As part of some treasure the party I am in found, we found a puzzle box. I am a wizard, and I wanted to use the spell Knock to open it. Knock says:

Choose an object that you can see within range. The object can be a door, a box, a chest, a set of Manacles, a padlock, or another object that contains a mundane or magical means that prevents access.

A target that is held shut by a mundane lock or that is stuck or barred becomes unlocked, unstuck, or unbarred. If the object has multiple locks, only one of them is unlocked.

(emphasis mine). None of my party rolled high enough on an Investigation check to manage to open the box, and I said I wanted to cast Knock to open it. My rationale was that each step of the puzzle was a lock, and if I casted Knock enough times, it would open the puzzle box.

However, my DM said that the puzzle box isn't technically "locked". My thought was that since Knock will unstick or unbar doors, the item doesn't need to be technically locked with a physical lock, it just needs to prevent us from opening it. I did not want to fight about it, so I dropped it, but I was curious if there is an official ruling. However, I did read this post and I'm not sure if the top answer agrees or disagrees with my specific situation.

So, can Knock open a puzzle box? If so, would it take one casting total, or one casting for each step of the puzzle?

Update: I really appreciate the discussion on various types of puzzle boxes and I think it is really stimulating. HOWEVER, I think I was not specific enough with my description of this puzzle box. The puzzle box was described to us with a lot of clarifications: it is similar to a Japanese puzzle box (himitsu-bako) where it contains switches/levers/ moving pieces of whatever type. Moving one piece allows the next piece to be moved, and so on, until presumably the last piece, which blocks the lid from opening, is moved.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Presumably, the DM has defined some mechanic for opening this box. You state that you all failed an Int check but that may have been to discover what you need to do - not to actually open it. Has the DM provided any guidance on how he expects you to solve this Puzzle Box? It may be a macguffin and you just can't solve it because that messes up the story. Maybe you have to be kobold maiden to turn some knob because.. magic. knock won't get you past that step.. \$\endgroup\$
    – vsfDawg
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 17:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vsfDawg I agree with you for the most part, but my question is whether or not knock would open a puzzle box in general. \$\endgroup\$
    – wzbillings
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:39

5 Answers 5


"A mundane or magical means of preventing access"

The rationale your DM used was that the puzzle box is not 'locked'. However, nowhere in the description of Knock does it specifically say that it works on locks.

This is because, as per the quoted section, it undoes any means (mundane or magical) of preventing access, and the fact that it later mentions only 'unlocked, unstuck, or unbarred' is clearly not intended to be limiting, since it later only references unlocking. If it were providing limitations, you would have to rule that a door with both a bar and a lock would be immune to Knock, since the last sentence only addresses locks, which would be rather silly.

It also seems that it would only require one casting to unlock the entire puzzle box, large interconnected system or not. After all, you don't need to cast the spell for each tumbler in a lock, and even extraordinarily complicated locks (some of them get truly devilish) can be undone easily with this spell. Since complexity and number of moving parts isn't an issue, Knock would therefore have to undo the entire puzzle box at once.

Now, if you had a puzzle box with 6 sides, and each one had a separate mechanism, or if there were multiple boxes inside each other, it would require multiple castings, but it does not sound like this resembles your situation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've accepted your answer as I feel that it answers the question based on interpreting the spell's language rather than any other extenuating examples or circumstances. \$\endgroup\$
    – wzbillings
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 14:42

RAW, Knock should not be able to open all puzzle boxes. For ones that can be considered "locked" and can be opened by Knock, I would rule a single casting is sufficient.

RAW, I would argue that the Knock spell only opens something that is

held shut by a mundane lock or that is stuck or barred

or is

held shut with arcane lock

The first paragraph of the spell describes which objects can be targeted. It does not say anything about what kinds of "means that prevent access" can actually be bypassed by the spell, only what the criteria are for targeting.

The second paragraph describes what action the spell takes against the "means", and this is very specific. I would rule that this spell does only what it says, no more. If a puzzle box has something that can be described as a locking mechanism, then I would allow the spell to open it. If however the box is not locked in any way, just cleverly crafted so that when you pull it a certain way, it falls to pieces, was it "locked"? Did you "open" it? Or did you discover a secret compartment in the middle of a block of wood? There's room for interpretation here.

Try working through these test cases: Would the Knock spell

  • open a secret door that has a hidden latch that you can't find?
  • open an ordinary door that has a door knob that you just didn't bother to turn? Is that a "mundane or magical means that prevents access"? If the door knob doesn't "prevent access", then how is a secret catch different, except that you don't know how to use it. Seems like that would require a divination spell, rather than a transmutation one...

For the sake of consistency, ease of implementation, and frankly my own sanity, I would rule that secret catches and similar mechanisms are not technically "locks" for the purposes of the Knock spell. They are simply hidden doorknobs. Some types of puzzle boxes would fall into this group, and those would have to be worked by other methods: ability, skill, or tool proficiency checks (maybe woodcarver's tools, or carpenter's tools, or Dexterity(Deception), or a straight-up Int check), research, divination spells, etc.

