I’m glad things worked out so well for Street Samurai in today’s comic. Magitech terminals are famously tricky beasts, and if your choices are take-a-wild-guess or death, a shot in the dark is probably the right call. However, in contravention of the Handbook’s advice, I posit that blindly trusting your luck isn’t always the best idea. In order to impress upon you the importance this lesson, I would like to relate to you another tale from the local megadungeon.

So no shit, there they were. It was down in the depths of Level 7, and the team had just waded through half an Abyss’s worth of demonic horde. Having nearly TPK’d in a “social encounter” with a glabrezu, our party of intrepid adventurers was ever so slightly jumpy. The stepped into the latest room with swords drawn and spells at the ready, but they needn’t have worried. For once there weren’t any half-fiendish ogres or babau demons waiting to stab them with hayforks. Instead they were greeted by a nice safe puzzle room.

There were some fun objet d’art lying around, but the item that really drew their attention was a copper panel on one wall. There were 10 buttons on the panel, each bearing a numeral in Draconic. After a bit of investigation, they soon found that an aura of transmutation magic hung about the device. After a bit more investigation, they discovered that A) The panel had more than one function, and B) They would have to push three buttons in order for any of the panel’s functions to work.

As many of you good little GMs out there might have guessed, various codes were hidden about the level. By finding these and entering them into the panel, players could deactivate traps (7-7-1), lower forcefields (6-4-7), or otherwise mess with the dungeon’s architecture in advantageous ways.

And as many of you bad little players might have guessed, it was totally possible to brute force the thing. I mean, a three-digit code isn’t exactly rocket science. Even if you assume it takes one full round to enter a code, that’s still only 100 minutes of guess-and-check.

“We begin spamming numbers!” my players declared.

“Alright. Do you start from 9-9-9 and count down, or are you going up from 0-0-0?”

There was a brief conference on the matter. “We’ll start low and count up.”

I began to describe the tedium of the process. I made sure to roll for the requisite random encounters as time passed. I gave them every chance to choose some other course of action.

“You try 4-2-3, but it yields no result,” I said. “Again at 4-2-4, no result. But when you press the final digit of the next sequence… Ima need some Reflex saving throws.”

You see, dungeon author Monte Cook knows his stuff. He understand player psychology. And realizing that players would try a brute force approach, he inserted this little number into the adventure:

4-2-5: Blasts sonic energy (12d6, DC 22 Reflex save for half) in every chamber on this level. (Code found nowhere. Only a divination spell or perhaps long research in ancient tomes could produce this.) This functions only one time.

It was an honest-to-god PA system feedback trap built into the combination lock puzzle, and my players had walked straight into it. Saves were rolled, ears started bleeding, and a few of them came dangerously close to perma-death. Happily, no one quite managed to die. After a few dabs from the group’s wand of cure light wounds, everyone was more or less back in fighting trim.

“Alright,” I said. “What would you guys like to try next?”

They looked at one another. “4-2-6,” they said in unison. Because players are players, and they are predictable creatures.

Question of the day then! Have you ever managed to “brute force” a problem in a game? Was it a matter of bashing through a door rather than unlocking it? Maybe you killed a guardian rather than answering his question. Or perhaps you made like Street Samurai and applied the old guess-and-check until that vault door opened. Whatever your Gordian knot-cutting technique, tell us all about it down in the comments!


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