• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is LIVE! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

D&D General Traps, Agency, and Telegraphing Dangers

Shiroiken

Legend
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.
Player agency doesn't extend to the possibility of bad things happening (otherwise characters couldn't get hurt by anything). Depending on the edition, you can search regularly for traps anywhere you expect there might be one. In a skill based edition you don't even necessarily have to describe the action all the time (taking the 10/passive checks take care of that). The problem with this is not traps themselves, but with DMs obsessed with "gotcha." Traps are meant to have a chance of being found and avoided; taking the chance away is the violation of player agency.

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.
Traps aren't a waste of time from a worldbuilding perspective, even if they are found and avoided. Not only can the occasional trap trigger, searching for traps takes time for invaders, giving you time to prepare a defense. The pragmatic issue is that traps either need an easy way to be disabled or avoided, otherwise they're more a challenge for the occupants than invaders. Traps in dungeons work pretty well, because there can be multiple paths around them, and PCs should be on the alert for them in such a location anyway.
 

log in or register to remove this ad


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
Indy is a good example of where I stand on the subject. For me it depends on where the trap is. If there's a trap in the city of Trapopolis which has lain in ruins for 10,000 years, there's a good chance that it has been triggered before and since it's a ruin, nobody has been around to clean up the mess left behind. Telegraphing appropriate! However, if the party rogue is trying to sneak away from a dinner at the king's palace to locate the treasure room, the traps protecting said room will be maintained and so no telegraphing is appropriate.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark the first trap he finds has left a skeleton dead due to the arrow trap. It's telegraphed. When he gets to the end, the boulder trap is not telegraphed but he knows about it due to perhaps experience and tries to gauge the weight of the statue to disarm the trap and fails, releasing the boulder.
 

One thing to remember about Old School traps is they did not automatically go off like modern traps. usually there was a 1 in 6 or 2 in 6 chance it would go off. Meaning, when the PCs went down the hall, they may not have stepped on the exact tile that sets it off, or maybe they stepped over the trip wire. That changes the dynamic. In modern dungeons, just breathing wrong sets off traps and makes them a lot more tedious.

As to telegraphing: I agree with the cohort that thinks traps are more fun when the PCs interact with them, so I'm for not just telegraphing, but outright informing the PCs there is a trap there. "A huge spikey portcullis hangs precariously over the altar where the treasure sits. What do you do?" That starts an interesting sequence of events driven by player choices.

That isn't to say I never use gotcha traps. I am, after all, a bit of a RBDM and sometimes the kobolds dump a barrel of scorpions or green slime onto you from murder holes above.
I agree with this. I have moved to using traps 1) sparingly, and 2) in places where a player would naturally think "this area might be trapped". I don't use traps in dungeons, especially not ancient dungeons or ruins, because unless magical (and that's a whole 'nother can of worms) traps, they'd likely rust/stop working/be triggered long before the party gets there. Now, if they're trekking into an occupied location and heading toward the bad guy's treasure room, then thats a likely place for a trap.

Likewise, if they're hunting some bandits, and going for the encampment, there could be all sorts of traps - tripwires and bells, deadfalls, whatever. Its likely the bandits did due diligence. The players should expect traps where they would be likely to set traps to protect their own valuables.

I also do telegraph things a little - holes in the walls, stains around a keyhole, a well made and clearly oiled lock in the BBEG's treasure room, different colored tiles in the floors, finding already triggered crossbow traps, etc. And I also don't force players to count pixels either. We use OSE/B/X, so if you're "being careful" while travelling in a dungeon, you're moving your movement/exploration rate over the course of 1 turn (10 minutes), so you're unlikely to completely miss things. You're 'being careful' by default. If you want to move faster, then, sure, you might miss clues. But that's a player choice, depending on the situation.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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.
I don't see how that logically follows "the first argument."

Where do other people stand on this? What are better arguments for or against telegraphed dangers?
It gives the player a chance to make an informed choice to avoid the danger of the trap. It doesn't mean they do avoid it, certainly not every time. But if they run afoul of it and think back to what was described and know they overlooked or dismissed something, then that removes the perception of the trap as an unfair "gotcha."

