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Is this puzzle, as presented, solvable by the average player, with only the information included below? If not, what would need to be added/changed/outtaken to make it more logical and cohesive (but not inordinately simple).

The Context


System is DnD 5e, in a homebrew alternative earth.

The players are in an archaeology delve into a city that has been frozen in time. The denizens of the city go about their daily lives, frozen midway through whatever they were doing at that moment. Researchers are studying them after finally managing to break through the (as of then) sealed gates and high walls. They find a massive carving of a Baast Sphinx abutting the plateau upon which the temple ward sits. At its base is a reflection pool, only a few centimeters deep on polished marble. Rising from it is a plinth, upon and around which rest several bronze plates, untouched by the ravages of time...

The Puzzle

There is a stone plinth, within which a circular divot is made, the face of which is oriented roughly at a ~70* Angle from the ground, and has a simple engraving of a sunburst with 14 rays in the middle of the circular depression.

The puzzle is composed of 14 metal plates, upon each a riddle is written. They are conjoined by two circular scarab amulets, one in rose gold and one in white gold. The different metal plate segments will, when all place, fit snugly within the depression. Their riddles must be answered correctly, and the plates must be oriented correctly relative to each other for the puzzle to be solved and a nearby secret passageway to open. A Hint may be provided by a nearby live Baast Sphinx as to the orientation of the plates:

"the Horizon is a meeting point of the heavens and the earth, a grade upon which spins the axis of time, when one holds dawn in one's palm."

The plates are all identically shaped and sized, save for four, each of which have a hemispherical cut from one of their edges. They each have a sunbeam engraved on the backside, corresponding with any one of the 14 on the plinth.

When laid flat, the rose scarab is perpendicular to to sunbeam, its head facing the "North" side of the amulet; the white scarab is also perpendicular to its sunbeam, facing the "south" side of the amulet.

At the beginning of the puzzle, there is a single piece of the puzzle (specifically the "sun") sitting in the stone plinth, oriented at the very bottom (where "river" should be) while the rest are scattered about the floor immediately nearby.

A very crude example

The Riddles

  • [Dawn] I am times beginning, and times end. The sun, star, moon, all my friends. With rosette hue I paint the world, as leaf, unconscious, is unfurled. I am death, birth, and rebirth, for the turning of the earth.
  • [Clouds] We are the canvas of the eye's painter, the playthings of the gods, torn, rent, and shrove asunder, our tops alight, at morn so under. We are thrown from heaven to the earth, laden with sorrow and thunderous mirth.
  • [Birds] We are the sailors of the endless blue, brown, white, and every hue. Heralds of the dawn above the cloud, with endless songs we are endowed. Lovers greet us with stone in hand, yet our voices they do demand.
  • [Sun] I reign unchallenged from my throne, across my domain I rule alone. No one may dissent my might, upon my most favored subjects I render blight. All I see beneath my eye, is mine to give life, or bid to die.
  • [Rest] I steal upon you after your brow is sweated, often is my presence feted. No one denies me, although they try. I close the mind and relieve the fraught, and silence I bring to hurried thought.
  • [Stars] We watch over the lands below. When past Sun's zenith, our faces show. Candles floating upon the sea, we die, are reborn, eternally.
  • [Mountain] I am the oldest in the land, the greatest boulder, the finest sand. I touch the rock below, and from my shoulders the winds blow. I am from whence the river fountains, I am eternal.
  • [Forest] We span beneath the mountains and twixt the plains, waterless seas without refrain. Our waves move across entire ages in our swell, above each peak and fell.
  • [Plains] We are endless, yet unamed, windwept amber untamed. Beneath us beats the hoof, above us thunder rolls. We are kind should careful hand us maim.
  • [Farms] Mockery of Heath derided, measured, cut, and subdivided. Careful hands reap and sow, what across us season's flow. We lose all we are with the turn of the moon.
  • [River] Doomed to run from place to place. Towns pay me tribute to run beside them, yet cower when I run among them. They bite and gnaw to sow their grain, At my end, I begin again.
  • [Desert] Red by blue from Black is riven, never taken, unwilling given. From the banks, we baldly rise, cruel backdrops of endless skys.
  • [Hills] Twixt salt and sand, and sand, heirs apparent of the skyward strand.
  • [Ocean] I devour all before, the sun, the stars, beast, plant, man and more. Within my gullet all life lies, yet in my embrace all will die. My indigestion is eternal, churning and vomiting scenes of flare infernal.

