Does this work the way I think it works?!? And why or why not?

Trap Expert

When you spend a moment to survey a dangerous area, roll+DEX. ✴On a 10+, hold 3. ✴On a 7–9, hold 1. Spend your hold as you walk through the area to ask these questions:

 •  Is there a trap here and if so, what activates it?

 •  What does the trap do when activated?

 •  What else is hidden here?

Been listening to a few podcasts and have seen this Thief move interpreted a few different ways. Just want some feedback from the community.

For this example let’s say the thief is traveling down an UNTRAPPED corridor at the end of which is a trapped door that leads to a room with no trap in it. The thief clearly states at the beginning of the hallway they are moving slowly and looking for traps as they proceed down the hallway.


(fyi: This is how I interpret this move)

The Thief only needs to roll TRAP EXPERT when they arrive at the door. Moving down the hallway slowly and cautiously is what they are doing in the fiction, BUT since it is untrapped there is no danger, and thus can not meet the requirements to trigger the TRAP EXPERT move.

Example #2

The Thief rolls at the beginning of the hallway and then spends hold as they encounter each area. IE: In the Hallway they spend 1 and are told, no, there is not a trap here. They spend it again at the door and get told, yes there is and proceed forward with that in the fiction.

Example #3

The Thief rolls at the beginning of the hallway and depending on the success of that roll, does or does not oblige the GM to genrate a trap in the area they are searching. So a success would generate hold and then the GM would generate a trap based on the questions asked.

I’d say Example #3 baffled me the most for a while and then I thought about how you might apply the overall cooperative storytelling nature of DW. If the hallway truly is a blank in the map, why can’t the Thief’s player generate a trap using this move?

Like I said, I use Example #1, but having said that I admit it also limits the thief’s role to whatever a GMs personal love or hate of traps is and how many they decide to put in any given area.

Also have heard some interesting ideas on when using Trap Expert is or is not the same as Discern Realities and if one can become the other through the fiction.

Any comments?

47 thoughts on “TRAP EXPERT”

  1. I try to play like Example #3. There isn’t a trap in the hallway unless you roll a 6-, or it makes sense in the fiction (makes the Thief cool and gives him a spotlight!) for you to find one.

  2. The trigger is that the Thief spends a moment surveying an area that is dangerous; if the area isn’t dangerous, the move does not trigger.

    The correct exchange is something like this: the Thief goes “I’m looking for any hidden traps or dangers.” The GM usually goes “how do you do that?” and the Thief describes what he’s doing in detail. If there are no traps, the GM tells the Thief as much (remember that the GM should always honestly describe what the PCs see, hear, etc.). If the area is trapped, the GM tells the Thief to roll Trap Expert.

    Interpret “the area” to be as large or as small as makes seen to you.

  3. I always interpret the move in conjunction with a description. Not something you do when you enter a room automatically. Eg. you enter a room, it gets described to you, then the Thief describes how they look for traps. “I carefully look at the floor for any uneven panels” or “I take out my 10 ft. pole and slap it around the floor ahead of me.” The trigger is “When you spend a moment to survey a dangerous area” not “if there is a trap in the room have them roll”

  4. I’d interpret it the same as your #1 (haven’t had any thief PCs). If the area isn’t dangerous, the move doesn’t trigger.  Though if the hallway really is a “blank” on the map and the entire area has been established as dangerous, then yeah, I might decide that there’s a trap there (give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities).

    Personally, I think I might also rewrite the move like so: 

    When you suspect there’s a trap nearby, ask the GM. If there is, he’ll say “yes” and have you roll +INT.  On a 10+, hold 3.  On a 7-9, hold 1.  On a miss, nothing happens but you don’t get any more info.  Spend your hold 1 for 1 to ask one of the following questions. The GM will answer truthfuly, but might first ask “how do you learn that?”

    – What does the trap do?

    – What triggers the trap?

    – How could I disarm or bypass the trap?

    – What else is hidden here?

