It’s a Trap!

I’ve always had difficulty using traps. This trouble stems from the reward to work ratio. As a Dungeon Master, I don’t want to invest a lot of time into a trap, because there’s a good chance that it will do nothing. The rogue will come along, spot the trap, disable it, and the party will continue. Sometimes, that’s okay. After a while, it’s annoying, because the amount of time it takes me to create a scenario involving a trap is much longer than the average time it takes the players to overcome a trap.

Then there’s the problem of resources. A trap typically expends few of the party’s resources. It might do a bit of damage, but unless it’s dealing damage equal to a character’s hit points, it’s just a speed bump. And not one of those axel-breaking speed bumps like you find in elderly communities; these are like wimpy parking lot speed bumps. I think the problem with traps in 4E is that we applied a mindset from earlier editions to traps without recognizing that traps needed to evolve with the rest of the game. In a game where healing and hit points are more abundant, a trap has to be dangerous without becoming overly complicated.

Unfortunately, the design tendency has been to complicate traps, creating elaborate attack powers or complicated means of disabling them. A trap in a combat encounter usually occupies a strange space: It’s annoying, but it’s not enough of a threat to merit spending the multiple standard actions it takes to disable it. What rogue wants to spend three turns disabling a trap when he or she can be backstabbing monsters for oodles of damage? Not many.

Of course, you could apply one of my standard rules, which is that a skill challenge in combat should rarely require standard actions from characters unless those checks have the potential to change the battle vastly¬—recruiting an NPC to your side, for example. I don’t really think that’s the answer, though.

Traps, in my mind, have always put more pressure on the DM than monsters. First, he or she has to remember the trap. How many times have your PCs walked past a trap and you forgot it was there? Then, once the trap is detected, either because it’s been sprung or spotted, a DM has to adapt to the wild ideas the players come up with bypassing it. All of these problems are getting at a new way of running traps that I tried this weekend.

The characters were in the Shattered Temple of the dead god Aoskar, beneath the streets of Sigil. The dungeon was riddled with puzzles and traps, and they came across a statue of a gorgon in a small, 15-foot-by-15-foot room. As soon as an adventurer stepped in, the trap was sprung, and the gorgon’s nostrils started spewing poisonous gas.

After a quick description of what happened, I pointed at the player to my left and said quickly: “What do you do?”

We didn’t roll initiative. I didn’t allow them to appraise the room beyond what they’d observed upon entering it. I took a page out of the old-school video-game style dungeon that Chatty DM and DavetheGame ran at Gen Con. The player didn’t really get to ask questions or elaborate on what they did. As soon as a person told me what his or her character did, I asked for the appropriate skill roll, if any, quickly described the result, and moved on to the next player.

When we had gone around the entire table, I made an attack against each of the characters: Level + 3 vs. Fortitude; 20 poison damage. To instill the sense of drama and urgency, I didn’t get too wrapped up in rolling damage or adding effects. It was just damage, but as they soon learned, that damage was escalating each round.

The result of all this was one of the best traps (albeit, one of the few) that I’ve run in D&D. It caused some creative thinking on the parts of the players—one of the characters created a small portal that caused the gas to spill out elsewhere. Another character tried to plug the nostrils with her fist. Others tried more traditional tactics, attempting to disable the trap or search for a way out of the room.

Adding the time component made the trap exciting and threatening. The immediacy of the threat caused the trap to mix up the pacing of the adventure. A trap like this one is difficult to convey in a stat block. I sketched out this dungeon in the hour before my game, and the trap was little more than a couple scribbled notes about a gorgon statue and a poison trap. Keeping that flexibility is more important in traps than monsters. Monsters have a lot of options; they are thinking creatures that can adapt to the characters. Most traps aren’t. They require you, the DM, to think of complications on the fly, and to allow the players to come up with creative solutions.

Finally, while I’m on the topic of traps: If you haven’t seen it yet, Rodney Thompson’s Dark Sun article this month in Dungeon spoiled one of our new formats, which is going to be showing up in the Dungeon Master’s Kit this month. Jeremy Crawford and I worked to streamline the trap format to make it read a little more like a monster. With luck, that will make everyone a little more inclined to use traps and explore their potential.


