The Cups Game (A Mind-Melting D&D Puzzle)

Usually when I write puzzles for my game it’s to entertain the players. But sometimes, on rare occasion, I throw a puzzle at the party that’s so dangerous, so devious, and so rewarding, that they can’t not resist it. They squirm and sweat and curse, trying to choose a course of action, when in reality there is no way to know what the correct path is. These hair-pulling puzzles are not to entertain the player. These enraging, crazy-making games of sadism are all for my enjoyment.

And here is just such a puzzle, so you can torture your players too.

1) The Cups

Set 9 cups or shot-glasses in a 3×3 arrangement. Try to mix and match cup size, volume, and style– the more exotic the better. I prefer a mix of thin wine flutes, skull-and-crossbones shot glasses, and square-bottom flutes.

Fill these cups with random liquids (all sanitary, please) with varying flavors and colors. I prefer a type of clear soda, green food coloring, and water, in various combinations. The goal is that no one combination of vessel/flavor/texture is the same.

2) The Table

When you set the tray down in front of the players make sure you have a pre-written map of what “magic effect” is in each cup, and keep it well-hidden. Here is how I have it arranged:

CupsWhenever they pick up a cup and drink it, read to them the magic effect. The more severe the effect, the better, especially if it’s game-breaking. Here is the table I used:

A) Cup of Strength: Character gains 2 points to distribute into any attribute permanently.

B) Cup of Weakness: Character removes 2 points from his/her attribute total.

C) Cup of The Master: Character gains +10 modifier to a random skill.

D) Cup of the Fool: Character has a -10 modifier to a random skill.

E) Cup of Death: Character dies.

F) Cup of the Undying: If character drops below 0 HP, their character heals to full. (one-time use, automatic.)

G) Cup of Mystery: A random magical effect is applied to the character for 24 hours. Character is only given vague hints as to the effect in play (DM’s discretion)

H) Cup of Madness: NPC’s throughout the world now treat the character as if he is mad/insane.

I) Cup of Lucidity: NPC’s throughout the world consider the character an expert in most disciplines, philosophies, and schools of thought.

Allow the character to drink as many of the potions as they want, but only one participant at a time. Once they’re finished they can never play the game again. If you’re feeling generous allow them to make Arcane or Lore checks to lower the possibility of them getting a negative effect. Oh, and change the magical order of effects between players. Just reverse the letters in the above table, or re-write the letters in at random.

3) The Intro

To introduce this game I strongly suggest showing an NPC playing it first. Tell the players that the person setting the table is non-human. I went with a formless, shapeless creature under black hood and veil, with guards all around. Whenever they tried to detect life or magic, they saw nothing under the creature’s hood.

An NPC then sits across from the hooded specter and pays a token amount of money– one copper, or something like that, to indicate an exchange has taken place. Then have the NPC begin to drink from the cups. Describe several of the good effects first. Talk about the NPC getting physically stronger, or having a radiant aura, or suddenly demonstrating incredible skill from one of the skill trees. You may want to even tell the party exactly what bonuses the test NPC was imbued with.

Then, when the players are excited about the game, kill the NPC. Have him drink from a vial that weakens him considerably, makes him visibly ill. Then he tries his luck again and simply keels over dead. Let the players know that for every positive vial there is a negative one. It’s exactly 50/50, except for the mystery vial.

4) The Struggle

The best part of this game is watching the struggle on the players’ faces as they decide if they have the stones to drink. Some of my players outright refused. About half decided to risk it. The effect of placing real glasses, flutes, and vials in front of them and watching them reach out, gingerly, for their potential character death, is nothing short of knee-slapping entertainment for everyone watching.

Featured image from Wiki Commons


One thought on “The Cups Game (A Mind-Melting D&D Puzzle)

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