Steps Your D&D Party Should Take When Solving a Puzzle
There aren't a whole lot of encounters in Dungeons and Dragons more polarizing among players than puzzles. Most everyone either dearly loves the challenge they present or rabidly hates them on general principle, and there really isn't a whole lot of in-between. However, they're a staple of fantasy (think about the Sphinx, or Bilbo and Gollum, or even Harry Potter's cryptic underwater golden egg for a more modern example) and so they commonly find their way into tabletop games.
So what do you do if you don't enjoy puzzles, or if, like me, you want to enjoy them but aren't naturally that good at them? While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are a few steps you can take to help your party solve and enjoy most puzzles that cross your path.
Don't Be That Guy
This isn't strictly about solving the puzzle, but I'm going to take a moment to address it anyway. It's totally fine not to like puzzles; they're not for everyone. What is not fine is groaning loudly every time one shows up, making a show of how much you dislike them. This not only belittles the work your Dungeon Master (we call them Quest Masters) put into the challenge, it can also make your fellow players who do enjoy the puzzle feel pretty bad.
We all have things we enjoy in this game as well as things we'd be much happier leaving out. However, it is a collaborative effort, so if you're willing to help with the puzzle without complaint, your party members may be far more willing to endure the long shopping trips or extended social encounters you enjoy so much.
Use Your Character's Skills
The first thing to remember as you approach a puzzle is that you're not playing as yourself -- you're playing as a character with a specific set of skills and knowledge. Make as much use of that as you can!
If your character is highly perceptive, you might inspect the area around the puzzle; perhaps you'll find some of the tiles are more worn than others, indicating which ones have been moved or manipulated more often. If you have a high arcana or intelligence score, a high roll might prompt your Quest Master (QM) to explain the meanings behind some of the runes around the door you're trying to get through.
Consider the Circumstances
As you try to figure out how to approach the puzzle you've encountered, consider the circumstances in which you found it. If you're trying to gain entrance to a fabled wizard's lair, the solution is likely to be arcane in nature. If you're stealing something from a rogue, it is more likely to be finesse-based. If the puzzle is buried in the bowels of an old family home, the answer might have something to do with the family's history.
While the place in which you found the puzzle is not likely to reveal its entire solution, it can at least give you a place to start from or an angle from which to begin your approach.
Make Use of NPCs and Surroundings
Not every hint available can be perceived or deduced from the actual puzzle. For some, you might need background information. That may be a password found in a journal in a nearby room, or it may be a rumor you have to charm out of an NPC involved in the quest somehow.
Almost anything even remotely related to the puzzle could contain information to help you solve it. Make sure you exhaust all your resources before you decide you're stumped.
Think Outside the Box
Before I get too deep into this one, I should probably clarify that it might not make your QM too happy. In fact, some might consider it cheating and find a way to penalize you in game. Personally, as someone who isn't great at puzzles, I just think of it as getting creative.
Generally, a puzzle in a D&D game is going to be standing between you and something you want. Why else would you even bother to take the time to complete it? If the puzzle is stumping you and your fellow party members, it may be time to look at other ways to access the item, person, or location.
Does that mean using force and smashing your way through the wall? Or maybe sending your bard through to the other side with Dimension Door might work. Keep in mind that these solutions should usually be a last resort, especially if you have players in your group who genuinely enjoy figuring out puzzles.
In the end, puzzles are a unique sort of encounter that can challenge the players as much as they do the characters. With the right tools at your disposal, your party can blow through them to reach your goals, whether that be riches, glory, or just the satisfaction of defeating your QM's latest challenge.
What is the hardest puzzle you've ever faced in a tabletop game? Tell us about it in the comments below!