Acanthus’s Conundrums #9: Puzzles and 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 hopefully get your party into a discussion! We have given one definite answer, but others are possible. Let us know how you get on with it.

Puzzle #9: Win Some, Lose Some More

The party comes across an older-looking half-orc sitting on a simply stool behind a makeshift table. This is Posel, an experienced adventurer who is here to help. This can be an entrance to “somewhere”: a marketplace; a mine; a dilapidated mansion; the path into a muddy swap.

Nailed to the front of the table is a sign saying, “Advice to the wise, whatever your thoughts.” If the characters approach Posel, they are met with a wide grin and a warm welcome. After other pleasantries, including an explanation of the table, Posel speaks.

“How do I make my living these days? By selling useful advice! But it’s not all about the money; I also enjoy a challenge. Suppose I make the following offer: I will place a silver piece and a copper piece on my table and ask you to make a statement. If the statement is true, I will give you some advice AND one of the coins, although I am not saying which one. If the statement is false, I will give you neither coin AND you must give me a gold piece for the advice. What statement could you make such that my only choice would be to give you the advice AND the silver piece?”

Solution: A statement that works is, “You will not give us the copper piece.” If the statement were false, then Posel would give the copper piece to the party. However, Posel cannot give the party either coin for a false statement.

So the statement must be true, and therefore, as the party states, Posel will not give it the copper piece. As a result, Posel must give the party one of the two coins for making a true statement which means there is no option but to hand over the silver piece. As a bonus, the party gets some useful information as well.

Riddle #25 – On keys:

“Blades but no weapons, teeth without bite,

Heads but no minds, we give tips without insight.

We may have a skeleton, but never have skin,

We can stop a way out and start a way in.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: a saw; a mouth; a piano/organ; a key.

Answer: a key.

Historically, keys have regularly been compared to servants or companions in riddles. In real life, they often signified importance and wealth, and were worn as jewelry by the Romans, for example, as a way to show the owner of the key had something worth locking up.

Riddle #26 – On an iron chain:

“I hold my friends as tightly as I can, as we’re there to bind,

But even as I release my charge, I find myself forever bound and held.

I’m as strong as the bull my component shapes sound like;

Yet gentle rain can return me to dust and the earth from which I came.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: an iron chain; a rope; a legal contract; a prison cell.

Answer: an iron chain.

Individual links of an iron chain are torus-shaped, hence sounding like Taurus. Each link is individually bound to another, which gives strength to bind or hold something, yet the links are forever bound together even if what the chain is holding is released. Finally, rain will eventually rust an iron chain, turning it to rust and then dust.

Historically in riddles, chains have been compared to animals, in that when used to bind tightly they “bite” into whatever they are holding, or heavy burdens, such as responsibility or guilt.

Riddle #27 – On smoke

“What births me does so as it dies away and releases what it contains,

But while I am the harbinger of death, the tears I produce are not of sorrow.

I look to the sky, but am distracted from my journey by Nature’s winds and rains.

With help I allow some to speak, to relax, to deceive, or even see tomorrow.”

If you need to offer clues, some suggested answers are: snow; smoke; fear; darkness.

Answer: smoke.

“There’s no smoke without fire” is the premise of the opening line here, as burning material releases the air and particles required for smoke, but the item itself eventually is used up. Smoke is often used as a signifier of death, but also “newness” – think of a replacement pope – but as an irritant it causes tears even without sadness. The final line refers to releasing smoke to send messages, using the smoke from, e.g., incense or sage or narcotics to relax, “smoke and mirrors” to deceive or lie, and in some magic rituals where the path smoke follows is taken as an omen.

Well, that’s another Puzzles and Riddles completed, but here is the link to previous posts.

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 via the comments!

Until the next set, enjoy your adventures!

Acanthus the Sage


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