by Mike Shea on 27 January 2014
Being creative is hard. The creative load is hard enough that, many times, our minds will trick us into spending time on anything anywhere to avoid having to really buckle down and create shit. The life of the typical GM includes a lot of creating things.
The best tools to help us GMs are the ones that can help us remove some of the creative load. A good random name generator, for example, can take a lot of stress off of us when we need to name some random NPC during our games. Preprinted poster maps can help you set up an interesting location for a scene without a whole lot of stress. Random tables of all sorts can help you fill in a scene when your imagination seems to stall.
Today we're going to add one additional tool to your creative arsenal, a tool that goes hand-in-hand with the idea of lazy traps, the random trap generator.
The random trap generator isn't a simple static list of traps. It's a matrix of lists that, when mixed together, create powerful, deadly, and unique traps.
Roll 1d20 to determine the trigger for the trap.
Roll 1d20 once for a simple trap or twice for a more complicated trap.
Roll 1d20 once or twice to determine an elemental effect for the trap. If it makes sense, you can add this elemental effect to the trap such as flaming crossbow bolts or a bottomless pit that sucks like a vacuum.
For some realism, roll 1d6 to add one of these resetting mechanics. These bits of engineering give your players the impression that these traps actually work and make sense in an environment. Somehow these traps don't just fire off once and never work again, they need to reset for the next hapless party.
With this generator, we can create endless unique traps for our PCs to stumble into. Here are three examples:
A statue of a robed figure, arms outstretched, stands in this room on a floor covered with tiny holes. When the PCs come within ten feet of the statue, the arms begin to close inwards, as do the walls of the room. As the PCs attempt to move around the room, fiery jets erupt from the holes in the floor. Steam from below periodically resets the trap.
A pedestal in the center of this room holds an idol to a long forgotten god made of gold and encrusted with jewels. If any PC touches the idol, a magical glyph on the floor erupts in radiant energy, causing radiant damage and hurling the PC into the ceiling with great force.
Alternating black and white tiles cover this floor. If any PC touches a black tile, darts begin firing from the walls while spears erupt from the floor and ceiling. Every time the trap triggers, the tile triggers shift to the other color. Natives of the area regularly reset the traps.
A stairwell sits cris-crossed with tiny black threads. If any thread is tripped or cut, the person doing the tripping or cutting is peppered with crossbow quarrels and catapulted into the adjacent wall against a set of embedded spear tips. A series of counterweights behind the walls resets the trap.
It's easy to replace the trigger with any room detail you might already have. You can also simplify your trap by only rolling once on the traps list.
With this trap list in hand, you can take off some of the creative load and still provide an interesting trap for your players to face.