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GM Advice: How do I make traps more interesting?


Advice

Sczarni

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I need some help figuring out how to GM traps in such a way as to make them actually *fun* for the players.

I mostly run Paizo's Aps and modules. And it seems to me that most traps as-written are basically just two skill rolls.

If the players make the skill rolls, nothing happens. No fun, really.

If the the players don't make the skill rolls, then they get smacked with the trap. Might be a little fun, but mostly for me the GM, not so much for them.

So how do I present traps in such a way that they're actually fun, even when the players successfully find them?

I've experimented a bit with more elaborate traps are take more than just a simple disable device check to solve. That kinda works, but it mostly seems to lead to the rogue soloing for a while while everybody else just stands around doing nothing. Also not much fun, except for the rogue. Plus, that would require me to do a lot of on-the-fly adding to the adventures as-written.

So how can I get better at using traps as a GM, especially when running pre-written Paizo adventures?

Silver Crusade Dedicated Voter 2013

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Have traps that require knowledge checks (or other checks) in order to get to the mechanism that can be disabled.

An illusion/enchantment trap that becomes like a holodeck for that room. You have to role-play past the guardians before the control panel is visible.

Shadow Lodge

Make traps that can only be disabled through a combination of efforts.

For example, perhaps there are two panels on opposite sides of the room that both need activation. Perhaps someone needs to hold up a heavy block while the rogue works underneath it.

Secondly, perhaps the trap needs to be activated in order for further progress to be made. As an example, my party once had to let the room we were in to fill with water before a hatch at the ceiling opened up. Four of us were needed to turn the crank to open the water main. Then jets of water shot around the room, threatening to knock people over. Then the sea kraits arrived. And in the end, we were all holding our breath, trying to get the panel open.


As a player, I have to say that usually traps are not fun for everyone.

InVinoVeritas has some good ideas though.

The other thing that can help is if more people are needed to rescue the guy who set off the trap. I have been the guy stuck in the giant swinging container filling up with water. I definitely would not have lived long enough to get myself out. It almost required help from someone that didn't get caught in it.


I have never really been happy with the way that traps play out in the game. In my experience they:

- Slow down gameplay as someone (your prototypical rogue, for example) spends a bunch of time searching EVERYWHERE for them. The other players just get to sit there and wait while this happens, yet I have never really had a rogue player state that they felt cool or important because they searched a large area and didn't find anything.

- Every time a trap IS found it reinforces the need to spend a bunch of game time looking for them. Worse, if one is not found and then triggered this slowing effect is multiplied.

- It is rare that the traps themselves add to the story or ambiance of the area that they are in.

- Once found they really tend to just resolve down to a roll and a "did I take damage?" type thing. Kind of anti-climactic for all that.

So... solutions...

The first would be to remove traps from the game. If you decide to do this though, you should let the players know of this decision prior to the start of the game so that skill points can be spent appropriately or in some cases the rogue class not taken (many old school gamers consider it a necessity in a group just for traps).

Still that is just removing something that isn't fun, not really answering your question of making it more fun. So let me go into what I do. It's not a perfect solution but it speeds things up (minimizing the unfun part) and makes the trap finder feel a bit more cool.

First, searching. I have declared outright that I am going to assume that my groups trapfinder is always taking 20 looking for traps in any dangerous environment unless described as in a hurry for some reason (in which case I confirm they are not searching). So really they have to declare they are NOT taking 20. I breeze over this in description of the environment by saying things like, "As usual Roger the Rogue takes his time diligently making sure the path is clear. As soon as he gives the all clear you all move up. He gives the nod that the door is clear and steps aside for Brawny McFighter to take his place at the door."

Basically I am recognizing that the searching took place, throwing in flattering descriptions for the searcher (diligent, skillful, eagle eyed, etc.), and keeping the game moving as quickly as possible.

I basically do the same thing for opening any locks as there is no reason not to take 20 on doing so. I know well before the adventure which locks and which traps will be problems (based on their DC and his take 20 check). Unless they tell me they are rushing and then I can chuckle inside a little as I get to bust out a trap.

For the actual disabling, I again try to describe what they are seeing prior to the actual disarming to help build a little tension, and then based on their check make up a quick way that they disabled it (unless they come up with a way in which case I have it work if they make the roll).

"Your just about to give the all clear when you notice a small, pin-hole in the back of the head of decorative lion that is on the right side of the door. No doubt it is a spray hole for poison gas."

