This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
So you’ve learned how to play Dungeons & Dragons, and now you’re ready to run your first homebrew campaign. Online resources will tell you to balance the number of combat encounters with traps and puzzles, but when you look for the best D&D puzzles online, you’re stumped. They all seem too simple to challenge your friends or so complex that no one will figure them out. What you need are D&D puzzle ideas that can be tweaked to fit any adventuring party — and that’s exactly what I’ve got for you below.
Dungeons & Dragons is the world’s most popular tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG), but some of its source materials leave much to be desired. A lot of the official adventures for 5th edition D&D show a serious lack of puzzles and traps. If DMs want to introduce those encounters at their D&D tables, Wizards of the Coast seems to expect them to bring their own — without much guidance from the publisher itself.
It can help to remember that one person’s puzzle is another’s trap. Most D&D traps are just riddles with deadly consequences. Even a combat encounter can be a puzzle — just think of all the weird video game boss mechanics you’ve encountered over the years. What’s more important than finding riddles that will stump your players is having a few good puzzles in your back pocket that you can adapt to a wide variety of scenarios.
The D&D puzzle ideas I’ve picked out for you below are exactly that. Check out my recommendations here, and then find yourself a good D&D puzzle generator for those spur-of-the-moment encounter needs.
D&D Puzzle Ideas for Your Next Dungeon Adventure
1. The Crumbling Floor
To proceed to the next area, the party must cross what appears to be a tiled floor. Simple, right?
There’s only one correct — read: safe — path they can take. Touching any tile that isn’t part of that path will put a player character in danger. The wrong tiles crumble beneath their feet, causing them to fall onto spikes, into lava, or just into a bottomless pit. Or maybe they remain intact but cause electric shocks. They could just explode. It’s up to you, really.
Obviously, the party will need to figure out which tiles are safe in order to cross. You could force them to use a trial-and-error process, but that’s much less satisfying than giving them an actual puzzle to solve. Here are some ideas for this D&D puzzle:
- Each tile has a letter on it.
- The players must spell out a particular word or phrase to pass.
- The letters come from different languages/writing systems, and only those from a particular language or writing system are safe.
- The letters come from different languages/writing systems, and the players must spell out a word by alternating between languages/writing systems. (Ex., if the password is duck and the safe languages are Italian (anatra), French (canard), and Igbo (ọbọgwụ), the solution might be A-C-Ọ-N-A-B-A-N-Ọ-T-A-G-R-R-W-A-D-Ụ.)
- Each tile has a number on it.
- The players must choose only the prime numbers.
- The players must choose only the prime powers.
- The players must choose only numbers which are multiples of the same number.
- Each tile has a word on it.
- The players must create a before-and-after chain of words, such as “WRIST-CUFF-LINK-ARMS-RACE-TRACK.”
- The players must recreate a proverb or riddle found in the dungeon.
- The players must choose only words of a particular category, such as creatures, plants, or spells.
Inspiration: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lumberjanes, vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy
2. The Cain’s Jawbone
The party finds an assortment of artworks depicting a single subject. Together, the scenes add up to a complete story, but the players must determine the correct order of events to advance. The difficulty may be modified based on the reward and the players’ bandwidth, from a series of four simple scenes that can be correctly arranged on the spot to an epic tale told in pieces throughout the dungeon.
Inspiration: Cain’s Jawbone
3. The Frictionless Floor
The party enters a room that does not seem to abide by the laws of physics. When a player character steps into the room, they slide along the floor in the same direction until they collide with an object or enter an unaffected space. They cannot change direction while sliding. There’s only one correct path leading out of the puzzle room, but feel free to drop some loot around the area that will require them to go out of their way to pick up. Shenanigans will ensue, trust.
Inspiration: Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal and more
4. The Golem
In the story of the Golem of Prague, the titular creation came to life when a word was inscribed on its forehead. It could only be deactivated by removing a letter from that word and changing it into another.
