D&D General What Are Traps For?

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
True. Though I don't get why you think that is a negative. In general, there really are only a couple ways to do something.
Because it isn't a puzzle if there's only three ways to do a particular thing and that thing comes up every other session. It becomes "oh, another 'block the hole' scene. Look at how much fun we're having." Hence why I referenced a lack of creativity. Problem-solving is only interesting when the problem is in fact solvable, and the problem is distinct enough to require thought.

All the "Hard Fun" "Nightmare Fuel" traps I've ever seen could be summarized on a 3x5 note card and thus obviate any actual thinking. Do the SOP for whatever standard dungeon trap it is and move on. Or--in a bitter irony, given how such DMs are so prone to fling accusations of this at other games--"think with your character sheet," just the equipment/inventory section rather than the actions/skills section.

Like anything else in the game it does very much depend on DM experience and skill. If you have a Bad Casual DM, they will just spill some Mt Dew and say "you fall in my trap!"
Except that it's always the DMs who bill themselves as offering a "challenging" game that do this, IME. Because, apparently, "there's no way to win" is "challenging," as opposed to simply being unwinnable.

Casual DMs aren't interested in making unwinnable stuff, because they just want to have a good time and hang out. And then, of course, there are all the other kinds of DMs (that is, ones that aren't like your inexplicable "Hard Fun" "Nightmare Fuel" and aren't "Bad Casual"), that generally also don't want unwinnable stuff. (Of course, there will be a few who are forcing a railroad or whatever, where failure is the only option because they need the players to walk through the plot of the novel they're writing do the obviously correct thing in order to move on.) E.g. I would consider myself a "Serious Roleplay" DM, if I had to use terminology like yours (given, again, I don't actually know what "Hard Fun" and "Nightmare Fuel" mean, despite having asked)--I take worldbuilding and character arcs very seriously, I want to see a character grow and change and respond to dilemmas, and I want players who care about what happens to their characters, their NPC allies, and the world the characters inhabit. And when I'm a player, I want to experience that myself--I want to care about my character and his (usually his) story, and the story of the world, and the things they do.

That's actually a big part of why I find pure-attrition traps (and most other pure-attrition "challenges") so boring.

That seems likely.
Okay. What, exactly, makes a trap interesting? You're quite confident you are not such a DM. What do you do? Walk me through the process of designing and using a trap. If it actually is as valuable as you say, then adding it to my own game will be of benefit.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
One of the reasons I dislike holding a game too closely to the standards of other media is that other media is scripted. It's telling one story, about one thing, one way. The protagonists are largely expected to succeed, or to be interesting and meaningful in their eventual failure.
Yeah. And breaking from that pattern has serious consequences, as the whole "anyone can die!!!1!1!!one!" trend revealed. When absolutely anyone can die, meaning every arc is in constant danger of becoming a pointless waste of invested time, audiences feel that thrill maybe once or twice of genuinely being unsure if something will pan out...and then begin to disengage. It's why pretty much every major TV show that followed that trend caved on it, sooner or later. We engage with stories because we want to see them go somewhere.

Games, where the stakes are personal, can accommodate other spectra of consequences--and can hold investment for other reasons. Some of those reasons don't appeal to everyone (hence the threads about not always using death as a consequence, or as I put it, not using random+permanent+irrevocable death), so you still see some back-and-forth. But you can't just presume that the ways of scripted storytelling will work for unscripted, extemporaneous, improvisational media like TTRPGs.

Games don't always work that way. Games can be cinematic and narrative like that. They can ape a more scripted style. But they are under no obligation to, and there are compromises you make when designing it that way (it can be a bit like The Last of Us compared with Breath of the Wild - one a more linear narrative ride where decision-making is limited to certain set pieces and the other a more open toybox to play around with where the set pieces may temporarily limit that decision-making).

D&D expects Indy to get pincushioned because Indy is one guy that is raiding the tomb alongside Robert Johnson, an 18th-Century German doctor, and a little old lady who heals broken bones and bloody gashes with magical baked goods (to basically summarize my Radiant Citadel party), and all of them failing and dying screaming in the ruin within an hour or two and no one ever hearing from them again is a valid and enjoyable outcome from the game (where it wouldn't be in a movie!). Because D&D isn't scripted that tightly, and being so loosely scripted is part of the fun.
Valid and enjoyable for some players, but not all. Which is why games have a spectrum of options for dealing with it.

Big point being: it's very good and very fun to know that your knowledgeable expert can utterly beef it in a D&D game.
Yes. But we should keep in mind that "utterly beef it" =/= "die randomly and ignominiously with no resolution." Death absolute, with no further story potential other than by proxy, can be exciting for some; for others, it can be dull as dirt. Building ways to adapt, exploring more meaning- and context-based consequences, and making sure that consequences still linger and matter in ways other than "and now you stop playing that character and that story basically didn't even matter (except by proxy)" is good and healthy...and something that also doesn't really apply to scripted media, where consequences are fully in one person's control at all times.