Rolls check. Regardless of result:

"You quickly pull out a gummy substance you keep for just such situations and plug the hole then blow on it briefly to get it set in case of pressure. Then take the time to check for more holes and are rewarded to find more. Plugging them all up in the same fashion, you believe you have found them all."

If he passed, he did find them all. If not... well, he THOUGHT he did.

Anyway... that is basically how I do it.

Honestly it is probably best to roll the disable device check for the player so they can't make decisions based on the roll. "I don't know the DC, but I am pretty sure this 1 failed, we should go around." Rather than McFighter stepping up like normal and taking the hit.

I would love to hear if someone has a better way though... I have just never been really happy with the effect of traps on the game.

Sean Mahoney


Traps are hard.

I am one of those GMs who enjoys traps. But not your standard "make a perception check, then make a disable device check if you find one" sorts of traps.

When I put a trap in the game, I treat it like an encounter. I want it to engage the entire party. I want there to be interaction, solution, complication, more iinteraction, new solution.

I will frequently have a time element to the trap so that the party has to solve it before some horrible consequence occurs. A typical trap in my campaign might have the following elements:

An obstacle that must be overcome.
A clue that requires specific knowledge to discover and resolve.
At least one physical action (usually more) that requires a totally different skill or ability to perform.
A complication that requires a special ability to overcome
Some coordinated activity involving two or more party members
A tangible reward for solving the trap


I agree with Kydeem and Sean; I don't find traps especially fun as a player (I usually call them a "speed bump to fun"), but there are things you can do to improve them.

The most important thing I would suggest is saving them for special occasions. As noted above, if the party is always expecting traps, then they're always searching for traps (and finding them and disarming them harmlessly), which is fairly tedious.

I'll also add the following comment: It's possible to spice up your descriptions of successfully bypassed traps. Instead of just saying "You spot a poison dart trap; you can easily avoid it now", go for something more Indiana Jones-y like "At the last second you feel a puff of air; you leap back and a dart dripping with poison streaks right past your nose, just inches away from impaling you!!!" Having a close call is probably the most fun part of a trap, so try to play that up. IMO, of course.


I prefer traps that take up a whole room and can use party maneuvering to get past it. Making it look less like a trap and more like an room obstacle or hazard works.

There's in example of a really good trap like this in Kingmaker (fourth one I believe).

Spoiler:
It's an entire room where the floor is on a spherical swivel. Whenever someone walks on the edge, their edge goes down and the opposite edge goes up. Having two people on opposite edges helps to get everyone across. But, if you go too fast, the swivel swirls and launches you into a spiked pit.


There are also good trap examples in the Serpent Skull's Vaults of Madness section on traps. My favorite is the Philosopher's Stone trap.

Spoiler:
Essentially, it is a new take on the rolling stone trap from Temple of Doom. You are on a hallway lined by statues in alcoves. The center of the hallway is lower than the entrance and exit, with two ramps on either side. Setting of the trap has the stone roll back and forth down the hallway until you can get past, or make it explode (it has napalm and other chemicals). But, you can push in the statues in the alcove to avoid them. However, pushing in one statue will push the statue from the opposite end out, possibly throwing a friend out into the hallway.


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Some solid advice above.

I have always found that the best trap is the most obvious trap.... or maybe its not a trap .... eh but it probably is.

"You come to a large stone door, but the door will not budge and there do not appear to be any opening mechanisms. On either side of the door are two holes about 3 feet off the ground. The holes are just large enough you could stick your hand in them. A quick inspection with a light shows that the hole goes in about 2 feet and in the back is a metal handle. Perhaps moving one of them opens the door, and then again perhaps not."

This type of door/trap or possible trap usually leads to some fun role playing. Players try to come up with ways to "test" the holes before putting a hand in, afraid of what may be inside. Try to move the handle with a mage hand. Decide which one to turn, which way to turn, or does it pull or push?

This is a more of a trap to get past or maybe not even a trap at all, it could simply be that two people are required to open the door. Either way its more fun than just the standard roll - detect trap - roll disarmed trap.


Best thing to do is to make traps where disable device isn't the only way to beat it.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

If you can find a copy, get a hold of the 3.5 book Dungeon Scape. It had one of the best sections of any 3.5 sourcebook. Traps as encounters. In it, it describes traps that arent just 2 skill checks, and in fact in many cases disable device is only part of the way you can defeat it.

