Does anyone have examples or suggestions on creating traps that are harder for Smart (High INT/WIS) characters?

Example: My NPC necromancer has set up his lair. In his arrogance he believes that the monsters and undead will handle the fighter types. He is paranoid against other magic users (and other PCs with high INT/WIS) so he creates a trap specifically to draw them in. Without realizing it, his trap's primary weakness is that Dumb characters (Low INT/WIS, like Barbarians, etc) will walk past it completely unaffected.

So what would the mechanics be for this kind of trap? What kinds of saving throws would I use to model this (in both 3+e and 4e)?

12 Answers 12

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Many of the rune/glyph type spells, being writing-based, exist for this exact reason. Can you read the manuscript or ancient lettering? Do you care to? Explosive runes and Sepia snake sigil are the classic ones here, but you could easily mod a glyph of warding or symbol to say "when read," etc. to go off. Your average barbarian isn't going to bother to read it let alone be able to. The Pathfinder trap guidelines have examples of those and can help you set CRs for your own traps.

  • Sepia Snake is close to what I had in mind, except I'd rather have the save based on the weakest stat of a magic user, like fortitude. – SteveED Apr 12 '12 at 17:06
  • @SteveED keep in mind that if you swap the stat you are upgrading the power level of the spell, possibly significantly. – user2102 Apr 13 '12 at 13:38

Although the clever suggestions so far here are fun and useful, it's important to observe that most low INT/WIS characters have high physical attributes. So my favorite wizard trap is a simple pit trap within an anti-magic aura. Any physical type can climb/jump out easily, but the wizard is stuck.

One campaign, I used a deep pit trap. The fighter, rogue, and cleric all jumped first, then the wizard tried levitating past it...wizard go down the hole.....

  • Good point, and excellent example. However I was looking for something more specifically targeted. A pit looks like a trap to everyone, unless their INT is below 3. A pit would also catch anyone who failed their acrobatics/athletics roll, which isn't what i had in mind. – SteveED Apr 12 '12 at 22:19
  • One obvious way is to have the trap's attributes equal the person walking by/through it. The dumb character wouldn't give the trap a high enough Spot to notice the intrusion in the first place. – Neal Tibrewala Apr 13 '12 at 6:50

Smart people can "trap" themselves if they find a problem, puzzle, interesting enough that they want to figure out how or why something exists.

Example: Why is the pool of fresh water here in the middle of the desert with no discernible means of refilling? Maybe there is a stone pedestal with a bowl shaped depression carved into it, which would imply someone/something of intelligence created said object(s).

In other words "curiosity killed the cat".

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    +1. True, but puzzles tend to catch the player's curiosity more than his character's. A puzzle solver type playing a barbarian may be equally or even more interested than a power gamer playing a Divination specialist Wizard (if such a power gamer exists :P). – Erik Burigo Apr 13 '12 at 6:55

One idea is a mesmerizing puzzle, perhaps painted or carved on a wall. Those that fail a save are mentally trapped trying to solve the puzzle. Perhaps some type of Hypnotism or Suggestion spell effect would work nice and probably require a Will save. In 4e just figure out a level appropriate attack against Will defense. You could then do all kinds of fun stuff with those who fail. For example, as they walk towards the trap, the don't notice the pit trap or just don't notice the monsters or undead eating them. The catch is those with low enough INT don't "get it" and see only a series of squiggles and walk right by while wondering why their wizard buddy is now staring blankly at the wall.

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    "What sailboat? I don't see a sailboat, it's just a bunch of random shapes!" – Tacroy Apr 12 '12 at 16:43
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    The difficulty here is that characters with high INT/WIS will also have a high Will, making the trap less effective against them than low INT/WIS characters. I want the opposite effect – SteveED Apr 12 '12 at 17:01
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    That does make sense, I was just making those with low int immune to the trap. – Rantar Apr 12 '12 at 17:11

A more game-rules-oriented method would be to have the characters make Spot or Perception checks (depending on what version you're playing), and point out things that the players will want to investigate but are in fact dangerous. Higher-Wisdom characters will succeed on the Spot check more often.

Putting it into a context that's likely to draw that kind of character makes it even better. Bookcases draw wizards like moths to a flame. Blasphemous altars similarly draw in clerics. Some players will be more suspicious, but it works fairly regularly in my experience.

For instance, the necromancer might hide a coin between the shelves on a bookcase. The wizard will no doubt head for any books, and when he/she makes the easy Spot check, might notice the coin and pick it up... at which point the contact poison takes effect.

