Unearthed Arcana Unearthed Arcana: Traps Revisited

Actually an interesting article. I'm still scanning through it, though. I like the way they...

Actually an interesting article. I'm still scanning through it, though. I like the way they discuss the traps, their creation, and countermeasures (something that was missing, I think, from the DMG).

Poisoned Tempest is an absolutely inspired and devious trap! I love it!!!
 

Dualazi

First Post
Well…Quickleaf and Saeviomagy pretty much articulated many of my thoughts far better than I could myself, but for what it’s worth:

Investigation skill inclusion is good but should go further, at the end of the day perception is still the more valuable skill by far, and is more useful in general. I’d have liked more emphasis on investigation since perception has combat applications and investigation doesn’t really.

No alternate methods of foiling/addressing high passive perceptions. Even moderately perceptive characters can easily detect the weak traps, and normal/hard traps are essentially undetectable passively for large swathes of the game. That’s not a terribly healthy dynamic to have, and I personally will probably stick to rolling PC’s perception in secret. Rules expansion in this regard would have been helpful, even if it was something as simple as gating varying levels of information behind different DCs.

Making the player describe how they disable the trap can potentially be finicky and lead to arguments and gotchas. I’m not eager to go back to the days of everyone carrying 10 ft. poles to solve their problems. Plus, it’s rarely required for other checks/actions, so this feels a little punitive already.

The math is off on some of them, such as the bear trap. This is a minor issue I assume they’ll resolve with feedback, but still.

I agree with other assessments that complex traps seem to be pretty reminiscent of skill challenges form 4e, which I’m hopeful they can improve upon. However, a lot of the example traps seem to fit into the “hallway of death” philosophy, which is only valuable insofar as the players are forced to remain inside it. In their spinning blades/pillars/rune example, I can easily see my players simply stepping back out of harm’s way and coming up with low-risk solutions. This isn’t always bad, but part of the thrill of these types of traps is the idea of working under constant pressure and danger. More advice on sensible or inventive trap placement wouldn’t have gone amiss.
 

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Jhaelen

First Post
Too bad I cannot give XP to Quickleaf!

I've never been a fan of traps in D&D. This article does nothing to change that.
At least they didn't repeat one of their past mistakes to assign construction costs to traps...

Anyway, the way traps are apparently intended to be used in D&D makes no sense at all and doesn't contribute at all to improve gameplay. To the contrary they seem to be designed to annoy players and slow down gameplay for no good reason.

I get the impression the design team has run out of interesting topics, considering this and the last article on 'Mass Combat' - which was another thing that is completely useless for a good RPG session:
Mass combat should happen in the background while the pcs engage in key encounters that have the potential to shift the entire battle. What's the point of turning an RPG session into an exercise in flawed math?
 

Quickleaf

Legend
1) Good article. I love traps, and find this is a good supplement to the DMG overall.

I'm also a lover of traps :) and frequently looking for ways to make them run better for my group. I think this article is a good start and shows they're thinking about traps a bit, but they have a long way to go.

3) I am not sure if "I use my thieves tools to disable the trap" should always be considered too vague. When the warrior says, "I hit it with my sword" we don't always say, "Precisely how?" thought we might on occasion. Shouldn't the rogue sometimes be able to just say, "I disarm it with my thieves tools?"

You're making me think about trap typologies. For example, monsters have different types (e.g. construct, fey, fiend, etc), and those types have common traits which influence how a warrior might go about dealing with them. For example: silver for lycanthropes and fiends, adamantine for constructs, douse trolls with fire, etc.

Maybe there's a translation of "monster types" that can apply to "trap types" that can help clarify when "I disarm it with my thieves' tools" is a possible course of action.

But that's also the endpoint of the trap – it's the killing blow against a monster.

The interesting stuff is mostly leading up to that point of attempted disarm – for example, realizing there's a trap thanks to pattern recognition / intuition / experience, avoiding triggering it, and figuring out how the trap works.

4) While passive perception should be the default to spot a trap, Investigation might well be used when a player says, "I am curious about this desk. I will carefully examine it for traps." Indeed, the difference in Countermeasure descriptions for the Falling Gate trap and the Fiery Blast trap give me the impression the author isn't sure how to differentiate between Investigation and Perception sometimes - both traps use a pressure plate, so why include Perception to spot one and Investigation to spot the other when that portion is essentially identical? I think more traps should include entries for both in the Countermeasures section.

