Monday, December 1, 2008

ODnD Searching and Traps

It's been a few weeks since that OD&D game that seems to have caused a huge, albeit temporary, flush of traffic to my oft-neglected blog. I don't doubt that RPGBloggers and an apparent link in a OD&D forum helped as well. Anyway, this post is an exploration of something that caused a bit of confusion for me, as DM, in that OD&D game: searching and traps.

The problem, stemming no doubt from my D&D 3.0 roots, is the matter of searching and the efficacy of such. I get that in OD&D, having a room with traps that exist as part of the room is important. Rather than "roll to disarm", the party should have to figure out a more physical and 'real' way to disarm the trap based on logic and reason. That's fine and dandy. The issue is thus: In 3.x, 4e, and possibly other earlier editions, you roll to search for traps. Rogues in particular, and others to a much lesser extent, can search a room for traps by rolling a die. "I search for traps, I get a 18+8 for skill, so 26". Then, you compare 26 to some DC, and there you go. They found it or didn't.

In OD&D, there is no such mechanic. How then to respond to "I search for traps"? The primer, linked in the previous post I believe, suggests requiring very specific things to look for. "I search for traps" is then insufficient, requiring something more akin to "I search for a tripwire across the hall" or "I look for cracks in the floor which might be indicative of a pit trap". The problem that arises from that is twofold: One, the players, if sufficiently paranoid/trained to expect traps everywhere, will spend hours in each room, checking every brick and cobble to be certain that flaming death doesn't await them. The second is that players will feel cheated if they search a room and miss something that they feel should be obvious. "What? How could I miss a tripwire? I said I searched!"

How to remedy this issue? Well, firstly, it might not actually be an issue that isn't already solved. Part of my reasoning for writing this post is to hear other people's rules on such things. Do you just list traps as part of a room's decor? Do you accept "I search for traps" and list them then? Require ever more specific phrases to be able to find better traps? Improvise/houserule/steal a mechanic to handle it by a die roll? I'm curious to hear your ideas.

For me, sans any exterior input, I think I will continue making traps effectively invisible unless a player specifically searches for that type of trap, or is searching a sufficiently small object, such as a chest. Searching an entire room "for traps" is laughably difficult, with a clever enough trap inventor. Hell, there could just be a poisoned barb on the back of the door handle to the next room, that a casual adventurer would grasp and pierce his hand on. Who would even think to look for it? A chest, however, is small enough and simply operated enough that one can search for trigger mechanisms at the least. Trapped chests, of course, are almost reason enough to devise some alternate method of opening them than just standing in front and kicking them open like one is Link.

The issue is that, from a 3.x/4e/videogame aspect, these sorts of decisions seem like DM arbitrary damage. Those rules effectively only exist so that the DM can't just "Rocks fall, everyone dies". If there are search and disarm rules, then it's less based on the DM's fiat, so that players don't take umbrage when they are injured. In OD&D, by design, the DM is the final arbiter on everything, superseding rules when desired. How do you avoid looking like you are just smacking the players around? If they search for tripwires, and you decide that they miss one, or miss another kind of trap, how is it not just you smacking the players around?

Anyway, sorry for the post with fewer answers than questions, but it's something I'm curious about and would like to hear the gaming community's opinion on.

8 comments:

thanuir said...

I suggest reading this blog post by James Raggi: http://lotfp.blogspot.com/2008/11/guide-to-adventure-writing.html

Alex Schroeder said...

If the GM thinks the players are too paranoid, then the GM has placed too many traps in his dungeons. One solution would be to say "yeah, yeah, I know – you're moving at 120ft per turn, that includes simple traps." And then just tell them how they avoid the simple traps.

Then – if at all – use dangerous and devious traps where your players sort of expect them: The treasure room, the evil statue behind the altar, the ominous entrance, etc.

Sham aka Dave said...

Volume 1, page 7, Dwarves are able to 'note' traps in underground settings.

I'd borrow from the find secret doors mechanic, 2in6 chance, 4in6 for Elves, but substitute Elf with Dwarf. At the referee's option, Dwarves have a 2in6 chance to sense a trap is in the area (just like the optional Elf chance for secret doors). This was suggested on my blog by John Stephens, and is the default method in which I would handle this power.

There's nothing wrong with dispensing of the verbage if that's what you prefer. It's not a whole lot different than searching for a secret door, and people rarely make players describe 'how' they undertake that task.

Here are some other guidelines that might be of interest:

Volume 3, page 9, it states that traps, including pits, are sprung 2in6 when characters pass over them.

Traps do not fire off unerringly. The above could be construed as a method for letting the point man or the second rank pass over a trap before it goes off; or as an indicator to whether or not the trap was sprung after the triggering mechanism was activated (in otherwords, it failed to work properly, but might have been noted after triggering it).

