Hazard Difficulty Levels

Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion

The more hazards I've run (and run into) in PF 2E, the more they confuse me. I'm sort of curious if other people have run into frustrations similar to the below, and if so what you did to mitigate them. I want to stress - I'm not complaining, I'm legitimately curious if this is just a problem unique to my group:

1. Triggers that mean they're impossible to disable before being set off.

Many hazards aren't actually possible to disable before they go off. Darkside mirrors, for instance, go off the moment you look at them. Have fun disabling something you don't know is a trap until you see it. Likewise, many hazards trigger when you walk in the room - and you have to walk in the room to disable the hazard in the first place.

2. Absurdly high DCs

Some hazards have hilariously silly DCs to detect or disable - for instance:


The control panel required to disable the Poisoned Dart Gallery:

requires a DC 31 Perception check to notice. At level 8 a rogue has +8 levels + 6 master proficiency + 3 or 4 Wisdom modifier = +17 or 18 to notice this, and has to know to make the Perception check in the first place. And where to aim the Seek roll, since it's only a 15 foot burst that gets looked at. And it's master threshold to discover the trap. If you're not at least level 7, you cannot find it, period, because no class in the game gets master proficiency in Perception before then, not even rogue or ranger.

Blood Lords:

The cleansing fire trap from Blood Lords #5, "A Taste of Ashes", has +43 Stealth, and is supposed to be encountered at level 15. Max Perception bonus at this level is (+15 levels + 8 legendary + 5 Wisdom + 2 item bonus) = +30, and that's for a fully specked out ranger or rogue. Have fun.

3. The disable rules don't interact with hp damage, at all.

Traps can be disabled in one of two ways. By making a series of skill checks, or by hitting them with a large hammer. But these two approaches don't meaningfully interact - breaking the trap doesn't reduce the number of skill checks to disable it, and likewise successful skill checks don't reduce the trap's hp. The fact that the cleric is using Religion on a trap and the barbarian is hitting it and these two things do not interact at all and it's just a race to see who finishes first is bizarre and feels non-collaborative.

To the point that I've started homebrewing it that successful skill checks against hazards deal damage to them equal to hp/number of required skill checks. So a 100 hp trap that takes 4 skill checks to disable loses 25 hp whenever you succeed on a check to disable it. That way the people without the requisite skills still feel like they're contributing. This leads into the final issue...

4. Ridiculous hardness and immunity to critical hits (and precision damage)

A moderate encounter for level 8 PCs is a level 10 trap. Such a trap has hardness 17-19. It's theoretically possible to break this hardness at level 8, but it's not easy or fast.

For instance, a fighter with a greatsword is dealing 2d12 (striking rune) + 4 (strength mod) + 3 (weapon specialization) + 1d6 (flame rune) = 23.5 damage per hit, so dealing about 4 or 5 damage past hardness. Against a trap with 70-74 hp. So it takes 14 or 15 fighter greatsword hits, and not all fighters are wielding greatswords.

A swashbuckler just bounces off of the hazard because it's immune to precision damage. A champion is dealing less than the fighter. Obviously some classes do a bit better (like barbarian or fighter with power attack) but if half the party is attacking the trap and the other half is trying to make skill checks, the skill checks will almost always get there first, because it doesn't take 14 successful skill checks to disable the thing.

Amusingly, STANDARD GRADE ADAMANTINE items have hardness 14. Ergo it is actually easier to smash an adamantine safe than it is to smash a stone hammer trap (https://2e.aonprd.com/Hazards.aspx?ID=13) which has hardness 22 (16 on the hinge).

Again, some hazards are fine! But I'm curious if other people have run into these structural issues with hazards and if there's any consensus on how to deal with them.

Calliope5431 wrote:
the Poisoned Dart Gallery「。。。」requires a DC 31 Perception check to notice. At level 8 a rogue has +8 levels + 6 master proficiency + 3 or 4 Wisdom modifier = +17 or 18 to notice this, and has to know to make the Perception check in the first place. And where to aim the Seek roll, since it's only a 15 foot burst that gets looked at. And it's master threshold to discover the trap. If you're not at least level 7, you cannot find it, period, because no class in the game gets master proficiency in Perception before then, not even rogue or ranger.

