D&D General What Are Traps For?

Distracted DM

Distracted DM
Supporter
Forgive me if someone pointed this out already, but I assume that they're there because of tradition- because they've been there since the beginning, and we consider them integral to the experience. Everything that we've done since has been to make them fun, justify their presence, etc. And they can certainly spice up encounters, or prove the area is dangerous, or whittle down the heroes' resources/numbers etc.

But the title question, what are they for? Why are they there? I assume that they're there because they were in the media that inspired D&D- so of course they were included in the experience that tried to bring those stories to life.
 

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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.
It is a huge factor. Many gamers play video games and then think all games must be like video games.

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.)
That's a bit odd: you have met bad DMs but never a bad player......
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.)
It's very common. It's kind of a basic human thing that "people don't care".

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 did not use that word either...it was my AI.....

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.
Ok, so you live in an area of all good people. Well, outside that area are lots of bad DMs and players.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
It is a huge factor. Many gamers play video games and then think all games must be like video games.
And I say it's mostly irrelevant--and have never seen a player act like a tabletop game should work precisely like any video game. Even tabletop games based on video games!

That's a bit odd: you have met bad DMs but never a bad player......
shrug It is my experience. Perhaps now you better understand why I am so skeptical of "DM empowerment" and claims of "absolute power" and the like. I've seen (though almost never played with) truly awful DMs. I have never played with nor run for anyone remotely like what you seem to think most players are.

These are people from all over the world (Australia, US, England, somewhere in South America, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Japan), from all walks of life, from hugely varying ages (early 20s to early 60s), etc., etc. Never, in all of that huge group, have I seen someone who acted like you think most players do.

Perhaps you should not be so quick to presume the worst of your players.

It's very common. It's kind of a basic human thing that "people don't care".
I find it is rather the reverse. Especially in tabletop stuff. Most people care pretty deeply about a lot of things, and nerds in particular care a LOT about stuff.

I did not use that word either...it was my AI.....
You're....using an AI? What?

Ok, so you live in an area of all good people. Well, outside that area are lots of bad DMs and players.
You keep doing this: You are assuming that your experience is the only correct one. Others are either wrong, or correct but only for a tiny, invisible fraction that doesn't apply outside of their little sheltered bubble.

This is not true. YOUR experience is the weird one. That's what I've tried to tell you, repeatedly. That's what multiple others have tried to tell you, repeatedly.

Most players want to participate. Most players want to care. They need to be shown that doing so is actually worth their time.

I think your presumption that most players don't care has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unless you coincidentally happen to run into people who think almost identically to you, you instantly presume the worst of them, and behave in ways to fight against or mitigate that presumed-worst behavior. But such mitigation tactics are precisely the sorts of things that tell a typical player not to care, and thus causing players to lose interest--but that then simply fuels your perception that most people don't care.

It really, truly, genuinely is not the case that most players truly do not care at all. Most players do care, at least a little, about many things, and often care a lot about particular things. Showing the players that their investment of time and energy will be rewarded with a fun experience is how you earn the player actually giving that investment of time and energy.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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?
1. Deterrence
2. Capture
3. Killing
4. Delaying

Metagame
1. to drain resources
 


Quickleaf

Legend
Another thing I like traps for is to split the party. If a tripwire causes a door to close or gate to fall, then time is needed to unlock it or force it open again. If a pit open and the fighter falls into it for a couple rounds, then the PCs are less than full strength. A rogue could deal with a time trap letting water into the room before people are underwater. This kind of thing.
Great answer. I love these kind of traps.

A trap-design maxim just occurred to me – For every problem a trap creates for the players, it needs to solve a problem for the GM.

I just realized this is one of the design precepts that I've been subconsciously trying to follow when I design traps. The idea is that traps often present challenges to the GM – How do I run a separated party? How do I make a containment trap interesting to the isolated player? How can I telegraph this high-damage trap in a way that gives a good hint without giving it away? How can I explain monster patrols moving through this dungeon with a trap right in the middle here?

Part of the trap design is weighing those GM-facing questions and trying to give an answer to smooth them over.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
asking this because it only really occured to me just now, how many people here are considering how traps are used on the battlefield? rather than just as a static obstacle you can (usually) take as long as you like on out of combat.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
asking this because it only really occured to me just now, how many people here are considering how traps are used on the battlefield? rather than just as a static obstacle you can (usually) take as long as you like on out of combat.
I haven't had much need for it, but I do appreciate the value of traps as terrain obstacles in combat.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That's actually a good point.

Traps in media aren't there to wear down or just straight kill characters, but to let the characters look awesome avoiding and disabling them.

But D&D's built a cultural identity specifically against this; one where there's some expectation to see the trap hurt ad kill the main character. See also, the thread where people are trying to find ways to justify there still being a chance to get tagged by a poison needle through a steel gauntlet.

Imagine if Indy got just pincushioned with poison arrows and falls down the pit. That's what D&D culturally expects to happen.
Indiana Jones took a bunch of damage from the boulder trap, but had enough hit points to survive. In the fiction he outran the trap he triggered. Hit point damage doesn't have to be an impact like being pin cushioned. If you trigger the trap instead of disarming it, you've taken damage. That poor other fellow, though, didn't have enough hit points and so he got pincushioned and was there for Indy to see.

Traps do make people look good in the fiction, but so do hit points and narration when the PC fails to find the trap and triggers it.
 

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