The Handbook of Traps And Tricks II
Featuring Doors (Which You May Want To Light On Fire)
After far too long, we return to the
Dragon Tr... Handbook Of Tric Traps And Tricks from Dragon Tree Press. For some backstory and a look at the first 25 or so pages, here’s Part I. This part continues until… it doesn’t. I don’t really plan these things. But the end of the prior piece promised portals, so, here you go.
First, we are informed that doors have all sorts of symbolic meaning, as barriers beyond which lie the unknown, be it death or treasure. Also, as every D&D player knows, they may contain ear seekers. Or be a mimic. Or probably some obscure monster that’s related to mimics but can only look like a door. Because in a good old-school dungeon, everything is something that wants to kill you. Anyway, let’s look at the book.
Dagnar’s Door of Danger: When is a door not a door? When it’s flush against a solid wall and its only purpose is to trigger a pit trap somewhere else when it’s futzed with. The pit trap is a short drop (1d6 damage) into cold water (1d2/round). What’s interesting, and apropos for Old School, is that there’s a paragraph of rules and modifiers for swimming, simply as part of the trap description — Roll Dexterity +6 to stay afloat, -2 for each point of AC under 8, -1 per 500 gp/weight carried, etc. I bring this up to continue beating my favorite dead horse, that “old school” games aspired for some consciously-chosen ideal of rules-lightness, when, in reality, they were (much like the trapped characters) drowning in rules — all created as-needed in spells or monsters or magic items or traps, because there was no consistent resolution framework to be applied.
It’s assumed characters drop any readied/held weapons/shields into the unknown depths. (Those who deny they do so, per the trap, are “suffering from rigor mortis or better be able to breathe water”. The water may contain treasure, as well as the corpses of prior victims. In one adventure, it is noted, the players did not investigate further, lost two swords and a shield, and missed out on 100,000 GP worth of treasure. Me, I’d have a “water pit has treasure” once, and, when the players start diving deep into such pits, have something nasty at the bottom — like, maybe, those victims of the pit are actually lacedons.
Door Of Endless Water: Pretty much what it says on the tin. Open the door, all the other doors into the area slam shut, and endless (or not, it says it will be enough to fill the room, but it might not be truly infinite) water pours out. Possible exits include casting passwall, if you can do so without it being passglub, or swimming into the room where the water is flowing from, hoping there’s an exit there. The force of the water is greater than 60,000 foot pounds, which undoubtedly settles any debates on how strong you have to be to swim against it, because, somewhere in the DMG, there has to be a chart showing how many foot pounds of pressure an 18/43 strength can resist.
Door of Doors: It’s a 10 x 10 room with a door on each side, when you open a door, it leads to another 10 x 10 room with a door on each side, seemingly infinite, due to teleporters — it’s actually only a 9 x 9 arrangement of 10 x 10 rooms, which you start in the center of. Traveling in the same direction through 4 doors in a row returns you to the outside; any other method just gets you sent back to the middle eventually. And this was a god-damned trap in Wizardry on I think the third or fourth level and it was bind-mogglingly annoying.
Door of Violent Opening: Touch the latch or knob, and it slams open into your face, doing 1d6 damage, then slams shut again. There’s no given mechanism for stopping or jamming it, though I’d allow someone to try to shove a heavy object in when it swings open, probably a Dex check, with failure indicating they take damage and the object is itself damaged or shoved inside the other room.
Portal Of The Mystic Jester: Inscribed with magic runes which, if translated via read magic, say “Yer Mudder Wears Army Boots” (seriously, that’s what the book says, no foolin’), this archway imposes a random magic effect from page 88 on each person who passes through it. Hmm. Lemme see. Roll 09… length of nose and ears increase tremendously. (Nose up to 1d3 x body length.) All such effects last 10 + 1d10 turns.
Portal Of Perilous Passage: As above, but no insulting runes, and you roll on Table 4 on Page 90. Let’s see. 27, warts appear on hands, Dexterity -3 until cured. Your momma told you that would happen if you kept looking at naughty scrolls.
P.T’s Portal: A large sign reads “This Way To The Egress“. If you go through it, in the next room, you are confronted by the illusion of a large, ostrich-like bird that is blocking the doorway leading out. Yes, really.
Picador: Continuing the trend of bad puns… I don’t feel like typing all this. So here you go.
The Golden Door: Much like the cheese, this door stands alone in the center of a room, with no frame or bracing. It’s visible from one side only. If opened, it reveals a pile of treasure on the other side (the side it’s not visible from). Anyone entering is teleported to a filthy jail cell, as the door was set up as a way of trapping people to sell as slaves. The escapability of the cell, and its location within the dungeon, is at the whim of the GM.
Sometimes, the room is the trap. The key is the lock. The map is the territory. To go up, you must go down. The wise man knows he knows nothing. Ceci n’est pas une pipe. Where was I?
By the way, the almost complete lack of typography beyond ALL CAPS SAME SIZE FIXED WIDTH (as discussed in Part I) makes it kind of hard to realize when one section ends and another begins. You don’t need to go full White Wolf artsy-fartsy to provide a few visual clues. Even the first Arduin books managed that.
