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Background: I am workshopping the dungeon from this question, and this answer suggests that I should have the rogue make a Disable Device check up front in order to figure out the trap's workings. However, the Disable Device DC on these traps is variable, depending on how the rogue elects to go about disarming the trap! Is it OK to have 2 Disable Device rolls for a single trap at possibly different DCs (and different locations, for that matter), one to determine the workings of the trap and a second to actually disable it?

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It's okay if the players know what's happening

If the DM says, "Make a Disable Device skill check," and the PCs expend resources to make that Disable Device skill check, they'll expect, afterward, a disabled device (or, y'know not, depending on the result). Unless warned beforehand, the PCs won't expect that they'll need a second check (or more) to actually disable the device. That's mean and liable to create hard feelings.

Be up front: "This is a trap like you've read about in rogues' school where the first part is so incredibly complex, even understanding how to disable the device requires a Disable Device skill check," the DM says. "Once you understand this trap, then you can really disable it."

A pair of alternatives

First, instead of making the Disable Device skill the only relevant skill, the DM could have PCs make Knowledge (architecture and engineering) or Craft (trapmaking) skill checks to determine the working of a multistage trap. Success may grant a bonus to the future Disable Device skill check or lead to the party safely to the trap's next stage, while failure means suffering a penalty or triggering a minor trap, a tampering countermeasure.

Second, consider the optional rules for complex skill checks, looking carefully at the specific rules for complex Disable Device skill checks. While I've not used these rules in Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, I have used slightly different iterations of such rules in both first and second edition Spycraft campaigns where the rules work quite well.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Given my original suggestion was a way for a rogue to realise the trap was disabled remotely, I was kind of thinking that in response to the Disable Trap check you say something like "When you examine the trap, you realise it is almost impossible to disable this trap from here. Based on your knowledge of traps blah blah blah" Giving some kind of information based on how high their check was (tips or ideas if they roll well). And then they go and try and disable the trap itself. That way they don't assume the trap is disabled when it isn't. Unless they roll like, a 1 or something. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Campbell Feb 19 '15 at 14:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelCampbell But if you tell the players after a Disable Device roll's made that the device can't be disabled from here, they very well may've spent their resources to attempt that intermediate check rather saving them for the final check when they'll need those resources. Hence being honest about the check's nature initially. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 19 '15 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, but there is a difference between being "honest upfront" and "giving them information they don't have a way of knowing". I mean, until they try and disable the trap, how do they know anything about it? Unless they specify they are examining it before they try and disable it, and not many players do that (in my experience at least). \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Campbell Feb 19 '15 at 23:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelCampbell A Search skill check usually only reveals the presence or absence of a trap and nothing more, but could, perhaps, more information be revealed if the Search check's result is exceptional? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 20 '15 at 8:43

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