Rampant Games - Puzzles and RPGs
Jay Barnson discusses puzzles in RPGs, with particular attention to the different types and they can be used without frustrating the player:
The Self-Contained Puzzle: This is a classic puzzle or logic game that requires no external tools to resolve. Worst-case, these may often be resolved by brute force. Some players hate these. Some players think they are kind of fun. Sometimes they take the form of a mini-game. Examples that I’m dredging up from past games might include the riddle-protected chests in Betrayal at Krondor, or a mastermind-style puzzle in Wizardry 7. Or a twisty maze of little passages, all different.
The Sequence Puzzle: Sort of a variation on The Self-Contained Puzzle above, this is a puzzle that requires the player to take actions (often, simply moving) in a specific sequence. Failure may result in having to start over. The key to making these puzzles not suck is twofold: Making sure that there are clues to the correct sequence so that it’s not a pure trial-and-error experience; and making sure that failure is not too punitive. If each stage of an 8-stage sequence takes a full minute to complete, it’s going to piss off players.