Friday 17 August 2018

34 Good Traps

My measure of a good trap:

  • At least one part of it is immediately visible. 
  • It allows interaction and investigation.
  • it has impactful consequences for the victim. 

  • I've gone on before about the three pillars of running a good game (Information, Choice, Consequences) and you'll notice they match up with these three points.

    In short, your trap should have room for interesting interaction between "oh, a trap!" and "I'm dead". The trap doesn't have to announce itself immediately, it can even "trap" the players before announcing itself as long as there's still room for interaction beyond that.

    You can break the rules if it's connected to the theme of your specific scenario. Like your Tomb of Horrors style deathtrap dungeon might be full of hidden traps that don't announce themselves, but you're breaking that rule as a specific exception for this particular dungeon. If you're going to do this, make sure the payoff is worth breaking the rule for.

    Context is also important. You don't just stick a trap in a corridor and call it a day. Connect the trap to its location, most typically a passageway to somewhere desirable, a piece of treasure, or link it in with a monster. You wouldn't just drop a monster into an empty room, so give trap placement the same level of consideration.

    I blur the line between Puzzles and Traps a lot, but here I'm sticking to things that are placed deliberately to impair intruders, with nasty consequences.

    So here are 34 good, simple traps. Some classics that meet the benchmark, some new stuff I just made up, some lodged in my brain but originally stolen. 

    1. Open pit onto deadly spikes. Both sides of the pit are sloped into it and greased up.
    2. Concealed pit into piranha-filled water.
    3. Metal sword audibly humming, hooked up to electric charge.
    4. Green Devil Face with gaping mouth. Anything going into the mouth is annihilated. 
    5. A fishing rod propped up and cast into a lake. The rod is covered in fast-acting glue and tension on the line triggers a springboard beneath the victim, casting them into the lake.
    6. A column of light. When a being enters they are frozen, and an evil duplicate of them is conjured. The victim is only freed when the duplicate is killed.
    7. Walls dotted with arrow-slots. Any movement in front of them fires the arrow, but each hole only has one arrow.
    8. Upside-down spiked pit on the ceiling. Gravity is reversed under the pit. 
    9. Clusters of bright orange fungus growing on one or more corpses. Any disturbance triggers a deadly spore explosion. 
    10. Glass vials of green slime hung from a ceiling, a guard with a crossbow watching from behind a barricade.
    11. Two panes of glass blocking passage, filled with deadly bugs. 
    12. Shimmering, thick air that slows all movement down to a quarter of normal. Guards with missile weapons waiting around the corner.
    13. Glossy, friction-less floor and spiked walls.
    14. A metal room filled with crushed remains, visible moving parts to floor, and a sealed door leading forward. Two buttons. One opens the door, the other seals all doors and commences the crushing process.
    15. A peephole blocked up with glass fragments. Breaking the fragments releases a toxic gas.
    16. Giant chomping blade that must be passed through to progress. Visible pressure plate on either side. Blades are triggered when a pressure plate is released, unless the other plate is also depressed. Going slow poses no risk. 
    17. Stuck door with a gold snake-head handle. The handle will bite and poison anybody putting their hand near, unless they slip a coin into its mouth, allowing safe passage through the door.
    18. Disguised springboard, launching the victim straight up into the air. There is a hanging bar they can grab to avoid the fall, but weight on the bar triggers the release of giant spiders onto it, and rained down onto anyone below.
    19. Room dusted with a deadly white powder. Any rapid movement disturbs the powder, sending it into the air and then the lungs of anybody breathing nearby. Hidden pressure plate in the center of the room triggers a loud siren, alerting any nearby threats.
    20. Locked door, key visible in a stinky fountain. The liquid is fast-acting acid, the key made from a special resistant ceramic.
    21. Rope bridge primed to split in the middle when the majority of the crossing weight has passed the mid-point. The characters can grab their half of the bridge and climb back up easily enough.
    22. Damp, underwater tunnel with glowing treasure at a visible dead end. A pressure plate halfway through triggers flooding of the tunnel. A normal human could get back to the tunnel exit with breath to spare, but not if they try to grab the treasure first. 
    23. Two doors in sequence. First sprays anybody passing through with highly flammable liquid. Second spits out a flash of flame, harmless on its own but enough to ignite the liquid.
    24. Sloped walkway in a freezing cold room. Pressure plate halfway up releases a flood of water down the slope, freezing near instantly. 
    25. Haunted pots, audible screaming within, placed on wobbly plinths on an uneven floor. Any sort of weight on the floor is sure to release at least one angry wraith.
    26. Pool of lava, a metal idol partially submerged in the center. It's glowing hot, but valuable.
    27. Big metal skull with a gem in its open, toothy mouth. Obviously it bites anything put inside.
    28. Quicksand, just like in cartoons. 
    29. Giant spider lair, huge boulders suspended in the highest webs. Too much disturbance might release a boulder, fire will definitely release them all.
    30. Bear trap.
    31. Sealed door with two identical handles on the adjacent wall. One releases snakes from above, the other opens the door. 
    32. Hidden jet spraying you with disgusting smelling liquid. Not harmful in itself, but might attract scent-based creatures or warn inhabitants that you've been poking around where you shouldn't have.
    33. Pressure plate triggers part of the floor to move down, slowly transporting the victim into the now-visible lair of a horrible monster. 
    34. Giant cauldron filled with treasure. Any weight added to the cauldron causes the lid to slam shut and a fire to spark to life underneath it.


    1. This is great - and terrifically useful. Traps are always the hardest thing to come up with at short notice, I find - much more so than NPCs or monster encounters.

    2. Good list. Isn't the pair of handles, one releasing snakes, from Link to the Past?

      1. Yep! I still remember dying to that on my first time playing the game.

    3. Superb list. How would you announce #2?

      1. A chomping, splashing sound coming from beneath the floor.

      2. Sound of moving water works, but here I was emphasizing that a trap can still be fun even if it triggers you before it "announces" itself. The key is in finding the decision point.

        In this case:
        1: You plunge into the water, there are piranhas in here.
        2: NOW you have a decision point to deal with before any actual harm has happened to you.
        3: Did you get out of the pit or subdue the piranhas somehow? If not, get bit.

        If the same pit contained just spikes then there's no decision between falling into it and taking damage, so that's a bad trap.

      3. Excellent explanation. That clarified the whole post for me.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. A lot of these traps are surprises that aren't telegraphed. I think a good trap should be telegraphed