Tag Archives: Steve Winter

5 role-playing products that shaped how I play Dungeons & Dragons 1978-2000

Tomb of Horrors (1978)

In the early days, I enjoyed plenty of time to create my own adventures, so I had little interest in playing the published ones. But I still drew inspiration from them. Nothing inspired like Tomb of Horrors.

tomb-of-horrors-1e-coverBefore the tomb, dungeons tended to lack personality. Dungeon masters followed the examples in the rule books, serving players bland tunnels, square rooms, and monsters waiting to be killed.

The tomb overflowed with the personality of its fictional creator and its real-world author. Gary Gygax admits to “chuckling evilly” as he developed the tomb. His wicked fancy suffuses the dungeon. The tomb brought a menace unmatched by other dungeons. Its legend still draws players, despite its reputation for dead characters and tedious play.

The best part of the adventure might be the keyed illustrations that revealed its locations. The illustrations transported me into the tomb and tantalized me with potential clues to its the mysteries. I think writers sometimes avoid locations that demand long and unwieldy explanations, so we encounter too many conventional 10’x10’ rooms with a pile of debris in the corner. With the tomb, Gary and his artists loosed their imaginations, and the place came to life. See “Picturing the dungeon – keyed illustrations.”

For more, see “Tomb of Horrors tests patience, but still ranks as Dungeons & Dragons’ best villain.”

Queen of the Demonweb Pits (1980)

You can fault some details in Queen of the Demonweb Pits, but not its big ideas. This adventure took the scope of Dungeons & Dragons and blew it wide open.

Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits CoverStart with the Demonweb, a web of pathways floating through impenetrable fog. The material of the path moves slightly. “Close examination will reveal faces, twisted and tortured, pressed against some invisible barrier, silently mouthing screams and howls.” These are the lost souls of the Abyss. Along the path, unsupported doors open into extradimensional spaces. At first, these doors lead to Lolth’s creatures. On the last level of the web, the doors open on alternate material planes that she targets for attack or other schemes. In unlocking these planes, the adventure made the world of Greyhawk and its kin seem like specks floating an a sea of creation.

Once players leave the web, they find Lolth’s stronghold, a colossal, steam-powered spider that walks across an alien desert. Many players disliked the spider-ship for its collision of fantasy and steampunk, but I loved it. A diet of Michael Moorcock books and Arduin had already shattered my reservations about mixing such elements. The spider-ship seemed like a fitting creation for a goddess whose power spanned a multiverse. The ship’s inscrutable purpose and destination suited her chaos.

Lolth’s spider-ship, the  Demonweb, and its portals suggested a D&D game with a scope that felt breathtaking.

For more, see How Queen of the Demonweb Pits opened Dungeons & Dragons to the multiverse

Escape from Astigars Lair (1980)

In 1980, Judges Guild published Escape from Astigar’s Lair, a slim module that sold for just $2. The adventure so charmed me that after I ran it, I created a similar challenge of my own to unleash on players.

Escape From Astigar's LairThe action starts when the wizard Egad dons a cursed helm and becomes possessed by the evil spirit of the mighty Astigar. Players take the roles of the druid Danier and the ranger Therain, who begin shackled to a wall in Astigar’s dungeon complex. The escape encourages shrewd problem solving. How can you cross a chamber swarming with flying lizards as voracious as piranha? How can you force Egad to remove the cursed helm? The obstacles in the lair inspired challenges that I would add to my own game.

I loved how Escape from Astigar’s Lair showed that combining oddball powers with ingenuity could prove more fun than blasting away.

For more, see “Little-known D&D classics: Escape from Astigar’s Lair.”

Fez (1980-1985)

In 1981, my buddies and I, at our first Gen Con, stumbled into the Fez tournament and had a blast, more fun than we had in that year’s AD&D Open. For several years, even as our interests wandered from AD&D to other role-playing games, Fez remained the Gen Con event we most eagerly anticipated.FezI The Wizard’s Vale was originally printed as Fez I Valley of Trees

In this blog, I’ve shown how a reliance of skill checks tends to encourage players to focus on their character stats and to lose interest in the game world. When a skill check solves any problem in the game world, the details of the problem become unimportant.

When I played Fez, little seemed to demand a roll. Behind the dungeon master’s screen, Fez was a D&D game complete with AC and HP. From my perspective, Fez factored rules out of the game, making immersion the game world all important. Normally, I would not want to play battles without character stats, but in Fez, the objective seemed to be to avoid fights.

