Friday, October 16, 2015

The Desmos of Aegilia

I present to  you "The Desmos of Aegelia" from the restricted collection at Miskatonic University. The artifact consists of two curiously writhing and fluted fish-like creatures made of silver and gold. A similar item is mentioned in the Cthäat Aquadingen, which describes the ritual joining of the two figures into an intertwined whole as part of a summoning ritual for the archaic fish-god Dagon.

It's first documented appearance in history is at the Greek seaport of Aegelia in the Second Century BCE, where it was reportedly used to bring forth a bounty of fish never before seen.  While the fishermen of Aegelia prospered those from Marathon, just across the Bay of Styra, found their nets empty, leading to increasing strife between the two cities.  The conflict came to a bloody head with the revelation that Aegelia's good fortune was the result of dark rites involving the sacrifice of children.

Of course that's all glurge, but it's the kind of set-up that can make something like this really shine as part of a tabletop or live action game.   The "Desmos of Aegelia" is actually a cast metal puzzle from Hanayama called "Trout". They have an impressive line of small, beautifully designed mechanical puzzles that are ideal for re-purposing into artifacts and magic items.

Puzzles like this are a hugely overlooked game resource.  What makes them particularly neat is their natural immersiveness.  Fantasy is filled with characters reuniting the pieces of ancient artifacts for both good and ill, to the point that it's become a handy series of tropes (Dismantled MacGuffin, Set Bonus, Two Halves Make a Plot).  At the most basic level, each piece of the puzzle can serve as a plot token advancing the story.  Then the players have to physically reassemble the completed item.  While that can be a bit meta, relying on player skill instead of character skill, I've never run across a gamer that wouldn't find the process engaging.

One thing to be wary of is difficulty.  "Trout" is a Level 1 puzzle that's relatively easy for even a beginner to figure out.  The Hanayama scale goes up to 6.  At that point you're dealing with fiendishly complex puzzles that can stump even the most gifted.  To alleviate some of the potential frustration you may want to convert the puzzle's solution into an in-game document or hint.

Here are a few specific puzzles for prop use.  They're all around $10 in price, which is a bargain for anything precision cast in metal.

"Flag" is another easy puzzle that has the advantage of looking like a key or part of a larger mechanism.  You could create a matching "keyhole" by impressing the flanged end into polymer clay or epoxy putty.

"Equa" is a tough Level 5. On the bright side, its spherical, tri-lateral symmetry really does look like an alien artifact.

"H and H" is a beautifully polished two-piece puzzle of moderate difficulty.  Perfect for the "Two Halves Make a Plot" trope mentioned above.


Anonymous said...

Readers, please heed Propnomicon's advice about low level puzzles. Your players will thank you. The Hanayama level 6s can take a few days to get right.

rygD Unofloas said...

I have a small collection of puzzles. I don't play the types of games you recommend these puzzles for, however I can see exactly what you are getting at. Equa by Hanayama is one of my favorite to look at and mess with from them. I am sure some readers are familiar with the Isis series of puzzles that might work for some games. I have a Revomaze Silver (had it for years, still haven't opened it) and have received strange looks and inquiries while working on it in public. You would probably want to go with a much easier Revomaze if using it as part of a game, perhaps to hide a message. Puzzle boxes seem like an obvious choice for a variety of uses to me. I feel that there were a series of puzzles I was looking at a few years ago that might fit your suggested use of puzzles. I don't remember what they were called or who made them, however I will make sure to mention them if I come across them again.

gndn said...

I like that fish puzzle. Really suggests some Innsmouth knick-knack to me.

CoastConFan said...

That’s a good example of creating the fantastic with mundane items. With a simple coherent background story, a simple item, wrenched from context and put down in a fabulous setting can make a useful game prop. There are a few items that can stand alone without a supporting story so a careful interweaving of fact and fiction can take the prop to new levels of subtleness and horror. The links Propnomicon gave to types of plot devices are useful as well. Also remember HPL’s Notes of Writing Weird Fiction as a guide for your backstory.

Jason Arons said...

Thanks for the resource, Propnomicon