View Full Version : DM Help: Traps and Terrain? (Arabian Knights stay out)

2007-08-13, 11:23 AM
I'm probably not going to use the results of anything that I get from this thread anywhere on these boards, but it doesn't hurt to be careful.

I'm actually planning on using suggestions for a game at Alfred University, so if you're one of my players there by some strange chance, you can just stay away too.

Now then.

I really wish WOTC had put these (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/ab/20061103a) 6 'adventure builder' articles in a less hidden spot, because they're very useful, I find. The article linked there is about traps, and how to make them more than just a device to punish players with attrition and slow down gameplay as they check every door for contact poison on the doorknobs, and check every square inch of floor for explosive traps.

As a DM, I've been notoriously lax about traps - I rarely use them, if ever, and I'd like to start changing that. However, I'd like to do so without installing a mentality of absurd paranoia in my players.

The idea that I am contemplating using for a campaign starter ( 5-6 4th level characters; hopefully getting them halfway to 5th level) is of a bandit camp occupied mostly by a mix of gnolls and kobolds in a desert/mountainous setting, with slight influences of the old Prince of Persia games.

What I am looking for is suggestions or answers to three questions.

1) My current idea for this 'bandit camp' is that they all live in a cave. I'd like something more original, and I already have a 'ruined fort' as a plot line down the road, so I'd like to not be too repetitive. 'Mining camp turned enemy base' is one variant I've already thought of, but I'd appreciate extra input.

Ideally, the dungeon would provide a not entirely linear pathway, but also constrain players from finding the 'boss' too soon.

2) How do I use the 'trapmaster' reputation of both Gnolls and Kobolds in a creative way, without making things too absurd?

Ideas I already have:

Kobolds who fire crossbows/use alchemy from behind cover, then escape through cracks too small for Medium creatures.

Kobolds who retreat over a covered pit which collapses if more than 100# of pressure is applied.

Lanterns (natural gas, maybe?) that may be doused with a switch, so Gnolls and Kobolds can use their darkvision to their advantage.

In all of these situations, traps and/or tactics come into play, but none of them are of the 'ha ha, you stepped on a pressure plate walking down the corridor, now roll reflex to dodge falling rocks' variety. I might throw in a few trapped chests, but the point is to put enemy-designed traps only in situations where they make sense. Why trap a corridor that you have to walk down three times a day?

In any case, suggestions are welcome.

3) What would be a good 'trap' encounter? Ideally, this would make sense from an in-game perspective, give the rogue a chance to shine, and also have an alternate way out.

In contrast to encounters in 2), this encounter ideally would be a naturally occurring obstacle, or a fixture of the dungeon not designed specifically just to be a trap by the inhabitants.

AD&D example: In the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, you could get lured into a room which locked on you, then started filling with sand. There were (if I remember correctly) two ways to escape: either you managed to find the switch to open the door, or you just chopped your way through (with some luck). I'm considering a variant of this, as the players are in a desert, but I would love to hear other ideas.


2007-08-13, 11:34 AM
Think about what would make sense to trap. Obviously if you are going to defend your house you don't put the pressure plate in the middle of your kitchen because everyone who is supposed to be in the house spends alot of time there. You might trap certain entrances to make sure that rarely used entrances aren't used by people you don't want in. You might trap your big screen tv, because its valuable and noone has any business moving it.

To make traps useful, use them to control direction and pacing. They shouldn't be strewn about like an insane person with a bag of flower petals...unless you are dealing with an insane trapmaker...

2007-08-13, 01:00 PM
Granted. That's the most basic level of this conundrum, though: Certainly the kobold chieftain's escape route should have a tripwire set at about chest level on an elf, just over his doglike head. That's common sense. Probably the trap should be a rockfall, to keep unwanted guests out one way and to keep people from following quickly the other.

On a more in-depth level, which traps could be used without being too cheesy? One can argue whether a giant boulder is a joke or a homage, but I'm looking for suggestions on creative traps, especially ones with minimal to no magical interference. Magic traps I'm saving for a later dungeon - they don't make any sense here.

Are there any particularly cool or creative traps any of you have used as DMs or encountered as players? Items from one book or another that really struck you as "ooo, that's mean" without being "now that's just not fair?"

Creative dungeon design ideas would be nice. A room with an ore processing conveyor belt sturdy enough to give an elevation bonus, for example? Unusual dungeon elements that just happen to provide cover for enemies (besides 'they turned the table on its side!) Things to make the players think harder than "I run up and hit the guy!"