  5. I would create tension and put them in a spot on #3 with a bad roll.  I did this the other day and the players loved it.  The thief failed the roll and took xp.  I gave her the situation, she looked down and saw a wire extended across her shin, moving away would result in triggering as would bending down to disarm.  I didn’t intend to put a trap, but in the spirit of play to see what happens I went with it.  She had to tell the warrior how to disarm the trap give him an assist using his dex score, they pulled it off and I gave them xp bonus for it.  

  6. Stephanie Bryant Not necessarily. According to the book, any place is a “dungeon” but that doesn’t make every place dangerous. Granted, boring, non-dangerous rooms/locales are a topic for another day, but the wording of a move in any PbtA game is specific for a reason. Take for example Hack and Slash and the many attack forms/situations it doesn’t cover.

    Obviously it’s open for debate and interpretation, and I am not trying to be pedantic in the extreme – I’m just arguing that side of it as move wording really is that specific. You can always choose not to hold to that principle – each table’s DW will differ, I say!

  7. Matthew Seagle the trigger is “spend a moment to survey a dangerous situation.”  What you’re describing seems more like “closely study” (i.e. discern realities).  Requiring that the thief do more than quickly survey the area isn’t fair to the thief’s player.

    Stephanie Bryant That’s part of my problem with the move-as-written.  If you consider the entire dungeon to be a “dangerous area,” then the fictional trigger is so easy to meet that the thief would be rolling this move every time they enter a room unless he was running blindly.  To avoid that, I think you have to up your threshold for what constitutes “dangerous” and/or localize what you consider an “area.”

    I do think it’s a good idea to take the player’s interest (“is there a trap here?”) as a prompt to Think Dangerous and say to yourself “yeah, I think there is a trap here.” That makes the area is dangerous calls for a roll.  On a miss, maybe you reveal it like Jonathan Hamby suggests (which is an awesome scene, btw).  But I think you, the GM, need to decide if there’s a trap (or at least if there’s danger) before you let the player roll.

  8. I plan to use the advice in the link above. Easy to spot traps. Otherwise more than half the game is trap rolls. It’s happened with my group before in D&D. We spent more time investigating doors than fighting monsters.

  9. Tl;dr : Your question make me realise that this move should be revised, but I have nothing to suggest. In the meantime, I’d go with your interpretation #1, but I’d also tell the players that (as the DM) I’ll ask for a roll when needed. 

    This is a tough question. I think it may raises a problem with the move as stated.

    #3 presents the problem clearly : if the roll is a succes, I should put a trap. On a 10+, no trap means that only 1 hold is potentially useful (and if nothing else is hidden, that is a wasted roll). On a 7-9, no trap means a wasted roll if the question is about it, and asking if something else is hidden feels like a golden opportunity; then, if there is nothing else, wasted roll, and if there is something, the 7-9 is more than a partial success/success with cost. On a 6-, you can do something else, but come on, the PC ask about traps and roll a 6-?

    #2 shows that a lot of rolls could be useless. 

    A solution is to always put a trap when the Thief ask, but I feel it’s a bit cheap : if you look for traps, there is going to be one, but if you don’t, there still could be one that you’ll miss, so damned if you do, damned if you don’t! Putting traps only when the PC look for them is not a better solution. Going with the flow, sometime adding a trap, sometimes not, works well, but at the cost of a useless roll (or more than a partial success on 7-9) every time there is no trap. Not that bad, but definitely not a good thing.

    Another solution (the one I’ll use, unless someone else enlighten me) is to tell the player that the DM will ask for this move when there is a trap (to avoid the useless rolls), and then use the move as you do in #1. The first choice could then be slightly reworded to “what activates the trap?” The problem is still that, on a 7-9, choosing this question is superior 99% of the time. Again not that bad, but definitely not a good thing.

  10. My 2 cents about “useless rolls”.

    The player rolls and asks: “Is there a trap here?”

    The GM says “No.”

    On 7+ you know there is no trap with complete confidence.

    On 6- you dont. The GM now has three choices

    1) No trap. But crank up the suspense since there may be one.

    2) Trap as a soft move: “There is a whirring sound in the door. What do you do?”

