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Exasperated Rants

The difficult puzzles

Rating: 3 votes, 4.67 average.
There comes a time in every campaign where a DM has to sit back in his chair as he plans the doom of his players, and he finds himself bored with the hack and slash combat encounters. It is time to throw a puzzle at the party. A lazy DM will simply find a riddle and ask the players to solve it. The problem with doing this, is a tabletop group will groan and turn to whoever is clever and make them solve it, and this takes it out of the game, especially if the smart guy happens to be playing a barbarian who has no business solving riddles. In a virtual game, the problem is different. You are never quite sure if your players looked up the answer on Google or not. In short, riddles are a problem.

A good puzzle has something for the characters to solve. Their actions can provide clues, and they can roll skill checks to see how much they know. Failure should have consequences, but success should be within their grasp.


A couple months back, I was in the mood for a puzzle encounter. My players had arrived at the Dwarven city I had named Badbreaker's Keep. When the party got there, they were surprised to learn of a strange magical darkness that was cutting off the entry hall and a couple rooms from the rest of the city. The Dwarves were concerned about this, and could find no way to get rid of the darkness. The party was asked to look into it.

A couple botched Arcana checks later, the group circled around to a storeroom and found more cloud, as well as a crack in the wall. Sunlight was streaming in through the crack, and the very edge of the beam of light matched the outer edges of the darkness.

The first thing the party does? The Artificier fires his hand crossbow into the darkness, presumably hoping to damage it in this way.

I figured the group needed another hint, and he did get a pretty good attack roll. The bolt struck a barrel of Dwarven Ale in the dark cloud, and it began leaking. Eventually, the puddle leaked out of the cloud, and into the beam of sunlight. 2 things happened at this point. First, the sunlight reflected off of the puddle of Ale, and a chunk of the cloud was destroyed where the light was reflected. Second, the Dwarf in the party threw a fit over wasted ale.

At this point, the party had discovered that natural sunlight would destroy the cloud. I had fully expected someone to remember that hand mirror which I had left on a large marble table, and for them to grab it and reflect the sunlight around to solve the puzzle.

I expect too much sometimes.

Here is a short list of some of the items the party had in their possession:
1 Suit of Scale Armor
1 Heavy Metal Shield
1 Dwarven Warhammer
1 Throwing Hammer
1 Saber
1 Drow Long Knife
2 Suits of Chainmail
1 Bald Dwarven head that is actually quite shiny.

Imagine now, a group of heroes, standing around a beam of sunlight, armed with metal weapons, half of them are clad in metal armor, all of this polished and presentable for the diplomatic mission they were sent on... And none of them can think of anything reflective. This went on for a while until finally the Artificier went back to that marble table. "Good", I thought, "He remembered the mirror". Boy, was I surprised when he said he wanted to dump the contents of the table on the floor, and take the table with him, and reflect the light off of that.

The fighter could have stepped into the beam of light and let the light reflect off of his shiny armor, shield, and sword. Anyone could have taken out a metal weapon, and reflected the light off of that. Anyone could have remembered that mirror, or the heavy shield they passed which I specifically described as being really shiny and reflective. Heck, they could have shoved the Dwarven Cleric into the beam of light and reflected it off of his bald head. I would have accepted that! It was not to be, however, and the session pretty much ended there when complaints about how the puzzle was impossible to solve turned into me making them all feel stupid by naming off items in everyones possession which were made of metal and capable of reflecting some light.


The next time you throw down a puzzle at your gaming group, try and remember that a puzzle is only good if your players are smart enough to solve it. If they can, they get to feel a bit clever, kudos goes around, and they walk off with a bit of XP from the deal. If they can't, I suggest Mind Flayers.

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Updated 05-21-2010 at 07:37 AM by Teksura

Categories
Stupids , My Game

Comments

  1. coboney's Avatar
    Your group is legendary Teksura, and I hope to see more.

    Interesting puzzle as well that I may steal at some point :P
  2. Ao's Avatar
    Heh, great story.
  3. sexyfunkymonkie's Avatar
    Haha, nice. Puzzles are the one area in which I seem to have no creativity whatsoever. I am terrible at solving them and worse at creating them. Which is a shame, because they are tons of fun. I might have to just find some ideas online, or just steal this one since it seems like a pretty cool idea.