Blog (A5E) Dungeon Delver’s Guide: It’s a Trap!

In EN Publishing’s upcoming Dungeon Delver’s Guide, we’re giving you every tool you need to build story-driven, atmospheric dungeons. And that means we have got to get traps right. Today I want to share the book’s trap-building philosophy, along with a few of the more than a hundred traps you’ll get when you Kickstart the book later this year.

Traps are a defining characteristic of dungeons. But too often, they feel like an arbitrary tax on the characters’ hit points. Done poorly, traps cause play to bog down as paranoid players poke and prod every door and passageway for unseen dangers. For these reasons, GMs and Narrators are often advised to use traps sparingly, or even steer clear of them entirely.


traps 12 - Julio Rocha.jpg
 

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Paul Hughes

Paul Hughes



Dr. Bull

Explorer
This is a great process that includes excellent detail. I like that the solutions are "pyramid tests" that outline critical failures all the way up to critical successes.
 




MajorSarigar

Explorer
I don't like overuse of traps, because it does exactly that: slow play down significantly due to paranoia.

I like to use traps where traps are most appropriate: to defend crypts or tombs, or the lower reaches of temples, or in areas inhabited by creatures known to prefer the use of traps and deadfalls (kobolds, bugbears, troglodytes, derro, etc). But if the dungeon is a thriving location, like a giant fortress or a hobgoblin garrison, I don't put traps there, because it doesn't make sense to put pitfalls in place that would endanger the residents.
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I am recently a convert to the idea of "let them see the trap" combined with complex traps. If it's worth putting in, it's worth making an encounter out of.
It's a gamechanger.

Think of it like meeting an awesome monster and the GM just says "make a save... you take 30 slashing damage" without you ever seeing the critter. That's no fun! A trap is like meeting a monster. You have to see it, or where's the game?
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I don't like overuse of traps, because it does exactly that: slow play down significantly due to paranoia.

I like to use traps where traps are most appropriate: to defend crypts or tombs, or the lower reaches of temples, or in areas inhabited by creatures known to prefer the use of traps and deadfalls (kobolds, bugbears, troglodytes, derro, etc). But if the dungeon is a thriving location, like a giant fortress or a hobgoblin garrison, I don't put traps there, because it doesn't make sense to put pitfalls in place that would endanger the residents.
What if there was a system of some kind... something that made it so you didn't have to keep saying "I'm looking for traps" or "I have Darkvision" every time you enter into a new room?

Where you just -automatically- search for traps, like it's a Journey Activity or something for Dungeons.

That would be something cool.
 

MajorSarigar

Explorer
What if there was a system of some kind... something that made it so you didn't have to keep saying "I'm looking for traps" or "I have Darkvision" every time you enter into a new room?

Where you just -automatically- search for traps, like it's a Journey Activity or something for Dungeons.

That would be something cool.
I believe passive Perception governs that to a large extent.
 



lichmaster

Adventurer
But if the dungeon is a thriving location, like a giant fortress or a hobgoblin garrison, I don't put traps there, because it doesn't make sense to put pitfalls in place that would endanger the residents.
No, but they could be defense mechanisms activated by the inhabitants. Done propely this is very fun as it creates both a problem and an opportunity for the PCs: if they can gain control of the activation mechanism, they have and additional weapon.
 

Reynard

Legend
What if there was a system of some kind... something that made it so you didn't have to keep saying "I'm looking for traps" or "I have Darkvision" every time you enter into a new room?

Where you just -automatically- search for traps, like it's a Journey Activity or something for Dungeons.

That would be something cool.
If it is automatic or passive, it really doesn't offer much to play. What's the difference between having the PC make an "automatic" check and removing the check entirely.

For traps to be fun, they have to be interacted with. They have to be something the characters need to circumnavigate or disarm or setoff -- preferably with an option for each. Imagine a heavily trapped corridor that has a concealed bypass tunnel so the goblins or whoever built the traps can avoid them. That's something players can engage with and make choices about. Walking down a halway with their radar on doesn't offer any option to engage.

Some traps as they are usually defined are just hazards. There isn't much difference (mechanically speaking) between a spiked pit and a lava filled chasm except someone designed the former.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
If it is automatic or passive, it really doesn't offer much to play. What's the difference between having the PC make an "automatic" check and removing the check entirely.

For traps to be fun, they have to be interacted with. They have to be something the characters need to circumnavigate or disarm or setoff -- preferably with an option for each. Imagine a heavily trapped corridor that has a concealed bypass tunnel so the goblins or whoever built the traps can avoid them. That's something players can engage with and make choices about. Walking down a halway with their radar on doesn't offer any option to engage.

Some traps as they are usually defined are just hazards. There isn't much difference (mechanically speaking) between a spiked pit and a lava filled chasm except someone designed the former.
Yup. As the article says, passive perception followed by damage or a skill roll isn't fun. The fun way to do it is to telegraph the trap - because finding it isn't fun, dealing with it is. So let 'em find it, and then have them solve the puzzle.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Yeah, I'm more referring to the "Finding" rather than "Disarming", here.

Passive Perception and Passive Investigation are a big thing, but that won't generally stop the party rogue from specifically calling out everywhere they're searching for traps every time they enter a room with a statue, chest, etc.

For that you've got to change the mindset that leads to the player calling out "I'm searching for traps!"
 

Reynard

Legend
Yeah, I'm more referring to the "Finding" rather than "Disarming", here.

Passive Perception and Passive Investigation are a big thing, but that won't generally stop the party rogue from specifically calling out everywhere they're searching for traps every time they enter a room with a statue, chest, etc.

For that you've got to change the mindset that leads to the player calling out "I'm searching for traps!"
Right -- by subverting the expectation that traps are hidden. Remove that element and the rogue goes into solution mode.

One thing I didn't see in the two examples presented that I would be inclined to do is give a couple different skill check result charts similar to ones found to the MM. One for investigation but also ones for History, Arcana, Nature or Religion as is appropriate depending on the trap and who built it for what purpose. Providing this kind of information under multiple different skills would encourage more than just the rogue to get involved, i think.
 

lichmaster

Adventurer
Yeah, I'm more referring to the "Finding" rather than "Disarming", here.

Passive Perception and Passive Investigation are a big thing, but that won't generally stop the party rogue from specifically calling out everywhere they're searching for traps every time they enter a room with a statue, chest, etc.

For that you've got to change the mindset that leads to the player calling out "I'm searching for traps!"
This kind of behaviour is one of my pet peeves, and I read constantly about it online (same for persuasion checks).
My players are very well behaved and do understand that this is a behaviour I disencourage.

The typical suggestion I give is to allow players to either:
  • declare they are searching for traps as a constant activity, in which case I'll use their passive perception (or similar) but they don't use any action to do so
  • specifically do so as an action. I'll allow them to roll, but it would use their action. If not in combat, this means they will automatically be last in initiative order should a combat begin

I also tend to remind players that it's the DM who calls for rolls. Declaring an activity does NOT mean that the player can spontaneously roll and use the result of the roll
 

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