List of things that may get a player stuck

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This list does not contain outright bugs. (The player is stuck looking for an elusive, but existing, solution - it's not a deadlock where no solution exists.)

The implementation is too shallow

The solution to a problem makes sense, but equally logical solutions are not implemented
Example: An object is too high to reach. The solution is to jump to get the object. But if the player tries to stand on a table (to reach the object) he is told he can’t. The player might then think he is not supposed to get the object. Or he might give up on the game entirely since it rejects perfectly logical solutions.
See Also: Unimplemented Actions design pattern.


The player is not allowed to use something that is similar to the object he is supposed to use
Example: A monster blocks the path. The player is supposed to hit it with a frying pan. But if he tries to hit the monster with a big rock he is told he can’t.


The action the player has to do makes sense, but otherwise shallow implementation makes the player think this action has not been implemented
Example: The player is in a house with a broken TV. The solution is to talk to the janitor about the TV, and then the janitor fixes it. But if the player tries to talk to the janitor about anything else he just gets the message “You don’t think the janitor knows anything about that.”


The player is not allowed to do something that is similar to the action he is supposed to do
Example: The player is not allowed to read a book, but is supposed to search the book to find the hidden note inside.


The player is not allowed to do something partially, and therefore thinks it impossible to do it completely
Example: The player is supposed to enter a window. The player automatically opens and enters the window if he types “enter window”, but if the player types “open window”, he is told “That is not something that can be opened”.


The player knows what to do but not what to type
Example 1: The player is supposed to type “kill dragon with sword” but the game doesn’t understand “hit dragon with sword.”
Example 2: The player is supposed to type “open closet” but the game doesn’t understand “open cabinet”.
Example 3: The player is supposed to type “hit nail into wall with hammer” but the game doesn’t understand if the player first types “hold nail against wall” and then types “hit nail with hammer”. Or the game doesn’t understand if the player simply types things such as “hit nail with hammer”, “put nail in wall,” or “attach nail to wall.”
If a player tries to do something, but can’t because he typed his command incorrectly, he might think it’s not possible to do it at all.

The player doesn't receive vital information

To progress the player has to do something that makes sense, but there is no reason for him to do it.
Example: There is a sofa in a living room. If the player sits in the sofa he feels an object under the sofa cushions.


Actions have different results if done in a different order, and there is no way for the player to know this.
Example 1: If you wear a dress and then search a chest, the invisible chest goblin will be so impressed with you sense of fashion that he gives you all his gold.
Example 2: You meet a man who tells you to search for his birds. If you search a tree you find a bird. But if you search the tree before talking to the man you find nothing. A player who has searched the tree before talking to the man is likely to never search the tree again.


The PC will only do a certain thing under special condition, and there is no way for the player to know this.
Example 1: In a spaceship there is a button. If the player tries to push it he is told “No, that is a real bad idea.” He is not told why. If the player wears a spacesuit and tries to push the button, the PC pushes the button and a door is opened to space.
Example 2: You have a box. If you try to open it you are told “You begin to open the box, but see that there is a monster inside. You quickly close the box.” But if you are in the same room as the king and open the box you are told “You open the box and the monster jumps out and eats the king.”
See Also: Unprompted Actions design pattern.


The player has to be in a specific room at a specific time, and there is no way for him to know this.
Example: In a single-day game, the player needs the PC to be in the observatory at midnight in order to see a particular astronomical event that is key to the plot. Unless this happens by accident, there is no indication of the significance of being in that place at that time.


The player can’t solve a problem because he has not been told that there is a problem.
Example: When a player searches a chest he is told he finds nothing. If he searches the chest while wearing glasses, he finds something. When the player searched the chest without the glasses, he should have been told that he was unable to find anything because of his bad eyesight.


A room has changed and the player doesn’t notice because he has no reason to go back there.
Example: Early in the game, the player encounters a messy bedroom with no useful actionable items and only one entrance (thus not a transit point). Later in the game, a chambermaid cleans the room, revealing actionable items, but no indication of this makes it to the player.


