Puzzles and Games With a Sacred Touch?

In recent times, religion and the world of puzzles and games have crossed paths with sometimes surprising results.

The film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, a fairly puzzle-centric thriller, was widely denounced by members of the Catholic Church, and there was similar resistance, though less vocal, against the sequel film, Angels & Demons.

And, of course, in the 1980s, the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons was condemned as Satanic and dangerous to young minds.

I say that the above is strange because, for the most part, these seem to be anomalies or isolated incidents. There are numerous instances throughout history where puzzles and games were embraced by religion, even used as tools to teach aspects of religious beliefs.

For instance, in ancient Egypt, we’ve seen evidence of puzzly techniques used not just to secure the tomb of Tutankhamun, but also to disguise the language and rituals employed by elite members of their society. Puzzles were entrusted to keep their secrets well beyond the grave.

the seal on king tut's tomb

Plus one of the most ancient games in the historical record, Senet, seems to have evolved from being an enjoyable pastime into a spiritual tool.

You see, some Senet boards have religious iconography on them, believed to symbolize the journey into the afterlife. So gameplay — or the inclusion of the gameboard itself among the belongings of the deceased — represented that journey and the quest to learn more about it.

Some online articles have taken to referring to Senet as “the Rosicrucian board game of death,” which is a harsh misinterpretation.

There was also an afterlife connection with games for the Vikings.

According to Mark Hall, a curator at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, there have been 36 burials where board games of some description have been found in the graves around Northern Europe.

These grave sites grant intriguing insight into how the Vikings viewed board games as a learning tool. It’s believed that including a board game among the effects of the deceased signaled not only their skill and status as a warrior, but their preparedness for the afterlife itself. Heck, their win-loss records were even recorded for posterity!

Palindromes were believed to work as magical shields that protected those wearing the talismans bearing such clever wordplay.

Heck, even the shape of dice were influenced by changing religious views. Early dice games gave very little consideration to the shape or evenness of dice, because rolls were believed to be guided by Fate or some greater outside force, so the shape didn’t matter.

As religious beliefs evolved away from gods and greater forces intervening in such things, the general spirit of fairness in dice began to prevail, and the shape, balance, and pip distribution of dice became much more standardized.

And as for the Catholic Church, I certainly didn’t mean to make it look like I was picking on them in the introduction, because there are positive associations between the church and the world of puzzles and games as well.

And no, I’m not just talking about lighthearted products like BibleOpoly or the cottage industry of family-friendly games like Bible editions of Outburst, Scattergories, Apples to Apples, Scrabble, and Taboo.

Chess boards and other game boards have been found in houses formerly used by the Knights Templar, for instance.

There’s also the puzzly art of carmina figurata, poems wherein either the entire body of the poem or select parts form a shape or pattern. These works originated as religious tributes, poems where letters were colored red to stand out from the regular black lettering in order to draw attention to or highlight a certain religious figure.

tumblr_m6a31vnnxo1qggdq1

[“De laudibus sanctae Crucis” by Oliverus.
Image courtesy of WTF Art History.]

There would be hidden words or messages concealed in the text, some speaking of the religious icons at the center of the piece in glowing terms.

Do you have any favorite puzzles and games that have an element of religion to them, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


dailypopwsicon

Halloween is almost here, and we have some spookily good deals for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

Tomorrow Is Free RPG Day!

Whenever I write about roleplaying games or Dungeons & Dragons in the blog — which isn’t all that often, given that it’s a niche activity, even in puzzle and gaming circles — I’m always encouraged by the fact that each post seems to inspire one or two people to reach out and ask for more details.

How does it work, exactly? How do you play a game with no game board? Does it have to be dungeons? Does it have to be dragons? How do I get started?

And there’s no better time to get started than right now, because tomorrow, October 16th, is Free RPG Day.

[Image courtesy of Lewis Brown.]

The concept behind Free RPG Day is simple. All over the world (but mostly in the United States), local game shops, hobby shops, and other outlets team up with RPG publishers to distribute new, fresh, and most importantly, free material for all sorts of different roleplaying games, systems, and settings.

