Wednesday, March 23, 2022

A Hundred Clues & Tells for the Tersely Detailed Trap

See Also: d100 - This Secret Door Opens...

So often in Modules and Published Adventures, Traps are tragically under-telegraphed. Oftentimes, they are at least properly indicated on the provided maps/grids with a “T” and we might see a terse description of their primary function/effect (often in the form or Recommended Saving Throws), but seldom are there any telltale indicators that can be used to foreshadow these dangers.

I prefer to assume competency with Adventurers. The characters are well aware that these locations full of Treasure that they’ve found themselves exploring are fraught with perilous dangers, even if the Players might be more cavalier in terms of their approach. In addition to threats from Monsters, Running out of Resources, Getting Lost, or even the Dungeon Itself, the fact that “Other Dangers Exist” stares right up at the Players from the character sheet in the form of those deliciously evocative Saving Throw Categories. If the characters are moving at those relatively tortoise-ish Exploration Movement Rates, then I assume that they’re doing their level best to be not only Quiet (preserving Surprise Chances where applicable), but also Careful.

Naturally, anything out of the ordinary should justifiably “spook” someone in these environments. But it can be a bit of a balancing act not to “under” or “over” describe details associated with a potential Hidden Hazard or Disguised Danger. Sandwiching them within long-winded descriptions of set dressing is sometimes used tactically to obfuscate them, but I’m generally not much of a fan of this kind of “Buried Within The Boxed Text” approach. I instead prefer to proffer opportunities for Questions about the environment, consistently encouraging information gathering (and not just in “potentially consequential situations”) so that there’s always an active dialog and exchange of information concerning the surrounds. These clues can serve as something more akin to these sorts of “answers” or “expositions” to close those gaps in the minds’ eye when approaching a new area. After all, most Traps are only rarely utterly undetectable, especially those that fall into these more expansive “Room Trap” categories (as opposed to devilishly concealed “Device” Traps which are a separate animal in my mind).

Another approach I lean heavily on is the Trap Activation chances (2-in-6 by default in B/X and OSE, but often handwaved or ignored sadly). While this can sometimes be adjusted for the context of a particular Dungeon, it’s still something I like to leave to chance rather than assume a foregone conclusion. A musty Crypt, unopened for eons is likely less well maintained (1-8) than say, the Thieves Guild Mistresses’ private Treasure Vault (5-6). But situations like these go hand in hand with the unexpected, and I like that to apply to all Players, including the Referee.

Trap Activation is very useful, because it’s a lot like an additional Saving Throw and really does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to addressing some of the misconceptions about the perceived lethality or wantonly antagonistic nature of the older versions of these games. But more importantly, this failure to spring can serve as an additional indicator to provide those Clues/Tells or additional details concerning Trap Triggers. These Clues can also serve as a prompt or justification for consuming Time Resources by engaging the Search Procedures.

Not everyone runs Traps the way I do, and that’s perfectly fine 😊. Sometimes the fun for me is in overcoming the obstacle or acquiring information by interacting with the environment rather than in maliciously concealing information. But at the very least, Clues such as these can be a wonderful way to ground the consequences of actions in the shared imagined space rather than having ufortunate outcomes seem arbitrary or unjustified in their application. Sometimes in Play, these pieces get put together retroactively, but that still generally results in a more satisfying conclusion for most victims than the more cutthroat and capricious Gotcha! style Trap.

That’s enough waxing philosophic for now! Here are the Tables:


  1. That's brilliant, ktrey! Well done!

    I have been bothered about hints for secret doors in dungeon modules where the only indication is an 'S' on the wall drawn on a map.

  2. These are creative, well thought out, and useful. Thank you. 👍👍




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