Fez featured a play style different from the typical D&D game, and it blew my impressionable mind.

For more, see “Little-known D&D classics: Fez.”

Dungeons & Dragons third edition (2000)

Game historian Shannon Appelcline calls D&D’s original design chaotic modeling, with inconsistent game systems handling different parts of the game world. So strength has a range of 3-17, and then 18/01 to 18/00, while other attributes range from 3-18. Thieves roll under a percentage to gain success, attackers try to roll high on a d20, and (in some versions) ability checks require a d20 roll under an ability score. “The fact that the game couldn’t even keep its core range straight (was it yards or feet?) says a lot.”

3E edition launch shirtIn Thirty Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons, Steve Winter wrote, “By 1987, the science and/or art of roleplaying game design had progressed significantly since AD&D’s first appearance. Games such as Runequest, The Fantasy Trip, Chivalry & Sorcery, Paranoia, Pendragon, Warhammer Fantasy, Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, and many others showed that there were innumerable ways to build a quality, innovative RPG.”

Second edition designers Steve Winter and David “Zeb” Cook did their best to sort out D&D’s “ugly little systems that didn’t integrate with each other,” but the system’s core remained mired in the RPG stone age. In a D&D podcast episode examining the second edition, Steve Winter said, “There were all kinds of changes that we would have made if we had been given a free hand to make them—an awful lot of what ultimately happened in third edition. We heard so many times, ‘Why did you keep armor classes going down instead of going up?’ People somehow thought that that idea had never occurred to us. We had tons of ideas that we would have loved to do, but we still had a fairly narrow mandate that whatever was in print should still be largely compatible with second edition.” So D&D held to chaotic modeling.

In 1997, Wizards of the Coast took over TSR and new head Peter Adkison set the direction for a new edition of D&D. In Thirty Years of Adventure, he wrote, “After twenty-five years D&D was due for a major overhaul, but that the changes to the game should make the games rules more consistent, more elegant, and support more possibilities for different styles of play.” Adkison gave lead-designer Jonathan Tweet and the rest of his team the freedom to bring 25 years of innovation into D&D. The centerpiece of the revamp came in the form of the d20 core mechanic that became the name of the game’s foundation.

Future_of_D+DIn addition to the chaotic rules, D&D’s characters suffered from limitations Gary had created either for game balance or just to make humans the dominant race. “My biggest beef with the older rules were the consistent limitations on what characters could become,” Adkison wrote. “Why couldn’t dwarves be clerics. Why could wizards of some classes only advance to some pre-determined level limit? Why couldn’t intelligent monster races like orcs and ogres pick up character classes? In my mind these restrictions had no place in a rules set but should be restrictions established (if at all) at the campaign-setting level.”

I shared Peter Adkison’s beefs. When Wizards of the Coast made their big announcement leading to the third edition, they produced a shirt giving a taste of the barriers that the new edition shattered. For me, this shirt showed how third edition would embrace 30 years of role-playing game design ideas, and how it swept away senseless limitations. After years often away from D&D, playing other games, third edition welcomed me back.

Why second-edition Dungeons & Dragons dropped thieves and assassins

I have only run an evil-themed D&D campaign once, and only because Wizards of the Coast cornered me. They released the Drow Treachery cards and the Menzoberranzan campaign book and promoted the products with the Council of Spiders season of Dungeons & Dragons Encounters. I’ve served as a dungeon master for every season of Encounters and never considered skipping Council of Spiders, but I questioned the wisdom of promoting an evil, backstabbing campaign, especially in a program geared for new and returning players. My concerns proved valid. Two of the regulars at my table seemed uncomfortable with the evil theme, and one player, call him Benedict, embraced the spirit of the treachery too well.

Lloth and Drow at Gen Con

Lloth and Drow at Gen Con

In the final encounter, Benedict joined the season’s villain and killed the rest of the party. “It’s not personal. I’m just playing my character,” he apologized. Over the years, when someone excuses their character’s actions with “I’m just playing my character,” I’d grown to expect trouble. This time, two regular players from my table never came to encounters again. Maybe they had other obligations, but I suspect the unsatisfactory season contributed to them moving on.

