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How to Trap


Are you a DM? Have you been pulling out your hair, having sleepless nights, spent hours staring at that encounter planner and gone “how am I making these poor sods suffer next session”?

Well, you’re in luck! Here is our resident chaos goblin, Teddy’s tips on how to trap:

1. Do the thinky bit. Traps should practically spring into your mind (pun intended) when you look at the environment for your encounter. Consider where they are (are the traps natural or made?), who set the traps and why the traps were set (hunters trying to capture beasts? Relatively intelligent bandits looking for a score? Team Rocket trying to get that damn pikachu? Or is it simply a natural trap due to deterioration and/or other triggers?)

2. Have a variety. Traps can be repeated, of course, but a variety will keep your players on their toes. Some traps might be damaged or set incorrectly, which could alter the effect of triggering them. There could be several different types of traps. One trap could set off a series of other traps.

3. Provide players with clues. No one likes to feel like an event was unavoidable. Give them subtle hints to watch out for traps: the corpse of someone who ran into a trap, a small glint that can be identified with a perception check, the gut feeling that a place like this would surely be trapped. Whatever the reason, give your players a chance to avoid the trap. Unless your intention is to weaken or kill them, there is no harm in letting your players successfully navigate passed traps you set up for them. And boy will it make them happy!

4. Consider consequences. This is notoriously hard to do because your players will almost never consider the consequences of their actions. It is important to consider if a trap is likely to down a party member, split the party, or make it impossible for the party to get out of the place they got trapped into. Remember if your trap separates or downs members, your combat encounters need to be balanced for fewer players!

5. Reward creativity. If your players come up with a creative and unique way of dealing with the traps, allow them to succeed at it. Traps become boring very quickly when your only two options are avoidance or disarming.

6. Intelligent trapmaking should exist in your world! A static trap like a spike or pitfall trap haphazardly thrown together by goblins is perfectly acceptable. However, more intelligent opponents (high level spellcasters, big bad evil people, retired level 20 shopkeepers) should and could create far more pervasive traps. Traps that have lasting effects, adapt to player actions or have unexpected outcomes are very much encouraged.

To help you on your journey, here are a couple of quick traps that can be jammed into an encounter as needed:

Sound Alarm Trap: A pressure plate triggers an alarm, alerting nearby creatures to the party’s presence. Effect: Loud noise attracts wandering monsters. On higher levels, the sound can summon creatures.

Mirror Illusion Trap: Illusion magic creates a illusory copies of the party mimicking them to cause confusion. Alternatively, it summons dopplegangers which can also attack the party. Effect: Wisdom saving throw to avoid being confused for a short duration. On higher levels, the dopplegangers could have the same abilities as the party.

Fog Emitter Trap: A triggered mechanism releases a cloud of poisonous gas in the area. Effect: Constitution saving throw or take poison damage and suffer the poisoned condition. On higher levels, increase the conditions that are inflicted (blindness, poisoned, silenced, exhausted)

Web Bomb Trap: A pressure plate releases a burst of webs, entangling those in the area. Effect: Strength saving throw to avoid being restrained by the webs. On higher levels, couple it with the sound alarm so that they are not only entangled but all enemies in the area know where they are.

Spike Ceiling Trap: A hidden switch causes the ceiling to slowly descend, threatening to crush intruders. Effect: Dexterity saving throw to avoid bludgeoning damage. On higber levels, reduce the amount of time the party has to escape before being impaled.

Floating Glyph Spell Trap: Stepping on a certain tile triggers a magical glyph, casting a minor spell. Effect: Wisdom or Dexterity saving throw to avoid the effects of a spell (e.g., sleep, charm) On higher levels, simply use higher level spells to inflict some real damage.

Flickering Torch Gas Trap: A seemingly ordinary torch triggers a burst of flammable gas when touched. Effect: Dexterity saving throw to avoid fire damage and potential ignition of nearby flammable objects. On higher levels, as with the Fog Emitter, have the explosion cause conditions.


There you have it, the basics of trapping. Do you have a favorite trap? Drop it in the comments for your fellow DM’s. Spread the joy, spread the pain.


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