Friday, June 28, 2019

Traps, part two: example traps

We gave a look at traps, here: Traps - a first review and this topic is definitely too big for a single post. So let's see a few additional points about the subject, but this time let's be very practical, let's see a few examples of traps.

Traps in a spellbook are a great way to target the spellcaster in the group... a mysterious spellbook is a serious temptation for any wizard.
Traps in spellbooks might be hidden or could be quite visible and yet remain interesting and challenging (i.e. the spellcaster might easily spot the ink golem traps protecting every spell - do they risk to trigger it every time to learn new spells?), or could also be in the form of twisted spells (i.e. without the correct code, the learned spell is actually harmful instead of useful).
Obviouly, traps in a spellbook are magical ones, and your spellcaster will soon learn to cast Detect Magic or similar before opening a new spellbook... but does the aura of the spellbook disturb Detect Magic? And what about that wizard who smartly predicted that other spellcasters would disarm magical traps and used instead a simple, poisoned needle or poisoned dust?

Spellbook Traps
by Hack & Slash
Here is my list of ways a spell book can be trapped. It's system neutral. I am not the originator of most of these, you may thank Anonymous. Enjoy. I should come up with a list of specific magical books later. . .
1. Alarm
2. Explosive Runes
3. Contingency (To trigger any spell)
4. Symbol
5. Dusty pages (spores, disease)
6. Contact poison
7. Twisted spells (harmful spells unless the caster knows the code or key)
8. Ink Golems
9. Cloud of a million papercuts (Targeting eyes, nose, and mouth.)
10. Something that looks like a linking book, but actually triggers an Imprisoment spell
11. Mimics
12. A book with the same words on every page, with the spells coded into ink, or texture / material of the pages
13. Beartraps
14. Cursed (Polymorph for anyone reading the book who isn't the caster
15. Superglue [...]

This is an example of how to use giant block of stone in some original ways. There are a few interesting ideas, and also a few questions which could be useful as inspiration of how to design your traps.
- Take something simple, and think of all the ways this could be used; what could be an unexpected or original use? with and/or without magic?
- Take inspiration from the real world: toys, tools, hardware, scenarios; think about traps but also about secrets

by Follow Me, And Die
Take something simple, and think of all the ways this could be used, it could all be in the same dungeon, or series of dungeons/tombs. Perhaps all the tomb builders of a certain epoch used them. [...]
Have a giant rock or cube the shape of the corridor fill up the space.
It doesn’t have to kill. Use it to stop entrance or exit and otherwise direct the adventurers along the path most favorable to the kobolds.
Think of all the ways you can use a giant block of stone to impede and frustrate their efforts. Be sure to think in 3 dimensions.

Examples with a 10X10X10 dungeon corridor.

- The block that falls can’t be pushed or pulled as it is a tight fit and there is a slight lip in the floor around its base.
- The block falls just in front to make them turn back or aside at an intersection.
- The block falls after they enter a room and exit on opposite wall has one that will fall before they can leave the room.
- - There can be no exit and the party waits for rescue or attack, or figures a way out.
- - There can appear to be no exit, but there is a secret door or trap door in the flor/ceiling.
- A stone block actually is a secret room but the players have to find it in the portion facing them.
I started with a stone block and added in pits, moving walls, floors, and ceilings, and so forth. In the same way, start with something simple and look at it just a bit differently.
- What can you do with it that you or a player wouldn’t expect?
- What can you do with it with and without magic? (Technology for other genres.)
- Find one of your child’s or grandchild’s toys or other household item.  What can you do with that?
- Pay attention to the things you see at the big box stores or hardware store.
- What overheard conversation from public places sparks an idea?
- Don’t limit yourself to traps. You can do this with secret doors, hidden compartments, etc.[...]

If you're ready for a longer read, you can also refer to this series of posts by Talysman. The previous post about traps already had links to the first two articles, but the list contains also a series of posts about different types of traps... Springs, Levers, Pressure Plates, etc. are all analyzed in details and can provide inspiration for your own new, original traps.

Traps Series
by Talysman
Compression Triggers
Pressure Plates
Equilibrium (Balance) Plates
Wheels/Axles [...]

To conclude this post, let's look at four links by Martin O, on traps, guards, alarms and locks.
Some of these are interesting, others a little bit nasty.

For example I like the idea of reducing the speed to paralysis in a progressive manner or preventing turning left or right because they pose a challenge.
I don't like too much the "accelerate to death" or "radiation" traps, in their simplicity, because they require just a dispell magic or a cure, or they cause a fast/slow death with not too much of challenge or interesting content...
In this sense, I prefer a trap to make damage than to kill because a weakened character becomes a challenge for the player... more than a dead one. As you might have guessed, rather than just killing characters with one blow, I'd rather grind them slowly to death because players don't know when to turn back and return to safety instead of pushing forward with greed.

