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Encounter Prelude – Light Bomb

Encounter Prelude - Light BombSome traps, on their own, are completely harmless. In order to use them to their full potential, you need to follow them up with an encounter.

Light Bomb (CR 4)

The tunnel descends into darkness.

Type: magical; Perception DC 28; Disable Device 28

Trigger location; Reset None


When the PC’s get about halfway down the corridor, the entire area becomes bathed in bright light. Light Bomb(DC 19 Fortitude Save or become blinded for 1d4 rounds, those that make their save take a -2 penalty to vision based checks for one round); multiple targets (all targets within 60 ft)

There are several options for what comes after this trap. Of course, the obvious course of action is to use this trap as the opening gambit in a surprise attack. This can be used a few other ways, though. It can disguise another trap, help hide a secret door or just be used to diminish the advantage of a party with darkvision. It would also work well as a distraction for a fleeing NPC. As a last resort, you could just use this on its own, and watch the paranoia start.

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Dungeon Elements – Fountain


Dungeons and lairs are filled with objects and decorations. Not only should you use these, but make it not obvious.

False Life Fountain (CR 5)

A small fountain sits in the center of the courtyard.

Type: magical; Perception DC 29; Disable Device 29

Trigger Proximity; Reset None


When a PC gets within 10′ of the fountain, the water churns and splashes outward. When a PC is splashed by the fountain they are imbued with 1d10+7 temporary hit points that they are not aware of. These hit points will be lost first. To the PC, it will be as if he was not damaged until they run out. However, once they run out and the PC actually takes damage, he will also take additional damage immediately for the amount of temporary hit points he was granted. Fountain Splash(DC 21 Reflex Save avoids); multiple targets(all targets within 10′)

This one will work especially well if you don’t tell the PC’s anything happened when they get splashed. Just secretly roll up the temporary hit points, and next time they are in combat use them. You can describe the action, “You get hit with an axe. It penetrates your armor and bites into you flesh, but you seem to shake off the wound as if nothing happened.” They probably won’t know why they aren’t taking damage, but they won’t question it. However, once the hit points run out, make sure to describe what happens. “You take a glancing blow, but suddenly, wounds appear and begin to bleed profusely as you slip into unconsciousness”.

They still may not put it together, so you may have to use this again, and again… At any rate, once they figure this out, every time something minor happens, the players will suspect the worst. You can use this to build tension or to bring another layer of action to life in your adventure.

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Traps with a Twist – Fan Pit Trap

2013-04-01_Utrecht_50One good way to keep your players on their toes is to present some classical traps in new ways.

Fan Pit (CR 6)

The floor of this long hallway is made of wood. A glass window is in the center of the hallway.

Type: mechanical; Perception DC 22; Disable Device 19

Trigger location; Reset None


If the window is opened, the fan activates, pulling the character down into the pit. The pit drops 10 feet into a fan, and then another 20 feet. Pit (DC 22 Reflex Save or take 3d6 damage, +12 melee attack or take 4d8 damage from fan)

With the simple addition of an element (the fan) a normal trap takes an unexpected twist. By adding the fan, you’ve added an extra layer to a familiar trap. If you do this early, you can use this to help set up later encounters and elements, especially if your party has fallen into an exploration rut. This just might prod them to probe on layer deeper, which opens up your plot and design possibilities.

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Use Your Environment

Some traps aren’t really traps at all, but are part of the landscape that end up with trap-like effects. For example:







Goblin Privy (CR 2)

A small wooden door is set into the wall.

Type: mechanical; Perception DC 18; Disable Device 19

Trigger location; Reset None


When a PC opens the door, the sight and smell of the room beyond is… sickening. Goblin Privy (DC 18 Fortitude Save or become nauseated for 1d6 rounds); multiple targets(all targets within 30 feet)

Think about all the rooms and equipment that might be in your dungeon, whether it be an ancient Dwarven underground fortress, an illithid lair or goblin stronghold. Hazards, both lethal and non-lethal, are likely to be behind lots of doors. Rather than either having lots of empty rooms or just a few rooms, add some character into your dungeon that doesn’t just have flavor text, but also has concrete effects. Remember, even goblins gotta pee somewhere, too.

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Traps to Facilitate Success

Sometimes, you use a trap to help your PC’s, giving them a taste of what is ahead.


Scorch Marks (CR 2)

Opposite the door are scorch marks on the wall.

Type: mechanical; Perception DC 18; Disable Device 17

Trigger location; Reset Repair


When a character gets within 15′ of the door, a timer starts. If they do not open the door within 2 rounds, a gout of flame shoots out from the door. Flame(DC 16 Reflex Save or take 1d4 fire damage); multiple targets(all targets in 15′ cone)

This is a good trap to have near the beginning of your adventure. Why? Most traps help set the tone of your adventure. In this case, the characters who take their time will get burned (literally). It won’t do much damage, but it will help you set up later encounters, especially if they are time critical. Having been burned once, PCs are less likely to dilly-dally. If you do have time critical encounters, this trap will also prepare your PCs, giving them a greater chance of success, which is, after all, much more fun for everyone.