2007-08-13, 01:37 PM
Tilting floor at xxx lbs as the pcs trip it the first time the kobolds turn and wedge their side with a table or something sturdy. (Envisioning a tilting floor that tilts on one side and has floor underneath the other half so it tilts one way.) They can use it as cover and if the pcs advance they still can fall victim to the trap. Any pcs attempting to climb out are vulnerable to the kobolds' crossbows...

Tilting floor (again) this time when it tilts it locks into place and either prevents further progression or it blocks off the escape route.

Alarm traps are good for introducing traps. There is nothing more embarrasing than for the rogue to be laying down on his job and get caught with trap that does nothing more than say "Hey BBEG we're here."

2007-08-13, 01:45 PM
Agreed, I enjoy traps that don't do anything besides dropping a few Thunderstones on the party - there might not be any damage, but it's a good way for monsters to get advance warning.

I may use that tilting floor idea, actually. Wouldn't have to do anything besides trip the player, but suddenly the kobolds have cover - or gnolls, maybe. This strikes me as an attack which goes well with Longspears, and Kobolds... don't. Unless they had alchemist's fire, and it opened into a pit.

2007-08-13, 01:49 PM
Well, in regards of "sneaky tactics" I was once in a game where the opponents (goblins or hobgoblins, as I recall) had installed something similar to a moveable wooden wall (with dampened hide to prevent it from being easily set on fire) on a mine cart. It completely blocked the straight corridor, and they'd cut arrow slits and spear slots through it so that they could shoot or poke at us from behind cover.

Take that idea, and then have them slowly "retreat" the wall as the PCs press forward with their "superior strength", leaving behind caltrops, oil that can be fired once past the wall, and other sundry nastiness, only to suddenly stop just past size-Small concealed doors that have a dozen or so opponents ready to flank with shields and longspears. Then the PCs can't go forward, they're flanked to both sides, and retreating becomes difficult given the burning oil and caltrops behind them...

If you're kobold-size, you gotta be cunning. *evil grin*

2007-08-13, 01:58 PM
Oooh. Evil. Kobolds are mean. That would be the perfect sort of 'chokepoint' encounter that would keep the players from getting to the boss too soon!

If we're going on a mining theme, I could have ... a smelting forge built on top of some sort of mine. Coal, maybe? That gives us potential for a bunch of mechanical type traps, and then some mean tunnel-type encounters below, without just saying 'the monsters live in a cave.'

More suggestions?

2007-08-13, 01:59 PM
Pit traps are also a great place for off flavor non-intelligent monsters.

Sometimes I use animated objects as traps. If you can flavor it right, there is nothing quite like a trap that just keeps attacking. Write it off as a set of different pressure plates or even some kind of marionnette object where a kobold watches through an arrow slit and another runs a sinister device from under the floor with levers and knobs that cause blades to whirl and hammers to smash.

Well with the coal mine idea. You might concider alot of fire. You have to potential for all kinds of poisonous gas traps and explosive gas traps. The obvious would be cave in type traps and my previous suggestions for pit traps. Smelted metal could be all sorts of fun too.

2007-08-13, 02:10 PM
The creative traps I've used are generally magic-based. A single illusion spell can be nasty (make the pit trap look like it's half its actual width, so someone tries to jump across and ends up jumping in). Bigby's Forceful Hand is also a barrel of laughs under the right circumstances.

As far as magic-free traps, perhaps a pair of adjacent pit traps with a thin wall in betwen them: The party finds/trips the first one (especially if you make it a lower Search DC), tries to cross it, ends up falling down the pit on the far side. Careful realistic painting could simulate some types of illusion, though admittedly the painting would be easier to spot. One example of a trap I actually used, that could be done either magically or by painting, with different DCs:

The party opens a door and nearly steps in the spiked pit on the other side, which starts just inside the door and goes all the way across the passage. Ahead, they see a passage stretching out into the darkness. Because the fullplate-wearing cleric doesn't feel like jumping, they cut one of the doors down to use as a bridge. When they try to lay the door across the pit, it hits something on the far side and falls into the pit. What happened?

