When it comes to designing puzzles in a CRPG, however, a builder is limited to their knowledge of the scripting language, and XML if they want to design new interfaces for puzzle interaction. Furthermore, designing a puzzle to be included in such a way as to not appear orchestrated can be difficult to achieve. This last point, however, is also true for classic D&D. Yet, these obstacles aside, I believe there is room for a little "poetic licence" to allow the builder to be creative with their ideas and include puzzles as a minor distraction to the normal flow of events. If a player can accept the game with this premise in mind, then it can be fun all around.
Not Everyone's Idea of Fun
I do recognise, however, that some players do not like puzzles at all, or find some puzzles a frustration rather than an enjoyable distraction. With this in mind, I have tried to ensure the player does have an alternative means to bypass a puzzle and to move the game forward. Such bypassing does come at a cost (gold or Life Essence), but this should not be seen as being penalised, but as the minimum cost that would have been asked if the puzzle did not exist in the first place. E.g. I posted about my Coded Mechanism Puzzle in an earlier blog. In this puzzle, the player can choose to try to solve the puzzle to move the plot forward at no cost or use Decipher Tools to bypass it instead. If the puzzle had not existed, the same obstacle would have cost the player an amount of gold equalling the cost of the Decipher Tools that were used to bypass this puzzle. In other words, a DM or builder provides a puzzle to allow the player to get something for nothing if they take the time and effort to try to solve it.
A Little More Help?
The other problem with designing puzzles for a CRPG is that there is no immediate contact with a DM to offer hints and clues to solve the puzzle (unless playing with a DM). For the games where no DM is present (SP gaming), I have designed a new feat for the player to take for their PC, called Expert Decoder. This feat is geared towards players who enjoy puzzles, but feel they need just a little more guidance or more time to solve them where a time limit is involved. If this type of player takes the new feat during character build or when levelling, then the extra hints and time come as a reward for their PC learning choice.
I have already mentioned the Coded Mechanism and have also mentioned my Combination Chest puzzle in an earlier post. There are also a few others that I touched upon, like the Chameleon Puzzle. I will now mention a few others I have been working on, with their differences relating to being bypassed or if the Expert Decoder gives any benefit:
RUNE WARD PUZZLE: Some locks are protected by dwarf rune magik. No normal lock is presented, but a magikal lock that only an agile mind and a good dexterity can overcome. Basically, the player is presented with a grid that represents the locking mechanism and its components. Once activated, the player must match the number of runes required to deactivate the mechanism within a time limit. Some locks are harder to bypass than others, but all allow the PC to sacrifice Life Essence to bypass the lock if need be. Furthermore, a PC with the Expert Decoder feat is allowed a time bonus when trying to deactivate the lock.
CYPHER PUZZLE: Sometimes the PC will be up against an intelligent foe. Knowing their plans may be foiled by interfering adventurers, they ensure their communications with their troops are kept encoded so that only those that know the code can translate the message. However, if any of these messages do fall into the hands of the PCs, then they may spend some time looking at the text to see if they can crack the code and understand the message. There is no time limit involved when trying to decipher a text and there is currently no way to bypass this puzzle. However, the PC who has the Expert Decoder feat does get a clue if they are proceeding correctly.
RIPPED SCROLL PUZZLE: A page with some useful information has been torn and thrown away. The PCs manage to gather these parts and want to see what was on the page: an important letter, a picture containing a clue, or just an old shopping invoice? This is a simple 25 piece block puzzle. The player is presented with a jumbled image comprised of 25 scrambled parts of an image. As it currently stands, there is no time limit to this puzzle, but neither is there any way to bypass it or gain an advantage with the Expert Decoder feat.
No Spoiler Text Here - But An Example of A Part Being Swapped
OTHERS (IN PLANNING STAGE)
SINGING GEMS PUZZLE: Maybe an important magikal lock or a simple tavern game, I am yet to decide. Maybe both? The player is presented with a number of gems (4 - 8) that begin to play their strange tuneful chime when the player interacts with them. The gems play a note in turn and the player has to repeat the tune; the number of notes gradually increasing. (Think of the game called "Simon".)
LOCK SPRING PUZZLE: The PCs have come across another magikal lock. This one, however, looks as though it can be overcome by careful examination of the mechanism and some luck. The player is presented with a grid that represents the hidden mechanism. The player then has to start clicking on the different pieces of the lock in an effort to understand its mechanism and work out where each lock part is. (Think of the game called "Minesweeper".)
Means To An End
With all these puzzles, however, I want the player to realise while playing them that they are more than simple games, but a means to overcome an obstacle that will move the plot forward, with the exception of the potential tavern game, which can have its own interesting twist.
Final Word & Request
In every puzzle, I have tried to give extra thought and attention as to how it will work in a MP environment as well as a SP game. For instance, I have decided that while all players may have the Cypher Puzzle open to see, only one player (the one who first discovers the puzzle) can operate the buttons. Note, however, there is nothing to stop this player from leaving the puzzle and allowing another player to act as the main player instead, leaving the first as an observer instead.
I have asked this before, but will ask it again: In the light of the current puzzles explained, do you have any thoughts or suggestions to add? Most of all, is there a puzzle or mini game concept that you would like to see if possible? I have tried to take on board comments in the past, and have greatly appreciated feedback to date. If, however, you believe I have missed an important point, then please let me know.
Of course, any general feedback is very much appreciate as well :)