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What kind of puzzles do you give your players?


First Post
So you're DMing and you got your encounters, your villains, your treasure and your traps. But you think and say to yourself, "Hey, I should introduce a couple of puzzles here."

What kind of puzzles do you use and why?

Me personally, as a DM, I like puzzles so long as they make sense, but it's a real challenge at times because when you DM a group of players, you don't know what "challenge level" your players are at or whether they even have the inclination of recognizing the type of puzzle or solving it.

In my old 2e campaign, I had two engineers and two nurses. They were pretty smart people so there was nothing I tossed at them that they didn't have solved in about 5 minutes (one of the only things that they were able to work together on, they fought over just about everything else).

Speed forward 15 years later with my Pathfinder group, I have to be really careful in choosing puzzles, because one guy has no confidence in solving puzzles and won't look at them or refuses to participate, a couple of other guys will give it their best shot, but I can tell it's more random guessing than any logical effort, and one other guy is decent at it, so long as I don't set the puzzle rating to Medium or tougher.

Also, do you test your puzzles to see if they are solvable and come to the same conclusion that your players should come to? For me, I give my puzzles to my non-gaming wife to test my puzzle. She'll solve it about two minutes with the correct solution. If she makes a mistake, I take a look at where she made the mistake and I'll realize that I gave a piece of information that was backwards or something and fix it. Saves me the headache of dealing with it in mid-game session.

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I don't include a lot of obvious puzzles simply because most of the time they don't make sense in the environment.

Most of the "puzzle" activity is more subtle as the players try to work out why events are unfolding the way they did from limited information regarding the actors, motivations, and news of the events themselves.

When I do include an overt puzzle, typically it is being used to verify membership in a small cadre of people -- answering the puzzle correctly in the environment is the equivalent of a password and often gives access to more prtected areas. The puzzle is typically something that the cadre would reasonably be interested in but considered esoteric to outsiders.

Typically, the players can work through the puzzle themselves, make a (reasonably) high Knowledge check on the appropriate skill, or have picked up the answer through game play ahead of time.


Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
I avoid puzzles that take a long time to solve, or which can best be solved by one-two players and which leave the rest of the group bored.

On the other hand, I like mysteries that require the piercing together of disparate clues, and I like puzzle-like traps where the players need to think quickly to figure out the best way past.


First Post
[MENTION=23935]Nagol[/MENTION]--the puzzle for membership verification is something I haven't thought of. Thanks! I'll have to use that.

[MENTION=2]Piratecat[/MENTION]--yeah, that always seems to be the problem with the exception to my old 2e group. Even in RPGA games, I'd be the one person who would work on the puzzles while the players would wait around for me to hurry up. The way I would elicit more participation from the players is that they all get a copy of the handout so they can either work on it on their own or together.


First Post
I make sparing use of them. I just finished off an arc with a very complicated puzzle but it was for completely "side" purposes. They pursued it simply for greed and revenge. This is my first true puzzle in many years (as opposed to just difficult decisions to make).

I'm leery of them in general. They can be hard to integrate into a game without seeming arbitrary and if in the mainline path, they can bring a game to a screeching halt and take a lot of fun out of a session. Nothing like beating your head against a puzzle for two hours to make you come back for more D&D :mad:

But they can have their place.


First Post
Totally see your point there Marcq. When I bring in a puzzle, I do want them to fairly easy that can be solved in about 5 minutes or less, because I find that the more complex the puzzle and with the number of players the time increases exponentially. I had a simple math puzzle for my last puzzle, but it took the players about 20 minutes which I kind of thought was a bit long.


In terms of overt puzzles/riddles, I tend to avoid them altogether. Mysteries and such are fine, but as a general rule, things like those riddle traps near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? NIMBY. :)


First Post
My group are puzzle enthusiasts. It seems there are a lot of puzzle haters out there, but when I asked everyone what they'd like to see more/less of in the game, they all said more puzzles and less combat. Which is proving to be a bit tricky for me since making a puzzle takes me about twice as long as a combat scenario at best.

So I've been playing old adventure games for inspiration. (Poor me, playing video games for the sake of my group!) I have to be careful because a lot of the gals play tons of video games and I don't want to lift puzzles out of something they've played before, but it seems to be going nicely.

The really nice thing about stealing from adventure games is that it's easier to gauge difficulty because they ramp up as the game goes on. So I'm only using variations of puzzles that come up early on.

I also always let them use skills when they are hopelessly stuck for hints. Knowledge Nature ended up saving the day last session!


