Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Puzzling Out Puzzles

Today we are going to talk about puzzles. I suck at making them. I always have. I've also rarely enjoyed solving them - in computer games, in roleplaying games, and in real life. Sorry. I just don't care for riddles and tricks and such. So what am I to do when they are such a staple of megadungeon design?

Let us consider what a puzzle is. At its heart, the classic puzzle is a problem. They may be (in my very intractable opinion) annoying tricks, but they don't strictly have to be. I argue that they can simply be a non-monster, non-trap problem to be overcome. And I don't mind problems.

What do I mean by problems? A puzzle might be a switch that does something somewhere, but the players don't know where or what. A puzzle might be a secret door that isn't opened from where they are, even if they know the door exists. A puzzle might be a warning scrawled on a wall about some danger elsewhere in the dungeon. A puzzle, in essence, is anything that presents the players with an unknown.

That obvious stone door with no handles that won't open? How to open it or bypass it is an unknown. And it gives the player something to do that isn't guessing which combination of button pushes opens the door. No. The players need to do something meaningful - research, grab the nearest pickax or sledgehammer, break out some magic, search for a button or lever, etc. In this way, the puzzle goes from a tedious chore the GM assigns because he can to a call to action.

So am I implementing puzzles in the megadungeon? You bet! Are the puzzles obnoxious guessing games or frustrating adventures in code breaking? Not a chance.

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