My players have developed trap-phobia in my campaign. In a rather simple dungeon I've prepared for them (they are rather new in DnD), they constantly search for traps: ask for Perception roll when in a hallway or Investigation when encountering a simple door.

Previous sessions only involved a couple or three traps, one of which was successfully dodged by the triggering character, and all of them were non-fatal.

What I've done is simply skip the roll and told them they've found nothing suspicious. However the constant stopping and questioning the environment makes the game longer than I predicted.

How can I cure their trap phobia?

I'm interested in any advice, including discussing with the players, or advice when narrating the dungeon/circumstance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] How does one stop the rogue from trap checking every five feet? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 20:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Before I answer, can you tell me: what purpose do you use traps for? What is your philosophy for using them? Do you want them to be tricky surprises they don't see coming, or do you want overcoming the trap to be the focus? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 20:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ They are spices to the adventure. Another reason is to make a rogue in the party, which is geared toward scouting, not useless. The focus of my campaign is always the story progression, but it will not make sense if there are no security in a ruin of wizard tower, for example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vylix
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 1:59

7 Answers 7


Make traps that aren't about being hidden, but are about avoiding them.

The latest dungeon I ran included a trap. All along a hallway, there were massive, purple crystal structures growing from the floor to the ceiling. They were immediately obvious to anyone who wasn't literally blind. There were no rolls required, and there was no time searching for the trap because it was obvious.

The trap, however, was that they were triggered by sound. If the characters spoke too loudly or did anything that made noise, they would explode and deal damage to the players, potentially triggering a chain reaction that could easily kill them.

This turned the characters away from having to do Perception checks every five feet, and instead made it interactive and a roleplay opportunity. How were they going to communicate? How were they going to get the plate wearing orc across? What was even on the other side, was it worth it at all?

All in all, it took them 20 minutes of planning, but rather than it being 20 minutes of "I roll Perception, what do I see?" it was 20 minutes of them chatting in character and planning their course of action, and they loved it. They got to flex their roleplay muscles rather than roll dice, and they got to plan something more clever than "I roll to disarm the trap".

Make it a time investment.

But perhaps you really like hidden traps, and you think you have a particularly good one that you don't want to get rid of. No problem. A character who is constantly searching for traps is going to be wasting a lot of time. This is time that could be better spent hunting down an enemy, exploring the rest of the dungeon, completing their quests, or even resting. They can't do any of those things while they are constantly scouring every square of a dungeon for traps. So, introduce something that puts a time constraint on them.

Perhaps they know their target will be leaving soon, and wasting hours searching for traps means their target escapes.

Maybe a spell is going to cause the entrance to the dungeon to shut in three hours, sealing them in to starve to death, and they need to be quick.

It could even be something as simple as the person who gave them the quest is very picky about time, and won't be in town to pay them for completing their quest if they take longer than a few hours.

If you don't want to do something so strict, you can still punish extreme amounts of time spent searching for traps. Enemies perhaps will know they are outside the door, and the longer they spend searching, the more reinforcements that arrive or the better position they are in to ambush the players as they enter. Maybe enemies have time to sneak up and surprise the players as they waste an hour with their eyes to the floor looking for traps that aren't there.

If you are concerned about the out of game time being spent...

Perhaps your problem is not with the time being wasted in game, but rather out of game. If so, that's easily fixed: just have them roll one Perception check per room or section, rather than every hall and every door.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your second block is it, IMO: make the traps obvious so that you spend time interacting with them, rather than interacting with nothing (usually). +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. I moved the second block to the top because I agree, that's the better solution, IMO. \$\endgroup\$
    – Baron
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious with that crystal trap activated by noise, what was to stop them from throwing something at it from around the corner or from a distance? Or is something like that what they ended up doing? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 18:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 beware that making a trap so obvious will trigger trap-phobia even more in some players, haha. "This is so obvious, this must be a distraction from the actual trap!" \$\endgroup\$
    – justhalf
    Commented Apr 11 at 12:58

Address expectations regarding mechanics at your table

I've run into this issue on both sides in the past, and I think it boils down to one central point - how do you manage the mechanics of trap detection? Even within a single system like DnD 5e, DMs handle this particular mechanic in vastly different ways.

I've had DMs that would not even give me a chance to detect a trap unless I specifically said I checked for one. My highly perceptive Ranger character got harpooned without spotting the trap, and when I asked why I didn't spot it I was told "you weren't looking". You could have a whole separate debate about whether this approach is good or bad, but the reality is that many DMs run their table that way.

If you've ever used a variation of that line, or if any past DMs of any of your players have, then meticulously rolling to detect traps at every possible location is the only logical action for those players. Otherwise they're risking obliviously wandering into a trap they could have spotted if they were watching.

A good solution is to make your expectations with regards to trap detection clear to the players. It sounds like you don't want them rolling every five seconds, so tell them that. However, you need to make the alternative clear. Personally, I have my party designate who's in front searching for traps, and then I call for rolls from those players as appropriate. Because I never spring the "you didn't say you were looking, so no chance to spot the trap" nonsense on them, they don't slow down play with constant and needless rolls.

It's all about making sure your expectations and your players expectations concerning the mechanics of your table line up.


Dacromir’s answer talks about mechanics and player expectations of traps in dungeons, but this is something that can be mitigated or even harnessed through in-character means too.

You mention that a ruined wizard lair has traps because the scout needs something to do, and because it doesn’t make sense for there not to be traps there. But you can do better, and most of it revolves around this question:

Why is this trap here?

