How do you improv situations where the Players get to be clever?

How do you improv situations where the Players get to be clever?

How do you improv situations where the Players get to be clever? I’m a noobie GM and I have no idea how to put together puzzles and scenarios that let players show off their cleverness. Since one of my players said that’s what they like, I’m going to try to accommodate. How do you do it on the fly? any advice is much appreciated!

20 thoughts on “How do you improv situations where the Players get to be clever?”

  1. Describe the areas they are in, in detail and always be willing to say yes, or at the least “Yes, but at a cost.”

    Party was once in a tower, and while I was describing how the support pillars arch together, the theif player suggested going back outside, and going through a window so they could get on top of the supports, rather then taking the direct route that was full of monsters and traps.

  2. Puzzles demonstrate the skill and problem solving abilities of the players, not the characters. It is outside of the fiction.

    You generally don’t improvise puzzles. Get books of riddles or things, read them a lot, highlight parts you like.

  3. Yeah, I kind of agree with Aaron Griffin​​ here. Puzzles are solved by the players, not the characters. It’s outside of the fiction.

    I suppose one way to handle it in fiction would be with Spout Lore, Discern Realities, and even Defy Danger.

    If it’s a puzzle that requires some kind of character knowledge, that could be Spout Lore or maybe Defy Danger with INT if they have to remember something obscure. If it’s something that can be figured out by piecing together clues nearby that’s probably Discern Realities. Or if it’s a physical puzzle, like moving levers around in the correct order, that could be Defy Danger with DEX if they have to do it quickly, or maybe with INT if they have time to think about it.

    I guess you could make puzzles for the player to solve, but that seems like it would need to be planned ahead of time. I’m not sure how you can improvise those sorts of puzzles without being really clever yourself, or just having a whole bunch ready to go at a moment’s notice.

  4. There’s a trick: only say details, not what they mean.

    The protags will tell you what their inferences are. The first one is always wrong. The next one is probably right, but maybe not all the way.

    Do that until they catch onto the pattern. Then the first one can be right (after they decide it’s wrong).

  5. Shrug. It’s fiction 101. Presented with a mysterious situation and no obvious way forward, the heroes try something. Their first attempt can’t work or there’s no drama. Their second probably does, in the interest of time, but maybe goes sideways later or complicates a previously uncomplicated other situation.

    Until that becomes formulaic and you have to vary it to keep things interesting.

  6. Yeah. Exactly what Adam McConnaughey said. That’s not following the principle of saying what honestly demands. If the the heroes happen through sheer dumb luck to do the exact thing that solves the puzzle on the first try? Congratulations. They got past the puzzle.

    The GM deciding that something doesn’t work just because it’s the first thing the players have their characters try really rubs me the wrong way.

  7. There are a few different kinds of puzzles though… there are puzzles which are purely intellectual like riddles or logic puzzles, but there are also “here are a bunch of moving parts that interact with one another, you can experiment and try to figure out how to do something useful with it” things.

    I reckon the purely intellectual ones are pretty hard for the GM to come up with on-the-fly. They also have a high risk of dead-ending the story if the players can’t figure it out.

    I feel that the experimental approach is more open to ad-libbing and less likely to dead-end the players, though. The GM might have some preconception about how the pieces interact, but as the players move things around and certain facts come to light, that preconception can shift and the group might be able to converge on a solution together.

    So say there are channels of water running through the dungeon which the characters can see, sometimes vanishing into pipes through walls and at other times going along the corridors. There are places where the channels branch with baffles the characters can lift and lower or twist to direct the flow of water.

    The characters can learn how to direct the water, but the GM doesn’t have a concept for why that’s useful yet. And then you discover there’s a room with a lava flow going through it. Ah! Get the water to run into that room and after the steam clears you have a solid surface you can run over (until it melts again). Or there’s a pit the players can flood with water to swim across. Or maybe they can flush out something valuable that they can see in a narrow pipe using the water. Or maybe if they can get a whole lot of channels delivering their water to the same place there’s enough flow to start turning a waterwheel.