20 Traps for Wizards and Assholes
by Martin O
1. Xeno Hallway - Person moves half the speed they did last round, every round. If not sprinting at the start they’ll effectively be stuck [...]
3. Turn Rune - Trigger-activated rune prevents all affected from turning left or right on their own accord. Visual or area activation common. Typically last a day [...]
5. Acceleration Rune - Target starts accelerating at rate of 5ft/round(squared). No effective upper speed limit. Distance required to turn 90 degrees also increases at 5ft/round (starting at 0ft). Unless eventually dispelled, your pieces will almost certainly end up ricocheting into space. [...]
13. Radioactive Loot - Hope you enjoy having cancer, thief! Whatever is worth stealing is radioactive. Direct prolonged contact is sure to produce dire health effects. [...]

Guards are basically like a visibile trap. There might be a way to deactivate a trap before it triggers or to circumvent it, and there might be a way to distract or incapacitate a guard instead of fighting it.
They offer interesting options as well as traps.

20 Magical Guards
by Martin O
[...] 8. Beeeeeeeeeeeeees! - A lot of bees. Like, a heck of a lot of bees. Like, an incomprehensible number of bees... Release the bees!
9. Mirror Golem - Two-faceted silver nitrate coated machine. Deflects direct-target spells. Front facet shows a false future - anyone who looks in it gains disadvantage on their next roll. Rear facet shows a true future with opposite effect. [...] 
16. Party Mirror - Alignment-reflected vengeful clones of every party member. Same capabilities, same stats, same equipment. [...]

And if guards are traps, what about alarms? (I guess they're just some sort of traps)
The first is a classic, but have a look at the post linked below for more inspiration. I copied another three: I like the distraction caused by "Flies in Your Eyes" and the options opened by "Open Bounty" (though I fear it might result just in endless combats with bounty-hunters).
But it's number 17, Past Assassin, that is quite interesting...
It should be guarding something important because it seems to me like a powerful spell to use as a protection... How would you play that out? Perhaps digg out the adventure you played a few sessions earlier and try to recreate the events but with the Past Assassin in the game? Would you re-play the events just with a combat in the middle? I am not sure how the players would take it... but if my character was severely wounded (or died) in a fight that occurred a week or a month before the current adventure, I would find it quite cool!

1. Screaming Mouth - Classic Magic Mouth alarm. Screams very very loud in caster’s voice. This version has noted effect of spreading to any surface that touches it (i.e. hands, clothes, the back of Frank’s head). [...]
15. Flies in Your Eyes - Illusory flies start appearing in the visions of intruders. Impossible to swat, impossible to avoid, incredibly distracting. Accompanied by loud buzzing sound.
16. Open Bounty - Alarm triggers instant bounty, five pounds of unicorn flesh per head, on any and all unlawful intruders. Announces this loudy on street and triggers Sending to the fiercest bounty hunters around.
17. Past Assassin - Message sent to past detailing current intruders to an assassin, who will then try and cut them off and change past events so that intrusion does not occur. [...]

Finally, locks; note that these are simply hard to bypass or force, they are not really about causing harm but preventing or slow down or discourage entry, a little like alarms.

Weird Locks
[...] I am deliberately avoiding the "there is a spell on this lock that triggers when it's messed with", or the "assemble the pieces of the Master Key", because those are quite common and kind of dull.
So, what's the purpose of Locks? For the purposes of a Wizard City campaign, a lock is designed to slow down, discourage, or otherwise prevent entry. It is expected that any wizard, given enough time, will be able to crack any lock, so they're not designed to be impenetrable. [...]
3. Crocodile Maw - Shaped as crocodile head. Requires feeding specific kind of meat to open lock [...]
6. My Hole - Lock contains person-sized outline of owner. Only someone of exactly their dimensions may enter. Popular with amputee wizards [...]
15. 1000 Year Lock - Metal lock “blooms” (opens) once only every 1000 years for exactly one day. If you miss your chance that’s it… Or maybe time travel [...]

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Traps - a first review

Almost every OSR ruleset contains a skill related to traps. It might be Find and Remove Traps, or some generic Search + generic Tinkering or similar, dividing the actions of finding and disarming or removing the trap.

In fact, when it comes to traps, there are often these two controversial topics to address:
- Finding a trap: is it a roll? is it restricted to thieves? can it be done "in fiction" by just talking with the GM? does it require just asking for something odd or looking for specific clues?
- Disarming a trap: is it a roll? is it restricted to thieves? can it be done "in fiction" by just talking with the GM? does it require just some generic ideas or a precise understanding of the mechanism?

