[edit: this was written late at night.]
You’ve all encountered them. A pitfall, some sort of arcane thing, a hallway of swinging blades or pressure plates, maybe a door or chest with something that will harm you if you don’t disarm it. Those are all well and good and I certainly don’t have any new and creative ways to help you utilize them or make them less of a chore as a player. What I do have is a few concepts for you to consider while deciding how to employ them!
First, let’s go over what a trap is meant to do. It’s a short list and it varies depending on the type of trap you’re implementing but we’ll run through it anyway. A trap is designed to; deny access, deny land transit or use, sabotage an item or place, cause physical loss, cause trauma (physical, emotional or mental), slow movement or physically hold a person or thing. All this seems pretty straightforward yeah? Not so much. In Monday’s show you’ll hear Brian and Mark talk about traps from an experienced GM and player’s perspective. To me falls the narrative and real world equivalents. But right now I’m going to talk about my take on how they might be encountered in a more realistic setting.
Traps aren’t used in one capacity only. They aren’t used one type at a time. They are used for a purpose. Defensively they are used to stop movement (land denial) and funnel access (direct motion) into strong points. Think about an outpost or a fire base of the Korean or Vietnam conflict. A minefield is laid out around the outpost, covering the less obvious approaches. This leads to barbed wire or some type of barrier designed to slow an opponent and allow defending forces to engage with better effect. Heavier concentrations of barbed wire and even trenches or pits might be employed, filled with sharp stakes or uncomfortable objects (broken glass) near the main approaches. All around are noise makers (simple wires with empty cans) and trip flares (for visually marking an enemy’s advance) finally there are command detonated mines near weak points to use if enemy concentrations are too strong to repel by force of arms. By layering these and other traps and deterrents the ability of those inside the outpost to defend themselves is magnified and your ability as an infiltrator or attacker to move through and to the base itself is seriously hindered.
In an offensive posture traps tend to be employed to ambush, and are also layered. For example: you are attempting to ambush an opposing force on a road or trail. You set several command detonated mines at the front and rear of your kill-zone. In the brush or to the sides you set traditional mines or ankle traps and pits to impede movement away from your kill-zone. You might rig trees or power poles to fall or blow over to block larger movement. As your opposition moves in to the area you wait until your chosen moment, detonate your lead munition, wait a moment for your opposition to asses and attempt to withdraw... then you detonate the rear munition and proceed to assault from an advantageous position, trusting your other traps to contain your foe until you have destroyed them. Alternatively you may follow a similar pattern but use your mines and traps to push your foe in a desired direction towards a larger force or a better kill-zone. In this instance traps serve as a force multiplier or combat aide.
Both of these examples assume, and I hope, that combat is in some way linked to your use. But there is a last, more narrative driven way in which I would advise you use your traps. Psychologically.
Traps produce stress and tension. Which builds into issues of trust in surroundings and locals (that friendly small town’s inhabitants for example). In supposedly safe areas, traps can be employed in heinous ways. Explosives or magical equivalents hidden among the ill, injured or dead. Corpses (poison and disease) in water sources and food caches. Friendly buildings rigged to collapse when the party reaches a certain point inside. Coerced locals can pass poison and other traps to your party. Flares and incendiaries can be set in important structures on time delays to cause maximum chaos and trauma your party may need to then deal with.
In the end the level of realism you want to add is down to you and your party. The small examples I have provided here should serve as a jumping off point for you to inflict the most damage in a way that seems cohesive to your players without being mean.
Odd, weirdly punctuated and mostly unhelpful as always I leave you now to your own devices my game running friends. May the horrors consume you, and the pall of realism fall heavy on your creative and probably positive minds.