I’d be interested in knowing how you handle traps and their detection.

I’d be interested in knowing how you handle traps and their detection.

I’d be interested in knowing how you handle traps and their detection. This was something that always bothered me no matter the system since asking a player to roll for detecting traps is pretty much saying that there is a trap. As far as DW goes do you let non-thieves detect traps? Another concern is the monotonous task of checking every nook and cranny for traps, this can really slow a game down.

My way of dealing with it is assuming the thief is always on lookout for a trap and when one is present I just tell them to roll trap expert. I realize this ignores the trigger of having the thief constantly state they are carefully examining but I feel it keep the game flowing. For all the non thieves they need to trigger discern realities in order to have a chance of finding a trap. I feel this helps enforce the thief as someone you want in a party even if your purse ends up a little lighter.

How do you all handle traps? Any cool game moments involving a trap?

18 thoughts on “I’d be interested in knowing how you handle traps and their detection.”

  1. Traps are dumb, in general. Present obvious obstacles instead – I hallway full of holes in the wall, a floor that threatens to crumble with every step, etc.

    Traditional traps are just GM gotchas – “tee hee you didn’t check for traps in THIS five foot square!”

  2. Traps have been a traditional staple in many games and in real life. If executed well, they can make for great moments. I do think to some degree they should be obvious, and the ones that are not. Should be more then raw damage, giving a chance for the players to still pull off sweet moves in the fiction or fairly fail to do so.

    Lets use the hated floor panel first.

    You come across a room with a broken bridge, beneath you is a pit with nothing in it. What you need is further into the ruined cavern, the opening is on the other side of the broken bridge. As you step forward a panel slowly sinks a few inches and water begins to fill the room. You can guess about 10-20 minutes this room will be fully submerged in water. (Players now have a time limit, but what they don’t know is the water will stop perfectly in front of the steps). On the way back once they deal with a tribe of angry kobolds. They will see the water fully raised and makes for a easy swim across. What they don’t know is the Kobolds has released have two pet Crocodiles who now are swimming in the murky water. (The murky water, some signs of unnatural movement is all they need to know about this trap and they still have full control on how they tackle it).

    Which is way better then

    Lets use hated Floor panel the wrong way.

    Ops watch your step, that’s 3 damage. Plus your blood is curdling in a nasty and unnatural way. (Ominous smile).

  3. Is it a trap I decided was there in advance (even if “in advance” is like 5 seconds ago)? Then I handle it like everything else:

    Describe the situation. The hallway looms straight and narrow, past the edge of your torchlight.

    Make a GM move, such as give an opportunity that fits a class’s abilities. Robin, you notice these little holes on the left side of the wall, like the size of a coin. There’s like three dozen of them in a sort of haphazard pattern. And you aren’t sure what with the flickering torch light, but you think the right wall has a these weird paint spatters, like a flaking brown. No, no, that’s not paint, those are old blood stains!

    Ask “What do you do?”

    The players will likely do one of a few things:

    A) Ah, screw it. They just rush through or otherwise ignore your threat. Golden opportunity >> hard move (damage, alarms, whatever).

    B) Ask you clarifying questions. If it’s something they could easily perceive, answer honestly. If they’d have to poke around/lean in/get closer/etc. then tell them that, ask if they’re Discerning Realities.

    C) They have Trap Expert and say they want to use it. The fictional trigger there is minimal (“_spend a moment to survey a dangerous area_”) so of course they can use it. They roll. Follow the move’s procedure. But! Be generous with the information you give–they’re the expert!

    Pro tip: give a straightforward answer but ask the player how they figure that out, just to make them feel more of an expert.

    Is there a trap here, and if so what activates it? “Uh, yeah. Trap. The flagstones in front of you are a pressure plate. How can you tell?” What does it do when activated? “Spears are going to shoot out of those holes and try to impale you, then snap back. You’ve seen this type of trap before. When and where?” What else is hidden here? “Huh. Well, that wall with the holes in it probably isn’t that thick. There must be a room back there holding the spears and the contraptions and whatnot. Maybe a big tough guy like the Fighter could smash through it once you took care of those spears.”

    D) Discern Realities They aren’t a Trap Expert, but they take some action in order to get more information, even if that action is “standing there carefully and not touching anything but trying to figure out what’s going on.” This triggers Discern Realities. Have them roll it. Follow the move’s procedure.

    However! Couch your responses based on the fiction they give you. It’s not a divination spell! If they Discern Realities by standing still, waving the torch around, trying to puzzle the whole thing out… then frame your answers (or your hard move) with that in mind.

    What is about to happen? “Well, you’re reasonably certain that walking down the hallway is going to cause some spears to shoot out of those holes and impale you. Otherwise, well… you stay here long enough and your torch will run low.” What should I be on the lookout for? “Well, there’s got to be a trigger of some sort right? You don’t see a tripwire, so it’s either some sort of magic or a pressure plate.” What here is useful or valuable to me? “Your shields, for starters. And, y’know, if you’re right and this is a pressure plate, well… the holes only seem to be covering an area of wall like 6, 7 feet long? A good long jump could probably do it. Probably.”