33 thoughts on “It’s a Trap!

  1. Having done an entire article on traps, I’ve felt for awhile now, that the 4e style was needlessly complex. It’d be nice to be able to build a trap like one does a monster, even using the DDI Monster Builder.

    Traps have roles just like monsters do, so some kind of “blending” of the two should be doable, I’d think.

    I’m interested to see what Essentials brings to the table regarding this issue. Great post! Thanks, much!

  2. It matters to some traps whether or not they’re spotted. To many others it does not matter. Focus on those, at least until the skill check DCs change. Have traps that control themselves, or can be controlled behind the scenes by a minion, or that simply can’t be avoided and must be deactivated or destroyed.

    I really appreciated 4th Edition’s shift away from the idea of random, do-nothing traps, and towards traps in combat or traps as skill challenges. To be honest, I haven’t used a trap in combat yet, though I’ve sort of done one as part of a skill challenge. Anyway, you point out, rightly I’m sure, that no one is going to want to spend several standard actions to deal with a trap in combat.

    That, to me, is the point.

    If you have something in the fight that repeatedly damages or inconveniences the PCs and they don’t bother doing anything about it GREAT! It’s guilt free damage. At that point it doesn’t even matter what the DCs are to deal with it. You’ve let the PCs decide what the best use of their resources is. If they still pound your monster to dust before dealing with the trap (which at that point you might just be able to handwave) then you’ve probably used up more of the party’s resources than if you just pit them against monsters.

    All I hear about Epic level play is that PCs stun monsters and waste them. The solution to this has been complicating monsters with ways to avoid stuns, and to give them extra actions. Why not try backing the monster up with a security system? The PCs can’t stun it, and some of them might spend some time during the monsters’ stuns to try to turn it off – meaning they’re not all blasting the helpless monsters. Or, if they don’t, then that’s more time for the traps to do their things.

    OR, instead of complicating the monsters, you can gin up traps that assist them. I think there are a few already out there that heal the monsters while damaging the PCs. Make a security/medical system that move conditions around to other creatures. That’s going to get some attention from the PCs.

    Making new monsters sells books. That’s cool. A book of simple but devious traps, skill challenges, terrains, rooms, etc. and the ways to combine them to give a boost to older monsters (along with some “official” wording telling DM’s that such tactics are within the rules) is something I, and I think others, would definitely buy.

    1. If I’m going to add a complication to a combat encounter, I’d rather add some sort of terrain hazard—a vortex of magical energy, a swirling column of fire, etc. In combat, I prefer to focus on the monsters.

      I will agree that traps provide a nice alternative to monsters when you’re trying to make something that can’t just be stunned, dazed, or otherwise incapacitated. In a way, it makes me long for the days when constructs had all kinds of crazy immunities.

      As far as “guilt free damage.” I never feel guilty about dealing damage 🙂 Just ask my players. I know they’re lurking around here somewhere.

  3. I agree with pdunwin. Normally I don’t say what kind of products I think WotC should sell since they definitely know what’s feasable much better than I do, but I would love a book that really focused on “boosting” encounters with traps, skill challenges, terrain (both mundane and fantastic and how to use them effectively in combat,) and other odds and ends that would boost encounter design.

    I almost never include anything in an encounter apart from monsters because I just do not feel comfortable enough putting other pieces in.

    Coincidentally, just today I decided to review DMG1’s pages 58-69 because I feel like I need to add more to my “You see 5 monsters in front of you, roll initiative” encounters. This post had some interesting timing for me.

    Even if this isn’t a distinct product, I’d like to see WotC expand on encounter design at least in DMG3.

    1. I think it’s important to mix up the “5 monster” model. Most of my encounters have more than 5 monsters now that the characters are getting close to epic. If I reduce the number, it’s usually because a couple are elite—so it still ends up being about 6 or so monsters. I do think there’s a strong argument for occasional including an encounter with fewer monsters that is just an “easy” encounter. It helps mix up pacing. I could see an encounter with just two monsters and a trap or hazard being a nice change of pace from the “you see 5 monsters” type.