I cannot blame Benedict. Like him, I started in the early years of the hobby, an era that celebrated a character’s ability to attempt any action, and where simulation dominated role playing. How better to simulate an imaginary world than to portray characters of all stripes? By this early ethos, total immersion in character trumped everything. If you failed to play your character to the hilt, then you did the game a disservice. Any game master who interfered with a player’s freedom of action was guilty of an abuse of power. If the player’s actions defied her alignment, penalties might be in order, but if not, anything goes.

And the Council of Spiders Encounters season encouraged treachery.

Still, I should have discouraged Benedict’s betrayal. Some players relish in-party conflict, but unless everyone at the table welcomes such conflict, in-party feuding just encourages hard feelings and lost friends. Folks who welcome treachery should play Paranoia, a game invented for the play style.

Before second edition, D&D promoted classes that fostered party conflict. With thieves and assassins, the trouble begins with class names that encourage bad behavior. What sort of thief fails to steal, and who presents richer targets than the rest of the party? What sort of assassin fails to murder?

As soon as thieves and assassins reached playtesting in 1974, Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk campaign saw trouble. On the EN World forums Gary reminisced, “One or two assassin PCs were played, but the party was always chary about them. Minor pilfering of party treasure was tolerated but having a PC offed by an assassin was most annoying. That happened once, maybe twice, with the offending PC then leaving the game, the player returning as a different character.”

Even as late as 1985’s Unearthed Arcana, the original barbarian class provoked trouble: “Barbarians in general detest magic and those who use it. They will often seek to destroy magic items, and if successful, they receive an experience point award as if they possessed the destroyed items.” What could possibly go wrong?

The designers of D&D’s second edition started moving away from  classes with names that encouraged trouble. In a podcast recalling second-edition’s design, Steve Winter says, “The assassin went away because we had seen through letters from customers and talking to people so many cases of assassins ruining campaigns. People who played assassins felt like that was carte blanche to murder their fellow player characters. We got all the time letters from people asking what do I do with this player? He wants to play an assassin, but he keeps assassinating the other PCs.”

In third edition, “thieves” became “rogues” to discourage similar mischief. Steve Winter explains, “When you’re sitting around the table and the thief player is getting a little bored, and there is another PC standing right in front of him… I can’t count the times that I was at the table and somebody was like, ‘I’m going to pick his pocket.’ And right away everyone is like, ‘Oh don’t, please don’t,’ because everyone knows it’s just going to cause problems within the party.”

Of course, you don’t have to play a thief or assassin to “just play your character,” and to instigate fights among the party. In the Legacy of the Crystal Shard Encounters season, one player embraced the corruption of the black ice and seemed tempted to disrupt the party. This time, I felt willing to forbid any action that would make the players war amongst themselves. But first, I set in-game events that challenged the character to choose between the black ice and his other loyalties, and to the player’s credit, he chose to cast aside the corruption.

Games of Paranoia aside, I no longer see “I’m just playing my character” as an excuse for disruptive play.

[February 15, 2014: Updated to indicate that “thief” became “rogue” in third edition.]

Next: A role-playing game player’s obligation

Proficiency and bounded accuracy in D&D Next

In my last post, I wrote about how the Dungeons & Dragons Next proficiency bonus jams all the tables and rules for attack bonuses and saving throw bonuses and check bonuses into a single rising bonus. This consolidation yields a simpler system, but the proficiency mechanic influences every corner of the game.

Attack roll tables from D&D Rules Cyclopedia

Attack roll tables from D&D Rules Cyclopedia

Proficiency bonuses increase slowly compared to similar bonuses in earlier versions of the game. They top at a mere +6 at 19th level. This slow progression stems from a principle the designers called bounded accuracy, because none of the designers come from the marketing team. Actually, “accuracy” refers to bonuses to the d20 rolls made to-hit, land spells, and make checks. Accuracy is “bounded” because the game no longer assumes characters will automatically gain steep bonuses as they advance to higher levels. See the Legends and Lore post, “Bounded Accuracy” for more.

Bonus to attack

Before third-edition D&D, armor class never rose much. In “‘To Hit’ vs. Armor Class,” longtime D&D designer Steve Winter charts the progression between to-hit rolls and AC. Steve concludes, “In AD&D, as characters advance up the level scale, they constantly gain ground against the monsters’ defenses. A 15th-level fighter doesn’t just hit lower-level monsters more often; he hits all monsters, even those of his own level, more reliably than before.”

