Distilled principles of problem design

I need very distilled problem design principles.

I’m working on an Hunter X Hunter GMless game. Picture a narrative dungeon (railroading tree of sorts) with each room an encounter or a trap. These can be solved by wit or brute forced at a cost, OSR style.

The game being GMless I need to teach players to improvise good elements they can then make into good problems, to which they then will find good solutions. I am confident the process works, having played through it with ample fun.

I have already gathered principles from The Angry DM, The Alexandrian and Silent Titans. What enlightening principles have you found in your travels?


Do you mean stuff like “Invincible monsters are OK as long as you have at least one unblockable way to escape”? If not, what do you mean? Care to post an example?

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Some advice to GM like the one you gave, I can retro engineer into advice for improv.
Whether a dungeon, space-op or whatever is good for me.

Examples :
how to make sure to leave one unblockable way to escape when you improvise a trap ? : xxx
how to turn encounters into problem-solving 101 : yyy
Video game articles on the topic : zzz
NoNormalDefence attacks (like gas) have : one simple, incomplete, fictional defence (cease breathing) + one defence that can be bought cheap at prep (oxygen tank) + one costly improvised on the spot defence (reallocate force field around the head)
Simple tools to make an encounter tactical : terrain and obstacles, motivations and goals, dungeon ecology - trap mechanism - power soruce
trap mechanism principles : x y z
dungeon ecology principles : u v w
Quintessential space prompts from Silent Titans : this side / that side, inside / outside, hidden / exposed, above / below, near / far.
3 puzzle levels : pragmatic / logic / symbolic
That kind of things.

Working on a similar thing, I’m very interested too! :smiley:

At the moment my method looks like a few “moves” that represent the fundamental activities of dungeon exploration, usually with a careful and thought through version and a rushed or foolhardy version … the game then offers structural prompts the Players have to flesh out into narrative content.
The “problem” design is thus atomic and emergent… not really relying on “problem design” per se, but in the ability of Players to (inadvertently?) build one bit by bit, while simply describing answers to prompt within the specific scene-context.

But if there were good problem design that I could bake into the “moves”, it would be awesome :smiley:

I plan to mechanize the rushed vs careful approaches a bit differently for various reasons related both to my taste and the original material. I plan on making 2+ sides, each with a “pick (stat)” list (basic + options). This come down to the approaches you mention :

  • pick defense or progress or add a new factor into the battle
  • plus prompts (= the pick list)
  • plus a bit of a rock-paper-scissors (rotating GM to embody certain opponents) weighed by character stats

I got in contact with a group of people that do PbForum, but their only solution is “bit by bit” improvisation. It relies a lot on player creativity. So the prompts seem to be a good way of addressing that.

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Your post here is a bit confusing, because you’re saying that you’re looking for principles, but also that you already have something that works well. Not sure if there’s something missing there?

That said:

I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you’re looking for, but I’ll shoot with one:

  • Instead of the solution, or what the players will do, focus on:
    *- Who built this, and for what purpose?
    *- What did they have access to in order to do so (materials, powers, resources, manpower)?
    *- How does the thing actually operate, in as much detail as you can manage?

Knowing how it works allows you to adjudicate attempts to mess around with it, and is better than trying to guess what solutions people might try and building those in. Knowing how it works means you can deal with any unexpected solution or attempt, which is far better and more open-ended.

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Thank you Building materials and method are great leads to investigate.
I don’t feel I have something that works well, only a few schematic ideas on a field I know very little. I still need to go over and over these principles to “work them in” like butter in a Kouign Amann and weed out some parts. Using my intuition and taste I could propose a mechanical frame, but I still need to write prompts.

Oh, I’ve found this on problem solving
, and I like it very much:

Perhaps studying existing traps and puzzles would be the most useful thing, then. History, tradition, design techniques.

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Yes, now that I’ve got an interpretating framework, I can dig the datamine.
Here’s what’s new :

1 - I found I need to make the encounters semi-isolated systems. This means codifying plot trees (Cf Pridwayn railroad campaing), “getting away”, and “getting there”.

2 - Regarding “getting there”, the use of trap tells in particular needs to be heavily codified. Not the qualitative signs themselves (I’ve distilled them all from here!), but the question whether there is, or whether there can be a clue, and who gives it, and things like illusion magic encounters or deceptive strategies.

3 - the encounter mechanic and tactic goals can be refined to infinity (NND, RPS, block or dodge, sweep, bash or thrust, etc.) They don’t need to be though. However tempting that is, and even though it’s “mechanical”, that’s diversity in colour and shades, and very easy to ad lib. Resource economy will benefit from conversions 1-1, with one big cost : turns, and one small change cost : options in a turn (not unlike the Lost Worlds duel booklets). This 1-1 ratio makes harm and narrative conditions a light brain load, too.

4 - I’ll focus on imitating the original material (HxH), include “strategy tropes” and ethical considerations (goals < motivations < values)

5 - and problem solving difficulty scaling, with points number 1 and 2 coming into account (hiding the box obviuously makes it harder to think out of it). Level design appears as a a combination of these factors along the plot tree. I don’t know why, but this seems like the easy part, like I’ve cracked this nut and all the players will have to do is eat it.

6 - trap investigation is still a bit vague. I leave a lot to players here… What I have is mostly a number of investigative steps for the most complex problems (distilled from corporate articles)

7 - and simple nice locpicking steps.

8 - and a collection of Perception moves (SoP etc.)

Now the hard, tedious work begins: datamining and meticulous redaction.

Here are my trap tells :

  • absence of a normal sensation
  • active dissimulation (leaves, carpet, etc.)
  • victim : tracks coming, not leaving
  • victim : trying to solve or warn
  • victim : remains
  • partly visible : mechanism
  • partly visible : energy
  • partly visible : physico-chemical
  • fabrication or maintenance activity
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My relation to Hunter x Hunter right now :

I specifically need guidance and articles about misdirection.
I have several ways to scale encounter difficulty, one of them being misdirection. I have ways of giving out cues for a price, and prompts for ambush tells and stuff. But I’m struggling with the limit between fairness and challenge.
It is very important for problem solving that players have all the “rules” in their hands. Yet, part of problem solving is infering rules from clues. I have a system for handing out clues at a cost. I feel I am less troubled by the mechanical aspect of the question than on the ethical framework. Maybe? I’d like to have clear cut principles for GMs not to have to interpret and judge much. What would be the Good Laws of Misdirection?
I think my problem may be that ambush or hiddden clues are like GM playing on their own. I can reverse that with maybe silent moves or obfuscation tokens or something, but I feel that a mechanical solution isn’t completely satisfying. I hope you have some experience with the tpic and spot my limitations to conceptualize it correctly.
The game is all improvisation, no preparation (solutions like putting the answer in an enveloppe don’t apply).
Thanks for your help.

In the meantime I found the Old School Primer, maybe it was all I needed…

And the misdirection question? Watching the shonen again, I can tell the most tense episodes are those where the encounter is solidly codified. The tutorial scaling of difficulty is in itself the box the character has to think out of. So, the plot tree for encounters is really the most important thing. No blurring the frame is necessary other than your typical GM description.

Also this