    3) Trap as a hard move: “A blade springs from the handle, cutting your right hand. Take a dex debility. You smell serpents tears on the wound.”

    Played correctly 6- is a magnifecent suspense creating machanism, not a useless roll. I believe the move is good as it is.

  11. Oh. And Wynand Louw the list is rather limited. There is a huge amount of hard moves you could make there. Just letting the thief stumble into the grab certainly is not thinly one and probably not the best one.

  12. I think the best way is let the thief player roll it whenever he wants, and then penalize him if he rolls a 6- (either creating a trap if it didn’t exist, springing the trap if it exist or making anything else happen, if a trap wouldn’t be coherent, or to not make it all boring with just traps). If you only let the player roll where there is a trap, they will always know where the traps are.

  13. Brief version: If you (the GM) don’t know whether the area is dangerous (because of a trap or other danger) before you roll, you’re not playing by the rules.  Because of this, I think the trigger for the move should be rewritten.

    Longer version:  The trigger of the move involves danger, not necessarily a trap.  Did the thief spend a moment to survey the area? Is the area dangerous?  Yes and yes? Roll +DEX, thief. 

    In order to know if the move triggers, you (the GM, the players) need to know whether the area is dangerous.  Before the roll.  Deciding that the area is dangerous because of the roll isn’t how the rules work.  Again, note that “dangerous” doesn’t necessarily mean “trap”.

    The more I think about it, the more I think the trigger should be different.  Just let the player ask the GM “is there a trap here” and the GM answers honestly (quite possibly deciding that, yes, there is a trap here!).  If he says “yes,” then have the thief roll to get information about the trap.  It makes the trigger super clear, and even if a missed roll doesn’t give any extra info, you’ve just cranked the tension.  “Oh crap, we know there’s a trap, but what does it do?  What triggers it?”

  14. Jeremy Strandberg:  “Brief version: If you (the GM) don’t know whether the area is dangerous (because of a trap or other danger) before you roll, you’re not playing by the rules. “

    Can you explain this? Because by the rules you should play to find out. Always knowing whether somewhere is dangerous or not is not playing to find out. I am confused by this. 

  15. When you spend a moment to survey a dangerous area, roll+DEX. ✴On a 10+, hold 3. ✴On a 7–9, hold 1. Spend your hold as you walk through the area to ask these questions:

    Is there a trap here and if so, what activates it?

    What does the trap do when activated?

    What else is hidden here?

    I agree mostly with Alex Norris here but like to add some caveats. 

    The thief enters a new area and wants to look for traps. We talk about how she does it. There is some description. Then she rolls. 

    OH! Wait! 

    The move only gets rolled when the area is dangerous, that much is clear. However, the type of danger is not defined in the move. 

    Most areas you encounter will be dangerous Why? 

    Because you Portray a fantastic world, embrace the fantastic, because you are a fan of the character and want to see them in dangerous situations and because most times you think dangerous in some shape or form.

    When you are in a lovely field and the sun is shining and you just blessed the area – everything is probably save.

    When you are in a “adventure location” most of the time it won’t be.

    What does that has to do with traps?


    The move doesn’t care for traps. Only for danger.

    And if a player is rolling the move then she might think the area is dangerous, and why wouldn’t it be?

    So what if there is no trap?

    You have two options here.

    You can just tell the players and let them feel happy for a moment OR you invent a trap to warn them about.

    To make it short, i would go with Eric Lochstampfor’s option #2 here. This is how i use the move.    

  16. Tim Franzke I’ve said it 2 or 3 different ways already, but I’ll try again.

    1) Moves trigger if and when their fictional conditions are met.

    2) The trigger of Trap Expert is “spend a moment to survey a dangerous area.” 

    3) If you (the GM, the group of players) haven’t established whether the area is or is not dangerous before you call for the Trap Expert roll, you’re calling for a move when it’s fictional trigger hasn’t been met.  You’ve got your order of operations wrong.

    Applying principles like “think dangerous” and “ask questions” and “leave blanks” and even “be a fan of the characters” might all get you to think “oh, yeah! totall a trap here!” and having the thief roll for Trap Expert.  Totally cool, totally legit. 

