Share the love: puzzle edition!

Zulithe

Explorer
I love adding puzzles to my dungeons but admittedly don't always come up with the most original ideas and was hoping to snag some from my fellow GMs :)

Here are two I've used recently. I try to make them either optional (with some nice treasure as a reward) or bypassable in some way, since not all of my players are good at puzzle solving I try to keep them fairly easy but am looking to up the ante slightly starting next session.

1. Chessboard of DEATH. The tiles in a room are of alternating colors like that of a chess board. Stepping on certain tiles, or moving in a specific direction in a predefined order triggers an automatically resetting trap of your liking. Cunning players can discover the pattern and avoid damage, moving freely about the room. I used this as part of a labyrinth surrounding a minotaur city. They had a path of false tiles that never set off traps for their own use.

2. The numbers on the wall. A room who's walls are covered in numbered tiles (again with the tiles!). Upon closer inspection, the numbers start at 1 and end in 100 and no numbers are repeated. Pressing the correct tile (or sequence of tiles) opens a secret door containing the cheese reward. Pressing the wrong tile = you guessed it, a trap (automatic resetting, of course!) Elsewhere in the dungeon (in a desk, located on an NPC, hidden under some straw...) is the clue the PCs require. In this instance, it was three square plates, written on them were "9", "x" and "3". After some tries, it should become clear that the answer is 27 (nine times three). This is one scenario I definitely could have improved, but it still stumped the players for a good 10 minutes.

Please offer your suggestions for more puzzle oriented scenarios of varying difficulties. The more original, the better. Topping mine should be cake. Hehehe.
 

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Shadowslayer

First Post
The players find somewhere, either written on a wall or on a piece of paper, a series of these: >IIIII<III>IIIIII<III>IIIII (the arrows can be pointing up and down too)

This is the solution to a trapped staircase elsewhere. In my example, they have to go 5 steps forward, 3 steps back, 6 forward, 3 more back, then 5 forward to reach the end safely. This assumes there's 10 stairs.

If they vary from the pattern, you could have anything happen. I had the stairs flatten out into a slide with a trapdoor leading to a pit at the bottom. (Dex save to grab something to stop the fall.) They can only get out if they deal with the monster in the pit, a la Luke and the Rancor.

You can make the pattern as complex as you like, such as 5 steps forward, then step to the right, back three, then one to the left etc.

Hope this gives you an idea.

re: the chessboard floor. Whenever my old longtime group faced this, they wou;d invariably smack their heads and mutter "I hate these". If you want to be nasty, have the alternating squares not mean anything...the trap is sprung no matter where they step. The solution is to find an alternate way, and avoid walking across the floor entirely. This works especially well when they have encountered a different chessboard trap before.

OR You could have your chessboard floor actually be a chessboard, with scale pieces. If they make the wrong step, one of the pieces animates and attacks. If they make another wrong step in the course of the battle, another one animates and so on.

OR same scenario as above, except there are a few pieces missing. If the PCs make the wrong step, a medusa ports in and tries to add the PCs to her collection.

Cheers
 

DamionW

First Post
Dr. Zulithe-

You may want to read this thread that's ongoing about the advantages and disadvatanges of puzzles as part of a plot:

http://www.enworld.org/showthread.php?t=154548

Many people feel arbitrarily including a puzzle as part of a dungeon hinders suspension of disbelief, so try and be careful about monitoring your player's reactions to puzzles. Otherwise, hope your game goes well. Good luck!
 

XCorvis

First Post
One thing I don't like about most puzzles is that you don't really have a reasonable chance. Like with the chessboard puzzle, obviously some places are trapped, but you have no way of finding out which is which without stepping on it. You must trigger the trap multiple times.

A more applealing variant of the chessboard is if the peices animate when you step in a square they threaten. (That's chess threaten, not D&D threaten.) Like if you walk in front of a pawn, it zaps you. (Don't have it animate and attack - the party will end up setting of the whole board.) There's a safe path through the board, but only if you figure out which squares are not threatened. Not particularly hard, but interesting.
 

Shadowslayer

First Post
DamionW said:
Dr. Zulithe-

You may want to read this thread that's ongoing about the advantages and disadvatanges of puzzles as part of a plot:

http://www.enworld.org/showthread.php?t=154548

Many people feel arbitrarily including a puzzle as part of a dungeon hinders suspension of disbelief, so try and be careful about monitoring your player's reactions to puzzles. Otherwise, hope your game goes well. Good luck!

Holy cow! That's quite a thread. Unfortunately there's so many play styles represented that no one will ever reach a conclusion.

Zullithe, puzzles have been a part of D&D since the beginning. Anyone who has played for a long time has come across the "chess board room" and its ilk at some point or another. Those guys can argue all they want about whether it right or not.