  4. I think you are right about not using Standard actions. If you look at the PH beautiful artwork that shows trap encounters, that’s what people want. If you watch Indiana Jones, same thing. You want to engage the trap but not lose your normal role or efficacy. This means minor actions and the trap has to have sufficient teeth to demand the attention. Ideal ways to achieve this is to require moving across the room to turn it off, or involving multiple skills/PCs but with minor and even free actions, all while combat rages. It should feel fluid and fun and be unquestionably worthwhile to engage the trap. When I see a trap that is a standard action skill challenge requiring 4 standard action successes… no, just no.

      1. This is very interesting to me. For a power, which represents a significant investment for a player, one he or she can’t readily recover if the power is not easy to use, it makes a lot of sense that it be a minor or move action. I was impressed that the game made healing and most other support effects into minor actions. Good move.

        Skills, on the other hand don’t necessarily deserve to require only a minor action. Sometimes, sure, but not as a general rule. Skills have wider usage, everyone has some (unlike skill powers), and it’s relatively easy for a DM to know what skills a party has if he or she wants to tailor a trap.

        The less of an action something takes the more people will want to use it, but I guess I prefer to approach it from the other angle: the more painful it is not to attempt something, the more people will want to attempt it. I saw it this weekend in a delve. My group tripped a trap the set two crossbow turrets on us while kobolds jumped us. After a couple rounds of taking attacks from monsters and traps, we saw that the crossbows had to be stopped so one of the rogues went back to the trigger plates and spent two rounds of standard actions to disarm them. I don’t know how fun the player thought that was, and I doubt he’d or the party would want to give up his damage output in every fight, but he spared the party some extra damage. I thought that was a perfect use of a trap.

    1. The frontispiece to the Skills section (which I assume is what you mean) shows only traps. Combat roles wouldn’t matter in such an encounter, nor would one’s normal combat effectiveness. It might still make sense for the skills in that encounter to take minor actions, but not for those reasons.

      I think you can get by with just having sufficient teeth. I agree on wanting it to be fun, don’t know what you mean by fluid, and believe it’s up to the PCs to determine what’s worthwhile. As a DM, I probably shouldn’t care whether they engage a trap or not because the trap will certainly engage them and they might figure out a way I didn’t think of to cope with it.

      I don’t understand the “no, just no” with a trap that takes 4 successful standard actions. There’s no way to know whether a party might find dealing with such a skill challenge worthwhile, without knowing what it does. In theory, that trap could be the whole key to the encounter, and the monsters just a diversion, in which case requiring a focused, sustained effort would make a lot of sense and be more worthwhile than the combat efficacy of several PCs. If the trap is just an annoyance, isn’t something the party will want to deal with during the fight, and is trivially dealt with after the fight, then making it time-consuming to deal with simply reverts it to the level of an environmental hazard with more complicated rules. I probably wouldn’t even award experience for dealing with it after the fight. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t right to make it time-consuming to deal with.

      I’m honestly curious. I think there can be lots of good reasons to use standard actions and several of them for traps. But I’d like to hear more of your thoughts.

      1. One of the core problems is the underlying logic that a trap should take four rounds to kill because this is comparable to monsters (who will take roughly that amount to kill). That estimate is antiquated and proven incorrect. The trap disarming, however, is fixed. A monster is usually a team effort where concentrated fire can quickly show accomplishment. The trap usually sees a lone “disarmer” and takes the full time to show accomplishment. The rogue can dish out some serious damage, lay down conditions, and more… which is why sitting in front of a trap for four rounds is both pretty lame and unfair when compared to fighting a monster.

        A standard action carries a tremendous value, both in real terms and in the perception by the player. Taking a standard action away can be a real downer for the player. In economic terms, the opportunity cost is huge.

