Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wheeled Fountains & Wandering Traps

My last post made me realize that I conceive of traps as stationary.  Then I began wandering what a mobile trap might be like.  Or a mobile trick.  Here's some brainstorming:
  • Is a mobile trap just a monster?
  • If traps are meant to keep folks out of certain areas is a moving trap just a patrol like a guard or robot?
  • maybe it follows the party from room to room making things more difficult somehow.
  • maybe it makes a timed sweep through the dungeon and knowing its path and timing could be a kind of treasure map players need to find or info to get from npcs.
  • I'm thinking of Labyrinth now, weren't there rolling grinding machines?
  • a mobile trick I have an easier time imagining, a fountain on wheels, an altar that teleports.  One reason is if players discover that they grant a boon, needing to find them later would be a task.
  • Or, I'm very interested in squeezing more exploration from the same location (see tumbling dungeon) what if this mobile trick did something to a room that made the room different?  Infrared light that reveals runes on the walls.  Floor level fog that hides holes in the floor.  Soft music that obscures the soft ticking of secret mechanisms (find secret doors).
  • Heh, what if the mobile trap was just a cage that traps a pc and then travels slowly through the dungeon making it hard to find and free them?  I have no idea why the maker would want that, maybe a crazy mage.
  • Oh, maybe it was some kind of practical tram that has gone haywire.  If the players figure out its buttons they can toodle wherever they want in the dungeon in relative safety, but experimentation might just dump them in the troll den.
  • Back to the mobile room changer- anti-gravity seems like a good one, two dungeons for the price of one mobile trick.Very similar to the tumbling dungeon idea except the people tumble not the dungeon.
  • trying to come at it from the simulationist why-would-it-be-there-angle: maybe that wandering fountain is a kind of aid station/refreshment center in the dwarven mines, rotates through the shafts efficiently so that work never stops in more than one place at a time.  Maybe gather data on the denizens-- a watcher in a prison, a kind of nature observer set by a mage guild in a monster ecosystem.  Perusing the data could help players crack the patterns of a dungeon.
  • Cleaning!  That seems obvious now, brushes pushing pcs out of rooms, water sprays hosing them down, heat to sterilize.
  • Are gelatinous cubes just mobile traps?
Okay, that's all I got right now.  Hope you're having a great weekend.


  1. A trap is distinct from a monster in terms of how it plays out in the game. A trap, very generally, is a Bad Thing that is triggered by the players' actions. The trigger advertises itself - somehow - and what the players do determines whether or not they set it off. The interesting part of a trap comes mostly before it gets set off, in how the players avoid it, whether or not they're attentive enough to spot it, etc.

    So, a patrolling guard isn't a trap, but something that periodically rolls through and sweeps the corridors clean could be. A sleeping monster is a trap, but an awake one isn't. A trap can move around, but for it to be a trap in the classic sense as opposed to a monster or something else, the focus has to come before the encounter, not afterwards. That's my working theory, anyway, to keep the two distinct.

  2. A mobile trap is distinct from a monster. If I let loose, say, patrolling electric balls that home in on passerby and zap them, and either must be avoided or defused or just "used up," it's a trap. If I let loose patrolling electric guard spheres that home in on passerby and zap them, and you have to defeat them in battle or avoid them, it's a monster. In D&Dish terms, traps are just wandering damage and monsters have hit points.

    I occasionally use wandering traps in my games - no one says wizards have to use stationary enchantments to ward off strangers.

  3. I never thought of this before, but a dungeon filled with knee or waist-deep mist would present a very interesting challenge. Holes near the floor which lead to secret rooms, trap doors, tiny monsters which rush around, resetting traps or even activating ones which hadn't been active the first time around.

  4. Labyrinth did indeed have mobile grinding machines; they were goblin powered, and almost impossible to stop unless you got beihnd them

    To quote Hoggle: "Not the Cleaners!"

  5. In one dungeon I had a pit trap that actually followed the party around... It had somehow gained mobility and semi-sentience from the background magic of the place.

  6. Great, thanks.

    @John: interesting stuff, so a sleeping monster is basically a trap and it seems like a guard could be if you knew about it and its patrol pattern ahead of time-- so that avoiding it, planning around it can still try to prevent "triggering" it.

    @Peter: This is why I like asking questions like this because it can give you unexpected ideas elsewhere. for example, the idea that a monster differs from a trap because it has hp. What if it didn't? I'm thinking of Roger's Man of Wounds where wailing on it with weapons is the last thing you want to do. Now i think I could write a post brainstorming monsters where staright up depletion of hp is not the way to defeat them. I suppose make them more trap-like.

    @LS: tiny things crawling around under a foot-high miss evokes a sense of creepy dread in me so that's a win in my book.

    @C'nor: Thanks, it's been many moons, I'll have to watch it again.

    @Jarrah: That's great. I'm thinking that could come off as hilarious, disorienting, or just plain irritating depending on how you played it. What did your players think?

  7. Telecanter: I don't pretend to have a rigid classification, just a vague design guideline so I know what to focus on. If it's a trap, the focus is on the avoidance, and so it needs to be rigid and react in predefined ways so that the players can circumvent it. If it's a monster, the focus is on the encounter, so it needs to be dynamic and adaptive so that the situation can evolve based on the players' actions. A sleeping monster is essentially static and predictable (don't make any loud noises or disturb it and it won't wake up), while an awake monster is not (it could do anything).

    You could design a guard as a trap, in theory - a golem or a zombie or something that acts in certain preprogrammed ways and, crucially, doesn't change its behaviour to match new circumstances. But like I say, it's not a totally rigid distinction.

  8. Messing with our clear cut classification systems definitely seems like an excellent way to keep the players on their toes.

    I'm going to try some of this stuff out. More specifically, the mobile cage thing would be perfect for an aviary dungeon I've been working on.