Puzzles are understandably controversial as tools in roleplaying games. Some people love puzzles, some people hate them. The more relevant dilemma is the extent to which puzzles are a staple of dungeon design and fantasy settings, while at the same time presenting a challenge for the players’ abilities rather than for their characters’ abilities. How do we reconcile the desire to implement meaningful puzzles with the desire to have in-game challenges be to the characters as much as to the players.
Last week I had a very successful experience running this puzzle for a group of teenagers new to tabletop roleplaying games. I wasn’t sure how they would receive puzzles, but it went over very well. Four factors contributed to this success:
- Timing Efforts: By starting a timer on player efforts to solve the puzzle, a time pressure with in-game consequences was introduced at the table. Given non-ideal lighting, sounds, and harder to manipulate puzzle pieces than those on the screen, I multiplied this time by 4.
- In-Character Puzzle Solving: At the start of the puzzle, the players rolled intelligence checks to get any insights their characters would have into the puzzle. They had the ongoing option to spend an hour in-game working at the puzzle to roll again for additional clues, which they used once for a break-through clue.
- Clues from Exploration: The first thing the players did was consult a journal they’d found (courtesy of Who Would Just Leave This Stuff) to get a picture of what the final solution would look like, which was vital to their success.
The players said they loved the puzzles, so I’ll be trying these things again, hopefully with equally enjoyable results. Let me know if these tips help at your table!