Don’t let this article’s title fool you–this is not a sex thing.
It’s not. Don’t look at me like that. You’re making me deeply uncomfortable.
During their last adventure, the Gloriana crew arrived in town during a major festival. Due to DM contrivance and various plot devices, the party’s quest to acquire a particularly rare bit of information depended on their success in the various games and festivities of the fair. All in all, this was an excuse to lighten the mood after the last dramatic adventure and stick some mini games into the campaign.
Minigames and puzzles are tricky. Anyone who reads DM advice blogs knows that if you’re making a puzzle or challenge dependent on player performance and not character attributes, you have to build in a way for the story to continue even if they fail. For example, if I add a puzzlebox to a room that requires the PCs to actually figure out the combination themselves, the contents of the puzzle box should not be essential to moving forward. If failing to solve the puzzle brings the game to a grinding halt, it’s a poorly designed puzzle. Instead, I put hints, clues and bonuses in the box, so solving it gives the players a major edge or makes an upcoming deadly encounter easier to deal with. Solving the puzzle is incentivized, instead of punishing failure.
I really wanted to have some fun fair-based minigames. The main challenge–a brewing contest–I let the PC whose specialties were foraging and brewing handle with a series of skill checks, influenced by the outcome of various social encounters over the course of the week. For the rest of the minigames, I made sure that the stakes were low but the rewards were high. Here’s what I ended up running:
The Caber Toss
A traditional Scottish test of strength, the caber toss involves lobbing a huge wooden pole — the “caber — end-over-end and trying to land it as straight as possible. To simulate this, I scrummaged around for a wooden utensil with some heft to it. I ended up going with a pastry brush, but if I did it all over again I would strongly encourage the use of one of those oversized novelty pencils. A wet-erase battle mat also helps.
Each participant makes a Strength (athletics) check. For every 2 points over 10, the participant gets one attempt at the caber toss. The contestant takes the caber (comically oversize pencil only partially sharpened, wooden spoon, etc), balances it on one hand, then flips it so the end touching their hand is pointing away from them in a straight line. After each toss, mark the angle of the caber by tracing it with a differently colored wet erase marker.
After all participants (preferably players) make their tosses, pick the line that is closest to straight. That thrower is the winner and receives…I dunno, a couple of cows. For serfs, a couple of cows is a HUGE reward!
There are many variants of pig wrestling, most of which involve 1) a pig 2) grease 3) a barrel into which the pig must be placed. This can be a time based challenge, but due to the difficulties of simulating the pig-wrestling experience, I set this up as a simultaneous competitive challenge. In this challenge, I learned several things. First, do not use your SO’s favorite expensive soap for a game. You will die. Second, do not use over-melted butter for this challenge–it will get on someone’s clothes, and unless they signed a grease-on-clothes-waiver ahead of time, this makes you an asshole. Finally, do not do this if you, the DM, have been drinking. Learn from my failure.
Get a bar of soap, a jar or large mug, and some vegetable oil. This also goes better if you have some kind of a bucket or other way to contain the madness.
Every contestant holds out their OFF hand (for righties, this would be your left hand) and the DM applies a generous portion of vegetable oil. The bar of soap (or NON MELTED stick of butter to avoid soap vs grease problems) is rinsed to make it slick.
On the count of three, each contestant must attempt to grab the soap/butter and stick it in the mug/jar/what have you. Winner wins a pig.