The party walks into a cramped hallway, torch held aloft to light their way. Off in the distance they see what looks like a fallen adventurer, someone not quite as lucky at them. As they approach, they are careful to check for traps or monsters and see what may have spelled the end for this poor soul. Once they are sure the area is clear they of course loot the body- no sense in letting gear go to waste.
Upon disturbing the corpse they notice it begins to swell, quickly doubling in size in the cramped corridor. Before anyone knows what’s happening, the body explodes into a cloud of noxious gases and knocks the nearest heroes to their feet. Was looting worth it?
This week in Master the Dungeon’s Trap Tuesday, we look at exploding corpses and using fallen adventurers as traps in your Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Exploding corpses are a trap to use after you’ve tried a lot of the other standard tricks. The basic trap setup is a lootable corpse, some other indication of obvious danger, and a simple trigger of disturbing the body. The trap damage and effects are very adjustable and should be scaled for your party. The body used should be thematic to the area and very clearly appear lootable.
This trap may not work for a cleric/paladin heavy group that opposes looting fellow adventurers. However, this may get them if they insist on a burial of some sort. Once the body is disturbed, the effect takes place and the players have a limited chance to salvage any loot that may have been there.
Story Based Elements
An exploding corpse trap allows you to inject story relevant lore. The players may recognize something about the body, a crest or armor style. The corpse could have indicators of how they died that warn players of dangers, real or fake. Additionally, the rewards on the body can easily be story related elements: a map, a journal, a key for a door in the dungeon.
This trap can also be used to tell your players about the particular dungeon they are in. What kind of monster might set a trap with a corpse? How the trap is described will be crucial for your players. It could have been filled with volatile chemicals just as easily as it could have been enchanted with magic. It fits very well with necromancers, but can also be used in a kobold or goblin lair just as easily.
Searching the body will yield some rewards, but they should be minimal and obvious. Whoever set the trap will have put something on it that looks enticing to the group and probably took everything else of value. If you put items like maps or keys on the body, they should be hidden in secret pouches safe from the explosion. More obvious rewards should be plain to see, like some gold spilled out of a pouch or a statuette clutched in their hands.
Triggering the Trap
The trigger for this is usually when the players begin disturbing the body. You might want to ask your players how thorough they are being when they search. A quick search might not trigger the trap, but rifling through pockets or backpack definitely should. These traps are meant to be simple, so it is best to use a low DC save for negated or halved damage. You could even have someone roll a Dexterity check to see if they set off the trap in the first place.
The trap should do some sort of AOE Damage. It’s designed to punish indiscriminate looting and reward careful curiosity. When the trap explodes, you can do normal force damage as your most basic setup, but consider using gasses, poison, or acid effects to make the trap more interesting.
Avoiding the Trap
Your players may be suspicious of a downed adventurer and for good reason. If someone rolls an Investigation check, you might describe ways in which the body was doctored. An incision on the chest might be visible, or it might be more obvious that the body was dragged to this spot after death. Further investigation can be rewarded with more information on the trap.
Deeper investigation may have a chance to set off the trap itself on low rolls, or discover the mechanism of the trap on high rolls. Some trap mechanics are just hidden and can’t be discovered without setting off the trap. If you say it’s full of volatile chemicals, there’s not a lot of ways they could disarm the trap. But do let them try to come up with reasonable solutions. Magic triggers are a simple can they dispel it? kind of check. Don’t make things too complicated here.
Using This Trap
Exploding corpses punish loot vultures and Rogues who don’t share loot. They are best used for theme or for correcting bad play habits. They can offer you a neat way to set some expectations for a dungeon. Leaving valuables on the corpse or letting people know an adventurer had died in the dungeon earlier can get your party thinking about the dungeon as a whole and the monsters they may face.
Don’t use this trap with first time players who have not seen traps before. It’s novel for hardened players, but for newbies you may give them the idea that everything is trapped and dangerous. If you do this to new players, you quickly get the kind of player who shouts “I check for traps!” every time they enter a room.
That’s it for this week. Thanks to everyone who has been reading and sharing our Trap Tuesday articles. We really can’t thank you enough for your continued support. Next week we’ll jump back into more elaborate traps for you to use in your dungeons and talk about the use of sacrifice and hard choices.