On your end, right now it sounds like traps are little more than glorified environmental hazards tossed in here or there. Your players aren’t seeing the rhyme or reason and so are checking everywhere.

Don’t just think of them as hazards. Someone put the trap there for a reason. Think of it as them anticipating some threat and trying to counter it.

Was it the original wizard who put it there? A squatter who came later? Was it intended to kill, hamper, warn an intruder? To ward off a specific area? Questions of purpose like these will inform what kind of trap, its placement, etc. Maybe it’s a glyph of warding on a secret door, and the password is the name of someone the wizard loved. Maybe it’s a magic mouth warning of a threat in the next room that the wizard doesn’t want unleashed.

And yes, it’s also possible that it’s as simple as a crossbow tripwire that a squatter left there for personal protection. Is he still about? Etc.

It’s possible to go down this rabbit hole endlessly, and you’ll have to determine how much is enough, but the point is to make the traps look and feel like they belong there from a story or world-building perspective. Once they see signs of a method to the madness, the players will have at least some idea of where and how to look for danger. They’ll be asking themselves the same questions: “If I were the old wizard, where would I leave traps?”

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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly. Traps shouldn't just appear out of nowhere. A trap in the middle of an otherwise undistinguished hallway is just the DM shouting "Gotcha!" at the players, and that's not fun. A trap specifically guarding the door to the treasure room or the podium with the ancient spellbook on it, is more reasonable and gives your players a chance to feel smart that they thought to check. (I realize that in this I am opposing Gygax himself, but... seriously man.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 16:39

Declare trap detection a passive ability.

Tell your players that they no longer need to mention that their characters are looking for traps because from now on you will assume that they are always looking for traps if in a situation where traps could be reasonably expected. They no longer need to ask for a roll, because you will ask them for a roll when it matters.

In general you should only ask for a roll in a situation where failing the roll has bad consequences. Asking for rolls when there isn't actually anything dangerous around is something you should only do if you actively want to fuel paranoia. Ask for a check whenever they attempt to do something where they would run into a trap. Example:

Player: I walk towards the door.

DM: Roll perception.

Player: (rolls badly)

DM: As you walk across the room, you trip over a wire. A dart flies out of the wall and hits you for (roll) 5 damage.

Player: I open the door.

DM: Roll investigation.

Player: (rolls successfully)

DM: As you are about to touch the door handle, you notice a suspicious mechanism. Your instincts tell you that this is another trap.

If you still want to reward careful behavior and punish reckless behavior, grant advantage on said rolls if they say they are doing something carefully and disadvantage if they are saying they are doing something quickly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to revise the example to follow the rules of D&D 5e, which the question is about. In particular, it's currently contrary to how Perception works in that situation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 21:59

Trap phobia can slow down any progress to a grinding halt. One could do it the 'soft' way by removing their need for attentiveness (with making trap detection a passive ability), but that would take away some of the GM's tools of trade, too, like, to have players (and their characters) actually pay attention.

The other way round would be to increase the pressure, if you as a GM feel confident that your group manages it.

  1. Make it clear that they can't move at a snail's pace - the patrolling guard would catch up to them
  2. (as an extension) Have the party actually watch the guard to see how he evades the traps. Does he step only on the white plates? Did he duck at a specific section? That sort of thing.
  3. (In an extreme case) Put something on them in hot pursuit. Either they have to run - surprise, surprise! - and no traps are set off, or they get eaten.

In general, make it clear that the dungeon isn't deserted. And its denizens do get around without being stabbed, blown to pieces, dissolved in acid and turned to stone themselves everytime... right?


Characters come with a passive perception stat. Use it!

You as DM should be allowed to tell your players to stop checking for traps manually and instead whenever there's a trap you roll against their passive perception. If the roll fails they see it, if the roll succeeds then they didn't see it and walked into it.

Usually you roll against passive perception when something is actively hiding, which a trap that isn't alive can't do, but you're the DM so you can make this a house rule.


Typically I suggest not trying to hard to alter the behavior of newbies. It's much more fun to DM for newbies than it is veterans much of the time. Newbies will come up with new ideas, learn, and adapt on the fly. Many veterans are stuck in a pattern you can't break them of That being said!

My advice here may be a bit heavy-handed, but ask them WHY they want to make the check. If they cannot provide an in-character reason then deny them the roll. Even if they are in a place where you do have a trap, if they can't justify it from their character's point of view then they should not be doing it.

My reason for this is to train them to think of all things in character. If they are going to be that paranoid in A dungeon because that's the video game logic they trained themselves for, then they are not playing D&D anymore they are playing the meta.

Of course, it is always expected you should discuss with your player(s) when there is a problem like this. If my previous suggestion doesn't work, and your narrative allows it, just stop using traps and tell them there are no traps anymore.

If none of those work, then, by all means, have fun with it. Whoops, you walked into a trap in the alley in town. Several empty crates fall on you. As you climb out of the pile of crates several children can be seen running away laughing. Whoops, as soon as you lay in bed for the night at the inn, the bed flips over and lands on top of you. Then, when you have them so paranoid they are making detailed search checks when trying to do something as mundane as using the bathroom... The sanity checks begin. Clearly, the character is losing their mind at this point.

Okay, this was more fun to write than I expected.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not allowing a player to do something because it's not "in character" is a bad idea - the player controls their own character, not you. If they're choosing to do it, it's "in character" for the character they created and they control. Additionally, checking for traps in dungeons is a perfectly reasonable thing for almost any character with dungeoneering experience to do. That's not video game logic, that's "one time I didn't spot a trap and almost died, now I'm never making that mistake again". \$\endgroup\$
    – Dacromir
    Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 7:33

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