The player has done an action that changed something, but the player doesn’t realize that something has changed.
Example 1: When the player pets a cat, a key appears in a room the player has already been in.
Example 2: Pressing a button unlocks a door in another room, but it seems as if the button does nothing


The game has been made unwinnable, and the player doesn’t know it.
Example: The player finds a sheriff badge. The player is supposed to walk into a room where a woman gives him a message because she thinks the player is the sheriff. Then the player is supposed to give the badge to the real sheriff. If the player gives away the badge before walking into the room where the lady is, the game has become unwinnable. What is worse is that the player have no way of knowing the game has become unwinnable, and therefore is likely to be stuck for good.

The player doesn't understand he has received vital information

The clues on how to solve a problem are too vague.
Example: In order to progress, the player must set furniture on fire for warmth. References are made to warming up, but not to fire or burning unusual items.


The clues on how to progress came too early.
If the clue to the solution to a problem comes before the problem, the player may not remember it, or even have paid any attention to it. Remember, the player could have saved the game after seeing the clue and then continued to play much later. The clue should be presented in such a way that the player can see it again after the he has found the problem.


The player can’t solve a problem because he has not understood that there is a problem.
Example: When a player tries to go through a door, the PC’s wife says “Oh don’t go outside, it’s so cold today.” The player is supposed to get rid of the wife so that he can go outside. The wife’s way of stopping the player is so mild, the player might not realize she is an obstacle at all; he might just think that the outside room simply doesn’t exist in the game.


A room has changed and the player doesn’t notice because he doesn’t re-read the room description.
If there are any important changes in a room, like a new object, you should make sure to really draw the player's attention to it. The player is not likely to read through a room description every time he enters the room. Also many game systems allow the player to turn off room descriptions he has read before. A player is also likely to not re-read the text between room descriptions that says, for instance, “You walk down the stairs.”


A text is slightly different from another text but the player doesn’t notice because he can’t be bothered to read through what appears to be the same text over again.
For instance, descriptions of similar rooms or similar objects. Or the text that comes every round as part of some countdown.

Problems caused by games not following the norms of games

A game is easy at first, then gets difficult quickly. The player doesn’t think of the difficult solutions because he is used to easy solutions.
While it is common for games to get more difficult, one should consider trying to make the transition gradual.


The player has to interact with something not in the room description.
Example: The player is in the living room. If he tries to go north through a door, he is told “You can’t go there, there is a terrible monster in there”. The player is supposed to shoot the monster while standing in the living room. If the room description is “This is the living room, with doors to the north and south.” the player is likely to not realize he can interact with the monster. Instead, the room description could be “This is the living room, with doors to the north and south. Through the door to the north you can see a monster.”


The player has to do the same thing multiple times before the desired result will occur.
Example: The player must shoot a bat. The first time he tries it he misses. The second time he hits. The player is likely not to try it a second time because he thinks he will always miss.
Even when it would be logical to try something again when it did not work the first time a player is likely to not try it, because it is tedious to try again all the things that did not work.


The result of something is random, and there is no way for the player to know this.
Example: The player must shoot a bat. There is a 50 % chance the player will hit. If the player misses the first time, he is likely to not try again because he thinks he will always miss.

Problems caused by the player behaving reasonably

To progress, the player has to do something that seems like it might kill the PC. Therefore, the player avoids doing it.
Example: The player needs to get past an intersection that has two guards. The descriptions of the situation indicate that the guards are armed, alert, and very dangerous, and the PC is unarmed. The intended solution is to simply run past the guards, but with the menacing descriptions, the player is likely to consider this option suicidal and search fruitlessly for ways to neutralize the guards before proceeding.

This can be fixed by describing the guards as "slow in their armor".

