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Trapmaster: The Hands of Time

Trapmaster: The Hands of Time

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The Hands of Time

Mira cursed as a gobbet of molten iron landed on her shoulder. A partner would have made the riddle of the clock easy to bypass. As it was, her only course had been to spike the pendulum. She thought the sweat on her brow beaded from concentration as she picked the lock, but looking up, she realized it was from the heat of the iron spike that was now red hot and flexing under the pressure of the axe-shaped pendulum. Breaking the glass to escape did not help much. The blast of the clock chimes stunned her, small trickles of blood oozing from her ears…

All manner of clocks line the walls of this 10-ft.-by-40-ft. corridor. A massive grandfather clock dominates the far wall, an axe-bladed pendulum swinging back and forth in a glass-faced cabinet. The crowned peak of the timepiece kisses the 15-ft.-high vaulted ceiling; the time reads ten past six. Just enough room exists under the swing of the pendulum for one medium or small creature to access a hinged panel at the back. The space inside is the perfect hiding spot for a valuable treasure.

The etched glass panel of the cabinet illustrates a great battle and bears the following inscription.

Quarter? No! For quarter past
The time for foemen at the last.
Began numberéd but four plus six,
Thrice multiplied by heinous tricks.
Divide the host by heroes five,
Then take away the two that died.
Thus the key to time be faced,
Forget not to give the first its place.

The ticking of the many clocks overwhelms the senses, hampering the introduction of magical silence and distracting creatures in the corridor. Creatures in the clock cabinet with an intact and shut door are unaffected (and immune to the clock chime trap)—no sound escapes or penetrates the cabinet.

Tampering with the back panel causes the pendulum axe to drop into the safe space, striking up to four times before losing momentum. On the reverse side of the back panel, a clue to avoid triggering the clock chime trap reads:

To safely see me face to face, you must first recall my kingly face.

The clock chimes thunder and stuns those in the passage if the axe strikes, if the glass cabinet door is opened when the clock is not set to 6:10, or if the glass is broken.

The clock hands cannot be reset without inserting the key in the winding mechanism in the clock face. The cabinet key matches the winding mechanism and is virtually impossible to remove without locking the door, possibly leaving a creature trapped inside. Bypassing the pendulum trap requires setting the time to match the answer of the riddle: 4:15. The key must remain in the winding mechanism while the back panel is opened. The time must be reset to 6:10 to provide safe egress from the cabinet. Opening either door with the wrong time set triggers the clock chimes.

Stopping the swing of the pendulum triggers both traps, delaying the axe strike but not the clock chimes. The adamantine shaft of the pendulum heats iron spikes and chains to a molten temperature in three rounds and burns through rope in a single round. Getting a spike in place requires perfect timing.

Pathfinder Statistics

Trap Features: All mechanisms and locks require 2d4 rounds to disable.

Distraction: Increase Perception checks by +5 and prevent taking 10 in the corridor (or in the cabinet with the door open).

Chill metal counters the heating element in the pendulum (hardness 20, hp 40). A DC 20 Reflex save allows safe insertion of an iron spike to arrest its swing; failure grants an attack at half damage (full damage if failed by 5 or more); the pendulum continues to swing until successfully spiked (which triggers the traps as indicated above).

Removing the bypass key while leaving the cabinet door unlocked requires disabling the superior lock (DC 40) augmented by an arcane lock (+10 to disable DC). The back panel lock is of good quality (DC 30).

Silence spells have their area reduced to a single 5-ft. square. A DC 26 Spellcraft check allows a caster to pinpoint the square; otherwise, target a random square in the corridor. A DC 30 Spellcraft check or a DC 30 Perception check from a creature able to detect magical traps identifies this feature prior to casting.

Pendulum Trap CR 11

Type mechanical; Duration 4 Rounds Perception DC 15; Disable Device DC 40 Bypass Setting the clock to 4:15 with key inserted


Trigger touch (back panel) Reset Automatic, 1 minute
Effect Atk +15 melee (3d6+10/×3).

Clock Chime Trap CR 12

Type magic; Duration 6 rounds; Perception DC 30; Disable Device DC 30 Bypass Resetting the time on the grandfather clock to 6:10 with key inserted.


