Ah, the Great Outdoors! Who doesn’t love to breathe in the fresh air and explore the wilds? Unless of course, you’re in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign where the great outdoors are crawling with territorial Owlbears and the occasional Dragon. But that doesn’t stop our PCs. In fact, they expect to see monsters lurking behind every tree or cavern wall.
And it’s exactly why traveling through nature can become repetitive and dreary. Your players expect one type of challenge, monsters, and that’s it. Bt you, my dear DM, wish to change it up and surprise your players with environmental puzzles!
Because the truth is, to survive in nature players need their wits about them. Sure, there’s the rare monster attack but losing your bearings can be just as dangerous. And are those mushrooms really edible?
These environmental puzzles are what we’ll be exploring in this article. So strap on your walking boots and let’s get to it.
Introducing D&D Environmental Puzzles
Let’s first consider what an environmental puzzle is in the first place. In theory, all surroundings are environments but in practice, we mean our natural surroundings. Luckily, we already wrote a couple of articles on different types of environments.
- You can read more about D&D Desert puzzles here.
- For Dwarven puzzles in the Underdark, click here.
- For puzzles to travel the multiverse, click here.
- And for a Dungeon Environment (which might be overgrown), click here.
An environmental puzzle can be as simple as a fork in the road. Gandalf solved this puzzle by following his nose.
It’s a nice little environmental puzzle and who knows where the ring might have ended up if he hadn’t solved it? But we can do better.
There are basically two ways you can use the environment as part of your puzzle setup:
The first, and most used, is to use the environment as an obstacle. Gandalf just wants to get from A to B but the environment is making it difficult. And so he needs to puzzle his way through. It puts a negative spin on the environment and makes it out to be an enemy that needs to be conquered. That’s fine, but it may not work well with your druids and ranger nature-loving, uh, natures.
The second is to use the environment as a treasure throve where players can find the riches they need. But to get those riches, they need to puzzle out how to get them. This puts a positive spin on the environment which will put a smile on any druid’s face.
Positive D&D Environmental Puzzles
Our first example is of a positive environmental puzzle. We like to use Potion Puzzles, available in our webshop. Now don’t be fooled by the name. It works perfectly for the outdoors. Here’s why:
With this puzzle, players must collect plant ingredients to mix a potion. What this potion does is up to the DM. But you can place these ingredients anywhere you like. On the top of a lonely mountain with PCs having to make numerous climb checks. On a small island in the middle of a raging river (swim checks) or even out of the ear of a sleeping Treant.
Besides plant ingredients, they must also gather the recipe which might be located in a hag’s hut, inside a hollowed tree where pixies live, or any other environment you wish your players to explore.
Once players have collected all the ingredients and the recipe they can brew the potion in a cauldron. If you have a druid or ranger in your party this is their chance to shine and express how much they love all the riches nature has to offer.
Negative D&D Environmental Puzzles
When your PCs travel through nature they usually just want to get from A to B but nature won’t always let them. The next puzzle we like to use is Wilderness Puzzles, also available in our webshop.
With this puzzle, your players travel the wild until they come to a place that seems dangerous. So they take their time to study the lay of the land and discover exactly what type of environment fills each square on the grid.
Following the rules of the puzzle, the players create a map of the area. And once they enter it you can introduce a monster. But wait, weren’t we tired of using monsters all the time?
Well, your players have just finished a puzzle and the result is a battle map with lots of environmental features they can use to their advantage. So if you use a monster now, they’ve got places to hide, take the high ground, use damaging terrain against the monster, and so on. That’s pretty cool and we have never seen another puzzle that does this.
In conclusion, these are two environmental puzzles we recommend for your D&D game. But there are lots of others in our webshop as well you can easily adjust for exploring the wilderness.
Dark Ulf is the founder and editor of DNDpuzzles.com. When not writing for DNDpuzzles he travels the multiverse and destroys demons with a crossbow in one hand and a crossword in the other.
We hope this site inspires you to put more puzzles into your D&D games.