Since the beginning of Dungeons and Dragons an eternal war between good and evil, light and darkness has been brewing in the multiverse. It certainly has been the backdrop for – dare I say – most old school D&D campaigns? But how do light and darkness work in Dungeons and Dragons, and how can you use puzzles to elevate that theme?
Note: If you were looking for literal beams of light to use in a puzzle, please follow this link instead.
Good and evil: Balancing light and darkness in D&D
Before we dive into the puzzle aspect of D&D, first allow me to quickly clarify a bit about the use of good and evil as alignments in Dungeons and Dragons and how they originated. There’s some debate in discussion forums on whether concepts of good and evil in D&D are outdated or too simplistic. And I believe that is due to a misunderstanding of how the good and evil came to be in the multiverse.
D&D lends it’s ‘inspiration’ from tons of different stories and legends across many cultures. It puts a fantasy interpretation of angels and demons derived from Christianity in the same realm as Greek gods, Germanic folklore about dwarfs and so on. These stories can often be categorised in good, evil, choatic and lawful aspects. And the D&D multiverse lays out those aspects as places (or planes) high level players can visit.
In the outer planes of the D&D multiverse, good and evil are absolute. And the creatures who originate from there are also wholly good or evil. But for humanoids living on the prime material plane (our world) good and evil are relative directions they can move into. And of course, angels, demons, and devils try to coax players in a certain direction. But unlike these wholly light or dark creatures, players can choose how far they stray in either one direction or the other. It’s the classic story of the angel and devil sitting on your shoulders trying to save or claim your soul; an allegory for conscientiousness or for fighting your inner demons. So the outer planes are really a visual externalisation of our inner psyche that helps you better relate to them.
In short: Absolute good and evil in D&D are outside forces that try to enter the prime material plane but cannot simply cross the threshold completely to wage their eternal war. So it stands to reason that some unseen force is holding these powers of light and darkness at bay. And that is where our puzzle comes in.
Angels and Demons Puzzles for D&D
Angels and Demons puzzles are mosaics that can be found scattered all over the prime material plane. They are depicted on the walls of temples, layed out on the floor of druid’s groves, or remain hidden with organisations dedicated to preserving the neutrality that keeps the world from being consumed by the forces of light and darkness.
The tiles in these magical mosaics symbolise the forces of light and darkness. They must be places just right so no side gains an upper hand. When the tiles are laid out correctly the barrier that protects the prime material plane remains strong. But war and famine still happen on the prime, and civilisations perish. And so do the guardians of these protective mosaics.
When that happens the barrier grows thin and both light and darkness starts to break through. You first notice it when ordinary humanoids become zealously good or viciously evil in an area. That is when players must find the mosaic puzzle and restore it before angels and demons actually start breaking through.
At low levels players might find that a village there commoners have all chosen the side of either good or evil. And they are tasked with finding the puzzle. Or you could simply have them come across the puzzle, solve it, and then notice how things have changed.
A less subtle way of introducing this puzzle would be to show the thinning of the barrier right next to the mosaic with vague shapes of demons and angels trying to break through. When players solve the puzzle, the barrier strengthens but you can also add a secondary effect such as a doorway opening, leading to the next room. Plenty of options.
By: Paul Camp
Cover art: Magic the Gathering