A great activity for a group of players is to solve a puzzle. A puzzle can be all sorts of things: A stand-alone sudoku or an intricate intrigue with multiple characters. Both have their own benefits and drawbacks. Want to make a puzzle yourself? Please follow these guidelines (in any order) to bring them to the table the best way possible.
Set a goal for the puzzle
Every puzzle has to be there for a reason. Be sure to add things to the story with a clear goal in mind. Of course, a goal can be: ‘the group of players wanted a puzzle so here you go’, but we can go a little further than that. Rather than just shoving a puzzle in the story, you can attach rewards to it, in-game interactions and consequences.
Hard puzzles are not always good puzzles
After a lot of thinking and testing, you came to a great puzzle. This puzzle might have a cool trick that you just have to notice or maybe it is something silly that you want them to figure out. A setup like this could lead to a very bad interaction with your players. There are two reasons for this:
- Players want to advance: if you keep them way too long on this puzzle, they might lose interest in the story and will just tune out until one player solves it or until you decide to just remove the puzzle entirely.
- Players don’t want to feel dumb: Make sure they feel like they can solve this. Players will be faced with the puzzle for the first time, so give them the information and time they need to grasp the puzzle.
A good puzzle takes a lot of time, but keep in mind that because you spent a lot of time on making and thinking of the puzzle does not mean the story should stop and be all about this puzzle for a long time. If the first couple of solutions did not work, players would like a hint on what to do next. If you keep them in the dark, they will likely not be invested and will just tune out. In the end, you might feel you made the puzzle too easy, but you should see the look on the player’s faces when they solved this ‘challenge’ you’ve thrown at them.
A puzzle for everyone
The puzzle you will introduce in the story will probably be tackled by multiple players. Keep this in mind when you create it. It is a good idea to let everyone do something to solve the puzzle. Examples of this are switches that need to be pressed on different locations. You could also introduce two different tasks that need to be solved in a time limit, the group will likely group up into two groups and tackle them separately. This way everybody is solving a piece of the puzzle, which will be a great team building exercise for the legends.
Prep the way to the solution
Think about how the players would like to solve the puzzle. Is it a simple riddle, just give them a piece of paper with the riddle on it, so they can move it around and discuss. If it is an elaborate latter thinking puzzle, you want to give them the space to theorize and make notes. be sure that all the rules are clear and visible for all players at the same time, so everybody has a chance to jump in the puzzle right away!
Put the puzzle in the context of the story
If you have a great puzzle, it might not be catered to your world yet. For example, players will find it strange if a highly mathematical puzzle, with magical runes and switches, is in a cave with dumb rats and bats. This does not mean you cannot put it there, but you can make it interesting by laying interesting titbits in the dungeon to hint to a long lost civilization with advanced scientific switches. This way, you can introduce a new piece of lore to the players by using this puzzle. Do keep in mind that this will alter your goal for the puzzle. In the end, just make sure it makes sense to the players.
Place hints early on
A puzzle can be it’s own thing, just a short and funny detour of the story or a tense death clock that is ticking down every second. For the second example, you want to give multiple hints beforehand. This can be in all sorts of ways, by using items that are lying around, paintings on the wall, written in books or hinted at by another character. This will make the puzzle way more connected to the world. Using earlier hints will also set up for a great ‘Ahaah!’ moment when the players solve the puzzle.