Friday, March 15, 2013

Challenging RPG Puzzle for Players AND Characters

Here's a picture of the puzzle to pique your curiosity!  I've changed the central picture, but the example still works...

So, there's this board game called "Mansions of Madness."  I don't own it, but I know a little bit about it.  It sounds really cool and if I get the chance, I will probably try to play it sometime.

In the game, there are these puzzles that you must solve to move on.  Maybe from room to room or to get a weapon or to escape.  I don't know exactly, but I do know that the PLAYER must solve the puzzle and the INT of the character she is playing determines HOW MANY MOVES they get to solve it.

I didn't reverse-engineer the puzzles from the game.  I adopted a similar style, but the puzzle pieces and the design of each is mine alone.

So, I thought, what if we did that at the table?  Each round a PLAYER gets a number of moves based upon the stats of her character.  Here's a table that I might use to determine the number of moves --

  • ATTRIBUTE < 13 = 1 move
  • ATTRIBUTE 13, 14, 15 = 2 moves
  • ATTRIBUTE 16, 17 = 3 moves
  • ATTRIBUTE 18 = 4 moves
  • Specialized skill = +1 move
  • Character level = +1 move/5 levels
Right up front, I want to say that I have NOT used this in my game yet.  I have tested the puzzle on actual humans and it does what I want it to do.  YMMV.  :)

Each round the Player gets a number of moves (I'll define those below) based upon the stats of her character?  What stat?  Well, the puzzle is an abstraction.  Maybe its a complicated mechanical lock that requires nimble fingers to manipulate (DEX).  Maybe it's an arcane puzzle made of shifting runes and eldritch energies (INT).  Maybe its a series of tests of will and courage designed to challenge the faith of the believer (WIS).  You can decide based on the situation.  

What character class is important can vary as can the types of "specialized skills" that apply.

Some Basic Rules
  • To be solved, the symbols on the edges of the moveable square pieces must match the symbols that surround them in the frame.
  • Each piece has a number from 1 to 20.  This is to help GMs plan their puzzles.  It is of course totally fine to simply generate a random puzzle by drawing four pieces of the twenty.
  • This is NOT a team effort.  One Player and their Character must manipulate the puzzle each round.  If another player and a different character want to try they must take over and manipulate the puzzle during a different round.  No discussion.  (Of course if you want to break this rule, go ahead, but I don't recommend it.)
  • It is important to put something at risk.  Each round, what is the price of delay?  Does a new monster appear through a gate?  Does the party take damage?  Is a wandering monster rolled for?    Does the room close in a little bit more?
  • When the puzzle pieces are placed on the table, the arrows must point UP at the start.  The puzzle frame must be placed so that the lock is right side up.  
The Moves
  • Rotate piece 90° = 1 move.  
    • You can rotate the piece clockwise or counter-clockwise, but only 90° per move.  If the piece has a blue arrow, that piece may only be rotated clockwise.  
    • In the example puzzle above, you would need to rotate puzzle piece #4 three times to make it fit (3 moves).
  • Swap two pieces = 1 move.  
    • Choose two pieces and exchange their positions in the frame.  This DOES NOT change their orientation in any way.
    • In the example puzzle above, you would want to swap #1 and #5.  You'd have to rotate them both as well to make them fit.  2 rotates each.  (5 total moves).
  • Draw a new piece and trade it for an existing piece = 1 move.  
    • You may look at the new piece BEFORE you discard the existing piece.  Regardless of the orientation of the existing piece, you must place the new piece in the frame with the arrow pointing up.
    • If you've made the moves I've described above, #9 will never work.  Time to swap it out.
Puzzle Theory

There are 20 pieces in the puzzle.  Five groups of four.  Each group was designed to force a minimum and a maximum number of moves regardless of when its placed in the puzzle.  
  • Four pieces that require 0 to 1 moves to fit
  • Four pieces that require 1 to 2 moves to fit
  • Four pieces that require 2 to 3 moves to fit
  • Four pieces that require 3 to 4 moves to fit
  • Four pieces that will never fit
In Conclusion

Print this out on some cardstock.  Color is best, but I made the symbols very distinctive shapes so that it will work in black and white.  

I hope you can find a use for this puzzle in your game.  I welcome any suggestions you'd like to share and/or any modifications or suggestions you'd like to make.  Look forward to additional puzzles and other crazy ideas as this gets some use in my game.  I've already got some percolating around in my head.  :)

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