D&D General What Are Traps For?


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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.
That is not how puzzles or reality work. There is really only one way to put out a fire, and it is called water. Sure, some times you might be able to do the 'smother the fire' with something like dirt...but that is far less common. But really there are just four fire types, and four ways to put them out. There are not millions of ways.

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.
This is a true as any such minor common thing in the game. Bandits, giant rats, grumpy guards and so forth fill games. They are not made to be massive grant encounters....just little ones.
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.
I'd guess you don't have a copy of Grimtooths Traps from the Time Before Time. Or the 3.5E Dungeonscape book. Or any issues of Dungeon or Dragon?
That's actually a big part of why I find pure-attrition traps (and most other pure-attrition "challenges") so boring.
Well, man vs nature or man vs the inanimate is perfectly fine for drama, adventure and fun....even if it's not your cup of tea.
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.
Well, first you would note Old School traps are made for the Players NOT the characters. This is a big shift of the Point of View. I can't do a quick answer, a complex answer like this needs it's own thread.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
That is not how puzzles or reality work. There is really only one way to put out a fire, and it is called water.
Nope. You can starve it out; this is how many forest fires are fought: get ahead of the fire and cut a wide area with nothing to burn, the fire consumes all its fuel and dies. You can deprive it if oxygen; many buildings use halon for this purpose, and covering a flame in an airtight container can do this easily. You can halt the chemical reaction by catalyzing a different one or removing enough energy so it can't keep going; these are methods used by some hand-held fire extinguishers.

This is part of what I mean. Dousing a fire is an easy way to put out the fire. It's not the only way, especially in a world of magic.

Sure, some times you might be able to do the 'smother the fire' with something like dirt...but that is far less common. But really there are just four fire types, and four ways to put them out. There are not millions of ways.
One: you have shown there is one possible hazard situation with only a few functional effects that make that specific thing stop. This is not the same as saying every possible thing only has one or two specific actions which make it stop.

Further, you have neglected other options even in your own examples. Hence, I remain skeptical. There are more ways than you think, even for a specially-selected puzzle that cannot have tons of solutions. And, finally, how you get the material or tool to put out the fire is part of the solution. How do you put out a fire when you're inside an ancient pyramid, for instance? No water there.

This is a true as any such minor common thing in the game. Bandits, giant rats, grumpy guards and so forth fill games. They are not made to be massive grant encounters....just little ones.
Yes. And I'm saying that solving a dozen little problems that nickel and dime you to death don't interest me. None of the individual components requires meaningful thought or effort, so the collection taken together don't either.

This is why I prefer set-piece challenges and dynamic, evolving scenes. Stuff where an unwise choice in the first round actually leads, observably, to a negative consequence on the second or third round or the like. It's the difference between a full three-course meal and eating two dozen miscellaneous, unrelated hors d'oeuvres. Both will fill your belly, but the full meal will be much more satisfying.

I'd guess you don't have a copy of Grimtooths Traps from the Time Before Time. Or the 3.5E Dungeonscape book. Or any issues of Dungeon or Dragon?
Never heard of it, read it and don't remember anything like what you're talking about, and some from the 4e era that I saved from when I was a DDI subscriber.

Well, man vs nature or man vs the inanimate is perfectly fine for drama, adventure and fun....even if it's not your cup of tea.
I literally already said I do that though. I use traps within combat and traps as hazards or obstacles. I just don't use attrition traps, because I find them very boring regardless of whether I am a DM or a player.

Well, first you would note Old School traps are made for the Players NOT the characters. This is a big shift of the Point of View. I can't do a quick answer, a complex answer like this needs it's own thread.
Okay. I don't know why you thought I was talking about "for the characters," since I have repeatedly talked about creative thinking and problem-solving, which are actions only a living player can take, not the text on a page that we call a "character."
 

This is part of what I mean. Dousing a fire is an easy way to put out the fire. It's not the only way, especially in a world of magic.
Right, I never said there was just One Way. I said 'basically the way you put out a fire is with water'. If something catches on fire, you throw some water on it: this is very Basic. If your house caught on fire you could just let your whole house burn down and the fire will go out with nothing left to burn. Or you could build a huge air tight done around the house, suck all the air out, and put out the fire.