Not only can you receive a wealth of new ideas and playing options in one fell swoop, but it serves as a terrific way to meet fellow roleplayers and build a community of game enthusiasts.

You can click this helpful link to find local spots near you that are participating in Free RPG Day, and I would highly recommend searching online for local game shops, game cafes, and even community centers like your local public library to see who is participating.

These shops will often be running demonstrations of games, tutorials on how to play, hosting raffles and contests, and offering terrific sale prices to encourage you to find the game that fits you best.

Every year, dozens of companies get involved, not only to encourage the growth of the game world, but to promote their own products. And what better way is there to get people hooked than with free exclusive materials begging them to try out this brand new world of play?

If you’re a Facebook or Twitter user, Free RPG Day has accounts on both platforms, and there are hashtags you can search to get more details on participating companies AND locations.

The world of roleplaying games is so much deeper than just the medieval hack-and-slash that is depicted on TV. Sure, there are swords to wield, monsters to fight, zombies to elude, but there are also gorgeous, peaceful games.

For instance, there’s Green Ronin Publishing’s Blue Rose AGE, set in a wild forest as full of spirits and beauty as it is potential danger. For Free RPG Day, they’re releasing a quickstart version of the game to give you a chance to sample its unique charm and play style.

The folks at 9th Level Games are publishing a collection of different indie RPGs, offering you a sampler of all sorts of play styles and settings all in one place.

[Image courtesy of GameZEnter.]

Other companies are offering sci-fi and steampunk and colorful animal adventurers, everything from Japanese anime-inspired adventure to Lovecraft-inspired World War II intrigue.

Here’s hoping you venture out this weekend and find something great. Roleplaying games offer a unique form of puzzling, gaming, and storytelling, and this could mark the start of something exciting and new. Roll the dice. Give it a shot.

And if you have any questions about roleplaying games in general or specific games and settings in particular, please let us know! We’d be happy to point you in the right direction.


dailypopwsicon

Halloween is almost here, and we have some spookily good deals for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

Big Changes Coming to Dungeons & Dragons?

There’s no denying that Dungeons & Dragons isn’t just the granddaddy of roleplaying games, it’s also the most well-known and recognizable example of the genre.

But there’s never been a richer time for roleplaying games than right now. Patreon and Kickstarter are bringing new designers and storytellers to prominence, websites like DriveThruRPG give terrific visibility to creators large and small, and contenders for the throne both old (White Wolf Games) and newer (Pathfinder) continue to grab their own share of the RPG market.

Although it’s two years away, the fiftieth anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons is looming large, and some big moves are being made this year.

At the D&D Celebration 2021 event, the creative team announced that the game will be getting a major update for the first time in nearly a decade.

The current version of the rules — known as fifth edition or 5e — marked a return to form for Dungeons & Dragons after a less-than-glowing response to their fourth edition ruleset, and it has served as a game system that welcomes new players and satisfies long-time players as well.

Now, we don’t know if this is simply an update to the system to improve/tweak the rules — D&D 5.5e, you might say — or if this will be a wholesale relaunch of the core system. (Though that seems unlikely, given that 2020 was the company’s most profitable year ever.)

What they have promised is that, whatever form the update takes, EVERYTHING that they’ve released for fifth edition over the last decade will still be compatible with the new system. This is not a cash grab that will force players to shell out for all sorts of new books.

It’s an intriguing announcement that has fans already speculating, even though the update’s release isn’t due until 2024.

[In this video, long-time roleplayers The Dungeon Dudes break down their thoughts on potential 5th edition updates.]

But those big moves we mentioned above aren’t only being made by the industry leader. Some important names from D&D’s past are also contributing to the growth and variety of roleplaying games in impressive ways.

It was recently announced that Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis would be collaborating on a new setting and system based on 5e rules: Skyraiders of Abarax.

Now, if you don’t know those names, you should. The world of D&D over the last 50 years would be a lot less varied without them. Tracy and Laura Hickman were instrumental voices behind two iconic D&D settings that have endured for decades — Ravenloft and Dragonlance — and the idea that they’re creating a brand new world for players to enjoy is immensely exciting.