This meant that rising attack bonuses eventually made attack rolls into a formality. Mechanically that works, because in early editions, as fighters’ gained levels, their damage increased not because each blow dealt more damage, but because they hit more often.

But attack rolls benefit D&D for two reasons:

  • Hit-or-miss attack rolls add fun. To-hit rolls offer more drama than damage rolls, and the rolls provide intermittent, positive reinforcement to attacks. See “Hitting the to-hit sweet spot” for more.
  • If to-hit bonuses overwhelm armor bonuses, armor and armor class becomes meaningless to high-level combatants. Perhaps this finally explains the chainmail bikini.

To keep attack rolls meaningful, fourth edition makes ACs rise automatically, even though nothing in the game world justifies the rise. (You might say that the rise in AC reflects combatants’ rising ability to evade attacks, but a rise in hit points reflects the same slipperiness.) The steep rise in AC meant that lower-level creatures couldn’t hit higher-level combatants and forced all battles to feature combatants of similar levels. In 4E, physical armor just provides a flavorful rational for the AC number appropriate for a level and role.

D&D Next returns to the older practice of making armor class a measure of actual armor, or at least something equivalent. At high levels, the game keeps to-hit rolls meaningful by limiting the proficiency bonus to that slight +6 at 19th level. With such a small bonus, to-hit rolls never climb enough to make armor pointless. For more, see “Bounded accuracy and matters of taste.”

In the last public playtest, and for the first time in D&D history, every class shares the same attack bonuses. In Next, characters don’t stand out as much for how often they hit as for what happens when they hit.

Bonus to checks

In third and fourth editions, characters gained steep bonuses to skill checks as they advanced in levels. Each game managed the bonuses in a different way, and each approach led to different problems.

In 3E, characters who improved the same skills with every level became vastly better at those skills than any character who lacked the skill. Eventually, DCs difficult enough to challenge specialists become impossible for parties that lacked a specialist. On the other hand, DCs easy enough to give non-specialists a chance become automatic for specialists. By specialists, I don’t mean a hyper-optimized, one-trick character, just a character who steadily improved the same skills.

In 4E, skills grant a constant, +5 bonus, and every character gains a half-level bonus to every check, so everyone gets steadily better at everything. This approach means that no character grows vastly better than their peers at the same level. It does mean that by level 10, a wizard with an 8 strength gains the ability to smash down a door as well as a first-level character with an 18 strength. To keep characters challenged, and to prevent suddenly mighty, strength-8 wizards from hulking out, 4E includes the “Difficulty class by level” table which appears on page 126 of the Rules Compendium. With this table in play, characters never improve their chance of making any checks, they just face higher DCs. Most players felt like their characters walked a treadmill that offered no actual improvements.

For more on checks in 3E and 4E, see “Two problems that provoked bounded accuracy.”

With the proficiency bonuses, D&D Next attempts to thread a needle. High-level bonuses should not reach so high that challenges for proficient characters become impossible for the rest. But the bonuses should go high enough to give proficient characters a chance to stand out and shine.

At the top end, a 19th-level character with an suitable 20 ability score and proficiency will enjoy a +11 to checks. This bonus falls well within the 1-20 range of a die roll, so most tasks within reach of specialist also fall within the ability of an lucky novice. If anything, the maximum +11 for a talented, proficient, level-20 superhero seems weak.

Two bonuses form that +11, the proficiency bonus and the ability modifier. To me, a proficiency bonus that starts at +2 at level 1 and rises to +6 at level 19 threads the needle well enough.

New characters gain a +2 proficiency bonus as opposed to the +4 or +5 skill bonuses in the last two editions. This paints new D&D Next characters as beginners, little better than untrained. New characters must rely on talent to gain an edge.

However, talented characters barely gain any edge either. Typical new characters gain a +3 ability modifier from their highest score. I’ve shown that ability modifiers are too small for checks. Players make 11.3 attack rolls for every 1 check, according to plausible research that I just made up. With so many attacks, a +3 to-hit bonus lands extra hits. With so few checks, a +3 bonus ranks with the fiddly little pluses that the designers eliminate in favor of the advantage mechanic.

The playtest package’s DM Guidelines advise skipping ability checks when a character uses a high ability score: “Take into account the ability score associated with the intended action. It’s easy for someone with a Strength score of 18 to flip over a table, though not easy for someone with a Strength score of 9.” The D&D Next rules demand this sort of DM intervention because the system fails to give someone with Strength 18 a significant edge over a Strength 9 character. The result of the d20 roll swamps the puny +4 bonus. In practice, the system math makes flipping the table only sightly easier at strength 18.

