Hidden in plain sight

Part One

So I missed a few updates due to a queuing issue. Oops. It’ll probably happen again. /:

Anyways, the party had a map of the ruins, but it wasn’t a complete map. It didn’t list the location of the monsters, though they did know where the amulet they were searching for was located. So I’m going to take a break from strict recounting of events, and talk about DMing techniques for a bit.

See for this bit of the campaign I gave the players an invisible choice. If they solved the puzzle they could make much easier progress, if they didn’t spot the clues they’d have to brute force it which would take longer and be considerably more difficult. In this case the “clue” was some weird formatting on the map. Specifically a dead end passage that cut out a good 2/3rds of the route to the amulet if it wasn’t a dead end.

Had this been a traditional dungeon crawl, where they were mapping as they went along this little oddity in the map would have gone unnoticed until they’d already traveled all the way around the long way, and the short cut wouldn’t have helped at all. Unless they’d made some passive perception checks or something. 

On the other hand, having a full map the perception check was on the players’ part, not the characters’. Fortunately the players DID notice the oddity and decided to investigate. This is where it breaks down of course. Is this too meta? Unfair? If the players hadn’t noticed, should I have given an insight check (passive or secret) to suggest it? 

This being D&D, if they hadn’t noticed, I’d have let them push on and solve the majority of the dungeon, instead of being able to traipse through and skip a good portion of it. I wouldn’t have been sad, because while they may have missed my clever little clue, they were still fighting all of the encounters I’d prepared.

However they DID notice, and even though that meant they skipped more than half of the dungeon, it didn’t really make me sad either because that meant my clue was obvious enough. It wasn’t too obvious though, because they spent a good bit of time discussing their plan of action before they even notices the ambiguity.

What do you think? Rewarding cleverness with short-cuts? How game breaking is it to leave puzzles for the players rather than the characters?

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