    Also legit:  thinking “my prep doesn’t say anything about a trap, but I know there’s a roper hiding in this room” and telling the thief to roll +Dex when takes a moment to survey the room.

    Oh, and mostly because I’m feling pedantic: “play to find out” is one of your agendas as a GM.  It’s what the rules are there to support and one of your goals in play.  It’s not a procedure (rule) in and of itself.

  17. Tim Franzke: this is bad because it leads to the GM potentially doing stupid gotchas like “wow, you didn’t roll because you didn’t think the area was dangerous because the traps were totally hidden!!!”

    I maintain that “dangerous” in the Trap Expert trigger should not be read to mean “dangerous” in the common sense of the word, but specifically as in “dangerous because there are traps nearby.” This means the Thief isn’t asked to roll if there are no traps, and is asked to roll if surveying an area that isn’t immediately visibly dangerous but does contain traps.

  18. I’d also like to point out:  “spend a moment to survey” is not “I want to look for traps.”  I spent a moment to survey my office when I walked in this morning.  I spend a moment to survey the break room every time I walk past it (there might be cookies).  It’s a moment.  I can spend a moment to survey and area while carrying on a convsation.

    That part of the trigger is too broad in my opinion.  Especially if you consider the entire dungeon to be a dangerous area.   You’re rolling Trap Expert every time you open a door/round a corner/etc. and get a brief description of the room.  Unless you’re attention is seriously taken up by something else (fighting, fleeing, arguing with a fellow PC, etc.). 

  19. I don’t get you Alex. 

    If the player goes for the move and the area is dangerous for whatever reason (a hidden trap, goblins, rivers of lava, weird magic effects, …) the move is rolled. 

    There are 2 things there

    Taking a moment to survey the area


    area is dangerous. 

    When the area is dangerous but the thief didn’t go and check it carefully she might run into the trap. That means that you should give the thief player the opportunity to announce that they are checking the area. In a new area they might be the first that act based on you are talking to them first. 

    If the area is safe and they check anyway, tell them the move is not triggered by their poking around. They can feel really save here. 

  20. Tim Franzke:

    “When the area is dangerous but the thief didn’t go and check it carefully”

    How does the Thief know that the area is dangerous and need to be checked for traps if you, the GM, tell them that the area looks idyllic and safe (that’s describing what they see honestly)?

    They don’t, which means they don’t check for traps. 

    Inversely, having the Thief roll Trap Expert when the danger isn’t a trap is completely pointless.

    If “dangerous” in this context means “any kind of danger whatsoever,” you get those kinds of illogical situations. If it specifically means “the danger is traps,” the move works fine, because then they’d have to be surveying an area that has traps (whether the PC knows there are traps or not) for the move to trigger, which means it only triggers when it’s needed and it always triggers when it’s needed.

  21. The Thief should assume areas are dangerous. Especially if she did research beforehand, you made a soft move that points at that, she is paranoid, the group wandered into a trap beforehand or that is part of her routine.

    Dungeons are dangerous and traps could be anywhere. Otherwise the move basically becomes reactive OR

    “i check this” “now i check this” “now i check this” “now i check over there”

    until there finally is a trap. Then all the potential surprise is gone. If it is rolled when there is no trap there is still the option of checking for something that is hidden or for the player rolling a 6- and turning things interesting.  

  22. Alex Norris If the thief does not roll I would always make the trap a soft move. That removes the gotcha. Like totally! 

    If he does roll and fail, then I have the option to make the trap a hard move. (This should not remove the incentive to roll, since all failures will not result in hard traps.)

    Refer to my post above: Letting him roll when there are definitely no traps still allows for suspense building on a 6- roll, if played correctly by the GM.

  23. Maybe revise the whole thing by adding a new move:

    Trap Sense

    Because you have an intuitive sense for when traps are nearby, you may ask the GM “Is this an area that is likely to contain traps?” The GM must answer you honestly, but might ask you how you know.

