“Will they solve the puzzle?” can be a great dramatic question for a roleplaying scene. The party might uncover a secret clue, find hidden treasures, or save an NPC from a trap. From the simplest puzzles to the most elaborate mysterious, solver’s uncertainty can play an important role in RPGs.
Solver’s uncertainty is all about finding patterns and drawing conclusions. Unlike “analytic complexity”, it’s not about brute force strategy analysis, but rather the ability for players to connect the appropriate dots together. This style of uncertainty comes in various forms, such as a mechanical contraption, or a weave of political scandals, and is used to challenge the players in a different way than a combat or social situation.
This works best in cooperative and/or single player games. RPGs, co-ops like TIME Stories, or video games like Portal, all use this uncertainty because there’s no direct competition involved. Generally, competitive puzzle games use timers and other uncertainty factors to force the solver to act. This, in my opinion, creates less fun and only rewards those that can complete the puzzle within the other constraints.
Solver’s uncertainty has a distinct effect on games. It challenges players without putting a heavy burden of rules or mechanics. Instead, it gets right to the fun (that doesn’t even include hitting people with swords!).