A behind-the-scenes, slice-of-life series based on the trials of a new Game Master.
So sorry for the time I took off everyone. Between getting married, my honeymoon, and preparing to move across the country, my life has been pretty hectic. Finally though I’m back, better than ever, and ready to talk about puzzles!
Puzzles are potentially one of my favorite creative endeavors when planning future sessions. There are so many places on the internet that you can find amazing suggestions or pre-written puzzles to drop into your long term campaigns, but I like to try and create my own. Taking inspiration from movies, books and video games can be extremely helpful. I find myself often creating puzzles reminiscent of the MYST games that I played when I was much younger.
When designing puzzles, I look to achieve three goals.
1. I want it to be challenging.
2. I want the party to have to communicate and work together.
3. I want to have real consequences if they make mistakes.
I’ve spoken about one of my first puzzles before, a life sized sudoku board. A sudoku on it’s own may not be be extremely challenging to solve if you know how, so I changed it, warping it to fit my goals.
The sudoku board was broken up into three parts and the party divided into three groups. This created a challenge. I used handouts so that each of the party members only had a third of the puzzle directly in front of them, which forced them to communicate – trading numbers and their positions to create the puzzle as a whole. Finally, they had three strikes. After three incorrectly entered numbers, each of the three chambers presented a different problem like the room filling with water or the walls closing in.
As I’ve said before, the sudoku puzzle was far from flawless, but each puzzle is a learning experience.
Last week, the party made their way to the second major plot point dungeon. I wanted to echo the first dungeon with a puzzle that similarly made the party work together. I created a simple wheel puzzle. Here is an excerpt from my notes so you can see the way this puzzle was designed to work.
Should the party enter the chamber, they will be confronted with a large sandstone door. The door has four circles in a column that run down it’s right side. On the right wall, there are four wheels. Each wheel has four spokes, with 4 different symbols at the end of each. At the top – an X. To the right, a square. To the bottom, a circle. To the left, a triangle.
When the first wheel is turned one spot to the right, the second wheel turns two spots to the right.
When the second wheel is turned one spot to the right, the third wheel turns one spot to the right.
When the third wheel is turned one spot to the right, the fourth wheel turns two spots to the right.
When the fourth wheel is turned one spot to the right, the second wheel turns three spots to the right.
When any wheel’s top symbol is either a square of a triangle, the party must roll a D4. They will be sucked that many feet into the sand until the wheels are returned to an X or circle position.
When the wheel’s top symbol is a circle, it’s corresponding circle on the door (top>bottom = left>right) will be pressed into the door and become “unlocked.”
Should a party member be sucked through the sand, they will fall into Chamber 2. This will re-lock any previously unlocked circles on the door in Chamber 1. There is a large circular button the door in Chamber 2. This button must be held down for the locks in chamber 1 to work correctly.
Once all 4 wheels top facing symbol are circles and the button in chamber 2 is held in, the room will collapse and open into Room Number 2.
If the button in Chamber 2 is simply pressed and released, a giant crab will spawn in Chamber 2 and any party members in that chamber will roll for initiative.
You can see how this puzzle hits all of my three goals. It forces the party to communicate and work together, whether they’re all in Chamber 1 or if the party is split between Chamber 1 & 2. It’s challenging as well, learning how the wheels work together to unlock the door is one problem. Holding down a button while in Chamber 2 so that the doors might unlock while also fighting a giant crab is it’s own challenge. Finally, the consequences here are in every mistake, from being sucked into the sand and stuck, to encountering an enemy.
The puzzle took the party about two hours which is honestly faster than I expected, but that just goes to show my party works better together than I had expected.
I’d love to hear about your puzzles, what’s worked for you and what hasn’t!
Next week, I’ll be doing something a little different for Sunday, but I’ll leave it a surprise until then.
See you all soon and stay chill,