    Then change the trigger for Trap Expert to “When you spend a moment to survey an area likely to contain traps,…”

  24. After reading the entire conversation I don’t feel that anyone here is particularly right or wrong. This move, like many others, is worded in such a way that the trigger conditions are a bit open to speculation. Which is the right way to handle this move? Whatever way you (the GM) or your group deem to make the most sense. If this isn’t good enough, then maybe you should reword the trigger or the move to better suit your idea of how Trap Expert should trigger and function.

    Question 1

    Example 2: I really like this. The player spends their hold as they walk through the area. It reads like the Player spends hold twice on the first option of Trap Expert though. Is this true? If so, is that allowed?

    Question 2

    Example 1: This method states that a roll for Trap Expert should only be made at the door. So how do you handle this if your player wants to check for traps at the beginning of the hallway? Do you say No until she gets close to the door and then alert her that she may now roll?

    If so, this seems to diminish the fiction. I can’t imagine many people becoming a thief, with dungeon-delving in mind, who would be okay never getting to check for traps. It seems like you are punishing the thief. By denying the player the chance to roll, you are pretty much telling them there is no danger. Not to mention the situation having to be dangerous for them to be able to look for traps is ridiculous. For example:

    GM: “You stand at the base of a narrow and rickety bridge. It spans the distance of a small casm, on the other side of which lies a sleeping group of orcs. What do you do?

    Player: “I don’t see any sentries, perhaps the bridge is trapped. I’d like to roll Trap Expert to check for traps.”

    GM: “Nope. Sorry you can’t do that right now.”

    Player: “Why not?”

    GM: “Well they are all asleep and you’ve cleared all of the threats in the caverns behind you. The distance is far enough and the cave large enough that, short of screaming, they are unlikely to hear any noise you make. I think you’re pretty darn safe.”

    Player: “*sigh* Fine… I pick up a rock and throw it across the expanse, into the group of sleeping orcs.”

    GM: “You nail one right in the face. He awakens startled and quickly spots you. What do you do?”

    Player: “I’d like to check for traps now.”

    GM: “No problem. Go ahead and roll them bones.”

    My biggest issue is that a Thief should be able to check for traps. A Thief in DW is THE Thief. He is so good that he only needs a moment to survey, according to the trigger. He has a move called Trap Expert for goodness sake.

    I think danger in this case should be interpreted as “any area that conceivably could house a trap.” I think folks here are going out of their way to justify danger existing, but I think it should be the other way around. You should be going out of your way to justify that an area is safe. In a fantasy setting, that makes much more sense.

  25. Wynand Louw The problem I see with the move is not when the roll is 6-. On a 6-, there is always something interesting happening (that’s true of all rolls).

    The problem happens when it’s a success. You illustrate it yourself nicely : “On 7+ you know there is no trap with complete confidence.” No difference between 7-9 and 10+. And “knowing with confidence there is no trap” is ok, but not exciting. Compare with the choices of Discern Realities. Answering “nothing” to them is not exciting, and I personally don’t like to make players roll unless both success and failure are interesting. 

    The more I think about it, the more I believe that the move should be rewritten along those lines : “*When there are traps nearby* (maybe on a door you’re about to open on in a small room you just entered), you spot them in time and know how they activate. Roll +Dex. On a 10+, you recognize the triggering design and know how to disarm it. On a 7-9, you’ll have to study it more closely to understand it’s mechanism.”

    The roll can then naturally snowball in Tricks of the Trade on a 10+ or in some roleplay on a 7-9 (and maybe a Discern Realities) then Tricks of the Trade. There is a meaningful difference between 7-9 and 10+, but neither feel like a wasted roll. The potential problem I see here is that on a 6-, you cannot spring the trap on the PCs and the Thief still know how it activates, so it may be easier to simply move around it. To me, it’s not necessarily a bad thing : it just force the DM to design more interesting traps. And remember that on a 6-, the DM can still make as hard a move as he pleases, so knowing about the trap can make things more challenging, not easier.

    Of course, this move works only if you don’t like to spring surprise traps on you players, encouraging them to roll often just to make sure this door or this alleyway is safe. I personally don’t.

