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Stat Boost – Tricks, Traps, & Guest Posts

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This week saw the release of the new Unearthed Arcana – Traps Revisited, which provides an update to the existing rules for traps in 5e. This just so happened to coincide with me digging through old game books and finding my collection of Grimtooth’s Traps books, and I decided to take the UA update and create something to go with it. That something is three new traps – but before we get to that, there’s a little bonus to today’s Stat Boost.

I’m not the only person who was inspired by the new Unearthed Arcana. Glen Cooper – who you may remember as the creator of Deadly Dungeon Doors – offered to write a guest post about Traps Revisited, and I was more than happy to give him the reins. What he came back with blew me away – seriously, keep reading, there are illustrations and everything. So today is a two-fer. And first up is Mr Cooper…

Unearthed Trap-Arcana

by Glen Cooper

What’s the one word which strikes fear deep into the hearts of any experienced adventurer?

Is it “DRAGON!!!”? Maybe. Or perhaps it’s “KOBOLDS! Thousands of em!!”… possibly.

No, there’s one word which means certain doom to a party without a fit and healthy rogue, and that’s…


With the recent release of ‘Traps Revisited’ from Unearthed Arcana, I thought that I would take a closer look at what this new material may mean to us; DMs of the worlds most loved tabletop roleplaying game. Dungeons & Dragons…& Traps.

In the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG), the level of detail with regard to the building of new traps and understanding of how they work in D&D was decidedly lacking. Therefore we were all in serious trouble of accidentally killing our entire party with an over zealous trap design. I have to say though, as a connoisseur of traps and their mechanics, I did manage to gather together enough information from the PHB and DMG, to write my own handbook on deadly dungeon door encounters, with traps obviously.

So has the new Unearthed Arcana  – Traps Revisited (UATR) changed anything? Yes. Yes it has.

For starters WoTC proposes that we should now look at traps as either ‘simple’ or ‘complex’. The former is exactly as we expect, a trap which in its basic form is straight forward and can be circumvented by a bit of luck, quick thinking or a successful disarm trap skill check. The latter, complex traps, are designed to be an full on encounter in their own right. They will possibly have their own initiative value, plus they will involve a series of skill checks (skill challenge) to fully disarm the trap. Or at the very least slow it down long enough so our heroes can escape.

Once you have understood that, UATR then introduces us to the three functions which make up a simple trap.

  1. Trigger – description of what causes a trap to activate.
  2. Effect – what happens when a trap is triggered/activated.
  3. Countermeasures – a series of ways to defeat the trap.

Using the trap damage severity tables which we already have in the DMG, UATR discusses the idea that we should apply a Threat Level to each trap which we decide to spring on our brave adventurers. This is good DMing and should be encouraged. There are no CR ratings, plus no experience award allowances for simple traps. They are simply there to divert or slow a party’s journey on to their intended goal. What this means is that your poor rogue is working overtime for no additional rewards, which really bugs me. As a DM I always apply a 50xp bonus reward for the successful discovery and disarming of a simple trap.

UATR then gives to us several simple traps as examples or templates to inspire our own designs. This is an excellent addition by the way. Bravo!

Finally UATR goes through the process of helping us to design simple traps for our own adventures; and this is yet another set of welcome suggestions.

Half way through new simple trap design WoTC drops on us probably one of the most important ‘ideas’ that UATR gives to us, and that’s an explanation of the  difference between Perception and Investigation from a trap’s perspective:

Perception and Investigation

 A Wisdom (Perception) check that reveals a tripwire doesn’t tell the players what happens if they break the tripwire. They spot it before blundering into it, but must still decide what to do next. The nature of the item is not in question, but you might not spot it. A successful check reveals it.

An Intelligence (Investigation) check reveals that the scuff marks and wear pattern show that a doorknob can turn both ways, but is most often turned clockwise. The players must still decide how to open the door. The item is obvious, but its true nature is obscured. A successful check reveals the clues that point to the item’s purpose

There you have it, probably the least understood skill check in 5th Edition, written so that even an 8 year old could understand it. Awesome stuff guys.