HINTS:

The Baast Sphinx is the only one who can provide the hint in the beginning, if the players have been polite to her. Several Archaeologists, while walking about the city with the players, will have quoted experiences, history and theology relevant to the puzzle (Please note, this is not meant to be 112% Accurate to the Egyptian doghma and has some heavy homebrewyness.):

The If-they-were-actually-listening hints, distributed by the other archaeologists while perusing the city, are as follows:

I remember the last time I was standing on the coast like this...
Namib is a desolate place, stone hills and sheer cliffs abound. But,
with Sand behind me, in front of me, ending in the endless waves of
the sea. I miss my homeland dearly.

The people of the Nile, which are descended from the people living
here, are very superstitious people. They consider black a holy and
good color. The black soil is on one bank, while the red of the
desert is on the other.

They had a very interesting belief system. Their god is killed and
born anew every day. At dawn, he bursts from the sea, he sails across the sky, and at dusk, he plunges into a mountain and dies. They're
rather strange people, and I pity the poor bloke.

These people feared the ocean above all else. I'm not surprised they
decided, that, if they had to build on an island, they picked the
place farthest away from the waves that have sunk their ships since
they began building them.

These people, they have a love-hate relationship with water. On one
hand, they chuck coins into the wells and river in the good times,
and shake fists at it from the rooftops when it inevitably floods.
Their god of 'good' water is both a cat and a woman, both very
pernicious creatures, they are."

"The people of Amun had a story about why the gods made the clouds.
They were meant to carry the sorrows and tears of the gods to the
people below, so they may suffer instead. The clouds refused, and for their insolence, they were torn apart and scattered to the four
winds… And yet, the god of the sun had pity on them, and every
morning as an apology, painted them beautifully to spark hope and joy to the humans they protected."

Complications

A Tabaxi by the name of Ri'saad has set up camp nearby, and had taken one of the pieces to study it. The players (if they have not been shoving their thumbs in their ears) know of him and that he has been sneaking in to pillage the belongings of the frozen denizens.

Afterword

I have tried to make this a fun and three layered puzzle which challenges the skills, knowledge, and logical thinking process of the players, as well as requiring some passive note-taking and attention to the lore being presented to them via NPC dialogue. The puzzle is the seal for a "cave of wonders" affair within which the priest-kings of the city hoarded all of their ill-gotten gains.

As a full disclosure, I have this as a part of my D&D 5e campaign, but I am not concerned about the abstract player component in this question, merely the merits of the puzzle, and whether anything can be used to improve it.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that conjoined (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conjoined) is the word you want to use for the scarabs. I have no sense of what size any of this stuff is (other than that there is a shallow pool). $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Dec 6, 2022 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ The seventh chevron is the point of origin. $\endgroup$
    – Darth Pseudonym
    Dec 6, 2022 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Viable_Beret The puzzles are going to be a lot harder to solve if you use words that don't mean what you think they mean. Rosette means "rose shaped", not pink. "Shrove" means "doing penance", not torn. Fraught isn't a noun, so you can't use it that way, and I'm not sure about 'flare' and 'refrain'. $\endgroup$
    – Darth Pseudonym
    Dec 6, 2022 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ "Shrove asunder" is definitely not right. The past participle is "shriven", but in any case the meaning is wrong. You wouldn't say "punished asunder" or "hated asunder" if they were being torn asunder as a punishment or out of hate; it doesn't make any more sense to say "shriven asunder" just because it's as a penance. (Also, these days to shrive almost always means to give absolution as well as penance, and I don't particularly get the impression that that's happening here.) $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Dec 6, 2022 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that when you wrote "rosette" you were thinking of "roseate". $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Dec 6, 2022 at 22:11

2 Answers 2

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Some things in the presentation aren't very clear to me, so let me first of all say what I think is going on so that if I'm wrong OP can correct me.

The square-bracketed words prefixing the riddles are the solutions to the riddles. The players will not see those.

