Best Problem Solving RPG?

Anon Adderlan

New member
Just in case I have left some of you feeling that I only care for the high-drama style RPGs, I wanted to clarify a bit and ask a question.

I LOVE mysteries and problem solving. The thing is that presenting a framework under which to make the proper assumptions to solve a problem in a game is extremely difficult. For example, there's a murder in London, and we've found several pieces of evidence.

How do we make a rational conclusion?

It turns out that the correctness of any conclusion we make with these clues depends entirely on how well we know the setting. Is there magic present? Different conclusion. Is magic rare and practiced only by the aristocracy? Different conclusion.

Worse, if the setting is based on the real world, our accuracy depends entirely on what the GM knows about it, and what we think the GM knows about it. We can't just apply our knowledge of the real world to solve these problems because they were constructed using the GM's knowledge of the real world, not ours.

Now a lot of you have shown interest in this kind of playstyle as well, but I have never had any luck with it, primarily due to the problems I listed. Which systems do you use to play games like this, and how do you get past those issues above?


Warrior Kobold
RPGnet Member
Validated User
d20 works well for fairly simple pulp style mysteries. (Inquisitives in Eberron). It has a good skill list to back it up and there are tons of interesting things you can do with the setting's magic.

Problem solving is the default gamestyle of Shadowrun. Here's a nut (a fortified corporate HQ), how do you crack it (get in and out with the data you need to steal and your ass)? An abundance of floorplans, detailed rules for hacking into security systems and the like make this an interesting and rewarding playstyle.

GURPS Space or related games can be good for hard sci-fi physics based problem solving. This is predicated on having players who are comfortable with that sort of thing though.

GM improvisation is another great technique. Let your players tell you what clues they search for, different ways they might fit together, etc. They'll come up with something that's at least as interesting as what you had in mind. Then you can just run with it.


New member
Try GURPS Mysteries. Probably one of the best rpg resources written for mystery, detective etc. adventures. Don't let the "GURPS" put you off. There is tons of useful advice that can be applied to any game system. There is very little GURPS in the book. It just mostly breaks down different kinds of styles, how to create a useable mystery and will answer your problem.

Jade Bells Ringing

have dice, will travel
RPGnet Member
Validated User
well, basically, Call of Cthulhu is largely designed on Horror with investigation. You receive a message from a cousin (and go to investigate his disappearance). The reporter or police man in your group rounds you up (to investigate the grisly string of murders in the area). Your expedition to Unknown Parts runs into (what the Hell is this? We'd better figure out how to beat it without geting killed.)...

This may work better for you if you play 1920's or Victorian era, since you all have watched Sherlock Holmes movies and can probably agree on the technology of the day.

Rel Fexive

Terrifying Space Monkey
Validated User
The system is unimportant. In most cases, so is the setting. It's whether or not the GM can run a good mystery and whether or not the players can navigate it successfully. Oh, and if both enjoy it.

Anon Adderlan

New member
Thanuir said:

That is probably the single most useful piece of advice on any aspect of gaming in thread form that I have EVER SEEN! It has complely changed the way I design and play RPGs. Seriously. How do I keep missing these 0_0

On the other hand, perhaps I focused too much on mysteries, as my question was more general.

Here's a clip from a Forge thread on a different subject, but is a perfect example of what I mean by problem solving in RPGs:

In A's game, 3 of the 4 players were engineers, who have traditionally been rules-exploiters and game-breakers, among other things. A's game gave them nothing they could break or exploit for unfair advantages according to the rules. However, A was sure to fill his game with complicated physical situations, and the engineers greatly enjoyed problem-solving in these. Stuck on the second floor of a three-story wooden structure with giant rats swarming down the chimney and only furniture, fire and swords at their disposal, everyone had a great time achieving an effective solution to the dilemma. Mostly, it worked because A had a very detailed dscription of the environment (what's the biggest chair made out of? are any parts of it hollow?), a grasp of physics no worse than his players, and had guessed correctly at an appropriate difficulty level. At the end, players were congratulating each other for good ideas and reveling in the combo of resourcefulness and luck (die rolls were involved in fighting rats and jamming objects into small spaces) that had allowed them to escape alive.
If the GM did NOT have the same grasp of physics as the players, then this scenario would be impossible. It was also largely dependent on knowledge shared between the players and GM, not of the game system or setting. In fact, I think Rel Fexive might be right. In this case system and setting don't matter, at least in play.

When the system DOES matter though, I have noticed my problem solving players tend to focus their problem solving skills on creating a character instead of solving problems in play. Character creation is treated like creating a program, and actual play like debugging. When something does not go as expected, it's not a dramatic revelation, it's a bug. Nobody likes finding a bug, unless there's also an opportunity to fix it, and many systems do not allow you to debug a character, only 'add' to it.

Which systems present more problem solving issues during play than at character creation? Which systems allow the kind of 'debugging' I described above?

There is also a kind of strange verisimilitude when a problem is solved by discovering the solution (Challenge at stake) as opposed to making the solution up (Premise at stake). In other words, did the player's solution fit the problem, or was their solution so clever that the GM changed the problem to fit their solution? Many problem solving players have a BIG problem with the latter despite the fact that often these differ only in if the player is aware the GM has a specific solution in mind.

Which form of in-game problem solving do you prefer as a player? Which do you prefer as a GM? Which systems are best in supporting your chosen (problem solving) style of play?
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