As part of the module I am working on for the Engines & Empires game, I have decided to add a puzzle to the dungeon I am designing. I figure a puzzle would add some intrigue to the adventure without throwing another combat into the mix.
Choosing the right puzzle for an RPG isn't too hard. It's really a matter what what not to do.
- You do not want to have it depend on a skill roll or an ability check.
One of the reasons you put a puzzle in an adventure is to challenge the players to come up with the answer on their own. If you put the answers in a single roll of the die, you run the risk of making the challenge too easy, or impossible to solve.
- You do not want the puzzle to depend on a player's real world knowledge.Not everyone at the table will have an advanced degree, or will have read the extensive history of the campaign setting, or even show up the week you present the puzzle to the players. Requiring the players to have some obscure knowledge is going to frustrate people. If only one person has the knowledge required to solve the puzzle, you may challenge that player, but not any of the others. And heaven forbid that the person who has the knowledge knows more than you do. Last thing you want to do is be forced to backtrack on your scenario because you got caught relying on something you're not as informed about as you thought you were.
- You do not want people doing nothing while others are solving the puzzle.This is the part of the game where everyone should have an opportunity to give their two coppers on the puzzle. This is not about character stats, classes or levels. This should be about the players; all of them. If one player insists on being the problem-solver, the GM should step in and require everyone to have a say.
- You do not want to solve the puzzle for the players.See this webcomic for a good example. But long story short, if you need an NPC to solve the puzzle, don't put in a puzzle.
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