making a deal. But they didn't know that at the time)