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A few sessions ago, I gave my players a puzzle that involved converting a decimal number to binary to figure out the correct sequence to open a door. Since my group consists primarily of computer science students, I feel that the puzzle was enhanced by the fact that it was tailored specifically to their field of interest.

However, there is also a mechanical engineering student and a psychology student in our party, and I'd like to design some puzzles related to those fields as well, to allow them to take the limelight and feel like they're really contributing to the party with something only they can do.

Specific puzzles would be nice, but I would also like to know what kind of problem would be relevant to someone studying this field. For example, converting between binary and decimal is something every computer scientist knows how to do, and it often comes up in the course of a day. What would be some analogous, fairly simple puzzles for a mechanical engineer or psychologist?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Engineering -

Give them pulley and mechanical advantage puzzles:

EG: They've got a lever, and the long arm is needed to raise up to get to the ledge leading out... but in order to do so, they have to pick the right guy to go up - strong enough to lash it securely, light enough to be counter balanced by the others... and then let him use a pulley pair to work it from the top.

They need strength 320 to lift the gate... but their total strength is only 60... they need a 6-fold advantage... let them work out that issue...

Chem-E (Chemical Engineering)

Give them puzzles solved by picking the right reaction. For example, "In thirst I sit, and what flame will quench my thirst?" Then give three buttons:
•• ..
••• .:

Answer: •. - representing a hydrogen atom.

Draw out a labyrinth which is a molecular diagram. For example, in the polymeric repeating molecule for polybutadiene, one could have each atom be one room, each valent bond a hall... and hide something with a given clue of "Between the place where the black stuff is double met... and as they map them, each room features something associated with its atom... Water in one hydrogen room, balloons in another... Carbon rooms could have wood, soot, and tar...


play up a few NPC's for a while... then have some avatar test their wisdom by having them come up with the correct diagnosis.

Run some riddles based in the DSM. EG: I speak in words, but nothing do I convey therewith; I talk a lot and say nothing, I see everything but react to nothing... what ails me? (Schizophrenia - note the word-salad and delusional reactions to "nothing.")

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These are nice ideas, but some of them seem to clash with Pathfinder's themes - knowledge of molecular structures or the modern classification of mental illnesses are out of place in a medieval fantasy settings... – G0BLiN Oct 28 '14 at 23:45
Don't think that's really a problem given the example puzzle stated by the Asker, G0BLiN. – PrometheanVigil Oct 31 '14 at 18:26

You could have a key that's slightly too small for its door or lock, and let thermal expansion be the solution. Likewise, you could have a bimetallic item that changes shape when heated be a solution to a different puzzle.

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Bimetallics introduce some interesting options! Thanks for the idea! jots down in GM notebook – schroeder Oct 29 '14 at 19:17

Engineering student:

When I was in university all engineers had to take a spatial awareness test. Maybe you can adapt this into a roleplaying puzzle.

  • give them an odd view of a keyhole and make them select the correct key.

Specific to Mechanical Engineering:

Anything that has to due with simple machines (pullies, levers, gears) should work. Maybe a rube goldberg machine or something similiar.

Psychology student:

This one might be a stretch, but how about something involving the Prisoners Dilemma.

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I didn't realize the prisoners dilemma was considered deeply in psychology. I have run into in Game Theory (a branch of mathematics applied in Economics and other fields). – TimothyAWiseman Nov 16 '12 at 22:20
Psychology can perhaps explain why so few people play the Prisoner's Dilemma rationally. – okeefe Nov 16 '12 at 22:33
Prisoner's Dilemma is also a computer science puzzle, if you are interested in machine learning =) – RMorrisey Nov 17 '12 at 23:39

It may more have its place in a game of Mage, but I think it can also work in Pathfinder if you're willing to handwave the "how ?"

An interesting challenge for the psychology student could be to piece back together a broken soul. This would be done by entering a plane associated with its unconscious (a finite plane arranged, by pure coincidence, much like a dungeon), where rooms are enigmas associated to archetypes.

E.g: In an earlier room, the group has slain an imposing fighter whose body disappears on death, leaving behind a plain, non-magical golden ring. When they later encounter a buxom woman in a white gown, they must offer her the ring to force the soul to acknowledge its oedipus complex.

This can be even more interesting if the soul in question is that of a known N/PC. The whole ordeal can be used to reveal secrets and explore ideas or fantasies (imagine the look on the Bard's face when he realizes he's an object of desire for the old wizard ! or how they would react to seeing the recipient's contempt for Elves materialized in the Room of Diminutive Tree-huggers)

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  • Handling a hostage crisis and Stockholme Syndrome of the NPCs.
    • Perhaps, unless dealt with, the hostages intervene on behalf of their captors?
    • Or, the PCs are the captors and must diffuse the stressful NPCs and keep them in line (or win them over). Don't just have them roll, have them explain exactly what they're doing and saying.
  • Mitigating diffusion of responsibility (Bystander effect)
  • Mob Mentality
  • Investigating which patient(s) in an asylum are possessed by spirits and which ones aren't
  • Training an animal or monster using Learning Theory (Classical and Operant Conditioning)
    • Program a golem in the same way?
  • Instead of rolling Diplomacy or Intimidation, have them use real interrogation techniques. Have them role-play the entire interrogative session.
  • Offer them optical or audio illusions as clues to larger mysteries or puzzles
  • Exercises in empathy
  • Investigating whether a machine/golem has achieved sentience and/or consciousness

Admittedly, some of these may be a little.. involved.

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I suggest you find a book by Raymond Smullyan called "What is the Name of this Book?", though any of his books would do. Mr. Smullyan creates wonderful logic puzzles that can be worked into a campaign with a little creativity. I think that logic puzzles in general would appeal to your players, and would not give anyone an advantage based on their major.

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