One: you have shown there is one possible hazard situation with only a few functional effects that make that specific thing stop. This is not the same as saying every possible thing only has one or two specific actions which make it stop.
Again, it's not about a trap or anything having Only One specific thing. It's that there are common, basic ways to do things. Sure can say there are a million ways to do something...but like nearly all of them are impractical or at least impossible for a person to do. If your hungry you eat some food....sure you Could, Theoretically Turn Back Time to a time when you were not hungry and not be hungry: but you can't turn back time.
Further, you have neglected other options even in your own examples. Hence, I remain skeptical. There are more ways than you think, even for a specially-selected puzzle that cannot have tons of solutions. And, finally, how you get the material or tool to put out the fire is part of the solution. How do you put out a fire when you're inside an ancient pyramid, for instance? No water there.
Right, at the most basic, talking about an individual in just plain clothing, there is nothing much they can do for anything. They only have a couple things they can do. Even if they were well equipped or in an area with a lot of things, there is still only so much they can do...depending on what they have. And this is all dependent on the intelligence of the person too.

And...well...to do your spin: So why do you say there is no water in an ancient pyramid? Do you think ancient pyramids are only found in dry water-less places?
Yes. And I'm saying that solving a dozen little problems that nickel and dime you to death don't interest me. None of the individual components requires meaningful thought or effort, so the collection taken together don't either.
Your really describing basic RPG play here: "players solve dozens of little problems".
This is why I prefer set-piece challenges and dynamic, evolving scenes. Stuff where an unwise choice in the first round actually leads, observably, to a negative consequence on the second or third round or the like. It's the difference between a full three-course meal and eating two dozen miscellaneous, unrelated hors d'oeuvres. Both will fill your belly, but the full meal will be much more satisfying.
This is just personal preference, of course.
Never heard of it, read it and don't remember anything like what you're talking about, and some from the 4e era that I saved from when I was a DDI subscriber.
Well, guess that would explain some things.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Right, I never said there was just One Way. I said 'basically the way you put out a fire is with water'. If something catches on fire, you throw some water on it: this is very Basic. If your house caught on fire you could just let your whole house burn down and the fire will go out with nothing left to burn. Or you could build a huge air tight done around the house, suck all the air out, and put out the fire.
I don't see how you didn't, which is exactly my point. There are other ways to put out even a small fire. Sometimes people can get really creative with that. I mean, for goodness' sake, you literally take me to task for such thinking in this very post.

Again, it's not about a trap or anything having Only One specific thing. It's that there are common, basic ways to do things. Sure can say there are a million ways to do something...but like nearly all of them are impractical or at least impossible for a person to do. If your hungry you eat some food....sure you Could, Theoretically Turn Back Time to a time when you were not hungry and not be hungry: but you can't turn back time.
And I'm telling you that "common, basic ways to do things" BECOME "Only One Specific Thing" way, way, way, way, way too often. As in almost all the time when people make attritional traps.

Inventing crappy gotcha examples like "sure you could turn back time!!!" is bad argumentation practice and I will not dignify it with a response beyond this sentence. It is not true that "nearly all" of these other things are impractical or impossible (also...impossible is much stronger than impractical, so "or at least impossible" is a bit confusing here.)

Right, at the most basic, talking about an individual in just plain clothing, there is nothing much they can do for anything. They only have a couple things they can do. Even if they were well equipped or in an area with a lot of things, there is still only so much they can do...depending on what they have. And this is all dependent on the intelligence of the person too.
Not at all. While MacGyver gets some flak for straining the bounds of logic, the old joke about solving every problem in the universe with some chewing gum and baling wire or the like, there is a shocking amount that a person with little more than the clothes on their back, the random stuff that happens to be in their environment, and a bit of skill can do. It is precisely this thinking--that "an individual in plain clothing can't do much"--which leads to traps designed to be solved in only one or two ways. And then that cashes out as one of two consequences almost every time this happens: either they just happen to have the way(s) it can be solved furnished by the environment, reducing the trap to little better than "insert tab A into hole B," or you just can't find the way(s) in the environment at all...making the trap insoluble.

And...well...to do your spin: So why do you say there is no water in an ancient pyramid? Do you think ancient pyramids are only found in dry water-less places?
Have you been inside most pyramid structures? They don't generally have water inside them, even when they're built in jungles. Stone tends to be fairly good at keeping water out. The only way water gets in is, y'know, the pyramid is broken and water got in that way. At which point you aren't talking about being inside a pyramid. You're talking about being in a wet place (like a jungle).

The example as given is straightforward. Actually inside an ancient pyramid, not "under the shattered awning of what was once a pyramid and is now exposed to the world," water is generally going to be quite scarce, unless you carry it inside.

Your really describing basic RPG play here: "players solve dozens of little problems".
Not at all. That's like saying that a chess game is made of hundreds of finger movements. You've removed too much important context.

At the scale you're talking about, attritional traps are tiny problems. As in, things that will almost guaranteed be forgotten between one session and the next if they were avoided. The only real effect they can possibly have is if you paid some cost (HP, resources, a hireling, whatever), and it's the cost that is memorable, not the trap itself. The cost could have been anything. Such traps are basically MacGuffins; it literally doesn't matter what shape they take, because the impact is essentially always the same (nothing, or a resource spent.)

