Coliseum Conundrum

I’m working on an adventure that has a coliseum with different events as a possibility. The fight events I have little trouble with, but the others feel a little flat.

For example, there is one that is a sort of skywatching endurance contest (the sky in this area causes vertigo, it’s a setting thing). Problem is it just comes down to a die roll/save. There’s no real strategy or choice to spice it up. I’m a bit baffled how there would be.

I’m currently playtesting it and maybe they will come up with something, but there’s not a lot there for it. Is it ok as just a roll or am I right to want more?

A few ideas come to mind to inject some player choice into this event. First, make the stakes high: winning the contest should accrue a major benefit and losing a major setback. Then give them the chance to avoid the contest altogether, at the expense of a minor setback (perhaps disadvantage on the following event). Also, allow for them to expend resources to improve their chances of winning the contest (magical means, items, stat points, etc).

These are broad strokes approaches I like to think about when I’m working on a similar problem (an assumed die roll & pass-fail outcomes only). They might not work exactly with your setting or system, but hopefully they’ll help get the creative juices flowing!


Some types of challenge (endurance or otherwise character trait based) don’t work well in games except as contemporary traditional style “skill challenges” roll offs dependent on PC stats and skills. I find these boring as hell, but I suppose many people love them. However, puzzles that require player ingenuity do work well. How does one make a simple character endurance challenge into a puzzle?

I’d even go further than wrongtube. I’d start with letting the players know that they will lose the sky watching contest if they play fair, they can’t tough their way through. The opponent does this for fun.

Give the players time to find a solution. Spells, blindfolds, fake eyes over the real, sunglasses? I’m sure they can figure it out. What’s needed for this is a clear set of constraints. How does the sky cause vertigo: is it nauseating patterns or rays that strike the eye with unnatural magic colors – in other worlds will special anti-nausea herbs help? Will lens that block the magic color? This shouldn’t be complex or scientific - no one has time for that, but constraints need to be knowable and other clues the players can use to unravel the puzzle. The contest should also have clear and cheatable rules the players can figure ways around.

Anyway that’s how I write open ended puzzles - clear constraints that make figuring out solutions possible.


Good suggestions!

Cheating is a big part of these games, and I am putting in ways to cheat, though I am sure players will find more.
Another thing I am considering is that trash talk during the contest can inflict penalties or disadvantage to the saves of others. For example, describing some particularly nauseating pattern in detail.

As a side note, I worry that this could trigger IRL vertigo in sensitive players.

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So it turns out this was largely a moot point, as my playtesters skipped the coliseum entirely in favor of exploration. :sweat_smile:

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