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After reading through traps a bit, I saw that finding most mundane traps requires just a Perception skill check (DC 20), which means that quite early on anyone skilled in Perception (and especially rogues with their trapfinding ability) will automatically succeed at finding them. While I might be overlooking something fundamental, as I currently see it, most creatures won't miss a mundane or even magic trap at higher levels if they look for it.

If I've missed something, what am I missing? If I'm not missing anything, has a designer ever explained the reason for making traps a real threat only to low-level characters?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can any of these mundane traps actually threaten a high level character? Or are they all low CR? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 22 '17 at 14:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @erik I checked a CR 20 trap vs. a lvl 20 a CR 10 trap vs. a level 10....with trap finding....0+ to find as they have dc 20 to find without trapfinding at max. 5+ on a d20. So I daresay they should be able to threaten high lvl chars (of the same level as their CR is) \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas E. Dec 22 '17 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ This question seems to be inviting speculation and opinions, so I am voting to close it as primarily opinion-based. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 22 '17 at 15:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Then you need to edit your question to be clear about that, because right now it looks like you are asking users here to guess why this might be. Designer-reason questions (which is a tag you should use) need to be explicit and emphatic about viable sources, or they will be closed as primarily opinion-based. Questions that invite bad answers are closed as a matter of course; avoiding bad answers is why we close questions in the first place (well, the primary reason). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 22 '17 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I think that “why?” questions like this are difficult, broad, and prone to receiving bad answers. I think that we should only allow such questions when they are hyper-focused and extremely explicit about what sort of answers are acceptable. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 22 '17 at 16:39
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Monte Cook, who designed the D&D 3rd edition rules that Pathfinder is based on, believed that a high level character's abilities should often outstrip the difficulties they face, so that the players feel that their characters are powerful, and to give a sense of a consistent world that exists outside of the player characters.

Let Them Kick Butt (Sometimes). When you play a computer game like Diablo, the program scales the game to increase in difficulty at exactly the same rate as your character increases in level. So, as an example (I didn't actually dig into the game to find the formula), if you have 10 hp at 1st level and inflict 1d6 damage on the monster with 5 hp, at 10th level you have 100 hp and inflict 10d6 damage on the monster with 50 hp. There are lots of interesting distractions, and Diablo can be a fun game, but fights at 10th level end up feeling exactly like fights at 1st level, and you still need to go back to town for healing potions just as often as you did before.

Don't let this happen in your D&D game. High level isn't like low level. At low level, everything is a challenge -- sometimes, a really tough challenge. While you should challenge your players sufficiently, make sure you also occasionally give them opponents they can overcome easily. The whole world doesn't rise in level as the PCs do, so when they have made it to 15th level, they should feel as though they really are superior to some of the foes they must face. If this isn't the case, then why keep trying to gain levels?

The whole point of these suggestions is to avoid punishing characters for being high level. If your players have reached 15th level with their PCs, it is because they played in your game for months and months. That's something you want to reward.

Source: Monte Cook, Design Secrets: High-Level Adventures, 2002.

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Mundane traps are mostly for low-level encounters

This can easily be seen when you see that many mundane traps are capped at DC 20, while magical traps have a DC set as 25+spell level. Meaning that as long as the character can take-10, has the time to search for it, and has a total bonus of +24, which can be obtained without much effort by level 10th or so, they are good even against the most dangerous magical traps.

anyone skilled in Perception automatically succeed at finding them

They can reasonably find them most of the time, but not all the time. You can expect a character to take feats and abilities to improve their trap finding check, and even take-10 on many checks, but you cannot expect them to always succeed. Because there will be situations where they will have distractions (combat), there will be situations where they cannot wait and check every square in the room for traps (running away), and there will be situations where they overconfidence will cause their ruin (traps that are reset by an enemy).

Keep in mind that finding the trap does not disable the trap for safe passage. Characters who expect to be good against traps have to invest their abilities on two skills, not one. It is not weird to be good at something you want to be good at. If you wasted a feat taking Skill Focus on a skill, for instance, you should expect that character to be really good at it.

You are also incorrect if you assume that all mundane traps are capped at DC 20. To not go beyond traps that can be found on low-level adventures, here are a few CR 2 traps that have a DC higher than 20:

And here are some that are also CR 2 and lower than 20, meaning that even a non-specialized character could find them:

As you can see, DC 15 traps can be found by any character that has at least +5 on perception, or even those with a +3 that is receiving help from another character. Even among mundane traps, there are a few that go way higher than your average magical trap, like the Collapsing Stairs (DC 29) or Deathfall Pit Trap (DC 30).

Traps are not meant to be impossible to find, they are meant to take adventurers by surprise. Magical traps use runes and magical trickery to catch adventurers by surprise, which is why their DC is usually higher than mechanical traps.

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