Traps: Every Villain in D&D Has Their Own Unique Twist On Them
Every monster or mastermind creates traps with differing designs and purposes. Creating a variety of traps that reflect the will of their creator produces a unique environment for parties to interact with.
What’s So Different?
Why do different creatures create different kinds of traps? We can easily envision the difference between a goblin’s crude pit trap, filled with bones and detritus, and the pit trap of a mastermind like Acererak, filled with barbed rods coated in Purple Worm poison. Not only is one trap significantly more deadly than the other, but they have inherently different aesthetics and purposes: the goblin’s trap seeks to capture a victim, where they can be held until goblins arrive to take them to their leader. Acererak’s trap it built to maim, murder, and intimidate any would-be adventurers that dare to enter his lair.
Because traps are designed by creators for their own purposes, they may be built to kill, torture, hold captive, or injure the characters. Magical traps could have entirely other purposes, whether it’s to trap the souls of unsuspecting adventurers or to teleport them into another plane of existence. Understanding an enemy’s goals helps you as the Dungeon Master design traps that match their plans and aesthetic. Here are 3 creature archetypes and ideas on the types of traps they would design.
The goblin, kobold, or other low-intelligence creature creates crude traps meant to protect their lair or other important locations. These traps require little skill to create and are often cobbled together with whatever items are available. For instance, the spikes in a pit trap may be constructed from sharpened bones. Nets may be constructed from worn down, cast-off ropes and cloths from a nearby village. Simple pits are abundant and filled with trash and other detritus from the goblin’s society.
A mage’s lair is an inner sanctum, containing countless magic secrets and powerful magic items that must be protected at all costs. These lairs, and their protections, can be infinitely varied, magically constructed to match the personality and aesthetic of each individual mage.
Magical traps often consist of some intersection between a magical spell and a physical trigger. For instance, a fire-breathing statue may emit a magical gout of flame when activated by a pressure plate on the floor in front of it. Because magic is infinitely variable, traps like this could activate other types of spells (Gust of Wind, Cloud of Daggers, Snilloc’s Snowball Swarm, etc.). These types of traps can also trigger summoning spells, such as Conjure Animals, which can launch characters into combat.
These traps can also be triggered in different ways, such as opening a lock or turning a doorknob. Spells such as Alarm may be set at the entrance of a lair, requiring characters to detect and dispel the effect before proceeding, or risk alerting the mage and its enemies of their presence.
Masterminds, such as Acererak, build extensive, detailed traps that are designed to trick, trap, and torture adventurers. These traps are out of the ordinary, using classic techniques in new ways and using the adventurer’s expectations against them.
In Tomb of Horrors, Acererak includes many such elements that are designed to trick the adventurers. For instance, a single gate filled with swirling mist is surrounded by 3 colored orbs. When the orbs are pressed in the right order, the mist clears and the gate can be walked through. Characters then pass through a room, whose walls are covered in a mural depicting various colored orbs held by different creatures. Later, another such gate appears, with differently colored orbs; However, this gate cannot be cleared, regardless of what the adventurers do. While at first, the gate seems like a puzzle, it is actually a trap cleverly designed to drive the adventurers (and players) mad and force them to waste time. If they waste enough time exploring the tomb, they will be trapped inside forever.
A similar type of trap causes a door at the far side of the room to begin sliding closed. A large lever sits at the center of the room. If characters do nothing, the door opens. If characters pull the level, the door slams shut.
These types of traps use a player’s bias against them, by making unnatural solutions or solutions which are opposite of what is expected. These traps are designed by masterminds to slowly wear down and torture characters (and players). Traps of these kinds are often sourced with the finest materials and craftsmanship. They are designed so that the trap or puzzle must be completed. Masterminds of this type create a distinctive style for their entire lair, or rooms within the lair, that they outfit at any expense.
In summary, determining what your NPC’s motives and style are help to design unique traps. Their motives determine the outcome of the traps and their style creates a unique storytelling experience.
What traps have your unique NPCs come up with? Did they end up working against the party? Tell us about it in the comment section!