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Practical Traps – Burglar Alarm

PSM_V18_D068_Burglar_alarm_area_indicatorWizards (and those that can pay them) are going to want to use spells and spell effects for practical, mundane purposes. Take the following:

Burglar Alarm (CR 4)

The windows are dark in this small cottage, it appears unoccupied.

Type: magical; Perception DC 30; Disable Device 30

Trigger location; Reset None


If the residence is entered, a small bell chimes. This bell, via a message spell, is also heard by the local constable, who will arrive in 2d10 rounds to investigate.

By stringing together a basic alarm spell (which causes the bell to go off), messenger and permanency, we have a fantasy equivalent of a modern burglar alarm. Of course, this doesn’t have to alert the local constable. It could just as well be used to notify a villain or one of his henchmen. The PCs could also use something like this. You could take this basic effect, and be alerted when somebody enters a location that you are tracking. Once notified, the PCs could rush to the location, scry, or any of a number of actions without having to actually keep physical watch.

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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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Using an Irresistible Item as a Trap

Old_book_bindingsSometimes, even though they know better, there are certain items which are irresistible. Some PC is going to pick it up and look at it. A spellbook is one such item. This makes it a perfect opportunity to trap the item, but in a way which is a little more subtle than something like exploding runes or poison.

Mispellbook (CR 5)

A old, ornate tome sits closed on the table.

Type: magical; Perception DC 29; Disable Device 29

Trigger touch; Reset None


This book appears in all respects to be a spellbook. However, if anything is read, the reader gets dyslexia. (DC 16 Will Save) When preparing spells from a spellbook or reading spells from a scroll, the PC must make a Concentration check for each spell or it won’t be prepared, but will still occupy a slot. The PC will think it is prepared, and will only find out when it is cast, at which point nothing will happen.

This one is nice, because the PC’s may not necessarily know that the spellbook was the cause of the dyslexia, meaning that you might get to use this one a second time! Or, even better, just trap one spellbook in a pile of spellbooks and magical tomes. Then, sit back and watch them try to figure out which ones are bad. All the while, there can be some choice, juicy spells in a perfectly fine spellbook that they don’t get to use right away.


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Oversizing Mundane Items Can Be Fun are several items that may not really pose any threat to your average dungeon dweller. However, if you make them big and oversized, they can not only be dangerous, they can be fun, too!

Mousetrap Door (CR 3)

At the end of the hall is a wooden door with a metal frame.

Type: mechanical; Perception DC 22; Disable Device 22

Trigger touch; Reset None


When the door is opened, the metal frame snaps down on the character like a mousetrap. Mousetrap(DC 19 Reflex Save or take 2d6 damage and become pinned. CMB vs. 22 CMD to Escape)

Even though this might not kill anyone, the visual imagery of this trap going off is worth its weight in gold. If you really want to make this one memorable, have this be located at an entrance to a giant’s lair with an oversized cat. Perhaps that cat can even enter the room through a large pet door. If your PC is soloing it, have some dire rats appear as soon as he is caught.

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Modifying Spells to Make Traps

Dark_corridor_(4676385338)Sometimes, you want a desired effect for a trap that *almost* mimics a spell, but you’d like to make some changes. How do you do this? Let’s look at the following trap.



Semi-Permeable Wall of Force (CR 8)

A dark corridor leads south.

Type: magical; Perception DC 32; Disable Device –

Trigger location; Reset None


120 feet down, the corridor ends. However, the beginning of the corridor is blocked off with a semi-permeable wall of force. This acts just like a normal wall of force spell at CL 13, except that it allows movement through it in one direction, and prevents movement through it in the other direction. The characters can freely pass through it, but won’t be able to move back through it out of the corridor.

This trap is essentially a wall of force with a slight modification. As per the trap creation rules, the CR of this trap would be spell level + 1, and the Perception and Disable Device Checks would be 25 + spell level. Normally, a wall of force is a 5th level spell. However, this is a special wall of force that allows passage through one side. The closest mechanic would be a meta magic feat that modifies the spell. Normally, these would use a spell slot of a higher level. Looking at the various meta magic feats, it seems reasonable that this modification would use a spell slot 2 levels higher.  So, in this case, our wall of force spell is now a 7th level spell, yielding a CR of 8 and a DC of 32 for Perception and Disable Device.

Since this is a static effect, there is no saving throw to avoid the effect, neither is there Disable Device check for this particular case, as this trap is not triggered or set off by the character’s actions.

Most players can meta game around normal spell effects. However, if you modify the spells in your own unique way, they won’t be able to meta game around them. Also, as an added side bonus, you’ve now introduced some new mechanics and new ways to trap your players. Next time they run into what looks to be a “normal” spell effect, they may think twice before blindly rushing in.

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Dungeon Elements – Using Dungeon Dressing as a Trap

Cornell_Plantations_sundialYour average dungeon is not just a dungeon. It’s also somebody’s home or place of work! As such, there should be lots of odds and ends scattered throughout the dungeon. There could be a pile of papers in a corner for no reason. There could be sacks of food left on a table. There may be some statues or paintings placed in a place that makes no sense to you, but perhaps the owner likes to sit there and read or something. There may be tools and other utilitarian devices around that actually serve a purpose – think of your own home and where you’ve placed your clocks, phones and whatnot. One such device someone may have is a sundial. This is useful to tell time during the day, but what if it also served a dual purpose as a trap?

Sundial (CR 9)

A large sundial sits in the middle of the plaza.

Type: magical; Perception DC 33; Disable Device 33

Trigger location; Reset Auto


When a character’s shadow is cast over the sundial, the character is frozen in time, as if affected by a temporal stasis spell at CL 15 with a DC 22 Fortitude save. The character remains in this state until his shadow no longer is cast over the sundial.

I would highly suggest placing this item in the middle of a boss fight against a highly mobile opponent. It should be lots of fun when one of more of the characters gets stuck in time. It will also be fun when the players start asking you questions about the location of the sun in future encounters.

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Using Spells as Object Traps

SpyglassA good way to make traps is to look through spell lists. Pick a spell that you’d like and then think of a way you can have it triggered by an object or an effect. In this case, we’ll take something that is particularly valuable and likely to warrant the players’ attention, a small telescope looking out a window. This is like “Shave and a haircut” to a toon; no player can resist looking through that scope.


Color Spray Scope (CR 2)

A telescope looks out the window. The ends are capped.

Type: magical; Perception DC 26; Disable Device 26

Trigger touch; Reset None


If the eyepiece cap is removed, color spray at CL 1 (DC 11 Will Save) is cast originating at the eyepiece and towards the character that removed it.

When half the party wakes up, they may think twice about those random valuable objects in your dungeon. For bonus points, have this thing activate when they are trying to sell it to a merchant for the gold. That in and of itself could be the premise of a whole evening’s adventures.