    And on a miss, you don’t get to presume that they step on the pressure plate or trigger the trap. They told you they were holding still. You do get make as hard of a move as you like, including tell them the requirements (“Yeah, you got nothing, maybe rush through it and trust your luck?”) or put someone in a spot (“As you try to puzzle things out, Bilshi the porter is like ‘What’s the hold up?’ and strides boldly past you, like he’s about to step right in front of those holes, what do you do?”)

    By contrast, if they tell you that they poke around by prodding the walls and floor with their quarterstaff, give them more info but also there’s a little more risk, too. What is about to happen? “Well, you prod the floor in front your feel it give just a little. It’s a pressure plate, you’re sure of it!” What shoudl I be on the lookout for? “You depress the plate and there’s a grinding sound from behind the walls then SHOOM-SHOOM-SHOOM like 3 dozen spears shoot out of the wall, one after another. Then there’s another grinding and the all start to retreat. Soon enough, they’re all back behind the wall again.” What here is useful or valuable to me? “You know, between when you pressed the plate and the first spears shot out, there was like a full second of that grinding noise before any spears shot out. If someone got a running jump, even if they didn’t clear the plate, they could probably run clear before they got stabbed.”

    Of course, on a miss, they’re in more danger cuz they’re actually prodding the plate and triggering the trap. I probably would have them get hit by this particular trap, but maybe one of the spears snaps their quarterstaff. Or maybe they were leaning in too far and the spears are shooting at them what do they do?

    E) Spout Lore “Have I ever seen something like this before? I’m guessing it’s a trap, but can I figure out what triggers it?” Sure, Spout Lore! 7-9 “Yeah, this looks like a spear trap. There’s probably a pressure plate that makes the spears shoot out.” 10+ “Oh, and in order to get enough force behind the spears, there’s probably some big-ass counterweight that gets freed by the pressure plate, and an alternate counterweight to reset the trap. Either that, or they’re spring-loaded and someone has to reset the trap manually.” And on either result: “How do you know about these kind of traps?”

    On a miss, same as the “reserved” Discern Realities. They aren’t doing anything other than standing there and thinking about it. So don’t throw them in the trap, just tell them what’s required or put someone in a spot or “suddenly ogres”.

    Of course, I can also use introduce the trap the same way I can introduce any other danger: as part of a hard move. If the PCs are flying from some monster and roll a miss, I might make a very hard version of put them in a spot and have Bilshi the porter run headlong into the spear trap to horrific results, making the party stop in shock as Bilshi gets turned into a bloody mess and the trap resets and the monsters are almost here, what do you do?

    Or, if I didn’t have a trap planned but I’ve got some blanks, I could maybe introduce one on the fly. Maybe it’s a miss on a Spout Lore, maybe it’s what they should be on the lookout for, maybe the Thief is using Tools of the Trade to open the locked chest and gets a miss or even a 7-9 and my choice between danger and cost involves there being a trap on that chest.

  4. There are three kinds of traps

    Simple, complex, and fiendish.

    Anyone can spot a simple trap as long as they are moving slow and being aware.

    Complex traps, need a rogues expertise to detect. And an area I rule is each group of non unique rooms and passageways. So at most in a sprawling dungeon traps roll maybe triggers 10 times over several dozen in game days.

    Fiendish traps, cannot be disarmed or by passed by a single move. They take either custom moves or act as a multiple move monster.

  5. I’m a little sneaky about trap placement. I wait for a Discern Realities check or some such, then play off the result. I assume if they’re looking for a trap, a trap exists (Don’t tell my players that), otherwise why are they checking? Even better when someone rolls 6- because now they’re not sure if it’s trapped (it is, per above)…

  6. I don’t make them roll to detect. I tell them hints : there are small holes in the left wall, there are strange burnt marks all over this corridor, there are dozens of broken bones lying on the floor, you see that some of the floor tiles are higher than the others, etc.

    Then I let them figure out how to deal with it. They usually go for discern realities beforehand. If they push through, Defy Danger.

    Sometimes there is no trap but a failed move makes me change my mind and they sprung one as the hard move.

    Sometimes I don’t tell them but I never put cheap random traps. Like the golden idol is standing on a stone altar in the middle of the room. We’ve all seen enough Indiana Jones to know there’s probably a trap here I don’t need to give them hints.

    I try to keep traps believable. Most dungeon designers don’t want to hire full time staff to reset traps all the time. Most of them would be one shot use. In this case you want the trap to be obvious but not the way to disarm then. That way your trap doesn’t need to be activated to discourage looters from going through.

