Monday, December 3, 2012

Traps Are Fun

I consider myself to be a GM of middling skill. I can build worlds like nobody's business. I excel at that aspect of it I think, and I do tend to have a pretty extensive knowledge of the mechanics of the game and an ability to make them work to my advantage to get what I want out of the system. I can build characters too. I mean, if my players ever leave somebody for dead and they're not actually dead and they recover and move from faceless mook status to unique vengeance seeker status, well, the guys'll be in trouble. Plots, eh, I do ok, but in this campaign there isn't a very clear plot. Partly because it is a sandbox and partly because they have such a narrow view of what is going on in Orcunraytrel. If the characters were Orcunraytrel characters and not The Known World characters, I could come up with like fifteen or twenty "Go do this now!" campaign ideas to snag their interest with. The the pirates, it is a little more difficult to give them anything beyond what they want to do, because the pirates and Kusseth are more interested in securing their foothold than anything else at the moment. Though I do have some plans about how that gets interesting in the future. We'll see if they go anywhere though.

To continue, my combats are...lackluster. I'll be honest. I try to add environmental effects (thanks for that insight 4e) to spice it up sometimes, but the terrain is so barren in their chunk of Orcunraytrel that I don't have much to work with beyond, "That pile of rocks is harder to move through." Also, the enemies they've been fighting are like CR 1 & 2 and they're 5th level (6th level now) and have an NPC well above that with them. So that may have something to do with it. Hehe. Additionally, my enemies tend to be straight forward. My sneak attacking zombies were fun, but most of my enemies walk right up and hit the guys, or hang back and shoot them. I've been feeling for a while that my enemies need to be more tactical in nature. I just feel like if I make their enemies too tactical or tough, it basically amounts to me trying to kill them instead of challenging them. But, I'm not really challenging them in the first place, so I suppose I am already doing it wrong. 

Traps, I don't really use traps at all. Which is a failing of mine.

Have you ever looked at shit like White Plume Mountain or The Tomb of Horrors? What the fuck man? Who comes up with this shit? I have an old Dragon Magazine from 2nd Edition era that has some additions to the Tomb in it. One of them is a really small entrance to a larger room. There is also like a wand of shrinking or some such to be found elsewhere in the area protected by a baddie. Through the very tiny entrance the players can see a pile of loot. So the play is that you use the wand and go in and get the treasure. The room isn't trapped or full of burny death and the treasure is legit and not an illusion, and there is a lot of it. However, there is an anti-magic aura centered on the room. Guess what, your shrink ray no longer works and now you are stuck. Welcome to starving to death as a rich rich man. 

My brain works in a pretty direct fashion, there isn't a lot of subtlety

Oh. Oh Dog. My cat just farted on my lap. Oh it's foul. I might throw up. 

To continue. My brain works in a pretty direct fashion and combat is about as direct as you can get in DnD, so that is what I throw at my players. I tried mysteriousness and secrecy and questions last campaign, but it came to an abbreviated end when I signed up for the paramedic class, which I didn't end up taking. Although, it probably would have broken up anyways, what with the whole situation that developed with the girlfriend no one liked and whatnot. Anyway, I didn't get to experiment a lot with subtlety and secrecy and general tricksieness.  

So in a grand departure from form, I am focusing on traps in the next scenario. This actually works out well, because I was going to stuff the place full of monsters, but that makes very little sense given the nature of the place they'll be hanging around in. In the fifth scenario of the campaign, I put in a few trapped doorways in the mansion of The Grog Guzzling Grenadiers, but those basically amounted to tripwires setting off explosives. Not exactly creative or mold breaking. In this scenario I am trying to be a little more interesting and I've got to say, it is kind of fun. 

Now, I'm not saying it is save or die every ten feet, or even that these are sneaky traps. I'm just saying that it is kind of fun to step out of my norm and make something a little different than I'm used to. We'll see what the players think of it next month. 


  1. Pits of Acid, acid raining from the roof, mechanical crushing walls, spike traps, fire breathing statures.

    The harder one would be secret doors. I remember them being utilized, I think they're hard to balance. Do you use a players passive perception to have them notice a door? Do you have them roll perception checks when they come to a dead end hallway, because to me that almost screams "Hey guys something's here but you're too oblivious to notice it." Maybe trap that shit and make it interesting. Poison needle or dart hits the PC as they're opening the door, and then they have to find an antidote in the dungeon ... or withing a certain amount of time before the PC becomes blind or paralized.

    I could keep this shit going all DAY.

    1. What about a secret door that when opened flings the person in front of it 30 feet to smack into a wall, onto a spike trap?

      Also, there is no such thing as passive Perception or Sense Motive in Pathfinder. I'm of the mindset that if you are in a creepy tomb full of traps that have been going off, and you're not Perceptioning every 5 ft. square, well, that's silly.

    2. I am of the mind you, as a character, would always be looking and observing when in a strange place. It shouldn't have to be said all the time. I mean, when you roll up on a scene, do you say out loud, "is the scene safe? Doing a saftey scan."?

    3. Unfortunately, for the past thirty years or so of the game, you play the character, and not the other way around. No I don't say that aloud when I come on scene, but I'm not a character in a game where the player has to describe all the actions I perform. Making a Perception check is you looking around at your surroundings with active interest in an attempt to notice things. Saying a character would totally do that, you just forgot or that they would do it automatically, is a cop out. If a character would be looking around for danger, that's probably a good sign that you, the player that controls them and makes all the decisions, should be making Perception checks.

  2. My problem with traps and how they relate to dungeons in general is how the hell do you make them realistic enough to make sense? If this is a place where people or creatures live how do they avoid these traps so easily?

    Seriously, if you have an acid filled room that has zero ways around it, how does anything exist past it?

    How did the 100 foot by 35 foot by 35 foot dragon get stuck in the 200 by 200 by 60 foot room with only 2, 5' by 5' by 10', tunnels filled with traps and other monsters? Did someone lock it in there when they built the dungeon? How does it eat? How is it not catatonic when it sees living creatures for the first time in centuries?

    I don't like the "dungeon" setting of things like ToH and TEE in my table top gaming unless we are trying for a board game feel.

    I guess I'm trying to say that if traps exist, they should make sense for the setting and location. Just having a Dungeon Keeper-style trap chess adventure just feels out of place for someone like me who enjoys story over mechanics.

    1. That's a fair point Jason, I have a hard time being ok with traps that don't make sense. You don't throw a pit of acid in a hallway people in a guard post walk through every day. That shatters my suspension of disbelief with a hammer. With the Grog Guzzling Grenadiers, I basically threw a few tripwires with explosives in figuring that one of the guys was an explosives expert and it is a simple matter to just disconnect a tripwire and reconnect if before bed or when you leave the alchemy lab.

      The next scenario is a bit of a trap fest, but there is a reason for the traps and they do make sense within the context of why the place exists in the first place, or at least as much sense as a trap filled pyramid of black stone that floats on a lake of lava makes any kind of sense.

    2. LIES!!! There's no way that kind of place would have anything but perfectly sensible and normal things inside.

      I'm kind of hoping there's a broom closet. You never see nice broom closets anymore...

    3. I agree, Jason, how else would they keep the place clean? At least one or two brooms, and since it is a giants place, I'm kind of getting the feeling it looks like the giant levels in Mario 3.