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Old 04-30-2019, 09:48 AM   #1
khorboth
 
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Default Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

All,

This is something that has been bugging me for a while, and I'd like to know how others approach it. Puzzles and riddles are a big part of traditional roleplaying games. But... Do you make the players solve them? If the wizard has an IQ 20 or Int 22 or skill 153 in riddle-solving, does it make sense to make the players come up with it? On one hand, the character could probably figure it out, but on the other, how much fun is just rolling dice at every juncture?

In tabletop roleplaying, we don't make physical skills dependent upon player skills. On the other hand, tactics is usually highly dependent upon player skill. In the middle are things like social skills where the roleplaying of interaction frequently gives a bonus or penalty to a reaction roll. I'm speaking in generalities, of course, because the problem exists in any system and different systems tend to have only slightly different approaches.

This brings us back to puzzles and riddles. So... how do you handle it? In my group, one thing we frequently do is have the players whose characters are stupider than the player help those whose characters are smarter than the player. So, if I'm playing a dim fighter, I get to help the person playing the superhumanly smart mage figure out the puzzle. But... at the end, there's usually still an option to just roll.

What about figuring out plot elements? Do the players have to figure it out? What if some character has a high skill in politics or subterfuge? Roll to win the game is pretty unsatisfying. How have you struck a good balance?
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Old 04-30-2019, 10:27 AM   #2
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

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Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
What about figuring out plot elements? Do the players have to figure it out? What if some character has a high skill in politics or subterfuge? Roll to win the game is pretty unsatisfying. How have you struck a good balance?
What I tend to do is have the PCs roll against appropriate skills and tell them a lot more about the situation if the succeed (and even more by margin of success).

The character with no Body Language, Carousing, Psychology (Applied) or Savoir-Faire (High Society) may only notice that the Countess seems upset, but the PC with high social skills can notice that she seems curt with her sister and noticably colder with the PC when he pays attention to her sister, suggesting that she might be jealous over what are, in fairness, blatant flirtations on behalf of the sister.

The player might be able to roleplay his character reassuring the Countess that his ardour for her is undimmed while avoiding giving offence to the flirtatious younger sister, but without high levels in the right Influence skills, it's highly unlikely that he can avoid offending either of the two sisters. It's not only a matter of what is said, but how.

Successful use of almost any Influence skill, up to and including Sex Appeal, might placate the Countess, but anything other than the skillful divertion away of the flirtatious younger sister using Savoir-Faire will risk the Countess placing an improper construction on a tete-a-tete with her sister. Diplomacy might be safest to avoid giving the ardent little sister offence, letting her down gently, but unlike Savoir-Faire, doesn't really lend itself to a quick, proper and impersonal social 'Parry' that a watching jealous sister cannot misinterpret.

And so on and so forth. That is, the player roleplays, but how much data (and suggestions) he's getting on the social interplay around him depends on the PCs social skills, and when the player wants to avoid a looming disaster (or swoop in for a social coup), the social skills (and Reaction modifiers) of the PC determine how NPCs react to what the PC does and says.
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Old 04-30-2019, 11:45 AM   #3
ericthered
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

I ran a game that was about 60% social interaction for a year or so, with the focus on diplomacy. We used a hybrid system that seemed to work, especially as play continued:
  • You've got to go through the motions of saying it. Its alright if you stumble, have to think a bit, or if you need other players to help you along, but you've got to say at least part of it in character.
  • You need to illustrate how the core idea works. If you're using the diplomacy skill, what beneficial aspects are you playing up? If you're lying about something, what specific lie are you telling. The player's delivery doesn't need to be good, but the core concept needs to hold water. Other players are free and even encouraged to suggest ideas, but the player themselves gets the final say
  • Then you roll, with some modifiers for how solid of an idea the action is. (but not the player presentation of it)

I was amazed at the skill my players acquired in coming up with ideas and in presenting them. We didn't penalize those first fumbling failures, but we made people try, and that resulted in awesome scenes and a bit of personal growth.
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:02 PM   #4
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
I ran a game that was about 60% social interaction for a year or so, with the focus on diplomacy. We used a hybrid system that seemed to work, especially as play continued:
  • You've got to go through the motions of saying it. Its alright if you stumble, have to think a bit, or if you need other players to help you along, but you've got to say at least part of it in character.
  • You need to illustrate how the core idea works. If you're using the diplomacy skill, what beneficial aspects are you playing up? If you're lying about something, what specific lie are you telling. The player's delivery doesn't need to be good, but the core concept needs to hold water. Other players are free and even encouraged to suggest ideas, but the player themselves gets the final say
  • Then you roll, with some modifiers for how solid of an idea the action is. (but not the player presentation of it)
That really seems like a good treatment, and very much like what I recommend in Social Engineering, though more detailed. If you don't ever let players roll, then you're saying that the socially awkward player can't assume the role of a bard, courtesan, or diplomat, which I think goes against the basic appeal of FRP; but if you reduce everything to a roll, you miss a lot of entertainment. Bonuses for trying to come up with a good line of approach (and maybe penalties for picking really unsuitable ones!) seem to combine the advantages of the two methods.
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:39 PM   #5
Fred Brackin
 
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

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Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
All,

Puzzles and riddles are a big part of traditional roleplaying games. But... Do you make the players solve them?
As a player, every riddle/puzzle item we've run across has been a gigantic clusterfrag solved by nothing but blaind stupid persistant slogging so as a GM I never use riddle/puzzles.