        This must be compared to the benefit of a trap. Concentrated fire or cool powers make an attack’s value usually both well understood and a very sound investment with high return. A single check on a trap is often of no individual benefit and has no promise of a good return. For example, you might get to the trap on round 2, start disarming, and then on round 4 not yet be done when the last monster is defeated… you wasted your standard actions.

        In most cases, the player is smart to ignore a trap and deal with it later. This ceases to be true if the trap is so clearly damaging that it is one of the most dangerous traps on the board. Sometimes you even need the trap to be obvious in terms of disarming for it to attract PC attention.

        The trap is mechanically a valid addition to the combat. You might put in a level 2 turret trap instead of artillery in a level 4 encounter. Unfortunately, in this example the turret trap is even less likely to involve the rogue because the standard action expenditure is fixed… only the DC changes. The core mechanic of using a standard action skill challenge simply fails.

        From a fun perspective, you want the trap to attract the rogue. They should want to engage and disarm while the battle rages. This only happens if you lower the opportunity cost of doing so. The easiest way is to lower the cost via letting them use their standard actions to attack. Making disarming a move or minor action really changes the economy. Other options exist. You could make a high roll count as two successes. You could make each success accomplish things – one might give the trap a -2 to attack. Two might make it fire every other round. Three might make it shoot once at an enemy. Four shuts it down. In all cases you are better off communicating this to the players so they don’t just dismiss the trap thinking it uses the normal rules.

  5. “When I see a trap that is a standard action skill challenge requiring 4 standard action successes… no, just no.”

    Seems to me that the biggest difference between a standard, elite, and solo trap should be how many MINIMUM standard rounds it takes to disable. As a rule of thumb: 1 round = standard; 2 rounds = elite; 4 rounds = solo.

    Also, since traps are immobile, quite dumb, sometimes one-and-done, and come equipped with an off switch (often), it seems to me the system used to assign level and XP needs to be adjusted. In particular, there needs to be some kind of a multiplier assigned to a trap’s value when the party or a character cannot simply move out of range.

    Seems simple enough, but man I don’t like crapping around with traps. Tweaking monstes I’ll do, but the game mechanics of traps bore me for some reason.

    I have a feeling the mechanics bore the designers, too, which is why any sort of refined system for building traps has been victim of handwaveium for several years (that’s OK, the design team has had enough challenges rolling out 4e, meeting the production schedule, and otherwise evolving the game. Not every element of so complicated a game can be finely tuned straight out of the (red) box … at least not in the real world.)

    1. Monsters can trigger traps. I’ll admit that I’d been assuming that traps with control panels could be remotely activated. Rereading, that doesn’t appear to be the case, but there’s no reason a trap couldn’t be designed that way. Or, use a few extra minions to trigger the traps if the players can’t be relied on to do it. Or, use a monster who’s immune to or resistant to or even bolstered by the trap. Easy.

  6. It isn’t so much for me the number of rounds to disable, but the effects of disabling. For example, the Death Star’s trash compactor is all bout various successes – momentarily stop it, defeat the monster (you think), get spat back out, increase the rate with a failure… You want that dynamic feel. A crossbow turret should not waste your standard actions. Instead, using a number of your minor actions is cool. A puzzle trap that is compacting the room while you fight is cool. It is really about the trap being engaging and the mechanic supporting that. Again, the picture in the PH says it all to me for what should be happening. Instead: “Bah, a trap. I’m not wasting my striker damage on it. Let’s kill everything else first.” And, mechanically, that is what the game encourages with a few trap exceptions.

  7. I’m pleased to hear that the trap format will be streamlined down a bit. Despite how unwieldy they are, I still love traps, and I feel like certain types of places, like tombs and catacombs, are simply unfinished without including some sort of trap-like menace.

    And can we infer that if traps will be “similar to monster” blocks, can we infer that a trapbuilder might be added to Adventure Tools? Heck if they are sufficiently enough like monsters, I hope someone has the idea to toss a little code in so we DMs can use, modify, and make traps with considerably more ease!

    1. “” feel like certain types of places, like tombs and catacombs, are simply unfinished without including some sort of trap-like menace.”

