Sunday, 13 November 2011

villainous psychology - traps & tricks

This month's RPG Blog Carnival comes courtesy of Elthos RPG.  It's about getting into the mindset of your villain when creating tricks and traps.  Consider the following, popular with criminal investigation when setting up something to dumbfound, damage or destroy your enemies.

Method - This governs the architect as well as resources available to them.  The psychotic chemist may concoct explosions, acid or poisons.  A necromancer will use undead or death-themed devices.  Engineers devise Rube Goldsberg-esque deathtraps.  Orcs use spiked pits but access to death rays usually involve a third party.  Bait makes a trick or trap seem more compelling.

Example: A Lemurian necromancer in a Mutants & Masterminds game baited four separate flooding sewer chambers with hostages.  This forced the party to split up to save them.  Each was guarded by zombies and a serpent demon.  Though the heroes rescued the hostages, the traps gave the necromancer time to work a ritual summoning something big with tentacles.

Motive - The desired outcome is important.  Tricks deceive, confuse or deny access.  Traps imprison, harm or even kill.  A diabolical warrior might use traps to weaken powerful foes before finishing them.  A haughty sage uses tricks to deter foolish visitors.  Ancient priests set lethal symbols to slay tomb robbers. The motive behind the trap enables a GM to plan accordingly, and where appropriate, signpost the potential lethality or weirdness to come.

Example: A hunchbacked fey offers a narrow-necked crystal ewer filled with yellow gold coins for a horse.  The fey wants a horse and the adventurers delayed.  The narrow neck of the ewer means coins jam together so only 1d6 coins can be retrieved each round by pouring or by hand.  The ewer holds dozens of coins (yet less than the price of a warhorse) and fills a backpack - it will take some time to empty.  Breaking the ewer turns it into a ravening bear.  If broken while holding coins, 30 - 80% are lost in transformation. 

Opportunity - Traps and tricks are active, pre-meditated strategies, implying preparation and anticipation of a target.  If the victim can fly, an open-topped pit is at best inconvenient.  Circumstances work for or against - the smart architect optimises. Planning can mitigate failures.  The best traps and tricks walk a line, planned to prevent failure while seizing the advantage.

Example: Sometimes, simple traps just work.  Deadfalls are simple to set up and depending on system can have greater impact than blunt trauma.  Logs or boulders may block movement or trap someone under their weight.  Depending on situation and how clever the architect is, a simple deadfall may change a combat from a predictable melee to a desperate fight out of a dead-end.

When developing tricks or traps, consider these three things.  The result will be a series of traps that make sense.  Get it right and wnjoy your players cursing your ingenuity while lamenting their not seeing it coming.


  1. Awesome post. The distinctions you draw for your categories Method, Motive, Opportunity are helpful points of consideration. Thank you! :)

  2. Thank you for the compliment.

    This month's was fun to do - traps & tricks can literally show how their architect thinks.

    Thanks for hosting the carnival!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Greatest Hits