Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Trap Tuesday: A step back

I will get back to Tomb of Horrors soon. I found a topic that was interesting enough to take a break. While interacting in a 5E group on Facebook I talked to another blogger, Just Kay. She recently blogged about traps here. She wrote a very informative article on traps that made me think.

In Kay's article, she points out there are 5 reasons to build a trap: capture, delay, frighten, kill and something she calls "the Trail of Worth." I agree with 4 of the 5. Kay doesn't explain what a "Trail of Worth" trap is.

Using Kay's classifications, let's revisit the Tomb of Horrors.
How do you classify the pit traps? They could be any of the choices. Realistically (beacuse of character level), they are delay traps.
The Green Devil Face is obviously a kill trap.
The Arch of Mist is a delay trap.
The 3 (4) Armed Statue doesn't really fit with any of the criteria. As I mentioned in Pt 2, I consider this a puzzle. But, it also acts as a trap, It eats resources. (I will touch more on this in a bit.)
The Magic Archway is a delay trap and also extracts a heavy resource toll.
The False Doors in the Great Hall of Spheres act to both delay and kill (?)
The chest traps are kill traps.

Rarely do you see a frightening trap or a capture trap in D&D. Both can remove player agency. A capture trap can be used to drive a plot forward though. An example: The DM needs the characters to negotiate with an orc tribe, and he uses pit traps and net traps to capture the characters in order to facilitate the story.

I suggest adding a couple of more reasons to build traps. The first is alarm. A tripwire attached to a bell isn't made to capture, delay, frighten (although it could double as a deterrent) or kill. It is placed so sentries are warned of intruders before their arrival. Some traps have effects on the trap-maker, not the trap-tripper.

Secondly, a trap may be made to protect something or make it inaccessible. If a diamond on a pillar is protected by a tripwire (or pressure plate, or laser sensor or other trigger) that diamond may drop into a hole that sends it into a vault deeper within the complex. Although similar to a delay trap, this affects the mcguffin instead of the PCs.

Finally, some traps exist only to consume the PCs resources. Tomb of Horrors has 2 (so far!)

As I continue to explore the subject of traps, this list will be expanded. But, as of now, my trap types are:
Affects PCs:

  • Capture
  • Delay
  • Frighten
  • Kill
  • Resource denial
Affects Objects or Enemies:
  • Alarm
  • Protection
Next week, we will get further into the ToH. Unless I find another McGuffin to distract me. Until then, see you in the dungeon halls!


Monday, April 8, 2019

Monster Monday: Trolls

A troll, as it appeared in 1E
Trolls are a ubiquitous and terrifying D&D monster. Trolls are nigh unkillable and able to slaughter low level parties with ease. In D&D a troll is a specific monster, with specific abilities. These abilities remain consistent throughout the editions.
  • Regeneration: This is the hallmark of a D&D troll. It may change somewhat from edition to edition, but regeneration is to be expected of any troll in a D&D game. The regeneration has always made them a challenge but in new editions, they are even more terrifying and challenging. What happens if you chop its arm off? Oh, 5E rules cover that. What about its head? That'll do something great, right? 5E covers that, too.
  • Attacks: Trolls usually have 2 claw attacks and a bite attack.
One thing I've always done is to make 'specialized' trolls for each environment by adjusting resistances, vulnerabilities, and powers to reflect the subtype I have designed.
Image licensed from Adobe
That is what we recently did in Creeping Cold. We took a "standard" troll and changed its regeneration abilities to key with an environment. Its attacks and damage types were adjusted slightly. The changes took an average encounter and turned it memorable, and it still felt like fighting a troll.

I have changed trolls in other ways in the past. A memorable home game in AD&D had a group of trolls with lairs high on a sheer cliff face. These trolls mutated 4 (and sometimes 6) arms to better facilitate climbing. The fact they could get more attacks with the extra arms was terrifying to the characters.

One of the best ways to change player expectations of trolls is changing what types of damage stop their regeneration ability. Every player that has ever had a character reach level 8 knows that trolls cannot regenerate from fire or acid damage. It is easy to change a troll to a fire-typed creature and have the fire actually heal the nemesis. Simply change its skin color to a "warm" shade like yellow, red or orange. This gives the players a visual clue that something is different.

What would Monster Monday be without some encounter ideas?
Travelling from the orcs' territory in a mega-dungeon, the PCs notice that blood stains the walls and floors. Each room has several flasks of lamp oil and broken furniture or wood. At the far end of these strange rooms an open, unworked cavern holds a tribe of trolls.

A solitary troll resides in the King's Forest, not very far from Redstone. The local druid disappeared, and the king fears the troll ate her. The adventurers are sent to dispatch the monstrosity, but learn the troll is actually the druid, cursed by a hag.

An evil dragon has not been spotted in the countryside for some time. It is believed to be dead, and its treasures ripe for picking. The cavern it used as a home is atop a mountain peak. As the PCs get close they are attacked by trolls with strange skin-flaps that connect arms to torsos. The trolls use these skin-flaps to glide through the air, and attack with legs and feet.

