There is one thing that has always really annoyed us about awarding XP for puzzles in Dungeons and Dragons. Ready? Here it comes:
If you present a puzzle to a first level party you hand out an amount of XP appropriate for that level. But if you present the exact same puzzle to a party of level twenty, you hand out XP for that level which is a LOT more.
But the difficulty of the puzzle never changes! So how is it that a high-level party gets more XP for completing the very same puzzle challenge as a low-level party? It just does not make sense to us.
There can be only one conclusion. The traditional system for handing out XP does NOT work for puzzles. We need to come up with something better. There are a few options to choose from.
Awarding XP for D&D Puzzles the Right Way
A Shield Puzzle from the Game of Shields
A very simple solution is to not hand out XP for solving puzzles at all. Simply don’t mention it to your players and only tell them how much XP they gained at the end of the session. That may seem a little unfair, but in reality, a puzzle challenge only takes up a small portion of a gaming session. And if you use milestone leveling the problem with handing out XP for puzzles also becomes moot.
Another option is to look at the dangers PCs face during the puzzle. What is the cost of a mistake? Does lava pour from the ceiling? Do monsters attack? If so, you can just award XP for those dangers.
A problem with many puzzles in D&D is that they only challenge the players and not their characters. You can easily incorporate skill checks with puzzles. Those could be used to climb to a ceiling where the PCs need to pull a lever, or any other challenge you wish to use with your puzzle.
But the simplest way to incorporate skills checks is through giving hints. For low-level PCs, the DC for a hint is lower. For instance, a PC might be awarded a hint for solving the puzzle at a DC 12. But for higher-level PCs you can set much higher DCs. And if the DCs become higher it is only fair that the XP gained is raised as well.
This seems like an obvious solution but it doesn’t always work. If you are using puzzles that allow for very little to no skill checks to be made, the system fails. So how do you avoid this?
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We have a huge amount of puzzles for D&D in our webshop. And each has been carefully designed to require a lot of steps to solving the puzzle. This allows players to make many skill checks which challenges their characters.
You don’t want to use puzzles that have only one big clue to solving them and players either get it or they don’t. If you did, you would only be able to incorporate a single skill check which is kind of boring.
Instead, having puzzles that require many smaller steps is key to incorporating more skill checks. And it also gives every player more chances to contribute.
You can check out the Puzzles in our webshop here if you are interested.
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.