Portals are a staple of Dungeons & Dragons. Whenever players find one they know new realms are about to unfold before them. But as a DM you don’t want your players to be able to just access any portal they encounter. That’s why you need to lock your portals with puzzles. And in this article, we’ll give you our best picks for locking your portals with puzzles.
Before we dive into puzzles let’s look at the difference between portals and doors in D&D.
Portals in Dungeons & Dragons serve a very important function. They allow PCs to instantly travel from one place or realm to the next. This, of course, cuts down on traveling time immensely and speeds up your game. And that’s a good thing because traveling back and forth between places your players have already visited can slow a game down to a crawl.
Doors can also be locked with puzzles. But unlike portals, opening a door simply means PCs can pass through to a place they couldn’t visit before. It usually doesn’t teleport them to a different place though.
In classic exploration games like Diablo, players would find portals that could teleport them back to their base camp cutting down on tedious and repetitive travel time. That is a great use of portals. And in the Wheel of Time book series portals gave access to other dangerous realms where players could travel much faster. With this use, you turn travel into something exciting.
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How to Use Portal Puzzles in Your D&D Game
You may want players to discover portals in towns, dungeons, or forgotten ruins. But you don’t want players to simply be able to travel everywhere once they have found a portal. That’s why locking them with puzzles is a great way to control access. It also turns a normal portal into a challenge which we believe is important because just finding a portal and walking through unchallenged can be a bit anticlimactic.
Not all puzzles are ideal for locking portals though. For instance, a puzzle that requires no puzzle pieces to solve could be used by anyone who figures it out. And if your players encounter such a portal they might solve the puzzle before you want them to.
How do we solve this? Simple! Just add puzzle pieces that the players must first obtain before they are able to solve the puzzle. This way they find the portal first and see that it is missing puzzle pieces, and then they can go hunt for those pieces. And the DM can hand those out when they wish to allow players to travel further.
A second aspect of puzzles that works well with D&D portals is that they must be solvable. It’s no fun if players find a portal and collect all the puzzle pieces only to find they’re stuck on the puzzle. Puzzles that involve many steps which are easy to solve are perfect to use with portals.
With these things in mind we chose Runestone Puzzles and Rune Puzzles as our top picks. We know, they both have to rune theme which is coincidental. The fact that runes work perfectly with portals is just a happy accident.
Runestone Puzzles for D&D Portals
Runestone Puzzles are ideal for portals because players must first collect the runestones and then place them into the portal to activate their magic. We used this with stone arches in our game that were missing a few key slots. Solving this puzzle involves many steps. And you can let players roll intelligence checks to receive a hint. This way they never get stuck and you’re challenging the players AND their characters.
You can create an infinite amount of puzzle designs with this puzzle. So there’s no limit to the portals you can introduce into your campaign.
Rune Puzzles for D&D Portals
Our second pick is Rune Puzzles. It’s perfect for portal puzzles because you can overlay this puzzle onto any object including any portal in your D&D game. With this puzzle, there are no puzzle pieces but players do need to translate the runes. So you can control access through the number of translated runes they find. You could place just a single translated rune in a wizard’s tome or scrawled on the final wall of a dungeon. In any case, the DM still controls access.
There’s more puzzle options you ca use with portals in our webshop but these are our two top picks. If you with to learn more about how we use puzzles with statues and pillars check out our article here.
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.