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Q&A: Traps Without Thieves

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I’ve been exploring a lot of deep foundational stuff with the Hamlet’s Hit Points posts, so I figured some nuts and bolts troubleshooting might strike a balance between the conceptual and the practical. Over the next little while I’ll be revisiting questions posed by gamers at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, either at the GMing seminar or afterwards in one-on-one chat in guest alley. Questions have been paraphrased, either to make them more broadly applicable, to protect the innocent, or because convention brain mushed up the details on me.

My players complain that it’s unfair to include traps in an adventure because none of them are playing thieves. Are they right?

When you look at adventure stories on TV or in fiction, you’ll note that the obstacles are crafted to reveal and explore the heroes’ capabilities. Sometimes you’ll see a change of pace episode in which the hero is forced to succeed, stripped of his usual abilities. But that’s a deliberate contrast to the standard M.O.

Look at your players’ character sheets as an order specifying the kinds of challenges they want to face. Tailor obstacles to these specifications and you’ll be paying off the expectation they established when they created their PCs.

Failure is often not as interesting as roleplaying tradition says it is. It’s especially a drag when the party has to fail for a reason that makes sense logically (no thieves means they ought to suffer whenever they run into a trap) but doesn’t add interesting choices or the prospect of entertaining scenes.

That said, you can still have traps in the dungeons bashed by your rogue-free crew. Just change the deactivation conditions to riff off the skills they do have. Is one of the characters a paladin with a high Religion score? Then have him run into ghostly traps that can be deactivated by performing an exorcism. (If you’re playing 4E and worried about messing with the rules too much, this exact example already appears in Open Grave.) Does the party include another PC whose biggest skill is Nature? Have the group run into natural hazards he can think his way out of on a successful skill check.

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