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Traps which work well with NPCs

Dining_Chair_LACMA_M.2000.51Characters think nothing of entering a room with an NPC and just sitting down. So…

Spiky Chairs (CR 3)

Several armchairs have been placed around the room. They all seem to have overstuffed cushions.

Type: mechanical; Perception DC 28; Disable Device 16

Trigger Touch; Reset Repair


Just under the cushions are several sharp, barbed spikes. Spikes (DC 18 Reflex Save or take 1d3 damage and become entangled with the chair. DC 22 Escape Artist or DC 22 Strength check to free from chair, however, if Strength is used, an additional 1d3 damage is dealt)

If you offer the PCs food or drink, of course they will be suspicious. But who is wary of a comfy chair? This would be a perfect beginning to a combat encounter. Several of the characters sit in the offered chairs, and become stuck as guards or thugs arrive. You can always poison these things, too.  This trap can also make future social interactions somewhat awkward for the PCs. A host could take offense at the PCs poking and prodding the furniture before they sit down. The PCs may even refuse to sit down, further offending the host.


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Tension Building Traps

Double_bass_gut_stringsSome traps are obvious and may not be avoidable. In these cases, either it has to be disarmed, or everyone has to figure out a way to get past. This next trap is such a trap.

Piano Room (CR 11)

Several wires run perpendicular to the doors across the room. 

Type: mechanical; Perception DC 31; Disable Device 33

Trigger touch; Reset None


The glass ceiling is held into place by several crystal hooks. If a wire is struck, it makes a sound. The vibrations cause some of the hooks to breaks, and the ceiling falls. The wires require a DC 18 Acrobatics check to maneuver through. If they are cut, it causes them to emit sound. Falling Ceiling (10d6 damage, DC 22 Reflex Save for half damage); multiple targets (all targets in room)

There is no denying that this room is trapped; it will be quite obvious. It will also be obvious that disturbing the wires is unwise. It’s also not particularly difficult to bypass at the Challenge Rating it is set for, so why bother having this trap at all? This trap serves a few purposes. Not everyone will be able to make the necessary Acrobatics checks to get through. The PCs will have to pool resources and use some teamwork to get by. This may be building something, using Fly spells, or even something as simple as buffing everyone with Dex bonuses. However the PCs decide to deal with this trap, it will take time and resources. Sometimes, that’s what traps are for.

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The oldest tricks in the book are there because they work! are some things that seem to always work, at least once. This is one of them.

Ceramic Jar of Acid (CR 1)

The door into the room is slightly ajar.

Type: mechanical; Perception DC 18; Disable Device 16

Trigger touch; Reset None


A ceramic jar of acid is balanced on top of the door. If opened, it falls on the character. Jar of Acid(1d6 damage plus 1d4 acid damage, DC 18 Reflex Save for 1d2 acid damage)

This one is so obvious that whichever PC gets hit by it just may earn a new nickname. They’ll all groan and won’t believe that they got hit by such an obvious trap. Of course, some time later, you should do it again, preferably after they disarm the trapped floor in front of the door, or are invited in by the room’s occupant. If the same person is hit again, he’ll definitely have a nickname.

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Don’t Forget the Simple Traps


As we end the year, I will take this post to remind everyone to not overlook simple traps. Overworked, deadly, complex and devious traps are fun, but they can’t be everywhere, and, in my opinion, should not be hard to find. Nothing takes the sails out of a game like a very deadly trap that the characters have no chance of detecting, and then, BOOM, somebody is dead.

Simple traps, however, can be used in a lot more places and can be better hidden, especially if they don’t really cause all that much damage on their own. They can also be used to set up PC behavior. Take the following simple trap:

Weak Floor (CR 1)

The floor looks worn and is covered in bits of debris in places.

Type: mechanical; Perception DC 17; Disable Device 16

Trigger touch; Reset None


A small section of the floor collapses when a character steps in it, exposing a 1 foot pit. Weak Floor(DC 17 Reflex Save or take 1d3 damage and be knocked prone)

This trap is perfect to place in an adventuring area such as an old house or warehouse. Put in one or two while the PC’s explore the area. It won’t really hurt them, but it will slow them down a bit, and they will search the floor as they move through the house. When the PC’s reach a boss or tough encounter, you can place it in an open space. You will artificially limit their mobility because whether or not the floor is weak here, the PC’s will expect it, and will likely change tactics a bit and plan on having to deal with a weak floor. If the opponent flies or is somehow immune to the floor effect, (such as being non-corporeal) so much the better. They may also just dive right in; in that case, make sure a few spots in the room are weak. Either way, you’ve introduced a new element to spice up what may otherwise be an ordinary encounter.