I'm wondering whether a trap should be considered an encounter and how should they be rated in terms of easy/medium/hard/deadly.

This is not a question about whether traps should award PCs experience, but about how they factor into planning the adventuring day as a whole. For example, should a corridor with a dangerous trap be considered a hard encounter?

It does have the potential to use player resources, from healing potions to recover lost HP to spells to avoid or disable it. On the other hand there are no clear guidelines about estimating difficulty: the DMG lists them as setback/dangerous/deadly. I'm inclined to say: Setback = Easy/Medium, Dangerous = Medium/Hard, Deadly = Hard/Deadly but that's just a hypothesis.

Related questions:

  • I've found this question - How do traps affect encounter design budgets? - but it's about adding traps within an encounter, not having only traps as an encounter (and it doesn't seem very precise). My question focuses on how a trap-based encounter can be accounted for when calculating the overall XP budget of the party for the purposes of an overall adventuring day.

  • There's also this question - How should I award XP for traps? - but it's about actually awarding player XP, and the answers focus about whether and how (milestones/non-combat) XP should be awarded, not about estimating the difficulty of the trap in terms of easy/medium/hard/deadly encounter.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure how the first link isn't a dupe. What isn't that Q&A providing that you're looking for? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 19:37
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch the first link is about adding traps in a base encounter, not having stand-alone traps. You could argue that having nothing and adding traps creates an easy encounter but I'm not entirely convinced by it. About the second one, I think the question focused on awarding XP therefore most answers where about whether you should award XP or examples of non-combat XP; only one suggests a vague strategy for estimating awarded XP. \$\endgroup\$
    – falsedot
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did actually consider asking "how do you estimate the CR of a trap" but felt that it would be a XY problem; but if it's deemed that the two questions are similar enough I'd be happy to raise it. \$\endgroup\$
    – falsedot
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 20:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Your title question is definitely a dupe of the first(Should I?), but your body is a dupe of the 2nd(How do I?). This is unclear to me as to what you're actually trying to do that hasn't already been asked. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 21:01

1 Answer 1


I personally look at the resources that it will take to overcome the trap

I unfortunately don't have any numbers, and actually doing this kind of maths is on my to-do list for a campaign I am writing, but basically I look at what resources are expended on average during a combat encounter, and then look at what % are likely expended in order to deal with the trap.

This takes into account things like HP, consumables, spell slots. Using a rope to swing over a pit isn't even worth considering unless I am planning to make a dungeon where lacking a rope further in is going to be an inconvenience.

Examples: Lets say an easy combat is worth 100xp (No idea how accurate this is without my books on hand, but it is a nice number to work with). During this encounter we expect the enemies to deal 20 damage across all party members, and take 2 1st level spell slots to defeat. If the spell slots are ramped up then the HP damage received is likely decreased, but we are looking at an average.

I would then look at the trap and balance it accordingly.

  • If it was going to use 1 spell slot to get most people across safely and the rest would take an average of 10 damage between them we have half the resource expenditure so 50xp.

  • If it was going to require 3 or 4 spell slots or cause significant damage it might come out closer to 100xp or even more.

I then count that XP towards the daily budget as normal for any kind of encounter.

An incredibly complex trap that is going to take huge ingenuity from the party but not resource (Though a trap that didn't at least eat HP would be unusual) would award XP, but I wouldn't count that into the daily budget, I would instead treat it like a social encounter (IE: Free XP). The key being that I only count it in the XP budget if resources are going to be expended.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Out of curiosity, if your bar is resources expended, do you only provide combat scenarios in which they'll have to use resources? No easy, medium, etc combat? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 14:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch As I have a Paladin who only smites on a critical hit I know all about conserving resource, but back when I used XP budgets this was the closest approximation I could find. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 15:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ that's an interesting approach and the maths you're doing sound very useful! I wonder if it would make sense to sum up the HP, spell slots, and hit die of say 4 warlocks (so not full casters yet not mundane either) and then calculate the XP per HP/spell slot from that. Probably a different (and too broad) question though. \$\endgroup\$
    – falsedot
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch HP is a resource, as mentioned in the answer. And personally, if the encounter is so trivial that the PCs don't even take damage without spending anything, then no, I do not roll a combat like that. I might narrate it as "yeah you guys find 2 goblins, and if you want, you instantly kill them". No reason to waste time rolling dice if the monsters aren't expected even to hit an attack at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – HellSaint
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 15:56

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