Revisiting the Past: Trap Detection, Part 2

Last time we talked about three different approaches to detecting traps in a gaming scenario. The Bull in the China Shop, Analysis Paralysis, and the Middle Ground. You can read that post here

In this post, I want to talk a bit more about game mechanics and how traps are handled in Mazes & Perils vs. some of the newer editions of D&D.

With some recent writing, I had to figure out how to have the PCs get past a trapped area. Vince told me:

“To disarm the trap will require a successful attempt of the Find/Disable Traps skill. A character can attempt to search for and disable traps as many times as they want, but each failure causes the next attempt to be at a -1% disadvantage.”

Let’s say you have a 2nd level Thief in Mazes & Perils. They have a 20% chance of finding it and disabling it.

If the PCs have arrived at the trap and there is no chance of some other event occurring, such as a group of guards hearing them tampering with the trap or a monster lurking around the corner that may hear them and pounce, they can sit there for a while and try to find the trap. But there’s a good chance that if they fail to find the trap, they will set it off.

So let’s say the thief arrives in the area, senses that something is off, and starts looking for the trap. In this case, it’s a simple hidden pressure plate. A close inspection of the area might reveal it, so I ask the player what they are looking for specifically and I get a laundry list like:

  • an area of the floor that has a different texture than the area around it
  • a change in height, such as a small raised area or lowered area
  • a small gap that hints at a trap door or button

These are all great ideas, so I automatically bump up the chance that the thief is going to find it. I double his chances. So he rolls a percentile dice and gets a 35. The player is disappointed because he knows he rolled over the 20% chance his character had of detecting anything, but I tell him that he found it because he knew what he was looking for. In this case, it’s a smooth area directly in front of a door and the rest of the floor is rough hewn stone.

But then I’ll have him roll a second time to see if he can disable it. Again, I ask how the thief is going to attempt to disable the trap. We start a bit of a dialogue:

  • “Is there any kind of gap between the smooth area and the surrounding floor?”
  • “No gap you can find. You are impressed with the construction.”
  • “How wide is the smooth area?”
  • “Roughly 2 feet square directly in front of the door.”
  • “I will take the fighter’s tower shield and gently lay it across the area so that we can step carefully over it and try not to depress it.”

Again, this is a great idea, so I secretly double the chances that he can make the roll. He rolls again and gets a 45. Unfortunately that’s not a good enough roll to beat the target I set, so I just mutter under my breath and say “OK, so who is going to step up to open the door?”

The fighter is going to be the one to open the door, so he steps on his shield. “The shield buckles under the fighter’s weight and you hear the distinct *click* as the pressure plate depresses beneath him…” And then we resolve any damage or resulting problems that happen when the trap is triggered.

This to me is much better than simply rolling to say “yay or nay” to a skill roll, don’t you think? But it involves a bit more work on both the case of the GM and the player.

Would you handle it differently?

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2 thoughts on “Revisiting the Past: Trap Detection, Part 2”

  1. I don’t understand why people think that just because there’s a DC given that everything is just a “I check for traps and roll a 15”. I’ve never handled it that way, just like I don’t let my combat just be “I rolled a 15, I hit and I do 4 damage”. Like everything else, you get back what you put into it. It’s nice having a Spot check DC so after the player has followed the clues and focused on where the trap is, we can remove any arbitrary issues as to whether or not he has roleplayed his character enough to say the he found the trap. Still, I have never allowed a player to just say – “I search the room and I roll X”. There has to be roleplaying.

    1. @Paul – I’m not disagreeing. As I’ve pointed out in other posts though, I’ve grown complacent (re: lazy) as a roleplayer in recent years, relying on die rolls more than role-playing. So I’m trying to inject more of that Q&A/interaction at the game table again. It was not a sudden change but a gradual slide into oblivion and this was a good wake-up call.

      Without the roleplaying at the table, you might as well be playing a computer RPG – which is fun, but not the same.

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