The pit was real. The corridor on the other side was not. The far side of the pit extended all the way to the ceiling. Had someone tried to jump the pit, they would have smacked facefirst into a wall, then fallen down the pit. Hooray for trapped dead-ends :smallwink:

2007-08-13, 02:17 PM
Speaking of barrels...a barrel of phosphorous might make for a fun trap. Something like the fuel barrels you see in fps games. Or even something a bit less volatile with some kind of mechanism for striking it with a ranged touch attack... Even chain it together. A ranged touch attack explodes a barrel and that explosion triggers a collapsing ceiling trap which may in turn force them to hurry into a room without giving them time to properly check for the pit trap...

2007-08-13, 02:24 PM
Now, I am trying to strike a balance between "advantageously trapped" and "son-of-a-deathtrap" here. I'd rather have clever traps that don't do much damage but which give the underpowered defenders a tactical advantage to excessively cruel deathtraps.

Huge pits of exploding barrels which cause the ceiling to fall, while funny as all heck, would probably cause the players to be a little paranoid.

In fact, if the smelting thing is built on a mine (or over a natural cave system), it's not gonna be a coal mine. Last thing I need is for all my industrious little kobolds to get blacklung, and most people weren't using coal as a superfuel for advanced smelting and such until the 17th century, so it wouldn't really fit too well as a period piece. Er... well, maybe. Coal could be fun too.

Can anybody think of a good trick for a bellows? I can totally see a cannibalized bellows being used for, mmm, something. I'm not really sure what.

I do like the idea of a low-level kobold sorcerer with Silent Image and Expeditious Retreat as his first level spells zipping from place to place in order to hamper the players.

2007-08-13, 02:26 PM
Sorry for the double-post, but also on that note, anybody got ideas for terrain features which would be good for the players? A drain, which if plugged, will fill the corridors with enough water to hamper Kobold movement but not human (in particular), maybe?

Citizen Joe
2007-08-13, 02:35 PM
Bandit camps would have trip wires and snares, or even something as simple as an alarm spell. Bandits need to be able to drop everything and bug out if the law finds them, thus they can't invest too much money into traps. Also, they are often more concerned about animals wandering in (possibly triggering traps) so an expensive one off trap is a bad idea.

Also, try using traps to trigger animal guardians. While not really a trap, a sand slide could send PC's into a scorpion pit or vipers.

Complex, elaborate and expensive traps are usually reserved for tombs that do not have living guardians. They can justify the cost of the traps because they are protecting the body of their king for all eternity.

The kobolds with crossbows and alchemy are actually more of a battlefield control trap. The 'trap' merely gives one side a distinct advantage over the other. Perhaps doing as much as preventing movement. Gatehouses with two drop down gates hold people in a killzone while arrows and flaming oil rain down from murder holes.

2007-08-13, 03:03 PM
Right, I'm not just looking for Traps, but for Terrain as well.

Interesting fighting spaces (uneven flooring, mazelike catacombs for ambushes, places with dangerous pits, places with natural barricades and/or height differences) are simply more fun than the average boring 20' by 20' room with an orc guarding a treasure chest, and I'd rather have more of the former rather than less.

2007-08-13, 03:07 PM
You could go for all the traditional old traps from real-world wilderness settings. Things like echoing holes down which you can shout to make your voice seem booming and terrifying when actually you are merely a simple kobold, or a rolling log/minecart that can be shoved down a narrow passageway to knock the players down.

All in all, you will probably have more fun with traps that aren't so much traps as the opening of an ambush encounter. The kobolds can have all sorts of manoeuvrability bonuses within the tunnels, especially if you use the variant from Races of the Dragon that lets them act as tiny when it's convenient for them to squeeze through tunnels that are too small even for the party's halfling.

Bonuses to the party is anything that denies the kobolds the advantage of tight spaces, or makes being small a disadvantage, so if they can find a big clear cavern they're suddenly winning. Difficult terrain from fallen rocks might slow them, as would burning out all their sneaky little bolt holes. Destroying stairs up to another level might force kobolds to make a climb check where humans would be able to just pull themselves up.

2007-08-13, 03:51 PM
I could see canibalized bellows as being part of a wall spikes trap. Maybe allow a str check or a reflex save against the trap.

As for terrain it would be an interesting fight to fight over a pit of melted metal. The equipment necessary to smelt ore could also give you opportunites for fighting on ropes swashbuckler style. Use rope to send your enemies falling to the ground. In the cavern system, battle on the slick rocks of a running underground creek. Maybe with some natural falls in the stream that you would have to be careful about.

