The party pushes open the door slowly, making their way into the next room in the dungeon. As their torchlight pours into the open doorway it glints off gold and jewels in an open sack. Beside the sack is a goblin picking over a corpse for valuables. It sees the party, and in a quick motion, grabs its sack and makes a hasty retreat, dropping errant coins as it runs. The party rushes after the creature, but to what end?
Chase Traps and Lures
Every adventurer likes treasure, but as we’ve talked about in past Trap Tuesday articles, it can get people into trouble. Chase and lure traps urge players to rush ahead quickly without considering the consequences. These are lures work the same as they would in fishing; you are attempting to trick the players into actions that are not in their best interest by presenting them with something they want.
Why Give Chase?
The most effective lures are ones with a time limit and sufficient reward. If a player does a risk reward analysis in their mind, they should see the lure as a clear reward and a minimal risk. This doesn’t work well without effective limits, so to entice a player further, you need to give them the illusion of an expiring offer. It works in sales and it works in DnD.
You can set up lures with a time limit by making it obvious the player will either get the treasure or not. In the opening example, we see a creature that attempts to flee from the players. The players see the obvious reward before considering the other dangers of the room and have to make a snap decision to either follow the creature or let it escape.
Another way you can set up a time limit is to have some sort of machination that activates when the players enter the room. This could be a chest slowly lowering into the floor, or an area treasure is held quickly becoming more dangerous over time (rushing water, spikes from the ceiling, etc.).
By putting a time limit on these treasures you’re short circuiting the decision making process and tricking your players into potentially making a choice before they know what they’re getting into. The players may even realize it’s a trap, but act before they consider that the reward might not be worth it.
The goal of traps like this is to get the players to rush head first into danger. The biggest danger that the players should face from these traps is their surprise. While you could introduce traps with pits, spikes, or darts, it’s not always the best option. Those traps work well as surprises, but triggering a trap because you didn’t look for it and triggering a trap on accident have the same effect.
A better option is a surprise combat encounter. Chasing a treasure toting monster into another room earns the players the receiving end of a surprise round. Running to get a treasure on timer could also be a pretense to have them start combat in a more precarious space, making the combat more interesting and the trap more successful as a mechanic.
Another way to use chase mechanics and lures is to get your players lost. Chase a goblin into a labyrinth, hope you remember the way out! Stationary lures also work for this as they can be an excuse to trigger player movement and then block off the way they came. This makes this kind of trap a useful tool for getting your players to go where you want or need them to.
Risk & Reward with Chase Traps
If the players are chasing something because it has loot, you need to give them a chance to catch it. The trap happens when they make a snap decision and they are already being punished for that. Don’t make the treasure fake or the reward intangible. Players who never get rewarded for taking risks will stop taking risks.
Based on how rewarding the treasure looks, your players may act more quickly, but making it too valuable can pose problems as well. If you give your level 4 players 30,000 gold, the game suddenly changes for them if they can escape the trap they’re in. Be mindful that the appearance of value and actual value are not the same thing. A heavy sack full of coins can have a lot of coppers and silvers in there too, even though the gold is what catches the players eye.
When putting something of value on display as a trap the value needs to be obvious. If you put an amazing magic sword on display the players might not know it’s magical or valuable. The Fighter could just as well say, “I already have a sword,” and walk away from the trap altogether. If the items displayed don’t look eye-catching then the players won’t care and will err on the side of caution.
Fun Chase Variations
While barreling after treasure or rushing to a sinking pedestal is fun and exciting, you can mix this up in a lot of different ways. It’s easy to have a trail of coins dropped by a monster make this a slower, but still dangerous trap. You can also mix in puzzle elements by putting the chase on rails where the players need to choose the right path or face consequences for the wrong one.
One of our favorite variations on this trap is to have the players chasing safety instead of treasure. Putting a large and terrifying monster behind the players, regardless of how real it is, can quickly push players into the same sort of traps that following lures can.
Using Lures As Traps
The overall mechanic is very simple, but luring players in can often be overlooked by traps. Most traps used in the game are secretive by nature, but getting players to overlook details can help you make use of even obvious dangers and change the way your group plays an encounter. With any luck your players will take the bait.