Riddles & Puzzles
Riddles can be interesting, hard challenges that use brains, not brawn. In the last encounter I created, the PC's had to solve some riddles to get their hands on a legendary fire opal that was said to contain the spirit of a great dwarf lord. The results were interesting, and I hope to be able to do something like it again.
Popular books, comics, movies and other mediums have used these riddles in their stories, including J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and the television series "Batman." Riddles also play a major part in mythological dealings with the fabled Sphinx and in dealings with the Norse god Odin. In one part of The Hobbit, for instance, Bilbo asks Gollum to undergo a riddle
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays King, Ruins town;
And beats high mountain down
The answer, of course, is time. But Bilbo didn't know that. He was only saved from losing to Gollum in their contest of riddles by pure luck when he frighteningly blurts out "time!" when he meant to say "I need more time!"
In D&D, I think riddles and puzzles also have a place, but you do have to be careful how they are used in your adventures. If a riddle, for instance, is the only way to go through a door, you should also provide alternative ways for the PCs to get through the rest of the dungeon in a different manner, or make what is beyond the door not vital to their overall quest. I like to think of riddles and puzzles as a way to get a bonus reward, something they might not otherwise get, like a major treasure or magic item, or a shortcut to the master villain, etc. Whatever treasure or information is behind the door, though, should not be vital to completing the entire adventure.
Another thing I enjoy doing is providing additional clues to a riddle or puzzle the PCs are attempting to solve via another object or person they encounter in an adventure. Such clues can assist in solving a particularly difficult riddle or puzzle. They can even be presented in a puzzle format. In my last adventure, for instance, I placed a scroll in a nearby room that was written in an ancient, dead magical script. The only way to decipher it was to use history and arcana skill rolls. A minor success allowed them to decipher certain letters of the language's alphabet and translate part of the scroll. A higher check allowed them to read more of it. If they succeeded a specific DC I then told them, through careful study and guess work, that they were able to translate parts of it and determine it contained they answer to the riddle, but they can't determine yet what the actual answer is. Then I gave them clues based on how well they did. An even higher DC allowed them to automatically obtain the answer of the riddle, but in this case, they did not obtain the high DC. Instead, I gave them a few clues, and what I told them is this: that the riddle's answer is one word in length, four letters long, and the first letter in the word is "f." This worked great! They then got the answer immediately and enjoyed how it was done. (The answer, by the way, was "fish").
I've also placed answers to riddles and puzzles on the back of a suit of armor in the same room, for instance, or even on the back of a recently defeated monster.
How about you? Have you had creative ways of using riddles and puzzles in your game?