      That’s probably one reason I don’t use many traps. I have only run two or three classic delve-style dungeons during my 2-year 4E campaign. I tend to run a lot of shorter dungeons or urban-type encounters. Of course, I’m trying to solve the puzzle of how to make delves exciting without feeling irrelevant (see blog “My Dungeon Has Empty Rooms”)

  8. I love and use traps to an unhealthy degree (with great success, I might add), but I agree that their format can be a touch unwieldy. I’m excited to see where 4E takes them next, since they’re my favorite aspect of D&D. 🙂

  9. We just ran a trap similar to what you described. It was a cave-in caused by a will-dominated PC. Rotted wood timbers poorly braced a tunnel the PCs were walking past. The DM rolled a Will attack (caused by nearby creature) and the PC failed. He decided that he should poke the timbers and promptly caused a cave-in. We all failed acrobatics checks and were buried.

    Each PC had to roll a strength check to see if they could move enough rocks to free themselves. PCs who failed lost one minute of time per check. After 3 rounds, each PC still buried lost a healing surge due to lack of air. Freed PCs could help others by moving STR x 50 lbs of rock each round.

    No initiative, just checks and time. 1 PC lost 2 surges and two others lost one each. Not necessarily life threatening, but weakened us a bit for the next battle which one PC started with only one surge.

  10. I like the concept of traps, but their implementation and differences in rules mechanics – they should have been built like monsters from the beginning IMO – mean they are often too much effort for very little reward. Traps are a good concept, but I don’t like that they can often be all or nothing, plus the passive perception rule makes it too trivial to find many traps (combined with the hilariously low DCs in the DMG2 errata).

    I tend to use a lot more hazards than I do traps as a result, because Hazards are just far more reliable and are usually guaranteed to have some kind of effect on the actual game.

  11. I have never been a huge fan of traps in any edition, but the idea that a resource that was once scarce is now plentiful (hp) intrigues me.

    Maybe what you need to do is design traps that do something other than (or in addition to) taking away HP. How about damaging attributes, incuring a penalty, wiping out daily powers or stealing healing surges?

  12. One of the things that may be unsatisfying for a character spending their actions disabling a trap is that it is simply a matter of check boxes to success. There is no difference in the trap’s “behavior” whilst disabling. When you hit a monster, you can see its hit points go down, you may draw aggro, it may get dazed or slowed, etc. There’s versatility to the interaction between you. When you make a check on a trap, it simply is a success or not.

    Perhaps traps need states per success or failure. I would like to see the danger of traps go up, as well as some of the great suggestions in this entry above come about. This will drag the PCs over there to disable it, whether you’re using standard actions or not. I like the leadery ideas, perhaps something that can allow all allies in an area to shift. I just ran the Hill Giant Battlechief from MM3 (twice actually) on a paragon party and once they determined its powers, they were on him fast. Same thing happened in another battle when I thought I’d give it another try.

    If the trap is not only hindering the foes, but bolstering the bad guys, it will get their attention. Perhaps a trap has three powers as a standard (normal use of the word). Every check you make disables part of trap, thereby nullifying one of the powers. The options are endless with traps, I really wish they would get a facelift in the future.

    (off now to go design some of my own!)

  13. “one of the characters created a small portal that caused the gas to spill out elsewhere”

    I’m assuming the character in question used the Arcana skill?

    This irks me… why do so MANY DMs (and groups) allow the Arcana skill to become the use-any-sort-of cool- magica-l effect- whenever-you- want skill.

    As most DMs play it.. there’s very little reason for Rituals as long as you have the Arcana skill.

    In an encounter context it’s not so much a problem.. mere descriptive fluff. Okay the trap is breathing gas on you what do you do? Arcana “I create a portal” .. okay DC 25 to reduce damage. Acrobatics “I back handspring out of the cloud” okay DC 25 to reduce damage.

    My problem (and this is become a bigger problem for 4E in my opinion) is the verisimilitude-dilemma this creates.

