The travelling RPG Blog Carnival continues to jump from one blog to another. I try to contribute every month, although a topic can catch my imagination and lead to a long series, such as the 2017 February topic.
In September, the Carnival has a home fixture as the host is Johnn Four at Roleplaying Tips. The chosen topic for the month is Short Adventures. The Roleplaying Tips site outlines the topic like this:
Short adventures are awesome because they help you game more. They reduce fatigue, keep games fresh and exciting, and work well as one-shots in conventions and as in long-term campaign play.
Whenever our campaign makes a rare journey into a dungeon complex, the Players are always keen for me to include a riddle room in the dungeon. These locations are taken from two books in my collection: Riddle Rooms #1: Dungeon Dilemmas and Riddle Rooms #2: Wilderness Puzzles & Perils, both from Cloud Kingdom Games. The first volume describes the concept as follows:
Riddle Rooms is a dungeon designer’s sourcebook which can be used to enhance any adventure. Each room contains a riddle, puzzle or challenge which your Players must overcome in order to solve the room. Because the obstacles presented in these rooms require thinking and problem-solving, characters of any ability or skill level will be equally challenged.
In many ways, a Riddle Room is a micro-adventure unto itself. The Players are set a quest, namely to solve the riddle. Typically, there is a lively debate among the Players as they solve the riddle. Depending on the encounter, the solution often leads to further tasks. This may be following the decoded instructions of the riddle, or a physical challenge to overcome the layout of the room. Some riddle rooms are more like elaborate traps, involving an athletic challenge in order to progress. Once all the challenges of the room are solved, then the reward awaits.
If time is short, then a good riddle room can replace a Five Room Dungeon. They make excellent reserve options for a GM and are easy to slot into a session as required. I like to have a riddle room as one of my backup options for a session. These rooms provide a range of challenges and can fill up to thirty minutes of game time, depending on the difficulty of the riddle, and the amount of secondary action required once the Players have solved the riddle.
Riddles as One in Five
Another use of a riddle room is as one part of the Five Room Dungeon. A riddle room is a classic example of the puzzle option for the second room. The tone or style of the chosen room needs to fit the rest of the dungeon, or the dungeon could simply be built around the shell of the riddle room.
Many riddle rooms seem generous in the treasure they hand out once the riddle is solved. This treasure may be better deferred to the final part of the Five Room Dungeon. Of course, there is no reason why the Heroes should not receive a reward for solving the riddle, just the rooms as written hand out a lot of treasure. Adjust the reward to suit your campaign.
Alongside considerations of the rewards for solving the room, there are a couple of other limitations to bear in mind when including a riddle room in your game. First, there is the inherent problem with riddles, in that they test Player skill, not character skill. If your Players are good at riddles, then this need not be a problem for you.
The real issue is when character knowledge exceeds Player knowledge. This highlights the classic problem of what intelligence in the game represents. The smooth presentation of a riddle may require careful handling by the GM. For some Players, the GM may need to tease out a few additional clues, to help highly intelligent Heroes solve the riddle when their Players are struggling. Conversely, the GM may need to suggest this is a roleplaying opportunity for the intelligent Player portraying a classic barbarian character with limited education.
The riddle room may highlight the disconnect between Player skill at riddles and Hero intelligence. Such a disconnect could prove so jarring for a group that riddle rooms may simply not be suited to your game. This could be a matter of trial and error, but be aware how this style of puzzle may not suit everyone.
A further problem with riddle rooms lies with their reliance upon the written text. In most riddle rooms, the riddle text appears as an inscription on the wall, or perhaps on the plinth of a statue. For may settings, this assumes a higher level of literacy than is found in the world. My campaign aims at a more Bronze Age setting, so relatively few characters can read. The GM may thus need to adjust the riddle room to ensure a spoken version of the riddle.
Finally, many of the riddle rooms assume modern associations in their texts. These may also serve to push the Players out of the setting. Again, this is a matter of personal preference. Careful selection of the riddles used in your game will avoid this problem. Alternatively, if you are creative, a reworking of the text should sidestep these unwanted references.
As my Players are fond of riddle rooms, I have included several in the campaign. Riddle rooms have appeared as solo challenges, as well as part of a Five Scene Plot, my take on the traditional Five Scene Dungeon. The latest riddle room saw the Heroes jumping between rocks floating in lava, once the initial riddle was solved. One trollkin follower failed to make the hazardous journey across the lava cavern.
Riddle rooms are a flexible resource, suitable as a solo challenge or as part of a classic Five Room Dungeon. The wide selection of riddles in these books by Cloud Kingdom allow GMs to choose the challenge to best suit their campaign. My Players and I always enjoy the process of solving the riddle, and any subsequent contests this may involve.
How do you include riddles in your campaign? Have you tried a riddle room? What do your Players think about including riddles in an RPG? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
- The RPG Blog Carnival is under the stewardship of Johnn Four, at his Roleplaying Tips website.
- See my dedicated page for a full list of all my RPG Blog Carnival contributions.
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If you enjoyed this article, then please share it, or the associated quotations. You may also be interested in the following links:
- Something for the Weekend last week: Social Engineering Part 2, Mechanics
- Something for the Weekend next week: Dream Heroquest, Historical Figures
- My next Blog Carnival essay was in October, where I wrote about a GM dice superstition