Why I Game – Sometimes Arsonists Leave Riddles (Part 5)

This year is the 40th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons. So, in celebration of that, and in light of the fact that D&D is releasing a new edition this summer, I’m going to start posting some stories I have of playing Dungeons and Dragons and other roll-playing games.


Last time, I told a story of something strange our group on the road to a mission. In our 5th session, we arrived at our destination, a town called Powderkeg. We discovered that a half-orc arsonist named Gorath had broken out of prison and vowed revenge on the town (which, incidentally, was entirely made of wood). We were handed a map, and our DM Daniel told us that, for this session, he would be keeping a clock going in real-time. At certain intervals, something would happen whether we had solved any riddles or not. The riddle seemed to indicate which buildings were his targets. The moment we started reading, our characters heard an explosion, and the clock started ticking.

More after the jump.

We followed the sound and smoke to the inn, and started putting out the fire. Meanwhile, Teya had taken charge of solving the riddles, and we figured out where the next likely target would be, just in time to get there as it exploded. Again, we put out the fire and saved the civilians, but this time Teya figured out the next location with plenty of time, and we were able to prevent the explosion.

We managed to keep the town from burning down AND prevent an assassination attempt against the Mayor’s life, and did it well within the time constraints provided by the DM. In fact, if I remember right, he started cheating the intervals a bit to keep us on our toes and slow us down a bit.


Based on the cover for Avengers: The Initiative #4, by Jim Cheung. Kalan is the little one, Gorath the big one. It’s worth noting that this didn’t actually happen – he didn’t take on Gorath one-on-one, I just hadn’t used him much in the previous art, and he worked for the scale of a smaller character fighting the Hulk.

Odds are your D&D campaign won’t have a deranged arsonist leaving riddles for you while huge explosions go off around you, but there’s a very good chance it will include at least one riddle. Riddles are a fantastic way to get the entire group engaged and working on a single problem from multiple angles at once. If not for the explosions, we probably would have solved all the locations within 20 minutes – that was the point of the explosions, to keep our attention divided. As someone who eventually wrote his own riddle for the D&D group I run now, I can tell you that it’s extremely gratifying to watch a group of players huddle around a note you pass them, pull out their notepads and start scribbling furiously, drawing diagrams or passing maps around and taking notes. Riddles engage the players on an intellectual level, in additional to the personal level that most D&D games involve.

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