Think of a room, with an arcane eye (or some other detecting method). When the players enter the room, the entrance they came in (and possibly the exit) are covered by large blocks of ice. These blocks have an AC, HP and hardness.

At the same time nozzles start spraying freezing water into the room, slowly filling it up. This has a couple effects.
1 - Cold damage
2 - threat of room filling with water (makes the grown icy too)
3 - recovers damage to the ice blocks.

Now, the players have a choice, they can disable/attack the nozzles, or they can try to cut (or blast) their way through the ice blocks. The martial guys get involved (smashing the blocks, or if they can reach the nozzles), the rogue gets involved(disabling the nozzles or the same as the martial characters), the casters can get involved(blasting the ice, puting up resistances, using teleportation effects to get out of the room).

You can even mix in monsters (I used Ice Golems in my encounter). Now you have a dynamic encounter where everyone has something to do, and wont be solved in just 2 skill checks. Obviously the rogue might spot it and simply not enter the room, but otherwise they wont be able to disable it as if it were a switch on the wall.


Pathfinder Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I've done the following in games...

Maze over acid. You have to jump from platform to platform, and activate switches in a certain order in order to open the door at the end. There's no ledge by the door, so no way to 'pick' it open. Walls resistant to magic (or if you want to be really mean, bounce effect for magic). Once you get the door open, you have to step off the triggers in a different order to keep it open.

There was a really good one here on the boards awhile back. A corridor 70 foot wide has a 70 foot long ray of color. Each 10 foot wide strip of stone is painted a different color (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). Each 10 feet down the corridor, there's a white wall of light. A sign says 'He who would pass must pass with vigor'. The trick is to walk through the walls of light based on the color on the floor, Violet, Indigo, Green, Orange, Red (VIGOR). If you don't, you take the effect of a prismatic spray spell for the type you failed to walk through correctly (for example, if you were supposed to walk through Violet, but you walked through red, you take Violet damage from the spell).


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I run a lot of traps in my game, and my players love them. They ask me for more. My traps are often better and more memorable than the monsters. Yes, I admit it: I am bragging. This is one of those exceedingly rare cases where I am justified in doing so.

Some folks on here are going to say that my way is like puzzles which are like riddles which are only fun for people who like solving riddles but their characters are smarter than the players playing them so they should just get a skill roll representing their superior in-world skillz blah blah blah. My response: haters gonna hate.

Here's how I do it.

First, get rid of this notion of two skill rolls. If you go that route, you don't even need to describe the trap. Why bother, right? You're just wasting our time with flavor, Mr. DM: let's get on with the good stuff. So it's effectively like this, plus a bit of flavor: the rogue rolls well, "You find a trap," rogue rolls well again, "Ok, you successfully disarm it." Blech.

Make your traps so the characters absolutely know there is a trap. Just put it out there for everyone to see. Neon lights, -->TRAP HERE<--. A hallway with spikes poking out of the walls on either side, and a lever at the far end next to a ladder going up. Rogue rolls to detect trap. "Yep, it's a trap, folks." Duh. Ok, but how to disarm it? Roll a skill roll, and if he succeeds, he pulls the lever? Is this before or after he walks past the spikes?

This is an unfair example, of course, because the spikes are just there for show and the ladder is the trap. The monk pulls a ridiculous acrobatics stunt, jumps past the spikes without a scratch, gets on the ladder, goes halfway up, and - hoping to disarm the spikes for his friends - pulls the lever, which releases a lock that was holding the section of wall that the ladder is on in place. His weight makes the wall segment spin him around upside down to the other side where he is unceremoniously dumped into an underground lake 70' below, assuming he fails a reflex roll. Swimming rolls and lake monsters are always good for some instant high drama, amiright?

Subterfuge. Misdirection. These are the tools for good traps. Now, if you're a merciful DM, you could rule that the rogue's trap check revealed that the spikes or the walls they're on can't possibly move. So what on Earth is that lever for, then? Make them sweat.

Another fun trap trick is what I call "the second stage." Example: the room is roughly conical in shape, with the floor serving as the base, and the ceiling is so high up your light source doesn't quite penetrate the shadows up there. In the center of the room is a dragon's egg, held tight in a gold stand shaped like claws that's bolted to the floor. Ooh, you think this room is trapped? Maybe? The rogue rolls a '1', but c'mon, everyone knows it's a trap.

