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Unreliable Information and Player Trust

by Jae
Unreliable Information and Player Trust

Players can often be the source of their own problems. Using this idea combined with some simple principles to trap players can be an interesting mix of fun and frustrating. For today’s Trap Tuesday, we’re going to look at three traps and talk about the concept of unreliable information and player trust.

Example Number 1: The Bridge That Isn’t There

The players come across a pit. There is a sign by the pit assuring the players that there is an invisible bridge they can cross safely.

That’s the whole trap.

You might think this is stupid. It is. It’s the kind of trap a trickster might set up. You’re probably thinking, “There’s no way my players would fall for that,” but I guarantee you that some players out there will. The best/worst part of this trap is that your players will do this to themselves based on nothing but faith.

Consider the sign. It tells the players there is a bridge, but they just can’t see it. Since the players should be able to interact with it, a safe bet would be to test the theory. Drop a rock, poke the air, etc. Not all players will take this route. Some will waltz straight forward into a pit trusting a sign written by someone they don’t know.

If they don’t trust the sign, maybe it’s in the presentation of the information. What if instead of a sign it was mural or wall carving? What if the wall carving said something about only the pure of heart may cross the invisible bridge? It’s still the same: there is no bridge no matter how pure your heart is. But your players might take that bait more readily. They could even come up with reasons why a player falls, or their tests fail, all on their own.

A Lying Dungeon and Blind Faith

If you want to have a player trap themselves, all you need to do is to convince them to do so. A great real world example of this is when you put a push sticker on door that needs to be pulled. People will try it once, assume it’s locked, and give up. They can get through the door if they tried a different method, but they don’t really know that. They’ve essentially trapped themselves by blindly trusting unreliable information. The same works in DnD.

If your players trust all information they are given, they will follow false information into traps and other bad situations. If your players don’t trust any information, these traps don’t work on them. But there are so many more problems that come with trust issues that traps will be the least of that group’s problems.

To make traps that utilize unreliable information you need them to first provide some information. This can be accomplished by arrows in a dungeon, a letter with instructions, a narrated puzzle, anything that tells the players what they need to do next.

After you provide information, it’s up to the players to trust it. Because it relies on trust, this kind of trap may only work once. If you want to get more bang for your buck, the information needs to seem reliable. Arrows on a wall might seem fishy, but maybe the player has reason to believe another adventurer left the marks. A letter can be forged, but that’s not typically a default belief. All of these things need to seem reliable for a player to fall for them.

Example Number 2: Useless Puzzles

In this example, the players enter a room and the room then indicates to them that there is a puzzle they must complete to proceed. What the puzzle is does not matter, because the puzzle does nothing. The room is open and the players can move on at any time. The trap is that the longer they spend in the room, an alarm calls more monsters to that area. This is entirely a time sink.

Be warned though! This kind of thing can bog down a session and bring the game to halt. Your players may never try that open door. They might slay wave after wave of monsters and then happily go back to the puzzle that has no solution. Always give yourself a way out on these or a hint that the puzzle itself is the trap and just there to waste time.

Trust Comes from Familiarity

The reason example two works at all is that players get into a rhythm with games. See a puzzle, solve it. See some monsters, fight them. These mental shortcuts should be challenged occasionally to keep your players thinking about their surrounding. However, if you challenge your players’ trust too much, all future games will go slower as the players try to tease out hidden information that is not there. Paranoid adventurers are slow adventurers.

When you to make a trap that messes with a player’s familiarity and trust you will get some success, but it can be detrimental to meta game habits. Be mindful with these trap styles and firmly plant them in the scenario’s story. Goblins or kobold might make traps that lie. A bandit might switch a road sign. A fey creature might make a more elaborate ruse just for fun. That’s where these traps work. You don’t want your players to start thinking that the unreliable information is actually an unreliable narrator.

Example Number 3: A Talking Door

The players walk into a room with a door and two levers. The door has a mouth and tells the players they must choose the right lever to open the door and progress. One lever leads to the path beyond, while the other leads to certain doom! The trap here is that neither lever opens the door. The door is open, and the door tells everyone it’s locked. Both levers could be rigged to spikes or monsters. The idea is that the players have been lied to and the only danger beyond that is the players’ own actions.

Players Need to Be Able to Learn

In example three, the players could be punished for pulling a wrong lever. The level of punishment they receive is important. Since they won’t learn anything until they act, their punishment cannot be immediate death (and never should be for any trap). If the players act on the bad information they are given, the punishment should provide information that teaches them something. In example three, pulling both levers teaches them that the door lied.

In example 2, continuous waves of monsters hints that the puzzle is a distraction. In example 1, falling into a pit is a big hint that there’s not actually a bridge there after all. In each case the player is given an opportunity to learn more without being fatally wounded for making a mistake. A player should always have a chance to explore and learn about what they encounter.

Lie to Your Players

If you want to set up a trap like this, all it takes is knowing the correct solution and telling your players the opposite. If they need to go left, give information indicating they should go right. If something is dangerous, put a sign telling them it’s safe. The players should trust you, but they shouldn’t blindly trust every sign to have their best interests in mind. I mean, really, who puts the solutions to a trap in their own dungeon?

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

Happy DMing.


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