For the second part of the question, how many castings are required, again for consistency and to avoid absurdity, I would treat each movement of a puzzle box as a tumbler of a complex lock, and open them all with a single Knock spell. If knock doesn't open it on the first try, then you'll need to try something else.

Consider this: the spell doesn't tell you how many locks there are. How many Knock spells are you honestly going to throw at the ornately carved block of wood before you decide it's not really a box? Do you want all such scenarios to cause a marathon Knock-fest? This is what I mean when I talk about avoiding absurdity.

P.S. Try putting yourself in your DM's shoes for a minute. Making a ruling isn't just about rounding up some English majors and lawyers and dissecting the text of the spell's rule. The real compelling question from your DM's perspective here is: do they want puzzle boxes to be an interesting part of your game?

If they do, but any puzzle box can simply be popped open with a 2nd level spell, or even a series of 2nd level spells, then it will likely cease to be an interesting challenge element once the players have access to those spells, either because of their level or their wealth, which would be fairly early in most campaigns.

That may be fine for some campaigns, after all, higher level characters are supposed to make short work of things that are difficult or impossible for lesser mortals. It's part of the hero shtick.

But if you're a fan of these types of things and want them to remain a viable challenge even in the face of a spell like Knock, you might rule that the spell doesn't cover all of them. Which IMHO is fine as long as there are ways to figure out how to open the more problematic ones, and resources that can be gained to discover those ways. Or in the case of certain pivotal campaign McGuffins, a particular piece of information or circumstance along the heroes path that reveals the trick, just when having access to the box's contents would be the most interesting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer relying on solid readings without any gymnastics. An int test isn't much more engaging than dumping level 2 spells, so I'm not sure about the second half, but it's something to think about. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 5:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think a locksmith would see the difference between a lock and a mildly complex puzzle box. And in both cases, the mechanism bars the door. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fax
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 10:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ 'I don't think a locksmith would see the difference between a lock and a mildly complex puzzle box.' Strong disagree... Having seen videos of people opening puzzles, standard lockpicking tools and methods would be useless. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 13:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ While you made some interesting points with the latch example, I feel like the second half of your answer is unnecessarily condescending, in addition to not answering the question. I guess I did not convey clearly in my original post that I am not going to argue with my DM about their ruling, I was just interested in what other people would rule on this. \$\endgroup\$
    – wzbillings
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Would the Knock Spell open a secret door that has a hidden latch that you can't find?" No. It may unhook the latch, but not the door itself. And only if you're able to target the door. You still need to figure out how to open the door. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:47

Maybe, maybe not. The DM needs to adjudicate the nature of the box's security mechanism(s).

As has been pointed out by Sanford Bassett's answer, the Knock spell works on things that are secured via a mundane or magical means. So, basically, almost anything.

It goes on to speak on the specific subset of things which are locked or barred or stuck that fall within the larger list of things that are secured via a mundane or magical means and says that these become unlocked, unbarred, or unstuck (unless the thing features more than one lock).

The issue, in my mind, is the exact nature of how the puzzle box is locked. This becomes the gray area that requires a DM to adjudicate. For example, consider the following two items that might be referred to as puzzle boxes:

A wooden box with seams reinforced by riveted metal. It has no obvious latches or levers but contains a riddle which, once solved, reveals that one of the rivets is, in fact, a concealed button. When pressed, the button unlatches the lid and allows access to the box's contents.

This puzzle box arguably has just one locking mechanism which is simply cleverly concealed. I personally would rule that Knock is capable of unlocking it.

Compare that box to one like this:

A wooden box with a series of knobs and toggles, each of which must be placed in the correct position to allow a corresponding latch contained within the lid to slide back and permit the box to be opened. If any one of them is not positioned correctly, it prevents its latch from sliding fully clear and allowing the lid to be opened.

Each of the knobs and toggles serves to function as a separate locking element since, if even just one is not in the correct alignment, the lid will not be openable. Could Knock, which is limited to opening just one lock at a time, affect every one of the sub mechanisms of this box at once? Or are they unique and separate locking mechanisms?

If the DM rules that they are all part of one very complex lock, then a single casting of Knock would open the box. But if the DM rules that each one is its own locking mechanism, then it would require multiple castings of Knock to bypass each locking component.

The bottom line, I think, is that the nature of the puzzle box will determine whether a single casting of Knock is sufficient for opening it and this requires a DM's interpretation/ruling.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What does the DM need to adjudicate? The number of locks a puzzle box counts as? or if a puzzle box counts as secured by "mundane or magical means"? \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 22:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GcL because if an item has multiple locks, knock only unlocks one of them. The point is that's an easy adjudication to make when an item has multiple separate physical locks (i.e. a door with two different key locks that must both be opened) but less so if the mechanisms are deliberately obfuscated, as in a puzzle box. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carcer
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 22:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe another part that the DM needs to adjudicate is whether "unlockng, unbarring, or unsticking" is helpful at all. Many puzzle boxes simply have hidden latches, they are not locked, barred, or stuck. Casting knock will not tell you where the door handle is, so to speak. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 5:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara I don't think that's pedantic. If you cast Knock on a normal door I don't think the door would swing open. It doesn't seem like the intention of Knock is to open anything, it just makes them openable. There isn't anything in the spell to suggest that would work. Trying to argue that a door latch is the same as a bar would not fly at my table, it's not RAW, and I don't see any reason to believe that it is RAI either. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 5:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara When I read your description of the second type of puzzle box the first thing I thought was 'Isn't that just a combination lock' after all if you get just one number in the combination wrong you can't open the lock. Based on this would you argue that a combination lock is actually multiple locking mechanisms? and further what is the difference between this and any lock with multiple tumblers? \$\endgroup\$
    – EdHunter
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 13:41

