hunting traps

Using Hunting Traps to Great Effect

We’re coming out of the dungeons for this week’s Trap Tuesday and are going to look at some classic DnD Hunting Trap usage. In the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons bear traps are referred to as a hunting trap. Hunting trap rules are designed for the trap to be used by players, but traps are notoriously under utilized in most games.

While they are seldom used by players, they are excellent for use by the dungeon master.  Hunting traps can combine the best of all the parts of a trap: a save, damage, status effects, and persistent condition to escape it. While it is unlikely to put higher level players in danger, stepping in a bear trap in low level campaigns can pose a huge threat. Let’s look at the rules and talk about how to best use these in your game.

Hunting Trap Rules

Let’s first start by looking at the direct SRD text for hunting traps:

When you use your action to set it, this trap forms a saw-toothed steel ring that snaps shut when a creature steps on a pressure plate in the center. The trap is affixed by a heavy chain to an immobile object, such as a tree or a spike driven into the ground. A creature that steps on the plate must succeed on a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw or take 1d4 piercing damage and stop moving.

Thereafter, until the creature breaks free of the trap, its Movement is limited by the length of the chain (typically 3 feet long). A creature can use its action to make a DC 13 Strength check, freeing itself or another creature within its reach on a success. Each failed check deals 1 piercing damage to the trapped creature.

Hunting trap

Adventuring Gear
  • Category: Items
  • Damage: 1d4
  • Damage Type: Piercing
  • Item Rarity: Standard
  • Save: Dexterity
  • Weight: 25

– 5th Edition SRD: Hunting Trap, via Roll20

Hunting traps are only a danger if you step on it, but once you do there’s a cascade of consequences. Either you save or get trapped and take damage. Additionally, each time you fail to break free you potentially take more damage. Imagine if it happens during combat. It can make things very interesting for both players and enemies. As a note, there aren’t any rules about spotting the trap. The trap can be concealed in a variety of ways and might be very hard to spot. This gives you a great effect with a lot of flexibility for use!

Good Hunting Trap Usage

These traps can be put in almost any setting. They can be staked to the ground and covered with leaves in the woods, or they might be chained directly to the walls and sunk into the stonework floor strategically in a dungeon. In snowy areas these traps become exceedingly dangerous and make wilderness survival a compounding challenge. So how should you work these into your game for the best effect?

Use them in Combat

The traps can make a lasting impact when they occur during a combat scenario. We’d recommend that you use this as a teaching example where the danger is revealed over time. As an example let’s look at a combat scenario where the players and their enemies start on opposite sides of an open courtyard to a jungle ruin.

The enemies and the players will both move into the courtyard for combat. But what they don’t know is that the courtyard, filled with leaves and dirt from years of disuse, contains multiple traps. If at all possible, it is best to have an enemy charge out first in this scenario. The enemy will run out, interact with the trap, and the players have a learning opportunity.

At this point in the combat players might be cautious and not move long distances in combat. The enemies might do the same. The places that provide cover from ranged attacks might be appealing, but if there’s a trap there it’s dangerous. Even worse would be getting stuck in a trap on your way to cover.

When caught in a trap the victim has access only to their space and the spaces directly around them (assuming a normal chain length of 3 ft.). While it’s not stated that they suffer any additional penalties, it could be ruled that they will take disadvantage on Dex saves while held, or if you’re really mean you could even give advantage on ranged attacks against the creature.

These traps affect classes differently. High Strength characters might fail the Dex save and get caught, but have no problem using their strength to escape. Dexterous players have a low chance of getting caught, but suffer more when they do get caught. Your combat tactics and positioning become much more important when any move could lead to a situation where you are trapped.

When anyone becomes trapped, in addition to being a target, they give enemies a chance to group up around them and use abilities like pack tactics or flanking. These are ways you can increase the stakes of individual actions. Traps like this add a little stress but also could be a boon if the enemies are also unaware of them.

Or in Exploration

This trap has low stakes when encountered on its own. If you step on one in the woods, your party can help you out of it and heal you. Where these traps become more exciting is when used in conjunction with other events. When you players are running from something and these crop up in the path, it can be a big deal, even if the damage from the trap isn’t.

If your players trigger combat by stepping on one of these and get ambushed, it changes the first few rounds of combat. Even when used in conjunction with other traps, hunting traps become a much more threatening hindrance. Is there a boulder rolling after you? A hunting trap will be a big problem.

Another way to utilize these without effort is the use them with the environment. Perhaps they are sunk in a swamp you need to wade through or trap you underwater where you can’t breathe. In snowy environments getting caught can lead to exposure. In hot environments like deserts the same danger appears. The trap might be easy to overcome, but when the area is already inhospitable a minor inconvenience can be all it takes to ruin an adventurer’s day.

Variations on Hunting Trap Damage

What if you want to make the trap more deadly on its own? Higher quality traps may come in all strengths and sizes; the numbers are really easy to adjust. Additionally, you might want to remove the damage altogether for armored players, but make the trap harder to get out of by denting into their armor. Each tiny adjustment on this trap can have an impact.

When using these for exploration it might be something that triggers a check for illness or disease. After all, when was the trap last washed? How long has it been in the woods under leaves and decay? If we go back to the swamp example, any open wounds under water could get infected and the blood could draw in predators looking for a wounded prey.

Standard Traps Are Still Versatile

Despite being a rarely used item, the hunting trap allows a good deal of customization in combat and exploration settings. It works well in just about any setting and has very low risks on it’s own, but compounds well with most other threats. If you’re looking for a simple trap to throw at your party, hunting traps will do the trick. Keep in mind the overall effect and usage you’re going for and you’ll be sure to add an interesting and dangerous twist to your next session.

Happy DMing!