Monday, April 3, 2017

Old News: The Unsolvable Cipher
Is this the scroll you're looking for?
Once again, I found myself without a game this weekend. I'm not the type to give up on writing just because I wasn't doing anything interesting, so here's a few announcements and another Old News article.

First off, my Delving the Tomb of Horrors articles have been really popular, which I think might have something to do with the recently-pre-released Tales from the Yawning Portal. I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy quite yet, but we've still got a few weeks until the articles are finished, so I should be able to include my thoughts on the update with the final article.

Next, I know that I said I'd be posting some articles on music here soon. However, in the production of the video game we're working on, music (as is usual) takes a backseat to story and development. So I'm currently helping the team write the game's story, then I'll be working more on the music. Expect articles soon(ish)!

Finally, I wanted to let people know that I've still got a ton of articles prepped and coming down the pipe, so I don't plan on losing steam anytime soon. Especially if people want more old school module analysis, random rules speculation, and some crazy-massive tables like the Trinket table.

Anyway, since there was no game this weekend...

Old News: The Unsolvable Cipher
Been sneakin' around this town on the corner
This was a side game I ran for a player who had been absent from my Demon Quest game. He had been gone for a while and his rogue character, Vironion, was underlevelled. So, we grabbed a couple of his roommates and another one of my regular players and ran a game for all rogue PCs.

The game was a lot of fun. If you ever get the chance to run a game for all rogues, I recommend it. It really changes how you think about building encounters. The game ended with a chase through the city, where the rogue crew was using every trick in their books to catch a runaway messenger for a rival faction.

They eventually caught the guy, but he cyanide'd himself before they could interrogate him. All that was left was a note that had a mysterious message and a series of numbers on the bottom.

The player brought this note back to the rest of the group, assuming (correctly) that it was some kind of coded message. He hadn't been able to figure out what the numbers meant or how they related to the message. The other players took it in stride, and began cracking the code.

They tried all sorts of amazing codes, many of which I had never heard of. Of course, I didn't let them know that, since they were deeply engaged with the mysterious note. One player showed me his notes and I was extremely impressed at the amount of effort that he had put in to trying different codes.
A key point here: the code (much like the side game) was totally optional. That rival faction, though important, wasn't involved in the rest of the campaign. So the players were okay with working on the code and it didn't slow down the game's main plot.

After a few months of them trying to code-break, we finally finished up the campaign. I had dropped a few hints here and there, but after the last game I revealed my code, which had stumped the group:

The numbers were a decoy. All they had to do was take the first letter of each sentence.

Somehow, my players had got it in their heads that I would automatically choose the most complex puzzle available, some sort of deep code that required math to crack. This might be because of my job in finance, or my love for complex board games. Either way, I was happy that they had taken the time to enjoy a cipher, even if it wasn't as difficult as they expected.

So, I learned a few lessons! First off, rogue games are fun. Second, players enjoy a challenge, and a good enough challenge can be ejoyed out-of game as well.

However, I also learned that those challenges can't bring the game itself to a halt. Any encounter must have multiple paths to success, so I wouldn't want to create a difficult riddle within a single session that blocked hte players until they could solve it.

Finally, I learned that it's nice to have others think you're smarter than you actually are.
"B-E S-U-R-E T-O D-R-I-N-K Y-O-U-R O-V-A-L-T-I-N-E... what?"
Thanks for reading!

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