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Trapmaster: Traps That Aren’t

Trapmaster: Traps That Aren’t

There has been some discussion online about the failure of monster challenge ratings to keep up with leveling characters and the difficulty of making your monsters effective. What can you do in your game to make foes more effective while not just changing stat blocks to increase the damage your monsters do? In previous entries, we discussed both the use of misdirection to lure characters into standing in a specific area where there is a trap but also the use of traps to augment existing encounters.

So how do you convince PCs to follow specific paths in your dungeon or during an encounter or to bunch closely for those few big spells or for an ambush by making the characters think there is a trap when there isn’t? In particular, how can your monsters create the appearance of a trap quickly and cheaply? In low-level dungeons, monster resources—both equipment and spell slots—might be limited.

Do you hear the approach of angry adventurers and want them to stand in a particular spot for your ambush? Quickly place a tripwire that connects to nothing across part of the room! Need to stall for time to get away? Hang a log, complete with nails sticking out, above the hallway for the characters to be paranoid about and investigate while you run away! Have access to wildlife and want to keep adventurers from crossing a bridge? Hang a taxidermized head over the bridge and then spread some blood and a bunch of animal teeth under it. Bonus points if you have a few dead bodies to leave there! All of these ideas use the feel of a trap to make monsters more effective without actually including a damaging trap that would affect XP calculations.

Fake Fusillade of Arrows

Faux trap (any level, no threat)

Assuming your kobolds (or goblins or whatever but clearly not as cool as kobolds) have access to a drill, some arrows, and plenty of time, they can make one hallway in their lair an apparently clear threat. Drill 100 or more holes the size of an arrow in one wall and then stuff them with arrows. If you are artistic, make a pattern!

Trigger. There isn’t one. When the nosey adventurers search for the trap, they don’t find the trigger but clearly can see the arrows in the holes. No one would place perfectly good arrows in a wall unless they shoot out and fill invaders full of holes. It has to be a trap.

Effect. This is a good tactic for dungeon builders to employ where there is a choice of direction; especially if one way leads to someone else’s lair. Adventurers given two choices, one of which is clearly trapped in a way they haven’t figured out how to beat, will probably take the other path. If the other path leads into a death trap or a bigger, angrier neighboring monster, so much the better. Also deters solicitors.

Countermeasures. A successful DC 5 Wisdom (Perception) check locates the arrows in the holes, but no check can find a trigger, so the trap can’t be disarmed. A successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check or simply pulling out one of the arrows notes there is no mechanism behind the arrow and that one hole wasn’t trapped. Checking all the holes for the “real” trap will take over an hour, find no trap, but does net 100 arrows in treasure!

Non-Fire-Breathing Statue

Faux trap (any level, no threat)

First steal a statue from somewhere and put it in a hallway in front of a door that you don’t want strangers to use. Hopefully your neighbors won’t come looking for their statue since they are less likely to be fooled by this faux trap. Then if you still have that drill from the arrow trap, drill a hole in the statue’s mouth. Then pour some oil on it and the floor in front of it before lighting the oil on fire to leave a huge burn mark.

Trigger. Like before, there isn’t one. But it sure looks like the statue breaths fire if you get too close to the door.

Effect. This a great tactic to dissuade adventurers from choosing a particular door—or at least to give your kobold allies time to get into position to ambush whoever is about to come through that door. Even better, tie some bells to the statue, so you can hear if someone knocks it over or moves it away from the door.

Countermeasures. The burn mark is clearly visible, but a successful DC 5 Intelligence (Investigation) check made from a distance notes the hole, smell of oil, and can connect them to the burn mark. A successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) while close notes that the hole only goes a few inches into the statue, and there does not appear to be a reservoir for oil. No trigger can be found, so there is nothing to be disarmed. If present, the bells can be removed without making noise with a successful DC 10 Dexterity check.

Not a Pressure Plate

Faux trap (any level, no threat)

Pry up the tile in a hallway or room, scatter some dirt, rags, or leaves under it, and then put the tile back. Now it is slightly higher than the surrounding tiles, and it compresses a little when stepped on.

Trigger. There isn’t one. Perceptive characters note what looks like a pressure plate and are unlikely to step there.

Effect. The seeming pressure plate leads characters to move away from the tile and hopefully toward where you want them to be. Great for getting suspicious or world-wise adventurers to go where you want and to feel good about themselves; that is until your kobolds spring their ambush. Also, not a bad place to bury treasure since no one wants to mess with it.

Countermeasures. A successful DC 5 Wisdom (Perception) check notes one of the tiles is slightly higher than the others, but no check can locate a trigger or trap. Simply prying up the tile locates the ruse.

Pseudo-Arcane Glyphs

Faux trap (any level, no threat)

Does your kobold sorcerer only have one fireball left, and you want to make sure that the invading adventurers group up so they can all be targeted? Paint a few arcane-looking glyphs at the entrance to the room to give them pause!

Trigger. Paint some arcane looking symbols on the inside or a door frame, the floor just past a door, or blocking off part of a room. If you don’t have paint, try using blood. Blood is cheaper, easier to come by, and you don’t have to go to the store to get it. Also, for some reason adventurers seem to think its scarier.

Effect. Adventurers don’t like walking over symbols. They will likely stop long enough to inspect the “runes,” to examine for the magical glyph they expect to blast them. This gives you time to attack the grouped-up party with your area-of-effect spell or kobold archers.

Countermeasures. No roll is needed to see the “runes” as they are 3-foot-high symbols drawn in blood. A successful DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check determines they are meaningless. If your monster actually has the Arcana skill, consider using an opposed roll instead to see through the forgery.


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