Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Puzzles, riddles and tricks

The genre of fantasy, most notably epic fantasy, is riddled with puzzles and riddles, traps and tricks. The primary use of these is almost always as a foil for a character who relies to heavily upon his sword or his spells. Using this concept in larps has always been a bit troublesome because while a riddle may be fun for the people trying to solve it, the remainder of the audience is bored. Enter the massively multi player online game, in many of these games, riddles and tricks are built into the fight. Things must be accomplished in an order which has a discernible pattern before the fight can be won. This sort of choreographed but unscripted fight lends itself perfectly to a plot team with enough coordination to pull it off.

A simple example: The players are fighting the dread octopus of the deep. The octopus has 10 tentacles, each of which can fight separately, the tentacles are only vulnerable if the body is stunned. The body must be dealt 200 points of damage to be stunned then the tentacles can be attacked, the body cannot be destroyed until all tentacles are destroyed. Tentacles regenerate after 10 minutes. This is sort of like the classic hydra fight, except that the pattern is slightly different. In this case the entire fight needs to be completed in ten minutes or less or the tentacles regenerate. This requires a certain type of tactics and coordination from the players that it is often hard to engender with a normal larp fight. The players are forced to think, to act quickly and decisively and to make the most use of their skills. An interesting thing to note about this example, the fight IS the riddle!

Another way to accomplish this same end is to create a requirement that must be done at the same time as the fight without being disturbed by the fight. The classic NERO example is the combat ritual whilst a battle takes place. My favorite trick fight of this type that I have created is the one that uses the electronic game bop it. One player must play the bop it while everyone else fights, every time he makes a mistake and starts over the monsters become more powerful. The fight ends when a certain level of the game is reached and all of the monsters are defeated. This is a highly stressful situation. Everyone knows when the mistakes are made and everyone knows that the monsters are getting more powerful, the one person in the room who is working on the game is going to be sweating bullets. Everyone else is just hoping to live through the next wave of monsters. Using a system like this in conjunction with proper scaling is a great way to make a combat encounter both stressful and fun.

The hardest trick encounter to scale and write is the one that involves an intelligence challenge. A riddle or a puzzle can be very easy for the person who wrote the encounter but nearly impossible for the players who are involved or vice versa. With this type of encounter it is important to have the person running the encounter be intimately aware of the nuances of scaling. Sometimes, if the puzzle is going very quickly it is appropriate to upscale the fight, to make the situation more challenging. Sometimes it is appropriate to downscale the fight or pull the take downs from the cards so that the situation remains tenable for the players. A good tip is to always have a friend try out any puzzle or trick that you plan on using before using it in a game situation.

These kind of trick fights can make encounters that are scaled lower, challenging. They can make simple room fights into interesting modules and they can let people who would not normally be involved in a combat module get involved. The best source for this type of thing is the boss fights in mmorpgs, they are full of awesome ideas and mechanics that you can use to make your game more fun!

Let me know what you think about this guys.


  1. Big thumbs up for the use of tricks, puzzles and mechanics during modules.

  2. Some of my favorites have been:
    Capture and Hold: the players attain an item, a person, or a piece of real estate and have to defend it against the oncoming hordes. I've found that it works best with an imminent deadline, whether it's a ritual needing completed, the item is charging up on its own and getting ready to discharge, or there's a limited number of monsters and the PCs simply have to hold their line until the reinforcements run out. If the PCs don't know the time limit, it makes for even more stress as they're watching the monsters, but peeking over their shoulders to see if the job's complete yet. Imagine trying to hold a section of flammable ground against the encroaching plane of fire while the scholars are trying to copy down the runes and symbols written on the flagstones that are quickly being erased by the firestorm.

    The Fork in the Road: the party splits itself, leaving a small crew behind to solve the riddle/puzzle and the wreckers move forward down through the dungeon, sweeping out the defending creatures. The wreckers will reach the end 'boss' after a scaled amount of fighting, but find him incredibly powerful until the solvers unravel the riddle and thus steal his power. Victory through combat is possible, but it's so much simpler when the thinkers are involved.