    If you can use an arcana check to create portals at will or use arcana checks to “throw up a magical shield of force” at will. This creates all sorts of problems where a character with Arcana can start to use the skill to literally do almost whatever they want whenever they want.

    It makes, after all, little sense that a character trained in Arcana (note not Wizard or Sorcerer.. but just anyone trained in Arcana even a fighter with a 10 INT).. can only create magical portals when in a skill challenge or a trap is breathing down on them.. and not whenever they feel like it.

    1. Allowing flexible use of a skill like that doesn’t actually lead to the slippery slope you describe, as long as the DM has the slightest backbone.

      In a skill challenge, if Arcana is not a listed skill or what it’s meant to be used for is not what the player is using it for then, per the DMG, Arcana can be limited to one use, or the DC for it set to Hard, or both.

      Furthermore, even if a character is creating portals or shields or whatever outside of the skill challenges, there’s no rule or requirement that they have any particular effect outside of the skill challenge. That’s the beauty of how abstract and “exception-based” 4th Edition is. If the Wizard “creates a portal” in a skill challenge, there’s no rule for that, it’s just the description based on the Arcana roll. It doesn’t automatically win the challenge, it doesn’t necessarily last as long as, or have the exact effect that the player hopes for. It’s entirely in the DM’s control, so he can warn a player who wants to do something with it in combat that it might not work as hoped.

      But then again, why not? Page 42 is perfect for this sort of thing. Allowing the Wizard (or anyone with Arcana) to create magical effects is cool. Just give them the DC for the skill, a damage expression, and go. Again, the DM can (and should) limit how many times it can be used effectively in combat, as with encounter powers. Then again, I’m guessing encounter powers are part of the verisimilitude-dilemma you think exists.

      Anyway, it’s not a problem. It requires some thought from the DM, but if a DM doesn’t want to worry about it then they probably wouldn’t allow such free use of Arcana in the first place.

  14. Too much nesting for me to reply I guess, but this is to Alphastream’s post of the 7th. Sorry it took me so long to respond:

    I need more experience with traps, but I don’t think a standard action, or even six of them are too much to ask, at least in certain circumstances. Besides which, not every trap requires or even allows a skill challenge. Many traps are composed of several pieces, so there would be a sense of “progress” with such a trap. (Incidentally, I found a trap that can be triggered from a control panel: Pendulum Blades.)

    Even if there is a skill challenge, it’s very possibly to make it engaging and exciting for the rogue, even if there’s no change in the trap with each roll. Skill challenges are also a good opportunity to use Page 42 and ask if a successful Thievery check can be used for something extra, such as turning off the IFF function of a trap for a round. Just because a trap doesn’t list such a feature, doesn’t mean it can’t be allowed

    Rogues can deal a lot of damage, but they also doesn’t have the best staying power. The rogue might decide that it’s more interesting and a better use of party resources to spend time working on a trap, than going toe-to-toe with the monsters and risk spending several turns making death saves, or just being stabilized and doing nothing.

    I’m fine if the party doesn’t find it a good use of their time to interact with a trap. Indiana Jones sometimes just avoided or dodged traps and then moved on. If they complete the fight before dealing with the trap, then fine. Even if it’s a cinch to disarm out of combat, they are welcome to the experience for an in combat trap, because they were probably either inconvenienced during the fight, or figured out some other way to deal with it. It’s like having the last two archers in the back of the room give up once the rest of the monsters die.

    Thanks for the interesting conversation.

  15. The first trap I ever used was pendulum blades, along with Trap Haunts and a few other things. It was pretty fun. Oh, right, I had the Flameskulls use their minor to activate the control panel and trigger additional attacks. Brutal! But, the party did nothing with the traps (as expected in that case). That is a fine outcome when it is intended.

    The issue is really when you want the PCs to be involved with the trap. This is very true in a home campaign with a rogue PC (who likely wants to do something with their Thievery), but also with any party to some extent. So, you have this trap and it is one of 5 foes… so, will the party interact with it? The answer is almost “no” because they quickly learn that a standard action to do something other than attack is almost always going to provide a lower return on that action. And it is true. I can’t fault players for reaching that conclusion.