Not only that, but several influential creators have launched their own new world and system on Kickstarter recently: Tanares.

Folks like Skip Williams, Bruce Nesmith, Jeff Grubb (who contributed some of my favorite Star Wars RPG supplements), and the legendary Ed Greenwood — who created The Forgotten Realms, another hugely famous D&D setting — have collaborated on an immersive new world and play system.

Considering that they raised over two MILLION dollars for the project on Kickstarter, it’s fair to say that there’s a market for fresh content that fits the D&D aesthetic but takes the gameplay in exciting new directions.

Now, if you’re not familiar with roleplaying games, you may be wondering what the big deal is. Why does an updated system or a new setting matter?

New systems can be welcoming to new players and put them at ease, or end up so daunting that it scares off new players while alienating established players.

Similarly, a new setting can offer fresh gameplay opportunities and give players the chance to try different styles, genres, and characters in ways they might never have considered otherwise.

And who knows where roleplaying games will be in two years? Will indie publishers continue to thrive? Will Tanares or Skyraiders of Abarax be household brands? And what exactly do the designers behind the world’s most famous roleplaying game have in store for their loyal and lapsed players in 2024?

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, keep rolling those dice. Happy roleplaying!


dailypopwsicon

Halloween is almost here, and we have some spookily good deals for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

How to Define Success vs. Failure in Roleplaying Games

Roleplaying games are some of my absolute favorite pastimes. The simple act of telling a story with friends is rejuvenating for me. I love sitting at a table — or on a Zoom call — with friends and collectively creating an adventure in our imaginations.

I know that the dice and the rulebooks and all the numbers can be daunting for new players, but honestly, they’re just the laws of physics, fate, and chance given form. In the simplest form, roleplaying games consist of you telling the gamemaster / dungeon master / game runner what you want to do, and the dice determining how it goes.

In many RPGs, there’s a success/failure line. If you roll above a certain number, you succeeded. If you roll below it, you failed.

[Image from Stranger Things courtesy of The Verge.]

That’s certainly simple enough. But it can be frustrating for some players, new and old. After all, if you had to beat a 15 and you rolled a 14, why should the result be the same as if you’d rolled a 2? The 14 is much closer, after all.

Some roleplaying games stick to the strict success/failure model. But others have a different approach that players might find more rewarding.

star-wars-edge-empire-rpg-core_1_97bac45707850006a463c742ecc746af

Fantasy Flight Games offers a Star Wars-themed roleplaying game that has one of my favorite dice systems. There are different colored dice that represent different aspects of the game (your character’s ability to do something, the difficulty of the action they’re attempting, advantages and disadvantages to their action at the time, etc.), and the dice don’t have the traditional number values you’d expect.

Instead, they have symbols that represent success, failure, advantage, threat, triumph, and despair.

So, depending on the dice roll, it’s not just a success or a failure. You can have an overwhelming success, or an overwhelming failure, or many things in between. You can fail at the task, but end up with something unexpected and advantageous still happening. Or you can succeed, but with some consequence.

It opens up the narrative floodgates WAY beyond the success/failure binary option, and it has led to some of my absolute favorite moments in roleplaying.

Naturally, this requires a little more creativity from both the player and the game runner, but together, you can tell some fantastic adventures.

81YTNmLLMLL

Ninja Burger is a humorous quickplay roleplaying game that uses standard six-sided dice. In the game, you’re a ninja secretly delivering fast food. It’s very silly and great fun.

One rule in the game that can lead to enjoyable chaos AND take the sting out of the traditional success/failure mechanic of roleplaying games is that you are instructed to act as if you never fail. Even if you’re failed a roll.

So, say you’re using wujenitsu (ninja magic) to pretend to be a bag of golf clubs to sneak into a country club. But you failed your roll. The caddy who grabbed you is clearly carrying a ninja on his back, not a bag of golf clubs.

But you must proceed as if you succeeded, no matter how ridiculous things get.

