A single day of devious trickery – er, that is to say, creative subversion of player assumptions – was never going to be enough for this blog. This week, a series of traps that will really mess with your players. Most are in fact so ridiculously rotten that their best use is to spring them, howl with laughter at the ensuing shrieks of outrage, and then retcon the traps out of existence once you’ve had your fun, lest your players mount an open revolt.
The fake-out trap
The PCs turn the corner and see a skeleton about thirty feet away, pinned to the wall by a spear. They also see several other broken spears on the ground nearby, all opposite a collection of fairly-well-concealed holes in the wall. As they look, they realise that the corridor ahead has these holes along a massive stretch of its length – just ducking through or long-jumping won’t save them, and doesn’t seem to have saved the skeleton, who is about ten feet into the trap.
Searching for the trap mechanism doesn’t reveal the trap… because there isn’t one. They’re just holes and spears.
Optionally, the last square of the corridor does include a genuine spear trap.
For extra pressure, ensure the PCs are being chased, with a lead of only 20 seconds or so.
We believe this trap was actually used by the IRA (the Irish Republican Army, a terrorist group dedicated to getting the British out of Northern Ireland) as a parting gift for British law enforcement. It works best as a modern trap, but with some adjustment of flavour could be used in a fantasy setting.
The PCs are given the location of a safe house belonging to an enemy group – a rival spy organisation, a demented cult, a supervillain’s gang, etc. When they arrive they discover that the safe house has been cleared out and completely scrubbed down. Whether enough forensic traces of their enemies remain is up to you – but also quite possibly academic.
As the PCs enter, you note that the only sound in the place is a steadily dripping tap, landing in an empty metal sink (there is no plug, so the water just drains away). Drip, drip, drip. As the PCs investigate, the dripping continues – either implicitly or explicitly driving home the complete emptiness of the safe house and thereby mocking their efforts. Play it low-key – you don’t want to give away that this piece of flavour is also bait – but make it mean something more than just scenery to the players. Eventually one of the PCs may get irritated enough by the incessant dripping that they go to turn off the tap – at which point contact is made in the detonation switch, and explosives in the walls and scattered through the building go off.
This trap was originally designed to be completely lethal, so while of course it’s up to you we recommend that the damage be extreme – especially around the trigger.
Whether the PCs have a chance to find the explosives is also up to you – again, in the original traps they were well hidden, often in the walls (set up as the safe house was originally established), or roofspace, or under the floor – or all three. Alternatively they may be hidden in plain sight as caches of (apparently inert) bomb materials.
This trap consists of a long bookshelf along one wall in a room that the PCs expect to have a secret passage. One book is particularly incongruous (Courtship rituals of the lesser Mozambican gerbil) and sticking out from the shelf slightly (Perception 13 to notice). If pulled, it causes the entire ten-foot-tall bookshelf to slam forwards onto the ground within 10′ of the wall on which the shelves are mounted. (Perception 23 to spot the hinges and possibly some very faded bloodstains on the carpet; DC 23 skill check to disable the trap or set it off slowly; in PFRPG, 6d6 bludgeoning damage with Reflex 23 to take no damage, or 20 for half damage; in M&M3E, a bludgeoning attack with a +13 bonus.)
The trap also covers the real secret exit – a trapdoor which is now under the bookshelves. (DC 28 to notice it before this, as it’s under a rug.) If through some incredible fluke a PC is standing on the trapdoor when the trap hits them, the trapdoor takes as half much damage as the PC, and if that exceeds its 15 hp, it collapses under them. It’s up to you how far they fall and what they find.
This trap works well in conjunction with (or shortly after) the previous trap.
It consist of an identical button, also marked emphatically DO NOT PRESS. At some point the room in which it sits becomes a slow-acting deathtrap – perhaps water starts flooding in, or gas, or the room is sealed and air starts running out. In any case, pressing the button will deactivate the trap, but hopefully the PCs are sufficiently spooked that they won’t do it.
In PFRPG, you might allow a DC 30-35 Disable Device check to ascertain the true nature of the button, but if so, roll secretly so the PCs are not quite sure whether a 1 was rolled.
A strongly “psych-out” trap like this, especially one prefaced by one or more instances of the “learn to read” trap, indicates a consciously manipulative trap designer, someone who is trying to prove that they are cleverer than their victims. As a guaranteed deathtrap it is rather inefficient, but as a statement of malice and declaration of psychological warfare it is highly effective.