Excerpts Archive | 6/26/2012
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1st Edition PH Excerpts: Traps and Tricks
Bart Carroll

In 1974, the world changed forever when Gary Gygax introduced the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The legacy of his innovative ideas and the extensive reach of his powerful influence can be seen in virtually every facet of gaming today.

To help honor his work and his memory, we've created limited-edition reprints of the original 1st Edition core rulebooks: the Monster Manual, Player's Handbook, and Dungeon Master's Guide. These premium versions of the original AD&D rulebooks have been lovingly reprinted with the original art and content, but feature an attractive new cover design commemorating this re-release.

Your purchase of this monumental book helps support the Gygax Memorial Fund—established to immortalize the "Father of Roleplaying Games" with a memorial statue in Lake Geneva, WI.

In this preview of the 1st Edition re-release of the Player's Handbook, we venture back into the appendices of the book to look at everything from traps and tricks, to details of combat!

Traps, Tricks, and Encounters

During the course of an adventure, you will undoubtedly come across various forms of traps and tricks, as well as encounter monsters of one sort or another. While your DM will spend considerable time and effort to make all such occurrences effective, you and your fellow players must do everything within your collective power to make them harmless, unsuccessful or profitable. On the other hand, you must never allow preparedness and caution to slow your party and make it ineffective in adventuring. By dealing with each category here, the best approach to negating the threat of a trap, trick, or encounter can be developed.

Traps: Traps are aimed at confining, channeling, injuring, or killing characters. Confining traps are typified by areas which are closed by bars or stone blocks, although some might be pits with valves which close and can then only be opened by weight above. Most confinement areas will have another entrance by which a capturing or killing creature(s) will enter later. It is usually impossible to avoid such areas, as continual minute scrutiny makes exploration impossible and assures encounters with wandering/patrolling monsters. When confined, prepare for attack, search for ways out, and beware of being channeled. Channeling traps are often related to confining ones. Walls that shift and doors which allow entry but not egress are typical.

While they cannot be avoided, such traps can be reacted to much as a confining trap is. However, they also pose the problem of finding a way back. Careful mapping is a good remedy. Injuring traps, traps which wear the strength of the party away prior to the attaining of their goal, are serious. Typical injuring traps are blades which scythe across a corridor when a stone in the floor is stepped on, arrows which fire when a trip rope is yanked, or spears released when a door is opened. Use of a pole or spear as a prod ahead might help with these, and likewise such a prod could discover pits in the floor. The safest remedy is to have some healing at hand — potions or spells — so as to arrive relatively undamaged. Killing traps are typical of important areas or deep dungeon levels. Deep pits with spikes, poisoned missiles, poisoned spikes, chutes to fire pits, floors which tilt to deposit the party into a pool of acid or before an angry red dragon, ten ton blocks which fall from the ceiling, or locked rooms which flood are examples of killing areas. Again, observation and safety measures (poles, spikes thrown ahead, rope, etc.) will be of some help, and luck will have to serve as well.

In summation, any trap can be bad and many can mean a character's or the entire party's demise. Having proper equipment with the party, a cleric for healing, a dwarf for trap detection, and a magic-user to knock open doors and locks go a long way towards reducing the hazard. Observation and clever deduction, as well as proper caution, should negate a significant portion of traps.

Tricks: So many tricks can be used that it is quite impossible to thoroughly detail any reasonable cross-section here. As imagination is the only boundary for what sort of tricks can be placed in a dungeon, it is incumbent upon the players to use their own guile. Many tricks are irksome only; others are irksome and misleading. Assume that there are several rooms with a buzzing sound discernible to those who listen at the doors and/or enter them. Does this cause the party to prepare for battle only to find nothing? Or is there some trick of acoustics which allows sound from a nearby hive of giant wasps to permeate the rooms? If the latter, the party might grow careless and enter yet another "buzzing" room unprepared so as to be surprised by angry wasps.

Illusions can annoy, delay, mislead or kill a party. There can be illusionary creatures, pits, fires, walls and so on. But consider an illusion of a pile of gold cast upon a pit of vipers. Slanting (or sloping) passages, space distortion areas, and teleporters are meant to confuse or strand the party. They foul maps, take the group to areas they do not wish to enter, and so on. The same is true of sinking/rising (elevator) rooms, sliding rooms, and chutes. As an example of the latter, consider a chute at the bottom of a pit, or one at the end of a corridor which slopes upwards — so that the effect is to deposit the party on the original level but seemingly on one deeper. Rooms can turn so as to make directions wrong, secret doors can open into two areas if they are properly manipulated, and seemingly harmless things can spell death.

Tricks are best countered by forethought and discernment. They can be dealt with by the prepared and careful party, but rashness can lead to real trouble. Your DM will be using his imagination and wit to trick you, and you must use your faculties to see through or at least partially counter such tricks.

Encounters: A "monster" can be a kindly wizard or a crazed dwarf, a friendly brass dragon or a malicious manticore. Such are the possibilities of encounters in dungeon, wilderness, or town. Chance meetings are known as encounters with wandering monsters. Finding a creature where it has been placed by the referee is usually referred to as a set encounter.

Wandering monsters can be totally random or pre-planned. A party wandering in the woods outdoors or on a deserted maze in the dungeon might run into nearly any sort of monster. If the woods were the home of a tribe of centaurs, or the dungeon level one constructed by a band of orcs, certain prescribed encounters would randomly occur, however. At prescribed intervals, your DM will generate a random number to find if any meeting with a wandering monster occurs. Avoiding or fleeing such encounters is often wise, for combat wears down party strength, and wandering monsters seldom have any worthwhile treasure. If monsters pursue, you can consider hurling down food or treasure behind. Thus, the pursuing monsters may be lured into stopping to eat or gather coins or gems.

When confrontation is unavoidable, be wary of tricks, finish off hostile creatures quickly, and get on with the business of the expedition. As determination of chance encounters is usually a factor of time, do not waste it — and your party — endlessly checking walls for secret doors, listening at every door, etc. As noise is a factor your DM will consider in the attraction of additional monsters, never argue or discuss what course of action your party is to follow in an open place or for long periods. A fight will take time and cause plenty of noise, so move on quickly after combat with wandering monsters. Pre-planning and organization are essential to all successful play, no less here than elsewhere.

Set encounters are meetings with monsters placed by your DM. All such encounters will be in, or near, the monster's (or monsters') lair; so, unlike encounters with wandering monsters, these incidents promise a fair chance for gain if the monster or monsters are successfully dealt with. A successful expedition usually is aimed at a particular monster or group of lairs discovered during previous excursions. Note: a lair is wherever the monster dwells — even such places as a castle, guard house, temple or other construction.

All encounters have the elements of movement and surprise (previously discussed), as well as initiative, communication, negotiation, and/or combat. These aspects of adventuring, as well as damage, healing, saving throws, obedience, and morale must now be considered.

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Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.