ToEE: Math Riddles

My earlier misunderstanding about Jaroo illustrates some of the difficulty of translating a tabletop RPG module to a computer. A human DM can easily improvise NPC dialogue to address gaps in the players’ knowledge, but there is no improvisation in a CRPG. Every eventuality must be accounted for in advance, and that’s hard to do. But even worse, the need to conduct dialogue through pre-established menu trees makes it difficult to allow the player to communicate understanding, or for the game to figure out what the player does and doesn’t know. I’ve just been through another bit that illustrates this even more clearly.

Off in the eastern part of Hommlet, a pair of semi-retired adventurers named Rufus and Burne are building a castle. I’d heard of them long before I met them; the entire town militia seems to be in their employ and willing to sing their praises to anyone who asks. Note that the game only uses voice acting for a few conversations, chiefly first meetings with important characters. Thus, it was only when I talked to Burne for the first time that I learned to my horror that his name is pronounced like “Bernie”. I’m guessing that he specializes in fire magic, too — he’s the mage of the Rufus/Bernie duo.

If you talk to Bernie enough, he’ll challenge you to figure out a couple of puzzles, decorated as true anecdotes from his adventures. Get them right, and he’ll reward you with a couple of valuable spell-scrolls; fail, and you have to make a donation to the castle-building fund. Of course, the wager isn’t really the thing motivating the player here. The real reason to do the challenge is simply to do the challenge. The first puzzle is a simple people-wearing-colored-hats-they-can’t-see logic problem. The second is more complicated. It involves an irregular set of handshakes among group of twelve people, six wizards and their apprentices, under certain constraints, and concludes with the question “How many people did my apprentice greet?” At first I thought that this was actually unsolvable, that there wasn’t enough information, and I came up with an alternative way of finding the answer: as it happened, Bernie’s apprentice was in my party. If I just told Burne I wanted to take some time to think about it, I could ask the apprentice what had happened at that meeting. I still think this would have made a good alternate solution, but the game doesn’t recognize it. I did manage to figure it out after drawing some diagrams, though.

Now, here’s the hard part: Simply guessing the answers to the riddles is not enough. If you get the right answer but can’t explain how you got it, Bernie gives you a lesser reward than if you actually figure out the solutions. I assume that the puzzles are inherited from the tabletop D&D module that ToEE is based on, and in that context, it’s easy for the DM, acting in the role of Bernie, to ask you to explain your reasoning and judge the result. But how do you do this in a menu-based dialogue system?

The creators of this game decided to preserve the content of the puzzles at the expense of their essential nature. Instead of a puzzle for the player, it becomes a stat check on the character doing the talking. That is, you still have to find the right answer, but once you give it, your character’s Intelligence stat determines whether or not a good explanation of the reasoning behind the solution appears as an option in the dialogue menu. (This breaks the UI somewhat; only the first line of the explanation is clickable.) You can still solve the puzzles before giving an answer, but it’s no longer really necessary. With save/load, you can brute-force your way to a solution.

Which is kind of fitting, because, as I’ve said, this is to some extent a puzzle game overall, with most of the puzzles being combat encounters. Those puzzles are solvable by repeated reloading and retrying, so why not these?

1 Comment so far

  1. matt w on 29 Sep 2017

    Somehow when I think about old D&D modules I always forget all the corny puzzles they had (this is not a value judgment). The flesh golems with numbers on their chests in White Plume Mountain! The… well, I think there are some of those in Tomb of Horrors, but the one I remember is in White Plume Mountain.

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