The dumb fighter steps closer into the anti-gravity field and takes a bunch of d6's damage from the fall to the ceiling. What he finds there, and what the party would have found had they figured out a way to get some light up there, is some skeletons in rusty armor. The key word here being "rusty."

...because a panel halfway up opens up and water starts pouring in. And because of the anti-gravity, it falls up. Now the party is in a race against time to figure out how to get their wounded warrior buddy out of there before he drowns. And as DM, you drop this on them (heh) only after the laughter regarding the anti-gravity fall dies down. They think it's over. Ok Mr. DM, that was a good one! Now how do I get back up- er, down? "Well, that's the thing, see, because OH HEY HERE COMES WATER!"

So what role does the rogue play in this trap system with fewer rolls? Great question! He's the guy who stocks up on all the right supplies! This kind of trap trains players to stock up on pebbles, rope, iron spikes, 10' poles and the like. He specializes in knowing what kinds of supplies to bring (and here is a place where the DM, through NPCs, can give helpful hints back in town). He also puts points in Climb and Acrobatics. These skills tend to come in handy with these kinds of traps.

As does Perception. You don't use the rogue's successful rolls to solve the trap; instead, you reward him with clues. Like informing him he doesn't think the spikes would move, or that the fact that the stand is bolted to the floor gives him a funny feeling.

Ok, so the next thing to think about is how to make the traps make sense. Why would such a trap be in this dungeon? What possible purpose would it serve? How would the locals avoid setting it off? This helps with the verisimilitude thing. And I have also found that limiting myself by asking these questions in advance - and by thinking about who would have designed the trap - actually enhances the creative process. One final trap as an example.

The party comes to a cylindrical room 30' across. 15' below the ledge where the party is standing is a pool of centuries' worth of waste material teleported from a bunch of magical chamber pots in the detention cells of an elven supermax prison. The depth of the foulness cannot be fathomed: the pool covers the entire bottom of the room. In the center of the room is a stone column, 2' across, that rises up out of the muck to the height of the party's ledge. On top of the column is a bizarre sci-fi-looking gizmo that the party still has no clue what it could be. Hanging from the ceiling a few feet above the gizmo is a clear globe in which floats a large brain. Keen perception will reveal tiny holes in the wall on the far side of the room.

So...is this a trap? I think we all know the answer by now.

The rogue reasons that the holes may be for darts. The mechanism must get loaded somehow, right? He searches and finds a secret door to a corridor that leads around to a chamber containing the mechanism. Free poison, anyone? Yay. And this is what I'm talking about: it has to make sense. Darts coming out of a wall without a way to put them in the wall makes zero sense.

Ok, we still have to figure out how to get the gizmo. We need the gizmo, of course. We don't know why, but we're an adventuring party, and so we must have the gizmo. Never mind that the elves thought it would be a good idea to lock it away safely in this weird locale. So... the concept behind this trap from a fun-for-the-DM perspective is to tempt the monk to make an acrobatic leap for the column. After all, the darts have been disabled, right? I meant for the darts to be disabled so the monk would feel secure enough to jump. And when he jumps, he'll go SPLAT! up against the invisible wall halfway across, and slide into the muck. Hello, acid damage anyone?

But by this point the monk's player is wise to my ways, and he tosses a silver coin across to the column, revealing the presence of the invisible wall. Am I disappointed? Not in the slightest, because by now everyone has a clear visual about what might have happened and it is hilarious. After that it was just a matter of figuring out the dimensions of the wall and a way around it. Obscuring Mist to locate its contours, and a combination of Entangle for vegetation on the ceiling and some nifty climbing and rope work by the rogue. Strictly legal by RAW? Who knows. I allowed it because traps are supposed to be fun and theirs was a creative solution.

And if they hadn't disabled the darts first? Then when they did manage to get to the gizmo, that's when the second stage of the trap would have hit. It works both ways.

Which brings me to one more thing. Afterwards, the monk's player asked me if they had found my solution. "My solution?" I asked. "I had no solution in mind." This confused the player and he was angry for all of one minute while I explained to him that this trap was made for a purpose by the elves: to keep the gizmo safe (from a very specific race, actually). The elves did not design it with this particular adventuring party in mind. But - and I have found this to be repeatedly true - the players will always find a way. You can count on it.

So...that's it. I got a few score of these traps. To me, preparing traps is way more fun than statting up monsters in Hero Labs.

Just sayin'.