  • It's a good idea, and I thought about this too. I used something like the poisoned coin trick to catch a rogue, who was more interested in the gold than the book. – SteveED Apr 14 '12 at 15:33

Probably to late to matter, but try this. An enchantment in the narrow/confining maze will take effect on any who enter who fail a Will save. the enchantment automatically causes the character to move in such a way as to avoid the traps. Subtle things like closing your eyes at some points to not "see" visual triggered traps or determining hte timing when jumping through a flickering wall of blades. Things not obvious to the person watching/following and obviously (because of the enchatnmetn) not obvious to those moving while under the influence of the enchantment.

In fact, the smart characters may realize an enchant is here (because they succeded) and try and stop their party members from acting according to the enchantment and thus get them vulnerable to the trap as well.

The characters come upon a room with a giant chessboard where each piece is a different monster. Some sort of sign says "to advance you must defeat me in a battle of wits". Any character may direct a piece to move when it's their turn, following normal chess rules. The other side moves on its own. Whenever the characters lose one of the white (of course) pieces, it leaves the board and attacks the party (higher value pieces are more dangerous monsters). When black loses a piece, it just leaves the board.

If the party wins, the door at the far side opens. Or they could just pick the lock, knock it down, whatever. They don't really have to play the stupid game.

Also, if they just start destroying black pieces, that works too. GM option whether they need to fight the monster or not.

It could even be a room the undead and/or monsters move through regularly. They know not to play, or just aren't something that would ever be interested.

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    This would affect the whole party, not only the smart characters. – Adriano Varoli Piazza Apr 12 '12 at 21:18
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    @AdrianoVaroliPiazza - It would only affect a party where smart characters made the decisions. The problem with only affecting smart characters is that it's going to have no roleplaying, and be "make a fortitude save if you have an INT or WIS of 13 or higher", which is just kind of silly, even if you have a relatively cool explanation. – psr Apr 12 '12 at 21:21

Use traps that only mages are likely to trigger. That way, whatever saves it requires, only mages will be making them. For example:

  • A trap that only triggers when investigated with magical sight / detect magic, or similar. Maybe the sight reveals swirling patterns that make one ill or opens ones mind to attacks or teleports.
  • An arcane text, hard to decipher, in a dead-end narrow corridor. Reading it triggers some typical trap.
  • Cursed scroll that does whatever nastiness to the reader only.

How about something like this. Party comes up a mural depicting a person stepping on a black square and being teleported to {insert location here}. A successful check reveals that it is a Permanent Illusion (or similar spell) which is covering a image of a person following a specific path of white squares which lift the person to a treasure room (or library etc). The next room has a black and white checkerboard pattern.....

The trick is that if you step on the black tiles you are immediately teleported past the trap. Anyone following the white path gets lifted into an anti-magic field where they are shot with arrows, crossbow bolt, doused with flaming oil, and/or get attacked by poisonous spiders or {insert your favorite torture here}

Pretty cool, huh? But that's just what I think.

  • the problem here is that a character with a high INT/WIS would likely make the save against illusion. THis is the opposite effect of what i want – SteveED Apr 24 '12 at 0:26
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    Isn't that the point? The illusion is actually the true solution, so the characters who make the "save" are actually then being tricked into taking the dangerous route? – xan May 4 '12 at 10:27

Traps that are 'harder for smart characters' would probably work by having a release mechanism difficulty that scales with the height of the stat. This would be true of physical characters as well, if you imagine a situation where a fighter has to fight a clone of himself, or more to the original point, a wizard has to out-cast or out-think a duplicate of herself.

Alternatively, if you want to really stick it to smart characters who aren't physical, focus on traps that need physical tests to overcome. There's very few ways to outsmart a rock, especially if it's barreling down at you from the top of a tunnel with only one other way out.

I suppose you could also house-rule a specific mark that targets the party as a whole, but directs minions to focus fire on the character with the highest intelligence or wisdom. For instance:

"You open the ancient scroll eagerly, ready to peruse the secrets it holds. A cloud of abnormally potent dust flies into your face, triggering a coughing fit,"

Trigger: Someone in the party opens/reads a scroll. Target: Creatures in Close Burst 10. Effect: Each creature in burst is marked with "Mantle-Bane of Intellect". Bane of Intellect - Encounter.
X type creatures and/or Dominated characters attack target with highest intelligence modifier. Save vs. Fort - should stick for a while, so possibly multiple saving throws. Special: On a critical success, the mantle is destroyed, otherwise, the mantle lies dormant in the character until they take a short rest (after meeting the save), otherwise it is passed to another creature with an equal or higher intelligence modifier.

Aura detectable by Arcana if just dust, or Arcana & Nature if made of a magical/psionic swarm.