The spell should probably work, but it does not have to do so under the RAW

A puzzle box is, indeed, a valid target for knock: it is a box. However, the spell does not necessarily affect its targets in any useful way. Let us take, as an example, a simple unlocked door. Reviewing the rules for knock:

A target that is held shut by a mundane lock or that is stuck or barred becomes unlocked, unstuck, or unbarred. If the object has multiple locks, only one of them is unlocked.

(emphasis mine)

The door is none of those things, so no effect applies here.

If you choose a target that is held shut with arcane lock, that spell is suppressed for 10 minutes, during which time the target can be opened and shut normally.

No arcane lock here.

When you cast the spell, a loud knock, audible from as far away as 300 feet, emanates from the target object.

This is the only part of the spell that occurs.

So, in this example case, even though the spell can target an unlocked unbarred not-stuck door, it doesn't make getting through that door any easier. A really heavy door, for example, might still be problematic to open, or a door with an unusual opening mechanism (like sliding rather than pivoting). The rules for the spell only provide mechanisms for dealing with locks, bars, and being stuck specifically.

That said, a puzzle box is generally composed of pieces that are stuck. While the DM can rule within the text that the pieces aren't really stuck since if you moved them the right way vis a vis being clever enough they could move freely, the same could generally be argued for regular stuck doors and being strong enough. Furthermore, the puzzle on a puzzle box is exactly the sort of limited mundane access prevention that knock is intended to bypass. Although it is textually possible to rule otherwise, knock should render a puzzle box openable (or open). If the DM wishes knock to not bypass a particular puzzle box for Reasons, they can always declare that it is subject to special magic that wards against such access or otherwise grant it special immunities-- there's little reason to decide to prohibit this use of the spell in general.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that "a target that is stuck" somehow applies to mechanisms inside the puzzle box. I don't think it's natural to call a locked puzzle box "stuck", I would say "locked", "closed", or even "unsolved". But saying "can you solve this stuck puzzle box" is very unnatural to me. I feel like this ruling is a huge stretch, and would mean that casting Knock on a normal door would cause the doorknob to turn and open the door, that doesn't seem to be the nature of the spell at all. Also, I don't know why you assert that unlocking puzzleboxes is the intention of knock \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 5:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user-63873687 Fill in the blank: "Oh, man! I can't move this piece in the puzzle box! It's ____" I have literally never heard a word other than 'stuck' used there. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 16:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, first of all I agree with your last point--if I got the "you cast the spell but the box appears to be warded against this type of magic" that's that. I like your analogy with the pieces being stuck; my logic was that the puzzle literally bars the box from opening like a door bar would block a door. \$\endgroup\$
    – wzbillings
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pleasestopbeingevil Sure, why not. What's your point? "[A] pieces in a puzzle box" are not valid targets for the spell Knock. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 23:33

Sounds like it's Time to Metagame

Answers here have been argued both ways (that it IS or is NOT RAW). However what really matters is your story. It sounds to me like it's time to have an Out Of Character discussion with the DM (and possiblye other players) about what they are trying to accomplish.

Is the intent to be a fun RL puzzle to enhance the game? Well then solving it with a spell is going to suck all the fun out of that, and might be kind of frustrating for any of the other players who enjoy puzzles. Especially if your DM bought an actual physical puzzle box to be part of the treasure.

If this is the case I'd recommend coming up with some sort of reason why your wizard wouldn't even consider using the Knock spell. Maybe they consider it beneath them "I'm not going to waste a spell on a child's toy. Harumph!" or maybe the puzzle box is to fragile and there's a risk that using knock will break whatever is within.

On the other hand maybe the box is just there to be an obstacle for you all to overcome, in which case using knock to open it maybe should be allowed.

Ultimately it's enough of an edge case that really rather than focusing on RAW or RAI (since that won't provide a definitive answer) you should focus on what will be the most fun for your entire party (DM included!)

  • \$\begingroup\$ To be honest, if my DM had brought an actual physical puzzle box, I would have mentioned it, and I would not have atttempted to spell. Also as I stated, I am not looking to argue with my DM since he is in charge, just curious on what people think of this ruling. I do appreciate the advice to talk to my DM OOC, which I am planning on doing. \$\endgroup\$
    – wzbillings
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I sincerely hope I didn't give the impression I was suggestion arguing with the DM was the solution. I've edited the answer a little to make it more clear that I mean other answers to this question are arguing (in the debate sense) both ways; not that you should argue with your DM. \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 19:10

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