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I have just started my first D&D 5e campaign, and have encountered a seemingly mind-controlled bandit who keeps writing the same thing over and over on the wall. Our DM wrote out what it looks like (character for character). It's supposed to be in Abyssal, the script of which my character can read.

I deciphered this cryptic writing with frequency analysis, but this used my real-world skills to solve the problem, before we're supposed to find the solution in-game. My character is a level 2 High Elf Wizard, so if given enough time (i.e. during a long rest), I think it would be reasonable for my character, with his vast knowledge of written and spoken languages, to discover the meaning.

Given that I actually solved this in the real world, would it be appropriate for my character to do the same? Can I transfer my real-world skill into the game in this way? And if so, what would be the best way to go about it?


Aside: technically the way this cryptic text was implemented was as a simple substitution cipher. In reality, just because I can read the Latin character set doesn't mean I understand Italian. So maybe it's a bit paradoxical that I was able to understand the message at all, and that it maybe shouldn't transfer to in-game discovery because my character can read Infernal but can't speak Abyssal...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You said your PC can read Abyssal. What are his INT and WIS, and does he have any other skills that might be useful? \$\endgroup\$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Jan 21 at 3:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ His INT is 18 and his WIS is 15. Given the fact that he knows 5 total languages and was (in his background) an academic, I think it would make sense for the character to break the code in-game. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Cirefice Jan 25 at 6:36
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Ask your DM whether it's supposed to be viable to decipher it, or whether you were supposed to find the clues in game.

Given that they used a genuine (even if simple) cipher and a proper script hiding an actual message, it seems likely that they meant for cracking it in real life to be an option. But it might just be that they never expected anyone to bother. (Seems unlikely, though)

Personally, I'd bring it up before the start of the next game and ask whether I was supposed to do that during downtime.

Also personally, as a DM, I'd be thrilled if someone broke a puzzle like this during their time away from the game. DMs don't put in the work for nothing and usually enjoy it when people figure things out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As said. In-game puzzles are OOC challenges, so whether your tackling it is valid hinges on whether it was meant as a puzzle. Also, feeling you kept your players interested in the middle of the week is a major achievement for a DM. Let him know. He'll probably be happy! \$\endgroup\$ – ThanosMaravel Jan 18 at 10:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ When I give a puzzle or code, I always expect my players to invest out-of-game time to solve it. It is always my plan that, if the player figures it out ahead of when the story forces the reveal, the character gets some special benefits. It's a little bit immersion-breaking, but the game is meant to be fun for players above all else. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jan 18 at 13:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. If characters were supposed to solve the puzzles, every puzzle would be a simple Wisdom-based dice roll with no input from the players at all (very boring). The fact this cypher wasn't just a dice roll, and has an answer that can be worked out, implies that it is supposed to be solved by the players, not the characters. But, yeah, ask the DM, just in case... \$\endgroup\$ – BittermanAndy Jan 18 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with asking your DM. But, as a DM, if I wanted a 'cipher' to be uncrackable, I would write down absolute gibberish, then once the PCs had the clues they needed to make it understandable, I'd reveal the 'translated form' without going into how the cipher worked. If I used a real Cipher that encrypted real words, I would expect that my players could potentially crack it. So, as long as your character would have the skills and knowledge to crack it as well... \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Jan 18 at 18:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman True. Although I'll also submit that the in-game versions of my secret codes and puzzles are generally put together by characters smarter and more skilled than myself, while the actual codes are limited to what I am able to produce. My goal is generally to represent the process of deciphering codes as a role-playing exercise in a way that's fun for the players. If they want to use reality-specific tools, that's fine with me as long as the process is fun and interesting for them. Of course, I may use the same resources to make harder codes as a result... \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jan 18 at 19:35
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I'd be careful about metagaming, so I concur that you should bring it to your GM prior to bringing it in character as solved. If nothing else, the GM shouldn't go forward in the game thinking the writing is still mysterious, because then a lot of the mystery could be undermined if he gives clues that require deciphering of the text to understand, and you proceed with knowledge he doesn't know you have.

