JP On Gaming

Friday, April 22, 2011

More about NeoExodus, PaizoCon, Grognard and… 4e praise???

Let me take you back to the days before Pathfinder, the days before 4e, the time before even 3e appeared, back to the 80s, back to the days where one could find the now-mythical adventures on the shelve of your local game store… Names that evoke fond memories in the Grognards... Names like White Plume Mountain, Tomb of Horrors, Greyhawk Ruins, Queen of the Spiders and Temple of Elemental Evil

I remember fighting a lot of monsters in those days, a lot of nameless, thuggish, unremarkable monsters. One thing I vividly remember most about those adventures and their dungeons were the very insane traps. In the same vein I remember the old Fighting Fantasy books by Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone and Joe Dever (Lone Wolf FTW). Those books were filled with mad traps (Labyrinth of death anyone???). Okay the FF books weren’t as dynamic, but a few has some very interesting traps and paths you had to take to get through. The idea of the trap-as-an-encounter by itself always interested me. It’s also funny that I rarely play Rogues/ trap monkeys in pen and paper (I play almost exclusively those in MMOs however).

Few who read this blog regularly would have read Oeil Noir’s Heros, Monstres et Forces Obscures, the French translation of a German RPG (Das Shartze Auge (or something like that)) that I can honestly say was the first RPG I played and enjoyed. That book was about DMing, storytelling techniques, how to challenge players, how to introduce riddles, how to create inventive traps and dungeon features. Some of the drawings in there led us poor dumb kids to always check the wall OPPOSITE the door for a crossbow hole! While most of the traps therein are very simple and mundane today, many are still inventive.

One thing from this book that still influences me to this day is the philosophy behind traps. Why would you build a trap? What are you trying to accomplish with the trap? What purpose does it serve? And most of all, what type of resources do you have?

In the dying days of 3.5, WotC began to change its trap philosophy and how to write them into an encounter. These “encounter-traps” were more elaborate than a simple poison dart on a door. Dungeonscape, a late 3.5 book, contained a lot of elements, many of which drew me back to Heros, Monstres et Forces Obscures, about trap philosophy, goals and location. If your goal is to kill, you normally want those traps at the start of a dungeon. If you want to soften up, you want those traps near the main villain, etc. A book too often overlook that came out too late to really be used much.

The encounter-traps presented therein turned traps (which has thus far been quite simplistic) into complete encounters. Instead of the rogue searches the door, finds the trap and we move on or the barbarian walks through the corridor, takes the damage and pulls the lever at the end of the hall which were the norm in those days. Now you walk into the room, the doors close, walls start closing in and poisoned darts start flying… Ouch. That is an interesting setup… Add a few shadow or wraiths and you have a real death trap! Something the players have to think to get out of.

That’s what memories are made of…

With the advent of 4e, traps did take some elements of Dungeonscape’s encounter traps, but did not go as far. 4e’s method made traps the equivalent of a monster and thus a common part of an encounter. It was no longer just the needle on the door (though it sometimes was). Kobolds fighting PCs could be supported/ beefed up by traps. I used to laugh that the only thing in 4e that scared me were traps.

Yes folks, you heard it here. 4e got traps right! (I’ll stop the 4e praise here).

As I am currently working on Encounter at Ramat Bridge, the PaizoCon showcase adventure for NeoExodus, I have been thinking about Dungeonscape’s encounter-traps and 4e’s encounter-monster and how to mix the two into a Pathfinder adventure. I want to have trap encounters that are logical, dangerous and most of all that force players to think outside the box to defeat the traps. Not merely make a Search then Disable Device check...

For those of you who may participate, the doors are not going to be trapped!

I promise.


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