Traps, Triggers, and Puzzles 5

If you missed the first of this series you should go back and read it. In short, I am gathering a collection of traps, triggers, and puzzles for new GM's to use for their dungeons. Hopefully these elements will help you in constructing your dungeons, or at least provide a spark of inspiration.

I am using the following definitions for my vocabulary:

Trap – A nonliving danger that is posed to the players that are activated with a trigger.

Trigger – A mechanism that activates some effect, both beneficial and hazardous.

Puzzle – An obstacle that requires a series of actions to complete, usually involving a level of intellectual challenge.

Trap: Sand

Anyone who has seen an action adventure movie in the desert has probably seen the trap of a room filling up with sand. You also probably think of quicksand in the jungle. The sad part about these are how horribly inaccurate their dangers are. Here is the best part, who cares? If the dangers in the movies seem hazardous then it is good enough for your game. I'm not here to tell you how you are using sand wrong. If your players argue about how it works, just say it works that way because of magic. You are building tension and danger, realism be damned.

Sand is notoriously hard to climb, a slope of sand is harder to climb than dirt. The sand shifts making movement hard. Even if the trap isn't the sand room or quicksand, then its possible this trap could impose difficult terrain. Being submerged in sand can also risk suffocation. Remember the Disney movie Aladdin? There is a scene where Princess Jasmine was trapped in an hourglass and she begins to be submerged in sand. Can you imagine a sand elemental that suffocates people sneaking up on the players? Sand is fluid enough to be used in all sorts of interesting ways.

Trap: Poisonous Gas

I think we all know the dangers of poisonous gas. It is featured in so many movies that one example isn't good enough to cover what can be done with poisonous gas. The best part about it is that there are as many varieties of poisonous gas as there are poisons (go figure). They can come in the form of sleep gas to fear gas like Scarecrow's from Batman, to just a gas that kills people.

To keep in mind, poisonous gas can be used to mess with the players head, it doesn't have to do damage. Maybe it makes the characters see all creatures nearby as shadow creatures or monsters. Perhaps they see things that are not there. It can debilitate a character and cause chaos.

Trigger: Motion

As a trigger this is a fairly modern one. Home security lights use motion detection to activate. It is surprising how little this type of detection occurs in our fantasy tabletop games, or maybe I haven’t simply noticed it. In a world with magic, why wouldn’t we have this option? The idea is pretty simple and you don’t have to explain how the magic works, just that it does.

You can also choose for the effect to trigger with a lack of motion. The trap or object in the room isn’t triggered so long as you keep moving. This would be effective when chained with another trigger. This could form a gauntlet where the players want to keep moving in fear of activating the traps but want to stop to overcome other obstacles.

This can be used with great effect if you change the amount of time that the trigger is active. For example you might have a magical eye symbol that when it appears open detects any and all movement. When closed creatures are free to move about the space without triggering it.

The degree of motion can also be changed. It could range from any minute movement, possibly requiring a save to remain motionless, to as long as the players move at least one square on each turn. The possibilities are up to you.

Trigger: Heat

This is another trigger that I have gained inspiration from the modern age. In many homes your furnace or air conditioner go through cycles of activity and inactivity depending on the temperature of the room it is set to. This same principal could very much be applied to a room. In order to activate the trigger one would have to increase or decrease the temperature in a space. Players could do this by using torches or putting out flames.

This idea could be used at the core of a dungeon (a fire and ice themed one is springing to my mind). The heat of one area could affect another area, creating different zones of temperature control. This trigger has the advantage of being on a scale as well, where it's not either on or off. This means you could potentially have multiple triggers in one space. This could create a gauntlet of challenges the players must face as they work to change the temperature in a room. The challenges might even try to reverse the change in temperature.

Puzzle: Chess of Minimum Pieces

This puzzle, as the name implies, would require some knowledge of how chess works. To start the players enter an area where the width of the room is filled with a massive empty chess board. The goal is that the players want to cross the chess board, but the area is enchanted that the players must play the game by the rules. If a player deviates from the rules, an electric shock is delivered by a spell. When a player steps into one of the squares on the chess board (or attempts to fly over it), they are restricted to that square until a piece appears on the other side of the board opposite of the square the player stood. Once the piece appears, the player may only move in the way that piece that appeared would move. Their goal is to make it to the opposite side of the board. Each side takes its turn and only one piece can move. If a player’s movement would normally remove the piece in chess, then the piece is destroyed (either literally by the player, or by magic). If an opponent piece would take out a player, they take a large amount of damage before they are teleported off the board.

The key to the challenge of this puzzle is to not reveal the rules up front. The rules reveal the simplest answer: choose the Queen square, or one of the Rook Squares. This ensures that your next move lets you take out the other piece and gets you across the board without harm. This challenge also increases if several players enter the board at the same time, as now only one player can move per “turn”. It also becomes more challenging if players are taken out by the opponent pieces. The simplest form of this requires only one person to cross the board to succeed at the challenge.

A variation of this puzzle is to randomize the piece that appears in front of them when they step on the board. My recommendation is to not allow players to become a pawn, as the movements of the pawns is boring, and results in a stalemate without other players to take out a pawn. The randomization of pieces is a way to add an additional challenge to a puzzle the group may have already encountered in the past.

You can introduce this randomization at any point as long as you do not reveal the rules. If a player suddenly discovers the answer but you don’t want your players to just repeat his steps exactly, then introduce the randomization to make sure there is still some challenge.

Puzzle: Deceiver

Blocking a path forward is a massive stone golem who seems to fit the door frame perfectly. It is made out of incredibly durable material and not easily destroyed. However, the golem is not hostile to the party and in fact is quite unintelligent and forgetful. The only thing the golem remembers is the appearance of its master, and its master and guests are the only ones who are permitted to pass. On top of that the master must be present to proceed. Upon meeting the golem it says the words “You are not master. Only master and his guests may pass.”

The solution to this puzzle can vary on the scenario in which it is placed. While the golem is unintelligent it would not just spout off a description of its master, trivializing the puzzle entirely for anyone with a disguise self or alter self spell. Instead the players need to coax certain information about who their master is or what they look like. If the players lack a real way of disguising themselves on their own person, you can introduce items into the dungeon that would be sufficient to have the golem let the party pass. It is entirely possible that you could get the owner of the golem to let you through as well. The attention to detail of the golem is entirely up to the DM for how they want to integrate it into their dungeon for their players.

I hope these traps, triggers, and puzzles give you the inspiration you need for your games. If you take any of these ideas and use them in your games, please let me know! I am always curious to find out how players overcome the challenges presented to them.

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