Once A Fool
I lean toward logic, but it kind of depends on the situation and what I feel like.

As an example of a logic puzzle I ran, the PCs were in the "Grasping Woods" and had to figure out all of the political alliances and rivalries of the trees by going around and talking to them--and then working out the logical implications of these clues. Once they had done that, they were able to get one faction's help to proceed out of the Woods and on with their quest.

An assembly puzzle I once ran involved a little prep, but was well-worth it. I made a bunch of tiles with symbols on them which, when assembled correctly, formed the image of a stylized spider and (in the game) opened a gateway to the Spider-plane. Meanwhile, the PCs not involved in solving the riddle were in a fight for their lives on said plane (in a parallel combat).

In any event, I have learned that it is usually better to make simple puzzles that are quickly solved, or to drop the puzzle on them as a cliff-hanger, of sorts, so the players can work on it outside of the game.


Once A Fool
Also, I just found a set-up I used for a Sudoku puzzle, once:

Through me lies the only path;
these gemstones are the keys.
Nine by nine and nine again,
place them with consideration,
for neither line nor box of nine
has room for two the same.

A note about the sudoku puzzle, though. In play, only one player engaged it (the others had a combat to deal with, at least) and he mixed himself up, somewhere along the line. In the end (after the combat), they just smashed the door. If I do another sudoku puzzle, I'll probably use it as a cliff-hanger in between sessions (and I'll probably make it one of a handful of puzzles, to give them something more to think about.
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Mod Squad
Staff member
I avoid puzzles that take a long time to solve, or which can best be solved by one-two players and which leave the rest of the group bored.

I tend to avoid the standard, "and here's a room with a puzzle" construction, largely because they seem pretty hokey. Why did the magician go through the effort of making an entire magical room with a chessboard floor puzzle? That's pretty ridiculous. And, as you note, they're usually best attacked by just a couple of the players.

However, some players like puzzles. And, RPGs have this typically construction that's a little odd, assuming that there's only one thing going on at a given time that everyone can/must concentrate on.

So, I take a cue from some of the live-action games I play - if there's a puzzle, it is getting solved while something else important is also going on. For example, you might have to work on the puzzle-lock that will stop the evil wizard's doomsday spell, but you have to fight off his minions while you do that.
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Theo R Cwithin

I cast "Baconstorm!"
A puzzle can have multiple aspects, too, each of which can play to the strengths of the various party members and player interests. The first challenge (for the puzzle people) is figuring out the puzzle, while other challenges might be involved in actually implementing it through combat, skill checks, role-play or whatnot.

For example, a puzzle lock might have four keys and four locks. First problem is to figure out which key goes in which lock. But the party also must figure out how to simultaneously work all the locks-- which are in different corners of the room. And might be trapped. In the middle of combat.

An easy puzzle might be simply to win a game of tic-tac-toe against a grumpy magical door. But actually placing the X's and O's-- which happen to be inscribed on the foreheads of 10 enormous statues (which may or not be stone golems)-- is a separate challenge that could involve combat, magic or telekinesis, riddles, stone craft, mad hevvy lifting skillz, persuasion, and so on.


First Post
I lean toward logic, but it kind of depends on the situation and what I feel like.

As an example of a logic puzzle I ran, the PCs were in the "Grasping Woods" and had to figure out all of the political alliances and rivalries of the trees by going around and talking to them--and then working out the logical implications of these clues. Once they had done that, they were able to get one faction's help to proceed out of the Woods and on with their quest.

I like that sort of puzzle. It can take a lot of time to setup but it seems a "softer" puzzle to me, where they could potentially go back for more information and the puzzle aspects are tightly integrated into story. Much less jarring than some of the more classic puzzles and some players might not even really think of it as a puzzle.


I DM for a group of 5 players. Two, are die hard hack n slashers. They don't get puzzles, but will usually make an attempt. The third guy enjoys the puzzles, but is usually overshadowed by my puzzle lovers. I won't deny it, every puzzle I've thrown at these guys has been solved in under 5 minutes, except for one.

With a puzzle, if applicable, I will have multiple copies of handouts and even better, physical objects to interact with.

Some examples:
I found a neat little geometric puzzle online that is hard for a 2nd grader to put back into a square. I took 4 of them, mixed the pieces up and had a much larger square. To make it more interesting, I drew it out and cut it out on my bandsaw, so they had all the pieces to play with. They were reassembling a control panel.

