Most campaign settings in Dungeons & Dragons contain vast stretches of unexplored wilderness. It’s the perfect place to introduce a D&D forest puzzle or a D&D jungle puzzle. But what makes forest and jungle puzzles different from other D&D puzzles? And how do you construct a puzzle in a forest or jungle that fits seamlessly into the landscape? In this article I’ll show you three types of wilderness puzzles to use in a forest or jungle.
D&D Forest and Jungle Puzzle Maze
Imagine it: The PCs enter a forest, jungle or whatever type of wilderness you choose. They must find their way to the other side of these uncharted wilds. And you, the DM, want to make the journey challenging by presenting them with a great puzzle. But introducing a maze seems kind of lame. Forests don’t have walls! Your PCs can choose a different direction any time they wish. So how do you introduce a puzzle where your players have to figure out their way through without using walls? Here’s how you do it:
First, you draw out a 5 by 5 table. Assign one square at the edge to be the place where PCs enter the forest. And assign one square to be the place where they reach the finish. This could be exiting the forest or finding a specific place in the forest they were looking for.
Second, give each square a number and then randomly draw some arrows between the squares. These arrows represent directions the PCs can go. A forest may not have walls, but it does have ravines, heavy growth, and sheer cliffs that make picking a different direction more attractive.
Third, write a specific description for each number. Don’t show the 5 by 5 table to your players. Instead, as they explore different squares of the forest puzzle, you read out the descriptions. Be sure to read out the descriptions exactly the same whenever PCs enter the same area. It is the only way PCs have of knowing where they are.
PCs can only travel to where arrows point. If they stray from the path, they’ll end up in a random square or encounter a danger. Flying up to find their way doesn’t work because of a mist that doesn’t allow them to see very far. (Put a big flying monster above the forest or jungle if you don’t want them to just fly over and skip the puzzle).
After walking through the forest or jungle for a while, players will soon realize they can map out the forest puzzle using your descriptions. If the players don’t figure it out, they’ll wander through the forest until they stumble upon the correct square, losing valuable time and resources. (This ensures they’ll never get stuck, but can still succeed without solving the puzzle at cost).
D&D Forest Puzzle Descriptions
PCs enter the forest at square number one. Read out the description of that area. Here’s an example of descriptions you can use for each forest square in your puzzle:
1. A path winds between pools of stagnant water leading eastward and deeper into the Misty Forest.
2. You come to a standing stone, its faces worn smooth by aeons past. Only the symbol of an eye half closed is still recognisable. The path leads east, west, and southward.
3. The trail continues east and westward. A hundred pairs of yellow-winged blackbird’s eyes turn in your direction. Warily watching you from their perches on the limbs of a dead tree.
4. Westward and eastward the path winds. Between bushes with razor-sharp thorns.
5. At this corner in the path winding westward and southward, you find a deep lake. And something shimmers beneath its surface.
6. The path flows eastward and southward. A rotten shack stands at its corner but it hard to believe that someone would choose to live here.
7. The trail leads north, east and west. At the intersection lies a flat moss covered slab of stone.
8. A dead end. Not only does the path end here. You also find the remains of a pilgrim who must have gotten lost in these cursed lands.
9. At this bend in the path, leading south and east, you find a small altar. No mosquito will go near it.
10. The path leads north, south and west here. It is sturdier than in most places and the warm stones offer an opportunity to rest your feet.
11. Here the path runs north and south along a shallow pool where fish traps have been set up. But the ropes have long since rotten through.
12. Eastward and southward the trail leads, through a bank of fog that is particularly dense.
13. Soft light are dancing above the path that leads north, south, and east.
14. Here the trail winds northward and westward between a cove of petrified trees.
15. In the middle of the intersection where the path leads north, south, and eastward, you hear the voices of children singing and an overwhelming need to take a nap. Just for a little while.
16. This intersection is made from sturdy worked stone. It arches over streams of water and leads north, south, and westward.
17. The path ends at the foot of a hill that seems unnaturally round.
18. A broken tower stands at these crossroads covered in creeping vines.
19. At this bend in the trail, leading west and south, you find a paw-print of something that is… bigger than you.
20. The path ends at a circular plateau covered in the bones of animals.
21. Another bend in the path leading north and eastward this time.
22. Here the path stretches east and westward. Large sections lie below the surface of the water. You will have to get your feet wet in order to cross.
23. At this bend in the road leading north and west the smell of rot is overwhelming.
24. The path ends in a cove of trees. Hammocks have been tied high between their branches.
You can use these descriptions or change them to suit your campaign and terrain. What I like about this puzzle is that it captures the feel of the forest, giving lots of descriptions.
A downside of this puzzle is that it doesn’t stimulate cooperative play. And it also relies very heavily on the theatre of the mind. Puzzles can be a excellent opportunity for using illustrated props and pieces that encourage cooperation. So here are a few forest and jungle puzzles for use with D&D that do just that:
D&D Wilderness Puzzles for Forests and Jungles
Wilderness Puzzles have been designed especially to use in any forest or jungle. When entering the wild PCs should feel that danger lurks around every corner. And monsters could be hiding in every bush.
Also, the wilderness provides players with lots of different types of terrain that can offer an advantage or present a danger. Nature is such a rich environment for doing a combat encounter. It really lets rangers, rogues, and other PCs shine when they use that environment. But setting up such a rich environment takes time. Or does it?
With wilderness puzzles your players must carefully study the lay of the land if they are to avoid certain death and triumph over their enemies! Only players who can figure out their forest or jungle surroundings can fully use the terrain to their advantage.
One thing I really like about this puzzle is that players cooperatively have to figure out the lay of the land and construct a map. And once they are done – and have finished the puzzle – you can drop a monster on the map and they can immediately start their combat encounter with lots of different hazards and advantages PCs can use against their enemies. So you don’t have to set up the terrain. The players do that for you!
You can also use these terrain pieces without the puzzles if you wish to quickly create interesting terrain in the fly.
D&D Potion Puzzles for Forests and Jungles
While Potion Puzzles have not been designed for use with forests or jungles, they do work perfectly with them. With this puzzle PCs must find ingredients and solve a puzzle to create magical potions, inks, oils, perfumes, dyes and polishes. These liquids can then be used in the creation of any type of magical item and are highly coveted by wizards.
Of course, it all starts with finding the ingredients. And where does one find such rare ingredients? In forests and jungles, that’s where!
I sometimes feel that forests and jungles are just a place PCs have to travel through to get wherever they need to go. That deflates the wonder and beauty of the natural environment. Forests and jungles can also be a treasure chest of magical ingredients. And with this puzzle, players have to puzzle out how to get those ingredients and use them to create magical items. Potion Puzzles offer 45 puzzles for creating magical items and 12 unique herbs that you can scatter throughout the wilderness.
Finally, you can combine all three of these puzzles to create a mega puzzle adventure. Imagine players having to solve the first puzzle to collect the ingredients needed for the potion puzzles. But every now and then they encounter a dangerous area for which you use wilderness puzzles. That will make for a unique forest or jungle puzzle adventure your players will never forget.
By Paul Camp
Cover Image: WotC