Until next time, see you in the dungeon halls!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Trap Tuesday: ToH PT 2

This is the second post on the Tomb of Horrors. The first can be found HERE.

I know it's a day late, and I'm sorry for that. I was surprised at how busy I was with the first 12 hours of the new Kickstarter: Creeping Cold. Now that the obligatory link is out of the way, let's dive back into the Tomb of Horrors. (And again, this blog is full of SPOILERS.)

Backtracking to the Arch of Mist: I mentioned that this can separate parties. It sends incorrect guesses back to the beginning of the module. Following the correct path leads to a puzzle: "The Three Armed Statue." The puzzle has PCs destroy gems in 4 batches.
Destroying these gems once (3 total gems), twice (6 total gems), or thrice (9 total gems) causes nothing to happen.  The 10th gem triggers a Magic Mouth telling the PCs that they have gained something.
So far, I actually like the puzzle. An INVISIBLE Gem of Seeing (really, invisible? after 1000 gp of gems were destroyed? Seems a little much) appears in the severed fourth hand. And the Gem is "immune" to See Invisibility. If the "arm is carelessly moved, the gem will fall off and roll away."
Chances are the arm was carelessly moved before the Gem even appeared. And, the final part of the puzzle? The way out is a crawl-way, covered in illusion to look like the wall around it.

Image of Hall of Great Spheres from ToH
Following the passage from the "Three Armed Statue" leads to a room. (Great Hall of Spheres) with a couple of traps, including the 2nd most famous (the Magic Archway). There are 20 spheres here in the walls and glyphs. Two false doors and the Magic Archway are the only noticeable exits.
The nearest trap to the Three Armed Statue is a false door.  Every time the door is opened, a spear shoots out at a PC, forcing a Save vs Magic to avoid 2d8 damage. (My module only lists 1 of the doors as a trap. Other sources list both.) I am a fan of the false door trap. They are always unexpected (even here) and make for a fun jump-scare. Just don't over-use them!
Besides the Magic Archway, there are actually 3 exits from this room: the way to the Three Armed Statue, a door that needs a spell to open (Knock, Disintegrate, Rock to Mud, or Stone to Flesh), and another crawl-way that is covered with an illusion.
The Magic Archway is what dominates the room, though. As I mentioned previously, this is the 2nd most famous trap in Tomb of Horrors. It looks very similar to the Arch of Mist, but the colors are different. No messing with the stones changes what it looks like through the archway. Any character that goes through the archway is teleported back to the beginning of the dungeon. All of their equipment is teleported to the final boss.
Again, this trap sucks. It's an obvious way to advance. But, it steals your stuff instead. In a tournament or convention game, I would simply re-write it. In a tournament, I would have it take all treasure found within the Tomb and then send them back to the beginning. In a convention game, I would simply have it send them back to the beginning. In a home game, where the PCs can retreat, regroup and try again, I think it is a worthy challenge, and I would leave it alone.

Three Chests from ToH
Moving on to the last room of the day, The Chamber of the 3 Chests. This is another room hidden by an illusion (and again a crawl space). As the name implies, this room has 3 chests within: "gold," "silver" and wood. Both the precious metals are simply plating over iron (and worth less than their weight).
All three of the chests are trapped. The gold chest houses 12 (3 HD) asps. For the sake of verisimilitude I will assume the snakes were in a form of stasis (but, the chest is non-magical). They are venomous, and saves are made at -2. But, I am unsure what the poison does. I guess that it would be the same as a Poisonous Snake from the Monster Manual (3d6 damage).
So, I have a couple of problems with this trap. I mentioned both above. 1st, how do the snakes stay alive? It just feels like sloppy writing on Gygax's part. 2nd, the stats aren't clear on what they actually do.
The second chest is silver, and actually has treasure within: a 1,000 gp crystal case containing a Ring of Protection +1. Removing the crystal case causes 8 darts to shoot upwards, automatically hitting 1-2 PCs with 4 each. Each dart does a d6 damage with no Save or attack roll.
I like this trap. It's not specified in the notes of ways to avoid it, so creative players can find solutions. There is no warning for the trap, however. But, in ToH everyone should assume everything is trapped.
The final chest teleports an "animated statue of a giant" into it as the chest is opened. The skeleton gets 2 attacks/rd (2d6), edged weapons only do 1 damage (no surprise there) and it is immune to magic (and turning).
Overall, the wooden chest trap is unimaginative and I would have liked the skeleton in the gold chest. A different type of trap could have been better here. (As an aside, what happens when both monster chests are opened? Do the skeleton and snakes randomly attack each other?) I would like to see a trap that paralyzes a party member (permanently until removed/dispelled) or a ceiling collapsing trap. Something other than the same thing twice.

So at the end of four rooms, we have 13 traps. Tomb of Horrors is living up to its reputation.