Trigger timed (one round following the activation of the pendulum trap, before any other actions), or as indicated above; Reset none
Effect spell effect (widened sound burst), 1d8 sonic damage plus stunned for 1 round, DC 22 Fortitude negates stun); multiple targets (all targets in the 10-ft. by 40 ft. corridor); breaking the cabinet glass grants the sound burst the persistent spell quality.

5E Statistics

The Pendulum Trap, spotted automatically, is DC 30 to disarm with a +9 attack bonus, deals Setback damage, and attacks once per round for four rounds. The Clock Chime trap (DC 25 Investigation/Disarm) sounds for 6 rounds, dealing 1d8 thunder damage each round and requires a DC 14 Constitution Saving Throw to avoid being stunned for one round (broken glass grants disadvantage). The ticking of the other clocks grants disadvantage on all activities unless enclosed in an intact cabinet prior to the triggering of the traps, and a caster must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution check to maintain or cast Silence at any time. Removing the bypass key from an unlocked cabinet requires a DC 35 Dexterity Check, which include the bonus from the arcane lock.

13th Age Statistics

The Pendulum Trap is spotted automatically, Ridiculously Hard to disable, and deals Hard single-target damage with a Hard attack once per round for four rounds. The Clock Chime Trap is Hard to spot and disable, and deals Normal thunder damage once per round for six rounds with a Normal save to avoid being stunned. All checks increase by one difficulty level unless in the enclosed glass cabinet. Silence effects require a Hard check to defeat the ticking clocks. Removing the bypass key from an unlocked cabinet door is Ridiculously Hard.

S&W Statistics

The Pendulum Trap strikes up to 4 times, once per round, dealing 3d6 points of slashing damage (save halves) each round. The Clock Chime Trap deals 1d6 points of damage each round for six rounds and requires a save versus magic to avoid being stunned for one round. If the glass is broken, this save is made at -2. A save versus magic is required to cast silence. Knock defeats both the arcane lock and the lock itself on the cabinet key, otherwise two delicate tasks check must succeed to remove it while leaving the cabinet door unlocked.


9 thoughts on “Trapmaster: The Hands of Time”

  1. The concept behind the trap is pretty cool however there are two significant problems…

    First, although the answer to the riddle is given (4:15) and another time is mentioned (6:10) there’s nothing that explains why the riddle leads to these answers, let alone how the riddle suggests that there are two times that can be determined from the riddle. For that matter, it doesn’t say what time the clock says it is when the adventurers encounter the clock for the first time. Are the other clocks in the room set to the same time or are they all different?

    Second, the stats for the 5th Edition version of the clock are flat out bad. No character can realistically achieve the rolls required other than the DC 14 constitution save and the DC 10 constitution check. Even at level 20 with maxed out Dexterity (20) the highest bonus you could get would be +11 which means the highest theoretical roll you could make would be 31… definitely not making the DC 35 dexterity check to remove the key and making the DC 30 disarm check pretty much impossible unless you have expertise with thieves’ tools and are near or at level 20. And speaking of level 20, what CR is the trap in 5th edition?

    1. Forgive me, I made an error… you don’t get your proficiency bonus on an ability check… so the highest roll you could theoretically get on an ability check would be 25 (26 if you used a Manual to raise your score to 22). DC 35 is just insane.

      1. Idran is right that it would have been helpful to have the solution spelled out. But since it isn’t, I’ll guide you through the riddle.

        “Quarter? No! For quarter past
        The time for foemen at the last.”

        This is introducing the idea that quarter past will be part of the solution. The words “at the last” also suggest that this part of the riddle should actually be left until the end, rather than the beginning where it is placed.

        That’s clever, but riddles for roleplaying games probably shouldn’t be that clever. Players are used to going through the clues in the order that they read them. This could be a big stumbling block for many groups attempts to solve the riddle.

        Another issue I see here is the opening two words “Quarter? No!” might potentially push your players down the wrong path. If they get the idea in their head that the answer shouldn’t include the word quarter, which could be one way to interpret this, then they will never get to the right answer. It might be worth the author rethinking these first two lines.

        Anyway, onto the next bit.

        “Began numberéd but four plus six,
        Thrice multiplied by heinous tricks.
        Divide the host by heroes five,
        Then take away the two that died.”

