Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four
HOW TO TURN BRAIN TEASERS INTO AMAZING ROLEPLAYING OPPORTUNITIES
Puzzles are an essential part of roleplaying. Even in groups
where puzzle solving is not preferred, the occasional
rousing stumper creates some excellent variety. And variety
is essential for keeping player interest in your game high.
While classic, dungeon-style puzzles are entertaining, my
favorites are the ones that:
* encourage roleplaying
* allow you to roleplay out the solution
* integrate smoothly into your game (that is, they don't
jump out and scream puzzle! at you)
* add to your story for greater campaign depth.
My best source for these kinds of highly enjoyable
roleplaying brain teasers are puzzle & game books and
magazines. Quite often you'll find these books under the
"Games" or "Hobbies" categories on the bookshelves. And
don't forget to check your local library.
I have no idea how you officially create your average brain
teaser, but in my mind, I tend to divide them up into three
parts: the Set-up, Method and Solution.
The Set-up tells you the parameters, or rules, of the puzzle
as well as establishes who the participants are and the
genre/setting. The key is to convert this information so
that it is compatible with your game.
The Method is the way the people or objects in the brain
teaser go about resolving the puzzle. This is the most
important part because it is how your players, and their
characters, will find and/or prove the solution. The best
types of Methods are action oriented. Somebody has to do
something. I find math and word puzzles generally make poor
roleplaying puzzles because their Method is to just write
figures on paper and perform mental calculations--not a
great roleplaying opportunity
The Solution is obviously the answer to the puzzle. But it
also contains the reward for success (you should make sure
your puzzles always have a reward). And always be prepared
and flexible to field alternate solutions--your players will
Here is an example from The Giant Book of Puzzles & Games,
by Sheila Anne Barry, Sterling Publishing Company Inc., 1978
(I found this tome in a used book store last year).
THE WISE KING
"During the Middle Ages, a Nordic king had a problem. His
sons were good friends, and the king wanted to make sure
that they would have no cause for jealousy after his death
over the division of his property. He didn't want to provide
in his will merely that the possessions were to be divided
equally, lest his sons start quarrelling over what each was
Finally the king thought of a foolproof yet simple way of
providing for absolutely equal distribution of his
possessions. What did he write in his will?"
The Set-up is to divide the king's property into equal parts
in such a way that there is guaranteed to be no future
arguments thus helping the king feel comfortable about his
will. The genre is already fantasy, but can be easily
There are plenty of options for the Method. I could use any
person or agency in my game world in place of the king, and
would prefer to use someone of authority to increase the
drama of the scenario: mayor, noble, master, mentor, patron,
father, grandfather, employer, ally... I could even use a
farmer sitting by the road weeping, troubled because he
can't figure out how to keep his family together after his
passing which will occur soon because... etc. The players
must hear the problem, discuss answers and present the
To further thicken the plot, I could let the players know
that they must present their solution in such a way so that
they don't offend the person with the problem. Perhaps
because that person is touchy about people being smarter
Or I could use an egg timer and provide a time limit--put
some pressure on the players. Or I could have other parties
compete for the answer: the king has asked the wisest men of
his kingdom to hear his problem and present an answer.
The Solution has a number of potential rewards. The sons
could be two of the players and they will only get their
names in the will once the answer is found. Or perhaps there
is a thank-you type of reward. What a great reward it would
be to earn the respect and gratitude of your king. Or maybe
the puzzle is just a test and will lead to further
opportunities if passed.
Can you figure out a way to add a twist to your puzzles?
What a great way to increase the drama, excitement and fun!
For example, in the puzzle above, perhaps the king is
interviewing 2 groups candidates for an upcoming,
challenging mission--the player's party and another party of
heroes. But, the king wants the mission to fail, so he does
*not* want to send the smartest party.
You leaked this information to the players beforehand--their
task is to actually lose the puzzle to the other group
because the mission, despite the possible sabotage, is still
So the king summons both groups, poses the problem and then
waits for the answer. But, the other party honestly can't
seem to find the answer. They're stuck. What will the
players do? A fun twist!
Here are two more puzzles, from the same book, for you to
THE TWO BROTHERS
"A Saxon king, displeased with the greed shown by his two
sons, left a will with an unusual provision: The sons were
to mount their horses in a tiny town on the border of the
kingdom and ride, without dismounting more than once, to the
gate of the king's castle. The son whose horse arrived
*second* at the castle gate was to be awarded the entire
When the king passed away, the sons began their "race,"
moving along slowly together for days on end. Each tried to
go slower than the other and after a while, they got so
sleepy they had to dismount and get some sleep at an inn.
While they slept, they each had their footmen alerted to
notify them when the other left the inn. Actually, they left
the inn together. As they were about to mount their horses,
one brother whispered a few words to the other, they both
laughed, jumped into the saddles and raced the horses as
fast as they could to the castle gate.
It doesn't matter to us which brother won the fortune, but
can you figure out what the brother whispered?"
DEATH MEETS THE SQUIRE
"In a small English town long ago, this story was told: It
was a hot summer Sunday. The squire and his wife were in
church when the squire fell asleep. He dreamed he was a
French nobleman at the time of the Revolution. He had been
condemned to death, and he was waiting on the scaffold for
the guillotine to fall. Just then his wife, noticing that he
was asleep, tapped him sharply on the back of his neck with
her fan. The shock was so great--in view of what he was
dreaming--that the squire immediately slumped over, dead.
Could this story be true? Why?"
Have more fun at every game!