Content of the article: "The Chromatic Sigils: A Venn Diagram Puzzle For Your Dungeon"
The Chromatic Sigils
These peculiar glyphs inscribed on the tiles of the dungeon floor glow seemingly at random. Three outer glyphs, three overlapping borders between them, and a centre point where they all overlap each glow with a unique hue. Eventually, your players will figure out that what causes them to glow is wholly dependent on what objects the player characters place inside them. Getting each sigil is bound to unlock a new passage leading to further danger, but possibly greater treasure!
This puzzle will test your players' creative thinking as they go through their inventories, their spells, and perhaps even their very character in order to figure out what will cause the glyphs to all activate at the same time. This puzzle uses the common and intuitive design of a Venn diagram, so it should be fairly straight forward for DMs to run and modify as well as for players to solve.
I featured this puzzle inside a Beholder's lair that was partly formed out of an old Duergar stronghold. Once solved the floor under the sigils appeared to dissolve and a new passageway was found into the central resting place of the beholder they were tracking. I first ran it back in 2018, but I have tidied it up so that others may enjoy it too. This puzzle was quite the hit with my group and I hope that it's the same for your groups too!
These overlapping sigils make up what appears to use a Venn diagram. The PCs must place objects within each of the 7 regions that match the criteria defined by the main circular sigils in order to complete the puzzle and unlock the door or treasure beyond it. Each of the three main circles has a unique category and those categories will define the solution (or solutions) to the puzzle.
In the above puzzle, the three primary colours each have a unique theme. These are:
"Red – Magic" (represented by a scroll and overlaid wand)
"Blue – Combat" (represented by a crossed sword and arrow)
"Green – Exploration" (represented by a sextant, a navigational tool)
In order to complete this puzzle, the characters would need to place an object (or an effect such as a class feature or spell) in each of the coloured zones that satisfy the criteria overlapping it, just like a Venn diagram. Below is an example solution
|Sigil Colour||Example Solution|
|Cyan (Combat/Exploration)||Crossbow w/ Loaded Grappling Hook|
|Yellow (Magic/Exploration)||Paladin Using Divine Sense|
|Magenta (Combat/Magic)||Sword +1|
|White (All Three)||Casting: Hunter's Mark|
The above table merely offers example solutions to the specific criteria of my Venn puzzle but I like the "fuzzier" nature of the solutions and the examples that I listed were noticeably distinct from what my players actually provided. When I ran this puzzle and the players were stumped for what to provide in the centre sigil, one of the players who was playing an arcane trickster rogue thought it would be best for them to just stand in the middle. An arcane trickster is a magical subclass for the rogue and it seemed like an excellent fit for the puzzle's solution so I let it count and the puzzle was completed and the player's continued on through the dungeon gleaming with pride!
You may wish to change up the puzzle itself or how the players can approach the riddle. Here are some variants for DMs to consider that may suit their game a little better.
Additionally, if the players dawdle for too long (perhaps because they are spending time pondering for hints) consider rolling on a random encounter table to have monsters interrupt them.
The Puzzle Criteria
You may decide that the example criteria of magic, combat and exploration don't work for your table. In that case, swap them out for something else that's more suitable. Here are some alternative trios that you may want to use, though I don't have example solutions for each one:
The Knight, The Priestess, and The Scholar (inspired by the Three Pillars of Lothric in Dark Souls 3. This could even be framed as the Fighting Man, The Priest, and The Magic-User if you have some old-school players at the table.)
Fruit, Dairy, Meat (perhaps an interesting puzzle inside a culinaromancer's kitchen with recipes as the solutions)
Serpent, Lion, Hawk (common heraldry symbols, solutions could be different monster skulls lying around the dungeon)
If you need a blank diagram to use for the puzzle that you can add your own symbols too, here is one I prepared earlier.
The Puzzle Setup
Though it worked for my players to let them figure out everything themselves using their characters' equipment and abilities, you may prefer to have the solutions to the puzzle be within the dungeon or even within the puzzle room itself. This approach may be preferable with younger players or perhaps just players that are less experienced with the game or puzzles.
To give your players even more leeway you may even want to have some of the individual glyphs already glowing and active when the PCs get inside the puzzle room due to objects already inside them. This will immediately communicate to your players that those glyphs glow based on what the players put inside them.
This party took my players roughly 20 minutes to overcome. I like giving my players the opportunity to earn hints to help them, especially if the players are stumped for a solution to a specific sigil. I handle hints for puzzles by letting a player character spend 10 minutes to ponder over the puzzle, at the end of which they may come up with an insightful hint if they succeed a DC X Intelligence check. I normally make the DC 10-15, and you may also want to consider letting a character add their proficiency bonus if they are proficient in the Arcana or Investigation skill (given the nature of the puzzle).
Unless you're setting up this puzzle to have exact solutions like the variant mention earlier it can be a little tougher to give hints for this puzzle. In this case, a successful hint might be something like "Perhaps X's Wizard has an item that can help with the yellow region". If more vague hints don't help, then consider rewarding successful hints with direct suggestions for solutions to the puzzle step that they're stuck on.
Feedback and criticism are very welcome on this puzzle. If anything hasn't been explained clearly, I'm more than happy to help clear that up and provide edits to improve this puzzle.
If you have an interesting set of three puzzle criteria and are willing to share, I'd love to know what you came up with!
- Item Crafting: Sending Medallions. Need input!
- Tips/Reminders for creating a Dungeon (‘borrowed’ from a variety of sources).
- A simple puzzle/trap for DMs to use in their next dungeon!
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