The words on the plinth diagram show the solution to the puzzle, the places where the plates are supposed to go. Again, the players will not see these.

This is a key point where I'm not sure what your intention is, and it makes a big big difference. If the words are on the plinth then all the riddles become much easier since the players are just trying to decide which of 14 things fits best. In this case, I think the puzzle as a whole is probably too easy if you are trying to make it genuinely challenging, though if the intention is just to give the players something to think and talk about for a while it's fine. On the other hand, if the words are not on the plinth then I think it's probably too hard: some of the riddles are too vague, and even if they are all confidently solved I have no idea how the players are supposed to figure out which plate goes where. In what follows I've assumed that the words aren't on the plinth.

The different sizes of the plates in the plinth diagram are just inaccuracies in drawing and do not indicate actual differences that the players could use.

Players are supposed to figure out that the plates go on the plinth; they are supposed to solve the riddle on each plate to figure out what is being described, and then to find the intended plate placements using (1) the hemispherical cutouts (which identify the plates that go at left and right, though they leave a bit of ambiguity as to which exact positions they go in) and (2) the solutions to the riddles.

(Again, if the words are written on the plinth then obviously that last paragraph is wrong.)

OK. So step 1 is for the players to work out that they're meant to put the plates on the plinth. I think they'll get that very easily, and if they don't it shouldn't be difficult for the GM to nudge them.

Step 2 is to solve the riddles. As Darth Pseudonym has said in comments, the fact that some words are used incorrectly is going to make that a bit harder, but let's suppose those are fixed. It would have been easier to get an idea of how solvable the riddles are if we hadn't been told their answers! But (again, making the assumption that the players don't have the words on the plinth and are solving the riddles "from scratch"):

  • Dawn: probably solvable; most of the riddle could describe dusk, or night, rather than dawn, but the thing about unfurling leaves probably disambiguates it OK.
  • Clouds: solvable if the players remember the relevant bit of archaeological lore, probably not otherwise. I feel that "thrown from heaven to earth" is a bit unfair; the clouds don't descend to the earth even though the rain does.
  • Birds: probably solvable. Not sure what the "stone in hand" thing is about; I'm not aware that lovers are particularly into killing birds.
  • Sun: seems like some supreme god would actually be a better fit; of course the Egyptians' chief god was in fact a sun god so maybe that's OK? Not very convinced by the bit about blight, though I see what you mean by it.
  • Rest: I would definitely take this to be sleep rather than rest, but that's probably harmless. I assume "fraught" here is an adjective and means "those who are fraught", and that's fine; I mention this just because in comments on the question someone objected to it.
  • Stars: surely solvable, probably pretty easy, though "past Sun's zenith" is surely wrong -- the stars don't come out immediately after noon. "After Sun's setting"?
  • Mountain: probably solvable, though "the finest sand" seems outright misleading. And of course mountains aren't actually eternal; careful-minded players may wonder whether this means you're actually looking for some sort of earth-spirit thing.
  • Forest: not convinced that this really points specifically to forest as opposed to, e.g., grassland.
  • Plains: another rather vague one. And, er, "beneath us beats the hoof"? Surely that's wrong. Also, more typos than usual: unNamed, windSwept.
  • Farms: probably solvable, though the bit about the moon doesn't make much sense to me and if I thought of "farm" as a solution to this I would be worried it was wrong because it doesn't explain that.
  • River: probably solvable, but I don't understand the bit about biting and gnawing and if I thought of "river" as a solution to this I would be worried it was wrong because it doesn't explain that.
  • Desert: not much chance that this gets solved.
  • Hills: not much chance that this gets solved. (Is something missing or duplicated around those two "sand"s?)
  • Ocean: probably not solvable. "Within my gullet all life lies" is surely just wrong. "in my embrace all will die" is also surely just wrong.

There are lots of riddles and presumably it's necessary to solve all of them to figure out what goes where. I don't think any party is likely to be confident that they have solved all of them correctly, even if in fact they have, and I think that will be a problem psychologically. (Perhaps there could be some mechanism where when someone touching a given plate says the right answer for it, something magical happens -- a bell sounds, the tile starts glowing, the appropriate word appears on it, ...)

