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I recently acquired a bunch of old modules for 2nd and 3rd edition. Most of the module has been very easy to convert, however there is one thing I'm a bit stuck on. Traps.

It seems that some of these modules want to convince players to use their 10 foot pole, and check for traps every 5 feet. However I find that style obnoxious.

For example. A pit trap is given a DC of 22 to detect, then a DC of 18 to disarm, and is also given a DC of 20 to search and find a 6 inch walkway that bypasses it along the wall.

I've tried doing passive perception and asking players to roll perception all the time. I've also tried just having them fall into every third trap they pass, unless they do something special. None of them have been rewarding IMO. They either slow things down too much, or jar the players too much.

So far, I've been going through the modules, being able to explore 10-20 rooms an hour and having lots of fun, but I'm not sure how best to convert traps (on almost every hallway, door, or chest) and still keep a quick pace.

I don't want to remove the traps entirely, because they can be interesting if the players get creative, or they search and find neat treasures as a reward for dismantling the trap, or other story related wonders.

So, how do I convert traps to fit 5e from older modules?

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"It seems that some of these modules want to convince players to use their 10 foot pole, and check for traps every 5 feet. However I find that style obnoxious." This section suggests that the problem is too many traps. It's not clear to me how this pertains to converting between editions, as a large quantity of traps in earlier editions will tend to slow down play just like it will in 5e. –  Grubermensch May 21 '14 at 15:51
Interesting question indeed, I must admit that searching for traps everywhere is annoying, and not searching just means falling into them which is not exactly amusing either, so you have the choice between advancing a couple feet per hour or taking lots of damage (say thanks to the group's Barbarian). –  Matthieu M. Aug 11 '14 at 9:00

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

In 2e, traps are there specifically to slow down the party and force them to be cautious. Even in 5e, traps are a break in the action and can be triggered before anyone sees them. The 2e style doesn't sound like your playstyle at all, but even the way 5e uses traps by default seems to not be your style either. So...

Tell them the trap is there

Traps are interesting when players interact with them. Tell them the trap is there! Yes, 5e has Passive Perception for this purpose, but don't let that ruin your fun if giving the check away "for free" will significantly improve your and your players' enjoyment of the game. (Passive Perception is still useful for surprise encounters and ambushes, after all.)

By telling them that a trap is present without telling them exactly where and what, you get straight to the interesting interaction, as they investigate the trap to figure out where it is, what it does, and how to circumvent or disable it. They may play it smart or they may make mistakes and suffer the trap's consequences. Some traps will be boring (and quickly dispatched) and some will be super-interesting (and be super-interesting). Either way—smart or disastrous, trivial or super-interesting—you are keeping the part of traps you find fun (the players messing around with them), eliminating the part you find frustrating (caution bringing the dungeoncrawl to a literal crawl), and quickly moving along to wherever the fun is actually to be found.

So skip straight to the fun, and tell them that there is a trap here. Let them figure out what kind and where exactly, but tell them:

As you move to cross the threshold, your keen adventurer's survival instinct tells you something is wrong. There's something not quite right about either the door's stone frame, or the room's floor… or maybe it's something else nearby that's off. Anyway, what do you do?

...and cue the flurry of investigation!

DCs for the traps, should then be converted like most DCs in 5e. 10 for easy, 15 for moderate, 20 for hard, 25 for very hard.

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Be creative and descriptive; try elaborating on the scene, and leaving little clues as to a traps location/type, but don't give anything away. There's a huge difference between:

"You are in a 20x30 room, roll perception to check for traps. rolls You know that there's a flame trap that will hit you if you step on a hidden plate."


"You enter the sanctuary, full of old and weathered , but still solid, oaken pews. The smell of musty air pours down from the vaulted ceiling along with the dust that coats everything. There are footsteps etched in the dust, moving past the largest of the urns piled in a corner, and past an oily soot stain on the floor, stopping only at the rear door. As you enter, you almost trip over the uneven floors, quality not matching the stained glass windows, nor the ornate bronze dragon gargoyles on the walls."

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I'm unclear on what being this flavourful does for dealing with traps. I guess I'd approach the soot stain, if I picked up on it, so I guess that creates an intermediate step before "roll perception to check for traps"? –  doppelgreener May 21 '14 at 12:34
I think the point Yenski is trying to make here (correct if I'm wrong) is to tip off the presence of traps without asking for a roll and let a perception check for traps be the players' idea. –  wax eagle May 21 '14 at 13:15
@waxeagle So trip the trap if they don't say anything, don't compare passive perception, and let them offer the roll? –  GMNoob May 21 '14 at 14:20
@GMNoob to me, if their passive meet the DC detecting it, they see it, add it to your narration, it's not well hidden. –  wax eagle May 21 '14 at 14:27
@Yenski is Waxeagle understanding your answer correctly? :) –  GMNoob May 21 '14 at 14:43

I would use passive perception to have them notice something is off with the flavorful description used above. If they search and find it, great! If they don't pick up on it, whoops! You provide the description, they decide what to do with it. That's role playing!

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