Ideas for Puzzles


Beginner Box


1 person marked this as a favorite.

So I play the BB ruleset with my 10-year-old son. This last weekend, he gave the best compliment ever on a story-line twist ("Wow! I didn't see THAT coming!). The problem was that he missed a major clue that I left in the tomb he was exploring. That got me to thinking: Is there a process for coming up with puzzles to solve? It seems that everything I find is too hard for kids but the stuff with kids in mind is too easy for him. Or at least a good link to a list of puzzles I can use for inspiration?


How should you come up with puzzles to solve?

My short answer is: Don't.

My long answer is: Well... maybe you could, but you have to be careful.

It doesn't matter whether your players are children or adults. There's ALWAYS the possibility that they won't see the solution to a problem, no matter how easy the GM thinks it is. Therefore, the GM must always account for the possibility that they won't solve the problem, and think of how to proceed with the adventure if they don't.

For instance, maybe solving a puzzle will allow the PCs to bypass a lot of encounters on the way to the final boss. (And if they do solve that puzzle, you should exaggerate how difficult and dangerous those encounters would have been.)

And if you like to run the kind of adventure which has "critical points", which require the PCs to find critical clues, or else the adventure grinds to a halt, then what should you do?

There are several solutions, but after a few years of GMing, I developed a technique that I've used for decades since. First give the players a chance to think of the solution. Then if they don't, let some NPC give them the clue. Sometimes, you can even use that as a hook. For instance, the NPC could agree to give the PCs the critical clue in exchange for doing some difficult and dangerous job, thus allowing you to inject a mini-adventure into your big one.

Whew! And after typing all that, I realize that I didn't answer the essence of your question. What puzzle should you present to your son? The kind of puzzle he enjoys solving, provided you've thought of an "escape clause", as I've explained above.


I like to use a dungeon with various little figurines scattered around. At the end there was a statue of a sphinx with a riddle on it and an arm-deep hole. Put the figurine that answers the riddle in the hole, if correct it opens, if not it chops off the arm.

I usually run it as an annual competitive dungeon crawl event, so if the party missed the correct one, they could pick it up by encountering their competitors, and to justify a crazily old-school .designed dungeon. Small cash prize for the winner,and possible employment opportunities from the audience for any survivors.

SOP for any puzzle or mystery is to have 3 clues available for every 1 you want a party to find and use correctly. I like the party to ponder openly, so if they come up with a better idea than mine i can roll with that instead, or throw something more obvious at them if they're going nowhere..


I've taken to reflavoring certain Professor Layton puzzles. They can be anywhere from easy to punishingly difficult, but between that and taking the LSAT I've gotten pretty good at coming up with my own, now.

It helps to start out with what you're looking to challenge the person with. Spacial awareness? Logical reasoning? Close reading? Trivia? Then go from there. Sometimes it's easy enough to make the flavor match, sometimes you just have to ask your players to go with it, but I'd really recommend playing puzzle games/videogames for inspiration.


Puna'chong, thanks for the input. That's the kind of advice I'm looking for. Although everyone else's is good, too.

Just to clarify, I don't make solving a puzzle a requirement for a campaign or adventure to move forward, but it does usually provide a special tool or extra xp.

For example, I had a long room where there was dust on the left and right side, and a clear path through the dust in the middle. There were long boards (upon inspection, they were long enough to build a path from one end of the room to the other) lining the wall closest to the PC's entrance point. If they failed to figure out that they should use the boards, then they suffer from a pit trap. Otherwise, they get to the far side and are able to gain the Ring of Blinding to use against BBEG elsewhere.

My current dilemna is that I want to provide logic puzzles, but I'm not particulary good at coming up with them.


ShallowHammer wrote:

Puna'chong, thanks for the input. That's the kind of advice I'm looking for. Although everyone else's is good, too.

Just to clarify, I don't make solving a puzzle a requirement for a campaign or adventure to move forward, but it does usually provide a special tool or extra xp.

