Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Gates Of Agony: old school done wrong in 4e

This post is going to examine one of the major failings of the 4e adventure Pyramid of Shadows. I alluded to this in my actual play report, but this post is going to seriously examine what's wrong with the Gates of Agony as written. Now, I don't want to get into any edition war crap. There aren't any rules here, and it's probably one of the most old school elements of the adventure, but it's just so badly done.

My text wil appear like this. Text from the adventure will be italicized. To start, the intro text to the Gates of Agony, and the map.

The three gates leading into of the southern chamber provide the true obstacle to the adventurers’ progress. Each gate requires a different sacrifice to activate. Once each of the three gates has been satisfied, they all open and allow the adventurers to continue deeper into the temple.

From inside the southern chamber, the three gates appear to be blank doors of iron with no keyholes or handles. There is no way to open the gates from the southern chamber. To deal with the gates, the adventurers must approach them from the western (Ignorance) and northern (Treachery and Terror) sides. Remember, the adventurers cannot open the door leading to the south until all three gates are open.

This is a really odd setup. 3 doors, all right next to each other, that you have to open from the north, and all 3 have to be open before you can go through the bottom door? Also, none of this is told to the players. It isn't even hinted at, and the various guardians aren't any help either.

The Gate of Ignorance:
This gate demands that the adventurers wallow in ignorance, turning against knowledge. When a character touches the door, a voice booms out, “Let those who embrace the darkness of ignorance walk forward, heedless of all knowledge. The blind and deaf fear no danger, for the Keeper of the Way shall guide their steps.”

This gate offers a simple riddle. A character who closes his eyes and covers his ears, or who otherwise renders himself blinded and deafened, can simply walk through the gate. However, as he approaches the gates, anyone watching nearby sees the snakes in the doorframe animate as if they are about to attack the approaching character. In truth, this is an illusion designed to test the faith of those who approach. Characters who ignore the snakes pass through the door without harm.

I liked this gate. They'd just killed a medusa and a blind ogre and lost their Monk, so they were hurting, but ready to move on. This door was quick, relatively easy, the players felt mildly accomplished figuring it out, and then they were ready to move on... except they see these elaborate doors...

And this isn't actually the right view. Frustratingly, they can't open any of the doors from this side, except the one they've already opened. So time to back track. Find a secret door and move onto-

The Gate of Treachery:
This strange portal teaches the initiates of the Far Realm that their personal interests are the best interests to serve. By turning creatures against each other, the denizens of the Far Realm prevent wisdom from turning cultists away from their mad schemes. As a character approaches this gate, it swings open. If he passes through, the robed figures carved into the archway whisper into his mind, “Your glory at the cost of another’s misery.” As the voice speaks, the character realizes that a party member has been cursed to suffer ill fortune. Pass the player a note informing him of this, keeping the information secret from the other players.

If the character warns his ally, the curse takes hold on both of them. The next time anyone under the effect of this curse rolls a natural 1 on an attack roll, he takes 3 points of damage per level as spectral copies of the hooded figures on the door appear next to him and stab at him. If the character does not warn his ally, the curse never takes hold. This stricture applies for only 1 minute after a character passes through the gate.

The Far Realm?? Oh, yeah, that background text earlier in the adventure that the players will never get to know about, but provides the "logical" underpinnings of this section. Right! My players shared the info from the note. Not a huge shock given that it was the knight who went through the door first.

The Gate of Terror:
This gate is perhaps the simplest to pass. As a character approaches it, the figures carved into the archway seem to come to life, while the gate itself transforms into the gaping maw of a devil. The character has two choices. He can turn away from the door, or walk through it. A character who chooses to move forward passes through the gate. However, his allies see him leaping into the devil’s mouth. When he enters it, the mouth appears to snap shut and grind him to a bloody pulp. As with the Gate of Treachery, use notes or pull players aside so that the rest of the group does not gain an unfair insight into what has happened.

There was a lot of experimenting with this door, sticking things in the mouth, trying to talk to it, etc before they decided to leap into the maw of a giant devil's face. If I'd have been playing with an old school group, I'd have mentioned that it was a green, but my players wouldn't have gotten it.

I think I was probably more frustrated by this obstacle than they were, but I also don't think they really enjoyed it, at least not past the first door.

1 comment:

  1. I found this a little jarring as written. Mixing old school and new school doesn't always work well. My group hated this one. I don't think a group who had only played new school games would do this well. Without some experience or advice, this could end up being something that ends up frustrating the players for hours.

    If I were to write this, I'd list some Arcana or religion DC's to find out a little background. Nothing to simply defeat this, but some clues to point them in the right direction.

    Two of the gates require secret information. This was more common in old school. In new school games I usually don't bother with notes or taking a player aside. My players are pretty good at not reacting to knowledge that their characters don't have. Changing this is odd and implies something new. In both cases, finding out the information as a player takes away all of the challenge.

    Finally, something that's bad in new school and in old school - You have three challenges that pretty much add up to "just walk right through". That's dull, and many groups simply walk through the third door (whichever one that is). They've figured out the pattern. I know my group did that.