Corollary to the big point is: Clue is still probably the best movie based on a game. ;)
Hmm. Perhaps. Video game movies can be good. I've heard at least one of the Prince of Persia games got some good ones. And I could see the new God of War games getting a cinematic adaptation, though it would have to be 3D animated. I'm so completely sick of the modern trend of trying to squeeze every animated thing under the sun into a live-action remake and having 95% of them crash and burn because it turns out animation actually does have artistic value and JUST remaking something with live actors really can just mean a bad remake.
 

R_J_K75

Legend
knowing my players, I also know that they would get extremely frustrated with the adventure and not have any fun, so I decided against it. You have to have the right players for the challenge.
The game has evolved between when Tomb of Horrors and a deadlier style of play was the norm as opposed to now. Expectations of the game have changed. I think it's safe to say that the adventure designed to be a TPK will be few and far between nowadays, if at all.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
The game has evolved between when Tomb of Horrors and a deadlier style of play was the norm as opposed to now. Expectations of the game have changed. I think it's safe to say that the adventure designed to be a TPK will be few and far between nowadays, if at all.
Perhaps more precisely: The ToH/"deadlier style" (with a strong emphasis on logistics, heisting, and hirelings) was once hegemonic; if you wanted to play D&D, you had to play that, it was the only game in town. Relatively quickly, though, other styles started to percolate up, and that's where derogatory terms like "Monty Haul campaign" (amongst others) came from. Then Dragonlance showed you could have a legit LotR-like, full-fantasy-epic story as part of gameplay, and that got a good number of people very excited.

All of these styles have continued to contribute to the ongoing conversation that influences the currently-predominant style. "Ultra Violence" difficulty (as DOOM would put it) fell very hard out of fashion sometime in the late 80s or early 90s, only to get a huge shot in the arm from the OSR movement in the 00s. It's since retreated again, certainly not disappearing, but falling back to a niche position. The DL-influenced epic-adventure style has been augmented by heavy character-driven narrative and the lightest touch of "Nar"/"Story Now" gameplay interests, in part due to the influence of high-profile podcasts like The Adventure Zone and Critical Role (the latter especially so, where the player characters in IIRC the first campaign become straight-up chosen representatives of various deities working to defeat a cosmic-level threat.) I wouldn't be surprised if the rise of carefully-scripted network TV (pioneered by Babylon 5) is at least partially responsible for this.

There's still appetite for high challenge...as a sometimes food, a supplement to a more epic-tale-of-adventure diet. Getting a boss fight here or there that makes the players think of Dark Souls or Elden Ring--legitimately difficult but fair and solvable--is a wise move for many parties. Likewise, I find many folks really do appreciate well-made logistic challenges as an occasional refreshing change of pace, or as the connective tissue between more "zoomed in" exploration/adventure/roleplay/combat. Of course, the "well-made" is often a sticking point, but nonetheless it's still there. It's just not the bread-and-butter anymore.
 

Schmoe

Adventurer
There's still appetite for high challenge...as a sometimes food, a supplement to a more epic-tale-of-adventure diet. Getting a boss fight here or there that makes the players think of Dark Souls or Elden Ring--legitimately difficult but fair and solvable--is a wise move for many parties. Likewise, I find many folks really do appreciate well-made logistic challenges as an occasional refreshing change of pace, or as the connective tissue between more "zoomed in" exploration/adventure/roleplay/combat. Of course, the "well-made" is often a sticking point, but nonetheless it's still there. It's just not the bread-and-butter anymore.
Definitely! And the 1-shot format makes it much easier to experiment with, because by definition of the 1-shot, there's no expectation of long-term investment in a character. That being said, a death-trap puzzle dungeon appeals to an even more restricted audience. The players who enjoy that are generally those with a lot of patience who enjoy puzzling over things. While you may have one or even two of those in any given group, it's rare to have a full group of people like that, which is why puzzles and traps should usually be just a minor part of adventure composition, not the full body.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Since I find most attritional gameplay pretty boring, regardless of which side of the screen I'm sitting on, I don't really use attrition traps.

I do use puzzle traps, but I also use what I would call "environmental" traps/hazards. That is, traps and hazards which aren't really encounters in their own right, but which complicate the process of doing other things. They aren't there to sap resources--they're there to induce critical thinking. "Okay, we need to get the statue out of that room...but there's a pit trap halfway down the only hallway out. How do we get it out of there?" That sort of thing. The trap might end up consuming resources, for sure, but it's not there in order to consume resources. It's there to enrich the process of interacting with the world.

When I use such things, I try very hard to both (a) make them very natural, so it truly makes sense that that thing would be there, and (b) ensure that they feel "fair," in the sense that it's not a bottomless pit trap, it's not a Sphere of Annihilation inside the mouth, etc., but rather an understandable and learnable thing that the players can then engage with and, potentially, even exploit for their own benefit. (My players always get very happy when they can do that!)