Next up UATR deals with Complex Traps. This is a HUGE step change in our understanding of traps. We are now in the realms of monsters and encounters – rather than a humble hole in the ground, pit-fall trap. A complex trap has processes, which continue to function unless a party somehow halts them. In fact I touched upon this whole idea in my Deadly Dungeon Doors handbook and introduced the idea of Legendary Doors. Glad someone’s listening out there 😉

A complex trap gets a backstory, a series of active (dynamic or constant) elements, an initiative, the obligatory trigger, a map so that character positions are taken into account. Oh my god; they are different animals altogether!

UATR even goes so far as to telling us that a complex trap is kind of like a legendary monster. These fiends are designed to protect an area by killing or disabling intruders. I have one massive ‘malfunction’ with all this though. I may have missed it in the text, but I could not find anywhere where they mention experience point rewards for surviving these insidious traps. In the absence of guidance to what rewards should be forth coming, I would consider them story milestone encounters, and then award players experience points for their satisfactory completion.

Please read through Unearthed Arcana: Traps Revisited yourselves and tell me what you think also; but I’d like to finish with my personal thoughts on what this new play-test material could bring to 5th Edition D&D. I do have quite a lot of recent experience with traps as a DM and a designer and I find them to be one of the most misused elements of D&D. Reading many published adventures I have come to the conclusion that trap encounters are at best improvised and at worst designed to railroad party members in order to soften them up for an end game encounter. With that conclusion in hand, no wonder most players (and as a result DMs) feel that traps are simply a waste of time, energy and detract away from the all-important story arch.

This new framework is a great addition to the game, as it will help us as DMs to provide a consistent feel to the threat level of our traps from a player’s perspective. Trust between the player and their DM is everything in D&D, and should we continue to throw improvised traps at our players, then eventually we will lose so much detail that it becomes too obvious that we are just messing with our players. Bad times.

Having said all this, one of the largest criticisms of providing additional rule frameworks for traps has been that it goes against the so called spirit of 5th Edition D&D… which is, less rules = more fun. To this I say the ‘trust’ between player and DM trumps all cries for a less detailed rule set. Deploying something as simple as this 13 page document may well have powerful an effect on your future sessions, especially if you choose to invest some time in complex trap design. Yes you heard right, do some preparation. Your players are worth it.

Warning: over doing trap encounters will no doubt reduce your dungeon crawls to a real CRAWL… as your players proceed to inspect each and every 5ft square of your meticulously planned and ‘fun’ dungeon adventure.

So I really hope you enjoyed my take on the new Unearthed Arcana: Traps Revisited. Have fun on your dungeon runs and please, don’t have nightmares.

Glen Cooper runs Dreadful Dungeons and recently published Dreadful Dungeon Doors, a DMs Guild Electrum Bestseller at the time of writing. You can find him on Twitter @DreadfulDungeonAs an added bonus, Glen also provided this sample door trap!

[Click to embiggen]

I hope you enjoyed that and got something useful out of it. I’m really grateful to Glen for offering to take the time to write it. Glen’s issues with the existing rules for traps echo my own, and one of the things I really loved about his Deadly Dungeon Doors was his use of the existing rules for legendary actions to make encounters with doors more interesting. I had already been thinking about this with regard to environmental hazards (I’ve got a half-completed set of Natural Lairs using lair actions to simulate volcanos and the like that will be coming to Stat Boost at some point in the near future), so it’s really nice to see WoTC moving things in the same direction.

Now, I promised you a two-fer, and a two-fer you shall get. This post is getting on towards 2000 words now, though, so I’ll skip over the talking and just deliver the goods. I’m pleased to present you with three new traps, complete with artwork, utilising the new rules presented in Unearthed Arcana. Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts on them and Glen’s post in the comments.

[Click to download PDF]

Don’t forget to go and check out Glen’s Deadly Dungeon Doors if you haven’t already!

EDIT 07/09/17: If you like traps – and why wouldn’t you? – I just released an old school trap dungeon on DMs Guild. It’s called Breaker of Chains, and you should check it out.


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