There are some very valid grievances in your post, but I just wanted to note that you may be missing out on the utility of the Search activity. If you are Searching (and not moving faster than this-so-many feet per round) you should automatically get a chance to notice every hazard the moment you approach its vicinity (often when you enter the room, but as you say this is when some hazards trigger, so presumably before then in those cases).

Of course, once the trap is set off (presumably without anyone detecting the control panel, or else they certainly would also have detected the DC 26 (expert) trap itself) the party is still forced to rely on the Seek action to find the control panel. If it were me, I'd waive the "if precision is necessary" clause in the case of looking for a control panel, but as you say even knowing to look means predicting the trap designer's sensibilities that there is even a control panel to find in the first place--though admittedly just leaving the trapped hallway once again gives you unlimited time with no stakes to figure this out yourself unless the adventure itself has some kind of time pressure.

Part of the difficulty with traps is their tendency to be all-or-nothing. If you successfully detect the trap before it goes off, in some cases it has been defeated by that alone, unless the attempts to Disable fumble a crit fail. Complex traps are at least more interesting in that them going off is not the end of the action and the opportunity to both take and mitigate future damage still lies with the party--albeit relying on re-rolling the same check until the number comes up favourable.

Sovereign Court

Looking at the examples you've given, yeah, those are pretty problematic traps. The darkside mirrors specify nothing about range, and for a regular hazard with a level to just blithely specify that it can't be damaged by anything or anyone as long as a duplicate is somewhere around - it doesn't read to me like a well-tested thing. More like someone showing off creativity, but not really doing the finishing-up stress testing. The poisoned dart gallery is also weird in that the only way of disabling it is to run through it and make it far enough to switch it off.

Setting aside these particularly problematic traps, my general take on hazards is as follows:

* Simple hazards have super-super-super inflated numbers because they have to pack all the punch of an encounter into one action. This means that if you take a simple hazard of higher level than the PCs, there's a real chance of killing with massive damage on a high roll. Conclusion: don't use them that way. Instead, add lower level versions of them as adds to an encounter. For example, if you have a boss and you want the fight to feel like a solo boss, but for difficulty reasons you don't want to use a creature that has many more levels than the PCs, give the boss some traps. It steel feels like you're fighting one creature "that has a face", but mathematically you're fighting multiple things.

* When using the Searching exploration tactic, you get a chance to detect a hazard before stepping into the trigger or effect area, whichever would happen first.

* You can disable most hazards without automatically activating them, just by standing on the edge. However, because you're sorta leaning in, on a critical failure it can affect you even if you're strictly speaking just out of range.

My experience with PF2 hazards has been adapting the traps in the PF1 Ironfang Invasion adventure path to PF2 rules. Thus, I applied a great deal of customization to them following the Building Hazards rules in the Gamemastery Guide and my common sense.

For example, the highest concentration of traps was in the armory of the Chernasardo Rangers' Fort Nunder, which had a hallway of traps before the vault full of enchanted weapons. The common sense is that the Chernasardo Rangers would sometimes need to access the vault, so they had a way to temporarily deactive each trap. The Hundred Arrows Trap said in PF1 terminology, "Bypass Bypass hidden switch (Perception DC 30 to locate)." I ported it to PF2 as:

Complexity Simple
Stealth DC 25 (trained)
Description A hidden panel (also a pressure plate) pops up in the last one third of area K9 and a hundred arrows shoot the length of the hallway NW from there. Anyone on the hidden panel is safe.
Disable Thievery DC 24 (trained) to disable the trap at the hidden panel. Or Thievery DC 30 (expert) to find the hidden off switch before the pressure plates.
AC 21; Fort +12, Ref +8
Hardness 12, HP 48 (BT 24); Immunities critical hits, object immunities, precision damage
Many Arrows [reaction] (attack); Trigger Pressure is applied to any floor tile in area K9. Effect Arrows +19 Damage 4d8+14 piercing; no multiple attack penalty.
Reset The trap can fire twice without reset. After 2nd firing, the wood golem in area K11 comes out, opens the hidden panel safely, and reloads it in 100 rounds (1 minute 40 seconds) with arrows from its endless quiver. The golem will attack if it finds any unauthorized intruders.

The Bow Guardian wood golem was a construct creature rather than a hazard. I ruled that it would recognize authorized personnel by their clothing. Authorized personnel would be wearing the traditional green and gray colors of the Chernasardo Rangers. The party was dressed as Chernasardo Rangers at the time--the ranger in the party was an authentic Chernasardo Ranger trainee--so they had no trouble with the golem.

