D&D General Traps, Agency, and Telegraphing Dangers

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Variations of this have come up a few times so I wanted to have a thread on the topic.

The argument seems to go like this: traps that are not telegraphed are gotchas, and that's bad because without being able to make an informed decision, my choices as a player are meaningless. The whole point of player agency is to have meaningful choices. Non-telegraphed dangers violate my agency as a player, therefore should not be included in the game.

The counter argument seems to go like this: no one would ever build a trap that's obvious or telegraphed, therefore traps that are telegraphed make no sense. This is the immersion and worldbuilding counter. Also, no player is ever going to willingly trigger a telegraphed trap (unless they're a chaos goblin), therefore traps are a waste of time. This is the pragmatic counter.

While I'm an absolutist when it comes to player agency, I cannot bring myself to agree with the first argument, because the inevitable result of that would mean that nothing bad can happen to the player's PC without the player's consent.

Where do other people stand on this? What are better arguments for or against telegraphed dangers?
 

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I feel as though traps that don't make sense are a waste of time or gotchas. Since I feel as though traps almost never make sense as deployed in adventures I tend to feel as though most traps are a waste of time or gotchas. With a little more objectivity than that I'd say that which traps are gotchas or wastes of time will probably differ player-to-player and table-to-table.

I think you can telegraph or signpost that there are traps in a place without flashing "TRAP HERE" neon signs with arrows pointing to where the traps are. Tell them the Maguffin is protected by the nastiest traps the builders of the place where it sits could devise. If they get careless and spring a lethal trap there's a decent argument that's a choice that matters.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I feel as though traps that don't make sense are a waste of time or gotchas. Since I feel as though traps almost never make sense as deployed in adventures I tend to feel as though most traps are a waste of time or gotchas. With a little more objectivity than that I'd say that which traps are gotchas or wastes of time will probably differ player-to-player and table-to-table.
Trouble is, non-gotcha traps don't make sense. The literal point of the trap is for it to go undetected so that it catches the target unaware so that it can inflict pain, suffering, and even death on whoever stumbles into it. Signposting a trap negates the literal point and purpose of there being a trap.

The two most famous examples of traps in modern times, I think, are Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Vietnam War / Resistance war against the US. In the first, Indy knows there are traps so is careful and intentionally triggers one to show the audience there are traps. The whole temple sequence of the movie is one long trapped dungeon. In the second, the Vietnamese used guerilla tactics and a wide variety of traps to resist the US. In neither case were the traps signposted to give the targets a "fair" warning*. Because that would literally defeat the purpose of the trap.

* Unless of course the signpost was itself part of the trap. Here's an obvious trap, pay attention to this obvious trap while you are hit with this non-obvious trap. The angler fish trap, as it were.
I think you can telegraph or signpost that there are traps in a place without flashing "TRAP HERE" neon signs with arrows pointing to where the traps are. Tell them the Maguffin is protected by the nastiest traps the builders of the place where it sits could devise. If they get careless and spring a lethal trap there's a decent argument that's a choice that matters.
So would the referee saying, "All dungeons have traps" be enough? Or, "This game features traps" be enough?
 

Scribe

Legend
So would the referee saying, "All dungeons have traps" be enough? Or, "This game features traps" be enough?

Depends on how paranoid or slow one wants their players to be.

If I'm told that in a session 0 or whatever, its going to be a lot of me looking/asking and looking some more and potentially dragging out a lot of time.

Leaving clues that this next area/dungeon/castle/whatever is trapped, is a better method, with some sign posts that could come up if the players investigate room by room being best.

If its just a random spot to the players that is a deadly trap, thats a feels bad.
 

Trouble is, non-gotcha traps don't make sense. The literal point of the trap is for it to go undetected so that it catches the target unaware so that it can inflict pain, suffering, and even death on whoever stumbles into it. Signposting a trap negates the literal point and purpose of there being a trap.

The two most famous examples of traps in modern times, I think, are Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Vietnam War / Resistance war against the US. In the first, Indy knows there are traps so is careful and intentionally triggers one to show the audience there are traps. The whole temple sequence of the movie is one long trapped dungeon. In the second, the Vietnamese used guerilla tactics and a wide variety of traps to resist the US. In neither case were the traps signposted to give the targets a "fair" warning*. Because that would literally defeat the purpose of the trap.

