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How to Build Trap Dungeons

by Jae
trap dungeons

Dungeons and traps are an iconic paring that will persist in the Dungeons and Dragons landscape for years to come. However, traps are rarely seen as the main element to a dungeon as a whole. While traps can play an important role in most dungeons, they don’t often define the dungeon as much as monsters and bosses do. Today we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of trap dungeons and how to overcome their isues.

All Traps and No Play Makes a Dungeon no Joy

Let’s start by looking at the problems with an all trap dungeon. It’s no secret that a major part of Dungeons and Dragons is centered around combat and combat focused abilities. With this in mind, a trap based dungeon can seem a little out of place in the game.

Dungeon Traps Hurt, Why Not Take a Nap?

In a dungeon with no combat or enemies your party can go incredibly slowly. This is a really strategic idea, but from a role playing perspective, it feels slow. Some parties will even rest every time they take damage. If the DM doesn’t impose limits, why not, right?

If you have any instigators at your table this play style will lead to them getting bored. These players will go on to trigger traps ahead of time or get someone killed because they get impatient. While slowly and methodically taking the dungeon apart brick by brick isn’t too exciting, it is a common and logical response when the players know their is danger around every corner.

Looking at Everything and Description Overload

With no threat of monsters, players may stop and look at everything. There’s always one player who wants a description of every intricate thing in the room. They want to know how a trap works, what it’s made of, and where specifically everything is.

This isn’t a huge problem if you have good improve skills, but it can wear you out over time if you have a lot of rooms. There are might even be things you don’t know how to describe. You’re not an actual Dwarven engineer, so a trap’s complex mechanisms might be difficult to accurately portray for your players.

Fixing Broken Trap Dungeons

Even though there are challenges to overcome, don’t give up on trap dungeons. The issues we listed aren’t the only ones you’ll face, but the following solutions should give a broad idea of how to fix others. Let’s dive in!

Pick Up the Pace

Because there is not an active threat of monsters, you’ll need another way to set pace in the dungeon.

The first and easiest way is introducing an artificial pace. For example: The dungeon’s center contains a fountain whose waters can cure a specific poison. The players must retrieve it before someone dies. This speeds things up for sure, but is not necessarily the best route for all circumstances.

Option B for increasing pacing is to do it in the meta. Shorten your descriptions, plan on what rolls need to be made ahead of time, and use helpful hints and clues to keep your party moving forward. If you know it’s safe in the dungeon, don’t do the normal watch schedule rolls and checks. Throw out anything that doesn’t lend itself to the fun parts of the traps and the dungeon itself.

Fill Out Other Aspects of Game Play

Dungeons and Dragons works fine without combat because role play is important. Use a dungeon without combat as an opportunity for players to explore their characters. Put in set pieces that are relevant to someone’s backstory. Make the dungeon a time for the players to talk about themselves or their adventures.

If you’re having trouble getting your players to open up, send an NPC. You don’t have any combat to worry about, so keeping track of an additional character shouldn’t be too much trouble. This NPC can ask questions, get the party talking, and generally drive interpersonal story elements by being a probing outsider. This makes for great role play and helps fill the void that combat leaves in a session.

Better Loot = More Fun

If you want to make the whole trip worthwhile. fill your dungeon with more loot. Use the time you saved on designing combat to add better items and more interesting doodads to your game. This can also be another puzzle for your team when there’s things like valuable decorative pots, bars of rare metals, an other things that will be hard to transport out in one go.

In addition to this, treasure does not have to be combat boosting to be cool. Maybe you have utility items in the dungeon, or perhaps stock the place with fun, silly items for the players to enjoy.

Traps Alone Are Not Enough

A trap based dungeon isn’t just about traps, it’s about the experience of the dungeon itself. Is the dungeon interesting? Is it fun? What’s the game play and pacing like? Keep these things in mind to make your dungeons feel more interesting.

For more walkthroughs and trap examples, check out our Complete Guide to DnD Traps article.

Happy DMing!

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