    If you run a few scenarios, it will be pretty clear. Early LFR adventures cemented this in the minds of most RPGA players and now you have to (as an author) work really hard to change that. You have to pretty much advertise that you provided a cheaper action such as Move/Minor to work or they won’t even bother to try to check out the trap. or, you must advertise that thievery will provide incremental benefits. Or, the trap has to be so incredibly horrid that they realize they must focus on it.

    If we go back to the premise of designing an encounter where you want them to spend some focus on the trap, then either the trap has to be really scary or the actions have to be worth the PCs’ time. The vast majority of traps involving a skill challenge are not at all worth the PCs’ time. Some newer ones are better and involve fewer actions and are a bit more borderline.

    I’m probably repeating myself, so I’ll stop. I really have seen this over and over again. The solution is to either drastically change traps (ground-up change, such as making them not at all like monsters and more like a special really horrid terrain) or lower the action cost.

  16. The key difference here, I think, is the DM’s desire that the trap be interacted with. As I’ve said, I don’t care (or at least try not to care, I’m not perfect) whether or not they interact with a trap. That extends to skill challenges, NPCs, locations, plot lines, or even certain monsters in an encounter. I’ve just tried to give up caring whether or not something I design has the intended impact on the PCs, because they almost always do something unexpected. Better to throw in what I thinks make sense rather than what I think the PCs want to deal with, because if I think they want a trap they’re as likely to ignore it completely, or circumvent it easily as they are to deal with it directly.

    I understand that LFR is different. PCs might not have as much of an option not to engage in a given encounter, and as far as I know there are guidelines in place to try to provide opportunities to use certain skills. That’s all fine and good, but sometimes that’s going to be a problem, not because the mechanics of traps are wrong but because the expectations of the writers don’t apply to certain groups.

    Most DMs know that PCs are unpredictable, I’ve just taken that to mean I shouldn’t bother trying to predict them, but prepare (to the extent I do) encounters and adventures think make sense. I recognize that WotC isn’t going to make a ton of money marketing to my mindset, and that a change to how traps work is pretty much inevitable. I suppose I can always keep the disarm checks as standard actions if I want. But please remember the words of Edison (maybe not a role-model himself, but still): Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.

  17. Traps are clearly meant to be interacted with. Most have countermeasures, knowledge checks, etc. You have the thievery skill. If all you want is a monster in trap form, that is easy enough to do. But, in theory, the trap needs dealing with. That’s either dealing damage to it or disarming it – but either way it should be interacted with. Imagine a monster type that has a whole diplomacy section but that is never used… and the monster is ignored until everything else is dead. That’s a failure of the rules. It isn’t an LFR thing, just that LFR gives us a wide perspective across hundreds of players across the country/world.

    Pdunwin, have you tried a trap as a 4-success minor action disarm? On average, I would guess this is 3 rounds to disarm, maybe 2 if the trap is very rough. Aren’t most combats lasting 4-5 rounds? Seems reasonable. And I don’t find the combats overly easy for that change. So… what is behind your objection? I’m curious.

    When it comes to expectation failure, I would say it comes in the other direction. I am often asked to playtest LFR adventures where the author adds things a PC can use with a standard action. I shake my head when I prep it, run it as written (no bias, I promise!) and then no one uses those options. And every time I recommend the action economy be lowered. When it is, the next time I run the finished adventure I see people use the option… I really am completely convinced that Standard actions are sacred to the player.

    Here is what a typical playtest run might look like. Round 1 the PCs start engaging the foes and the trap reveals itself. Round 2 some PC qualified (thievery, etc.) considers doing something, attacks, moves up to it. They may, if lucky, interact. Round 3 they are interacting. Round 4 or 5 all non-trap foes are dead and the PC is only partway through the skill challenge and missed out on 2-3 standard actions. Are you not seeing this result?

