Monday, March 22, 2021

Awesome Trap Follow-up

I talked like I knew what I was talking about in the last post, and (in a twist that shocked no one) it turns out that exact situation came up in the game on Friday night. 

Setup: chest is a small room, chained to the walls - not to lock the chest but to keep it there. Bolts in the stonework, heavy chains with inscriptions (non-magical)  in ancient languages. Claw marks on the ceiling. 

These aren't exact quotas, but pretty close based on my quickly scribbled notes:

Player: "I want to open it but this is clearly a bad idea"

Player 2: "This is a trap ... but what is in there? omg. OPEN IT!"

Player 3: "Dude, dude, dude. Relax. We don't HAVE to open it. But we should open it."

Player 4: "Maybe it has a head in it?"

Player 5: "I get as far away as I can in the hall while encouraging someone else to open it. Don't we have hirelings for this kind of thing?"

Players 1&3: "I like my henchman - no way! You open it."

Player 2: "The Winter Queen isn't keeping the not-dead king's head in here. But what the fuck is she keeping in here?" 

Player 6: <chuckling quietly and grinning> "Consequences be damned - open it, Argento!"

The in-game tension from describing a weird thing got the players all amped up, which was great. The more they fucked around with it without opening it all the way increased the ominous sense of danger - because there was something terrible in there.

It was glorious. They opened it. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

How to Write an Awesome Trap

 This isn't about mechanics, this is about style.

Make it Obvious

If you pit traps hidden unless everyone has a 10' pole, then everyone will carry a 10' pole all the time. If you make door traps undetectable unless folks succeed at a roll, then every fucking dungeon door is searched for traps. "But that makes sense" is fine if we were running some sort of a simulation, but it is FUCKING BORING in real life gaming. I used to do it that way, then one day I came to my senses.

Make traps obvious. Or their effects obvious. Either show the players the trap or a big fucking clue. Got a chest covered with contact poison? Then tell them it is covered with something or throw some dead bodies (or rats) or whatever around the thing. Give the players something to latch on to. If they ignore this, it is at throw own peril.


"There are a few human skulls, cracked with age, littering the hallway." If they focus the light and look down the hall "you see some armor-clad skeletal bodies, headless, about 30' away". There is clearly a trap here - something that decapitates motherfuckers.

Don't Write a Solution 

Let the players come up with a solution. as a good GM, you need to determine if that would work, or how it would work. Just write the situation - the hallway has a bunch of blades that will chop of your head. Very Indiana Jones 3. 

Not writing a solution seems to imply that you don't need to write how it is triggered. Not true. But writing a trigger may imply a solution, but doesn't dictate there is only 1 solution.


  • Player: I'm going to run and dodge my way through'
  • GM: Give me a DEX Check. But failure isn't damage ... it is decapitation
  • Player: serpentine pattern and Naruto style ... LET'S GOOOOOO!

  • Player: I'm going to crawl slowly along the floor feeling for stones that may trigger these stupid blades
  • GM: the blade are not stupid they are awesome. it will take you 2d6+4 minutes to crawl that carefully.
  • Player: ok ... i'm going to use my chalk to mark stuff too
  • GM: great - you do it* and everyone else it only takes 1d6+2 minutes because of your marks

* You do it could and should likely be expanded into some tense role playing for fun, but was too long to write out for my example.

Make them Want to Mess With It

A trap just being a trap for no reason is as boring and lame as a trap that isn't obvious in some manner. Players should have a reason to choose to mess with a trap. Choose is the important word here. Again. Choose. If the trap lies between point and and point B and the characters need to get to point B then it isn't really a choice to interact with the trap. Of course need is a bit sloppy as well. They probably want to, which is different than need to, so want allows for a choice (even if a bit thin).

A trap sprung on completely unsuspecting players means they didn't choose to interact with the danger and makes it feel like a gotcha. If they ignored all the obvious signs, that is their own dumb fault. But as the GM, maybe you didn't do a good enough job of telegraphing. Make a note and figure it out later. Don't beat yourself up. This is just a game after all.


  • Why even go through that passage? Because that door at the end of the hallway has the mark that we've seen on other treasure vault rooms. 
  • The gemstone on the pedestal surrounded by dried blood and looks really valuable. Are the walls covered in blood as well - like an explosion? I really want that topaz...
  • So the statues turn to look at us as we pass by and they all have gold coins for eyes. Like real gold I think (in a game where copper groats are the common currency this is some serious loot). But they are looking at us. Actively. I want those coins! But I don't want to die! Coins ... LOOOT! I get out my prying dagger. Watch my back, wizard! (The wizard steps out of the room because 'fuck this!')

Bonus Fun: Monster as Trap

I've done this a bunch and it is always fun. A trap is an obstacle, something to overcome - a challenge if you will. So are monsters. So why not place a monster that will DESTROY the party - like serious TPK potential - but put it in a state that the characters can avoid it ... but if they mess with it something cool happens. My favorite - sleeping dragon.

Everyone knows that a giant-ass sleeping dragon that is cradling a pile of coins and gems and whatnot. If they trigger the trap (wake the dragon) there will be hell to pay. So sneak by it and avoid the danger ... or figure out a way to get that loot. Of maybe the dragon is blocking an archway that leads to a cool sublevel of the dungeon they heard has a fountain of Beefy Strength or something.

Replace 'dragon' with whatever is awesome for the adventure: Giants, Lovecraftian horrors, infinite amount of huge hunting spiders, hoard of fear burrowing goblins - whatever floats your boat. The idea is to make it a clearly bad idea if they are 'triggered'.

Traps Kill and Maim!

