Traps go with lairs like chocolate chips go with cookies - You can have one without the other, but they’re much better combined. Simple traps are easy; some arrows fly at the party and they all take a bit of damage. It’s a decent way to wear them down and make them spend resources, but it’s also very boring. I’m of the opinion that you want fewer traps with more interesting and more dangerous effects. I may be slightly biased, but I think the Trap Compendium is a great source for that kind of thing. The two things I want to cover in this post are some techniques for using traps in a villain’s lair, and then a few non-traditional examples that push the definition of trap.
First, when placing traps in a lair it’s critical to consider the creatures that are going to be sharing that lair with them. Fire traps and fire elementals, for example, are a natural pairing. Fire traps and mummies, not so much. The villainous creatures need to be able to avoid the traps, whether that’s through knowledge of where they are and how they’re triggered, resistance, or outright immunity. If the minions aren’t immune to the traps, clever players can use them to their advantage, and that can provide a fun twist to otherwise straightforward battles. If your traps don’t deal damage, but instead apply conditions, monsters that are immune to those conditions make natural minions to fill such a lair.
It’s important to pair minions and traps because traps by themselves are easy prey for rogues, and more importantly, lead to a lot of rolling dice and very few decisions being made. For this reason, I like using traps that are either very visible, or lead to permanent changes on the battlefield once they activate. A whirling jet of flame in the middle of a room is great. Pit traps that close and rearm after activating are awesome. Walls of stone or webbing springing into existence creates interesting obstacles to work around. All of these are far better than a hidden trap hitting the party with arrows for 3d6 damage.
You should also consider the purpose of the traps in the lair. A trap that pulls people deeper into the lair is most dangerous if it splits the party, which would allow the villain to divide and conquer. Having traps on the exterior of the lair that attempt to frighten intruders away or use enchantment spells to compel them to turn around is a good way for a villain to make sure they aren’t bothered. You might also use traps to give a false impression of the lair’s defenses, such as webbing heavily implying spiders, when the lair is really defended by ogres with potions of spider climbing.
Now let’s talk about some alternative and weird traps your villains can use. I’m just going to run through some examples rapid fire, some of which will probably end up in Tyrants & Hellions.
Before we close out this post, I’d like to talk about one more kind of trap: puzzles. Puzzles are tricky to use, and their effectiveness depends on your players more so than their characters. For groups that love puzzles, they’re an awesome diversion and a fun break from the action. For groups that hate them, they can drag on and on, killing the mood completely. Some of the villains in Tyrants & Hellions will have puzzles associated with them, it may be in their lairs, or it may be tied to their schemes. In either case, the puzzles will have scaling suggestions to make them easier or harder depending on how much your group likes or dislikes puzzles. And if you really dislike them, you can cut them out. You’re the Dungeon Master, and it’s your game. We’re just here to help.
That’s all for our series on lairs, the next post will get into fighting against villains! We’ll cover engagements of different scales, from light skirmishes to final showdowns, and talk about how to handle escaping villains in ways that won’t upset your players or feel forced.
I'll mention this again in the next post, but our schedule is slowing down from one post every weekday to one post every other day, which will be Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Three posts a week! I hope that's enough to sate your appetite for content!
Steven Gordon - 2CGaming Team