  7. Like the idea of explaining visual clues and letting the players decide if it’s a trap or not. I had stuck in my head traps were invisible unless actually checked for so thanks for knocking old thought patterns out of my head.

  8. Just wanted to add this: Technically, I’d say it’s against the rules to sprung a trap unbeknownst to the PCs and do damage.

    The rules would ask the GM to make a soft move first and ask what they do, so at the bare minimum, you’d go “as you walk down the corridor, you hear a distinctive “click” from underneath your foot. You’ve just activated a trap! What do you do?” The player will say something that will probably trigger a “Defy Danger” move.

    On the other side, as I said above, it’s mechanically fair to use a 6- result as a pretext to declare that the character walked into a trap.

    In my mind, this is a very boring scene though. I’m way more interested in how characters deal with a trap, how they bypass/disarm/overcome it than just having them deal with the consequence of said trap.

  9. As said above, giving obvious clues that there’s a trap is much more interesting than springing it on the players. Jeremy’s example is great… suddenly, what could have been “*zap* defy danger” is instead an interesting challenge with multiple ways to deal with it, all precisely because the trap was obvious (even though its details were not).

    It also makes a lot of sense for traps to leave evidence of their presence. Unless the trap has never been triggered before or there are dedicated cleaners around (who know how to disarm the trap before going in and cleaning up), there will be the remains of previous victims or damage inflicted by the trap on the environment. In fact, corpses can attract scavengers, who might themselves fall afoul of the trap, creating even more of a mess for the party to find.

    There are also the kinds of traps that don’t just zap the players with damage. The doors slam shut and the room starts to fill with water, or there’s a rumbling noise and you see a boulder rolling towards you, or there’s a snap noise and floor starts to tip sideways… things which give ample opportunity to react and interact with the situation. Those interactive traps put them in a spot, so they’re a better fit for DW than the sort of thing that just explodes and damages you.

  10. Jeremy Strandberg, I’m really sorry for resurrecting an old post, but I have a question for this that comes up in my games: Let’s say a player is wanting to Discern Realities just by looking with their eyes from a safe distance. Let’s assume they roll a 10+ and ask, “What should I be on the lookout for?” “What here is not what it appears to be?” and “What here is useful or valuable to me?” As you recommend, I give them any additional details that they can ascertain by using their eyes from a safe distance.

    Then they want to move closer, perhaps interact with it to disarm it, or gain further details about how the trap works. Do you have the Discern Realities again? Or do you simply give them any additional information that comes from their new action? Obviously, they could Defy Danger if they’re interacting in a dangerous way, but I want to leave that out for now.

    My players do this all the time. They aren’t the type who poke and prod, usually, they don’t seem to be able to come up with ways to poke and prod, so they just stand back and try to Discern Realities from a safe distance. So part of this question is also: Do I need to do anything to encourage them to take greater risks? Is it good that they want to Discern Realities from a safe distance? Should I offer suggestions, such as “Do you want to poke at the wall, Discerning Realities about how it works?” Do I want to say, “If you Discern Realities from here, you won’t get much information. But if you interact with it while Discerning Realities, you can glean far more information,”?

  11. Ron Shier “If you Discern Realities from here, you won’t get much information. But if you interact with it while Discerning Realities, you can glean far more information,”?

    Seems like a “Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask” to me!

  12. I wouldn’t say “But if you interact with it while Discerning Realities, you can glean far more information,”

    I try not to name the move while referring to the fiction.

    PC: I’m trying to look for traps

    GM : Hmm, from where you stand you don’t see anything. You’d need to get closer and move the leaves and the moss around to detect any pressure plate, trap door, wires, small hidden holes and such”

  13. Ron Shier in addition to what Addramyr Palinor said (which is spot on), there are a few tricks you can use:

    1) If the Discern Realities from afar, give them answers that lead to more direct interaction (and possibly another Discern Realities check).

    So if they just size up the hallway without getting close to it, and ask “what should I be on the lookout for?” you can say “well, something has to trigger this trap, like a tripwire or a pressure plate or some sort of magic, but there’s no way to tell without investigating more closely.” And then if they do investigate more closely, you can just ask “what are you doing to investigate?” Get them to commit to some level of detail and then let them trigger another Discern Realities (with a +1 bonus for acting on the previous one). Eventually they’ll find something concrete or they’ll roll a miss and trigger the trap.

    2) If they Discern Realities “from afar,” you give them the answer and then ask them to describe how they found it. This way, they know what answer they are working towards, and it can serve as “training wheels” towards more concrete searching up front.

    “What here is not what it appears to be? Well, there’s a pressure plate hidden in the floor. How did you figure that out?”

    3) Maybe try having them ask their (first) question before you agree that the move triggers, then ask them how they might be trying to figure that out. I think its easier for a player to imagine how they might search for something “useful or valuable to them” than it is to imagine how they might “carefully study a situation or person.”

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