• Justin Handlin

D&D: Enhance Lore and Exploration Pillars with Different Types of Puzzles



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Dungeons & Dragons is a game of exploration, lore, and battle. The lore and exploration pillars tend to approach the game differently than the combat aspect. In many games, the world is explored through a myriad of roleplay styles. One of the most notable is in the form of puzzles. Whether the characters need to learn a critical piece of information to defeat a dastardly villain, or perhaps a guardian sphinx bars their path into the vault of a dungeon. In these, and more situations puzzles become great storytelling tools for Dungeon Masters to use to engage the players and their characters.


Now, whether you're testing the skills of the players or their characters is up to you and your table. Personally, at my table, I find a mix of both works well. I find that using knowledge checks to feed tips or even answers to the players as they work through a challenge. Regardless of your approach, just like combat, it is nice to have a good bit of variation in your puzzles. Below are some examples of the variety of puzzle types to include in your game to help keep it fresh and new in your stories and campaigns.


Riddles

  • Greek legends of Sphinx most illustrious – Basically a series of clues couched in obscure language.

  • Solving such puzzles is a matter of understanding the less obvious meanings.

Example:

In daytime, I lie pooled about,

At night I cloak like mist.

I creep inside shut boxes and

Inside your tightened fist.

You see me best when you can’t see,

For I do not exist.

Most riddles, much like this one are a play on words and/or a metaphor that conceals the answer; darkness.


Cryptograms

  • Written word puzzles in which the letters are placed with other letters or symbols.

  • The easiest format uses a pattern of substitution, for example using the next letter in an alphabet.

  • More difficult formats include matching letters or symbols randomly

  • Pg 122 thru 124 in the PHB has alphabets of both dwarvish, draconic, and elvish available to the players

Redditer PhiliDip gives their strategy for creating random cryptograms.


"This is a strategy DM's can use to make cryptograms for puzzles.

  • Get a d20 and a d6

  • Roll them both together

  • Add the results together

  • Take the sum (e.g. 18) and turn it into the letter represented by that number (so 18 is R)

  • Write that letter on a piece of paper

  • Repeat steps 1-4

  • Write an equal sign next to your first number

  • Write your new number you made in step 6.

You now have the first crypt. Continue this 25 times. If you make a roll that you already have rolled, write a 1 because you can't get a 1 with a d20 and a d6."

Example: Using Common

Related Article: 10 Ways to Make Traps in D&D More Fun

Word Searches

  • Grids of letters that conceal words written in different directions

  • Give the players a list of words to find

  • These words can be themed, such as names of gemstones, spells, or weapon and armor

  • Maybe they need to find which gemstones go into a recessed area seal

  • These can also conceal a message

  • Arranging and reading the words that are found into a structured statement


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Crossword Puzzles

  • Crisscross puzzles, the goal is to fit all the words from a list into a provided grid of crossing lines

  • This can hide messages spelled out by shaded squares in the grid

  • A fully crossed puzzle is better as an obstacle the characters must solve to get past

  • Variant: Number Grid:

  • In place of numbers use distinct symbols, colored gems, coins, or other items

  • Given a few symbols already placed, the objective is simple

  • Fill in the grid that each symbol occurs exactly once in each row, once in a column and once each subsection (typical 9x9 grid with 3x3 subsections)


Logic Puzzles

  • Players must figure out the answer using clues to winnow down to a single answer.

Example:

Emperor Darvan the Mad had three sons. The oldest, Fieran, was killed by his brother’s hand. Madrash knew no fury. Delvan was the youngest.

The three sons wielded three legendary swords, which were buried with them. Fury’s Heart was never touched by a righteous hand. Night’s Embrace was untainted by royal blood. Death’s Chill slew the orc chieftain Ghash Aruk.

Having learned that much, the adventurers now stand in the antechamber before the crypts of the three brothers and read the inscriptions on their doors.

The Crypt of the Disgraced holds the son who murdered his brother. The Crypt of the Innocent holds the blameless son who died of old age. The crypt of the Righteous, undimmed by night, holds the paladin son.

  • The characters need to determine which son and which sword lie in the Crypt of the Disgraced.

  • A careful reading of the clues and application of logic reveals that the Crypt of the Disgraced holds Delvan, who used Fury’s Heart to murder his brother.


Labyrinth:

  • Classic puzzles, made popular by the Greek legend of Daedalus and the minotaur – twisting and turning corridors designed to confuse and get those inside lost.

  • Use with caution – just describing turns and dead ends isn’t fun

  • Spice up with traps and monsters to create an effective puzzle

  • What is its purpose? Lock something in? keep something safe from intruders or just a trap to keep intruders from escaping?

  • When using skill checks you can describe failed attempts repeatedly to give them a notion they may be lost – such as non-random claw marks they pass repeatedly



Related Article: 10 Tips to Avoid Terrible Traps in D&D

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