The party was 5th level at the time, contained a rogue with Trap Finder feat, and had warning that the armory was trapped. I recorded some of their experience in my summoner playtest chronicles for Friday, October 16, 2020:

Mathmuse wrote:

The party gathered outside the door to the trapped area and spent 10 minutes healing up. Then only three player characters entered to trapped area: the thief rogue Binny, the scoundrel rogue Sam, and the eidolon Fluffy.

They spotted the first set of pressure plates. After they failed their Disable Device rolls, Sam prodded the pressure plate with his staff and set off the trap from 5 feet away. It shot arrows down the entire hallway, hitting Binny and Fluffy for around 30 damage each and critically hitting Sam for 60 damage. Sam fell unconscious.

All the healers were still outside. Fortunately, Cirieo knew what Fluffy knew and the rest of the party, except the champion and her animal companion, rushed inside. Sam rolled a natural 20 on the dying check and woke up before the healers reached him.

I did not chronicle the rest of the hazard encounters, but I recall that Binny tried Disable Device again and found the hidden off switch. And the golem showed up to reload the trap despite it having been triggered only once.

This encounter seemed balanced, depite it being one of only 4 times in 20 levels where a PCs was knocked unconscious. Table 2–13: Stealth and Disable DCs says for Hazard 6: Extreme DC 28, High DC 25, Low DC 21 to 19. A 5th-level character with expert Perception would have +9+WIS against the Stealth DC 25 to spot the Hundred Arrows hazard, with a possible +1 circumstance bonus from Trap Finder. If that sums to +11, that would take only a roll of 14 or higher, a 35% chance of success. The damage is the main balancing point. Except on a critical failure, the PCs could walk away from the arrow barrage and spend unlimited time healing back to full hit points.

Two modules later, I replaced a CR 12 Painted Blades Trap with a Planar Rift, Hazard 13 from the PF2 Core Rulebook, one of the few times I did not make a custom trap. The party was 14th level. The Trap-Finder rogue Sam had invested in several magical senses, so he noticed the Planar Rift before the party encountered it. They tried the Thievery DC 33 check to anchor it, but had to resort to the party sorcerer casting dispel magic on it.

I had relied on the party spotting the Planar Rift rather than triggering it, because part of the party being sent to another plane would have been an annying detour in the adventure. The party could have left the area and spent a few days with the help of allies recovering the lost members, because their exploration had no tight time limit, but that still would have been bothersome. All I wanted was to highlignt the planar energies going wild in the area.

Both the Planar Rift and the Darkside Mirror, hazard 14 have the design flaw that recovery from triggering the trap is extremely difficult. The Darkside Mirror feels based on Dungeon & Dragons' Mirror of Opposition, which creates a hostile duplicate of each PC reflected in the mirror, but trapping a PC in the mirror is new to the Darkside Mirror and is the main problem. The mirror states it takes a legendary thievery skill--which requires 15th level--or cooperation from the evil suicidal duplicate to rescue someone. That is brutal. To make the Darkside Mirror properly balanced, I would alter it so that the trapped character is automatically freed upon the death of the duplicate. The legendary thievery check would be to free them before the duplicate is destroyed.

The Darkside Mirror also has the flaw of duplicating the PC's cash and items for looting from a dead duplicate. That could be exploited if the party can reliably free the trapped PC. My alterations would also include the duplicate's items disappearing within 10 minutes.

The Darkside Mirror is a bad design.

Calliope5431 wrote:
Darkside mirrors, for instance, go off the moment you look at them.

The Darkside Mirror says, "Trigger A non-evil creature is reflected in the mirror." I would rule that a character would need to have line of sight on their own reflection to trigger the mirror. Approaching the mirror from an angle would be safe. Likewise, going invisible or holding a blanket between the character and the mirror would be safe. But an enemy who sets up a Darkside Mirror as a trap would typically put it at the end of a corridor with no way to approach it from the side. Terrain can make some traps much worse and that is not figured into the trap's level.

As for the Poisoned Dart Gallery, hazard 8 the appropriate countermeasure seems to be to run through the gallery. The character would take one dart from the hazard's own action and one dart at the end of each Stride action and then they would be home free. They should make their Fortitude save against Flesset Poison half the time and should have enough hit points to survive the piercing and poison damage. Once gain, terrain matters, because a long gallery is worse than a short gallery.

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