Hunter X Hunter power puzzles

edited December 2018 in Play Advice
I lament that I couldn't read more on the use of associated mechanics regarding "in fiction puzzles". I don't play OS since ages, but could really learn from the experts. I have in mind a specific narrative genre : Hunter X Hunter "ethic X nen" puzzles. I have always liked stories with a literal demon, and I now see the "in fiction puzzle" is a big part of what OSR does, the only essential difference being the (wildly different) perspective on resources.
Can you help me phrase the question ? Can I really play to find out and still have a puzzle ? How should I prep and play to make the puzzle solvable and yet challenging or surprising, maybe ? With what kind of constraints do I run the risk of closing any way out of the puzzle ?
I think something like @2097 Magic mirror epiphany can be linked to that too, but I play low prep, lightweight rules as much as possible.


  • I'd say that the most crucial element of making puzzles work in an OSR-like context is a really functional sandbox environment.

    The players should enjoy a highly open sense of choice in terms of what they want to do and how.

    Puzzles form a part of the landscape, but aren't NECESSARY in any meaningful sense. Players clever enough to solve them might unlock new options or possibilities, but giving up or ignoring the puzzles entirely should always be an option.

    A simple example is a "secret" area set behind a puzzle/locked door. The players should be able to decide whether to spend time figuring out or to give up and move on to other concerns. That works quite well.

    Having lots of other options available to them means that play should never "stall" because of a single puzzle. As a group, you can choose to engage with it only if it's fun for everyone involved.
  • edited December 2018
    OK, it is clearly not what I am after. Hunter X is more like The journey to the west, where each encounter is a ethic X logical puzzle with very few solutions.
  • Maybe a few examples of the genre would help for this discussion.

    From what I remember, early in the Hunter X Hunter comic (or the cartoon) there are a lot of puzzles posed by authority figures, usually involving some kind of deception.
    • The characters are taking a ship to go enroll in the "Hunter Exams" (they need licenses to become Hunters, which are like licensed adventurers/bounty hunters). The captain of the ship seems lowly and unimportant, but is actually a confederate of the examiners. He judges the moral character of the candidates and only directs those he chooses to the correct examination site.
    • On the way to the exam site, they are stopped by an old lady who asks them a tough moral question (some kind of trolly problem about which of two people you would save). She demands the right answer within 3 seconds. The correct answer is to give no answer, because there is no right choice. If you give either answer, she lets you pass (on a road that leads to death), but if you refuse to answer she redirects onto the correct road.
    Later in the comic there are a lot of combat "puzzles". The solution usually involves the specific constraints of the comic's magic system. The characters have a limited amount of magic aura which they can use for offense, defense, or other special abilities. A fight can be won either by landing a single killing/incapacitating blow or by causing the opponent to waste all their aura. Each character has a unique superpower ("nen" ability) that they choose themselves based on their personality and goals. Usually the puzzle in a fight involves figuring out how to outsmart the enemy's special superpower using some combination of the character's own special powers. Generally the enemies are far too powerful to defeat with brute force, or their special power is so debilitating that it is impossible to effectively fight them head on.
    • One of the villains seems to have an incredible array of potent abilities. However, it eventually turns out he was faking all of them using only two very simple powers, which are quite limited.
    • Another villain (the "bomber") creates deadly explosions wherever his hands touch. The only way the hero can survive a hit without injury is by concentrating all his aura on a single body part, creating enough of a shield to block the bomb attack. But the bomber likes to attack with both hands at once, making it impossible to block both attacks. If I recall correctly, the hero's solution is to let the bomber grab both his arms while focusing aura into only his left arm. The bomb attack blows his right arm off, but his left arm survives to land a decisive counterattack.
    • A cheetah monster has a power that trap the target in a pocket dimension from which they can only escape by winning a game of tag against the cheetah. This is seemingly impossible because nobody can outrun the cheetah. However, the hero observes that the cheetah is very impatient, so he chooses to sit perfectly still ignoring the game while the cheetah tries to taunt him to give chase. The cheetah eventually gets bored and goes to take a nap some distance away. While the cheetah's eye is off him, the hero creates a fake duplicate of his body (using a previously established power) and camouflages himself nearby. He tags the cheetah next time it returns.
    Generally these puzzles are extremely satisfying, because they seem overwhelming until the hero's solution is revealed. Sometimes the solution is possible only at a cost that seems too unreasonable to have considered, like the loss of an arm. So the hero seems all the more cunning and brave to have contemplated and employed such a solution.
  • Ah. That kind of thing is VERY difficult to do in an RPG, in my experience.

    The best technique I would suggest is to plan a difficult puzzle but no solution. Then, when the players come up with something plausible (something which could believably solve or bypass the puzzle) retroactively establish that as the solution to the puzzle (and fudge some details if necessary).
  • edited December 2018
    Yes, that's what I want to do. What tools help with this ?
    My first reaction was that retroactive fudging is typically destroying the purpose ! But you're right there's gotta be a way out if everything fails. Or even if it stalls.

    Facilitating conditions : stating the constraints very clearly in the fiction. This implies as little invisible "meta" constraints as possible and no relying too much on a single correct interpretation. @Thanuir Associated rules

    A part of prep (coming up with verisimilar hard situations, up to philosophical spear/shield paradoxes). A neat gradation in difficulty, giving players time to establish the techniques and procedures and hence improve coordination and confidence in their ability to overcome unfudged challenges ! Working on designing that kind of pedagogical scenario is a sort of prep that I will be glad to do !

    I suspect this works like a sort of mystery detective story, with fully "narrativized" resources. Taking time to analyse means adding description, then making sense of it. The lapse of time available for decanting the constraints being key. Extend time with exploration (wilderness, social milieu, tactics). Or a small encounter. Or thematic Drama, like they do in manga and series, or the Resting technique (Solar system) : anything adding descriptive, low stake material, until an opening can be seen. Such that the constraints have changed but sooo imperceptibly they are technically untouched. They just appear with another perspective.