I've thought about this, and I have what may be an unpopular (or at least un-modern) perspective: For most traps, Perception (whether passive or active) should NEVER obviously identity the presence of the trap. In fact, no check should be involved.

"It's a trap" should rarely be a simple matter of sensory perception, but of internal realization. There are details a perceptive character can gather about the environment/situation, of course, but at no point in responding to a Perception check (or passive Perception) should the DM say "you notice a pressure plate." Maybe the exception to this principle is the tripwire triggered trap – maybe that sort of trap is the kind where Perception really matters, because once you see a tripwire that's a dead giveaway of the presence of a trap. And maybe those Perception-critical type tripwire traps are associated with kobolds and goblins.

Let's take the pit trap in the UA article as an example.

That pit trap is covered with a camouflaged canvas. It's screaming "I'm a trap!" There's no cleverness involved, either on the part of the trap maker or the players. The design of the trap necessitates a rather dull dice roll (or comparing two static numbers). It's dull because there's no real decision point in encountering the pit trap as written. There's a canvas? Nope, you didn't notice the canvas, sorry, you fall and take damage. :/ There's a canvas? Yep! OK, I look under it. It's a pit trap. Well, I'll walk around it. Congratulations for figuring out that very challenging trap; you skirt around the edge without issue. OK, what was the point of that? :/

But in my mind, the fun of most traps is in how they make you puzzle them over, figuring out how to solve that unique trap, devising creative ways to interact with it. And that means a trap should present players with interesting choices/dilemmas.

In my re-write of the pit trap, I got rid of the obvious canvas and instead use brittle stone masked to appear just like the surrounding stone (if False Appearance can flawlessly pass off a galeb duhr as a boulder, then I don't think it's too much to expect traps to operate the same way). Perception in this case isn't about noticing a camouflaged canvas whose presence would scream "look out, I'm likely a trap." Instead, I had scuffing around the edges of the brittle stone, which is the ledge monsters walk around the trap and where the monsters replace the brittle stone after the pit trap is triggered. PCs noticing that then have a couple decision points:
  • First, do we think this could be a trap? A camouflaged canvas is kind of a dead giveaway. This, not so much.
  • Second, which section do we think is dangerous, the scuffed edges or the un-scuffed middle? The canvas removes any ambiguity about what's being hidden (obviously, it's whatever is under the canvas!), but this reintroduces ambiguity.
 

Zansy

Explorer
I usually don't use traps in my game, even if others do. I see little use for this UA than others at my table.
Not for lack of trying, but I couldn't even read through the whole thing.
 

Psikerlord#

Explorer
Publisher
Teh difference between a simple trap and a complex one is the simple trap is often improvised, but a complex trap has to be prepped, make sense, with escalating features and a means of disarming by PCs - they are a "set piece" encounter all of their own.

I did like the article's dynamic (escalating) threats. The poison room was a good complex trap. Sadly however 5e is still labouring under the passive perception vs static trap spot DC problem (ie auto spot/avoid or auto set off trap - either way unsatisfactory - preferable to either secretly roll for the PC, or get the player to pre-roll 10 perception checks at the start of the session, and randomly select one when required).
 

CydKnight

Explorer
"With the skills and knowledge my character has, but I do not" would be my response. Same way I don't have to describe how I cast a spell, repair armor or tie a knot with the climbing kit. Unless it's granting an auto success, I don't see the point of delaying the thieves tools roll by also requiring them to guess the magic phrase the DM thinks makes sense. Most of us arent engineers and dont know, or care to know, how traps work mechanically. And lots of the examples dont even make sense!

If a bear trap is spotted, you really should be able to disable it automatically, unless they want to imply that these things are so unreliable that they go off a significant amount of time when a reasonably nimble user goes to reset them (14 dex vs DC 10 disable). What kind of hunter uses a tool that malfunctions or hits them that often? The tripwire also seems like just noticing the tripwire beats it. If you know where the bolts shoot, I dont get why a roll is required to cut the wire or untie them.

Avoiding the roll should really generally be the reward for pixel bitching, not the ability to roll.
You can play the way you want. That's the beauty of 5E.

But in my game if you tell me you are going to disable a trap and can't even understand the mechanism to do so is in a different place from where it apparently is set to be sprung, then the attempt will simply fail. Perceiving the way the trap works is a separate dice roll that would precede the roll to disable it. Maybe it is even part of what is discerned from the same dice roll that detected the trap. If you are the DM, you decide.

I do agree there is vagueness in the UA examples.

