Monday, February 20, 2012

What game for puzzle gamers?

I guess everyone have heard that what you do in D&D is "kill monsters and take their stuff"? I wont get into the truthfulness of that statement, but I will focus on the idea that some games suit a certain kind of game, and maybe certain scenarios.

If you are a gamer who likes to fight things, I think you would be happy if your DM brought of any of the Giant, or G, series of modules for AD&D. Lots of fights, and lots of different environments and locales that give the fights some different character. An example for T&T would be the excellent solo Arena of Khazan. It is all about fighting in an arena, and it's much more fun than it sounds like. Well, if you like me is not that interested in combat.

Now, I guess anyone who knows about Trail of Cthulhu knows that it's a game for those gamers who likes investigations. Even stronger than Call of Cthulhu it focuses on how clues fit together, hinting at arcane mysteries. While I have played very few ToC scenarios, maybe the oldie Shadows of Yog-sothoth can work as an example of such a scenario.

Are there more kinds of gamers and games? I won't get into the narrative or thespian discussion, but instead shortcut to a kind of game that I was reminded by yesterday.

A few years back I ran a D&D3 campaign, running some old AD&D modules with the 3rd ed. rules. I wanted to try what Necromancer Games called "Third edition rules, first edition feel". When we played one of the A series, A2 more precisely, a very peculiar scene unfolded. There were a pile of broken wagons, and carts, in the module. There were also piles of coins, not easily transportable. Guess what happened when one of my players figured out what could be done with the spell Mend? Curiously enough, one of my players brandishing the table of expected wealth by level declared that they had gotten "too much money"! One player was smart, and outwitted me and another player started a heated argument about it.

Yeah, I know. What a mess, eh?

Apart from the fact that the player protesting was way to occupied with the spectres of balance and level appropriate, there's something else going on here.

What was it that the guy did who got the idea of using Mend? Well, it was smart playing, of course. I would not call it good roleplaying, since it did not really related to acting all that much like a character in a secondary world, but it was playing the game. As a game. I'd call that kind of play a puzzle play. Please note that it's not forensics or investigation, like on ToC or CoC. It's building stuff, re-using scraps and pieces. It's all about being MacGyver, and saving the day with a piece of string and some Duck tape.

How do you facilitate that kind of play? What kind of examples are there out there of games where you can do that a lot, or scenarios where it's bound to happen?

I'm not sure you can plan for it, but I'm thinking that there might be something that makes these things happen, and I'm not seeing it. A few more times before that campaign folded, the same player constructed mechanical ways to defuse traps and other odd things. Multiple times he was kind fo stumped by the fact that neither I as DM, not the other players, understood even what he was trying to do. I think, but am not sure, that this is a very specialized kind of sandbox play. Put some oddities out there and see what they build. But, I have no idea how to do stuff like that...

I'd like to make more thing like that happen. Any stories of such shenanigans or suggestions for how to facilitate it? Feel free to comment.


  1. I play 4e like a point and click adventure game. Combat takes a back-burner, and as a result, each level has only 10 XP: 1 per combat, and 1 per cool thing you do that wows the whole table. Oddly enough, the level progression flows relatively similarly to vanilla 4e. This also means I don't have to worry about "XP Budgets", and can just design encounters that are challenging and cool for the players.
    I supplement the gameplay with GameMastery Item Cards - probably the best invention ever. During exploration or as loot, players draw cards representing mundane or magical items - allowing me to then create puzzles and challenges that utilize, or even better, *consume* those items! The cards give them a sense of connection and ownership of the items, giving the decision to "solve the puzzle" or find another route genuine emotional weight for the player.

  2. Interesting tack to take. I must confess that classic computer adventure gaming have been on my mind for these circumstances.

  3. One good example: I had a Gnome character who had a "Bitten Coins" card. Each of my players have a "signature item" that they can use as a daily power - for this Gnome, the card represented a sack of "worthless" coins that could not be used to purchase anything, but once per day would produce a coin that had some sentimental, historical, or collectible value to the NPC in question, thus providing an "in" for negotiations and diplomatic encounters, or, say, be just the right thickness to wedge a door open, or be just the right metal to grant combat advantage against a sensitive enemy.
    However, you should have seen the raw story that emerged when a dragon wanted the entire bag (Gnome cussed out a dragon while the party held her down) or when a corrupt tax official shook her down and took it (the party was convinced to storm the treasury)!
    Also because of this playstyle, my characters are much more prone to "look at their cards" and devise clever traps, e.g. "Well, I have this cauldron I've been hauling around, and you have those alchemical matches... and with your rope, I think we can put something together!"

  4. Hey, that totally sounds like a MacGyver moment! ;)


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