Update: The published game grants level-one characters a +2 proficiency bonus as opposed to the +1 that appeared in the final playtest.

In a curious move, the final public playtest packet eliminates the Thievery skill. Instead, the designers opt to make thieves proficient with thieves’ tools. Why? This results from the elimination of fiddly little pluses such as the +2 once granted by thieves’ tools. Without the +2, why bother with the tools? Now thieves need the tools to gain their proficiency bonus. Somewhere, sometime, a confused player will add a proficiency bonus that they assume they have for thievery, to a bonus for the tools, and double-dip two bonuses.

Next: Saving throw proficiency and ghouls

From the brown books to next, D&D tries for elegance

An elegant role-playing game gains maximum play value out of a concise set of simple rules.

Elegant rules…

  • apply broadly so fewer rules can cover whatever happens in the game.
  • play quickly with minimal math and little need to reference or memorize.
  • can be easily explained and understood.
  • produce outcomes that match what players expect in the game world.
  • enable players to anticipate how their characters’ actions will be resolved and the likely outcomes, something I call resolution transparency.

Rules-light role-playing games maximize economy by applying just a few rules across the entire game, but they sacrifice resolution transparency.

Dungeons & Dragons has never qualified as a rules-light system, but the game has grown more elegant by eliminating rules and applying the rules that remain more broadly. In “Design Finesse,” D&D patriarch Mike Mearls writes, “You’re more likely to introduce elegance to a game by removing something than by adding it.”

Elegant role-playing games start with economical rules, yet they still invite players into their characters, give them plenty of freedom to make interesting choices, and provide easy ways to resolve the actions so the outcomes make sense in the game world.

D&D started as an inelegant game: a bunch of mechanics that Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax dreamed up as they refereed, which Gary then wrote in his stream-of-consciousness style. In “A Brief History of Roleplaying,” Shannon Appelcline writes, “In various early versions of D&D and AD&D, you had one system to model Strength (a range of 3-17, then 18/01 to 18/00), one to model all the other characteristics (3-18), one to model armor class (10 to -10), one to model thief ability (0-100%), one to model skill in combat (a to-hit number from 20 to 1), one to model clerical spells (7 levels of magic), one to model magic-user spells (9 levels of magic), etc.”

Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax

Why so many systems? No one knew anything about RPG design, because none existed. Also, during D&D’s formative years, Gary was an incorrigible collaborator, always willing to add a friend’s new rule to the mix. Each of Gary’s brown-book D&D releases features the work of a different collaborator. Even in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Gary couldn’t say no to additions like weapon speeds and psionics—additions he regretted.

In 1977 and 1978, role-playing game design took two huge steps: Traveller introduced a skill system. Runequest united all action resolution around a core mechanic. These two games charted a course for elegant RPG design, and virtually all games to follow built on their innovations.

Player's Handbook (2nd edition)

Player’s Handbook (2nd edition)

Second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons cut some rules that no one ever used, but the system’s core remained mired in the RPG stone age. In a D&D podcast episode examining the second edition, designer Steve Winter said, “There were all kinds of changes that we would have made if we had been given a free hand to make them—an awful lot of what ultimately happened in third edition. We heard so many times, ‘Why did you keep armor classes going down instead of going up?’ People somehow thought that that idea had never occurred to us. We had tons of ideas that we would have loved to do, but we still had a fairly narrow mandate that whatever was in print should still be largely compatible with second edition.”

When 2E appeared in 1989, game publishers still limited new editions to corrections and tweaks. If a publisher wanted to create an incompatible new version of a game, they coined a new name, such as Megatraveller and Runequest: Slayers. Of second edition AD&D, Steve Winter says, “The [TSR] executives where terrified of the idea of upsetting the whole customer base and driving away customers, coupled with the idea that if we put out a new book, what happens to all the old books? We have stores with all these books. we won’t sell any new players handbooks for a year while we’re making the new edition because people will know what’s coming.” How different from the modern market, where people accuse publishers of issuing new editions just to spur sales?

It took the sale of TSR, and a new edition from Wizards of the Coast, to give D&D twenty-year-old innovations such as skills and a core mechanic. Third edition simplified by consolidating a myriad of different rules into the d20 check that gave the core system its name. On the whole, 3E isn’t simpler than AD&D, but it took the complexity budget earned through simplification, and used it to add depth to tactical combat and to character options.

