#RPGaDay2021 Day 17 - "Trap"

Cover art for Grimtooth's Traps by Flying Buffalo

Despite being a certified Evil GM (tm) I've never really been a fan of traps. I throw them in occasionally, but just mundane ones designed to keep people out, not the subtle ones that people have concocted over the years.

Grimtooth's Traps is the grandfather of all trap books, and in it, and its many sequels, it brings the art of trap making to new heights. They are not just examples of how the traps look to players, but show the implementation of them and what it would take to create  (and possibly defeat) them. Traps like these are designed to be encounters on their own, with significant resources put into their creation and with a goal of not just deferring intruders, but often ending them.

Still, they have just never been something I wanted to put into my dungeons--which makes it all the more surprising for my players when I do.

Today, I'm going to be talking a few of my standard traps, and the innovations I've used to make them more interesting.


These are probably my favorite. A magical symbol which, if passed without a keyword, triggers and blows up whoever is wandering by. Sometimes the glyphs are invisible, sometimes they are hidden by arcane markings, and sometimes they are just there for the party's viewing pleasure. In general, the more obvious they are, the more dangerous I make them.

On their own, they are a big ol' "Keep out, this is not for you" message. They're designed to damage and slow the party but are mostly nuisance locks. If the party is big enough to have glyphs thrown up against them, they are big enough to take them out, through the efforts of a talented rogue or magic-cancellation spell.

However, I have a few ways that I use them that make them a lot more fun (for me).

First, I love to use unexpected glyphs that do things other than what's described in the book. A glyph of gaseous form, which until fixed causes the player to just float around unable to effect anything. (This can be terrible for security, but really funny.) A glyph of polymorph, resulting in the mighty party and it's noble...gerbil. Or, to mix things up a bit, I just hit them with a glyph of stun, then send a hoard of hungry ghouls to eat whoever missed their save.

My best innovation with a glyph, though, was SO simple that I'm still impressed by it. I put the glyph on the other side of the door. The party saw a trap or something, disabled it with no problem opened the door, walked through and *BAM*.

We have a soft rule in my game that if someone finds an exploit, they only use it once. That includes the GM, so I never used this after the first time. But it was really funny, and I got kudos from the players for thinking of it.


Pits are a lovely way to keep people from going places that they shouldn't. A big obvious pit is nice for slowing people down and hinting that going somewhere else is a better idea. A concealed pit is a fun way to make overconfident characters take more notice of their surroundings. Depending on how deep the pits are and what game you're playing, pits can go from "meh" to truly lethal. (1d6/10' is meh. 1d6 additive per 10 feet is lethal (1d6 at 10', 3d6 at 20', 6d6 at 30', etc.)

Pits can have spikes, glyphs, and the ever popular gelatinous cubes to make them more lethal, but in general, they aren't that interesting--they do a little damage or a lot. For extra bonuses, you can spring a cage lid on them which can be interesting once in a while.

One fun way to surprise players with a pit is to have the people in front step on a trigger plate that opens a pit behind them. The "wiggly fingers" in the middle fall into the pit, while the vanguard warriors and the rear guard end up untouched.

My best innovation, though was the "fake pit" trap. The party was going down the hall, and they found a 10' pit in front of them. They got a running jump...successfully vaulted over the illusionary pit, and land in a real pit covered by a floor illusion. Contrived? Yes, but it was really funny.

Arrow Traps

If I'm going to put in traps, it's generally going to be some sort of arrow trap. If you stand in the spot, or go past the point, or trip the wire, you get shot by some crossbow bolts. They can be poisoned, spelled or flaming for added effect.

However, I don't usually make these overly deadly. In fact, I tend to use them as humility traps. The image of a character, standing there annoyed with an arrow sticking out of them, saying "I didn't check for traps, did I?" is reward enough for me.

Hobbit Traps

I'm not sure where this name came from, unless it's "fool of a Took", and I've heard them called Kender traps as well, from the Dragonlance world. In effect, though, they are just clearly marked hazards that the characters can't resist because they want to know what will happen.

The classic example is a big, dangerous-looking object with a Big Red Button(tm) that says "Do not push" on  it. It is inevitable that somebody is going to push the button.

They doesn't have to be this obvious, but sometimes it's fun to put obviously dangerous things in the game, and see if the players will screw around with them, out of boredom, curiosity or just because it doesn't occur to them that the big red button shouldn't be pushed.

In my first major Trinity campaign, there were three metal vats with big glyphed lids on them. The bored rogue wandered up to one and said "I open it up" to the cries of despair of the party. What came out was nasty, hard to defeat and came closer to a TPK than the party ever got.

Of course, the rogue learned his lesson and never again...hahaha, no actually, not long after, the party came across a dead lich, with a sword through it's body. The sword was called FIVE, named for Five of Eleven (see my essay on The Eleven from earlier this month.) The party immediately announced that they were grappling the rogue, before he had a chance to say that he wanted to get the sword and check it out. What was funny was that he DID say it, and then realized they had already preempted him, and sulked mightily because he didn't feel trusted.)


I love small details, mysteries, puzzles and combat. Any dungeon I create is going to have plenty of these things. I usually limit my use of traps to either a one-off or as an indicator that the party is going the right direction because there are traps that keep you from going that way. That said, traps can be  an enjoyable diversion, and especially if I can figure out a way to make them innovative, the group usually gets some fun out of them.

About the Company

I have to give a callout to Flying Buffalo, which has been the master of tongue-in-cheek gaming since as long as I've been playing. Creators of the Tunnels and Trolls RPG, the Nuclear War board game, and of course the Grimtooth's Traps series, I've been stopping by their booth at GenCon every year since I started going if only to relish the nostalgia, and say hello.

Sadly, their founder passed in 2019, but I just saw that the license for the company has been acquired, and maybe the new company will keep their traditions going. In any case, with a prompt word of "trap" there was no other header art I could have chosen.


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