Inspired by the recent UA about Traps I considered making trap/puzzle encounters more common, but I don't know how to solve an issue, which was mentioned in our gaming group.

A player mentioned in another game (different DM), that traps are unfun and boring because either you take damage or the rogue gets to roll perception/investigation and then disarms it. Thus I mainly used traps for alarms, releasing enemies or literally trapping PCs.

Complex traps/escape rooms are just a collection of "you take damage, go on" and "roll a check with your tools". Even though the UA suggests arcana checks for some traps, there are classes which can do literally nothing or are just plainly worse at it than others.

Typical puzzles are more likely to test the players than the characters, so some players would rather make an Investigation check (and repeat it indefinitely until they succeed) and solve it that way than thinking about it as a player. Puzzles like a collapsed bridge above a rift might lead to the players just searching for a different way across, because they don't want to spend all spell slots from the one and only spellcaster of the group.

Still, many characters are not useful in such a situation and for some players a combat encounter feels more engaging than any trap/puzzle encounter, because they know how to act, there are no characters left out and they generally have more abilities and choices to deal with a creature than with a trap. So, how to make a trap/puzzle/complex trap/escape room as engaging and fun for the players, when the system gives them more options and balance for combat encounters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So hmmmm... I'm confused. The mentioned UA seems to solve exactly those problems with the Complex Traps. For example, the Path of Blades has several components, relies on combat mechanics, can be engaged through attacks/INT(investigation)/INT(arcana)/thieve's tools (all characters can do at least one of those), has several degrees of success/failure, and risk/reward on every action. What would be missing from such a trap? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 8, 2017 at 5:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ That does solve the issue of some characters being completely useless and gives them something to do, but even in the examples a skilled rogue or a spellcaster are way more useful and versatile in such situations than most other classes. Also whilst the examples and mechanics seem interesting to me I feel that a straight up combat encounter gives all characters options to act and use their features whilst traps sometimes consist of repeating the same check over and over again until you succeed three times and take damage in between. In combat the feats of all classes come to more use. \$\endgroup\$
    – Thyzer
    Mar 8, 2017 at 11:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ In conclusion: it seems to me that when having the choice between a battle and a complex trap the battle is more engaging. The current answers recommend making a trap thematically more interesting instead of mechanically or embed them in combat which both seems worth trying. \$\endgroup\$
    – Thyzer
    Mar 8, 2017 at 12:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have reopened this. It is a properly scoped question for the site, and not an idea generation question as the well constructed answers make clear. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Apr 16, 2018 at 8:39

6 Answers 6


You cannot do better than follow the advice in the Angry GM article. In summary: have only one or two types of traps that are detectable by the players.

What the article does not address is using traps as battlefield obstacles which is the way armies use "traps" like landmines and barbed wire. These things do not stop enemy armies but they can channel movement - clearing minefields and barbed wire takes time. Either the enemy takes the time and you can redeploy to meet them as they come out of the minefield or they go around the minefield into an area already under your guns.

These types of traps are not "set and forget", minefields have to be patrolled or the enemy will lift your mines and use them against you as the Australian Army found out in Vietnam.

What works for armies can work in D&D. Intelligent monsters can use traps to delay or channel movement during an encounter. A fight with kobolds is easy, unless they know where the pit and arrow traps are and you don't - they can manoeuvre so the straight path to them takes you into a trap. Once this happens a couple of times your players will move around the battlefield with much more caution.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for adding traps to combats. I had a DM once who was fantastic at this and combats in his games were always doubly tense because of it. \$\endgroup\$
    – thatgirldm
    Mar 8, 2017 at 6:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Speaking of Kobolds: In a kobold dungeon (or any other sort of small and lite opponent) there could be pit traps with a covering that's strong enough for a kobold but not for most heavier people. No trigger, just a cover too thin to support the higher weight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Umbranus
    Mar 8, 2017 at 10:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Umbranus Someone running puts out 3x body weight force at peak stride. Calibrating it so that a running kobold doesn't set it off at all, while a walking human does, is going to be very hard without high technology/magic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yakk
    Mar 10, 2017 at 15:55

Identify your problem

It seems you've already identified two key issues here.

  • The system 5th edition D&D is pretty thin on handling traps with mechanics
  • There are many kinds of player, and they think of traps differently

The System

There is a spectrum of how traps and puzzles interact with The Rules. On the rules-heavy side, you've got something like a dart trap that the Rogue notices and disables. This is straight up rules and dice. On the rules light side, you've got five coins with odd markings and five slots on the wall, surrounded by clear warning pictures as to what might happen if you get it wrong. This is straight up player logic. In the middle, you've got something like a pit trap. You can't really disable it, but you might be able to creatively use some equipment or piece of the environment to help you bypass it.

You should know what kind of trap you're using, and make sure it meshes well with what the players will have fun with. Which brings me to...

The Players

On what is possibly the most under-rated page of the DMG, page 6, you'll find seven different player archetypes. These are literally reasons people play D&D, and what they consider to be the fun and engaging parts of it. Each of these will view traps differently. I've highlighted some of them below.

