This Fantastic Keyword Puzzle

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1077

You stand before a door. Magic seals it tight. Runes begin to glow. They read:

Door is closed

Beneath this phrase, more runes appear:

water – angry – open – window – soft

I found this cool puzzle on Reddit. Here’s how it works.

Characters can swap closed with a word in the list.

For example, touch open and the script changes to “Door is open” and the door opens.

Here’s why we need to think about this.

The puzzle offers emergent gameplay. Not merely a static game element, it opens up amazing storytelling and player interaction opportunities.

The post goes on with some examples.

What if players touch window instead?

Now the party can see through the door and prepare before opening it, or decide if it is even worth going through.

Open versus window gives players options and interesting stuff to think about and strategize around.

Now the door is liquid. The wizard steps up with a spell and the liquid turns to ice and melts. No door for Hodor.

I’m excited by this type of puzzle because of how we might apply it in our world building, campaigns, and characters.

Magic Systems

For example, you could make this into conditional magic, ala Ars Magica.

It’s a spell or school of magic. Practitioners learn more nouns and verbs over time.

No longer do common party tactics devolve into repeated scripts of kick down the door, kill the monster, get the treasure.

Such magic makes your entire world interactive. Match the noun of object with the verb of angry and cast. What’s an angry door? A goofy spell combo now creates NPCs for your campaign.

Take the door with you. Now it’s a window. Great for cover without limiting vision. Now it’s soft. Perfect for sleeping on hard ground.


Apply this puzzle to monsters and enemies.

An easy example: golems. James and I applied a similar approach in The Demonplague for operating ancient Gold Dwarf guardians should clever players suss that out.

What if you applied it to behaviours? A paladin villain has a five point code of honour they still uphold. If players learn the code, they can use each point to constrain, trick, or coerce the villain.

For example, the paladin still abides by Protect the innocent. She views the city of Ashguard as corrupt and evil, not innocent, so it must be destroyed.

But when characters take the paladin to visit the orphanage, the paladin rethinks her plan of triggering a tidal wave to level the city.

GM Options Galore

While such clever player action with the paladin villain catches you off-guard, it does not ruin your plot. Because you get to play the same game.

Fine. No tidal wave.

But thinking about it between sessions, you adjust the villain’s plan.

The foe will need to strike with greater precision. Perhaps it’s to evacuate the innocents. Then tsunami. A win for the code of justice.

Maybe it’s to level the castle. Nothing but corruption there. A win for the code, overthrow tyranny.

What about kidnapping, the paladin thinks. Take all the innocents, train them up, and attack with this new army. Appeals to the code, help those who help themselves.

When players have these options, you get them too.


In Duskfall, I’m building magic items that offer multiple powers paid for by gems in sockets and that have specific attunements.

For example, last session the characters looted the bodies and earned several suits of magic armour and weapons.

Catch is, the items are made of dun metal. Magic items of that material can only be wielded by dwarves.

Another example is a dust wand. Gem sockets fuel different power options. A cloud of dust costs 50 gp of gems to summon. A massive dust storm you control that lasts from dawn to dusk costs 5,000 gp.

If you combo the attunement requirements to the powers, you get the same great puzzle.

Over To You

Read the Reddit post for more ideas.

There’s an interesting comment about thieves’ cant. Give the rogue a growing list of special words like unlock that helps them negotiate challenges. I’m still trying to think how that could work.

If you decide to try this puzzle out, I’d love to hear about it. Just click reply or hit me up on Facebook.