That "fair play," not in the sense of some mathematical formula (those are useful for other things), but in the sense of setting down what is and isn't true and sticking to it even if that "breaks" something I intended to do--that's a big part of DMing for me. It's also a big part of why I have a pretty dim view of the DMing style that mocks the concept of fairness, balance, etc. "Screw the rules, I have the power to do what I want" is a bullet-train (or perhaps a bulette train?) to arbitrary and capricious gameplay, and I emphatically never, ever want to be that kind of DM.
I too find fairness very important as a DM, but ... ultimately I see my power as DM as pretty high. If I honestly and fairly feel that the game "should" work this way, and I think it's important, I will run the game the way I want.

In another thread, I just realize my campaign already has 12 house rules...
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I too find fairness very important as a DM, but ... ultimately I see my power as DM as pretty high. If I honestly and fairly feel that the game "should" work this way, and I think it's important, I will run the game the way I want.

In another thread, I just realize my campaign already has 12 house rules...
I suppose it depends on what "the way I want" means, on how serious a limit "honestly and fairly" is. Because I find that, well, with great power comes great responsibility, but a lot of DMs who claim such absolute power are reluctant to view it as such a serious responsibility. Hence all the "my way or the highway" stuff that has become such a refrain in this glorious age of "DM Empowerment."

House rules can be whatever, that isn't really my concern. When you hold all the cards and can change the rules at any time, there's kind of not really a game anymore. There have to be rules that constrain the behavior of the rules-maker, or else it's really just "whatever I say, right in this moment, is what is. Hope it doesn't change in the next moment if I really feel like it should."

To be very clear, I'm not saying this applies to you. You care about fairness by your own admission. I'm just...well, pretty skeptical when some random person makes rather strident claims of power and then expects me to be happy as a claim with platitudes and "don't you trust me?"
 
Last edited:

Spinning off from another thread because I think it deserves its own topic:

What are traps for -- specifically, traps in the dungeon? Why are they there from a gameplay standpoint? What play purpose do they serve? And given all that, how do you implement them?

For me, there are 2 kinds of traps: attrition traps, and puzzle traps. Attrition traps are things like spiked pits and poison needles and crossbows behind the door. They are there for the same reason "easy" fights are there: to whittle down the resources of the PCs so the player shave to make meaningful choices about how much farther to push to reach their goal or collect some treasure or whatever. And while I try and make sure these sorts of traps make sense in the context of the dungeon at hand, I don't overly worry about "why haven't the wandering monsters tripped this yet?"

Puzzle traps are full encounters, with multiple stages of both danger and disarming: the room slowly filling with poison gas after the doors lock, the descending spiked ceiling with no apparent way out, the room with oscillating reverse gravity and arcing lightning bolts, etc... These usually occur in weird places with a funhouse quality and I either do not worry about how they got there, or I come up with some completely bonkers justification.

What purpose do traps serve in your games? How do you implement them? How do you feel about traps as a player?
I would suggest traps exist primarily to see just how insane of a solution the players can come up with to them.

People can talk about narratives and immersion and so on, but mostly traps are there to create Taskmaster (the show) style insanity as the players completely misunderstand how they operate, and create bananas solutions, which really just is a huge part of what makes D&D fun.

This is why all these attempts in 3/4/5E to "mechanical-ize" traps and the DCs and so on associated with them are so boneheaded. That's not what it's about. No-one wants the trap solved by the Rogue rolling a check. They want the trap solved by the Barbarian shotputting a severed head onto the pressure plate, or a halfling climbing up on top of the greased boulder to sever the rope holding it in place without a single thought as to what might happen next!

Just me?
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I would suggest traps exist primarily to see just how insane of a solution the players can come up with to them.

People can talk about narratives and immersion and so on, but mostly traps are there to create Taskmaster (the show) style insanity as the players completely misunderstand how they operate, and create bananas solutions, which really just is a huge part of what makes D&D fun.

This is why all these attempts in 3/4/5E to "mechanical-ize" traps and the DCs and so on associated with them are so boneheaded. That's not what it's about. No-one wants the trap solved by the Rogue rolling a check. They want the trap solved by the Barbarian shotputting a severed head onto the pressure plate, or a halfling climbing up on top of the greased boulder to sever the rope holding it in place without a single thought as to what might happen next!

Just me?
I doubt it's just you, but as I noted above, I still see value in traps solved via rolls, when those rolls are integrated into a more dynamic or interesting environment. Combat is obviously one of those areas. Skill Challenges were another--traps could act as distractions or impediments on the road to achieving success.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I too find fairness very important as a DM, but ... ultimately I see my power as DM as pretty high. If I honestly and fairly feel that the game "should" work this way, and I think it's important, I will run the game the way I want.

In another thread, I just realize my campaign already has 12 house rules...
12, is that all? ;)
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top