NOTE: No PCs were killed in the exploration of these traps. The monk made his reflex save, the fighter was hoisted up/down, and we already saw how they got the gizmo. But I'll add that I prefer traps that inconvenience or wound the characters if sprung, rather than insta-killing them.


^^ That, my friends, is how you do traps.


Odraude wrote:
^^ That, my friends, is how you do traps.

Yes...although if you make traps like that you should be clear with your players up front and tell them that the Disable Device skill isn't very useful for disarming traps in your campaign.

The important part of that discussion (to me) is this:

You should be happy when the players come up with a solution that bypasses the trap. It doesn't mean you failed as a GM and that you need to make the next trap ten times harder to bypass.


I also agree with Adamantine dragon, Odraude, and Kolokotroni above: involving the whole party makes it way better.


Sean Mahoney wrote:


{excise excellent GMing advice on describing stuff and running mechanics}

First, searching. I have declared outright that I am going to assume that my groups trapfinder is always taking 20 looking for traps in any dangerous environment unless described as in a hurry for some reason (in which case I confirm they are not searching). So really they have to declare they are NOT taking 20. I breeze over this in description of the environment by saying things like, "As usual Roger the Rogue takes his time diligently making sure the path is clear. As soon as he gives the all clear you all move up. He gives the nod that the...

I certainly don't take issue w/ not throwing dice 20 time per step to speed along OOG speed, but taking 20 all the time is more than just not hurrying. That's glacially slow, I hope the monsters are static and the party is all elves so they don't die of old age. ;) Depending on how the targeting of the search is being ruled, if you're taking 10 rounds ("move action" being about half a round, *20) to search every 5 foot square of floor...and wall...and ceiling... before you take a step, then to move 1 10x10 basic dungeon map grid square (not the combat squares) you're looking at 4x4=16 squares. A 40' hallway takes an hour to traverse. And that's probably a featureless area. If you add carvings, floor coverings, statuary, etc, it will literally take you all day to get through a couple rooms.

In most situations, taking that long is just not feasible, IMO. Unless you're in a tomb or something, where traps are a big risk and occupants moving around are not, you're likely ensuring that you're going to be detected with plenty of time for the BBEG to set plans in motion to directly confront the party at a time and place of his choosing w/ the whole dungeon's occupants deployed.

That's almost certainly worse than the trap.


hogarth wrote:


Yes...although if you make traps like that you should be clear with your players up front and tell them that the Disable Device skill isn't very useful for disarming traps in your campaign.

Agreed...and Disable Device still has its uses. The darts mechanism in the back room, for example, was booby-trapped. The rogue disabled it. And when there is some element of a trap within grasp of the rogue (like a groove in the wall where a blade might slide out), I will rule that a successful Disable Device roll means the rogue can jam it.


My campaigns do have the standard boring traps. Never running into a poison needle trapped chest just makes no sense, someone is going to trap their treasure chest in boring ways.

I just treat those traps as standard operating procedure. I assume the party is actively looking for traps unless something unusual is going on. The rogue will do his job. He's not going to "forget" to check a door for traps just because the player is distracted by a slice of pizza. I will roll his perception check whether the player says anything or not.

So my parties just explore. If they set off a typical trap like that they know they failed a check and they just deal with it. If they go to open a door and the trap is detected I just say "it's trapped" and they deal with it. Those sorts of traps are just atmosphere. They appear and disappear like traffic lights on the way to work. They don't advance the narrative but they allow the rogue's trapfinding and disabling skills to be useful. 95% of the time the sole effect of those traps is the party saying, "heh, good thing we brought along a rogue, eh?"

I do the same thing, to a lesser degree, for secret doors. There is always a chance that a secret door will be spotted, but if the party actively searches for secret doors, the DC is reduced or I give them circumstance bonuses to find the door.

After all, if I went to the trouble ob creating and populating a secret room, why wouldn't I want the party to find it?

Sczarni

Lots of great advice so far. Good trap ideas, and good ideas for jazzing up existing traps with cool descriptions.

I especially like Sean's suggestion that I should just assume they're always checking for traps unless they're hurrying. I think that will help make it a little less tedious.

Thanks! Keep 'em comin'!


Adamantine Dragon wrote:

I just treat those traps as standard operating procedure. I assume the party is actively looking for traps unless something unusual is going on. The rogue will do his job. He's not going to "forget" to check a door for traps just because the player is distracted by a slice of pizza. I will roll his perception check whether the player says anything or not.

