Traps: they’re a really interesting way to hook the attention of players or catch them off-guard. As someone that’s been a Dungeon Master for over 3 years, I’ve found they can create some pretty humorous – or deadly – consequences for unsuspecting players. The best part about this is that despite being an excellent tool, traps are often overlooked by Dungeon Masters, which makes them great for creating extra hurdles for player characters.

You were expecting something else, weren’t you?

One of my favorite aspects about traps is that they can fit into virtually any game. Triggers can be just about anything, from a false floor tile to a magical rune, which makes traps adaptable to any setting. My favorite traps, however, are mechanical in nature because it allows for more customization in non-magical settings… and because my party of spell casters can’t detect them as easily.

Sometimes, you just need to let player characters find the trap in their own special way.

The Story

The last time I used a trap was for a game celebrating one of my player’s birthdays. The group was travelling deep into a cavern in a post-apocalyptic world to find a supposedly safe haven. The team consisted of a Rogue, a Sorcerer, a Wizard and a Cleric. As a DM, I usually create at least 3 encounters as part of a one-shot game and then add in details, so the trap was going to be one of the larger obstacles.

I decided to use a mechanical trap for this game. It was a large treadmill that moved 10 feet every turn to a pit of spikes. Whoever triggered the treadmill (dubbed “Treadmill to Hell” afterwards) would have 3 turns to stop it before falling into the pit to die a slow death. The fun part was that the only way to stop the treadmill was by pulling a lever, and I added in more difficulty by placing 3 identical levers side-by-side on the same wall. I also made it a DC 10 Strength roll in order to successfully pull it down. This added difficulty made it way more amusing to watch the horror on my players’ faces, so it was a win-win in my book.

Two players ended up getting stuck on the Treadmill to Hell: the Rogue, who was not perceptive whatsoever, and the Sorcerer, who was weaker than a limp noodle with a negative Strength score. Needless to say, both of them were panicking. The Sorcerer was convinced that the levers were another part of the trap, so they ignored them. After 2 turns the Rogue, who had been cursing at the Sorcerer, decided to pull a lever. He succeeded on the roll, but it was the wrong one. The sorcerer managed to barely succeed in rolling a high enough Strength score to pull down the lever. He managed to choose the right one as well, which stopped the contraption right as they were about to fall into the pit. The rest of the party joined only after making sure there weren’t any more triggers, and they managed to successfully find another way across the pit.

This was one of many traps that I fondly remember using during my time as a Dungeon Master. I also tend to vary when I use them so players don’t expect them too often. It helps with the suspense.

Creating a trap isn’t a chore, it’s an art form.

Conclusion


Traps are a versatile (dare I say crucial?) part of Dungeons and Dragons. They can be simple or complex and Dungeon Masters can personalize them any setting. Traps are a good way to challenge players, regardless of where their travels lead them.


Megan Hockersmith

Megan Hockersmith

An aspiring Chaotic Good writer who knows when it is better to pick up a pen versus a sword. Enjoys being a DM when she isn't playing as a Druid.

7 Comments

ailem64 · September 30, 2020 at 8:11 am

I ran a simple trap/puzzle in one of my games once. It was a 40 by 40 room the had had a pedestal with a handprint on it in the middle. When pressed it would start counting from 20 to 1. A player could reset it by pressing it again. As it counted down the room was getting more and more chaotic. When it hits 0 the door opens. That’s all it does, had my players stuck for at least 30 mins.

    dndgeek89 · October 13, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    That is super cruel! I LOVE IT! 🙂

    Megan Hockersmith

    Megan Hockersmith · October 14, 2020 at 2:32 am

    That’s a very interesting idea! Perhaps when it reaches low numbers, you could make then room magically dark for one minute, return, and the pedestal shift across the room. However, this time, there would be two identical ones: the actual pedestal and a mimic.

John browning · September 30, 2020 at 8:44 pm

traps are an excellent way to change up the typical encounter, and puzzle traps are an excellent encounter to throw at players. I think i will throw in a few traps in my games.

    Megan Hockersmith

    Megan Hockersmith · October 14, 2020 at 2:34 am

    Puzzle traps are another favorite of mine as well! They’re very useful if you want to create an extra challenge or if you want it to either be its own encounter or part of a larger one.

chill touch · October 19, 2020 at 3:37 pm

great fun story! really liked especially the identical lever part of the story, but i think there should also put something which cause player to think harder to cross this trap. or sometimes a dummy trap can cause a great dilemma for the players.

    Megan Hockersmith · October 20, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    That’s a good idea! Dummy traps are an excellent way to make players wonder what you have in store.

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