  8. Ok so we play 5ed on Monday nights. There is a TPK. Afterwards there is a discussion about what we did wrong. All those spells we did not think of using. Not staying behind the hitpoint bus of the party so she can soak all the damage. Very useful stuff for tactical game strategy.

    So I think, I do not want to play a tactical game. I want to tell an awesome story about a guy who fights awesomely. My character knows how to fight, why should he be penalised because I, the player, forgot about a spell my character would have remembered?

    The same principle goes for puzzles and stuff. Some people love that, but then it is not about the story, it is about other types of game elements.

    But my character is awesome, he intimidates puzzles into solving themselves.

  9. While I may not agree with arbitrarily deciding “try number one doesn’t work, but oh man try number two!!” I do think good advice is being lost beneath folks dog piling: you can totally provide details without knowing what they mean, and players will guess and make their rolls and so on. That is a good way to ad lib puzzles.

    You make up some mirrors and some colored floor tiles, not knowing what they mean… A player interacts with them, rolls, misses — okay, guess that’s not the solution! And so on, following the internal logic that you are cultivating as you play (literally just like everything else in this game).

  10. It’s saying what honesty and my prep demands: there’s a puzzle here, I don’t know what the answer is but I want to try something different than just solving all problems with violence, and you’re not going to solve it on the first try because that’s not especially interesting for anyone.

  11. For scenarios that let players show off their cleverness, just present problems, don’t consider possible solutions. If you have the-one-solution in mind, you will drive them towards it. It’s very liberating to instead put that trust in your players.

  12. Aaron Griffin Marshall Brengle

    I think it’s not that the first attempt should “fail” per se, it’s that each successive attempt brings you close to a solution. You don’t have a move to “tell them they’ve failed.” You have moves like,

    Reveal an unwelcome truth: “As you step toward the door, a floor tile clicks underfoot and the door swings shut. You’ll need to disable the mechanism to unlock the door.”

    Tell them the requirements and ask: “The mechanism of the trap is described by the diagrams on the wall, but you’ll have to decipher the language first.” (In general, “First you must…” is an excellent move format for negotiating puzzles.)

    Present an opportunity that fits their class, “Druid, you can sense the small spirits that control this space, and they’re angry–you think you could communicate with them if you take on a less threatening form.”

    I think there’s a slight problem with prepping something as a puzzle from the outset, since “put a puzzle in their way,” doesn’t always suit your principles.

    Easier to use your moves to make something a puzzle as your principles demand (For instance, when being a fan of the characters demands giving them something to overcome.) First, tell them what they see, and be honest; they’ll say what they do and look to you to see what happens; you’ll make a move. This structure works for puzzles as well as anything else.

  13. J. Henning That method doesn’t really work for puzzles. Honestly, I don’t use puzzles so I can’t speak to how to make them work well in DW. What I’m trying to get at is that you don’t need to spend time and brain power thinking up possible solutions to the obstacles you put in front of your players. Say on a 6-, I choose “Put them in a spot” and then separate a player from the rest of the group with a 30 foot chasm that suddenly opens up (silly example but I recently re-watched Force Awakens). I don’t bother to think about how they might cross the 30 foot chasm. I don’t care, that’s not my problem. Maybe they’ll perilous journey around it, maybe, maybe, maybe … let the players figure it out, and more importantly, trust your players to figure it out.

  14. I was just thinking this exact thing reading the posts. “Isn’t all of DW a puzzle”?

    Let the moves solve the puzzles


    And to that end. Create discriptive “puzzle scenes”, leave blanks, and the CHARACTERS will solve them with moves the game provides.

  15. My players’ favorite “investigation” I ever ran totally wasn’t an investigation at all. There was a drunk sleeping outside their inn door and someone asked if he was dead. I said yes, and off they went! Free puzzle

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