Acanthus’s Conundrums #5: 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 are also included, so you can adapt them to your adventure.

Do 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!

Puzzle #5: To Have and to Hold

A party wants a hold person scroll, and heads into town to buy one. Inside the shop, an enchanter stands behinds a counter. After pleasantries and listening to the party’s request, the merchant places three rolled scrolls on the counter, and in a jolly voice says:

“Well, my hearty comrades, how about a gamble? Each one of these scrolls is either arcane or divine magic. At most one of them is arcane. Also, one, and only one, of them is a hold person spell — but whether it is an arcane hold person spell or a divine hold person spell is not for me to say. On the back of each scroll is written a sentence. If the scroll is arcane, the sentence is true, but if the scroll is divine, the sentence is false.” Here are what the backs of the scrolls say:

Scroll 1: “This scroll is not the hold person spell “;

Scroll 2: “This scroll is not the hold person spell “;

Scroll 3: “Scroll 1 is not the hold person spell “.

The enchanter continues; “Which of the three scrolls is the hold person spell, and is the hold person spell arcane or divine? If you choose correctly, you may have the scroll for one third the price! If you don’t, you must pay twice the cost.”

Solution: Since, at most, one of the three scrolls is arcane, then at most one of the three sentences is true. Now, the sentence on Scroll 1 and Scroll 3 agree, hence they are either both true or both false. Since they cannot both be true, they are both false and therefore divine scrolls. Since the sentence on Scroll 1 is false, then Scroll 1 must be the hold person spell, and it is divine.

Riddle #13 – On a candle:

“Give me a little of something, so I may give you more,

But my work for you taxes me until I wane.

What adds a richness to your life does make me poor;

My efforts lift you up, yet never will I stand tall and proud again.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: a candle; the moon; a breeze; a smile.

Answer: a candle.

The riddle suggests a number of attributes of a candle in that they are usually tall and that once lit with a small flame, give more light. And the warmth and luster given by a candle obviously taxes this for, making it poorer. Finally, there is a hint of the wax a candle is made from with the play on words in line two; “work…taxes” may suggest “waxes” when “wane” is also used.

Riddle #14 – On a scroll:

“The sharpest blade wounds me, when smooth of face,

But although I remain cut, I always fail to bleed.

Once scarred, I’m wiser and give solace,

For on my face, there’s honest truth to read!”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: a child; a heart; a scroll; a deity.

Answer: a scroll, although something like a wax tablet, paper, or another item that is written on is acceptable.

Quills used to write are sharp by their nature, and the idea that “the pen is mightier than the sword” is used in the first line. Scrolls absorb ink rather than bleed it out in most cases, and then hold words of comfort or truth, at least in the view of the scribe, on their surface.

Riddle #15 – On a bookcase

“I am the bearer of great knowledge,

And yet I cannot know what wisdom is.

If assistance doth proceed from my arms by choice or chance,

I’ll then be unable to keep hold of that which I cradle against me.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: a mind; a skull; a library; a bookcase.

Answer: a bookcase.

The shelves are called “arms,” while variations of this riddle refer to them as “hands,” as that suggests the bookcase is holding onto the books it can never read or learn from. People gain the wisdom by choosing deliberately or accident, and the bookcase has lost that knowledge.


That’s it for another Puzzles and Riddles, but here is the link to previous posts.

We would love to hear how you are using them in your games, especially if your players have come up with inventive solutions or you have adapted them for specific environments. And 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!

Until the next edition here’s to happy gaming!

Acanthus the Sage

1 thought on “Acanthus’s Conundrums #5: Puzzles & Riddles for RPGs”

  1. OMG these riddles are fantastic! You should totally do a Kickstarter of just these–game system agnostic. Would happily pay 50 bucks for a hardcover of these with color artwork and handouts for players.

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