Again as a player I got the idea that GMs wanted the players to solve the ruiddle rather than the little imaginary people on the table. They were always very meta in their presentations.
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Old 04-30-2019, 01:05 PM   #6
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

Puzzles never made sense in RPGs and it's an embarrassment to me as a gamer that we still deal with that fetishism. Realistically nobody would hide a treasure behind an obvious puzzle when they could hide their spare key in a very-well disused secret compartment. Imagine amassing a hoard of gold and deciding that it is only for you.. and anyone who can sort out that I only tell the truth and he only tells lies thing because that's a real beard-twister. Realistically if the puzzle gets on your nerves it's there because it got on the nerves of whoever built the dungeon and there-for you don't want the mean-spirited mess than happens when you solve it.

If I'm going to put a puzzle in a game it's based on something that has a reason to be there, like all the rooms with statues wearing masks seem to have hidden doors behind them because that's how the dark order signals it's members that a room has a hidden passage to use. And if you had Hidden Lore-dark order, you could roll to know that. You could also ask me if you can use your architecture or masonry skill roll to find construction patterns similar to the room where you found the secret door, or your interrogation skill and a vial of acid. Or you could just take the time to bash the walls with a hammer for a while.

If I throw something on the table for the players it will never be for them to mentally manipulate on their own, always as an avenue for their characters to investigate with their mental abilities.
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Old 04-30-2019, 03:19 PM   #7
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

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Realistically nobody would hide a treasure behind an obvious puzzle when they could hide their spare key in a very-well disused secret compartment.
A (spare) key hidden in a secret compartment can technically also be considered a puzzle, if there are clues that would lead observant players to deduce the existence of the (spare) key and/or compartment. And if the key is eg. a cube with different engravings on each side with only one engraving unlocking the treasure (and the players can figure that out by studying the lock) it's a more complex puzzle that isn't inapropriate at all.
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Old 04-30-2019, 03:25 PM   #8
William
 
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

The way that "puzzles" make sense to me is if they're combined with traps. The scraps of information you've painstakingly collected, or the mnemonic in the diary, were meant to help legitimate users through the area. The TL1 treasure-keepers don't have biometrics, but they can make it hard for anyone to come take their stuff without (a) bashing through a bunch of walls or (b) risking getting their head cut off.

I think some of the appeal for puzzles is that RPGs would like to brand themselves as "brainy" and hence feel like they should have some challenges that are met by something other than cutting monsters' heads off. And some people do like them; I remember running around a collection of teleport circles using keywords to find various resources in a timelocked castle, which was pretty fun.

FWIW, I tried to run a riddling contest once and the players didn't really gel to offering their own either, citing exactly their lack of player knowledge in the area. (The villain won by forfeit once the players figured he'd rigged the rules.) Although it may have been at least a somewhat memorable scene, as shortly thereafter I saw a short story written by one of the players that involved a riddling.

As for divination and social interactions -- my general sense is that the points the character has duly spent tell us what they're capable of, and I basically take the player's good or bad result as "scaling" within that range. If you don't know Electrical Engineering your attempts at repairing the alien computer are unlikely to go well regardless of how well you describe the effort. Finally, the dice tell us what circumstances met the effort.

Sometimes those skills can also save a bad player choice: a GM Diplomacy roll will perhaps result in "Your negotiating experience suggests that bringing up the old duke might not be the best idea; would you like to reconsider that conversational sally?"
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Old 05-01-2019, 02:39 AM   #9
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

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Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
Puzzles and riddles are a big part of traditional roleplaying games.
The circles I've played in have only ever used them as indicators that the PCs are dealing with someone who's crazy. Yes, TSR dungeons had them quite often, but that didn't make them a good idea.
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Old 05-01-2019, 09:59 AM   #10
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

Quote:
Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
On one hand, the character could probably figure it out, but on the other, how much fun is just rolling dice at every juncture?

In tabletop roleplaying, we don't make physical skills dependent upon player skills. On the other hand, tactics is usually highly dependent upon player skill. In the middle are things like social skills where the roleplaying of interaction frequently gives a bonus or penalty to a reaction roll. I'm speaking in generalities, of course, because the problem exists in any system and different systems tend to have only slightly different approaches.

This brings us back to puzzles and riddles. So... how do you handle it? In my group, one thing we frequently do is have the players whose characters are stupider than the player help those whose characters are smarter than the player. So, if I'm playing a dim fighter, I get to help the person playing the superhumanly smart mage figure out the puzzle. But... at the end, there's usually still an option to just roll.

What about figuring out plot elements? Do the players have to figure it out? What if some character has a high skill in politics or subterfuge? Roll to win the game is pretty unsatisfying. How have you struck a good balance?
TLDR: My stance is that just like not all players are good at the technical side of physical skills, merely macromanage the applications thereof and still have fun (without needing to micromanage every sword swing), so it is also possible for players to macromanage application of scientific or social skills and still have fun. There's something of a double standard in many roleplayers' habits, probably originating from the fact that early RPGs didn't have much in the way of subsystems, and so left those things to player skill. Of course, preferences for fun vary, so it's important to figure out what level of the slider between the macro and the micro a player is enjoying playing.

Non-TLDR: Here's a more expanded answer to pretty much the same or only slightly different question.
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