I think the above could be broken down into:

Finding a trap
1. Is it hidden? (totally hidden or it can be seen but just when paying attention?)
2. Is it partially visible? (perhaps there are more or less obvious clues, or at least something odd about it)
3. Is it plainly visible? (in this case the challenge becomes disarming it, or bypassing it in some way, or even deciding if to give up...)

Disarming a trap
1. Is it impossible to determine how it works? (totally hidden mechanism or too small or concealed for example behind a wall?)
2. Is it partially understandable? (some pieces of the mechanism may be visible, or it might be possible to try to disarm it or at least jam its mechanism?)
3. Is it clear how it works? (in this case the challenge might be that the mechanism requires something special to be disarmed, something huge or something very precise or someone with a very precise set of skills...)

How do you rule all of the above? Do you use a skill? (and is it restricted to a single class?)
Or do you use only the conversation between players and GM?
Or do you use both, with the conversation between players and GM taking precedence over the skill roll? (this seems to be somehow the best practice, nowadays, especially with visible traps)

A lot of the above topics are presented nicely also in the following post, which seems to favor a mixed approach: descriptive (and open to all classes) for visible/simpler traps, while rolling (skill roll and restricted to specialists/thieves) for small, delicate or complicate hidden traps.

[...] I come now to Find and Remove Traps, and find myself in a bit of a quandary.
In the first place, I really, really like the idea of player agency in finding traps. [...] It's much more interesting and provides greater immersion for the players to use the DM's descriptions to find traps. [...] Consider:
DM:  Just ahead, on the left side of the corridor a skeleton is slumped against the wall.
Thief:  I check for traps.
DM:  (rolling)  You don't find anything.
DM:  Just ahead, on the left side of the corridor a skeleton is slumped against the wall. 
Thief:  Without getting too close, I look at the walls and ceiling in that section of the corridor.
DM:  You see a pattern of holes in the right wall, and a set of shallow gouges in the left wall that seem to match.  There's nothing unusual about the ceiling.
Thief:  I examine the floor, looking for a trip wire or pressure plate.
DM:  One of the floor blocks is very slightly elevated above the level of the rest of the floor.

In my opinion, the second scenario is far more fun and interesting.  The "problem," if it can be called such, is that it renders the thief's Find Traps and Remove Traps skills irrelevant (or at least less relevant,) because it relies entirely on player (and DM) skill. 
What good, then, are the Find and Remove Traps abilities?  Should they be dropped entirely, or is there still a unique niche for the thief as trap finder?  I can see a strong argument in favor of keeping and using them in certain circumstances.
Dealing with traps as in the second example above requires that the DM be able to visualize the trap (else how could he describe it?) and have a basic understanding of its component parts and how it works.  It requires also that some aspects of the trap are visible to the player characters and discernible as something potentially hazardous.  Those conditions lend themselves best to area traps - those that affect a room or a stretch of corridor, for example - as opposed to item traps, such as a poison needle in the latch of a chest.  
I, for one, am hard-pressed to describe just what the trigger for a poison needle or a gas trap protecting a treasure chest would look like.  Besides making it difficult to describe such a thing, that also makes me skeptical of the ability of a cautious but untrained person to notice it.[...] 
You can probably assume that the designer of the trap has taken great pains to make the external trigger of the trap both as small and as indistinguishable from the rest of the item as possible.  A specialist, someone who knows what he's looking for, has a chance to see it for what it is, but anyone else won't.  It's probably also a safe bet that most of the trap mechanism is housed within the chest, out of sight and out of reach, thus making disarming it difficult and delicate work. [...] 

If you want a little more about this approach, with a distinction between small traps and the rest, see also this post by Brendan.

Find Traps as Saving Throw
by Brendan
I was reading about traps over at The Dragon’s Flagon, and that got me to thinking about find traps as a saving throw, which is an idea I first came across over at Courtney’s blog (see his set of answers to the 20 quick rules questions). To quote:
Finding traps is a saving throw, and works as such.
Thus, anyone can interact with the fictional world and discover or avoid traps purely by investigation and reason. Note that this doesn’t necessarily require any particular mechanical knowledge on the part of the referee or players (though you can go there if you want), it just requires determining trigger mechanism, effect, and clues. Remember, traps don’t need to be mechanical, or even explainable. Traps can be driven by magic, ancient technology, or incomprehensible clockwork.

In this third post, we see a more mechanical analysis, with some other useful inputs.
For example, when designing (and playing in-game) with traps, there is a clear distinction between trigger and effect.
Note also that sometimes searching for a trap might trigger it (or cause some other effect) and likewise, trying to disarm or avoid the trap might still result in some effect.

