Anyone have any good ideas for puzzles in dungeons?

Anyone have any good ideas for puzzles in dungeons?

Anyone have any good ideas for puzzles in dungeons? im thinking something that can be used in most settings, from a nitty-gritty dungeon crawl to a Riddle Bridge.

To help get your creative juices flowing (and to show you what i already have), there is one that i am particularly fond of:

A room is empty save for a pedestal, about waist height on a man, in the center. On top of the pedestal sit 4 statuettes: a Bulette, Kraken, Dragon, and Griffin. The only way out is through a closed ironbound door with no lock and no handle. At each corner of the door is an alcove, about the dimensions of the statuettes. Bordering the alcoves are the (Magical, Divine, Dwarven, etc) runes for Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (Each alcove is bordered by a different element).

The only way to unlock the door is to place the correct statuette in the corresponding alcove (Bulette-Earth, Griffin-Air, Kraken-Water, Dragon-Fire). If one is misplaced, the statuettes are magically teleported back to the pedestal.

The version of this puzzle i’m running in my game is instead using a “tier” structure, because i’m making it so that they fight the monsters they got wrong (or one of them, chosen via d4). Tier 1 consists of: Derro, Sprite, Fire Eel, and Salamander. Tier 2: Roper, Griffon, Maggot-Squid, and Djinn. Tier 3: Ankheg, Manticore, Crocodillian, and Dragon Whelp. (all of these are from the base book because i don’t want to come up with a bunch of custom monsters).

When they get the puzzle wrong, the figurines go back and the monster(s) come out. The figurines, however, change to the next tier up. They won’t have to defeat the monsters to be able to put the figurines into the alcoves, but if they still get it wrong then the new monster will appear in addition to the one still in the room.

I have also seen this done with 8 slots (4 Elements, Life, Death, Light, Dark) and more uncommon monsters.

Please let me know if you have any favorite puzzles to give your players, or any comments you have about mine.

10 thoughts on “Anyone have any good ideas for puzzles in dungeons?”

  1. I had a DnD game long ago where, in a labyrinth, there were four different colored buttons on a wall at different places. Each button had a different action and the actions were reversed in certain areas (there were two button action possibilities). One might be electricity to attack the players, one might turn the room left or right, etc. etc. The idea was to figure out which buttons turned the room in the direction that the players needed to go.

    Maybe this was just the group I had, but as soon as they found the most entertaining option, it was the only option. Whenever they reached the buttons, they might have pressed a few to figure out what they did at first but they quickly gave up and just always went for the green button. It was the thing to do. Sometimes is helped, and other times it hurt (as certain rooms were reversed). Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely hilarious and I loved every minute of it, but the original intent was completely lost.

    Of course, I may have made this too convoluted, but a bit of work to determine what the buttons did would not have been difficult.

    The moral of the story is that I always end up finding that players, as soon as they are presented with complex puzzles, find comedy or annoyance as it takes too much work to actually figure out the solution – that being said, if you’re going to have a puzzle, make it pretty intuitive or quite simple, or else the entire process may fall on deaf ears. Not to say yours was not, but 4 statues could have what… 16 different possibilities? That’s a long time to fight monsters in the same room.

  2. I have a fundamental problem with riddle type puzzles in that they seem to take players out of the game. So it’s Bob and Steve trying to solve a NYT crossword puzzle instead of Fromdar and Murl trying to gain access to the box under the pool of acid.

    That said, if that’s what you’re going for, the One Page Dungeon compendiums on DTRPG seem to have a lot of interesting things like this.

  3. Damian Jankowski With a couple of spout lore checks, it shouldn’t take too long, in theory. But if someone tries to put a Fire Eel in the fire slot and the Salamander in the Water slot, then it would move to combat. I suppose that i could have the same 4 statuettes in the room the whole time, and then up the stakes as they delve deeper into the dungeon.

  4. One interesting experiment would be to introduce clear puzzle elements, but don’t actually have a solution in mind.  Let the players manipulate them, investigate them, etc. and get a sense for how they think the puzzle might work.  And lo and behold that’s how it works…but maybe with a twist.

    As I see it, failing to understand a puzzle isn’t interesting, so, unless your group just really, really likes puzzles, why make failure an option?  Build mechanisms, but leave some assembly required.  The Ikea model of dungeon design.

  5. Dan Bryant yeah that’s sort of the way I run mysteries and investigations. Wait until the players move from explanation A to explanation B, and then give them a key clue at the last second bringing them back to A. Could easily do that for an ad lib puzzle

  6. Having both been a player where the GM’s “totally simple and logical puzzle” left us all confused and annoyed and a GM where the player’s were unable to figure out what I thought was a simple puzzle, I’ve come to realise that the thrill of puzzles in these settings come from the moment where your character solves it, not the process of solving it.

    The process of solving a puzzle of any significant complexity will tend to be the players sitting around figuring things out, rather than the characters doing something interesting.


      • Make any puzzles open-ended – set up an obstacle and some points of interest, and then players solve it with their imaginations.

      • If they struggle, make use of Discern Realities and Spout Lore to give them big juicy hints.

      • If in doubt whether the puzzle is too hard, make it easier.

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