Pathfinder is a system for players and game masters who aren’t afraid of a little math and logic. It appeals to the kind of players who aren’t satisfied with superficial gaming choices and really want to get into the details of a well built game.
I’m the same way when it comes to puzzles. Sure, you can drop a sudoku into your game and call it a pathfinder puzzle. But we’re better than that! Great puzzles should immerse the players in the game world you spent SO much time creating.
So let’s look at some of the best puzzles for your Pathfinder game that actually work:
1. A Free Pathfinder Puzzle
Let’s start this list with a free puzzle I designed just to illustrate the difference between a generic sudoku and something that is actually designed for roleplaying.
“Your Party comes across a Magical Door. Can they solve the puzzle or will they resort to brute force? You can drop this puzzle into any dungeon. It’s for personal use only. Simply right-click on the image to download and print.
The heroes start out by locating the two letters T on the door. Next, they draw a straight line between the T’s. The character that sits exactly between the letters, is the next letter in the word. From there the heroes must find its twin character and find which letter is exactly halfway in between those, and so on. The answer to this puzzle is THRESHOLD.”
This is just a simple puzzle that you can drop into any campaign at a moment’s notice. But being a pathfinder game master, you’ll probably want to create a plausible reason for it being there in the first place. I’ll leave that part up to you. But at least this puzzle looks the part and there is a journey of discovery for the players to follow.
Of course, this is just a very simple puzzle setup. Most puzzles for pathfinder have a lot more depth to them and add flavour to your game world. Let’s look at a couple of examples.
2. Rune Puzzles
Rune Puzzles is a pack of 30 puzzles which you can drop onto any item. This allows you to change an ordinary sword into a magical rune-locked blade. You can also lock a door, treasure chest, or even a magical portal with these Runes.
The way this puzzle system works is that players must first find and uncover the magical runes who’s meaning have mostly been lost in time. Runes might be hidden in ancient libraries, written in enemy spellcasters’ spell books, or divined through great efforts. In any case, discovering the meaning of even one rune letter is difficult. And if players find enough of them they can start unlocking these Rune puzzles.
With Pure puzzles you’re not only adding puzzles to your game; it also ads a sense of history. And finding the meaning of a rune letter as part of a treasure is so much more rewarding than just finding gold pieces for loot. If you combine this system with portals, it helps you pace the story and restricts where players can go. And you can do the same thing by adding it to dungeon doors.
They are also great on magical items. Now, you can give a player an ancestral rune locked sword at level one, whose true powers only come into play when the rune puzzle is solved.
3. Game of Shields
Rune puzzles are just one example of how a puzzle can be deeply integrated into your pathfinder game. Another example is the Game of Shields. It is a system for creating an endless variety of political puzzles.
These puzzles are fun to solve on their own. But with the Game of Shields, the rule system for the political puzzle also doubles as a rule system for running politics in your pathfinder game.
Doing politics in pathfinder can be challenging for both game masters and players. There are many NPCs and factions to keep track of and hundreds of relationships between them. It’s a lot for a game master who designs the story to keep track of. For players it is nearly impossible.
The Game of Shields breaks this down into a visual system where all the factions and relationships become obvious in the blink of an eye. And it also provides clear rules for how players can manoeuvre for power which makes coming to a group decision a lot easier. Finally, pathfinder is an action oriented game and solving a puzzle always leads to action and adventure.
4. Lock Puzzles
The Game of Shields shows how puzzles are perfect for adding a rule system to your game for deeper level play.
But even pathfinder game masters sometimes want something quick they can introduce at the drop of a hat. Enter Lock Puzzles.
Lock Puzzles can be placed onto any doors, chest, magic tomes, or even automatons. The game master can combine up to nine mini puzzles. On their own the mini puzzles are very easy to solve. But by combining them they quickly become a lot harder. And the best part is that there are over 500 ways to combine these mini puzzles, each resulting in a unique puzzle challenge.
Because players don’t know which puzzle pieces go with which mini puzzle, the more mini puzzles you add to a door, the harder the challenge becomes.
5. Riddle Puzzles
I like pathfinder because it offers a clear rules system and almost never leaves the game master without guidance on what rules to follow in any given situation. But riddles are often the exact opposite.
In most games riddles are an exercise in vagueness. The game master has a solution in mind but players can usually come up with a different answer that is also kind of okay. This results in the game master either sticking to the answer they were looking for, robbing players of a success experience. Or the game master half-heartedly approved the answer and players can be left feeling they did not really accomplish anything.
This has always bugged me so I created a system for riddles that have just one clear answer. Here’s an example:
All puzzles in this deck are comprised of two words that mean something on their own or form an expression, like: fireball, fool’s gold, or touch wood.
Each riddle puzzle contains two cryptic lines which describe the two words. Different words for ‘sack’ could be: bag, carryall, purse, etc. A ‘tobacco-burner’ could be a: cigarette, pipe, cigar, etc.
|First word||Second word|
On their own cryptic words have many meanings, but combine two words and there can only be one correct answer. For instance, while ‘purse’ and ‘cigar’ are both options, no one’s ever heard a purse-cigar. But ‘bag’ and ‘pipe’ do make up the combined word bagpipe. There is only one correct answer to each riddle.
6. Magic item creation puzzles
In pathfinder, spellcasters use unique feats that enable them to devote time and resources to the development of magic items. To complete the item, the spellcaster must succeed on one skill check (often Spellcraft, but occasionally another skill).
Whenever an item type has more than one possible skill, you get to pick which one you will use to make the check. A magic item’s DC is equal to 5 plus the item’s caster level.
If this check is unsuccessful, the item will not work, and the materials and time will be squandered. An item is cursed if this check is failed by five points or more.
These rules work quite well, but the game master is left to make magic item creation exciting for the players. Creating a magic item doesn’t happen every day and should be a momentous occasion in a character’s journey. So here’s how you can add a ton of flavour by using a puzzle.
Potion Puzzles is a puzzle system that doubles as a complete rule system for creating magical items. Players don’t just create potions, they can also create magical inks, dyes for clothing, washes for leather and so on. In short, every magic item has some liquid that is key to its creation the players will have to create. So how does it work?
First, players must uncover multiple clues to the recipe for creating a magical item. These are of course closely guarded by clerics and found in wizard colleges. You can sprinkle them through treasure. If players collect all clues they can start hunting for the ingredients to brewing the magic liquid.
Ingredients for low level magic items might be common. But the higher the magic item level, the harder they are to find. And the highest level magic items might require ingredients that don’t even exist on this plane.
When players finally have the recipe and all the ingredients, they must still solve the puzzle to brew the liquid. If they are successful they can create the magic item. It’s a perfect way of making players work for item creation and for making it part of the story instead of just rolling for it.
Stocking up on Puzzles for Pathfinder
In conclusion, pathfinder deeper rpg system that invests a lot in clear rules and immersion, so you are left without guidance at the table. And puzzles for pathfinder should be no different. The VAULT bundle offers hundreds of puzzles specifically designed for roleplaying games that I spent years creating. So be sure to check it out!
By Paul Camp