rpg puzzles and riddles

Acanthus’s Conundrums #10: Puzzles & Riddles for RPGs

Acanthus’s Conundrums is a weekly post that gives you a puzzle and three riddles to use in your roleplaying game. Each comes with a suggested solution but be generous to your players if they come up with a reasonable answer, especially with the riddles. These diversions aren’t meant to cause disagreements or slow the adventure down.

Some thoughts about how the riddles have appeared historically, or how they can be interpreted in other ways, are also included, so you can adapt them to your adventure.

Also, we are interested in whether you have any puzzles or riddles of your own to share, or requests to make of Acanthus? Get in the comments or join our Discord server!

This week we have a puzzle that will get the players thinking hard! It’s how to stand the best chance of living during a three-way shoot-out when you are the worst shot; the answer might be surprising.

Puzzle #10: Staying Alive!

As is the way with Drow, they regularly end up in fights. Curo the cleric, Bruti the barbarian and Aweg the assassin end up in fight after an argument over how to best use a hand crossbow in a three-way shoot-out. Curo is the worst shot and hits a target only one time in three. Bruti is better, hitting the target two times in three. Aweg is the best shot, and never misses!

The rules are that each stands on one of the three points of an equilateral triangle. As the worst shot, Curo fires first, then Bruti, then Aweg, and then back to Curo and continuing in this order until just one of them is left standing. No-one will be hit by a bolt that was not meant for them.

Being the cunning types they are, everyone adopts the best strategy. Where should Curo aim to have the best chance of survival?

Solution: Curo’s best course of action is to fire into the air. Here is the reasoning:

  1. Curo must definitely not aim at Bruti. If Curo kills Bruti, then Aweg (who never misses) will kill Curo for certain.
  2. If Curo aims at Aweg and kills the assassin, this leaves Curo and Bruti to shoot it out between themselves. But Bruti is a better user of the hand crossbow and gets to fire first, so Curo is more likely to die.
  3. If Curo aims at Aweg and misses, then it’s Bruti’s turn to fire and the barbarian will aim at Aweg (because Bruti knows Aweg will remove the more-likely-to-hit opponent), with a two in three chance of killing the assassin.
  4. If Bruti kills Aweg, we’re back to a duel between Curo and Bruti, but this time Curo gets to fire first. The cleric’s chances of winning are a bit better than one in three, because the barbarian is more likely to miss next shot.
  5. If Bruti misses Aweg, then Aweg kills Bruti next shot and we are left with a duel between Curo and Aweg, with Curo firing first. Now the cleric’s chances of survival are exactly one in three; the assassin MUST be killed next shot or Aweg will definitely kill Curo the shot after that.

In other words, Curo’s prognosis is much better when both opponents are missed rather than either of them killed. The cleric must therefore miss at all costs. In fact, by missing both, Curo has the best chance of being the last one standing of the three at about a 40 per cent, Bruti’s chance is about 38 per cent, and Aweg has only about a 22 per cent chance.

As a wise cleric knows, it is best to remove opponents by letting them fight it out between themselves!

Riddle #28 – On a cloud:

“I’m something Nature cannot make, unless I am allowed to take,

But as soon as I start to give, then eventually I will not live.

Heavier than what carries me, I help day become more like night;

You may thank me for blocking what lets you see, but not for blocking your sight.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: a rainbow; a threat; a bird; a cloud.

Answer: a cloud.

Clouds only come about as Nature draws up water, then air keeps them in the sky despite water being heavier, before they dissipate as rain falls. When heavy clouds block the sun it becomes more like night, and although we are often grateful for clouds blocking the sun’s heat, we are less happy when low cloud stops us seeing. Historical riddles about clouds often include reference to, e.g., night, sun, or moon deities when commenting on how a cloud performs.

Riddle #29 – On ice:

“Once I was free to travel the world and I believe I will be again,

But I was taken to the highest places where quiet and stillness reign.

I cannot endure if I’m walked upon, nor last if I’m held bare,

But if you were to try either, I’d like to see how you’d fair.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: ice; an echo; lava; a dream.

Answer: ice.

All ice has been, and will be something like waves, streams or rain, which move with ease around the world before it is taken to places where it falls as snow which become ice. These points are most often the tops of mountains or the poles, I.e., the “high places” of a planet where few creatures live. Of course, ice melts when walked upon or held, but those who do so often fair badly when they attempt either.

In some riddles ice also has reference made to its hardness, its ability to “chain” something in place, and its cruelty because of its unchanging cold in some places.

Riddle #30 – On a fish:

“For me to be at home, my house cannot be still;

And while my home is full of sound, I am fore’er tranquil.

I wear a warrior’s armor, but move with a monk-like speed,

And with a flash of silver, from your grasping I am freed.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: mist; a fish; a shadow; a secret.

Answer: a fish.

Historic riddles often wrote about water and fish together, the alternate nature of their watery homes being a distraction while water’s movement and sound are worth comparing to the “tranquility” of a fish when still. Scales as armor yet a rapid rate of movement, as well as an ability to slip free from our grasp complete the clues here.

We hope they add something to your game and would love to hear how you are using them with your players, especially if they have come up with inventive solutions. Please share your ideas if you have adapted them for specific environments or amended them in some way to add flavor to your world.

As ever, if you would like any puzzles or riddles on a topic or subject that is coming up in your adventure and would like us to help, do please let us know in the comments.

Until the next set, enjoy your adventures!

Acanthus the Sage


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