I love tricks and traps, though probably not as much as my players over the years. Let me correct that - They love “tricks” - puzzles that can be solved as opposed to “traps” that might be dismantled, but are not challenges in the same fashion. So puzzles, tricks, brain teasers - that’s what they were always looking for. But those are tough to come up with as a GM. Challenging half a dozen players who knew me for a decade or more was incredibly difficult, especially when I was expected to do it pretty much every week.
I’ve written on things like this before, but today what I’m thinking is from a more practical point of view, maybe even a boring point of view. I avoid making massive dungeons; I just don’t think they make sense. Why would someone make a huge dungeon (or any other kind of underground complex) and then stock it with monsters (who don’t eat each other), tricks, traps and treasures? Plus, Legend Quest is less of a slogging game. The challenge of LQ is typically winning a fight, after which you can more typically heal up a bit, catch your breath, and prep for the next one. It’s not intended to be an extended running battle like some other games are. I guess it is more of a series of encounters, and when you are stuck in an extended battle situation (like a major battle or war) you very quickly see how lethal a game this can be what with its fatigue, bleeding damage and armor deterioration.
But these tricks - Why? Why build a “dungeon” and plant these challenges to get through it? To protect something or keep the uninitiated out, right? Well, I hate to say it, but wouldn’t that mean that the “tricks” are going to be more on the order of a history test than some challenging riddle? My point is this: If the Masons hid a massive treasure under Washington DC like they did in that movie (or was it Boston?), then the “riddles” should be things like: “James Thaddeus Jones was which High Exalted Leader?” and then there would be some way to choose a number from 1 to 20 or whatever. Or three symbols belonging to the Masons and one that they do not use in their secret ceremonies. Take the fake one out of the wall and the other three can unlock the door. Stuff like that - stuff that their members would know, but no one else would.
Let’s give some more examples: A rune or old language that reads “fireball” and the only way to bring down the magical barrier is to cast a fireball at the target. (Could be fun in all sorts of ways if the target is in a tiny room.) An alchemical formula is written on the altar; by placing the missing ingredient on the altar the magic item will rise out of the marble. The relief on the wall shows an army attacking in a certain formation; only by shifting the proper defensive formation to combat that one can you unlock the door. Or it can be the boring stuff, like putting the six dead kings’ tokens in order chronologically.
My point is this: If you want to be more true to common sense, then flowery poems and riddles don’t make sense. The builders would want to test the treasure hunters to make certain that only their kind of people made it through. Now that I think about it, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade did it right. They were testing the treasure seekers knowledge and forcing them to follow clues that they felt only a devout person would understand.
So am I saying that your dungeons need to be boring and make everyone wish they were in school taking a final exam? Maybe not. Maybe the traps are too tough for the player characters. Maybe they need to bring a non-combatant who knows all this stuff into the dungeon with them, someone who can decipher the clues and answer the test questions. Then the challenge becomes keeping the scholarly guy (or gal) alive when the arrows and spells are zinging all over the room. That will be a different kind of challenge, and maybe a fun one.