Sure, failure has consequences in any game, even silly ones, but if you’re in on the joke, then failure isn’t so bad. Especially if you can find a way to make your friends laugh along the way.

dreadJenga

Dread is a roleplaying game that doesn’t use dice at all. Instead, you set up a Jenga-style tower of blocks, and to accomplish certain tasks, you have to pull a certain number of blocks from the tower without collapsing it.

It’s a brilliantly simple way to add tension to a game AND put your fate in your own hands. There’s no single unlucky dice roll that can condemn you to defeat. Just gravity and your own steady (or unsteady) hand.

And of course, as the game continues and the tower grows unsteadier — and your options for wood blocks to pull become fewer and fewer — the tension mounts and mounts.

Eventually, the tower — and your character’s chances — collapse in a clatter.

[Image courtesy of Lewis Brown.]

Of course, the rules of every roleplaying game are eventually up to the people running/playing the game. If you decide that the success/failure rules of your game should be more nuanced, you can do something about it immediately.

But for new players and new game runners, sometimes it helps to remind them there are always other options available. Whether you ditch numbers entirely for narrative dice like in FFG Star Wars, pretend failure isn’t failure at all in Ninja Burger, or ignore the dice completely with something like Dread, you can still build tension and tell some wonderfully fun, exciting, and action-filled stories.

Good luck, and happy roleplaying, everyone!


dailypopwsicon

Well, summer’s over, but we still have deals galore for you to check out. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

How People Used Puzzles and Games to Endure the Pandemic

Puzzles and games have been there for many people during the pandemic.

Many puzzle and game companies offered (and continue to offer) “COVID discounts” and giveaways to help people financially impacted by the crisis. Companies released free online or zoom-compatible versions of their products to help people get by.

There are all sorts of articles out there about how Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games have served as critical socializing tools in virtual hangouts. Bar-style trivia, zoom games, Jackbox, Board Game Arena, Fall Guys, Among Us… lots of communal activities went virtual as puzzles and games filled a rapidly growing niche.

Whether solved alone or with other members of the household, jigsaw puzzles sales increased 500% or more. Online sites to coordinate trades sprang up, allowing people to swap puzzles they’d solved before for ones new to them.

At a terrible time for many people, puzzles and games helped us cope.

And honestly, if you know the history of games and puzzles, it makes sense. Many of them have been born out of unpleasant circumstances.

Monopoly was a hit during the Great Depression, offering an escape and the illusory feeling of being rich. The game itself only cost two dollars, so it was a solid investment with a ton of replay value.

Candy Land was created to entertain children with polio (although that fact wasn’t commonly known for 50 years). Clue was designed during air raid drills as a way to pass the time. The Checkered Game of Life (later The Game of Life) was inspired by Milton Bradley’s own wild swing of business misfortune.

Risk and other conflict-heavy games weren’t popular in postwar Germany, so an entire genre of games that avoided direct conflict was born: Eurogames.

It’s just as true in the modern day. What game was flying off the shelves during COVID-19 lockdowns? Pandemic.

That combination of escapism and social interaction is so powerful. Games are low-stakes. They offer both randomness (a break from monotony) and a degree of control (something sorely missing during lockdown).

Puzzles too assisted folks in maintaining their mental health. And isn’t it interesting that crossword solving, something viewed by many as a solitary endeavor — I guess they never needed to ask someone else 5-Down — helped fill a crucial social role for people?

Constructors stepped up in interesting, inventive ways. The sense of community fostered by online crossword events like Crossword Tournament From Your Couch (which filled the void of ACPT in 2020) and the Boswords Themeless League was absolutely invaluable to puzzlers who couldn’t attend some of the highlights of the puzzle calendar year.

As I said before, there are numerous articles out there celebrating the benefits of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and more.

Roleplaying games certainly helped keep me sane during lockdown. It might sound ridiculous, but dealing with world-threatening threats, fiercely dangerous monsters, and sinister plots that I could DO something about was medicinal. It was escape in its truest form. It recharged me, allowing me to lose myself in storytelling with friends.

The last 18 months were hard. There may be hard months ahead. But I’m grateful for the puzzle/game community — and the many marvelous pastimes they’ve created — for helping me and many others get by. To smile. To cope. To socialize. And to enjoy.