You may want to keep in mind a couple of suggestions:

-Your adventure should not come to a grinding halt if the players can't solve it. Thats a biggie. (personally, I think DMs using puzzles like "You must answer my riddle or you never, ever get to leave this room, and no INT rolls either" should be flogged with their own DMG.) That's just aggravating for players. Don't center the whole thing around your puzzle. Keep it as a little aside...ie if they solve it, there's a few healing potions or some sort of reward, but if they don't, they just keep going. (EDIT:In going back to your initial post, I see you knew that already...sorry)

-Don't make it too tough.

-Leave some clues...the stairway is just a sucker trap if they don't have the solution. If you use the stairway, make sure they find the solution somewhere If they don't go into the room with it written on the wall, then have it on a slip of paper in the pouch of the first Goblin they destroy. (it's the DMs job to metagme a bit when he's creating a dungeon)

-If they come up with a reasonable way to bypass your puzzle, don't tell them they can't. Most chessboard puzzles are bypassable by a spider climb or something that makes them not have to touch the floor.

Um...I guess thats it.
Trev
 
Last edited:

Breakstone

First Post
I never make my puzzles all that difficult. They're more like a small break from the action for me to get a soda and the players to use their brains.

Here's one I used recently that went over quite well:

Chrystal Password

- Throughout the dungeon, the characters have been gathering vials full of liquids of various colors.

- Near the end of the dungeon, they come upon a vast room filled with fog and no perceptable floor. Instead, stone walkways zig-zag over the bottomless pit. There are two doors into the room on opposite sides, and both doors must be accessed in order to explore all the walkways.

- One walkway leads to a huge stone door with eight empty circles where flat circular stones could be fit in. Two stones are already fit in, and each has a Chrystaline letter set into it. It looks like this:

* * S * * O * *

- At the end of the various walkways were stone circles set in the ground (similar to the ones in the door). There were a multitude of grooves in each circle that could be filled with the colored liquids. Each vial had enough liquid to fill three grooves. The characters had to figure out a pattern of three grooves that would form a letter. Once the liquid was poured in correctly, it would form into a Chrystaline letter.

- Once figured out, the characters then had six circular stones to put into the door. It ended up spelling "PASSWORD." Once set in correctly, the door opened into the Treasure Room.


What worked about this puzzle was that it was divided into multiple parts. The characters had to find the vials of liquid, had to find the door, had to figure out the stone circles, and then had to figure out what word to spell. In the end, it opened up into a room filled with treasure that wasn't mandatory to the "solving" of the adventure.
 

Bullgrit

Adventurer
The PCs enter a 30'x30' chamber. On the other side of the room, opposite the door they enter, sitting in a 4-level rack, is a large set of 50 tiles, each with draconic-alphabet letters on them. (Just use the standard English 26-letter alphabet with some repeated letters.)

On either side of the rack is a stone archway around a 5'-deep alcove. Above one alcove is the draconic rune for evil, above the other is the rune for good.

Answer:
The rack, lettered tiles, archways, and alcoves are just distractions for overly curious invaders. A secret door on the left wall (or the right) leads on to the next area (treasure room, BBEG's chamber, etc.).

This drives intense puzzle-solvers crazy, and bores hack-and-slashers into leaving the dungeon without gaining the treasure. Either way, it does its job (keeping invaders out of the next area).

Bullgrit
 


Zulithe

Explorer
If it bothers you so much Tuzenbach, you could have resisted bumping it. ;) Assuming you're being sarcastic... it is hard to pick up on these things sometimes! As a non-subscriber I can't search for previous threads on this topic, and the thread linked above is not about sharing puzzles and the like, it is a discussion about their merits.

Thanks for the ideas and suggestions everyone! As far as I'm concerend, keep em coming!

I do try to keep puzzles used only when it is resonable, as some of you suggest. Like the minotaur labyrinth I explained, I think it made sense for the minotaur to put something like the trap-laden chessboard there to help protect from outsiders. Why should a labyrinth be nothing more than a maze? Surely a few tricks and traps would make their way in too. Would Shadowslayer's chessboard have ultimately been better? In retrospect, yes, definitely. Like any other DM, I am constantly learning and improving my craft.
 

Barendd Nobeard

First Post
Zulithe said:
I love adding puzzles to my dungeons but admittedly don't always come up with the most original ideas and was hoping to snag some from my fellow GMs :)

Here are two I've used recently. I try to make them either optional (with some nice treasure as a reward) or bypassable in some way, since not all of my players are good at puzzle solving I try to keep them fairly easy but am looking to up the ante slightly starting next session.

1. Chessboard of DEATH. The tiles in a room are of alternating colors like that of a chess board. Stepping on certain tiles, or moving in a specific direction in a predefined order triggers an automatically resetting trap of your liking. Cunning players can discover the pattern and avoid damage, moving freely about the room. I used this as part of a labyrinth surrounding a minotaur city. They had a path of false tiles that never set off traps for their own use.

