“A chest!” Sophifia’s eyes grew wide and saucer round at the sight before her, the box sat upon a dais at the center of a hewn stone chamber. The half-ling rogue took only a single step forward before she felt Garret’s hand firmly grip her shoulder. Sophifia looked back to see a stern expression on the face of the crouching ranger as he slowly shook his head side to side. The sound of heavy steps drew both of their attention as the rest of the party banked the corner of the dungeon corridor.
Cyrus the paladin, his armor seemed to gleam even in the darkness of the subterranean labyrinth. He raised an eyebrow curious as to what disaster the ranger may have prevented, or more likely, just delayed. Following him, was the dour faced robed form of the wizard Rugaro who seemed too deep in thought to notice that his allies had stopped. Lastly the stout grime caked fighter Agar; the dwarf smiled, though it was hard to tell beneath his beard. Hopefully the sudden stop meant that something smash worthy lay ahead.
Sophifia looked past Garret to the others and said with poorly contained excitement “I found a chest!” The suspicious expressions on her allies faces prompted a reflexive eye roll from the half-ling. “Come on, it could be treasure, riches, its why we’re here isn’t it?” Garret stood up, taking a step back toward the others “Or it could be a trap.” He said “If we’re going to look, we must use caution.” Sophifia nodded, but the words were drowned out by the sound of coins jingling in her mind.
When she regained her focus a moment later Sophifia said “I’ll be sure to check for trip wires, magical wards and mystical guardians before I open the lid.” This did little to alleviate her companions fears, but the rogue was right, at least in part. The party had dared to descend into the depths of the dungeon to discover the source of a dark curse that had befallen the village of Shady Oak; but also for the riches rumored to be lost within.
The group debated and put forward suggestions until finally a consensus was reached. Sophifia would enter the room to check the chest for traps in the company of the fighter Agar, should something go awry. Once ready, the two adventurers moved cautiously toward the chest, the rogue in lead. Sophifia’s steps were light, making sure that there were no pressure plates along the way. Agar looked cautiously about. The possibility of cultist hidden by spells of invisibility or extradimensional horrors ready to appear out of thin air kept the dwarf’s perceptions sharp as the axe he gripped so tightly.
Sophifia reached the chest without incident and began checking it over. She looked for wires and wards, poison needles and scythe blades. After about twenty minutes of careful examination she took out her thieves’ tools and tried the padlock. The mechanism gave quickly and at long last she stood up and lifted the lid. Leaning over with her lantern, she saw a disappointing dust caked hollow.
The rogue let out a heavy sigh. “Nothing, its empty, what a waste of…” Just then, the light from the lantern caught a faint gleam within the filth collected at the bottom of the chest. It was a metallic loop. Sophifia’s eyes brightened. “Wait!” She exclaimed leaning in “It’s a ring!” The cries of protest reached her pointed ears a bit too late. As the half-ling lifted the ring from the dirt, the sound of grinding gears echoed loudly and an iron door slammed down sealing the entry way, barring Agar and Sophifia from their allies. Dust began to rain from above as the ceiling slowing started to descend. Agar ran to the iron barrier and began hacking wildly at it roaring in rage. Sophifia scrambled about in search of a means to reverse the mechanism, but to no avail.
The sound of frantic banging came from the other side as Garret, Cyrus and Rugaro tried to break through on their end. The ceiling grew ever closer as Agar bent forward, hands on knees exhausted and gasping from his efforts. Things were beginning to look very grim. Then, the iron door raised up. At first a few inches, then a foot, then another. “Hurry crawl under!” Agar and Sophifia heard Rugaro yell. The rogue made a dash for the archway and made it under with ease. Agar however was a different matter. “Lift it higher I can’t fit!” protested the dwarf. “It won’t raise higher, the gears are locked!” returned Garret straining as he and Cyrus used all the strength they could muster to keep the door where it was.
The ceiling sunk low, low enough that the dwarf had to crouch down. That’s when the wizard had an idea. “Take off your armor!” Rugaro shouted rifling through the pack he carried. “Why should I do that?” Agar yelled back. He was answered by a flask of lantern oil sliding into the room. The fighter arched an inquisitive bushy eyebrow, but he soon reasoned what the flask was for. The ceiling bumped him on the head. Grumbling he began cutting away the straps of his armor with a dagger he kept in his boot. Agar uncorked the flask and frantically coated himself in oil before crawling beneath the iron door. Try as he might though, the dwarf still struggled to fit.
Rugaro and Sophifia seeing this each grabbed on to their wedged friend. The two pulled with all their might as Agar kicked and squeezed with all his power. At last with a great heave the fighter was pulled free just as the ceiling lowered to the chambers floor with a grinding thud. Garret and Cyrus let go of the iron barrier which fell with the force of a guillotine. The ranger and the paladin both staggered back against the dungeons wall.
Everyone fought to catch their breath for a few moments, and then they just sat in silence. No one said a word. Rugaro had an extra robe in his pack which he lent to his greasy dwarf ally. Agar took it and put it on with a sullen nod. The adventurers climbed the stone stairway out of the ruins. The ride back to Shady Oak was a somber one. Failure left a bitter taste. Tomorrow though would be another day, and when next they entered the dark depths in search of wealth renown and power; they will be armed with knowledge that they won in defeat.
Though humbling, a failure can teach us things that a success cannot, assuming we take the time to explore the events. Risk assessment is an integral skill whether making decisions in regards to personal safety or when looking to make safe investments. The above story was adapted from events in a medieval fantasy game designed to teach Risk Assessment, chronicling the events of fictitious characters in an unlikely and over the top situation. What lesson could possibly be drawn from such events that would have any relevance to the life of you or I? Tabletop role playing games share a common element with fairytales and myths; they can teach through allegory. Like the story of Little Red Riding Hood teaches caution when encountering strangers, the above story when examined can teach risk assessment through metaphorical context. “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Is an old adage that comes to mind when I imagine the rogue reaching for the ring at the bottom of an unguarded and apparently un-trapped treasure chest. Tabletop role playing games have a significant advantage over the traditional fairytale or myth as a teaching tool; the listeners are also the ones writing it. Through the shared storytelling process inherent in tabletop role play, Participants actions decide the outcome of a tale’s events, for better or worse. Whether success or failure, it is the players who decide how the story goes. By drawing parallels between the fantastic events of the shared story and the everyday truths of life, lessons can be harvested and carried into the day to day.