23 April 2013

T is for Trap

 "Mad Gort ran through the dungeon, his steel boots causing a ruckus. The howling gibbering mouther that chased after him suddenly stopped, turning down a different corridor with a hurried cadence. Mad Gort chuckled to himself, stupid aberration. As he started back his face smashed against something invisible and he fell on his butt. What's this nonsense? The far wall at the end of the hall suddenly made a loud stone-on-stone shifting sound and it started at him. The invisible wall remained where it was, undeterred by his hollers and fist pounding. It seemed Mad Gort had gotten himself into another trap."
Traps are a great tool for a DM with little time. There are so many traps in the history of tabletop games that I could not even begin to cover them all, and anyone can utilize them quickly to populate an area and make it more dangerous. I myself keep a short list of level-appropriate traps on a piece of paper that I can throw in at any time I am feeling the need to. It's great for when the players are becoming too complacent and forgetting to check for traps. Though one could argue it's unfair to place traps in places there weren't any before, that's really a topic I want to cover later.

One reason I am so fond of traps is also their speed of resolution. While one can always use traps as huge set pieces, if I need something to engage the players but not take too much time, a simple pit trap or poisoned chest will do it. Then it's on to the next encounter. Of course, some traps don't make much sense. Obviously a farmer's barn wouldn't be trapped and if it was, the explanation as to why would make an interesting story in its own right. But the point is not everywhere is trapped. Usually I reserve traps for dungeons, abandoned crypts, or a royal palace. Canonically I attempt to put their placement in a logical place. Trapping a broom closet seems tedious and odd. Unless the dungeon's creator happened to be insane. Then I have a free-for-all.

Some traps cost money, and there are some books that will create a budget for traps in a dungeon based on the size and danger-level of the place. I always ignore these rules and make whatever I feel I want to make. For me, focusing too much on reality kills fun. As a result, I sometimes like to create elaborate trap rooms where some traps set off other traps. In fact, if you like full-room and dangerous traps, I'd suggest reading a book called "The Wurst of Grimtooth's Traps". It's a book famous for its particularly lethal traps. Most of them are better suited for an outlandish style that lends itself well to mad wizard dungeons or megadungeons, but it still has some laid back traps that can be put into most any situation.

Traps have a somewhat passive feel to them. They lie in wait until a hapless adventurer sets them off. But some traps can be used much more actively, like when paired with a combat encounter. A monster that knows of a trap can prepare themselves to stand in a safe spot, and set it off themselves, or they may already be in a trapped area and are immune to the effects. Some monsters are built into the traps effects itself. One trap I read about in the above mentioned book has a party fighting a flint golem in a room with wax and fumes. Every metal weapon blow against him setting off sparks that could set the whole room alight. Another from a different book had a beholder in huge circular room that oscillated like a teeter-totter when the trap was activated. The beholder floated above the room blasting the poor players fighting against the floor. These and other examples like them provides a lot more life to a trap.

If you've never used traps or prefer a more roleplaying style of play, I would still suggest integrating traps somewhere into a game. Evil plotting chancellors could most likely trap the door to their room or to the desk that holds all their information. I most recently used a spell that cast destruction on the player, and it terrified them so much they became paranoid and started to check absolutely everything they could just in case. This is something that traps can really do effectively. For a DM who is running out of time for content, a heavily trapped dungeon can slow things down enough for him to come up with something meatier. Speaking of which, I'm falling a bit behind right now, and my players are waiting for me to continue their adventure, so I'm going to cut it short for today and hopefully revisit traps another day. Thanks for reading, stay tuned tomorrow for "U is for Undermountain".

Relevant Links
D&D 3.5 Traps
Pathfinder Traps
Dungeon Deathtraps


  1. I especially like traps that incorporate the whole party in the disarming effort. I recently had a room rigged with a series of blast globes that had to be disabled by smacking them in the right order exactly 1 round apart. With each failure, a globe exploded and sent the nearby player flying. Fail three times and the room collapsed. Making traps something for more than just rogues is important, I think.

    Geoff at ROFL Initiative

    1. I agree. I once had a trap I stole from a forum that was a fight in a glass room with acid on the other side of the glass. Everyone had to make Move Silent rolls every round to prevent the delicate glass from shattering! It... didn't end well. Haha! The point is, yes, the whole party got involved and it was a grand time. Thanks for commenting!