20 September 2021

Ennead Games

Ideas, tools, and generators to help and inspire for your games and story-telling

Traps are a  staple part of many RPGs, especially those in the fantasy dungeon crawl gene. There’s the classic pit-trap, the rolling boulder and my personal favourite, the “Stairs that turn into a slide with something nasty waiting at the end”. The more you use trapped locations though, the less effective they become, as players/characters start to get suspicious and check everywhere. Whilst this may be fun for some, it can make the game sessions drag on and on until everyone gets bored and the GM stops using them.

But, rather than trapped location, why not start using trapped ITEMS? Now, this doesn’t mean a trap that is set off when you pick up an item, although there is nothing stopping you from using that. This is more of the trap goes off when the item is used or handled in a particular way.

A few of you must be thinking “But, is that not the same as a cursed item?” but I say no, for the following reasons:

  1. Cursed items are notoriously difficult to get rid of. Trapped items can be dropped
  2. Curses often give off an evil aura, trapped items do not, but will show up if “detect traps are used”. If there is magic in the trap then it will be detected, otherwise, it won’t show up.
  3. Cursed items, such as weapons, often possess a property that makes them seem worth using in the first place. Trapped items, whilst they may seem to be useful, are rarely useful for their perceived purpose
  4. Curse effects are generally ongoing, whilst trapped items “trigger” once then need to be reset, either manually or automatically
  5. Trapped items can be disarmed by mundane means, cursed items generally can’t be
  6. For those with a sharp enough eye and wits, a trapped item can be spotted before being triggered

Also, for me at least a trapped item need to meet the following criteria:

  1. Be non-fixed/portable and at least appear to be useful. Sections of a corridor, door traps etc would not be classed as a trapped item. A rigged throne or crown would be.
  2. Some form of mundane trigger or mechanism to set-off the trap. If it relies on magic, in any form, to do the damage, then i would not class it as a trapped item. It can posses magic to enhance the effects, yes, but that must not be its primary source. Using the crown from the above example, it would be triggered if anyone wore it, not just the new queen. If it used magic to only go off when worn by the rightful ruler I would not consider it to be a true trapped item. If, though it used magic to keep the poison on the hidden needle fresh, then I would call it a true trapped item.

With these points in mind a few trapped items suggest themselves to me:

  1. A crown that injects a poison-coated needle into the head of anyone who wears it
  2. A large coin that folds in on itself, trapping/crushing the fingers of anyone who investigates it too closely
  3. A suit of armour that gets noticeably shrinks as it gets warmer and locks in place, such as whilst being worn. To safely remove it, it and the one inside it,  must be cooled down to what many living things consider to be dangerous levels
  4. A bow/bowstring that is rigged to snap back into the users face after a set amount of uses
  5. A shield with handles that clamp down hard on the hand/arm of the one who wears it. The good news is that it makes it almost impossible to drop the shield, the bad news is that it makes it almost impossible to drop the shield

Have any ideas for your own trapped items? Leave them in the comments below!

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