So my parties just explore. If they set off a typical trap like that they know they failed a check and they just deal with it. If they go to open a door and the trap is detected I just say "it's trapped" and they deal with it. Those sorts of traps are just atmosphere. They appear and disappear like traffic lights on the way to work. They don't advance the narrative but they allow the rogue's trapfinding and disabling skills to be useful. 95% of the time the sole effect of those traps is the party saying, "heh, good thing we brought along a rogue, eh?"

This is why the Trap Spotter rogue talent exists. I would suggest all rogues intended to counter traps take it.


I would say as a general rule don't use traps. Lv 12 Procrastinator's obvious clever traps are okay used sparingly, but hidden traps are bad legacy game design.

There are a couple problems with traps.

First, they're a party member tax. Unless the GM promises at chargen that there will be no magical traps ever you need a rogue (but not a ninja or about half the rogue archetypes), one of two ranger archetypes, or one of several bard archetypes all of which lose the most popular bardic performance.

Second, and more insidiously, they reinforce the 15 minute workday. Traps or the threat of traps slow down movement between encounters preventing the party from trying to take multiple encounters with single castings of 10 minute/level or at mid-high level even 1 minute/level buffs. With traps slowing you down anyways there's nothing but artificial time pressures to oppose the 15 minute workday.

Even the big, obvious traps I'd put at either the front door or after the dungeon boss (or halfway through a dungeon that's intended to take two days to fight through) to avoid breaking flow. Or in a dungeon that's primarily about traps with no heavy combat.


Admittedly, traps are good to use sparingly. They honestly take less time than combat and believe me, having five combats in a row can get a bit boring. Most times, I actually prefer cool puzzles and traps to combat because its simply a lot quicker to get through. I'd say for small dungeons (five room or less), one trap is fine. Bigger dungeons I'd have a couple more that are really memorable. But really, as with any dungeon encounter, you want to balance how often you use combat, traps, haunts, and puzzles.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

You want interesting traps? buy a copy of Grimtooth's book. You'll definitely get interesting. You'll probably get a few dead players, but them's the eggs. :)


Traps that appear in combat encounters tend to be fun, especially if the opponents can make good use of them. A trap that surrounds the perimeter of a room with an inward-buring wall of fire can make that iron golem encounter much more entertaining (the trap activates when the golem steps out of the center of the room).


My trap guidelines would be:

1: unless it's in a tomb or other location never intended to be entered again every trap must have a bypass that an unskilled laborer can use.

2: the bypass should always be knowable using a skill other than disable device. (eg. perception to see where the floor is less dusty, knowledge: architecture to find the secret bypass door, knowledge: history because every educated person knows the Kobold Lords of Tu'Kher always reuse the same trap designs)

3: traps should never be hidden where the PCs can search for them. Either they should be obvious like impressively defended doors or part of an ambush so the PCs never have to search every hallway.

4: hidden traps should never be lethal. The keystone kobolds might trigger them by mistake.

5: no infinitely resetting traps. Perpetual motion might be possible with clever use of magic, but mechanisms that don't require maintenance aren't. Reseting magic device traps have actual charged or times/day magic items in them that count against the dungeon's loot budget.

6: if you've seen it in Dwarf Fortress it's not allowed.


Atarlost wrote:


Second, and more insidiously, they reinforce the 15 minute workday. Traps or the threat of traps slow down movement between encounters preventing the party from trying to take multiple encounters with single castings of 10 minute/level or at mid-high level even 1 minute/level buffs. With traps slowing you down anyways there's nothing but artificial time pressures to oppose the 15 minute workday.

"Artificial" to me is intelligent "dungeon" occupants not putting traps in where it is logical and cost effective to do so because it slows down the advance of invaders into their home...which is of course their objective!

"Artificial" is probably in most cases also the ability to do a 15 minute workday. LOTS of reasonable plot drivers have a built-in time component. Any rescue. Most bounty-hunts or McGuffin hunts. Anything opposing a dynamic BBEG, who isn't waiting for the PC's to dink around as he enacts his plans. Any invasion into the home of sentient, living beings.


Atarlost wrote:

My trap guidelines would be:

1: unless it's in a tomb or other location never intended to be entered again every trap must have a bypass that an unskilled laborer can use.

