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Traps!

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Traps!

Traps -- love them or hate them, they're an important part of dungeon delving, war gaming, and just about any ttrpg that deals with sentient beings wanting to keep other sentient beings out of places. So what are some of your favorite traps?

There has to be at least an

There has to be at least an opportunity for some sort of warning. It can be subtle, it can be indirect, or it can depend on a die roll, but it must be there.

The most deadly trap I ever ran - leading to a near-total TPK - was a Rod of Fucking-Amazingness (I'm too lazy to look up the actual name, but it was fucking amazing) that had been set up in a totally warded room, protected by various spells to ensure its resistance to non-physical forces, and literally propping up the ceiling. This room was the climax of the adventure, at the bottom of the dungeon. The party had labored for days to get there, and this was a high-powered party: there was no one lower than level 15. There was plenty of lesser treasure scattered around and they gathered it all up, but that Fucking Awesome Rod just defied all their questions and investigations: there was NO OTHER WAY to remove it without bringing the ceiling down upon them.

And that's just what one PC - my GF at the time - decided to do. She grabbed it and pulled. And just as they had been warned, the dungeon level above came crumbling down into the room they stood in, and the damage was INSANE. It was like 20d20 to each person. And after all the dice had been rolled and the saving throws failed, guess who was the only PC to survive?

Yup. That B.

Click Rule & telegraphing

So in my research in traps in general, I came across The Angry GM and he recommended telegraphing the traps. Placing them in the similar areas, like rubble or two statues with a sword on the same side. His other really neat idea is the click rule. Basically he says "Alright you hear a click. what's your reaction?" And awards modifiers as appropriate.

Had one DM that decided that

Had one DM that decided that he'd screw with us one time, and set traps aimed at the usual dungeoneering tactics. Among them were included doors with pressure plates in the jambs: fine, until you tried to spike the door open (or closed). At which point the PC would catch a 1d8 blast to the face, and be left with an un-hinged door that could no longer be spiked.

The first was cool, in an "oh, that's an unexpected" kind of way. Thereafter we just started ten-foot-poling the doors first, and it just left us with a random subset of doors we couldn't spike.

I feel like traps in RPGs are

I feel like traps in RPGs are still usually based in this old-school evil GM Tomb of Horrors mindset, which is dissatisfying in play. It basically comes down to rolling Perception, failing, taking some damage as the GM describes the trap. Or demanding that you describe using a ten foot pole to test every square of terrain in case there is a trap.

Traps in RPGs should be more like how they work in fiction: big set pieces that are obvious to see but difficult to avoid. When Indiana Jones enters the forgotten temple at the start of Raiders, he can tell immediately that it's full of traps. But figuring out how to bypass it is the interesting part. When the kids are trapped in a pirate trap in Goonies and have to solve a puzzle to play the right notes to open the way before a ball rolls through its path and triggers the deathtrap, that's interesting.

In those cases (and lots of others) the trap is obvious, but how to deal with it isn't. And that's how a lot of good roleplaying works anyway: the GM presents a situation that demands action, but it isn't obvious how the PCs will respond to the situation and resolve it. Answering that is where the satisfying roleplaying comes in. So traps should be another place where the same maxims apply: give the players an interesting situation (a trap) and then let them sort it out. That's very different than having them all suddenly take 2d10 fire damage because no one notices the hidden pressure plate in the doorframe.

Passive Perception

So one of the neat things that 5e included is the passive perception stat. I highly recommend including a similar mechanic elsewhere. In 5e it's 10 + wisdom mod, or if proficient 10 + wisdom mod + proficiency bonus. This means you don't have to bring a 10ft pole anymore!

I think you strike on a key

I think you strike on a key dichotomy: traps can play two different roles:

One is trap-as-foe, as you described: a challenge encountered, for the players to find a way to avoid, overcome, etc. This may be generalized beyond traps, as it really encompasses “environmental hazards.”

The other is trap-as-weapon, wielded by the dungeon-as-foe. In this instance it is a mechanism of effect or damage delivery, rather than a challenge in itself. I think the key here is to treat its damage as in line with other attacks (eg, 1d6, not save vs death), and allow the foe to be disarmed or avoided (the dungeon).

I think both are valid.

For dungeon adventures I like

For dungeon adventures I like separation traps - sometimes combined with an ambush. They increase the danger instead of right out fucking anyone. The players are presented with the choice to try and undo the separation or to find a way around it. And clever players who find the trigger or manage to reset it can use it against their enemies or to quickly seal off a pursuing enemy.

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