For example, I had a long room where there was dust on the left and right side, and a clear path through the dust in the middle. There were long boards (upon inspection, they were long enough to build a path from one end of the room to the other) lining the wall closest to the PC's entrance point. If they failed to figure out that they should use the boards, then they suffer from a pit trap. Otherwise, they get to the far side and are able to gain the Ring of Blinding to use against BBEG elsewhere.

My current dilemna is that I want to provide logic puzzles, but I'm not particulary good at coming up with them.

Well, although it sounds weird, LSAT practice books will have some tricky logic problems to solve. I wouldn't recommend it for kids, or for certain adults even, but if you have a group that's pretty on the ball and good at these sorts of things they'll be challenging enough. Every year there's a "games" section (usually the first section), with logic puzzles like:

"This morning, a bakery makes exactly one delivery, consisting of exactly six loaves of bread. Each of the loaves is exactly one of three kinds: oatmeal, rye, or wheat, and each is either sliced or unsliced. The loaves that the baker delivers this morning must be consistent with the following:

1) There are at least two kinds of loaves
2) There are no more than three rye loaves
3) There is no uncsliced wheat loaf
4) There is at least one unsliced oatmeal loaf
5) If two or more of the loaves are unsliced, then at least one of the unsliced loaves is rye"

Although, I don't blame you if you're looking for other types of things =P Professor Layton is probably my favorite series to adapt from.

Another thing that's not too hard to get rolling is to have "research" that the players do. What I did in my Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign just a few weeks ago is have the players try to reorganize sentences that I had typed in and cut up. I took out the punctuation and the capitalization (putting in capitalization without punctuation makes it harder) and cut them into strips, with each player getting a packet of strips. Then they went through and sorted them out and tried to turn them into coherent sentences, which then revealed what their characters had learned from their intervening week of research. They enjoyed it, and it got them thinking about the game world and got them invested in their characters' thought processes.

Other puzzles that are fun are ones where you just shotgun information at the players. Next, you give them choices for answers. It helps to have a series of, say, three or four parameters like the ones above in my example, then have each answer sneakily contradict one of those parameters. So the only correct answer is the one that doesn't have any contradictions. Wording puzzles can also be fun, but they're hard to compose. Stuff like the Sphinx's Riddle are difficult to make without a lot of planning.

Also, don't be afraid of your puzzles seeming lame or trite. If they're too easy, that's fine. It'll make your players feel like they're really smart. I've even had it where I put a series of simple puzzles in front of my players, then ramped it up to 11 and they went from smug to panicked as the opposite wall inched closer to them. If the puzzle seems lame, likewise, thematically or in terms of placement, don't worry about that either. The best way to use puzzles is to have the players succeed by using their brains and feel good about themselves when they do it right. I also will use puzzles to break up combat, or as a good way to hide good treasure or revealing plot elements to the party. For kids, especially, I think it's good for them to feel like they're winning not only because their character is a radical swordmaster but also because he's smart and can take on every puzzle.

Passing notes to individuals with separate puzzles has also worked for me in the past. Telepathic riddler, or whatever it is. I've even had players get dream visions by having them solve their way out of a sort of dream paradox and then get a vision of one of the module's room descriptions from later in the adventure, as a sort of foreshadowing that I don't have to make up and that they remember later as, "Oh crap! I saw this room in my nightmare!"

Lots of fun stuff! The more you do it the easier it gets.


Excellent ideas. I love the dream foreshadowing! I also think my son will enjoy the strips of paper to put together sentences. You also inspired me (he loves papercraft) to have a mission where he has to build a paper weapon or transport or something for his pawn. Thanks a bunch!


Most of my puzzles are very simple, exploratory ones. I like to borrow from Zelda games in that there is some obstacle, let's say a locked door, and a path that leads to some way to solve it, let's say a room with a key in it, the goal is to find the key to the door and know to use it.

