Tuesday, September 27, 2016

d14 Trapped Chests

Trapped chests.  A classic feature of the dungeon, and yet one that is often as much fun as spilling a box of cereal.

I'm writing this post under the assumption that you're running an OSR game, and that there is no Perception or Disable Device skill or whatever.  All traps and shit like that is done with the old-fashioned "I like under the rug." "You find a trap door." method.

(Digression: Finding and disabling traps is a goddamn dungeon staple.  It's bread and butter.  And yet Perception + Disable Device is the shittiest fun way to handle it, because you're just throwing those skills at problems like a robot.  It becomes a test of the character sheet, rather than the player.)

First warning: before you start throwing trapped chests at your players, make sure that they know that trapped chests are a possibility in this place.  You can warn implicitly, by throwing some gently-trapped doors at them early on, or showing the corpses of people killed by trapped chests, or explicitly, just by telling them "You heard that dwarves often trapped their funereal chests."

Second warning: no pixel-bitching.  Having players exhaustively search every chest they find is exhausting.  No surprise there.  Make the clues obvious.  Make the solution obvious.  And by obvious clues I mean "give them the information they need easily".  And by obvious solutions I mean "solutions should be apparent that they are solutions."  (Especially with traps, which sometimes carry big costs for failure.)

Shark Fact: traps don't have to be hard.  They don't have to kill players.  They can (and should) but a trapped chest can be an enjoyable experience even if it doesn't fuck people up.  It's okay for a trap to simply be an interesting feature, or an interesting decision.  

1. Skeleton slumped out in the hallway.  Needle sticking out of the keyhole.  Covered with some blackish grease.  (This is poison.)  Chest cannot be opened until the needle is pushed back into the keyhole and the trap reset.  A player with a shield or gauntlet could easily push it back into the keyhole.  The poison needle could also be broken off; this yields a useful poison needle, but makes it awfully hard to unlock the chest (since you have to push the mechanism back into place).

Shark Fact: This first trapped chest is pretty harmless, but it's interesting.  An accurate investigation of it (or a successful Disable Device check) will yield the information about how it works, but the players still have to decide for themselves if they want to break off the needle or push it back in.

2. In a room with a metal floor, a stone plinth holds a copper chest.  The chest is electified, of course.  Just knock it off the plinth with a quarterstaff.  (Live wires run up through the center of the plinth.)

Shark Fact: Chests often contain fragile things like potions, scrolls, and art objects!  Each of these has a 50% chance of breaking if the chest is smashed open or dropped!  Yay!

3. There is a chest on a plinth.  A pressure plate beneath the chest is triggered when the chest is picked up, or if it is lightened.  The trap can be thwarted by putting items in the chest of an equal weight.  Anyone who starts picking up the chest or emptying out its contents will hear the mechanism start to click beneath the chest, and will have a chance to put the put it back down.

Shark Fact: Give your players the benefit of the doubt.  Unless they tell you otherwise, always assume that they are doing it carefully, slowly, and observantly.  (If you are using the old rules where it takes a 10-minute adventuring turn to do anything at all--this is why.)

4. After opening the chest an inch, a tripwire is visible on the inside.  If the chest is opened more than an inch, the wire is tripped and the vial of flesh-eating gas inside the chest is broken.  (This isn't really a trap, it's more like a second treasure.  What's the chest going to contain that's cooler than a pre-made flesh-eating gas bomb?)

Shark Fact: Even though you are giving your players the benefit of the doubt, there's still going to be some idiot who announces "I'm going to open the chest as fast as I can while standing behind it!" or "I'm going to throw it down the stairs!" so don't be too sad; your flesh-eating gas will probably still get to kill someone, even though that isn't its primary purpose.

5. Chest is full of bee golems.  Or just one big bee golem.  It buzzes angrily when you shake the box.  And if you open the chest, you can shut the door in time if you win initiative.

6. Chest is part of a support pillar.  Smashing the chest will collapse the pillar, and bring down the whole ceiling.  Attempting to pick the lock and failing will have the same result.  There's a key later in the dungeon, but players are pretty much guaranteed to be hasty and fuck it up anyway.

7.  Chest is covered in green slime.  Chest is made out of a highly explosive ceramic.  (You might want to preface this one with evidence of exploded chests, or even better small containers made of explosive ceramic.)

8. Chest stinks of chemicals.  It is full of acid.  All of the treasure is metal.

9. Chest is a chest of non-detection.  Always appears empty.  Actually contains gems and shit.  (Alternatively, contains a ghoul assassin taking advantage of the chests effects.)

10. Chest of contrariness.  Chest has a tinted glass window that allows you to see it's contents.  When the chest is open, the contents become locked in a force field.  The chest is solved by just leaving it closed and then reaching through the (now intangible) window.

11. Chest is only visible in a mirror.  To open it, you must insert the key into the keyhole (by watching yourself in the mirror).  The chest is silver and awesome looking.  There is also a fake chest in the room, covered in blood and spikes.  Inserting the key into the false chest causes it to shooting out ninja stars.

12.  Chest is chained to the wall.  Beside the chest is a bloodstained butcher board, complete with a cleaver.  (The chest is actually a mimic.  If you feed it some tasty meat before you approach it, it will let you take items out of it.  It'll probably purr while you do it, too.

13. Wall of gripping metal hands.  Hands will only allow you to take an item if you give them an item of the same time.  For example, they won't release the magic sword until you give them a different sword (of any time).  There is at least one item that is difficult to replace (like what do you have to give them in order for them to release the creepy doll)?

14. Chests with particular opening conditions.  The blue chest covered in painted fish can only be opened underwater.  The chest depicting witches flying over a clock can only be opened at the witching hour (between 3 and 4 am).  The chest covered in painted birds only opens at the touch of a bird.  (You can invent a million of these, I bet.)


  1. number 14 is especially neat.
    Number 2 could have a double trap with the breakables inside the chest create an explosion, poison gas cloud, or fire. (or all 3). And also destroy anything inside the chest that the owner would prefer to be destroyed than stolen