Traps that just do some damage are boring. Traps about always be seriously brutal - kill them fools! Rip off legs and destroy armor. If you make traps just whittle away at hit points they are annoyance and become less interesting. Drop a ceiling on a PC (or hireling if the players are wise) and they'll get the idea. This doesn't mean character's can't survive, but why do 1d6 damage when you can do 10d6 damage? Make that shit BRUTAL.

Traps that Warn or Detain

Fine - I acknowledge that these exist, but they are rarely that interesting. You fell in a pit! Other adventurer's help you out of the pit. But if you take these situations - fall in a pit, drop a net, and so on - then these should warn someone/something else ... and start a race against time! Fall in a pit and a bell rings and a bunch of kobolds with jackal skulls for heads wielding javelins dripping poison come running in 2d10 seconds (like 1 or 2 rounds) from the secret room next door - that is a trap with a pit as part of it.

No Content? Just Advice?

I was going to write up a list of traps or a trap generator, but they are already everywhere and I don't have anything that is so unique as to change your world. So roll something on whatever table, grab results from whatever generator, then make them MORE. 

For some examples I hit up and used what was generated and made it MORE. The traps presented are just traps, so I'm not shitting on that site (it is a really nice generator), but everything is very mechanical. Basically the opposite style of what I'm doing. 

The Web Trap

Original Summary: magic makes webs fill an area and make a really easy DEX Save to avoid or STR to break out.

MORE: What looks like charred ropes hang limply in an area that itself has charred walls. Step in giant spider webs get sprayed all over you (automatic). If anything struggles, they get set on fire! 2 STR Checks to completely escape back the way you came or 4 to get to the far side. 3d6 damage every check (assuming that is rounds or something). ON the far side ... a ruby made of living flame held in the many legs of the Spider Queen Leth.

Bear Trap

Original Summary: bear trap triggered by pressure plate that a macguffin is on (I like that this one has a reason for them to mess with it in their description). Moderate damage (with an attack roll), easy to get out of.

MORE: A series of concentric bear traps can be seen poking through the floor - each one larger than the last, the farthest one clearly closing at about 8' high. Pedestal with Juice of Everlasting Cool - i'm down the pressure plate thing. trigger the plate and BLAM - crushed and pierced to death by those bear traps. The first one does 1d6 damage, then each one after that 1d6 MORE damage than the last - total of 10 of them, each one triggering 1 second later. snap Snap SNAP! And it will destroy the fragile Juice Bottle - because if i can't have it no one can! Better ruined than in the hands of thieves ...

That is all for now. please do some gaming! If you pimp out some traps or do some cool traps in this style, let me know! Time to go clean up the garage and get ready for my Friday night game. Maybe I'll remember to eat lunch today at a normal time.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

monsters Monsters MONSTERS!

The monster book got lost in the shuffle of the new year, but I'm back on my bullshit! Focused on writing and tweaking stats as I go. I changed the number of monsters in lair to an actual roll instead of a multiplier, and have been adjusting some combat stats based on threat and description. Just finished page 25 - only 16 pages to go. Then art and/or the extra fun tables.

Always with the art. The art defines the look and feel, sometimes more than the text. The stat blocks are mechanical, the description have some flavor, but pull double duty as mechanical details. That leaves the art and tables. These need to be entirely inspirational to have the desired effect. 

My most recent artist has gone and gotten himself a regular job. I'm quite happy for him, but this means I need to find some new folks. I've got this idea in my head where these aren't detailed drawings, but images and impressions. Like an adventurer quickly sketched something in their notebook. I love what Scrap Princess does - evocative and strange and, most importantly inspirational (and the non-art material is also INCREDIBLE). 

Then I got to thinking, what if I describe a general style (quick and sketchy, backgrounds optional, infer rather than show) and find 5 or 6 artists who want to throw down. I also know that everyone has their own style and asking them to "dress down" is generally not cool - all the art an artists produces is their resume and asking them to do what might be considered 'bad work' would be detrimental. So why not ask Scrap Princess? Frankly, though, I'd be embarrassed to ask Scrap about commission work. Their stuff is so amazing and I'm just a hobbyist doing a vanity project.

But back to it .. the question is which ones get art and which ones get tables? I definitely want at least 1 illustration each page ... or spread? Maybe a few artworks in there can be full-page illustrations of a critter or critters on the opposite page. I don't know yet. First things first, though, I need to find some artists to discuss this with.

Let's make a random table for a monster. And the random d6 says .... #2. A table for the Lost Angels.

The first thing that comes to mind is The Hive - so let's do that!

The Hive of the Lost Angels
1d6The structure is...
1... made from the interred, dug from their tombs and graves, and posed perfectly to praise many-legged Yseth.
2... perfectly symmetrical and focused on an ancient relic buried deep within and submerged in divine honey.
3... and impossible maze of tunnels that must be crawled through, each chamber housing the honored dead.
4... made of chewed holy scriptures and scrolls mixed with the profane rantings of an unknown Shadow Templar.
5... a perfect replica of a shrine of the Eternal Light familiar to the PCs, including corpses dressed in found objects made to look as church members they know.
6... a gigantic pupa, housing an Angelic Queen that has died in her eternal slumber, that will be Yseth reborn.

Add in some world building with the monsters? Sounds like a good plan. I have no idea who Yseth is - that isn't a cannon old world god in my game (yet). And from that last one I wrote she apparently wants to be reborn. The Lost Angels have honored dead - their own? Are they associated indirectly with the Church of Eternal Light (a thing in my game) or connected to the Shadow Templar (also a bad guy thin in my game)? More questions than answers? I'd say that is about perfect!