Why Your D&D Party Should Set More Traps
Goblins and bandits are not the only ones who can set traps. Players often forget that they, too, can set snares to slow down or even kill enemies, control space on the battlefield, or capture enemies without killing them. It’s rare that confronting an enemy face-to-face in melee combat is the safest and most effective way to win a battle. Keeping the enemy at a distance by luring them into traps can help an adventuring party conserve resources and keep themselves alive.
Traps may be complex machines like the hunting trap as described in the Player’s Handbook or simple improvisations such as a length of rope secured across the floor of a hallway. Players can also entrap enemies by placing a glyph of warding in a place where an enemy won’t see it or drawing an enemy into a hall covered in caltrops or ball bearings.
Slowing Down Enemies
Whether initiating a fight or fleeing from one, a well-placed trap can slow down your opponents long enough for you to either get away or gain the upper hand.
Imagine a wizard using minor illusion or a cleric using thaumaturgy to pique a goblin’s curiosity, leading them to investigate the sound they just heard around the corner. The unsuspecting goblin turns the corner and steps in a hunting trap or slips on ball bearings, and the party suddenly has the jump on the foe.
Getting Out Alive
Players should always prepare for the possibility that they don’t win a fight. Before going into combat, think about the environment and plan an escape route. Again, the hunting trap will come in handy here, or that length of rope tied across the hallway at ankle level. The PCs, knowing that the traps are there, can escape around or over them, while enemies would fall victim to them, allowing the party to flee to safety.
Taking Them Alive
Sometimes, you want to capture an enemy, not kill them. In these cases, you need some sort of non-lethal trap. A covered pit (as long as the hole isn’t too deep), a falling cage, a net trap, or the snare spell (if you’re using Xanathar’s Guide to Everything) are all fine candidates for situations where taking the enemy alive is a requirement of the mission.
Combat in 5e is balanced in favor of large groups of weak enemies. That is to say, PCs will have a harder time with a group of lower CR enemies than they will with a single higher CR opponent. When facing large groups of enemies, crowd control becomes essential, and setting traps is a great crowd control tactic.
Crowd control involves denying opponents advantageous space on the battlefield and limiting their ability to move around or execute their desired tactics.
If you’re fighting multiple enemies in a large, open space, you can use traps to control crowds in a couple of ways.
One method is to use traps to incapacitate mobile enemies and allow your allies to focus on a single enemy. The trick here will be setting them up without the enemy noticing!
In a dungeon crawl, players must preserve their characters’ resources, whether hit points or spell slots. Charging into combat every time you spot a group of orcs is going to drain those resources quickly, and the Quest Master will likely find ways to limit your ability to take both short and long rests in a dungeon. Setting traps keep you from losing too much health or blowing through spell slots, and they might also afford your party the space they need to rest safely.
While traps can give you an unexpected advantage in a fight, don’t expect too much of them. Especially at lower levels, the traps you set will probably not do much more damage than a hunting trap (1d4).
Aside from the hunting trap and items like caltrops, there are no rules in either the Player’s Handbook or the Dungeon Master’s Guide for crafting traps, but there are sample traps listed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and this Unearthed Arcana article.
You’ll want to work with your Quest Master to determine a set of guidelines for trap creation. Tool proficiency is the mechanic that enables item crafting, so proficiency with thieves’ tools, artisan’s tools, or tinker’s tools might be the right place to start.
Have you ever set or even crafted traps as a player? What are your group’s house rules for trap crafting? Tell us in the comment section below!