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Old 05-01-2019, 10:49 AM   #11
Black Leviathan
Join Date: Sep 2018
Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

Originally Posted by WingedKagouti View Post
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.
But that kind of "puzzle" meets my two very important non-puzzle criteria:

1) It's practical. The Dungeon keeper doesn't spend 20 minutes shifting massive floor tiles around or orienting statues to point at their own portraits He doesn't have to remember a riddle, he doesn't have to have someone else stand on a counterbalance, nobody has to sing. He just pushes open a piece of carpentry and grabs his emergency key.
2) It's a puzzle for the characters, not the players. I'm not handing out a sketch of the room so they can recognize a pattern. There's no clever riddle that gives clues to where the key is. Any character can find the key compartment with a great PER check, Any player could have a skill that would make spotting the key compartment easier. Characters could simply pick the lock or bash the door in.
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Old 05-01-2019, 10:59 AM   #12
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

Originally Posted by khorboth View Post
Puzzles and riddles are a big part of traditional roleplaying games. But... Do you make the players solve them?
I avoid puzzles of the "guess what I'm thinking" variety, where I've concocted a scenario that has a single arbitrary solution. Riddles and certain kinds of puzzles fall into this category.

When there are challenges to "figure out" -- where the "How are we going to approach this" isn't clear, the "how" part is an exercise for the players, though they can use their skills to ask questions and get clarity about the challenge that may inform how they approach it.

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?
Figuring out the plot is player driven, just as above.

FWIW, I try to avoid telling characters "roll against x skill" for information. I strongly encourage players to invoke their skills themselves. For example, if there is an ongoing conflict between nobles in a region and they players are being pursued and seeking refuge, I would never just say "okay, Malachi, roll against your Area Knowledge" as a gateway to giving information about where they might find secret shelter, but it would be entirely appropriate for Malachi's player to say "I think we'd like to seek shelter outside of town. Can I use naturalist and area knowledge to find a place that is hidden but with a good view of the surrounding area?"
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Old 05-01-2019, 11:10 AM   #13
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

On the puzzles and riddles front, I don't think I've done much with it. I'm aware I the GM enjoy that sort of thing much more than my players, and unless you enjoy it, its gratuitous.

I do occasionally dabble with prophesies, and when I run mystery stories I don't usually allow for a roll to solve the mystery. I see these as story elements, and I try to use them on players I know will enjoy them. I'm also not adverse to players making skill rolls in order to get interpretations, suggestions for leads, and so forth.

Things I try to remember:
  • It needs to be fun for the players. I have been given extra power as the GM and its important that I not abuse it. This is not my time to show off how clever I am.
  • The game shouldn't demand that the mystery or prophecy be solved by the players. The bad guy should fold like a house of cards if my players get it, and they shouldn't be stone-walled if they don't.
  • The prophecy or mystery should interact with the game. Possible answers should arise and be eliminated as they gather more information, and it should serve to focus their actions rather than to distract them.
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Old 05-01-2019, 01:14 PM   #14
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

Hear, hear. I have one player whose response to a puzzle is "Imma grab a taco, you can text me when this bs is over", and leave the table. And she's the alternate GM for when I'm too busy or brain-fried to run. Puzzles are simply not ok; if they can't roll for the answer, they WILL vote you out of the GM's chair. And since rolling for the answer is unsatisfying, you shouldn't include them at all. Rather, they're a bit of GM wankery - you've thought of something really clever and cool that you simply HAVE to make the PCs do. So narrate it. Don't try to make them do it. It's just part of your description of the scene; show them solving the puzzle. You get your cool element and don't make anyone hate you that didn't already. Puzzles are the GM having fun at the player's expense.

Plot elements are...a little harder. Yes, I want the players to figure out what the big bad is up to without being spoonfed it. All I can say is that this has seldom been a problem, I guess I'm blessed with players who are naturally suited to treacherous plotting. On the rare occasions when roll for motivation becomes a thing, I tend to assess a time penalty. The one pondering the political motivations of an enemy is going to take a 2-hour walk around the gardens at night, what do the rest of you do in the meantime? Or there's a clock ticking and it advances through a problem-solving montage. Players value their time, and don't "spend" it casually, in my experience. They hate "it takes a month? ok, fast forward a month" even more than the GM does.
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Old 05-02-2019, 12:23 PM   #15
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Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

Originally Posted by khorboth View Post

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?
Rolls can get clues. Good enough rolls can get solutions, but never in a single roll.

Then again most of my players have enjoyed this mode, or at least never complained where I can hear it. Many have made positive comments.
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Old 05-02-2019, 09:32 PM   #16
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Location: Germany
Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

RPGs are first and foremost a game.

And puzzles, whether it is the "solve this situation" kind or the use of an established type of puzzle or riddle, are one traditional part of the game, just as tactical combat or improvised acting.

Now, you can of course have people who just do not like one of those parts, that is perfectly fair. Some people don't like combat, some people don't care for playing out social interactions and some do not like puzzles.

If you play the kind of game the majority of your players dislike, yes that is stupid. That is why we all usually should communicate our preferences first!

I personally am in the camp of people liking riddles, puzzles and the rest. Granted, just like in any other situation, you should not let the players get stuck to the degree that it ends with an unfunny stalemate, but that is no different from other situations.
Players will likely get equally upset if you make a very confusing social scenario where they inevitably stumble into a trap that ends up throwing them completely out of the loop and results in them plodding along for entire sessions without resolving anything.
Similarly, no one likes a big, boring battle that drags on forever and is completely repetitive.

As for "realism"...
We are talking about a type of hobby where we accept that inexperienced farmboys morph into world saving heroes over the course of month or maybe a couple of years at best, where people build dungeons filled with monsters to hide valuable magical treasure and big political conflicts end up getting resolved through the intervention of a band of travelers.
I could list a lot more, but in the greater picture, I do not think that one room, door or chest or whatever else being safeguarded by a logic puzzle or riddle really sticks out any more than the rest.

Puzzles and riddles are a type of game in the end.
If you know your players to enjoy that type of game, I think it is absolutely legitimate to include it.
I still have very fond memories myself of rpg video games like Lufia Rise of the Sinistrals especially because of their puzzles, same with many Zelda games.
And in such a case, there is absolutely no reason to involve dice rolls for anything but players requesting a useful hint if they really get tuck.
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Old 05-04-2019, 09:10 AM   #17
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Denver, CO
Default Re: Puzzles, riddles, and the tabletop/larp divide

Thank you all for your input.

I really like the style that Icelander (and others) put forth. It goes along with the generally accepted mechanics where player input is balanced with character abilities.

That said, there is much to digest here for upcoming games.
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