    By the same token, I am experimenting with changing Dominate to be a bit stronger, with the normal effects but you take your dominated action on the monster’s turn and then get a single standard action on your turn. This way you don’t have the “nerfed” feeling, but you still are being dominated.

    1. Traps are meant to be interacted with, but it’s not necessary that they be interacted with, only that they have some effect on the fight. I’ve seen traps that operate and are not only not ignored, but have absolutely no impact on the fight. Even if all a trap does is force the party to think for a moment or two or use up a resource, then I’d consider it to have done what it was “meant” to do.

      I don’t know how long my fights usually are. If the striker were to devote some of their standard actions to a trap, I’d expect it to be longer than usual. I understand it’s a trade-off between ending the fight quickly and dealing with the trap, or having a somewhat longer fight but stopping the trap early. The annoyance level of the trap might influence the PCs’ choice but it would always be their choice, and not so much a matter of what I want or expect from the trap.

      I don’t think I’ve yet used a single trap, come to think of it, but I have used skill challenges in combat, which for the purposes of this discussion amounts to a bit of the same thing. It was Dungeon Delve 11-3, with a skill challenge backing up a solo. I don’t even think the PCs knew what effect the challenge had on the fight, but they didn’t like the look of it and worked to shut it down. One PC handled all the checks, which consisted of 4 standard actions. This was the wizard, who was able to use his minor and move actions to attack with a conjuration, so he had a standard action to “spare.” Still, it meant he wasn’t doing as much damage per round, laying as many effects, etc.

      Part of what’s behind my objection is my own failure of imagination. When I look at the picture of the eladrin dealing with the trap in the Skills frontispiece, I don’t see someone doing something minor. He’s clearly very involved with that trap, probably spending several standard actions on it. So, I don’t quite see how reducing the time it takes to deal with a trap makes sense. By all means make it more interesting, but don’t trivialize it. (Like I say, it’s all imagination. Maybe he’s spending a turn working on it, but maybe that’s three minor actions. Of course, he’ll still need to spend part of his next turn on it too, and he might fail one of those checks…)

      Another part of my objection is that I’m really relying on (the idea of) traps as a way to get around the enemies just getting locked down in combat. I always hear about how high-level groups (or not even that high) just stun the monsters and wipe them out. Traps can’t be stunned, so if I swapped out one monster with a trap, I’d still be able to cause issues for the PCs when the monsters are inoperative. If they can just stun the monsters and then spend a few minor actions to disarm the trap, I haven’t really spared the monsters any abuse, or caused much extra inconvenience to the PCs.

      There’s also the matter of “design space.” If the baseline is for traps to require a standard action, then there’s room for me to reward clever ideas by allowing them to use a minor action. I can put in a research skill challenge with the reward of needing only a minor action on the local traps. I can provide an item that enables checks as a minor action. Etc.

      And, of course, there’s always the underlying desire not to admit any flaws with my favorite game. I won’t say that’s not part of it for me. I’d much rather that people had incorrect assumptions about how the game should operate than admit to myself that the operation itself is flawed. I know no game is perfect, but I often feel as though perceived problems are often the result of too little effort put towards working /with/ the rules before changing them. You’re all smart, experienced people (almost certainly moreso than I) and I shouldn’t presume that you make these changes lightly. Still, when I think I might have an unnoticed counterpoint to offer I like to advocate for it. I usually learn something as a result, at least, and sometimes I even manage not to alienate that many people….

  18. No issues with the discourse at all. I dig your thoughts. I think you see traps from a pretty different perspective. The premise of traps is supposed to be a lot more interactive.

    I would personally prefer to use actual terrain and hazardous/challenging terrain to achieve the objectives you state, but I can see how traps could do that for you. To me, they just beg to be interacted with – and that is a desirable game element. I see it as substantially different than a skill challenge in a combat (which can much more easily merit standard actions, though that has to be taken into account for the challenge level).

    Some things don’t work well in 4E, and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I don’t love the game. I mean, this blog is by the WotC person that gets to fix a lot of stuff. His “complaining”, I think, isn’t about saying the game isn’t fun, but about exploring how to make it more fun than it already is.

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