Here are some ideas for a D&D puzzle room using the same concept:
- Some oozy skeletons are at work in the area, blocking the party’s path. Each has the word TOIL written on its forehead. Removing the T causes the skeletons to morph into inert puddles of oil.
- The room houses a large construct, which viciously attacks anything that moves into the space. The word RASH is carved into the construct’s chest. Removing the R causes the construct to disintegrate into ash.
- A young dragon branded with the word BOLDER guards his treasure here. Removing the scale containing the letter B causes him to age rapidly and die. This trick works best if the players have already encountered a puzzle of this type. (Note: You can make this into a potentially deadly trap room by aging him into an adult — or even ancient — dragon instead of killing him when the B is removed.)
Inspiration: The Golem of Prague
5. The Future Is Now
The party is split into two separate versions of the same area: one from the past and one in the present. They might have some way of contacting each other but cannot physically interact. The characters stuck in the past will need to preserve objects in the area that the rest of the party can use in the present. Alternatively, they may need to destroy something in the past to get it out of the others’ way.
Inspiration: Day of the Tentacle, The Lake House, Frequency
6. The Heckedy Peg
In the picture book Heckedy Peg, an evil witch turns seven siblings into various food items. Their mother must then identify which child is which food to save them. Her only clues are what she already knows about her children: specifically, what each one asked her to bring them from the market. The child who asked for butter has been turned into bread, for example, and the one who asked for crackers is now cheese.
This kind of puzzle is a great way to imperil the party’s favorite NPCs — or simply test the players’ powers of word association.
Inspiration: Heckedy Peg
7. The Mind Meld
Looking for D&D puzzles that require teamwork? Picture this: The party has reached a room that only unlocks via a mechanism in a separate area. That mechanism requires an active participant to control it. Within the room is an obstacle that can only be cleared if the player character using the unlocking mechanism mind melds with the player character who goes into the room.
Now, the party’s reasons for clearing this room may be myriad — get it? The room might hold a treasure the player characters really want to get their hands on. Passing through it may be required to get through the dungeon itself. Feel free to play around with what this room contains and why the party needs it to make it fit your needs.
Inspiration: Gideon the Ninth, Pacific Rim
8. The Cube
Some of these D&D puzzle ideas could serve as the basis for entire dungeons. This is one of them. Don’t worry, though; it’s easy to shrink down for puzzle purposes.
The premise is this: The party encounters a multi-level maze of identical rooms. Each room has six doors — one per wall, plus the floor and ceiling — which lead to other rooms in the maze. Some of these chambers are safe, but the rest are full of deadly traps with wildly varying triggers.
Much like the crumbling floor puzzle above, this one requires the party to determine which rooms are safe in order to progress. In the film that inspired this puzzle, the rooms “shuffle” every so often, and the survivors must find their way to a room on the outer edge of the maze in order to leave it.
You can certainly incorporate a random aspect into your D&D game — just enchant the doors so that they allow the party to effectively teleport around the space, à la the dimension door spell, and tie each one to a rolling table. What’s more important, however, is that you give the party some way of determining which rooms are safe before they enter them.
In Cube, the rooms are numbered, and only those whose numbers contain powers of prime numbers are safe. (And yes, spoiler alert: it does take some deadly trial-and-error to figure this out.) Unless you’re playing D&D with a bunch of mathematicians, I’m going to recommend working out a different way of tagging the safe rooms.
9. The Fission Mailed
Regardless of genre, age category, or tone, most games have one core goal that stands above the rest: survival. If you really want to befuddle your party, give them a puzzle they have to die to solve. And then bring them back because you aren’t a total ass.
Inspiration: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Bloodborne, Chrono Trigger, and more
10. The Cryptogram
Of all the D&D puzzle ideas on this list, this is the most versatile by far. There are tons of ways to implement cryptograms in your D&D game.