I once tied 2 of them together. Take a 2-3 foot section of rope and connect one players wrists together with it, leaving plenty of slack in the middle. Take the second rope and tie it to the wrist of player 2. Now run it between the first rope and player, and then tie the other end of the second rope to player 2's other wrist. If they step back, it should resemble an 8. It is possible to separate yourselves without untying the rope. This was very amusing to watch.

I've also done the filling the room with water, solve a lock type puzzle and some other ones like that.

This one I just ran last session and was a huge hit as it had something for everyone. I actually took a picture, which I'll post here. It was a 6 by 6 grid with a couple walls in it. The players had to place 8 marbles on it, none of them adjacent or able to "see" each other vertically or horizontally. To complicate matters, there were a pair of beholders(I made them medium sized), there to annoy them, and at the start of every turn, each marble(which grew to fill a square when placed on one), had a Burst one force attack.
I also required the players to tell me what they were doing within 10 seconds of their turn starting or they automatically delayed, with the potential to miss their turn entirely. Otherwise, there would have been too much table talk.
Anyway, it was a great encounter as the fighter(one of my hackers) soaked up more damage than I ever imagined he could. The rogue, my other hacker was enlisted to aid the other puzzle solvers since he had a great movement rate.
Everyone really enjoyed it and I hope to use the format again. Mixing the puzzle into combat and putting a time limit on turns really forced them to think on their feet instead of over analyze.
Image link(hopefully it works):

I love puzzles as do my players, but coming up with them is much harder than throwing together an encounter.

For the record, the one that took over an hour was placing 8 queens on a chessboard with none of them able to take each other. In their defense, we started that one around 11:30pm, so they weren't particularly fresh.


I've only evr thrown two puzzles at my group in the two + years I GMed. The last one was a Sudoku Lock, as in the huge metal door would not open until the sudoku puzzle was solved. That was combined with the sand from the surrounding desert pouring into the chamber after a predesignated time interval or the group making a mistake, and ouring in faster as time or mistakes accumulated.


I love puzzles but they're hard to pull off convincingly without the old "mad wizard is testing you" routine. What puzzles I tend to use are more situational -- i.e., figuring out that the Gem of MacGuffin is on the boss's henchman rather than on the boss himself and taking the henchman out separately to bypass the much tougher henchman+boss fight, that kind of thing.

I did manage to find a way to use the "Let's Write Some Riddles!" thread -- a gynosphinx who is normally an ally of the players has been bespelled and can't recognize them, so they're going to have to best her in a riddle game in order to regain her trust.

-The Gneech :cool:


First Post
when I asked everyone what they'd like to see more/less of in the game, they all said more puzzles and less combat.

Gamers after my own heart! You are richly blessed.

I'm curious as to what their gaming background is. I'm also a wargamer, and if I want pure tactics I can get that aplenty in a variety of more interesting (to me) venues than D&D. I want different things out of D&D.


First Post
Typically, I don't.

Very simple puzzles, to the point I really wouldn't call them puzzles, like lining up carvings or word games can work. Riddles usually don't, and frankly most logic puzzles are out. Part of this is I have a computer programmer and logician at one of my tables. He's seen all the classic logic puzzles and most of the variations already. The only 'effective' logic puzzle I could use would be the Tower of Hanoi with a decent number of discs. Not because he couldn't solve it, he could without thinking, but because of the time it would take him to move the discs. At which point I'm just as much a jerk as a video game designer who adds a puzzle filled maze to the main quest in a video game just to make the game play longer.

Typically, they're way too much work for no pay-off.


First Post
Korgoth, I'm definitely feeling like the luckiest lady!
The three ladies in the group have never played pen and paper, but they do enjoy video game RPGs. My boyfriend has been playing for quite awhile, mostly D and D and Warhammer 40k. And the other guy played in one session once upon a time, but that is the extent of pen and paper for him. He also rather enjoys Magic.
With this sort of luck, I kind of want to run around converting everyone to the hobby!


First Post
Myself, I enjoy puzzles a lot. But none of my players do. So I don't use them anymore.

Part of the problem also lies in judging the difficulty level. I've found that my players are struggling with puzzles I consider to be almost trivially easy.

As a player, if I'm presented with a puzzle it's most often a more or less well disguised variation of a well-known puzzle, hence I have little difficulty to solve it. Messages written in code, number series, etc. are usually (too) obvious to provide a challenge for someone who regularly solves these things for fun.

The only kind of puzzle which _can_ work, are riddle-rhymes, assuming they're original. But these are very difficult to create.

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