Emboldened by the acclaim for the big changes in 3E, the 4E designers felt willing to outdo the changes. The designers attacked some complexities that the third-edition designers had kept as sacred cows. For instance, fourth edition eliminated traditional saving throws by consolidating their function with attack rolls.

Fourth edition tried for a simpler game by focusing on exception-based design. This principle makes trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering playable despite the tens of thousands of cards in print. The 4E designers built a system on a concise set of core rules, and then added depth by adding abilities and powers that make exceptions to the rules.

Even with 4E’s concise core, the thousands of powers and thousands of exceptions produced more rules than any prior edition. Still, no RPG delivers more resolution transparency than 4E. In sacrifice, the edition often fails to model the game world, creating a world with square fireballs, where you can be on fire and freezing at the same time, where snakes get knocked prone, and where you can garrote an ooze.

Among all the simplifications in 4E, only the use of standard conditions appear to remain in D&D Next.

Both 3E and 4E used more elegant rules to produce simpler core systems, but both editions grew as complicated as ever.  In “D&D Next Goals, Part One,” Mearls writes, “New editions have added more rules, more options, and more detail. Even if one area of the game became simpler, another area became far more difficult to grasp.” The D&D Next designers aim to deliver a simpler, more elegant core game, and then to add options that players can ignore if they wish. “We need to make a game that has a simple, robust core that is easy to expand in a variety of directions. The core must remain unchanged as you add more rules. If we achieve that, we can give new players a complete game and then add additional layers of options and complexity to cater to more experienced gamers.”

Next:  How D&D Next moves toward a simpler core game.

Gotcha traps

Return to Undermountain trapLongtime Dungeons & Dragons designer Steve Winter puts traps into four categories. While I like the ideas inspired by his story traps and back traps, I focus trap design on two categories.

  • Gotcha traps are the traps thieves can find and disarm. When triggered, they can deal damage comparable to the attrition of a combat encounter.
  • Puzzle traps are the traps that defy a rogue or thief’s skills, but that reveal clues to their presence. With strong enough clues, puzzle traps can be death traps.

Both categories under the umbrella of D&D traps, but they share almost nothing in common. Each contributes different elements to the game and requires a different approach to design.

Gotcha traps

Gotcha traps include things like trap doors, poison darts, and falling rocks. As my name suggests, these traps catch unwary adventurers by surprise. Typically, no one cares about the mechanisms and operation of these traps, so the rogue just rolls to disable them, or the party steps around them.

Gotcha traps contribute to the game in three ways:

  • They offer the rogue a chance to shine—and not by demonstrating her ability to backstab a magical crossbow turret for massive damage.
  • They add to the ambiance of the dungeon. I like my dungeons to feel like dangerous places where one wrong step can bring sudden death (even if it probably won’t). On page 6 of Underworld and Wilderness Adventures, Gary Gygax writes, “Besides those [traps] already indicated on the sample level, there are a number of other easily added tricks and traps. The fear of ‘death,’ its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the campaign referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance for survival.”
  • They cool off the instigator. You know that guy who grows impatient with caution and planning, and so just opens all the doors at once? Everyone who enjoys a more thoughtful game and everyone who actually cares about keeping their character alive loves to see that guy get zapped.

To make gotcha traps work in the game, follow three guidelines:

  • Gotcha traps must appear in places that attract attention and in places where a trap might make sense. This means dungeon doors, chests, and mysterious idols make fair places for traps. However, if you punish players with a tripwire in a random corridor or a pressure plate in an empty room, players soon learn to check everything and play grinds to a halt. If the players stumble on a gotcha trap in a place they failed to search, they should feel guilty of an oversight, not victim of a pernicious dungeon master.
  • Gotcha traps cannot inflict more damage than a typical combat encounter. Blown rolls will cause players to blunder into some gotcha traps, so the effects cannot be lethal. You can read Grimtooth’s traps, but do not put them in play. In Underworld and Wilderness Adventures, Gary writes, “There is no question that a player’s character could easily be killed by falling into a pit thirty feet deep or into a shallow pit filled with poisoned spikes, and this is quite undesirable in most instances.”
  • Gotcha traps must appear infrequently so they don’t grow tiresome.

Next: Puzzle traps.