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You already hinted at a solution:

My character is a level 2 High Elf Wizard, so if given enough time (i.e. during a long rest), I think it would be reasonable for my character, with his vast knowledge of written and spoken languages, to discover the meaning.

If you can bring this into roleplay, it is fine, after all you are a wizard who most likely is good in deciphering texts. What is your character's backstory? Does your character have previous experience with this kind of riddles? In any case, good roleplaying requires to play coming up with the solution convincingly, not in an ad hoc manner.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is probably the sort of thing you aren't going to need to role for, the puzzle seems designed by the Gm for the players at hand so that the one who is most likely to solve the problem IRl is the one with the character suited to solve the problem. It's one of those things the GM puts there for you to say "oh, I know" and if you ask if your character figured it out they probably aren't going to make you roll, because it was supposed to be implied, but always best to speak with the M to make sure you're reading his intentions correctly \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Personick Jan 18 at 22:01
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First, I would suggest you talk to the GM. Work out if there's any reason why your character would not (or would) have the background knowledge to do the work to crack the code.

The GM has several possible outcomes.

  1. The code isn't meant to be cracked yet... for reasons... That's not a bad thing, if those reasons support the rule of fun or perhaps the rule of cool.
  2. The GM says you might have cracked it. Now it becomes a skill check that then gets handled through the dice.
  3. The GM lets you have it. Hey, you cracked it, so why not?

As a GM, I'd probably go with 2 unless 1 overruled it.

Present it to the GM that way: "I cracked this, so can my PC have done the same? Maybe it's just done. Or maybe you want me to make a skill check to see? Or maybe there's a reason my PC shouldn't crack it yet...?"

Try not to force the issue, but it's worth asking.

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How sure are you that you've actually deciphered the "message"?

Back in the day when game programs weren't big enough to contain adventure text, they'd ship with a little booklet and the program would tell you to read paragraph 48. Often these booklets would contain decoy paragraphs which were never referenced, intended to mislead people about the plot of the game.

So, have you actually worked out something with meaning, or is it just prop text that wasn't supposed to be meaningful? Only your GM knows for sure. I mean, I can just write down ENITLAVORUOYKNIRDOTERUSEB and call it secret coded Orcish orders, for all that it's just a lousy commercial.

Play like the prop is actively trying to mislead you, unless and until the GM says otherwise.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's a better commercial written in that order than it was in the original. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 19 at 0:02
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As a concrete solution, you could just say in-game to other characters, "You know, I though about this message last night, and I think I can read it." Then things should flow out from this - probably them asking you to read it, or possibly the GM interfering, or something. RPGs are usually very much about improvising, and letting things fall where they may, and this solution, bringing this up in-game, would be very much in the spirit of that.


Here's why to do it like this, in the open, and kind of force the issue:

Assuming you cracked it correctly, and actually cracked it as a puzzle, not e.g. by googling it (the GM could have found the puzzle from the internet), the only reasonable solution is that your character has cracked it as well. Pretending your character doesn't know things about the world, which the player does know, that's one thing. But pretending to not know things about the plot that the player does know, that will likely take out a lot of fun from the game.

If the GM didn't mean for players to crack it, they should have made it random gibberish, "cracked" through skill checks or gathering the clues or whatever. If the GM meant for players to crack it, well, then you did crack it, and if the GM isn't prepared for it to be cracked this quickly, they prepared poorly. Either way, your fun as a player shouldn't suffer because of this, assuming you played it fair and solved it yourself.

Note that the above two paragraphs have a bit of a confrontational tone; you definitely don't want to present the issue to the GM like this. The point above is, if the GM didn't intend things to go down like this, it's on them to figure out how to fit this into the campaign. It shouldn't be your responsibility to adapt your play like this (unless you yourself want to, of course).

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