(I remark again that if the words are on the plinth then everything becomes much more solvable than I have suggested above, and in that case there probably isn't need for that sort of confirmation mechanism.)

OK, so let's suppose we've solved all the riddles and are confident enough of them to start trying to put them into their places. If the plinth has the words on it, then of course this is trivial; if not, either there's something I'm missing or it's basically impossible. (They can place the ones adjacent to the scarabs; there are only four possible configurations and I think the one in the diagram is the most intuitive. But the rest? No chance.)

So, in summary:

  • If the words are on the plinth, I think everything is pretty solvable. It's possible that the players might e.g. get "forest" and "plains" the wrong way around. I wonder whether, when all the plates are placed on the plinth but the order isn't quite right, something should happen that makes it clear that they're trying to do the right thing but haven't got it yet.
  • If the words are not on the plinth, I think the puzzle as it stands is not solvable: many of the riddles don't have sufficiently clear answers, there are enough of them that the players are never going to be confident they've got them all, and the arrangement of plates on the plinth seems mostly arbitrary.
  • There are a lot of minor word-meaning, grammar, and spelling issues. You should definitely fix these. When trying to solve a riddle I find it very demotivating if I don't feel I can trust the person who wrote it to have got things right.

List of issues I've noticed in the riddles, in order:

  • Dawn: "time's", not "times", twice. "Stars" not "star"? "Roseate" or "rosy", not "rosette". Not sure I buy "death" in the last sentence.
  • Clouds: "Shrove" is definitely wrong. Not sure what "at morn so under" means. "Thrown from heaven to the earth" feels wrong.
  • Birds: It looks as if "blue, brown, white, and every hue" is one list, which isn't the intention; maybe "... blue, in brown, ..." or something? Don't understand the bit about lovers.
  • Sun: seems like it describes a god rather than the actual sun. The bit about blight seems dubious.
  • Rest: "sweated" and "feted" don't actually rhyme :-).
  • Stars: "When past Sun's zenith" doesn't seem right.
  • Mountain: "finest sand" seems dubious, as does "eternal".
  • Forest: OK, I guess, but I don't think I'd ever solve this if I didn't have the list of solution words in front of me.
  • Plains: "unnamed" not "unamed"; "windswept" not "windwept"; are plains particularly "unnamed", anyway? Hooves do not in fact beat beneath plains.
  • Farms: not sure what the turn-of-the-moon bit is about.
  • River: "bite and gnaw to sow their grain"? Last sentence: did the ancient Egyptians know about the hydrological cycle?
  • Desert: nothing wrong with the words; might be too cryptic.
  • Hills: "salt and sand, and sand" -- is this what you meant to write? Don't really understand last sentence.
  • Ocean: much of this seems just untrue. Not sure what "flare" means; there's nothing fiery about the ocean even in a storm.
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  • $\begingroup$ Gareth, I think “stone in hand” refers to “taking out two birds with one stone.” $\endgroup$
    – user79541
    Dec 7, 2022 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ I think so too, but what does it have to do with lovers? $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ Lovebirds? That just feels like the most intuitive way. $\endgroup$
    – user79541
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ But the riddle says that lovers throw stones at birds, not that people throw stones at birds-that-are-lovers. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ Bird lovers (i.e., birdwatchers)? $\endgroup$
    – user79541
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:15
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I've read this twice and I'm pretty sure I would not be able to solve it.

I am notably bad at puzzles, but with the answers right here I feel like I should be able to at least consider myself able to connect the dots.

Someone better than me at puzzles might be able to solve it. Especially with body language cues, additional hints, skill checks leading to additional information, and if the puzzle is presented in written format like it is here.

However I'd expect they won't.

From my general experience puzzle-solvers are pretty rare on the ground. On top of that, puzzles in TTRPGs are often presented with additional context that is superfluous, missing pieces, or other combinations of situations that make solving it harder on top of the additional contextual load of the person thinking about the world and the roleplaying they are doing in addition to the puzzle. I have seen groups fail to complete much simpler puzzles than this one. I in fact have never seen a puzzle anywhere near as complex as this in a tabletop game much less seen one like it solved.

I would expect that if the puzzle is presented as it is, it will only be solved via DM fiat and heavy handholding.

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