This is just personal preference, of course.
When did I ever say otherwise?

Well, guess that would explain some things.
Such as? This frankly sounds like you're wanting to imply things without saying them outright.
 

I don't see how you didn't, which is exactly my point. There are other ways to put out even a small fire. Sometimes people can get really creative with that. I mean, for goodness' sake, you literally take me to task for such thinking in this very post.
I think we are on the same point here. Yes, there are many ways to do something. I think the difference is I say really practically speaking I see only a couple, and often only one way to do something. And you stay stuck on the theoretical many ways.

And I'm telling you that "common, basic ways to do things" BECOME "Only One Specific Thing" way, way, way, way, way too often. As in almost all the time when people make attritional traps.
I guess here your jumping to Bad, Lazy and Casual DMs.....and I would agree with you. But it is not any different then anything else in the game. And a lot of this comes from Video Gamers, as nearly all video games have such stuff: you can only open the red door with the red key....nothing else has been programed into the game to work.
Inventing crappy gotcha examples like "sure you could turn back time!!!" is bad argumentation practice and I will not dignify it with a response beyond this sentence. It is not true that "nearly all" of these other things are impractical or impossible (also...impossible is much stronger than impractical, so "or at least impossible" is a bit confusing here.)
And your example of removing all the air from a fire was not? How would a character do that? I'm sure there is no "Remove Air" spell in the 5E PH. And few other games have anything like that....unless, like in my game, it's added homebrew.

Not at all. While MacGyver gets some flak for straining the bounds of logic, the old joke about solving every problem in the universe with some chewing gum and baling wire or the like, there is a shocking amount that a person with little more than the clothes on their back, the random stuff that happens to be in their environment, and a bit of skill can do. It is precisely this thinking--that "an individual in plain clothing can't do much"--which leads to traps designed to be solved in only one or two ways. And then that cashes out as one of two consequences almost every time this happens: either they just happen to have the way(s) it can be solved furnished by the environment, reducing the trap to little better than "insert tab A into hole B," or you just can't find the way(s) in the environment at all...making the trap insoluble.
So, I'm a classic Macgyver fan and really do problem solving in real life. So I'm very much on the side of the Players must think of a way to do things for real, using what they have in the game world. But not every spot in the world is a tool shed. So, often, a character will need to carry around equipment to get things done.

But we see two very different sides.....you see the Bad Casual DM that says "hehe guys my trap is super hard, I wounder if you will find the ONE way out...ahahahahahah".

And I see the Bad Casual player that is like "a trap? whatever. How much damage? Can we fight something yet?''

And the difference that I have seen and met thousands of Bad Casual DMs, so I know they exist......but you have said you have never ever met even one such Bad Casual player.


Have you been inside most pyramid structures? They don't generally have water inside them, even when they're built in jungles. Stone tends to be fairly good at keeping water out. The only way water gets in is, y'know, the pyramid is broken and water got in that way. At which point you aren't talking about being inside a pyramid. You're talking about being in a wet place (like a jungle).
I have been in a couple. And I know water just has this way of getting places.

At the scale you're talking about, attritional traps are tiny problems. As in, things that will almost guaranteed be forgotten between one session and the next if they were avoided. The only real effect they can possibly have is if you paid some cost (HP, resources, a hireling, whatever), and it's the cost that is memorable, not the trap itself. The cost could have been anything. Such traps are basically MacGuffins; it literally doesn't matter what shape they take, because the impact is essentially always the same (nothing, or a resource spent.)
I agree the Casual Player will forget nearly everything between sessions.....this is after all one of their hallmarks: they don't care. Of course, good players that care will often remember things.....or, even better just take notes.
Such as? This frankly sounds like you're wanting to imply things without saying them outright.
Well, you have made it sound like your a newer gamer. You played a little 4E D&D then jumped to the "like D&D but with more Structure" games. And you have said you only "breezily" saw or played an Old School game. And guess you have never seen an RPG book or magazine made before like 2005?

So, when you say something happens way, way, way, way, way too often, I'd guess your talking like three times? But, like for the Video Bad Casual DM that only has one way to do things in any game.....well, I've seen that over 10,000+ so I know it's true. I saw it at least 200 times just over the weekend....
 


Retros_x

Explorer
IMO good traps are both, puzzle and attrition. But Puzzle is a bit off - challenge is the term I would use. Like it put a challenge in front of the players and they need to make decisions and possible spent resources to overcome the challenge. You know, like the rest of the game.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I guess here your jumping to Bad, Lazy and Casual DMs.....and I would agree with you. But it is not any different then anything else in the game. And a lot of this comes from Video Gamers, as nearly all video games have such stuff: you can only open the red door with the red key....nothing else has been programed into the game to work.
I really don't think video games have anything to do with it. Or, at the very least, they are far and away not the most important factor.