On fail: "A halo of red light appears, encircling your forehead. As your memories race and you begin to ponder as to what this could mean, it glows brighter."

Fail in combat: "The horde of enemies suddenly eyes you angrily (or hungrily if undead!)."

For added flavor, it could flare brighter when the character makes knowledge checks, uses a tactical power, or uses any ability that comes from memory or mental prowess.

There is also the possibility of a role-playing based trap focusing on how much any character is thinking. Characters have to clear their minds and cease all active thought. Save has added difficulty set to their wisdom or intelligence modifier, whichever is higher. Each save takes up both HP and Time to try again. This targets everyone if everyone is initially trapped, but obviously only really hurts the brainy ones.

If all else fails, target their reflex and poison them with something that hinders int - they could be your patented "Suddenly Drunk Darts" - on a fail, your int mod is now lowered to Zero. Will not raise modifier. Lasts one encounter.

I apologize if the current way I've formatted my suggestion doesn't fit into how traps are created in current D&D editions. I do not have access to the DM's guide. I'm pretty free to imagine solutions if the things I suggested don't fit, but until I get the DM book, you may have to rely on someone else to codify it.

  • Interesting thoughts, the idea is to use the high INT/WIS as a disadvantage, not a low STR/CON. A dumb barbarian could be trapped by every one of these suggestions, and your "poisoned scroll" suggestion comes closest by being attractive to wizards, but affects everyone regardless of who opens it. – SteveED May 2 '12 at 1:04

Have a set of levers in front of an important door. Above the door, have a riddle telling them which lever to pull. Possibly in a language only casters would be likely to know. Then, no matter what lever they pull, a trapdoor opens under them and drops them into a raging river, or whatever other nasty trap you want to use on them.

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    Welcome to! Please take a look at the tour and the help center; they're a useful introduction to the site. I'm not sure how this a trap that is difficult for a smart character to solve but easy for a dumb character to walk past: anyone who can't read the riddle will still probably assume pulling a lever is the right thing to do, so they won't just walk through the door. – BESW Sep 14 '14 at 14:07
  • Actually, variations of this trap occurs in several D&D modules, most notably Tomb of Horrors. – SteveED Sep 14 '14 at 15:22
  • I don't usually use premade stuff, so I wasn't aware of that. The reason it targets wizards, in my opinion, is the beefy character will try to force the gate or door, the rogue will just pick the locks, but smart types will try to decipher the puzzle. – Curtis Scarbrough Sep 14 '14 at 15:30
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    Alternately, you can just use a trap that has mage specific bait. – Curtis Scarbrough Sep 14 '14 at 15:31

have a trap that seperates the party into pairs(roughly. take a room of moderate size and have an x number of obvious pressure plates (lets say there is five members, fighter(bardock), mage(yargon), mage(kendrick), thief(saze), and a palidan (Trinnity). therefore there would be three pads.)

setup:(multiple riddles speckeled around the dungeon not making much sense and pieces are obviously missing(hopefully keeping a hold of them and if so the mages would most likely keep a hold of them)) players walk into a room after saze picks the lock (add trap if you want) they walk in with Trinnity and bardock in front saze behind them with a bow and the two mages in the back. door locks behind them being unable to open (add contact damage to dissuade physical and the door locks mechanically preventing use of magical escape)

description: room is a dome with a door on the far side, a prevent magic spell will hinder mages and the pallidan while loud noises emmenate around the party creating tension. there is a pedistal in the center surrounded by three bent trapazahedral plates if the party was sucsesfull in collecting all the scripts the pieces will flutter and glide to eachother forming a complete spell (causes a drop in intillect and wisdom, possible blindness, words cannot be read unless intillect is higher than x amount) since the fighter and thief would have lower amounts they wont be affected, (2 unable to be affected by scroll) the mages would most likely try to read the scroll enacting the effect upon one (1) person (say yargon reads it his intillect and wisdom drop a fair amount maybe blindness or immobility) the scroll then allows all to read and displays a riddle.(make a strange and confusing riddle that makes it seem like standing two to a plate would open a door.) most players would try to keep the now impared ally safe keeping either the fighter or pallidin close. so the players finaly get to the point of actually triggering the trap.

Execution:yargon and bardock are a pair kendrick and saze would most likely make a pair and trinnity would most likely be alone. (plates should drop fast and be hard to save self say revolving pannels) players drop and are seperated.

((you should probably add other debuffs to them on the way down or prior too this trap. i quickly thought of this trap with little thought to save rolls and damage so you would have to add that yourself, this is meant to cause panic tension and seperate players so other more umm...intiresting...traps could be put into play. hope it gives way to other better ideas.))

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