Sunday, February 18, 2018

Thoughts on Puzzles

What's the difference between puzzles and traps in an adventure? Both can create impasse in a dungeon or adventure. Both can be solved with creativity and multiple solutions, if the DM stays off the rails. In our opinion, a well crafted trap can be puzzle. This is a difficult thing to achieve and not all traps make it possible. Some traps just go off with minimal options to detect, avoid,or avert. But a well crafted puzzle and trap can provide the players the opportunity to do all of those things.

For example, the very first room in the Swords and Wizardry introduction adventure, Hall of Bones, provides the players an opportunity to find and disable a trap. This puzzle gives the players the opportunity to experiment. It meets my puzzle standards as well, it provides clues to its use, it can be solved without any character necessary skills, and it leaves the potential to hurt the players if they make a mistake with it. Well-crafted puzzles and traps make the players think and allow them to use their wits to survive.

Puzzles can be a long term process or single room affairs. In the Mord Mar megadungeon, there is a demon locked in time fighting an angel. Players often spend time experimenting with this puzzle but it is not one that can be solved immediately or even needs to be. 
This is an important consideration when making puzzles; are they going to prevent the players from moving on? What do I do if they are 'stuck'? This emphasizes our philosophy on puzzles which is: a good puzzle must be challenging and solveable. We all know the 13 year old self of a DM who creates a puzzle so difficult or obscure that the players cannot solve it! "Ha, I beat you!," is not a philosophy to be sought after when using puzzles. 

These smaller puzzles that make up an excellent game should be like the overall plot or arc of a campaign and allow players to challenge themselves and struggle  while still achieving a solution.

The origins of D&D focused on the problems and their solutions rather than the dice. A good puzzle will not rely on a game mechanic or mechanism to be successful. Even running 5th Edition or Pathfinder, I will grant bonuses to players that accurately describe what they're doing and characters that probe for more information rather than relying upon dice rolls and skills. 

Jongleur public domain
Bulette copyright Jeremy Mohler
Chest and Bottles copyright Rick Hershey

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