2007-08-13, 05:55 PM
There's also the big heavy swinging weight trap. Those seem like they'd be cheap and easy to set up in a cave.

2007-08-13, 06:30 PM
Smouldering coals in one doorway, with a handholds above it, so with dex checks or somesuch a kobold or small creature can swing through it and not be worse then slightly warmed. A larger creature? out come the bellows and it's not just coals anymore, but leaping flame!

Dealing with coal, one of my old DMs hit us with a trap that even HE didn't expect, when we found a coal storage room, and the rogue slid down the chute to check it out....dagger-like spikes sticking out to help sift the coal, and slash anyone who slides down (on purpose, or accidentally there) then at the bottom, the ladder broke with too much weight (he had a huge pack of gear and a decent strength score) and there was an issue getting him up until he dug out a half-used wand of levitate.

2007-08-15, 01:28 PM
I just was leafing through Dungeonscape - how do other people think of that book?

In any case, the point I was going to make was that Dungeonscape has a few ideas about 'encounter traps' that have things such as levers which can be lifted by strength checks, buttons to be pressed simultaneously... basically giving everybody something to do.

Any suggestions on that score?

2007-08-15, 01:33 PM
For multi adventurer puzzles it really helps to know the group. Not even all of it has to be tied to the puzzle. One guy may just need to hold the door shut while the others work feverishly to activate the puzzle... Think about what class skills/ability scores you can stimulate a puzzle with. The ranger may need to make an arrow shot down a narrow tube as part of the puzzle, where the wizard may need to grease some mechanism while the cleric must cast a strength buff to pull free a plate.

2007-08-15, 01:41 PM
As far as I know, my group will be Warblade, Swordsage, Dragonfire Adept, Barbarian/Druid, and a Beguiler.

Fax Celestis
2007-08-15, 01:59 PM
Encounter Traps are awesomesauce atop totally rockin' road ice cream, with sexiness sprinkles and a cherry of the apocalypse.

One that I've experimented with is......a hallway with nodes on either side, about one every five feet for fifty feet. At the end of the hall, there's a pair of large fans. The fans, activated by a sensor above them that sees with a see invisibility spell, cut a character's movement speeds to 25% normal.

In conjunction with the activation of the fans, the nodes charge for 1d3 rounds before beginning their effect: randomly shooting arcs of electricity through them. Each round, on the trap's initiative count, roll 2d10. Each die corresponds to a node: one on one side, one on the other. The electricity sparks between the two nodes rolled, dealing electrical damage accordingly, with a Reflex save for half.

Scale DCs accordingly to the Encounter Traps table. Each node can be deactivated, the fans can be deactivated or destroyed, and blocking the sensor foils the trap.

Images in action:



2007-08-15, 02:07 PM
In mines, deep areas etc this one was a great one I once found in a treasure room where the PC are going out of their way to find every nook and crany loot might be stashed in and after they killed off the 'boss' and believe it is safe:

"DM: The room is covered with piles of loot the bandits stole. There are three chests along the back wall and above you see a small ladder leading to metal, circular door set into the roof of the passageway."
"Party - Get the rogue to check it all over as we pickup the heavy loot"
"Rogue - I check the chests and then the circular door on the roof for traps"
"DM - you find no traps. The handle of the ceiling door is in the center of the circular door and a single hinge is on the southern rim opening downwards."
"Rogue - I open it"

Water now rushes inwards. Lots and Lots of water. Players tend to stock up on rings of resistance and the like for traps, but what armour wearing cleric or gear heavy skillmonkey is ready to swim for their lives is a dungeon?

Afterwards my party got to return to the water filled tunnels to recover our loot, and in some cases, armour and weapons. It was a completely new aqautic adventure requiring finding pockets of air and fighting off newly deposited aquatic monsters. Then on returning to the surface we found the nearby lake was mostly drained and sunken ships were exposed (with skeleton undead crew of course).

A great trap, fueled by PC greed, and advanced the plot to new adventures!

Inyssius Tor
2007-08-15, 06:37 PM
Wow, that is an awesome idea. I think I will have to yoink that now.

2007-08-15, 06:48 PM

That is a very fine idea indeed. What a neat group of consequential activities.

2007-08-15, 07:44 PM
I like that too!

Unfortunately, I'm currently running a desert campaign. However, I might use it in an aquatic campaign I'm planning on running later!