Acanthus’s Conundrums #15: Puzzles & Riddles for RPGs

“Acanthus’s Conundrums” is a weekly post giving you a puzzle and three riddles to use in your roleplaying game. Each one has a suggested solution but be generous to your players if they suggest a reasonable answer, especially to the riddles. These diversions are not meant to cause disagreements or slow the adventure down.

Some thoughts on 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 have requests to make of Acanthus. Drop a note in the comments or join our Discord server!

This puzzle finds Acanthus having difficulty with a new apprentice charged with packing his books on types of magic.

Puzzle #15: What Magic’s Where?

Recently I decided to spend some research time in warmer climes and asked my newest apprentice to pack up my books on clerical and wizardly magic in three chests, which they did. One chest held books on only clerical spells, one held books on only wizardly spells, and one held books on both clerical and wizardly spells. So far, so good.

Each chest was tagged differently, with one of the following three tags: “Clerical,” “Wizardly,” “Clerical and Wizardly.” Unfortunately, my apprentice tagged all three of the chests incorrectly, and then sealed them magically for the journey. I did not have the time to unseal and unpack, then repack and reseal them all but wanted to know what books each chest actually held. How did I work this out by unsealing just one chest and taking one book from it?


I decided to unseal the chest tagged “Clerical and Wizardly” and take one book from it. This is why:

I knew that if the book was on clerical spells, the chest would have to hold only clerical books since the tag “Clerical and Wizardly” was incorrect.

Then I would know that the crate containing only wizardly books could not be tagged “Wizardly” because all the tags were incorrect; they would have to be in the chest incorrectly tagged “Clerical.”

Finally, the chest incorrectly tagged “Wizardly” would have both clerical and wizardly books in it.

Conversely, if I picked a book on wizardly spells from the chest incorrectly tagged “Clerical and Wizardly” then it would hold only wizardly books, the chest with the “Wizardly” tag would hold only clerical books, and the chest tagged “Clerical” would hold both clerical and wizardly books.

Riddle #43 – On a shoe:

“Made of iron, made of leather; help you out in any weather.

 Keep you safe throughout the day, at night (for some) we’re out of your way.

Our “bodies” and “souls” can be soft or hard; whichever, we’re maybe a nailed-on guard.

Wherever you ride, wherever you walk. Despite our tongue, we’ll never talk.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: armor, a boat, a cart, or a shoe.

Answer: a shoe.

Discussing the merits or positives of everyday objects was often done so the item appeared to be a servant or hireling. In this case, the protective element of a shoe is highlighted, whether it is made from leather or iron, as is their durability and “guarding” nature.  Parts of this riddle are designed to indicate that a horse might wear shoes, which will hopefully guide the players.

Riddle #44 – On a match or tinderstick:

“If you want my help, at first I’ll scratch my head,

Most times my job is done when my hair is black, not red.

But then I’ll try my hardest, to give the life I’ve got,

My greatest gift is when the little I give is multiplied a lot.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: a match, a flint, daylight, a firefly, or promise.

Answer: a match or tinderstick.

A spark is a reasonable answer, as is an ember. Here’s another small object doing its job for someone and appearing to be someone doing it rather than something. You may need to change the color of the match—don’t worry about the rhyme, not all riddles scan that way—and if your players look bemused, change the third line to “But then with burning desire, I’ll give the life I’ve got” (or similar) to introduce the fire element more clearly.

Riddle #45 – On silence:

“You cannot hear me creeping up, but you’ll know when I am there,

If only you could spot me then you’d see me everywhere.

At night you may employ me, but hate others then using me too,

I’ll help you when of actions you think; I’ll be gone when those actions you do.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: invisibility, silence, darkness, or air.

Answer: silence.

Ancient riddles often consider intangibles like light, darkness, sound, and silence as elements, and certainly as something coming from spirits or deities at certain times. This imbued them with a life of their own and granted the ideas of movement and action when describing them. When different people use them in different ways—here, silence is being used at night to sleep, but others may use it to steal from you, for example—the idea that a single thing can be good or bad, helpful or harmful, gives room for greater thought being needed to solve the riddle.

That’s all for another Puzzles and Riddles, but here is a reminder of and link to previous posts.

Leave a comment if there are any subjects you would like included in the riddles, or if there is a particular situation for which you’d like a puzzle written.

We are also keen to hear  how you are using these puzzles and riddles in your game, and whether your players are producing inventive solutions. We are happy to share these with everyone so do let us know if you have adapted them for specific environments or amended them in some way to add flavor to your adventure.

Until the next set, enjoy your games!

Acanthus the Sage

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