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Old 01-06-2020, 08:37 PM   #1
FireHorse's Avatar
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Dayton, Ohio
Default Puzzles, Riddles, and other Non-Combat Challenges

Love 'em? Hate 'em?

How much do you use them, if you're the GM? Or encounter them, when you're a Player? Care to share any favorites?

For example, I once had a GM who sent us on a quest to reassemble the broken shards of the 'Bloodstone of Somebody-or-Other', for which he used a 3D puzzle as a prop — it was a translucent red diamond-shaped (plastic) gem, which came apart into dozens of pieces, and each stage of the adventure would net us a few of them. But merely having them all together was not enough, we actually had to reassemble the puzzle.

For another example, I once put a magically-sealed stone door in a tomb, which could be opened easily by pressing certain carvings on its face in a particular order. And technically I even left instructions for the correct order right there on the door, but using references that wouldn't make any sense unless they had already gathered various clues earlier in the adventure (and in a totally different location).

And they had those clues, of course, because I made sure they were given the opportunities. But they had to realize that those had been clues to opening the door, and solve the puzzle on their own.

As a totally different sort of example, another GM once dropped us into a giant chessboard, where movement and combat were constrained (to some extent) by the rules of Chess.

He had not balanced the encounter properly for our levels (we were all very new to That Game at the time), so our entire party was slaughtered in spectacularly gruesome fashion — as I recall, my ranger was impaled on a Knight's lance — but I still think the chess board thing was a cool idea…
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Old 01-06-2020, 09:16 PM   #2
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Join Date: Oct 2015
Location: New England
Default Re: Puzzles, Riddles, and other Non-Combat Challenges

Puzzles and such can be really fun and can make an adventure especially memorable. And they can totally suck the life out of a session. So, it really depends on the group of players. One problem can be that some puzzles ought to able to be solved by a given character, but the player of that character can't figure it out. GMs need to have ample clues that can be found by multiple paths so that a failed roll or two doesn't arrest progress. This is sort of the Gumshoe system model. Physical puzzles like a Rubik's cube are probably best avoided unless you know your players both really like this sort of challenge and are guaranteed to solve it.
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Old 01-07-2020, 03:52 AM   #3
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Pacheco, California
Default Re: Puzzles, Riddles, and other Non-Combat Challenges

My current plan for 2021 is to combine Clue with TFT. It will be an online adventure to interact with NPCs to determine which is the perp that you then engage in combat to prevent their escape. So you need to balance social and investigation talents against combat ability.
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Old 01-08-2020, 09:34 AM   #4
Join Date: May 2019
Default Re: Puzzles, Riddles, and other Non-Combat Challenges

Have you seen the EXIT games? I bet we could rip off a load of ideas from them. They're really inventive and often use props - like folding a weird map in a certain way reveals another map. They're great and I imagine they would be a brilliant addition to a game.
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Old 01-09-2020, 03:36 AM   #5
Chris Rice
Join Date: Dec 2017
Location: London Uk, but originally from Scotland
Default Re: Puzzles, Riddles, and other Non-Combat Challenges

I do have a fondness for these sort of challenges, but I learned that they should never be "make or break" events. Just because I as the GM think something is simple doesn't mean the players will find it so; puzzles are always easy when you know the answer. Always have a fallback route, another clue, or just impose some sort of penalty rather than have a complete halt to progress.
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Old 01-09-2020, 05:18 PM   #6
Join Date: May 2015
Default Re: Puzzles, Riddles, and other Non-Combat Challenges

In general I prefer games about situations to puzzles.

I very much like non-combat situations which are modeled realistically, so the players can gather information and react to the situation and that logically determines what happens. Like mapped overland travel, encounters where the situation and terrain are taken into account so you could hide, evade, shadow, pursue, track, pick places to fight, etc. Or an adventuring location where the positions of the NPCs there are tracked and respond naturally to the PCs' presence. Or dynamic situations where there are various groups and NPCs in the world that go about doing things, rather than some story line the GM is anticipating will happen. Etc. And rumors and partial information and situations that can be learned about or not, which may or may not interact with the players in various ways, are very interesting to me. What goods and skills and spell training are available in which location for what prices, what the local laws and powerful people are like, what wars are going on, what the local culture is like, etc etc. PC reputations, allies and enemies developing naturally as the campaign progresses. I like that stuff a lot.

As for "puzzles", in general I don't like artificial "and now there's a puzzle you have to solve" things. I do like some puzzles when they are clever, interesting, make sense and are a natural part of the game world, and above all, when the successful solving of them is optional, and failure results in nothing happening, or logical consequences. For instance, I've put in traps that are sometimes puzzle-ish, but they do what they do based on who notices them, figures out how to disarms them, or sets them off. That might amount to a puzzle sometimes, but it's also just a logical situation. The PCs may also fairly often find artifacts, inscriptions, and other incomplete information that they may either figure out what it's about and learn things about the world, or possibly potential adventure situations or useful information, or that might lead them to get infer ideas that are wrong, or not.

I think the worst puzzle situations I've seen or heard about tend to be when a GM thinks of some puzzle or clue and expects the PCs to solve it, and they don't, and the GM doesn't know what to do about that, or does something messed up about it, or lets them waste hours of time failing to solve it and then has it not matter and either tells them the solution, or lets them get the reward condition for solving it anyway. I've seen countless posts online from GMs who did some version of that over the years.
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Old 01-09-2020, 06:20 PM   #7
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Join Date: Oct 2015
Location: New England
Default Re: Puzzles, Riddles, and other Non-Combat Challenges

Right. If your character has Remove Traps or Locksmith, having them remove the trap or unlock the lock by the player having to solve a puzzle is not very fair and potentially very un-fun. That is, unless your game group likes that sort of thing. In which case, the player with a character with relevant talents should get hints/extra time/whatever that others don't get.
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