The Illusionist’s Test | 5e Puzzles

The Illusionist’s Test | 5e Puzzles

By J.A. Malcolm

These free 5e puzzles will give your players something unique and interesting to do in your next game session. Feel free to customize these 5e puzzles to suit you and your players' playstyles.

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The Illusionist's Test

In a world of high fantasy, where magic is common, magical illusions may seem to lose their charm. However, one might find that the arcane is not the enemy of the illusionist but a useful tool to use in their tricks. Whether it is to discover a new method, better deceive an audience, or make an illusion that much grander, it is undeniable that there is still a place for the illusionist in the world. And there is no greater proof of this than these four puzzles inspired by classic magic tricks.

Rigged Game

Difficulty: hard

This puzzle features a shell game with three shells and several gems that can be placed under them. Once gems have been placed under all three shells, the shells scramble. The puzzle is solved when the gems are under the correct shells after the order has been scrambled.

On the table are three shells with glowing, green runes engraved upon them. Every so often, on their own volition, they exchange places for a moment before settling again. In front of them is a shallow porcelain bowl that holds a few small gemstones and has an inscription of gold in the bottom.

Puzzle Features

This puzzle is made up of three shells, a handful of gemstones, and the plate that holds them. The shells are enchanted to scramble on their own once gemstones are placed under each of them. They may also be propped up to uncover what’s beneath or prevented from scrambling if the players wish to put more than one gem under a shell.

In front of the shells, there is a plate holding one each of the following gemstones: diamond, emerald, ruby, bloodstone, moonstone, opal, and jade. They are real but cannot be removed from the area. However, they can be placed beneath the shells.

The inscription in the bottom of the dish holding the gems could be taken as a monarch bragging about the mineral wealth of their kingdom. In truth, it is the key to solving this puzzle. It reads:

To the east, the stones with value beyond compare

The favored crystals, colored and clear

And to the west, stones of pale beauty

Valued for appearance, not for their bounty

And ‘tween them all, the price to be paid

For possessing such wealth, and objects of envy

When the players have placed gems beneath the shells and cover them. The shells will scramble. This will result in the shell on the left moving all the way right, the shell on the right moving to the center, and the shell in the center moving to the left. The player characters will be able to see this happen. Once the shells have settled a small teleportation spell will trigger and swap the contents of the shells on the left and right.

If the answer the players have provided is incorrect, nothing happens, and the players will have to start again.


The puzzle is solved when, after the shells have scrambled, the diamond, emerald, and ruby are in the shell on the right, the bloodstone is in the shell in the middle, and the moonstone, jade, and opal are in the shell on the left.

To accomplish this, the players must place the diamond, emerald, and ruby in the shell on the left, the moonstone, jade, and opal in the shell in the middle, and the bloodstone in the shell on the right.

Once the puzzle is solved, the shells will depress into the table, and a small compartment will open in its base. What is in that compartment is up to the GM.

Hint Checks

If the players have difficulty solving the puzzle, they may make the following checks to receive hints.

Charisma (Deception) DC 10. In your experience with shell games played on the street, there is always a moment when the contents of one shell are stealthily moved into another. While there doesn’t seem to be a chance for that to happen here, it is possible that this swap is being accomplished through other means.

DC 10 Wisdom (Insight). You recall that, traditionally, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds are considered precious stones and are seen to have value on their own.

DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana). As the shells come to rest, you detect a surge of magic between the shells on the left and right. This hint may also be discovered with the use of the detect magic spell.

Customizing the Puzzle

The premise of this puzzle can be applied to different items. For example, if this puzzle were to be made to be about types of people, the items to be sorted might involve things that those people find important such as a bottle of ink, a locket, or a gold coin. GMs are invited to consider variants of this puzzle that would resonate with the players at their table.

Adjusting the Difficulty. The difficulty of this puzzle may be modified by adding or subtracting from the different elements of the puzzle. For example, a shell game with four shells presents more options and complexity than a shell game with three. Additionally, the number of gems may be modified, so only one is required per shell.

GM Note. When running this puzzle, it is up to the GM’s discretion as to how they present the scrambling of the shell game. Some suggested methods include playing a shell game at the table or letting players record the result of their attempts and making them deduce the movement of the shells from their notes.

Wounded but Unharmed

Difficulty: hard

This puzzle consists of a box that is designed to have swords plunged through it. While its original purpose required swords to be put everywhere that could hold one, this puzzle is solved when the players figure out which holes to put a sword through and which ones to leave alone.

In the center of the room is a plain wooden cabinet with a brass plaque attached to the front. There is a training dummy secured inside, showing signs of significant wear. Beside the box is a rack holding three short swords. There are ten holes cut into the box, just big enough to allow one of the swords to pass through.

Puzzle Features

This puzzle consists of three swords and a wooden cabinet containing a training dummy, all mundane with no apparent spells cast on them. The box has ten holes cut into it that would fit one of the swords: one aiming for the dummy’s heart through the shoulder, one aiming for its head, one aiming for its neck, one aiming directly at the heart, two aiming for the legs, one aiming just below the dummy’s chest, one aiming through it’s back into the stomach, and two that would cause the sword to pass close to the dummy, but not hit it. Characters may insert the swords into any of these holes, and they will not meet any resistance when doing so. The brass plaque reads:

Strike what is vital, but not what’s held dear

Strike to wound me, and not at thin air

If the characters open the cabinet before the puzzle is solved, they will see the dummy impaled on the blades, but they are allowed to try as many combinations as they’d like.


The puzzle is solved when the following holes are stabbed with swords: the hole aiming for the dummy’s stomach through the back, the hole aiming just under its chest, and the one aiming for its neck.

When the cabinet is opened after the puzzle is solved, the characters will not see the dummy and swords, but a black portal taking up the space. Where the portal leads is up to the GM.

Hint Checks

If the players have difficulty solving the puzzle, they may make the following checks to receive hints.

Intelligence (Investigation) DC 10. A quick survey of the holes reveals the two that look like they would hit the training dummy but would only pass dangerously close to it.

Wisdom (Medicine) DC 10. You recall that the vital organs are mainly in the torso and head, meaning that to “strike what is vital” would mean to aim the swords there and not at the legs or away from the dummy.

Wisdom (Medicine) DC 15. It occurs to you that a creative person, such as the magician that created this illusion, would value two things above all: his mind and his heart. His mind because it is his ability to create new illusions for audiences and his heart because it allows him to fall in love with his ideas.

Customizing the Puzzle

This puzzle is fairly versatile and can be used in many places. However, there is room to add personality by changing the plain cabinet into something more ornate or the weapons from swords to rapiers or even spell wands.

Adjusting the Difficulty. This puzzle can be made more complex by providing more swords than necessary to solve the puzzle or by requiring that the swords must be inserted in a particular order. In fact, a variant may be created by requiring that all ten holes are filled with swords in a specific order.

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