110, Traps in Role-playing Games
Traps in role-playing games, they’re used for a variety of reasons as a GM, but player characters can also setup traps to ensnare their foes. There is the popular mechanical trap as well as the social trap, “aha! We’ve got you now!” Brett shares a funny…
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- I made sure to check for traps on this one during the live show. Despite the name it's safe. Go for it.49w
- Warning: Long-ass comment inbound. I'm sorry. Also, explicit lyrics. No obligation to read it on air.
This is the exchange I hate most in role playing games:
PC: "I check for traps."
GM: "You don't find anything."
PC: (looks at GM through squinted eyes)
GM: (poker face)
Fuck that exchange. And fuck having it in every single room in the dungeon.
I think there are two legit reasons to use a trap on a player character in a role playing game:
1. To create atmosphere and put the players on edge.
2. To create an "oh shit" moment where the player is forced to think creatively to get through a difficult scenario.
I almost never use mechanical traps in my games because they don't do either of these things. If I want to do something to the party that uses up their resources, to put it in Dungeon World terms, I'll do it with combat. Instead of putting in a trap that causes disease, I'll make sure there's a monster in the combat that can cause disease. Combat is more interesting than stepping on a pressure plate and taking a poisoned spear in the shoulder. It might turn into an "oh shit" moment if you don't have the right equipment or spells to deal with poison, but it's not an "oh shit" moment inherently. Mechanical traps are functionally equal to combat in that regard, and combat spares you the check/nope/squint/poker face cycle.
You guys alluded to this in the episode itself, but to me, Indiana Jones gets toward the better kind of traps, like the rolling boulder trap. It's high stakes, but you can overcome it with quick thinking, and it certainly creates an "oh shit" moment. If that trap happens in D&D, you have options:
1. RUN! (this is where skill challenge mechanics are great)
2. Create a cave-in
3. Block the corridor with a wall of force
4. Cast Rope Trick and scramble up to safety
Taking that back to Dungeon World, instead of using up their resources, the boulder trap makes these two moves:
1. Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities
2. Show a downside to their class, race, or equipment
The boulder trap gives certain players the chance to say "I got this" and other players the chance to say "Fuck, I'm never gonna outrun this thing in plate mail." As long as you balance that spotlight/lowlight dynamic in the long run, that's successful GMing.
Here's an example of where I used a trap in a Pathfinder game that created the effect I wanted.
SCENE: The party and two agents of the BBEG are at a table in a meeting set up by a neutral third party NPC for a tense negotiation. The NPC has locked everyone's weapons in a cabinet in the room to help keep things civil. After a lot of yelling and attempts at intimidation by both sides, the bad guys ask to step outside for a moment for a private discussion. They don't come back for a bit, and the NPC goes out to check on them. A minute later, the party hears the NPC scream and run out to find him in a pool of blood in the yard and the bad guys are taking off into the woods. They decide to grab their weapons before giving chase. The rogue rushes up to the cabinet and successfully picks the lock, but never sees the poisoned needle on the lock itself. It nicks her and she fails the save. I give it some general description: "you immediately feel lightheaded and weak."
Immediately they spring into action. Explosion of discussion. "What if that poison's bad? We can't leave her here." "We can't take her with us! She's poisoned, she'll slow us down." "Split up, then." "No, who knows what reinforcements they have in the woods." "We can't just let them go, we have to follow them!"
The bad guys got away but they saved the rogue and the NPC. Forced high-tension choice with immediate consequences. "Oh shit."
I'm sorry I can't shut up. 700 words. I wrote shorter papers in college.49w
- Gaming and BSModeratorBecause of the long post and profanity, it will be on the air! ;-)49w
- I'm not a big fan of traps, myself. The exception I make is for environmental traps. For example, if the PCs are exploring an old ruin, I can justify having a weak spot in a floor or stairway that might collapse if they step on it. I have a harder time justifying a pressure plate that triggers poison darts shooting out of the wall.49w
- Regarding the idea of the villain trapping the heroes, and specifically the example from Raiders of the Lost Ark, see Eberron Campaign Setting, p. 251... "Stories Don’t Always End Well!" I love that aspect of plot themes in Eberron. I don't see it as a trap as simply and aspect of the world and the characters that live within it. It's also a good reminder that while the PCs are heroes, they're not immune to bad luck and powerful NPCs.48w
- I'll let speak to the accuracy of your Australian accent (I think it's... patchy) but I for one am definitely in favour of Sean (and Brett) reading in accents47w