2. The numbers on the wall. A room who's walls are covered in numbered tiles (again with the tiles!). Upon closer inspection, the numbers start at 1 and end in 100 and no numbers are repeated. Pressing the correct tile (or sequence of tiles) opens a secret door containing the cheese reward. Pressing the wrong tile = you guessed it, a trap (automatic resetting, of course!) Elsewhere in the dungeon (in a desk, located on an NPC, hidden under some straw...) is the clue the PCs require. In this instance, it was three square plates, written on them were "9", "x" and "3". After some tries, it should become clear that the answer is 27 (nine times three). This is one scenario I definitely could have improved, but it still stumped the players for a good 10 minutes.

Please offer your suggestions for more puzzle oriented scenarios of varying difficulties. The more original, the better. Topping mine should be cake. Hehehe.

The Book of Challenges has a "grid" trap similar to a chessboard. It's called "Warding of the Dead" and it's on page 53. In this one, it's a 7x7 grid, and each grid is covered by a glyph of warding. PCs must make Knowledge: Arcana checks to interpret each glyph. There is no way to traverse the grid without triggering the glyphs, but there is a path through the grid that only triggers glyphs with low level undead (skeletons and zombies). Of course, if someone tries to cross a glyph that lets loose a lich or vampire, well, good luck. ;)

I like it because it can't really be bypassed. But a smart party can find a "easy" path and get by pretty easily.

There's also a chessboard puzzle in 1st edition module C2-Ghost Tower of Inverness.
 

arscott

First Post
My Character speaks common, elven, draconic and orc. He does not speak english
My Character can play three dagger gambit, elven battlegems, and seventeen bones. He can't play chess. He can't even play checkers.

I like puzzles and riddles quite a bit. I'm good at them. But I don't like it when a DM or module author forgets about the world that the puzzle is in. If it doesn't make some kind of sense in the context of the game world, then It ruins the suspension of disbelief and destroys the sense of fun.

Alternately, If a puzzle doesn't make sense in the context of the real world, even if it does make sense in the context of the game world, it's unsolvable. If a puzzle requires me to know what a troll is, or that it can be damaged by fire or acid, that's cool. But if a puzzle requires me to know how many hp a troll has, or which energy resistances a Marilith Tanari has, I'm not going to get it.

The best puzzles to use in D&D are riddles that don't involve the pronunciation or spelling of a word, or abstract logic puzzles that don't require any real world OR in game knowledge.

For example: the chess game above, where the peices would attack if you stepped into a square where the peice could capture you isn't that bad, but I'd feel kind of dishonest getting through that because by elven rogue doesn't play chess.
If instead it was a game of elven battlegems, and you couldn't step in the triangles covered by your opponent's rubies or by either side's emeralds, then my rogue couldn't get through the puzzle because I just made the game up to illustrate a point. But if instead there were obelisks that indicated which squares were to be avoided by their orientation and markings, but without any added dimention of game, The puzzle wouldn't be any harder to solve, but there wouldn't be that element of dishonesty that the chess peices add.

Of course, that's assuming you're not in a world that speaks english, or has chess. If that's not the case, then the rules change somewhat. But never have a metagame solution to an in-game riddle, and never have a game-only solution that the players are incapable of discovering.
 

XCorvis

First Post
arscott, I disagree with you on one point - I think it's fine for a puzzle to require in-game knowledge, but only if it's something the PCs potentially have access to. If chess is obscure in your world, perhaps the maker of the puzzle needed to write himself a cheat sheet that indicated how pieces move. Or maybe the PCs can go back to town and speak with the old men at the bar, who used to be traders in far-off lands and learned all manner of strange games. Or if they're pressed for time, an Int check or bardic knowledge check to remember the rules of an obscure game.

But if chess doesn't exist and the characters have no way to get any clues about it, yes, that would be a poor puzzle choice.
 

genshou

First Post
Barendd Nobeard said:
The Book of Challenges has a "grid" trap similar to a chessboard. It's called "Warding of the Dead" and it's on page 53. In this one, it's a 7x7 grid, and each grid is covered by a glyph of warding. PCs must make Knowledge: Arcana checks to interpret each glyph. There is no way to traverse the grid without triggering the glyphs, but there is a path through the grid that only triggers glyphs with low level undead (skeletons and zombies). Of course, if someone tries to cross a glyph that lets loose a lich or vampire, well, good luck. ;)

I like it because it can't really be bypassed. But a smart party can find a "easy" path and get by pretty easily.

There's also a chessboard puzzle in 1st edition module C2-Ghost Tower of Inverness.
I once ran a group through every encounter in the Book of Challenges in a single campaign. They hated Warding of the Dead. :]
 

genshou

First Post
arscott said:
I like puzzles and riddles quite a bit. I'm good at them. But I don't like it when a DM or module author forgets about the world that the puzzle is in. If it doesn't make some kind of sense in the context of the game world, then It ruins the suspension of disbelief and destroys the sense of fun.
Chess is a commonly played game in the Realms, and as the most well-known board game in our own world, I would assume that it would exist in most D&D games as well. The Arms & Equipment Guide lists a board game as a piece of purchasable equipment.

Now all I'm trying to figure out is how to adjucate skill at playing chess. So far I've been using Knowledge (War) simply because that's what Evendur in my Story Hour already has access to it, due to his tactician training.
 

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