Fighting - This seems to be the style you're assuming, or that you believe your players are going for. In this style, traps are speed bumps designed to eat up some resource or another: spells, hit points, time, etc. In this view, traps really do tend to be a waste, because that's what they're designed for. To spice things up, consider staging fights in areas with known or unknown traps and environmental hazards. For this archetype, puzzles are basically right out.

Problem Solving - This style is most amenable to the middle of the road MacGuyver approach or the pure player creativity approach. Throw in some puzzles involving creative use of resources or entirely out of game thinking to keep these players engaged. To add verisimilitude, occasionally throw in a trap or puzzle where there's an obvious solution that the party can't do due to lacking a race/class/alignment or something.

Exploring - Who set this trap, and why? Did some gnolls take over the first few floors of a dead wizard's tower, resulting in an eclectic mix of mundane and magical traps? How do the denizens get around them? Or perhaps the traps aren't really traps at all, it's just how the environment is. Lava gives off poison gasses, old wooden stairs collapse under weight, and the Plane Mechanus is literally made of giant turning clockwork gears. Not everything that behaves like a trap looks like a trap.


Some simple guidelines for making traps:

  1. Don't make "rigged" traps. Obviously, this is what you're trying to avoid. A player can disarm, or avoid these kinds of traps, which isn't all that entertaining. Instead, make puzzles that need to be solved. The outcome of which requires the party to actually think about what needs to be done. Sometimes, the most perplexing puzzles don't need to be solved at all...

    You enter a circular room. The floor is segmented, creating wedges on the floor, all pointing to a single plinth in the middle of the room. On top of the plinth: a button.

    The party will then want to investigate, but all they can do, is press the button.

    You press the button, and a ticking noise immediately starts, and the door closes behind them, locking the party in the room. The plinth begins to rotate... as it continues it's rotation, the ticking gets faster!

    Now, the party has no choice but to try and find the solution, and fast! However, there's nothing else in the room - except the button. Hopefully, the party will press it again, in hopes of something happening.

    You press the button, and the rotation resets... then starts again.

    After a while, the party may simply choose to let it run it's course.

    You decide to see what will happen if you let the rotation complete. The ticking gets faster... the plinth completes it's rotation... and the floor cracks, each section falling to create a stairwell, down to the next floor.

  1. Maybe make magical puzzles - puzzles that are simply solved by making a choice.

    The passage opens into a T-section. One direction leads to a room with a statue of a heroic figure, and the walls are covered with images of the group completing heroic deeds - fighting the monsters, saving the townsfolk. The other direction shows the opposite; a demonic figure, and the walls covered in the nastier acts the group has completed.

    The party will investigate - inspecting the walls, looking for secret passages, which reveals nothing. They then try and inspect the carvings, and the statues, which are simply stone. Maybe the magician will attempt to try and identify something magical about the place, and discover only a good intent coming from the "heroic" side, and an evil intent coming from the other.

    Eventually, after all of their searching has come up with nothing, the party will simply "choose" a direction - which will reveal a staircase. Depending on which way they choose, this might also be used to affect the player/party in some way or anther (change their alignment, or something similar).

  1. Elemental doors are another form of magical puzzle - by simply hitting it with an elemental attack of some kind will activate it for a short period of time. This could be anything from a spell, breath weapon, or even a torch.

  1. Mimics. Nothing is more enticing than an ornate chest, sitting in a faint bean of sunlight. But a mimic doesn't have to be a chest - it can be anything: a wheelbarrow on an industrial elevator, a gnome or even a door!

  1. Speaking of doors - red herrings are always fun. A door that is always closed, even though it apparently gets opened. There is no "solving" these kinds of puzzles - they are simply an enigma, designed to confuse, and distract the party.

    DM: You face a rather ordinary wooden door.
    Player: I open the door, and step through.
    DM: You step through, and bang your head on the wood of the door.
    Player: But I opened the door?
    DM: You did... but the door is closed. To the rest of the party, it just looks like you walked square into the door.
    Player: Ok. I open the door...
    DM: Ok.
    Player: I step through...
    DM: And you bang your head on the wood of the door, because the door is closed.

    Pretty soon, the whole party is going to be joining in on this. Either laughing at the barbarian that is attempting to destroy this magical door, or attempting to solve the riddle of this door that never opens. This makes for a perfect opportunity for a surprise attack!

  1. Environmental hazards - these ones are unfortunately a little more of a "take damage if you fail" type trap, but they can be used to create a bit of a different situation, such as splitting the party (gasp!)

    E.g.: a collapsing tunnel. (Assuming a party of 5) 1 player will pass unhindered. Then (surprise!) the tunnel begins to crumble! Quick! Make a dexterity check to get out of the way, or perhaps a strength check to hold the rubble to allow the other party members get through!

    Now here's where it can get interesting: depending on the roll of the previous PC, this can either hinder, or help the next player. Say, for example, the DC is 10. The first player rolls a 7; so they get through, with minimal damage. However, now the DC raises by how much the last person failed - the DC is now 13!