What games and puzzles have helped you deal with unpleasant circumstances, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

What makes a great riddle?

[Image courtesy of PNG Find.]

I have always suspected that riddles were our first experiments with puzzles and puzzly thinking. Long before crosswords, Sudoku, codebreaking, and magic squares, the potential for wordplay and outside-the-box thinking would have appealed to storytellers, teachers, philosophers, and other deep thinkers.

Who doesn’t enjoy unraveling a riddle, parsing the carefully constructed sentences for every hint and nuance lurking within, and then extracting that tiny purest nugget of a solution from the ether?

Riddles appeal to our love of story and adventure, of heroes with wits as sharp as their swords. Riddles are the domain of gatekeepers and tricksters, monsters and trap rooms from the best Dungeons & Dragons quests.

And so, for centuries upon centuries, even up to the modern day, riddles have been a challenging and intriguing part of the world of puzzling.

We can trace them back to the Greeks, to Ancient Sumeria, to the Bible through Samson, and to mythology through the Sphinx. Riddles abound in literature; we find riddles in Shakespeare, in the works of Joyce, Carroll, and Austen, all the way up to the modern day with The Hobbit and Harry Potter. Every locked room mystery and impossible crime is a riddle to be unraveled.

[Image courtesy of Campbell County Public Library.]

But this raises a crucial question: what makes a good riddle?

At first glance, it should be confusing or elusive. But after some thought, there should be enough information within the riddle to provide a solution, either through wordplay/punnery OR through looking at the problem from a different perspective.

Let’s look at an example. In this instance, we’ll examine the riddle from Jane Austen’s Emma, which is posed to the title character by a potential suitor:

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

The answer is “courtship.”

The first half of the riddle refers to the playground of royalty — court — and the second half to the domain of her suitor — ship — and when combined they form the suitor’s desire. This riddle is confusingly worded, to be sure, but it makes sense when analyzed and it’s totally reasonable when the clever Emma figures out the answer… and turns down the suitor’s attempt at riddly courtship.

[Image courtesy of Yale.edu.]

So, what’s an example of a bad riddle? Well, unfortunately, we don’t have to look too hard for an example of one. Let’s examine Samson’s riddle from The Book of Judges in the Old Testament, which he poses to his dinner guests (with a wager attached):

Out of the eater,
something to eat;
out of the strong,
something sweet.

The answer, bafflingly, is “bees making a honeycomb inside the carcass of a lion.”

This is borderline nonsense unless Samson actually told you the story of killing a lion with his bare hands and later returning to the corpse to find bees building a hive inside. So, basically, this riddle not only screws over his dinner guests — who lost a wager to buy fine clothing if they couldn’t solve the rigged riddle — and serves as an excuse to brag about killing a lion. Samson is a jerk.

This is a bad riddle, because it’s designed to be confusing, but does not offer enough information to get to the desired solution. It’s purposely unsolvable, and that sucks. Riddles shouldn’t be arbitrary or nonsensical.

James Joyce pulled this in Ulysses. Lewis Carroll pulled it in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And each of these examples give riddles a bad name. (Even if they do serve a literary purpose, as scholars claim they do in the Joyce and Carroll examples.)

Even if you want the hero to seem (or be) smarter than the reader, the riddle should still make sense. When confronted with five riddles by Gollum in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins solves four of them (and answers the fifth through charmingly dumb luck). It doesn’t hurt his character or make the reader feel like they’re being cheated when these riddles are resolved.

That’s another quality of a great riddle. Even if you don’t solve it, when you DO find the answer, it should feel like you were outwitted and you learned something, not that you were involved in a rigged game.

Oh, and speaking of learning, that reminds me of another example of a challenging yet fair riddle, one that comes from Ancient Sumeria (now, modern-day Iraq):

There is a house. One enters it blind and comes out seeing. What is it?

The answer, as you might have puzzled out, is “a school.”

Riddles can be devious or tricky; they can rely on misdirection, our own assumptions and biases, or careful word choice to befuddle the reader. But they should always be learning experiences, like the house you enter blind and leave seeing.

What are some of your favorite riddles, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!