  26. But that would mean that a Party with a Thief would never ever accidentally trigger a trap because they would know when there is one at all times. 

  27. Steven Markley has an elegant solution for those who have issues with the moves as written. I could see using Trap Sense. A: it starts with the Thief asking a question only the Thief may ask (and expect an honest answer) and B: the question and answer do not mean there IS a trap necessarily, only that there is likely to be in the Thief’s estimation, so Trap Expert still works as intended.

  28. Tim Franzke If the Thief is the first in line, yes it does, but I see it as a feature, not a bug. I do not think it’s fun for Players to be told that the walked in a trap and are now poisoned/damaged/whatever. I do not think it’s fun for Players to roll all the time just to make sure there are no trap/creature hidden in the shadow/whatever. Without a Thief, I would introduce a trap with a soft move (unless the PCs are especially careless); with a Thief, they get the “jump” on the trap.

    But that does not mean traps becomes boring. Knowing that walking on some tiles will trigger a trap while hearing some monsters coming your way can lead to some interesting stuff.

  29. Jordan Raymond When the PC rolls 7+ and the answer is “There are no traps” the players look to the GM to hear what happens next. Time to make a new move.

    So yes, “No traps” on 7+ is boring, but only if you do not follow the rules and do not make another move. 

  30. Wynand Louw Of course there is going to be another move after it (from the PCs or the DM) : that is what it means to play the game. That does not mean that the move itself is interesting. Again, compare with Discern Realities on a 10+ : “What happened here recently? Nothing. What is about to happen? Nothing. What here is not what it appears to be? Nothing.” The fact that now, the PCs know for sure this stuff is not very exciting, and the fact that some other moves follow does not mean that the Discern Realities move was exciting.

    Of course, it is not necessarily a big deal for the big picture : one move that may be sometimes boring will not break a great game. 

  31. Marques Jordan

    Question #1:

    Not sure what you mean by “spend hold twice” but yes you can spend multiple hold to ask multiple questions off the list as far as I know.

    Question #2:

    If the thief is checking for traps they usually say something like “I’m going to scout ahead a little bit. Check any loose stones, look for trip wires, tap with my ten foot pole, etc.” and that establishes the fiction of the thief looking for traps. The roll in the hallway (according to example #1) is not needed since there is no trap in it, but the thief (in the fiction) is still creeping down the hallway slowly but since their is no chance of success, no roll is needed. When they get to the door I would use my GM move of: Give an opportunity that fit’s a class ability and say something like “You arrive at a barred wooden door, I assume you are still being cautious, yes?” and then proceed forward based on their answer whether they search the door or just bash it in.

    It’s the thief’s actions IN THE FICTION that trigger the move, not the trap itself. If the thief is staggering back to their room drunk and singing bawdy songs they would also NOT trigger the Trap Expert move regardless of danger level or the presence of a trap, since, in the fiction, they are not taking a moment to survey, they are being drunk and loud.

    As for your example I can’t imagine anyone doing that in any serious game and would most probably not play with that GM.

  32. Eric Lochstampfor, Question #1: Lets say you roll a 10+ and gain 3 hold. There are three questions I can ask. I spend 1 hold to ask “Is there a trap here and if so, what activates it?”. I receive a No. I move down the corridor a ways. Can I spend 1 hold to ask “Is there a trap here and if so, what activates it?” or can I no longer ask that question because there are 3 hold and three questions and each time I ask a question it is no longer a possibility until I roll Trap Expert again?

    Question 2: Can a Player with a Thief PC state they wish to use Trap Expert or must the trigger be met first before TE becomes available to them?

  33. Nothing says you can’t use Hold to ask the same question twice or even thrice if need be, though as Eric Lochstampfor indicates, I wouldn’t call for the roll until they are legitimately where a trap might be – doesn’t mean there is one, but that it is a likely place for one as far as the Thief is concerned.

  34. Trap Expert, too, as with all other moves, gets triggered by the fiction, so the Thief’s player shouldn’t say, “I’m going to use ‘Trap Expert’.” Instead, they should describe being cautious, checking the area out because they are suspicious, and let the move flow from there if needed.

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