    Now, the ultimate goal of this trap is to cut off some of the players. You might get 1 or 2 players through, but the rest need to find their way around - because there is no hope of getting through that rubble. This way, the trap itself is a bit of an adrenaline rush... but the real challenge is re-grouping, and facing whatever challenges may come with only half the manpower...

Hopefully these ideas give you some inspiration, and if not, there are plenty of sources, like reddit, or some lists that have some good ideas, and even some guides on how to make your own!

  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 the last item is an example of a red herring. Quite simply, it doesn't do anything other than to distract the players. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Mar 8, 2017 at 5:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, now I get it. I thought there was some sort of word play going on. Turns out, it's just magic, folks. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Mar 8, 2017 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 oh right haha. Well, isn't that normally how it works? If it doesn't make sense, it must be magic! \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Mar 8, 2017 at 5:28

To have a better trap experience, I would recommend you design your traps around the creator / inhabitants of a dungeon. Don't just throw a pit here and a crossbow there. Figure out why someone took the time to create the traps and what the "secret" is to getting past them. Maybe all of the blue tiles are safe. Maybe all of the blue tiles are safe as long as they are next to red tiles. Maybe the statues are all trapped. Maybe it's just the ones holding axes. Have an obvious housing / warning, so that the players have the chance to notice traps after triggering a few. From there, it's on them to deduce the pattern. If you're feeling extra devious - make them slightly more complex as the dungeon progresses. The first room only has blue and red tiles. The second trapped room might have blue, red, and yellow tiles. Maybe the opening hallway only has statues with axes, but the hallway further in has statues with axes and statues with swords. Having multiple layers of complexity keeps the same traps interesting for a longer time period.

This answer was summarized from this article by The Angry GM. If you don't mind sarcasm and implied profanity, it provides helpful tips for making interesting traps for your dungeons.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Many people forget that traps can be used for auditing BTW, in addition to resource-stressing, alerting, or access-denial \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Mar 8, 2017 at 4:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shalvenay could you expand on what you mean by auditing? I know the term, but not what you meant by it here? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom
    Oct 31, 2017 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Tom -- providing a record that "someone went to X spot in the dungeon" -- combine a means of image capture with a pressure plate trigger for the shuter and you have yourself a crude security camera, even ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Shalvenay
    Oct 31, 2017 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Searing light could burn a characters outline onto a wooden pane which promptly falls into the depths to announce their presence, omg my next campaign must have this! \$\endgroup\$
    – Tom
    Nov 1, 2017 at 10:54

One of my favorite tricks is set a whole bunch of easy to detect traps (hard to disarm) along a hallway the players must navigate. The rogue easily finds and clearly marks all the traps as players walk around them. You need a drawing map (that all players can see) of the hallway and the marked locations of all traps the rogue finds. When the players get to the room they need to and do/get/perform what they need to they will need to go back through the same trapped hallway only this time a trigger/another trap in the room past the hallway will kill the lights (darkness spell etc). you the DM now erases all marked traps and the players must navigate their way back based only on their memory. Its quite fun!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Kevin, and welcome to RPG.se! This is a good answer, it takes the "regular trap trope" the the OP is talking about, and adds an extra level of involvement for the party to work with. It's a good idea! \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Mar 9, 2017 at 13:32

Several ideas to make traps more interesting:

  • Provide the players with clues/foreshadowing to solve a trap. A standard trick is to find the key to the trap on a dead guard: After killing the Orc sentries at the main gate of the dungeon, the players find a slip of paper on which is crudely written "B W W B B B W B". The PCs then enter a corridor with a black and white tiled floor arranged in a 2 x 8 grid. If they step on the wrong tiles poison darts shoot out of the walls.
  • Design traps that encourage participation of all the characters in solving/delaying a trap that has been tripped. Example: The walls of a rigged dungeon chamber are inexorably closing in on the PCs unless they can find the hidden deactivation lever. The Fighter and Barbarian can use their strength to restrain the walls while the Rogue frantically makes Investigation rolls to find the kill switch.
  • Incorporate combat encounters into a trap/puzzle solving scenario to add dramatic tension. For example, in a variant on the Moat Crossing Problem (http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Moat-CrossingProblem.html), the combat-oriented PCs must fend off attacking goblins while the other party members take time to figure out how to orient two boards to cross the moat to safety. Perhaps the ledge on which the party is standing is slowly withdrawing unless the Rogue can find a way to disable the mechanism. The DM might even use a timer to amp up the tension.
  • Once the players have figured out a trap, give the players the opportunity to reset the trap and use it against their enemies. For example, after successfully crossing the black and white tiled floor described above, allow the players to find a hidden locked wall panel (the key to the panel being on one of the Orc guard corpses, of course) containing a series of 16 levers which may be moved to a "B" or "W" position. Contrive the finale of the adventure where the party, weighed down by treasure, are running for their lives from a horde of monsters back to the tiled corridor where the PCs first entered the dungeon. The combat-oriented PCs can fight as a rear-guard, but clearly the enemy's numbers are overwhelming. However, by resetting the trap, the PCs safely cross to the main gate and escape, while the pursuing monsters are pin cushioned with poison darts.

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