Edit: There’s a follow-up to this post here.
The other day, my group of players were encountering a dwarven kingdom, closed to the world for 1,500 years. I wanted the gate to the kingdom to be something special and also wanted a shift in pace from all the combat, so I made it a puzzle. Now puzzles are hard to design. Too difficult and they easily become frustratingly impossible, too easy and they don’t leave an impression. This one ended up pretty well, keep reading if you want an instant Dwarven Gate puzzle you could add to your adventure.
The gate itself was an old, rusty, iron gate. It was obvious that it couldn’t be opened by ordinary means. In the center of the gate was an inset stone wheel with dwarven runes on the wheel itself and in a circle outside. The wheel looked like it could be turned. Earlier in the adventure, the players had found a note with a dwarven children’s story with some words marked out. The puzzle was that the first letter of the marked words in the story represented instructions on how to turn the stone wheel. The story begins with:
This story is told as the sun turns and from distant to near.
This would indicate that the wheel should be turned clockwise and that the symbols should be read from the outside and in. The story continued about a dragon and a manticore. At several points in the text, word-couples were capitalized where for instance the DRAGON met the MANTICORE. This indicated that the wheel should turn so that the letter D on the outside matched the letter M on the inside. This was repeated for a total of five times. Each time a mistake meant that the runes fired (using the Warding Glyph trap from the DMG as a guideline). I also required a medium DC Strength check to turn the wheel, meaning the characters had to gang up around the wheel to make aiding rolls. This also meant they would all suffer from the close blast 3 fire damage of the warding glyph (evil chuckle).
Two things made this puzzle popular among the players:
- The props, I made the wheel as a paper cutout that the players actually had to turn.
- The level of convolution. It wasn’t too hard, but it required some thinking. The wheel was marked with dwarven runes and I gave them the story in dwarven runes and in english, meaning they had to cross-reference the story to get the runes and then turn the wheel accordingly
We had a great time with this puzzle, perhaps your group might as well. If you want to use my props, I’ve made them available as pdf’s. Do you have any favorite puzzles that you’ve used successfully in your campaign? Use the comments!