Thursday, April 9, 2015

Puzzle, Person and Class in the Old School

Lauren over here mentioned her fondness for the Old School D&D puzzle solving method which is simply, you the player, who were assumed to be of above average smarts would solve  the puzzle yourself or not and the game would progress from there.

There are a lot of good things to say for this method.

#1 It take emphasis off combat and on to other aspects of the game

#2 It make players and GM's think

#3 It negates the need for a thief class  and instead just lets stat rolls handle challenges like lock-picking and lifting a purse and the player, the surprise system  handle stealth and the players handle being clever

#4 With the right kind of group its very fun.

However there are downsides.

#1 Its slow and some people may want to get onto the next part of a story or something more interesting and less frustrating

#2 Lots of groups don't like puzzles and/or really just want combat.

#3 It requires a longer attention span and more time at the table than some players these days can manage. Remember OD&D was originally created and  played by middle aged men in a world with much less distractions and spending time there was much easier without the web or face book or any of that . Sure it lead to mediocre research and bad rules, such as the lock-picking rules or the thief class in general but it lead to a much richer game and a bit of politics here, a better hobby.

#4 Pigeonholing. Simply, the old school method tended to pigeonhole players into playing certain classes.

Let me explain this. One core idea I think that has been forgotten in D&D is the idea that not every class was for every person

It was kind of assumed the tricky guy would play the Magic user, the supportive guy would probably play the Cleric and the straightforward guy would play the Fighter. Yes sometimes everybody played the Fighter, support fighters, tricky "thief" fighters and such were common but generally the MU and Cleric were played by certain type  of people .

We assume this was a bad thing and I think we were wrong on this. People generally are happier playing to type, still are.

Now I suppose folks wonder where this idea was lost, well it started to fade in actual play, probably back in Lake Geneva .

As the game went on, new classes got introduced and from what I can figure from my research, this was to address in game reissues and player demand, The Thief since people wanted to systematize the role, the Cleric (though it proved to be a solid roll in itself) to defeat a PC vampire (Sir Fang ) Monk beaus people wanted to play Kwai Chang Kane from Kung Fu  The Ranger to sub in for Aragorn and so on .

This muddied the waters a bit and in time it became assumed that the class would provide the bulk of the  abilities not the players choices.

Now that wasn't all bad, it did open D&D to a broader audience and made the game more approachable as well but maybe  the assumed high level creativity was lost.

Still that creativity is inherent in  nature of the game and if it something you want, its not hard to make it happen. After a bit of adjustment, you may find you players love it.

Or not and if Roll DC17 Disable Device to  defeat the traps suits you better, go for it.

As always the #1 rule is "if you are having fun, you are doing it right."


  1. The puzzle solving method works fine for average smarts but itf the puzzle isn't for someone with average smarts or takes most folks 20 minutes to fiddle with it isn't so much fun to wait on while it gets solved.
    I also hate when the puzzle doesn't really fit the setting or situation. I recall one DM hittingus with a wordplay where the answer was "The Red Haired Man" the problem was the clue was written for folks in a western setting but we were all playing characters in an eastern setting and seemingly had our heads stuck there. I takes yuo out of a settign if you have English world play to solve a riddle posed to a bunch of Samurais by an Oni .

    Puzzles should fit the setting or offer a serious clue to resolving the adventure becasue of how they don't fit.

  2. JD, I pretty much agree with you especially on the part about the puzzle fitting the situation.

    I think the point I may have failed to make is the assumptions in the game have changed a fair bit and that includes who was playing the game.

    I blame that on 1981 , OK that was a joke but D&D was mainstreamed about that time. Prior to that, gamers were geekier except for the occasional stoner , you know they guy with the wizard on the van that smalled of "herbs"

    Also whats nice about puzzles is in most cases everyone was assumed to be able to participate anyway. So if there was annoying and/or tricky puzzle it could be crowd-sourced to the whole group.

    Also good period design let the adventure go if some secret doors or puzzles were missed. as I understand it, these things were extras, not core plot elements . That however is another post