Traps are an iconic part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience. Nearly every table has a story about a time when a trap took someone by surprise or how it was used to the group's benefit when dealing with a monster. Despite sections on traps in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and riddles in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, this element of the dungeon seems to be underserved in the current edition. Treacherous Traps from Nord Games looks to fill in the gaps with a book that not only offers several traps to drop into any dungeon but advice for Dungeon Masters to make their own.
The bulk of the book is dedicated to 250 traps built to test teams from levels 1-20. The traps are roughly organized into chapters covering a four level spread. Each trap has a basic layout covering the trigger, effect and countermeasures of each device. As expected, the traps tend to get more elaborate as the levels get higher, but one decision I liked was making sure each level has examples of traps that are entirely mechanical, entirely magical or a mixture of the two.
There are also sections on traps that go above and beyond a single encounter in an otherwise featureless room. Dungeon rooms feature traps working in concert with each other to confound and engender adventurers. The authors suggest using these sorts of rooms sparingly as a set piece protecting the McGuffin of the dungeon or as a background for a vital battle. There are also a few complex traps that are more akin to the old Mousetrap board game where one sets off another, which sets off another and the whole party will take it on the chin if it is not stopped.
The book’s trap design goes a little bit deeper into the hows and whys of traps. Lethality is expanded into five categories to show the Dungeon Master how bad it will hurt if the rogue whiffs their roll ranging from a setback that will do a little damage to a deadly trap likely to kill someone in one swoop. Then there are the purposes of the trap. Is it meant to alert someone to trespassers? Hold creatures there for someone to take them prisoner? Funnel them into a deadlier part of the dungeon? This was my favorite part of the book. Trap books rarely give thought to the narrative element of dungeoncraft and I wish there had been more discussion here. Traps and riddles are fun changes of pace to combat, but they can also reinforce the theme of a story or tell players about the villain from their design.
Puzzles also make an appearance in this book as they are often the cousins of traps and riddles. Much of the advice echoes that provided in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. The book also offers a wide range of puzzles and riddles to drop in, but one piece of advice from this section stood out to me. The solution that the players come up with for any of these conundrums may not be the one the Dungeon Master envisions, but if the players are enthusiastic about it, the Dungeon Master should do their best to support it. I ran an Indiana Jones-style step on the right stone trap in one D&D that the players figured out, but they also had the character with the most hit points step on the stones first. There were one or two sequences they didn't puzzle out, so the paladin gladly took the hit to keep moving forward. It kept the story moving forward, showed the nobility of the paladin and surprised me with a clever solution.
Nord Games has also released a series of trap decks in support of Treacherous Traps. The majority of the decks feature the traps in the book in an easy to draw format for use when a DM is stuck for an idea either while running a game. I liked the random trap generator the most. This is included as a series of charts to roll on in the book, but the deck makes it fun to pull two cards - a trigger and an effect - and then come up with a trap that connects the two. Writing prompts are a useful tool in any Dungeon Master’s toolbox because they can be more fruitful than staring at a blank page.
For Dungeon Masters who want more detail on an essential element of Dungeons & Dragons, Treacherous Traps has a lot to offer.