Tag Archives: stories

Tricks, Traps, and Puzzles in RPG’s and Stories.

I used to Gamemaster a lot for … well, not necessarily AD&D, but my own system based on that game. It was lots of fun. I especially enjoyed designing clever tricks, traps, and puzzles. This has carried over into my writing, as well. Many of my books and stories have some kind of puzzle in them. In RPG games (like AD&D) puzzles are an integral part of the game. I mean, after a while, even the most bloodthirsty person will tire from the endless hack and slash of your basic dungeon crawl. Tricks and traps add a special degree of unexpected flair to your basic gaming session. They force the players to think—and usually require them to put the thief in the party to work; though the best ones require input from the whole group. There are loads of pretty standard tricks and traps to choose from: poisoned needles, trap doors, poison gas, etc…. The best, though, are the ones you design yourself to really challenge the players. Probably the most difficult to pull off in a gaming session are riddles. This is because it’s all too easy to write a poor riddle (I know … I’ve done it). Basically, you write something that seems crystal clear to you at the time of writing, but when it comes time to spring it on the players, either they come up with two or more equally valid answers which you didn’t think of, or the riddle is too opaque and vague, and they just can’t solve it. In the case of riddles and RPG games, it’s usually best to go with actually published riddles, something some company somewhere wrote down, researched, and developed, supposedly with the help of experts, or something. The above is true of other puzzles you might feel inclined to include in your game. Some puzzles, like riddles, may just be too difficult for the players to figure out. That happened to me once, with one of my favorite puzzles of all time: an invisible maze. I won’t go into the details of the puzzle—I believe I have elsewhere—but I will just hold it up for the lesson it taught me. A puzzle/riddle in an RPG is useless if it is unsolvable.

This is NOT true in writing. No, when you are writing a story, you, the author, are the one who determines what the purpose of the puzzle is in the context of the story. You can use your basic tricks and traps from the RPG setting—the poisoned needle or the trap door, or what-have-you—or you can design your own. In such a case, almost anything goes because, generally speaking, the puzzle will be solved by the characters in the story because you are the writer and you are in complete control. There is no risk of, say, a riddle being unsolved because it’s too opaque, because you know what the answer is and you can just write it in—unless, of course, you want the riddle to remain unsolved, but that I would probably counsel against lest you irritate your readers. Regardless, you should still make the effort to design good riddles (and avoid the published ones for copyright reasons) but that is because they are a reflection of your skill as an author and not because you may inadvertently stump the characters. Puzzles in writing serve a similar purpose to what they serve in an RPG—they provide a break from action and just give the reader something to wrestle with. There is one more point to make about puzzles in writing: distance. Generally speaking, the puzzle shouldn’t be solved the sentence after it is presented to the reader; otherwise, they won’t have a chance to think about it and be impressed with its cleverness. The presentation of the riddle must be separated by a certain amount of distance from its solution in the story. The characters must struggle with it for a certain length of time, otherwise, the reader will not struggle with it—and what’s the fun of that? Give it a few pages, at least, so that the reader has a chance to ruminate about it for a while.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts on tricks, traps, and puzzles in both RPG settings and writing. Enjoy!

Do We Have Too Many Books?

This may seem like an odd view coming from a fantasy author like myself. And I’m not even sure if I emphatically believe it. It is just an odd thought that occurred to me as I was puttering around my house the other day. We have shelves and shelves of books around the place, so many that I wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess at a precise number. More than one hundred, less than ten thousand. Books on all sorts of different subjects. We have books on psychiatry, psychology, biology, and physics. We have fantasy books, science fiction books, historical books and more. And that is just this one house. Then, I imagine all the millions of similar households throughout the United States that must, no doubt, be similarly equipped. The number of books out there is staggering. And that doesn’t even include the libraries, colleges, bookstores and everything else. And then there are the ebooks spreading throughout the Internet like a literary plague.

 

My question is: are all these books necessary? If I’m honest–although as an author, this answer is not to my liking–I think the answer is no. We are suffering from a deluge of information. We have more books than we know what to do with. To be sure, thanks to the advent of the Internet and the rising surge of ebooks, there is a lot of garbage out there. But what about dated books? A physics book from the 1940’s? Or biology? Those two fields have advanced by leaps and bounds. Yet, how many old text books with dated information are circulating throughout the globe? They served a purpose once, but now… do we really need them, when modern textbooks contain better theories and more complete explanations? I’m not a huge environmentalist–I think the environment is a legitimate concern, but I protest the near religious fervor some of its advocates embrace–but every physical textbook cost a tree its life. It is clear to me, that we don’t need a lot of the old scientific books we have… perhaps a few copies in libraries to guarantee that they can be referenced, but that’s about it. Why not recycle the old textbooks to write the new? (Or is somebody already doing that?)

 

As a fantasy writer my primary concern is not science, but entertainment. We have the literary classics like Shakespeare and Hemingway, but there are a plethora of others who don’t quite measure up to such high standards. During my high school years I probably read one hundred fantasy books all by myself. I have no inclination to go back and read them again, but that doesn’t mean my nieces or nephews might not enjoy them. They were, after all, enjoyable stories. But with few exceptions (like the Lord of the Rings), my nieces and nephews probably won’t be reading the same stories I read. Every new generation produces its own wave of tales for the generation following. But at this point in history, do we really need to produce more stories? Can’t we use the ones that have already been written? Do the old stories become “bad” or “unworthy” because someone has written something similar more recently? I’m an author and I like telling stories and I like adding new twists and ideas in the stories I tell. But I know that a lot has come before me… so much, perhaps, I am no longer needed. That does not bode well for me. I want to write and make a living at it. But, seriously, how many fantasy stories do we need? It is already impossible to keep full tabs on what is already out there. I mean, vampires are not just mythical creatures of horror these days, they have become their own genre. Like other fields we can specialize. We can write werewolf stories, ghost stories, fairy stories, etc… I have no doubt that we can produce as many stories as we want, it’s just, when does it become too much?

 

To sum up. We have absurd numbers of books in this country, many of which have outlived their usefulness. Perhaps some effort should be made to recycle them (I’m not aware of any recycling programs for books, but if there are no such programs, perhaps there should be). Add to that the ebooks you can find on the Internet and it becomes clear that we have more stories than we actually need. Like I said, as an author, I’m not sure I emphatically believe any of this, but it was a train of thought I felt like sharing. Perhaps it is totally bogus.

 

What do you think?