There's a thread on Dragonsfoot about using the old school approach to detecting and disabling traps; in other words, having players describe how they search for traps and what they do to disable or avoid triggering the trap. The person who started the thread wasn't sure how to handle this: what possible ways could a player use to search? How do you enable people with no special knowledge of traps in the real world to role-play a knowledgeable character in a fantasy world? What if the player just creates a huge list of actions to search for traps and says "I do all this" every time? [...]
The important things to remember are:
- A trap has two parts: the trigger and the result.
- Each part must be detected separately, and may require different search methods.
- Search order is important; one method may find a trigger, another method may trigger it.
Results can be pretty varied, but they can all be simplified to an action delivered along a particular path, from Origin Point A to Target Point B. A character standing at the target point or along the path between the origin and the target is in danger of being caught in the trap. Examining Point A may locate a trap, but not its trigger; examining Point B may offer clues to what kind of result to expect (scorch marks on a wall are a clue to a flame thrower trap, debris on the floor may be a clue to a deadfall.) 
Some results, like releasing a gas, might not be obvious from any kind of clue.
When constructing a trap, you should consider both obvious actions (walking over a trapped floor, opening a trapped door) and search methods (touching or moving a trapped chest.) Sometimes, a particular search method will trigger the trap, which might not be a good idea based on whether you are standing in the path of the result or not.

From the same author, let's look at some additional input about the first part of the topic: finding/detecting a trap.

[...] I don't like the idea of a simple skill roll to search for traps, but that doesn't mean I like or use the extreme pixel-bitching approach to traps, either. I'm probably just a little more detailed than Brendan describes for his own technique. If someone says "I search the room", I ask "how", but all I'm expecting is general details: Do you enter the room, or stay outside? If you enter the room, do you just blunder on in, walk normally, or creep along slowly? Are you just searching visually, or are you touching things (with or without a 10-foot pole?) And if you're touching things, are you actually tapping or knocking, or are you moving things around?
So, basically, it breaks down to speed and direction, stance, senses and tools used, and any changes to the environment made. I assume, unless told, that you do everything that could be included in the general description of what you tell me, without going too far. You stand in the doorway and do a visual search? Then anything that *could* be seen from where you are standing is seen, no roll necessary, and no weaseling out by saying "you didn't say you were also looking at the ceiling". I figure that these are the basic search procedures:
- Blundering In: You enter the room without searching. This always applies for those fleeing monsters, unless you say otherwise.
- Careful Entrance: You enter, but not necessarily quickly, and look at stuff as you enter. This action stops as soon as you spot anything out of the ordinary (no roll needed, as long as it's visible and not hidden.)
- Stop, Look and Listen: You don't enter the room, so no traps triggered by movement or pressure will go off. Anything visible or audible -- or smellable, or detectable by any other sense that works over distance -- is automatically detected.
- Cautious Test: You use a ten-foot pole or similar technique to test from a distance. Discovers a few things you'd miss by the previous techniques. If you also add tapping with the pole, you discover hollow spaces as well.
- Thorough Test: You touch what you're searching, everywhere. Discovers hidden catches, buttons, and the like.

All of these assume you are standing up, bending and crouching only as needed, and make no changes (nothing is moved or opened.) A careful entrance assumes you look under things, on top of anything you can see the top of, behind anything you can see behind, and around every corner you can look around. The first time you would notice something out of place or out of the ordinary, I describe that, and assume you stop until you tell me what you do next. If you have to move something or open something to continue a search, I ask if that's what you want to do. [...] 

Note that we can desume a method from the list above, which presents 5 different approaches from the characters to an environment/object:
- Careless: enter without searching, run through an area, open a door or chest
- Careful: enter and see the obvious, pass through an area, slowly open a door or chest (anything obvious and out of the ordinary should be revealed and stop the character before anything triggers; I would add also that something carefully hidden or concealed would instead trigger in this case)
- Very Careful: do not enter, do not pass, do not open, but check with your senses (reveal anything out of the ordinary even if not obvious, nothing triggers because nothing is touched; I would add that this takes time)
- Cautious: keep a distance and check with tools or skills (reveal anything even if out of sight but not really "secret"; I would add that this process though involves touching and prodding so something might trigger, although probably there is a certain safety in distance)
- Very Cautious: first keep a distance and if nothing happens, move closer and inspect more carefully so that everything is revealed, even secrets

The important thing, to me, seems to be the time that it takes to perform such actions. For example, if you are running you are always careless, but if you are not saying anything else, you are just careful (reveal anything which is in plain sight).
If the group wants to be very careful, I would say it takes less than a turn for a small area, but a turn for a large room or a long corridor (so, encounter check?).
If instead you go up to cautious it must take a turn (encounter check at the end), and I would say an additional turn for very cautious (it can be a second turn after a cautious approach - like saying "I search more carefully").
In other words, the more careful you are with your exploration (so more likely to detect and avoid traps, and discover secrets), the greater the chances for an encounter.