Altar Of Eternal Evil:
This altar is sooo evil…
How evil is it?
It’s so evil, casting detect evil will inflict 1d3/level against the caster. (That’s not a joke. It’s what it says.)
Trying to sum up almost a page of text, if you’re dumb enough to mess with the obviously evil altar, you are magically strapped to it and sacrificed in 10 rounds. The only way to save you is to dump holy water on the candles (it has otherwise unsnuffable candles surrounding it) , as the altar itself is protected by an impenetrable field as soon as it has a victim.
One Time Around: Another “I swear this was in an early-80s CRPG, probably Bard’s Tale” trap. This is a room which has one exit. The trick is, it rotates , undetectably, so when you open the exit, you’re facing a different direction and heading down a corridor seemingly identical to the one you entered. Rotating rooms and other variants were very common elements in early dungeons, which required precise mapping to avoid entering higher-level areas and to locate where all the hidden loot was.
Reichenbach’s Special: So named, I assume, because it involves a lot of “falls”. There’s no real way to easily explain this except by showcasing it in full.
Jumping Jack: To my eternal disappointment, this trap involves neither flashes nor gasses. Rather, it’s a room where some of the floor tiles are spring-loaded so that weight > 50lbs upon them will cause them to shoot upwards violently, smashing the unfortunate walker against the ceiling. The trap notes that detecting traps on the ceiling will detect nothing, and even recommends putting pseudo-traps on the ceiling so as to make the floor seem safe. I’d assume most people, if they have a detect traps power/spell that only works on one surface, instead of the room, would start with the floor, and there’s no indication such detection doesn’t work on said floor. I am guessing this is another case where there’s a house rule, or just play style, I’m missing, so that this is an important notification in the correct context.
That’s not what this chapter is called, but the intro text makes clear these traps are aimed at “superhero” characters, and not the type who wear spandex and fight crime. Rather, they purport to be ways to deal with what slightly-later works would call “Munchkins” and which were also known as “Monty Haul” (that’s “Haul”, not “Hall”) characters.
Superhero Special: There’s a lot of text, but it boils down to, “The PC is stuck in a room with a demon which will drain their attributes until none is higher than 12”. The demon has no listed HP or AC and cannot be harmed, but will appear to take damage from attacks. The attribute drain is not felt by the character until later. It’s basically the DM just saying “Reduce all your attributes to 12 or less”, but dressed up as a “trap” with a “monster” so the illusion of “fairness” is preserved — the player may be convinced there was some trick to defeating the demon, but simply hadn’t thought of it. (There is, kind of, but it’s a little unclear how it could work unless the victim happened to be a cleric.)
Black Knight’s Cross: Another one where I’m boiling down a lot of text. This one is aimed at players who view every living creature as a sack of XP-to-be. The trigger is a non-aggressive but potentially dangerous foe. If it is attacked, each player in the party is confronted by a knight in black plate armor. These are illusory (you might notice a common theme in this book), but will seem to attack and defend. They are easy to hit (AC 9), but seem to take no damage. If three or more players hit, however, the damage is passed to other players, so player three’s damage hits player two, player two’s damage hits player one, and so on. This goes on until the players disengage; if they don’t attack, neither does their knight. As written, it should be obvious to the players what’s going on by the second or third round. I’d modify it so that it seems as if the knights are both damaging and being damaged, with perhaps more subtle clues as to the nature of the trap — such as someone taking blunt damage from a “knight” who wields a broadsword, hopefully cluing them in that they’re actually being hit by the cleric with the mace.
Trap Door Spider: The player is tricked/taunted into killing a 1 HP spider, which then possesses the player and forces them to guard its eggs for several days, during which time the spider’s ghost has complete control and will use lethal force on anyone trying to retrieve the possessed character or harm the eggs. Eventually, the eggs hatch and the spider souls depart, leaving the character with full knowledge of all the transpired while possessed.
Fourth Of July Special: Much as the “Superhero Special” drains attributes, this trap drains magic items, setting off all magical and technological items concurrently, until they are all drained. It’s strongly implied this applies to “static” items like +2 swords, as well as active items such as scrolls or wands. As the trap/room absorbs the magic, no one is harmed in this discharge… though of course, the party must now somehow get through whatever’s left of the dungeon with nothing but their innate abilities and class-granted spells.
Whenever I do this again, we’ll start with “Maya and Other Illusions”, which should be interesting given how many of the traps I’ve already done are at least partially illusory.
 For you kids in the audience — yeah, like I’ve got an audience — “Monty Hall” was the host of a game show called “Let’s Make A Deal“, where large prizes were offered, and which was popular enough in its run that it was commonly used for pop culture references and also inspired considerable debate among mathematicians. A “Monty Haul” campaign was one where the DM handed out a lot of magical items (thus, the “Haul”), which were then countered with ridiculously potent monsters, whose defeat granted even more overpowered treasures, and so on, until you got to Galactic Dragons.