My favorite iteration involves spreading a totally foreign writing system throughout a space and drip-feeding your players the clues they need to crack the code. And that space can be one of any size — a dungeon, a city, a nation, or even an entire plane of existence.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a classic cryptoquote. If you’ve got experienced puzzlers on your hands, however, you may want to challenge them a little. Instead of trading each letter for another letter, number, or symbol 1:1, try a whole-word or phoneme-based writing system instead. This one from Tunic makes for some great inspiration.
Inspiration: cryptogram puzzles, Tunic
11. The Sound Map
Another extremely versatile puzzle idea, the sound map, requires the party to use a series of sound clues to progress through an area. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- The party hears a sequence of notes played on different musical instruments and must play those notes on similar instruments to unlock a door.
- The party hears an assortment of sounds, such as clinking coins, pruning shears, and flapping wings. The sounds hint toward the correct sequence in which a short series of buttons — depicting a sack of gold, a flower, and a feather — must be pressed.
- The party hears what seem to be strange recordings of background noises. These might include rattling chains, sawing wood, and the sound of flint striking steel. These noises provide answers as to how a series of puzzle rooms — or one long gauntlet — must be solved.
Inspiration: Myst, Blow Out
12. The Dan “Encyclopedia” Brown
I firmly believe that the best D&D puzzles are the ones that make use of items and abilities your players often overlook. This scenario, in which the party is given the puzzle solution written backward in fancy script, gives any player character with a mirror — such as the one named in the Monster Hunter’s Pack or presumably contained in a Disguise Kit — their time to shine.
Inspiration: Encyclopedia Brown, The Da Vinci Code
13. The Gentleman’s Door
Finding a way to seamlessly implement D&D puzzle ideas in your game can be a challenge. Done carelessly, a puzzle can come across as a shoehorned nuisance.
That’s why I love door puzzles. D&D is full of doors of all kinds, and sprinkling a few door-related puzzles and traps throughout an area is a great way to prevent your barbarian from kicking their way into every room the party encounters. Many of them will even buy you some much-needed time to organize your notes for the next encounter.
The gentleman’s door is a particularly fun puzzle. Here, a player character opens the door in question to find another person — typically their own mirror image — staring back at them. The gentleman in the doorway will perfectly mirror the player character’s movements, making it impossible for them to proceed.
I’ve seen quite a few solutions to this one. A player might invite the gentleman in the doorway to leave the room before they enter it with a simple “After you.” They might walk through backward or find that the gentleman only exists if they can see him. I recommend going into this one with no fixed answer and seeing what your party comes up with.
Inspiration: The Gentleman’s Door
14. The Soak
Remember in Guardians of the Galaxy how our intrepid heroes had to make a living chain to withstand the Power Stone’s effects? That intense energy was enough to vaporize one person — or even multiple people. But, by joining forces, the Guardians were able to share the load and use the artifact to kill Ronan.
This kind of damage-soaking mechanic isn’t as common in D&D as it is in other RPGs, such as Vampire: The Masquerade and Final Fantasy XIV, which makes using it at your table all the more appealing. (Plus, it’s fun to see how long it will take them to figure it out.)
Inspiration: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vampire: The Masquerade
15. The Puzzle Which Is Not One
The concept here is simple: As soon as the party enters the room, all the exits lock, and a timer begins counting down. The timer may be visual or auditory; so long as the party and the players can keep track of it, it will work. There’s a switch in the center of the room, but hitting it only resets the countdown.
This is a very silly puzzle in that it isn’t really a puzzle at all. It requires the party to do nothing. Seriously. The doors unlock as soon as the countdown ends — meaning that the more desperate your players are to solve the puzzle, the longer they’ll spend in existential crisis.
If your players have been doing this whole D&D thing long enough, they’ve probably encountered this one before. Veteran players who have seen this puzzle might be willing to sit back and let the newbies have fun with it, however.
Inspiration: The Countdown Puzzle
For more great D&D content, check out these guides to running a Session Zero and starting a D&D group at your library.