Table Puzzles Inspiration
Here’s a cheap dollar store wooden puzzle I turned into an interactive game prop. I assembled the puzzle then used sharpie to write the clue word. Then I added some other smaller random lines to make assembly easier to line up while also obscuring the letters from casual glances. In this case, there was also a second clue word hidden in an unusual way of laying out the pieces, but I had given a number of hints that this puzzle designer liked to hide puzzles within puzzles.
Other ways you could do the same thing:
-Make a cheap book with a hint word written on the side of the pages or as a symbol across multiple pages that is only visible if you line up/fold the pages in the right way
-Create a specialized book with shortened/lengthened pages so that when opened from one side it shows one set of pages and a whole different set of pages if opened from the other. You can see an example here: https://www.facebook.com/sean.a.cox/videos/10103422841111199/?q=secret%20book&epa=SEARCH_BOX
-A small tower of jenga blocks that must be stacked in the right order to get the letters to line up right or perhaps the numbers written on each block face must sum to the correct numbers. This could be taken a step further to utilize the resulting gaps as a decoder of a sheet of runes the players have if they look through the tower.
-Reskinning any one of those cheap game-toys or dollar puzzles to match with some complicated magical lock or puzzle. Bonus points if you allow them to use magic in game to “cheat” out of game in solving the puzzle such as letting them start the marble of a balancing game anywhere they choose using mage hand or a conjuration effect to pretend any two sliding puzzle pieces are swapped.
-Rubik’s cube or the like with arcane symbols drawn on top. Alternatively, it could be pictures of animals, but with the twist that the goal isn’t to solve it by color, but to line up whatever mix of colors to find what animals are depicted. I wouldn’t suggest anything bigger than the 3×3 cube, and unless you have a rubik’s savvy table, a 2×2 cube is probably better to avoid wearing out the “cool factor” to the point that it is tedious and boring. Mix up the cube, draw a stylized hieroglyph or symbol, mix it up again, repeat with different colors for as many answers as you want, then add a few other random squiggles, and you are done. Someone with a similar idea but for a whole themed dungeon.
-Use a small piece count puzzle, or even a small subset of those pieces, as a mini-game to allow the players to assemble scattered witness testimony about some scene they witnessed. A small portion of an I-Spy type puzzle or realistic puzzle would fit this bill, although an abstract one could also serve to describe something magical or prophetic. Don’t be offended if the players figure it out well before they fully complete it though! An example of a fantasy multi-use puzzle where the players might have to figure out which item is the “key” or the monster’s weakness by putting together the pieces to see which complete item they can make from among the red herring pieces.
-As another take on the puzzle, you could use a blank or abstract puzzle that then has a clue word written on it, front or back. If you do write it on the back, make sure to have a large flat surface that can be flipped over for them to build the puzzle on. Escape room guides are a great place to steal from.
-If players need to reactivate or rebuild some existing equipment, a block puzzle can fit the theme nicely, one where they have to take the given blocks or tetrominos and fit them together so they all are inside the boundaries or form some particular shape.