Volume 3, page 5, "Falling into the pit would typically cause damage if a 1 or a 2 were rolled. Otherwise it would only mean about one turn of time to clamber out."

Even if a trap is sprung, it doesn't always do damage. The 2in6 chance to be affected by the trap is a good guide, and reflects the character's chance to avoid danger (whether it be a pit or an arrow trap or even a cloud of poison gas).

Both of the 2in6 guides can be increased or decreased based on the prevailing circumstances.

I don't think finding the traps is the issue so much as dirarming them. I let the players tell me how they might search for a trap (usually this is on doors or chests), and decide if I should roll any dice. The 2in6 chance of being damaged by a trap might be reduced to 1in6 if they are being cautious.

jamused said...

The solution to paranoia slowing everything down is simple: roll for wandering monsters. Then they can decide whether to trade off greater certainty that there are no traps versus increasing chance that they're attacked by something as they look. Have each additional thing they specify they're looking for take an additional turn searching (yes, that's an abstraction, but OD&D is built on such abstractions).

Generally speaking, I think that for OD&D the chance to discover a trap ought to be specified as part of the description of the room/trap. Rather than have a generic rule "traps are discovered on a 1 on a d6" you have descriptions like "If the players search for traps they will discover the trip-wire, and will have a 1-2 on d6 chance of discovering the false flagstone (1-4 if they say they're looking for loose stones)."

Ben said...

it depends on how "O" the O is in your OD&D...

Is it three pamphlets old, or Erol Otis artwork old, or 1E old?

It makes a difference...

-Ben.

Sham aka Dave said...

trade off greater certainty that there are no traps versus increasing chance that they're attacked by something as they look.

Excellent point! Traps need not be hidden very well to be effective in the dim, dark reaches.

it depends on how "O" the O is in your OD&D

"O" as in Original. This is an accepted form of the first three boxed volumes (LBB), or the LBB and some combination of the other booklet supplements. AFAIK there is no printed rule for 'detecting' or 'searching' for traps in OD&D, other than the Dwarven power to 'note' traps underground which I mentioned above.

David said...

@thanuir: I read LOTFP pretty often, and I remember that post. I had, however, forgotten how anti-trap it is. I do often neglect giving my traps a viable workaround, and the idea that there wouldn't be traps in most areas with living creatures might have some merit as well.

@Alex Schroeder: I agree that paranoid players are a mark of a skewed trap/curse system, but my players are a bit... 'special' sometimes. From the first time they see a trap or cursed item, they assume everything is trapped and cursed. Also, obvious traps do seem more fun in OD&D, where a thievery roll of 45 won't just destroy it (or worse, allow them to use it).

Sham aka Dave: So, a 33% chance of seeing the trap as a dorf, a 33% chance of even setting it off, and a 33% chance of doing damage after? That knocks it down to around a 3.5% chance of any given trap doing damage to any given dwarf, assuming he's traveling alone. If he's in a pack of dwarves, he's got his compatriots helping notice the thing. But yes, I suppose at least allowing some sort of roll for searching might function, and building off the secret door mechanic seems valid. I usually use saves for traps, and which save dependent on the type of trap. I like the idea of a 1/3 or maybe 1/6 chance of just escaping it though. That comment makes me want to go through the books again. Maybe Greyhawk has something not related to thieves that also deals with traps.

@jamused: The wandering monster thing would work if I was less bothered by an infinite stream of monsters wandering the seemingly-cleared halls of every dungeon. Though i understand the value: an increased tension in the place, the fact of the matter is that most parties have cleared the areas behind them, and would wonder on some level how the monsters are still wandering back there. If they come from ahead, they are likely to set off the trap, or at least cause the party to barricade every door before opening a chest.

Writing specific 'search checks' like that into the dungeon seems valid. At least that gives me some veneer of impartiality with regards to play.

@Ben: As Sham mentions in his second comment, OD&D translates to "Original Dungeons and Dragons", referring almost always to the LBB, that is, the 1974 Gygax and Arneson edition.

Sham aka Dave said...

33% chance of seeing the trap as a dorf

Optional being the key here. The ability to sense a trap doesn't mean it is seen (much like the Elf sensing that a secret door is nearby).

Searching is required afterwards. Even once found, it might not be easily avoided. It must still be disarmed.

The 2in6 chances given might not apply to all traps. These are simply suggestions.

The OD&D approach is to use d6 for many of these fast and loose 'dungeon tasks' (searching, setting off or avoiding traps, sensing secret doors, opening doors, etc).

As jamused said, you can easily give individual traps, or types of traps, values for concealment and reliability, and allow saves to avoid them. Or just skip these suggestions and do what feels right for your game.