Your bear trap example is a little different but I do not disagree with you. However, I do agree with the UA that a strength check should be made simply because I already know a real bear trap actually does require strength to enable and disable. If you are implying that a hunter proficient in hunting traps would be proficient in disabling a bear trap then I would agree.

Yes, I agree tripwires can be avoided or even cut without a roll. But noticing one is not automatic and should require a roll in my opinion.
 

Imaro

Legend
I like this article and how it expands on traps, a couple of thoughts after my first read through...




1. I like that passive perception doesn't reveal the actual trap it detects it's trigger (and a Perception check is required if detecting said trigger would reveal the nature of the trap) or other elements that can tip off their presence... This means a passive perception doesn't auto-find the trap and you still need an actual perception check or investigation to determine what the trap actually does and how it works.

2. I agree that simple traps shouldn't award XP... it's not a significant challenge IMO, of course the article is silent on whether complex traps should award XP and I think it would be pretty easy to engineer an XP system using monsters as a starting point and based off the traps level and threat... I wonder if the final version will have this...

3. I am all for requiring a description of how a trap is disabled (and leaving the level of granularity up to individual DM's)... it again brings importance to the Investigation skill (which I feel is sorely needed) and creates a more dynamic interaction where anyone could potentially try something to disable the trap as opposed to just Rogues.

4. I think the advice about different ways a trap could be disabled (With thieve's tools serving as a general foil for mechanical traps) is good it allows the Rogue, or anyone trained in thieve's tools to be relevant most of the time in disarming a trap while still giving examples of ways other memebers of the party could help to disable the trap depending on it's details.

5. I also think the advice around nailing down positions when interacting with a complex trap is good advice.

6. I like and agree with complex traps having triggers that can be undetectable and perception or investigation rolls only providing cues that something is amiss in the area.

7. I think the 3 actions or checks to shut down one part of the trap is a good guideline and provides the basis for multi-part/multi-trigger traps that push for multiple participants to disable them and can span large areas or even multiple rooms...

8. Focusing on how the trap works as opposed to what checks are necessary to disable it is the right way to go about it, IMO... it opens up room for improvisational tactics from the players as opposed to narrowing the interaction to pre-set solutions.

9. Not sure about the math for the sample traps... I'm not really a math guy so I'll leave that to others.


EDIT (Just to round my thoughts out to 10 things...): 10. I feel like I'm reading a different article than others in this thread as this article seems to directly address many (if not all) of the concerns being brought up in this thread...

Overall I think this article is one of the most useful and interesting DM facing articles to come out of UA. Will probably try out some of the rules in my first game of a new campaign I am starting this weekend... we'll see how it goes.
 
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akr71

Hero
I like the clearer formatting, with subheadings. While much less plain text, it is much easier to find what you're looking for. (I almost want to redo my document with these guidelines and formatting in mind.)

I would encourage you to put together a volume 2 instead. I wouldn't buy it again if it was just reformatted, but I would pay you money again for more content. ;)
 

Imaro

Legend
Sadly however 5e is still labouring under the passive perception vs static trap spot DC problem (ie auto spot/avoid or auto set off trap - either way unsatisfactory - preferable to either secretly roll for the PC, or get the player to pre-roll 10 perception checks at the start of the session, and randomly select one when required).

Uhm... this isn't really how the article deals with traps...
 

raleel

Explorer
"It's a trap" should rarely be a simple matter of sensory perception, but of internal realization. There are details a perceptive character can gather about the environment/situation, of course, but at no point in responding to a Perception check (or passive Perception) should the DM say "you notice a pressure plate." Maybe the exception to this principle is the tripwire triggered trap – maybe that sort of trap is the kind where Perception really matters, because once you see a tripwire that's a dead giveaway of the presence of a trap. And maybe those Perception-critical type tripwire traps are associated with kobolds and goblins.

This is incredibly insightful, and would be useful in any DMG. The fact that perception should not tell you it's a trap. Perception tells you "it's a hole in the ground" or "it's a hole with a canvas covering it" or "there is a thing metal wire running across the hall" or "there are holes in the walls, about finger size". Investigation tells you that it's a trap, in some cases. The pit is obviously something to be avoided, but the holes in the walls? Who knows what hose are for, and they are not stopping progress. Paranoid and smart adventurers will investigate those. That's when they discover the subtle glint of metal inside as they shine their torch in, or the slight discoloration of the stone from the remnants of poison gas.

I also very much like the presssure plate idea in the previous comment. That is some good drama there. Put a perception check on noticing the click (very low, of course, like D.C. 10) then the actual encounter begins - how to get him off.
 

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