Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Trap Tuesday -The Trap Module - PT 1

Today on Trap Tuesday I want to talk about the most infamous trap of all. This trap is so insidious that every D&D player has heard of it. Nearly every D&D player from the 80's has a story about how it killed them. Some love it, and some hate it. Know what it is yet?
Original cover of ToH

Yup, it's Tomb of Horrors. This module is the trap module. And today, we are going to start talking about the trap tropes within. Love this module or hate it, ToH has had a profound effect on how traps are viewed and used in D&D. I am putting SPOILER ALERT up now. If you have not played this module and intend to, stop reading. I plan on a few posts on this subject, as ToH is a dense module with a lot of subject matter. Today we will only be covering the entrance hallway superficially. I hope that the reads ask questions and tell me what to elaborate on.
Ignoring the entrance "puzzle" (random choice, unless you are overly cautious or have disposable minions), the first traps an adventuring party comes to are pit traps. Gygax put several pits in the entrance hallway, none of which are in a straight line. (And he uses them to affect 3 out of the 4 uses we outlined previously.)
The next trap is probably the most famous in D&D. The "Face of the Great Green Devil" has confounded players for over 40 years. Without boxed text the details given about the encounter vary wildly. Three clues are emboldened in the text: "Dead, Evil, Magic." These clues should be enough to deter people from jumping in. People grouse about this trap, but if run properly it stands as a good example of an unique trap.
Moving to the immediate left of the Devil Face, we find the weakest of the traps within ToH, the Arch of Mist. It can separate parties (permanently) and does not facilitate fun. If it were modified so that all characters ended near each other (maybe bars separate them or they were 40 feet apart on different ledges) that would lead to interesting encounters. As it stands, this trap has a chance of limiting fun because the party has their time split.
We are still in the entrance hallway, and three different kinds traps already confound. Over the next few weeks, I plan to delve further into the module and discuss if the traps work and why.

See you in the dungeon halls.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Trap Tuesday - Fog

Found on Wikipedia
I love fog. It's elegant and frightening. It elicits an emotional response just at the word. Tracy Hickman used it to great effect in Ravenloft, so much so an entire line was born from the Fog. Today we are going to look at fog in RPGs and specifically as a trap mechanic.
Fog is especially wonderful in RPGs because of the inherit danger of itself. Getting lost, things hidden in its tendrils, lack of vision and losing companions all are very real terrors inside of a fog. Using a poisonous fog like chlorine gas amps the danger up.

Setting up a fog encounter for overland travel is straightforward. Just have the fog roll in on the characters. This alone brings up the tension level, especially in players that have dealt with Ravenloft in the past. But, this does not make the encounter a "trap." It needs additional elements. The fog is just a clue that a trap is imminent.
The next element for using the fog as a trap is a change in the environment. A wolf howls in the distance, with a response from a different direction would be a good example. Now, the players know that something is different. The "landscape" has changed. 5E players should be using Nature or Survival rolls at this point to figure out how to get away from the wolves. OSR players are probably asking for exact descriptions of trees and surrounding environs. (Don't give it to them. They are in a fog, remember?)
At this point, they need to run away from our trap, or spring the trap. Either way, the action gets intense. Running may lead to separation or getting lost. (5E DMs need to use penalties to Survival/Perception/Nature to mimic the fog's effects on the senses.)
The fog in the previous example acts like the tripwire or pressure plate in a typical trap. It lets the players know something isn't right, and something bad could happen. The howling of wolves pushes the characters to action (and actually springs the trap.)
Image from Skyrim
Using fog in a dungeon creates a more immediate reaction. It isn't just another weather condition that the characters are dealing with. Fog in a dungeon is unnatural. The players will immediately know that something is wrong. And they will be cautious.
Hitting a pressure plate (one of our classic trigger elements) the party causes the fog to roll into the room they are in. We could use a Save or Die for chlorine gas (in OSR). A more interesting variant though is concealing something valuable. The trap door in the ceiling actually is a hidden way out of the dungeon. The players will be too worried about surviving to find the hidden prize, though. After 5 minutes the trap closes and resets. Whatever the fog hides, have the players make Saves (PPD for OSR, Con for 5e). Nothing bad happens when they fail, but it keeps them guessing.

Until next time, see you in the dungeon halls.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Trap Tuesday - Icy Weather!

Travelling to Wisconsin for Garycon in early March brought up an interesting trap idea. Weather acts much like a trap in overland adventuring. With this in mind, let's talk about weather and traps.

Inclement weather of most kinds can be used as a trap of sorts. Icy conditions on the ground can cause someone to fall. Torrential rain or snow can obscure vision. Even high winds can force a travelling group off their compass heading. All of these mimic traps in one form or another.

Today, I will start with ice. Ice on the ground can be nearly invisible. Ice storms hurt. If you have ever been in an ice storm, you know the stinging pinch of hard water welting your skin. And as it hits the ground, it becomes more and more treacherous to just walk.
An icy patch may just be a singular hazard along a forested trail, or there may be a sequence of them. Patches of ice can be almost anywhere. A patch can have wildly different consequences based on that location. Wherever one is, it should to be adjudicated as a trap. As I have talked about previously, this event is a lot more fun if the characters can interact with it.  Detecting it (even if it is "black ice") should be easy enough. Rangers, druids and thieves (rogues if you prefer) should be able to find the icy patch with their miscellaneous abilities. Getting through or around the ice may be a different story.
Are they on a high mountain pass, with granite on one side, and air on the other? How do they navigate the ice then? They will come up with a creative solution.
Are they in the middle of a crowded city? They may not be able to avoid the ice. In this case falling down may only hurt their social status. (And it can be used as a comic relief moment.)

How would I actually put rules to these ideas? For OSR games, I would probably force a saving throw for attempting to cross. Depending on the system used, it could be Dexterity based or Paralysis.
I may give barbarians, rangers or other characters bonuses depending on their background and experiences. For a more modern game, I would probably use a straight dexterity check. Whatever system I use, I would add bonuses for creative ideas. Using a walking stick might garner a +1, but making a walker with 4 legs might gain a +8.

Ice storms are a much different obstacle. In addition to the effects above, an ice storm will probably halt overland travel. A storm could force a caravan (or group of adventurers) off their compass heading. And pelting ice should cause damage.
Whatever system I use, I would cause 1d6 damage per 10 minutes of travelling in an ice storm. Tents are not much protection in these circumstances. After the tents are up, I would have everyone take 1d6 every half hour. Spurring a mount forward in an ice storm is dangerous. In addition to the damage, a mount may slip, breaking a leg or causing another injury.

If the group is not on a road, getting lost travelling through an ice storm becomes likely. An OSR group wants a ranger in these circumstances. Adjudicating much like surprise, a ranger would be lost only 1 in 6. Druids and Barbarians only 2 in 6. Everybody else 4 in 6. These numbers can be adjusted for familiar terrain or other factors.
In a modern game, Survival skill check would determine if the group is lost.

Weather as a trap is a strong concept in D&D. It adds some realism to an overland journey and can make fun encounters without being deadly. Over the next couple of weeks, I expect to revisit the idea with other inclement weather types.

See you in the dungeon halls,