Any trap can be telegraphed and, in my games, they are. It's just a matter of imagination to figure out what makes sense in context.
 


EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
In the Modern game, by design, the player just rolls dice.
This is not actually true. But I understand why you think it is.

  • The trap is old. Due to the passage of time and the decay of the structure around the trap, it's much easier to spot than it would have been when it was built. (Note that having one or more easily detectable old traps in a decayed part of a structure counts as telegraphing the potential trap danger in less-decayed parts of the same structure.)
  • A trap has already been triggered, and the occupants of the structure (if any) haven't had a chance to reset it yet. As above, this telegraphs the potential danger of other, as-yet untriggeted traps nearby.
Your whole post is great, but I wanted to highlight these two points specifically because they poke a hole in the "never telegraph, the whole point of a trap is to catch victims unaware" argument.

That is, it is allegedly more realistic that traps work that way. I counter that this must be tempered with the real behavior of traps that get no maintenance for centuries or millennia.

Unless powerful magic is woven into the traps, they won't be self-resetting. The poison on the darts will dry out and oxidize. The gears will rust. The stones fall, and no one remains who can put them back up to fall on the next victims (nor to clean up the smear on the floor.) The pit fills with water or debris. The false floor falls in due to an earthquake. Etc., etc., etc.

Traps require a great deal of maintenance and engineering to keep functional. If you're diving into a thousand-year-old tomb, it is realistic that some of the defenses of that tomb should have broken down, lost their camouflage, or already done their job and never been reset/rebuilt. The ones closest to the exterior are the ones most liable to breakdown. That's a perfect, realistic opportunity to telegraph things to the players.

This tedious straw man that players can only have agency when they get to read the GM's notes is simply untrue. What is needed is giving the players a fair shot. If they fail to take it up, or bungle the execution (no pun intended), that's on them.

The point is that practically speaking you get what you reward for. If there are non-telegraphed traps that have a significant effect but can only be found by a thorough search... well welcome to a game where players thoroughly search every conceivable surface.

Not sure what it has to do with agency though.
So, so, so, SO many GMs just do not understand this. You reap what you sow.

If you teach your players that every wall and floor could harbor instant death, they will tediously sweep every square inch. If you teach your players that being merciful results in just facing more foes later, they will skip mercy and save themselves the trouble. If you teach your players that crime is rewarding and the authorities are incompetent, wicked, or easily manipulated, they will gladly commit crime. If you teach them that their "allies" are as like as not to be backstabbing jerks exploiting them, they won't engage in diplomacy except to exploit others.

You reap what you sow.

That's why I embrace player creativity and agency. Why I make sure that mercy is almost always effective (except on the truly, deeply committed/unrepentant), that allies are generally true to their word unless tricked/coerced, that some authority figures are actually effective and well-meaning. That if they pause and reflect, and try to do the good and noble thing, there is a genuine, meaningful chance of success, though it may prove difficult and/or costly.

Because that's a game I'm actually interested in running.
 

bloodtide

Legend
This is not actually true. But I understand why you think it is.
Well, it is sure true of games like modern D&D 5E.

And it's sure true of any game with a roll resolution system in the rules....and even more so the players of such games that will only take game actions based on dice rolls.

If you teach your players that every wall and floor could harbor instant death, they will tediously sweep every square inch. If you teach your players that being merciful results in just facing more foes later, they will skip mercy and save themselves the trouble. If you teach your players that crime is rewarding and the authorities are incompetent, wicked, or easily manipulated, they will gladly commit crime. If you teach them that their "allies" are as like as not to be backstabbing jerks exploiting them, they won't engage in diplomacy except to exploit others.
Well, this is sure not true of all players. Really this is only true for the players that are hostile to the DM to start with. A lot of players start the game with the idea that "the DM is out to get them", and this effects their play negatively.


That's why I embrace player creativity and agency. Why I make sure that mercy is almost always effective (except on the truly, deeply committed/unrepentant), that allies are generally true to their word unless tricked/coerced, that some authority figures are actually effective and well-meaning. That if they pause and reflect, and try to do the good and noble thing, there is a genuine, meaningful chance of success, though it may prove difficult and/or costly.

