As I’ve gone through the process of revisiting my Old School gaming roots with D&D through Mazes & Perils, I have had to re-examine the art of trap detection. And yes, there is an art to it.

Let’s start with the three main methods of trap detection that transcend rules systems entirely:

  • Bull in the China Shop
  • Analysis Paralysis
  • Standard Operating Procedure

I’m sure there others, but this covers the high points pretty well.

The Bull in the China Shop

Most of us are aware of the idea of a “Bull in a China Shop” idea. If not, it applies to someone who has very little tact or dexterity set loose in a delicate situation. A literal bull in a china shop would break things simply by moving around.

When you don’t have a thief in the party, usually you send your fighter ahead because they can absorb the damage. Or, as I brought up in an earlier post, you animate a bunch of corpses and send them ahead of you down hallways to do the same thing. Essentially you just need someone or something to soak the damage and trigger the traps so you can work around them.

Definitely not the best way to go about things because there may be traps that seal off entire sections of an adventure through cave-ins or explosions which prevent you from achieving your goals.

Analysis Paralysis

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum where you have a thief that must search every inch of every part of an area before you can move on. They feel that there’s always a trap waiting and they’d rather find it and disarm it than do anything else. Exploring a simple 10′ x 10′ square can take an hour as they explore the floor, walls, and ceiling with intense concentration.

This has a tendency to get really old really quickly and slows progress to a crawl.

Middle Ground

The middle ground is to proceed at a good pace, not rushing through anything, and not taking forever, until you get to a point where you think there might be a trap. Not every hallway, door, or floor is trapped. So why treat them like they are?

Some of the groups I’ve been with call this the “standard operating procedure”, employing a common sense approach to exploration. Take a little more time where you think there’s a better chance of something going catastrophically wrong. Doorways, for example, are often trapped or locked in important areas. So you apply a little caution there. And if you find something, you go on a higher level of alert from that point forward until you think you are safe.

This is the best approach in my estimation.

1 Comments

  1. Yeah i think old school did traps best – from memory, it took 10 mins to check for traps and that was also the time period for a random encounter check. So there was a meaningful choice to be made, ruling out constantly searching for traps (that probably arent there). A flexible random encounter check based on trap finding might be a good solution in more modern games too

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