Typically you want puzzles and obstacles to have multiple ways to solve, in my locked door example the players could either find the key, pick the lock, or break the damn door down. If there are at least three different ways to solve your puzzles by differing methods then you should be fine. Note that the different methods here involve 1) a skill check, Disable Device, to break the lock 2) an ability check, a STR check comparable to an attack roll, to break down the door, both of which involve rolling dice and using figures on the character sheet or lastly 3) finding the keys and using them which requires the players to actively play their character and interact with the game world in a way that doesn't involve dice. So you have a 'combat' method, a 'skill' method, and a 'role playing' method. When designing puzzles, they should all have at least one option of all three of these types of solutions to allow for any group of any composition to overcome them.

EDIT: Another thing to really be careful with when using puzzles is to remember that this is a role playing game, and using riddles and such in game forces the players to metagame which is typically a bad route to go. Especially when you consider that the super intelligent wizard that one of your players is piloting would make short work of such an easy puzzle but your 10 year old son might not.


Buy Aha! Insight. (Amazon link here.)


master_marshmallow wrote:


Another thing to really be careful with when using puzzles is to remember that this is a role playing game, and using riddles and such in game forces the players to metagame which is typically a bad route to go. Especially when you consider that the super intelligent wizard that one of your players is piloting would make short work of such an easy puzzle but your 10 year old son might not.

I've found this isn't the case if you're careful to note that the puzzle is representative of an intellectual problem the players are trying to overcome, for any party that might see puzzles as taking them out of role-playing. You aren't really showing them, perhaps, the exact puzzle that the characters are facing, just something indicative of it. I haven't come across any issues with my parties, so this is the route I'll take when I can't make flavor match or just don't have enough time to prep a puzzle from scratch, though I can see this maybe hurting some other groups' games out there.

It's also the case that I (and I'm sure a lot of others) know plenty of very intelligent people who can't do a crossword puzzle or a word problem to save their lives. So just because the wizard has an Intelligence of 42 doesn't mean the fighter can't have heard this puzzle when he was a wee lad sitting on his grandmother's lap, or have his moment to shine in a problem that requires a lot of spacial reasoning. Puzzles can test a LOT of different skills...


Excellent points, all. From what everyone is posting, it sounds like what I'm doing is fine. I get caught up in that when I create a dungeon or other adventure, I cast myself as the atagonist and try to "build" places accordingly. So a tomb map looks like a tomb (main chamber, side chambers for artifacts, perhaps "guard" rooms, spell chamber, etc...). Then I have this wonderfully functional place to explore. I'm just trying to think of new and exciting things to populate them with.


anagram creator


You might look into the book Riddle Rooms #1: Dungeon Dilemmas

or

Shadowman's Twisted Treasury: A Collection of Killer Puzzles


master_marshmallow wrote:
Typically you want puzzles and obstacles to have multiple ways to solve (...) to allow for any group of any composition to overcome them.

I totally agree.

master_marshmallow wrote:
(...) using riddles and such in game forces the players to metagame which is typically a bad route to go. Especially when you consider that the super intelligent wizard that one of your players is piloting would make short work of such an easy puzzle but your 10 year old son might not.

I totally disagree.

I've got some reputation of being a really smart man IRL, according to puzzle solving. The truth is I read a lot when I was young and I already know the answers of many riddles. It's memory more than thinking.

Now, back to "role-playing".
I remember a Ad&D games from many years ago. We had to find some famous(?) hidden place that had been searched for unsuccessfully by many generations of treasure hunters and lore masters.
I'm pretty sure some of them would have had scores of 19 or 20 (really excpetional in AD&D) in Intelligence or Wisdom.

So how do you picture we managed to find it (resolving some puzzle) when the highest intelligence score in our group was 17 (the magic-user) and our highest wisdom score was 16 (the cleric) ? It's completely unrealistic, according to you, right ?

The fact is it was late at night, we were keeping awake IRL thanks to cafeine and were not thinking too clearly... we all searched for, say, more than one full hour without making the point, although we had all the advices before our eyes. 8 players around the table.

And suddenly, I exclaimed "of course ! that's crystal-clear !" and gave the answer to the GM. Do you know what I'm telling you about ?
Insight. Flash. God's word. Call it as you wish.
Anyone can have it anytime. No connection to any ability score written on a sheet of paper.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder RPG / Paizo Products / Beginner Box / Ideas for Puzzles All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in Beginner Box