And your example of removing all the air from a fire was not? How would a character do that?
Cover it with a blanket. That's literally one of the ways to help put out a fire that's on a person specifically--quickly wrap them in a relatively non-flammable blanket (e.g. wool is almost completely flame-retardant.)

This really isn't that hard. You make it sound like it's some insane impossibility. It isn't. A little bit of basic knowledge and/or common sense.

So, I'm a classic Macgyver fan and really do problem solving in real life. So I'm very much on the side of the Players must think of a way to do things for real, using what they have in the game world. But not every spot in the world is a tool shed. So, often, a character will need to carry around equipment to get things done.
I never said it was. I said that creative re-use or re-interpretation of one's environment (aka doing the MacGuyver thing) is hugely useful. Even the clothes on one's back can be tools, in the right situation.

And the difference that I have seen and met thousands of Bad Casual DMs, so I know they exist......but you have said you have never ever met even one such Bad Casual player.
That's correct. I have yet to meet or interact with a single person who behaves this way as a player. I have met several people who would behave this way as a DM (and thus avoided any form of interacting with them as DMs.)

Further: It's not so cut-and-dried. As I said elsewhere, I've known DMs whose traps were not very good, but in pretty much every other way, they were quite good as DMs. That cannot make sense in your "every DM is either amazing or Bad Lazy Casual." Sometimes, a person can have certain skills and not others.

I have been in a couple. And I know water just has this way of getting places.
shrug Everything I've read of the still-intact pyramids at places like Tenochtitlan, Teotehuacan, and Chichen Itza says that water isn't exactly dripping from the roof, and certainly that a pool or stream of it is not going to be accessible if you could actually get inside. (Of course, most such places don't LET people inside, sometimes not even archaeologists, for a variety of reasons.)

I agree the Casual Player will forget nearly everything between sessions.....this is after all one of their hallmarks: they don't care. Of course, good players that care will often remember things.....or, even better just take notes.
And I have yet to see a person who genuinely, completely just does not care about the game they're playing. Never have I ever. I do have one player who is very, very new to this sort of thing, but even he does remember things and genuinely wants to contribute and remember. He just isn't very good at doing so (he's also forgetful about other things, so I'm fairly confident it has nothing to do with not caring about the game.)

Well, you have made it sound like your a newer gamer. You played a little 4E D&D then jumped to the "like D&D but with more Structure" games. And you have said you only "breezily" saw or played an Old School game. And guess you have never seen an RPG book or magazine made before like 2005?
Okay, now you're just being openly insulting. Don't presume to know what I've played, unless I've actually told you. Definitely don't presume that one or two things I've said means you now know my entire gaming history.

I've been playing TTRPGs since 3.0. I read a friend's 2e PHB (it was extremely confusing, particularly stuff like THAC0, so I just sort of disengaged from that.) I played multiple years of 3.X, 4e, and very close cousin games like PF1e (which is basically just 3.X with a new coat of paint) and 13th Age. I've also played multiple not-at-all D&D systems, like Shadowrun, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Savage Worlds, and GURPS. I even once played this one system called "Tavern Tales," but I don't think the campaign was a good fit for the group overall, folks initially were very interested but the game didn't last very long.

Further, I did not use the term "breezily." I have never used the term "breezily" anywhere on this forum, prior to this specific post. I have never even used the term "breezy" (before this post) except as part of quoted text from someone else. I played through a full multi-session (e.g. a couple months of weekly sessions) adventure of Labyrinth Lord, and a few sessions of another retroclone whose name escapes me now (not Tunnels & Trolls, I do remember that much, but it's been like...eight years since then?)

I'm not some dumb rube who's barely played anything at all.

So, when you say something happens way, way, way, way, way too often, I'd guess your talking like three times? But, like for the Video Bad Casual DM that only has one way to do things in any game.....well, I've seen that over 10,000+ so I know it's true. I saw it at least 200 times just over the weekend....
No. I'm saying I've seen it numerous times in DMs I actively avoided interacting with, and even a couple dozen times with DMs I did actually play with. None of them were "Video Bad Casual DMs." They just used traps poorly, in uninteresting ways, with either obvious and dull solutions, or no actual effort put into making them soluble, or (in just one case) actually intending them to be insoluble to try to block progress away from the intended path of the story. I haven't played with that DM again--he wasn't what I would call a bad DM, but he wasn't a good fit for my playstyle.
 
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