Reviews & Ideas: RL Puzzles in RPGs

Integrate real life challenges into your RPG for the players to solve, with a little help from their characters.

Ever have a moment during a game session, even a totally engaging one, that could use a little extra excitement? Seemingly, the easy solution would be to toss a quick random battle upon the characters. What if that really doesn’t go with the moment of the game? What if the characters are trying to keep away from engagement? What if it is a high-mortality game so combat is rare? I propose introducing some real life challenges into the game. These could masquerade as any number of situations, such as a magical or technical pattern on a portal device, a physical trap, or needing information.


This is an exciting way for both characters and players to shine. Have the players roll for their character’s stat/skill that relates to the challenge. If the character has a success, that character contributes a “head start” or advantage to the puzzle. If a character fails the roll, then some of the instructions are missing or it is harder to complete. Once the character contribution is settled, then the players need to solve the puzzle.


You have slain or trapped the three stone dogs that were guarding the magical device. The device keeps opening the portal and it begins pulsing in the pouring rain as you run up to it. Make a Wisdom check.

The Tangram Puzzle could be used in this situation. Calculate how much of a head-start the players are given from the character’s success rate. In this example, if someone rolled a solid success, then perhaps 3-4 pieces from the tangram would be placed prior to the players having to solve it. Have a time limit, like two minutes for this example, and then let the players go at it. This way, if a player is not a visual puzzle person, but their character would be, this is still a way for that character to contribute even if the player can not.

Other suggestions: sudoku puzzles, crossword and word-game puzzles, a Scrabble challenge, jigsaw puzzles, riddles, logic problems, etc.


Walking through the dank tunnel, your party gets a little uneasy because you can no longer hear the sounds of the mine’s security guard. It is still uncertain why he ran from you when you flashed your FBI badge. Roll a Listen check. Success. You hear the distinct rumble of a mining cart coming around the bend, barreling down upon you!

Pull out that old copy of Operation which resides deep in the closet. The average number of attempts to remove a piece that a Player gets is three. If the character has a large success, then the player will have more attempts; a large failure means less.

Other suggestions: pick-up sticks, marbles, jacks, 52-card pick-up, croquet, horseshoes, Pictionary, etc.


This space station is beginning to feel comfortable, but none of you have collected any information on your target. It is time to descend upon the largest social establishment on this station and have a few drinks to see what you turn up. Roll Etiquette and Con skill.

Taboo works here. Each character is doing their best to integrate into the crowd at the bar and see what information they can pick-up. Each player must get their fellow players to guess five words in 45 seconds, with the GM armed with the buzzer. If the characters have a huge success, then subtract words, but if it is a large failure, then add words for those 45 seconds.

Other suggestions: charades, black jack, Catch Phrase, Guesstures, Cranium, etc.

These are just a few samples of moments when real life challenges can be introduced during your RPG session.  Determine how active and excited the players are to face challenges like these, in order to know how often to sprinkle them into game play.  It can be surprising how meta-moments like these can be used to refocus and energize players back into the game.  Enjoy!

[tags]Role Playing Games, rpg, rpgs, Board and Card Games, Game Mastering, gaming, Gming[/tags]

2 thoughts on “Reviews & Ideas: RL Puzzles in RPGs

Add yours

  1. I love the way you incorperate character ability with player ability.
    Also the tanagram idea, I use those all the time in my math classroom, I never thought to bring them to the gaming table.
    Awesome article.


  2. The guys over at Penny Arcade did something really neat with small mirrors and lasers right along with their miniatures once. I thought the visuals of that were genius. It was literally a puzzle WITHIN their gaming environment.

    This was a great article. Really gives me some food for thought.


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