10 Tips to Avoid Terrible Traps in Dungeons & Dragons
Building traps in Dungeons & Dragons can be such a fun and rewarding experience. Whether it's the expression on a player's face when their character succumbs to the trapped chest's poison. Or when they successfully solve a complex puzzle to disable a trap that would have likely slain their favorite character. Regardless of the fun to be had, if the Dungeon Master doesn't design the trap correctly, then it may not be fun at all. Below are 10 tips on what traps to avoid altogether. Though, technically, adventurers probably want to avoid them all.
How to Build Traps in Dungeons & Dragons that are fun
You can start by avoiding these 10 types of traps in your games.
10: Traps Without a Cause
When designing or adding traps to your D&D game, make sure that it has a purpose. Traps should guard or protect something or assist their allies in combat. Traps that have no apparent reason can not only be annoying but can be emersion-breaking.
9: Traps Out of Scope of the Creator
If there is a magical crossbow guarding a Worgs layer, there better be a damn good reason for it. Putting traps in place that doesn't reflect the type of designer that would build it makes it clear that you put it there just for the sake of having a trap there. It also gives the illusion that it was hastily tossed together without any real thought.
8: Too Many Traps in Expected Places.
If you constantly place traps on treasure chests, you can bet the players will likely throw the next chest they find overboard or down a ravine. This also applies to things like doors and statues. Mix up the locations to keep the characters and players on their toes. When using common objects, do it sparingly. We don’t need heroes being so paranoid that they check every door for traps.
7: Traps that Counter PC Planning.
A castle full of fire demons shouldn’t be full of ice traps. Players that plan for fire traps and take proper precautions should be rewarded for their planning by giving them what they expect. This brings a sense of joy to the players when they do make the extra effort to be prepared for upcoming dangers.
6: Traps in Unexpected Places.
It may seem realistic or effective but putting traps in mundane, surprising, or otherwise unremarkable areas, but placing them in places the players take for granted means they can’t do so anymore. Let's be honest, nobody wants to have to check under their bed every time they stay at an Inn for a night's respite. They could end up testing every location and slowing the pace of the game a lot.
5: Traps Designed to Defeat the Rogue.
If your players devote resources to defeating traps, don’t punish them by making traps more difficult to overcome. They will be a lot happier if their investment and choices have a meaningful impact. This is particularly of interest when it comes to the rogue as it is one of their core features. While building traps that they may need assistance with is fine, don't make one that they can't disarm. It's kinda their thing.
4: Traps that Make a PC Sit out of the Fight.
Try to avoid too many traps that lock down the player entirely, leaving them to do nothing.
Especially something that lasts the entire combat encounter. This just gets boring for them at what should be the most engaging part. Nobody wants to be stuck sitting watching others have fun. If you are gonna add a trap that does this. Consider making it a skill challenge the player can roll checks through to escape after a series of successes and engage their narrative when you do.
3: Traps without Countermeasures.
A trap without countermeasures is about as fun as fighting a monster that’s invincible.
Give the PCs multiple means of defeating a trap. The more details you include, or allow, the more the players will engage with the trap. An Arcana check to read some runes that reveal the trap's nature. A source of power or mechanic the rogue can pick or barbarian can break to name a few.
2: Traps that Don’t Give Experience.
Sometimes it can feel like a player didn’t earn experience for circumventing a trap with a clever idea or high roll. Sure they were lucky but to them, it feels like a great success! You should consider any trap overcome by the PCs just like any monster encounter. Sometimes they will defeat them cleverly and make them overly simple. That's ok. They still conquered the challenge and deserve a reward.
1: Deadly Traps.
It may seem like a more deadly trap is more fearsome, and it is, but a PC killed by a single trap instantly without any warning is about as fun as getting home from work and finding your house on fire. You can make them dangerous but don’t allow them to outright killed PCs. Now, this isn't to say you can't have traps like this. It's just important to make sure that the PCs are aware of just how deadly the threat is, and give them opportunities to survive. Instead of a save or die style, consider a severe disease, poison, or curse that will kill them over a length of time if they don't get treatment or some special material to remove it. This can easily allow other PCs to shine with abilities and spells that may not see much use, such as Detect Poison and Disease or Remove Curse.
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