* Unless of course the signpost was itself part of the trap. Here's an obvious trap, pay attention to this obvious trap while you are hit with this non-obvious trap. The angler fish trap, as it were.

So would the referee saying, "All dungeons have traps" be enough? Or, "This game features traps" be enough?
I didn't say anything about signposting any individual traps.

I think Raiders of the Lost Ark is a crap D&D scenario. I'm not sure an asymmetrical war is much help either.

I also think you're misunderstanding what I'm saying. When I say most traps don't make sense as deployed in most adventures I'm saying most adventures that have traps in them have too many traps in too many places that would interfere with whatever some random place was used for before. Put the traps that make sense where it makes sense for them to be.

I don't run much in the way of dungeons and I think I've had like two traps total in the last couple of 5e campaigns I've run. It's plausible that our preferences on trap quantity are nigh-unresolvable and complicating communication here.
 

mamba

Legend
Where do other people stand on this? What are better arguments for or against telegraphed dangers?
an ambush is not telegraphed, just like the trap the whole point is for it to not be identified ahead of time.

I’d say do not telegraph things that obviously are not meant to be (see above), that is what (passive) perception rolls are for.

Do telegraph things that should be noted, the large footprints and broken branches near the entrance to the cave, the wagon tracks leaving the road, …
 

mamba

Legend
I feel as though traps that don't make sense are a waste of time or gotchas. Since I feel as though traps almost never make sense as deployed in adventures I tend to feel as though most traps are a waste of time or gotchas.
agreed, I use them sparingly, but let’s say you are exploring an ancient tomb, I’d have no issue placing some traps there
 

agreed, I use them sparingly, but let’s say you are exploring an ancient tomb, I’d have no issue placing some traps there
And in that ancient tomb they'd probably make the most sense as traps that didn't interfere with construction or whatever other use there was. Things built in a way they can be set on the way out. And/or in most important places.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Depends on how paranoid or slow one wants their players to be.

If I'm told that in a session 0 or whatever, its going to be a lot of me looking/asking and looking some more and potentially dragging out a lot of time.
Yes, that is a huge problem.
Leaving clues that this next area/dungeon/castle/whatever is trapped, is a better method, with some sign posts that could come up if the players investigate room by room being best.

If its just a random spot to the players that is a deadly trap, thats a feels bad.
I get that. The problem is telegraphing makes no sense from the trap creator's point-of-view. Leaving clues literally defeats the purpose of even having a trap in the first place.
I didn't say anything about signposting any individual traps.
Then what would be signposted? Entire areas? Okay, we're back to "this game features traps" or "all dungeons have traps" or similar. So I'll ask again, would that be enough?
I think Raiders of the Lost Ark is a crap D&D scenario.
The temple sequence is a fairly amazing instance of a five-room dungeon.
I'm not sure an asymmetrical war is much help either.
Traps are literally asymmetrical warfare. That's the only rational place to look for comparisons.
I also think you're misunderstanding what I'm saying. When I say most traps don't make sense as deployed in most adventures I'm saying most adventures that have traps in them have too many traps in too many places that would interfere with whatever some random place was used for before. Put the traps that make sense where it makes sense for them to be.
Gotcha.
I don't run much in the way of dungeons and I think I've had like two traps total in the last couple of 5e campaigns I've run. It's plausible that our preferences on trap quantity are nigh-unresolvable and complicating communication here.
Absolutely possible. I run open-world sandboxes and include a lot of dungeons. I also have sections of the world that are literally marked in my notes as "fantasy @#$%ing Vietnam."
an ambush is not telegraphed, just like the trap the whole point is for it to not be identified ahead of time.

I’d say do not telegraph things that obviously are not meant to be (see above), that is what (passive) perception rolls are for.

Do telegraph things that should be noted, the large footprints and broken branches near the entrance to the cave, the wagon tracks leaving the road, …
I agree. I'm trying to square that with some players thinking that diminishes their agency.
 

Then what would be signposted? Entire areas? Okay, we're back to "this game features traps" or "all dungeons have traps" or similar. So I'll ask again, would that be enough?
Put traps that makes sense in places it makes sense to put them. So long as you don't put them in places that don't make sense I don't think you're really impinging on player agency. What "makes sense" might well be a matter of opinion of course. Seems like a thing people could maybe communicate about.
 

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