    A way for players to communicate where they are from "fresh and creative" (let's keep it slow) to "bored and want to give up" (let's go much faster).

    If nothing else, out of time and ideas, fudge it. Like : players play their Joker (resources), pass the test. Paraphrasing 2097 on running "Old trad modules with (new) system" : "Gumshoe auto investigative (mechanic) removes obstacles".

    Add a Golden fleet sanction : Jason cheats therefore gets a fake reward). When the players give up, narrate how the characters pass the test one way or another, and the hidden Mastermind is like : "everything goes on according to plan", or anything suggesting pyrrhic / illusory victory. If you have ideas for these various victory levels, you are most welcome. It's a difficult kind of prep for me : envisioning failure in all its forms ... yikes !

    (To me, this last paragraph is like : everything in the hobby has been built backward from this point, with Jokers eviscerating the meaning out of stories because : pay to win. But of course that's the very definition of my subjectivity. I understand the Analysis game is not for everyone).

    Maybe some themes sprinkled on top. Hunter X and Journey to the west really are great for allegorical interpretations (Gon as Will, Kirua as Reason, The Monkey King as Consciousness)

    What else ?
  • edited December 2018
    *Been working on the previous post to make it more readable*
    And this is the Mysteries thread
  • As a report of what's been happening in our games: sometimes the module writer thinks that they are so clever setting up a puzzle where you need to find out the right sequence of tiles to step on etc.

    I always take care of laying out the pieces. (Again, heavily influenced by the Zork school of games.) And then if they cheese it with a mage hand or similar spell I just say YES! to that.

    When you're dancing contact, you're dancing physics.
    And the physics of this world has mage hands.
  • Sandra, what do you mean when you say that you "always take care of laying out the pieces"?
  • Upon reflection from the last couple of games I guess I don't do that as well as I thought or have it as a high of a priority as I thought. What is "that" — laying out the pieces?

    It's, let's say they're interacting w/ a guillotine trap. Knowing that there is a lever, some rope, maybe a knob, maybe a suspicious brick over in that wall… all of those are "pieces". What you do with them or in what order; that is the puzzle.

    Someone who always takes care of laying out the pieces are being very generous at giving them any puzzle pieces they might not have but that they should have.

    Whereas I, TBH, am more like "OK they didn't find it so they didn't get it", maybe I'm more like that then what is good for the game, for the group, or for myself. I guess it's some sorta instinct to be like "well, they didn't ask if the desk had any drawers…" pixel hunty / immersion / "let them say what they actually do" style :bawling:

    OTOH the best of both those two worlds is when things happen like yesterday's session where they had, but dismissed, useful items or clues. Those things were mentioned but the characters were like "OK OK some kinda weird rock. But wow what is that?!" to chase some less important piece of the scenery.

    Speaking of yesterday's session, and of my style, and something kinda related to this thread's topic — I changed my style in a way yesterday. Normally you know I have given myself the right to fill in gaps in the "wallpaper" freely. And sometimes they think on-the-spot detail are clues. Like yesterday they were like how are the statues in the fountain arranged and I was like "they stand like this" describing it. And then I went: "You know what, guys, that was just added color on my part. The module doesn't say anything about how they stand."

    IDK, I kinda hated doing that. It really took me out of the magic of the scene. Maybe that's not going to be a constant going forward. But it can be a tool in the toolbox.
  • edited April 2019
    The problem with a story puzzle that has one strict solution is that interpretation doesn't work like sudoku or shapes, which booleanly click or don't. Every piece of a situation are forced, they all click.
    You chose to remove a dead end because you judged it was uninteresting. So why put the statues (clearly, they are signs) in the first place ?
  • Some great observations there!

    I think that saying "hey; these aren't important serials, ok?" is basically a balancing act between how much you value "maintaining the magic" and how much you value "we didn't spend a half hour feeling frustrated".

    It might be a really different experience on the other side of the screen, too.
  • The statues are important for other reasons, but the fact that one looks westward, one looks eastward, and one looks southward was just color. DM-added color, since their relative position wasn't specified in the module text. Color that looks like a clue. So I chose to backtrack on that. More often I've let things like that stand. Red herrings… :bawling: not great but IDK why the players started asking about their positions. Well I guess to hunt for pixels. And that's awesome. In fact, I wish I had not backtracked. That I had been like "yes, one looks westward, one looks eastward, one looks southward. That's how it is". (And recorded it in the module, which by now is covered by post its with things like that.)

    Because the reason I fell in love with pixel hunting in the first place, when I ran B4 The Lost City, was that it makes the SIS come alive with detail. That vividness is my jam, I love it more than I hate red herrings.
  • edited April 2019
    I agree. Now it can't be undone but it has little consequences if you can digest your guilt. So let it go.
    Way to make a puzzle easier : give away clues, qualifying leads as cold or hot. It can feel heavy handed.
    Way to frame it : limited time, limited trials and errors. To intervene without breaking the game, you can frame frame the puzzle, precipitating a (false) answer and moving on.
  • I talked to the player about it and we decided how to do handle it going forward. He indicated that he understood perfectly. Much appreciated (even though that's something someone who misunderstands also might say — sorry, got red herrings on the mind now).
  • I also started dedicated some pages in my journal with a list of room numbers where I can jot down one line per room to indicate things like doors broken down by players, the time where a trap will reset etc. I have kept a lot of that in my head or in the calendar, and when I wrote it down I found that 1 line was a bit tight, next time I might use more. Some rooms might need a lot more but I can make a pointer to a separate page for them.
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