Ten Foot Poles

This week’s post is on the nature of traps.

Traps are more than just a way for characters who put ranks in disable device to feel useful, they are a way to make your players think creatively. Traps should create a situation that inconveniences players, without instantly killing them. Exceptions to this exist, occasionally in the mouths of stone dragons, but there are exceptions to every rule. When you put a trap in a game, you have two options. You can either have the trap trigger and cause a harmful situation, or have the trap be visible and need to be avoided. Either way, it forces the player to think creatively and come up with an interesting solution.

Let’s take a pit trap, for example. It’s fifteen feet deep, it’s got spikes on the bottom, and it’s covered in a false floor. Let’s take it in steps. First, detection. the floor looks different, somehow, over the pit. Maybe there’s a little crack in the ground all around it, or it’s a slightly different color. Either way, your players should have the chance to notice it somehow. Let’s say they don’t, and suddenly you’ve got a few players at the bottom of a bit, sporting a couple of nasty puncture wounds. As soon as they take stock of themselves and see to their wounds, the thinking starts. How do they get out of the hole? It depends on what’s in their packs. Maybe one of them packed a grappling hook, maybe somebody can change size, maybe they’re even one of those smart parties that come with an extensible ladder packed in the bag of holding. Or maybe not, and they have to pull the spikes out of the ground and jam them in the wall, forming a makeshift staircase. You get the idea.

The second kind of trap, the visibly dangerous ones, are handled much the same way. First, the trap is detected. Perhaps green gas is pouring out under the door, or someone else walking down the hallway in front of them was just bisected by a swinging blade. Either way, the players are alerted to the presence of danger, and the method of dealing with it is up to them. Resist the urge to allow them to simply roll a die and defeat the obstacle. If they manage to find where the gas emitter is hidden, allow them to roll to plug it up, or if they shimmy up the wall and pry the hatch off the swing blade, let them jam the mechanism. But require some form of problem solving on the part of your players.

Do you have a favorite trap? And are you for some reason reading my blog? Post it in the comments.