2: the bypass should always be knowable using a skill other than disable device. (eg. perception to see where the floor is less dusty, knowledge: architecture to find the secret bypass door, knowledge: history because every educated person knows the Kobold Lords of Tu'Kher always reuse the same trap designs)

3: traps should never be hidden where the PCs can search for them. Either they should be obvious like impressively defended doors or part of an ambush so the PCs never have to search every hallway.

4: hidden traps should never be lethal. The keystone kobolds might trigger them by mistake.

5: no infinitely resetting traps. Perpetual motion might be possible with clever use of magic, but mechanisms that don't require maintenance aren't. Reseting magic device traps have actual charged or times/day magic items in them that count against the dungeon's loot budget.

Maybe stated a bit towards the absolute for my taste.

1. The BBEG's quarters/vault/secret escape route, for examples, would be such that the unskilled laborer isn't ever supposed to be there. If the trapsetter would want all residents to get by, it will be bypassable. If he would NOT, then it will not be.

2. and 3. seem metagamish to me. Why would a trapsetter act in what is on one hand easily defeatable, yet on the other NEVER done in a detectable way? Your point is from a gaming prospective...that's not the trapsetter's perspective, though.

If the party doesn't want to "waste" resources on a rogue (or a subset, a rogue that doesn't want to "waste" resources on being good vs. traps), then they are good at something else instead. The reap the benefits of whatever that is in other situations. They should bear the consequences of that choice whenever it's logical for them to do so.

4. See #1. The BBEG might very well want "save or die" type traps on anyone who enters his inner sanctum or secret entrance. Why wouldn't he put them there, then?

5. Outside the rules/logic/physics, agree. But a spring-loaded trap door concealing a pit or chute onto punji sticks should reset by itself, and it's not a violation of physics b/c the trap "action" is the weight of the character, it's not a closed system.

Shadow Lodge

Grimtooth's Traps

Grimtooth's Traps Fore

The Wurst of Grimtooth's Traps

Frankly, nothing else even comes close to the Grimtooth series, and I doubt anything ever will.


Pathfinder Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Also note,
a smart BBEG will have his escape route trapped, with off triggers in reverse order. What I mean is, let's say the secret exit from the escape tunnel has a poison dart trap on it. The trigger to turn off the trap is simply a pressure plate on a bright red tile in the tunnel 5 feet before the exit. Step on the plate, and the trap on the entrance is disabled for 6 seconds.

This way, if you're running down the escape tunnel from his lair, the act of running turns off the traps in order just ahead of you, and re-enables them 6 seconds later, provided you know where to step. If you're breaking into the lair via his escape tunnel, you have to disable every trap in order, since the method of turning it off is beyond the trap from your direction of travel.


Every class should have their chance to shine. Traps are one of those rogue oriented opportunities. I suggest making traps something more then a couple of rolls to find and disable. Being descriptive in the execution of a straight forward trap encounter can make all the difference. The overall plot can also make a great deal of difference in how a trap plays out as well. Working to overcome a trap can build suspense if your trying to get into the BBEG's lair without alerting every guard in the place. As opposed to trapped chest number 4 in random dungeon number 5.

In general I would keep traps a once in a while thing usually no more then 1 in every 6 or 8 encounters should keep traps relevant without becoming too bothersome for the group.

Having said all that knowing your group is important, some people hate traps in all their variations if your group has no classes that is equipped to handle them you may wish to talk with your group about how they will overcome them if they find such things boring it may be better to sweep them under the rug.


I occasionally use traps that can't be disarmed by one person.

For example, I had a stone hallway in an eleven burial chamber where the whole thing functioned as a pressure plate. Short of getting a hammer and spending a month carefully pulling up the floor, the plate could not be disabled. At the end of the hallway was the magical wall of 1000 needles. These tubes spit shrapnel constantly. Magic missiles work well.

To disarm it, the guy with the heavy shield took full cover in the hall and inched up, making rolls to move forward without exposing his body. The rogue followed him. When they got to the end, the rogue disabled it at the wall.

A good way of doing it is to have traps that will kill the rogue if set off, but allow him to discover their nature before he tries. Then, he can find a counter measure incase his disable fails. Floor falls? Tie yourself to the ceiling. Chamber fills with water? Break open a door.

I always figure out exactly what my traps are before I use them so they can be avoided. If the fighter bangs the hinges off a door, he doesn't have to worry about the poison needle sticking out the lock. If there is a crossbow in a treasure chest pointed forward, you can't be shot if you say you stand to the side when you open it.

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