Because that's a game I'm actually interested in running.
I don't find that just rolling out the red carpet for whatever the players randomly do and having it always work the way the players want to be good for game play. It often just makes careless players: they cam have their characters just stumble around and the DM will change the game so everything works out great every time.
 


EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Well, it is sure true of games like modern D&D 5E.

And it's sure true of any game with a roll resolution system in the rules....and even more so the players of such games that will only take game actions based on dice rolls.
Except that, as I said, it isn't. Both the actual rules-text, and the best-practices instructions for 5e (and 4e!) reject this approach.

I have plenty of things I dislike about 5e. "It's rollplaying, not roleplaying" is not one of them. Your claim is simply a more involved way of making that accusation.

Well, this is sure not true of all players. Really this is only true for the players that are hostile to the DM to start with. A lot of players start the game with the idea that "the DM is out to get them", and this effects their play negatively.
What on earth does that have to do with anything?

Littering the game with instant-death traps is teaching them that every wall and floor could hide instant death. So they will respond rationally: they wish to keep playing, and wish to avoid failure and danger. Thus, they will take every possible precaution to avoid these extreme dangers, which means inch-by-inch exploration (and I don't mean "inches measured on the battlemap"!) and repeatedly going through the same safety checklist each time. That such activity is tedious and has little thought involved is a historical fact--it's the reason Gygax introduced the blatantly gamist ear seekers, which make no sense whatsoever biologically, but perfect sense as a way to scare players out of "standard operating procedure"-induced complacency.

Players aren't dumb. They pay attention to the consequences of their actions, and those consequences teach them what kind of game they're really playing. You can say all the live-long day that you don't want murderhobo players, but your GM actions will always speak louder. The second or third time the PCs get jumped by enemies they'd previously shown mercy to, no matter how realistic that might be, they'll learn that mercy is a sucker's game, that the only way to be safe is to always go for the kill. Because their enemies always do--and any assurances they make otherwise are simply lies. Same goes for crime and authority/law enforcement. If they see that crime pays and that the authorities are corrupt, incompetent, or malicious, they will make use of that. If they see that people they ally with frequently betray them, they will stop forming alliances unless betrayal is impossible or (more likely) they intend to beat the betrayers to the punch. Etc.

There's no malice here. There's no "hatred" of the GM or whatever. It's literally just being rational. If you see that something works, you do it more. If you see that something bites you in the ass all or almost all of the time you do it, you stop. If an action has no value (noting that moral value is just as valid as any other form of value), players will stop doing it.

You reap what you sow. Fill the world with deadly traps, and players will become hyper-cautious trap-hunters. Fill the world with backstabbing jerks who repay mercy by coming back with reinforcements, and players will spare themselves the trouble of dealing with a second fight. Fill the world with traitorous scum who break their word and betray their allies, and players will avoid ever allowing someone close enough to betray them--or (try to) get in on the betrayal game first. Fill the world with lucrative criminal activity and authority figures that are malicious, corrupt, or incompetent, and players will commit crime and resist/bribe/undermine authority whenever it benefits them.

Again, this has drek-all to do with being "hostile to the DM to begin with." It's being rational in response to the actions GMs take. And many, many, many GMs are simply unaware that this is what they're doing. Oftentimes, this is because the GM's desire for "realism" or "challenge" is actually at odds with the tone and theme they prefer, but they don't realize this.

I don't find that just rolling out the red carpet for whatever the players randomly do and having it always work the way the players want to be good for game play. It often just makes careless players: they cam have their characters just stumble around and the DM will change the game so everything works out great every time.
Again, you use insults and canards, rather than engaging with what I've described. You mock my playstyle as being infinitely permissive, involving no gameplay, difficulty, or challenge, where absolutely everything is sunshine and rainbows forever.

How does this contribute to the conversation? I have told you, point blank, repeatedly, that these descriptions are simply wrong. Yet you keep making them. Why?
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top