December 5, 2011 by deadorcs
As many of you know, I’ve been working on a 4e campaign set within the Myst universe. My approach to this has been multi-modal, utilizing all sorts of special terrain, rules, handouts, and other varied types of presentation.
If you’re not familiar with Myst, it was an innovative game from the mid-90s that utilized a unique universe of linked worlds (or ages). The focus was on beautifully rendered (but originally static) scenery combined with a immersive story & enigmatic puzzles.
Of these elements, of particular interest to me are the puzzles within the game. These puzzles are interesting to me, because they rely on the observation of the environment and the components that contribute to the puzzle itself, in order to solve them. In other words, if you’re not paying attention to where you are, you’re probably going to be at a disadvantage.
For me, this is the perfect kind of puzzle for a Dungeons & Dragons game. It makes the players observe the environment and come to conclusions, without having to resort to the character sheet for a quick & easy answer.
Last Saturday, the Dead Orcs Society (which has become trapped on Myst Island) managed to find a linking book to a another age (Selenetic). Being rather bold, they immediately linked to the age. The area is interesting, as they have to solve a puzzle related to sound before they can unlock the chamber that will eventually allow them to escape. One of the key parts to solving the puzzle is a main “control antenna array” at the center of the area. Now the trick here, was to attempt to describe rather modern (but not “ultra-modern”) objects into terms that post medieval characters might understand. Here’s what the players (and thus their characters) were confronted with:
Such a mechanism would be very difficult to describe without a lengthy treatise. As you can see there are a number of buttons (2 arrows, 5 pictographs, and 1 large button (which is actually a summation symbol, I believe), a video readout, and a number readout (which is actually a frequency). The trick is to use the arrows to point at locations around the island matching the picture. As you get close, the arrow begins to flash and the sound unique to each symbol comes in clear. You then click the big “E” button to see the order of the sounds. That’s important, because you have to enter those sounds later into this panel:
Again, it’s all rather complicated to explain, but the gist here is that each of those sliders has several sounds attached to them, so as you move a slider, the sounds play. In addition to the legitimate sounds on the island, there are several dummy sounds as well. It’s challenging, even for a group, because at one point, they had to revisit the main antenna array in order to hear one of the sounds more clearly.
However, there’s a catch to all of these panels & such. That last image? Yeah…that’s actually the first puzzle component they encounter. The panel is completely baffling, you have to explore the rest of the island in order to figure out its purpose. The second catch, is that you have to visit each of five areas on the island, and push a button to activate the microphone so that the main antenna (which you haven’t arrived at yet) can read the signal.
The puzzle helped accomplish what I’m trying to do with this campaign. I’m more interested in player interaction than character interaction at this point. Anyone can roll a die, look at the character sheet and say, “I did it”. While that’s a completely legitimate way to play, it’s also sort of takes the fun and mystery out of exploration. Instead of having the characters muck about making a bunch of useless skill checks or perception checks, I just loaded up Myst (in this case, RealMyst, the real-time version of the game), popped it over to the external monitor, and then watched the fun on my own screen, as they used the mouse to manipulate the elements of the puzzle. To avoid players “spoiling” certain elements of the map (and to prevent them from jumping ahead), I had them move their figures to the desired location on the map before revealing the area on the screen. (see image below).
It was actually pretty cool watching the players explore this puzzle without having to do a lot myself. Between the 4 of them (I was missing a player), they solved it in about 30 minutes. It was a great utilization of the time, and it wasn’t boring for them.
If I could wish for some new thing at my gaming tabletop, it would be to run puzzles like this more often. I’d love it, if I could load a mini app on my screen, that contained the elements to a puzzle. I could then operate that component without having to launch an entire game to do so. Not really sure if that would work or not, but I know I’ll be trying to utilize such audio/video aides in the future.
While I’m not sure if an AV component will figure in to the rest of the Myst Campaign, I now have a tested reference and know it will work.
Thoughts? Questions? I welcome them. Let me know what you think of this experiment, and whether or not you have utilized AV in a similar way at your game table.
Until next time…
Game excellently with one another.