To progress, the player has to do something that seems like it might make the game unwinnable. Therefore, the player avoids doing it.
Example 1: The player finds a cookie. If he eats it he finds a hidden note inside. The player is likely to think that he will need the cookie later and therefore never eats it.
Example 2: The player finds a can of beer. The player has to pour out the beer to use the can to collect some other liquid. The player is likely to think that he needs the beer later and therefore never empties the can.
Example 3: The player has a very useful magical talisman and a collection of items in a small box. The plot requires that the talisman be thrown away as a diversion, rather than the box, which seems much easier to do without. Depending on where the game falls on the Cruelty scale, the player may either figure out that losing the talisman is the only option and think that a mistake must have been made earlier to cause the loss, or throw the wrong item and make the game unwinnable.

This can be fixed by the talisman lose its power when you require to throw it.

The player has done something that seemed like a good thing, but wasn’t.
Example 1: An object is guarded by a man and an unkillable monster. The solution is to make the man and the unkillable monster fight and then steal the object. If the player kills the man, the game has been made unwinnable. The player is unlikely to realize this because it seemed like he made progress when he killed the man.

This can be fixed by making the unkillable monster fight you when you kill the man.

Example 2: The player finds a knight's helmet. If he walks into the village without the helmet on, a woman will come up to him and talk with him. However, if the player is wearing the helmet, the woman won’t talk to him because she doesn’t trust knights. The game has not been made unwinnable; the player can still walk into the village without the helmet. However, the player may never remove the helmet because it seemed like he made progress when he put it on.

All the people should stare at the player when he has the helmet in the village, causing the player to remove it.


The player has done something that was good, but it seems like a bad thing so he undoes the action and now avoids doing it .
Example: The player has a sword in the first half of the game. A key needed to progress is placed in a trap. When the player takes the key the trap explodes. The player survives but the sword is destroyed. The writer did this so that, for the second half of the game, the player must find other ways to kill the monsters. However, the player might think he is supposed to find a way to get the key without having the sword destroyed, and he gets stuck trying to do this impossible task.

The player has so many actions do to, he fails to notice he missed a vital one

The player has to examine something to progress.
Examining things is very common, of course, but it is easy to get stuck if one forgets to examine one thing. If an object must be examined in order to progress, the room description should make it clear that the object is important. It is also very easy to get stuck if one has to examine a specific part of an object. For instance, say there is a statue of a man on a horse. If the player examines the statue he is told “It is a statue of a man on a horse”, but if he examines the horse he is told “Hey, looks like the code to the safe is written on the horse”. A player is also less likely to examine things if he is under some kind of time limit. It is also easy to get stuck if one has to search something, or look inside, behind or under something.


The player fails to do a vital action because doing similar actions have been fruitless.
Example: The player finds nearly-identical corpses in several rooms. Searching the first half-dozen reveals nothing. Eventually, the player gives up searching corpses, and fails to search the seventh nearly-identical corpse, which is the one that has a key item.


A puzzle is too hard because the game has too many objects or too many rooms.
Example: Say there is a tablecloth and a table in the game. If the player ever puts the tablecloth on the table he finds out that this summons Grodjejog, Norse god of tablecloths. If the game has 50 rooms and 300 objects the player is likely to never try putting the tablecloth on the table. If the game has only one room, and the tablecloth and the table are the only two things there, the player will probably figure it out pretty quickly.

Other

To progress the player has to do something that makes no sense.
See Also: Illogical Actions design pattern.


The game has misleading messages.
Example: The player is supposed to shoot a locked door with a bazooka, but when he types just “hit door” he is told "Violence is not the answer".


The player is unable to properly manipulate the necessary objects because their descriptions are too complicated or wordy.
This happens a lot with machinery.


A puzzle solution is based on outside knowledge which not all players have
Example: You have a pool cue, and there is a pool table with many balls on it. You are supposed to hit the white ball with the cue. A player unfamiliar with pool might not know this.
Particularly try to consider that players from different countries might not know the same things.
See Also: baseball puzzle.


The problem is so complex that if the player makes some small mistake that makes his solution wrong, he might not notice he has made a small mistake, and therefore thinks his entire solution is wrong.
I think this mostly applies if you put math problems in your game.


The player has failed to realize that parts of a certain object can be manipulated separately from that object.
Example: The wreck of a propeller plane lies on the ground. The player is supposed to take the propeller, but he doesn’t realize that the propeller is a separate object.