        This is easy enough maths disguised as something harder than it is.

        4 + 6 = 10
        10 x 3 = 30
        30 / 5 = 6
        6 – 2 = 4

        So now we have the first part of our solution, “4”.

        “Thus the key to time be faced,
        Forget not to give the first its place.”

        This is to remind us that the first two lines which we moved on from are part of the solution. “quarter past” “at the last” (ie. following on from the 4), can only mean that the complete answer is 4:15.

        “To safely see me face to face, you must first recall my kingly face.”

        In theory, the players do already have this solution. If you reread the description of the clock, you’ll note it says “the time reads ten past six.” As long as the GM reads this description exactly as is they should have given their players the answer.

        The problem here, and why I say that the players have the solution “in theory”, is that it’s a bit much to expect them to REMEMBER you told them the clock read ten past six, especially after five or ten minutes of attempting to solve a puzzle since you said it. I expect most GMs will end up having to give their players the solution to this second part of the puzzle. Allowing them to trigger the trap seems somewhat unfair (albeit suited to a Gygaxian GMing style, so some groups may be more accepting of this than others).

        1. Ok, that was a HUGE help. And yeah, I totally missed the statement of “ten past six” and was looking all over for 6:10. I was looking at “Quarter? No! For quarter past” and thinking that we were supposed to read “For quarter past” as “Quarter past four” and thus get 4:15 but then was lost as to what the rest of the riddle was trying to say and well… yeah. Lost.

    2. I was just about to post this same thing. I have an idea about why this is the solution? But I really think that if you’re ever going to design any riddle for others to use, you should spell out the solution to the riddle step by step. Otherwise you’re just asking for trouble if the players happen to ask the GM why the answer is what it is and the GM can’t figure it out themselves.

      Also, as a really minor note: why the accent mark in “numberéd”? Is it just to fit the meter? Because accent marks really don’t work like that, you can’t just throw them wherever for the sake of poetry. :P

      1. Actually in English poetry, the accented e is used quite often in this manner to fit a certain meter. Especially in Elizabethan poetry, like Shakespeare. In this case, it’s pronounced “number-edd.” Shakespeare would spell our usual pronunciation of that word “number’d,” to ensure we don’t scan and additional syllable.

  2. Thanks for your feedback and comments everyone. I am having a lot of fun paying homage to old-school gaming as I develop traps for this series. Because they rely on riddles, descriptions, and environmental clues, and can be completely bypassed by clever play, finding the sweet spot for the DCs can prove tricky.

    @yama – Great description of the solution. When I tested the first riddle on folks in my gaming circle, two of them got it, one got the right answer but wasn’t 100% certain, one got the wrong answer, and one gave up, so it seemed like it was in the ballpark. Regarding the second riddle: as a GM, if the players figured out they needed to return to the original time but couldn’t remember it, I would count it solved and remind them of the correct time.

    @Adam – I took a look at the 5e stats again. The damage of the axe (setback) scales with character tier, so there is some flexibility here – I recommend Tier 2 and up. The chimes trap doesn’t scale exactly the same way, but deals less damage and flight is an option while they ring (run when not stunned).

    The cabinet key only needs to be disarmed if the PCs want to leave the door unlocked while it is removed. The resource tax is a knock spell for this flexibility, which drops the DC to 25 while it suppresses the arcane lock. A 5th level rogue with Dex 18 and expertise with thieves’ tools gets the key with his +10 bonus [Dex +4 plus Expertise +6 (Proficiency +3×2)] on a roll of 15 or higher. Even without expertise (total bonus +7), she still has a shot at it.

    For the expert rogue above, the Disarm DC of the Pendulum Trap could be reduced to 25. She can still muscle through the traps without solving the riddle if lucky, with the same chance of success as her expert (and properly equipped) Pathfinder counterpart. You might consider using DC 28 for Tier 3 and keeping the DC 30 for Tier 4. If your group just really hates puzzles, but you like the flavor of the traps to guide how the encounter plays out – absolutely set the DCs to suit your style of play.

    @ Idran and James – thank you for your literary questions and contributions. Word count is a factor when considering how to include details on the solution – my early drafts included the maths. I will think on this a bit more moving forward. All in all a well-rounded critique!

    Michael Allen

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