The Trap Master. A title given to me by every gaming group I have ever been in. Not only have I been awarded this nickname, I have earned it and wear it with pride. But why, you may ask, would I be so proud of something that frightens so many other GMs and players, the likes of whom speak the word “trap” with hushed tones of respect and fear? Simply put, traps should move the players forward, not hold them back.
The anagram I have used to determine how traps should be created illustrates my point; T.o R.eward A. P.layer. With this idea of giving the players added story opportunity I have come up with six tips for the GM who wishes to incorporate more enjoyable traps into their sessions:
1. Make Traps Spontaneous
How many times has your party wandered into a dungeon or the sewers and all that can be said is, “Watch out for traps”? The reason people always suspect these is because it appears to be the standard for most all campaigns. Part of the excitement is stripped away when players know what is coming. As such it is our responsibility and opportunity to flip the switch on them. Have them wander all throughout the dungeon with no problems facing them, only to have a vat of burning oil fall on them when they enter the mayor’s office, who replys, “Oops, forgot that was there!”
2. Difficulty vs Opportunity
It is never any fun for players to get caught in a situation only to find that they were trapped simply because they took a wrong turn and, as a product, now face certain death. A GM who does this is not a douchebag, he is what me, my friends, and my co-workers call a bouchedag, the next level of doucheyness. When creating your traps examine how they function. Determine how easily it would be to kill your players and create multiple ways for them to completely avoid the trap. Whether it be a simple perception roll or a faint light on the ground, allow them to avoid the trap while still making it vicious. Essentially, set phasers to stun.
3. Plan Multiple Escapes or Don’t Plan Any
That one single way of escaping does not cut it with anyone. If you are planning on making it so the only way to escape the trap you’ve made is to do one specific thing you deserve to be branded and put in time-out. Whenever I make traps for my players I do something off the walls and a little unheard of; I NEVER plan methods of escape, the reason being if I do not know how to escape I have no possible way of telling a player no. Granted, there are times when this can be very dangerous to the players but a good GM will be able to recognize his party’s strengths and weakness and plan accordingly.
If you are not comfortable enough with your planning to partake in the glory that is having nothing planned then create as many escape routes as possible. The more the better but be reasonable with your methods of escape and make sure you have a general idea, but nothing specific.
4. Ignore The Norms
One of the most annoying things in the world is to be walking down the hall and fall into your standard spike pit. Your players will spend five meaningless minutes getting out of the trap with a glazed-over expression on their faces. Rather than use the standard traps that everyone knows and loves, change up an element of it. Rather than spikes maybe they could fall into a pit of used syringes which won’t kill them but will give them a disease. Maybe when they are walking up a ladder rather than serated steps the steps are slick with lubricant and an enemy catches them halfway up. Change the standard traps into something fresh and exciting which will amplify the enjoyment of your players.
5. Multi- Layered Traps Taste Like Cake
Think back to the last time you took a bite out of a fantastic piece of cake and ask yourself, what made it so great? I am positive most everyone will reply in regards to the different layers that it had, offering a new sensation as their teeth sank further and further into it. Think of traps as cake. As much as players hate to admit it, they love the thrill of finishing one element of a trap and then running into yet another part. For instance, rather than just have them step on a falling floor panel every few steps, change it up. Make it so if they fall, they fall into hot oil. When they reach midway through the room the entire area heats up which causes the door handle to stick to their hands. When the window is opened the walls start to break apart. Layers of action bring about heightened layers of anticipation and pleasure.
6. Great Risk, Gentlemen, Yields Greater Glory
Some of the best moments that a GM can experience is seeing their party leap into the air and celebrating at having avoided death , moved the plot in a major way, or killed the main villain. I think of them fondly and often say that those are what every GM lives for, so why not give yourself that added little satisfaction from watching your party succeed with your traps?
If you are able to make your traps not so difficult so as to stave off any attempt at survival but at the same time not allow them to slide through as if skating on butter, you will find that your players will think back fondly on those experiences. One trap that my party constantly brings up is known as “The Spinning Room of Death” which almost killed two of my players before they escaped. It was so popular it has been made into the initiation ceremony in order to join my gaming group, even if it is only for a single session.
All in all we have discussed six very easy tips to allow GMs of all ages and talents to make effective traps. You will find the process to be painless if you make them spontaneous, think about the difficulty vs. the opportunity to escape, either plan multiple escapes or none at all, ignore the standard trap cliques, create multiple levels for their traps and employ risk into the situation. It is important for every GM to remember that they are there to make the experience of roleplaying one that shall not be forgottten easily, so why not take the scared tone away from the word, “trap”? T.o R.eward A. P.layer; a simple key to an amazing memory.
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