Clerics and Paladins are everywhere in Dungeons and Dragons. And as a result, your players are likely to encounter countless Temples and Shrines during their travels. These places hold deep religious meaning for divine casters in your party. And yet, in many adventures players only visit them to revive a lost party member or to receive their next assignment.
I believe that’s a missed opportunity. So in this article, I’ll explore how to set up moral puzzles in temples and we’ll check out other temple puzzles as well.
How to Create Unique Moral Puzzles in Your Temples
A temple is a place of religious contemplation where players can consider unique moral puzzles:
“A moral puzzle is always an ethical dilemma where players have to choose between A or B. But the choice is difficult. Both choices have pros and cons. Choose the pros and players will also choose the cons.”
Each ethical dilemma is slightly different. If they weren’t unique players could just choose what they did the last time.
So a part of a moral puzzle is always to make a choice based on the unique circumstances of the dilemma with the information available at the time. Also, with moral puzzles, there is no correct choice. If players choose the pros of choice A, they are also choosing the cons. And it’s the same with choice B. Here’s what a moral puzzle looks like:
“A cleric is visited by a devil who offers her a contract. Sign away her soul and the devil will release the souls of a hundred children. Don’t sign the contract and the children stay imprisoned but the cleric may go on to fight evil.”
As you can see there is something to be said for both choices. But they also both come with negative consequences.
There are a million unique moral puzzles to explore. But if your players visit a temple to reflect on the dilemma and pray for guidance, that’s not very exciting. D&D is a game of action. So how do you mix in physical puzzles that require action with abstract moral puzzles?
Using Physical Puzzles and Moral Puzzles in a Temple
In my games temples are not only places of worship but also unique testing grounds to assess PCs’ moral fiber. You can lay out a temple to literally have players follow different puzzle paths based on the moral choices they make.
For our first moral puzzle, I chose Lock Puzzles. Here’s a short introduction:
“The players come to a small village in desperate need of help. They find an abandoned temple of a deity they worship. The temple has a wide hallway leading to two doors. The door on the right leads to a food storage that will help feed the villagers. The door on the left leads to a weapon’s chamber that will provide the villagers with the means to defend themselves.
Both doors are locked with a lock puzzle. But even if the players do manage to solve the puzzle, they only have enough pieces to open one door. Which door will they choose?”
By using an actual puzzle in the layout of the temple, you can represent the moral puzzle in a unique and visual way. Players don’t make an abstract choice but actually have to follow a path. And not only do they need to solve the moral puzzle, but they also have to solve a lock puzzle.
Writers have a rule to ‘show, don’t tell’. It means that you want to show the character’s growth through action. And combining actual puzzles with moral puzzles is a great way to achieve that.
Of course, you can have each chamber lead to yet another hallway with two doors.
For instance, if players choose the weapon’s chamber they find two more doors. On the left door, a Rune Puzzle is inscribed that leads to a chamber with horses that can be used to attack enemies. The right door is inscribed with a uniquely different rune puzzle and holds magical equipment for building a moat around the village.
Again, this is a moral puzzle and temple puzzle all rolled into one. You can very quickly have players make many moral choices that define their characters in a very visual manner.
What if the Temple IS the Puzzle?
Another take on using puzzles with temples is for the entire temple to become the puzzle. For this setup, I like to use Dungeon Puzzles. Following the rules of the puzzle, players are represented with a scrambled temple that looks something like this.
The twisted temple pieces represent the state of the realm PCs reside in. Every time they do a good deed they are allowed to rotate one temple piece in its place. This will allow them to explore the temple further possibly unyielding new clues or magic items.
When all wrongs in the realm have been righted, players are able to solve this puzzle and the temple is whole again. An ultimate reward might be that their God visits the realm again or that they get to visit their God.
The point of this setup is that you can use a single puzzle to provide a unique structure to your campaign. Every good deed is not only its own reward but also shows the players’ progression in a visual way.
For these examples, I simply used some of the puzzles in my webshop. But there are many more puzzles that work very well with temples or moral puzzles. To get them all I recommend getting the Puzzle Bundle. You get over 200 uniquely illustrated puzzles at a massively reduced price. So be sure to check it out if you are interested.
By Paul Camp
Image credit: WotC