Traps are a classic part of Dungeons and Dragons, so much so that entire books have been made about them. They grown to be ever more complicated through the years, always adding more pulleys and strange fail safes in an effort to confuse and trick the players. Until recent editions, they were one of the big reasons you always had a thief in the party, as no one else had a chance to notice them.
Let’s take tomb of horrors, for instance. This infamous dungeon pretty much existed to showcase tons of traps and puzzles. From a game design standpoint, it’s a lot of fun, provided you don’t take it too seriously. The traps in the original weren’t so much designed to slow you down as they were designed to straight up kill you. The most iconic is the big green devil head with an open mouth. It’s big enough to climb right in. Spoiler alert: anything that goes in there gets wiped out by a sphere of annihilation. It doesn’t just die; it ceases to have ever existed in the first place.
So here’s the thing. Trap heavy dungeons like this just rub me the wrong way. Other than a Lich driven insane by endless life, whose got time for that nonsense? That seems like a lot of work for not a lot of pay off. What is that trap doing there? Who in their right mind engineered a whirling blade that pops out of a wall at head level when you step on the wrong stone? Ever walk through your own house drunk before? It’s just a bad idea.
There is some historical basis for traps, however. Below you’ll find some traps from history with a link to their 5E stats for them at the end. As with anything you place in your game, make sure you first ask, “Why is it there?” Figure out who placed the trap and why. Immersion hangs on everything having a reason.
Viet Cong Snake Pit
The Viet Cong used snakes in all kinds of inventive ways. Adding them to pit traps was one of their more simple ideas. They would also put them in their packs so that anyone who searched them wouldn’t be happy with the results. These snakes were often referred to as three step snakes, as that was about how far you could be expected to walk before dropping dead. I’ve toned down the ones in these traps, but if you want to make it a bit more old school, feel free to make it a save vs death. You can always add more than one snake as well…
The Flood Trap
This is from the Oak Island money pit and was quite the contraption. While not much is known of the origins of the money pit, the story goes that there was a rumor of buried pirate treasure on the island. When a young man found a depression in the ground, he believed it to be where the treasure was. He started digging.
Every ten feet, he and his fellow diggers would hit a timber structure that had to be removed before they continued to dig. One of these punctured an airlock and opened a tunnel to the nearby sea. After removing those timbers, the crew took a break. When they came back, the whole tunnel was flooded.
Now, it’s unlikely your players are going to spend a long time digging holes. There are other ways this could be implemented, however. Maybe they find a shabby wooden wall blocking their way as they travel a tunnel underground. It’s obvious that they can break through it. When they do, it punctures into the sea water tunnel. They gain the condition: sad, and the condition: never trust the GM again.
If it doesn’t effect them directly, it could effect items they’re after. Perhaps they are traveling down a vertical shaft. Just like on Oak Island, they remove some timbers which puncture the water tunnel. That spell book at the bottom of the shaft? It’s useless. Even if it’s something that could survive the sea water, traveling though the shaft will present a challenge now.
The Sliding Portcullis
Let’s go back to ancient Egypt and their pyramid tombs for this one. While not necessarily deadly, this could be a huge inconvenience. When the trigger for this trap was hit, a portcullis would fall from the ceiling, blocking off a passageway entirely. A mechanism in it would ensure that it could not be raised again. Combine this with a room containing a big nasty monster and suddenly their passageway out of it being gone could turn deadly. You could do some fun things with this.
This one is a bit like the water trap. I’ll admit to not one hundred percent understanding how it worked. It was another trap used for people digging into a tomb. They’d come to a stone diamond. Not being able to dig through it, they’d have to go around it. This would loosen it and allow the stone plate above it to fall and with it, tons of back fill. At the very least, it would fill the shaft back up. If you were unlucky it’d take you with it.
Our final trap takes us back to the Viet Cong. Punji sticks were yet another variation on the pit trap. At the bottom of thehole were sharpened bamboo sticks, heated with fire to strengthen them. That wasn’t enough, though. These sticks were often times peed on or smeared with feces.
Yeah. You read that right. Poop and pee sticks.
There was a reason for this. It wasn’t just one guy who was strangely fascinated with his bodily waste. Aside from the initial impact of these sticks, the victim was then likely to get an infection from them as well. This can be a nice surprise to a PC who finds they didn’t exactly heal from their long rest like they though they would.
If you’d like to get the stats for these traps, head on over to our Patreon. They are there for free. While you are there, check out our other fun game material. If you like it, feel free to subscribe to always get future releases. In any case, I hope they work out in your game. It’s not insta-kill magic devil mouth, but poop sticks do have their own certain allure, do they not?