"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Friday, May 7, 2010

If the thief is rolling the dice he is already dead

In my 2E game, there is a player who's character is a thief. Even though this is a 2E game, and some people only see evil when they think of 2E, this player is playing his thief very old-school. Last night, the thief an 3 other members of the party were investigating a ruined pyramid that they discovered was littered with traps. As the thief successfully lead the party through the deadly maze it made me think about the thief skill of find/remove traps.

A specific example of one incident... the party came upon a room in the pyramid that was still under construction when the pyramid was abandoned. The thief quickly emptied his backpack and filled it and some large sacks with broken chunks of brick and stone. He then spent the next while dropping or throwing chunks of rock where ever he thought there may be a pressure-plate or tripwire. It was activities such as this that made me think that the find traps skill is really akin to a saving throw.

If the thief-player is using his head, the find traps ability becomes the last resort - the "holy crap I hope this saves me" - dice roll that a saving throw represents. If the player describes what precautions he is taking and how he is protecting himself, the percentage roll to find traps becomes an after-thought except in the more devious of circumstances.


  1. Nice summary, and great visualization.

    I agree with the concept. In fact, I believe that the ability should be:
    "Avoid Traps: +2 saving throw vs traps, increase by +1/2 levels"

  2. I agree - there's the "common sense, everybody should be doing this" way to find traps, then there's the game mechanic that saves his bacon if everything else fails...OR - if the player of the thief isn't nearly as old school as yours...then he needs to hope he rolls really well...

  3. But isn't "find traps" an active skill? And saving throws RE-active?

  4. I think they mean something like this:

    "I stand to the side of the door, and throw the bag on the pressure plate on the floor"

    But the DM knows the pressure plate causes spears to fly out in the area around the door, so the Thief's safeguards didn't automatically save him. So now he rolls his Traps skill to avoid the trap.

    Alternatively, if the player isn't descriptive enough for the DM to give it to him automatically, he rolls. Example:

    "I stay off to the side of the garden path, sneaking between the wall and the shrubbery, so I stay off the gravel and out of the light. I watch the guard and move when he's looking the other way"

    Would be automatic success, while:

    "I move silently down the path"

    Would require a roll.

    Problem with this might be bogging down the game with the equivalent of "I look at the floor, walls, ceiling, doorway, and my fellow party members. What do I see, smell, hear? Are there air currents? What is the temperature? How moist is it?" When you enter every single room.

  5. There was a Dragonsfoot thread on perception and notice checks, and I see those just like you do for find/remove traps. They're saving throws. Most of the game is about your choices. Those choices - do you talk to the orc, do you use a 10' pole, did you plan and pack spikes, are much more what this game of exploration is about than the dice rolls. Isn't it?

  6. It's easy to become a slave to the rules to the point where actual roleplaying is sacrificed or neglected. This post is a breath of fresh air.

  7. @ TimmyD
    That is a very interesting idea for an alternate thief class.

  8. @Daen
    I was a little worried about how deadly exploring the pyramid could be. After all the 2E thief only had a 30% in Find/Remove Traps. There was about 10 traps of which he would likely only find 3 just using his dice rolls.

    However, using the descriptive measures and some smart thinking they found all but 2 of them both of which caused some damage but never really threatened the party.

  9. @JB,
    Yes, that is a good point and falls exactly in with how I described the various B/X resolution systems in a previous post.

    By thinking of find traps as a saving throw I am more looking at the "last resort" or "crap I hope this saves me" aspect.

  10. Gygax may have been a kill-all-the-player-characters-you-can sadist, but I think he designed D&D to avoid the numbers-save-your-butt mentality of some people. He realized numbers and ie rolls were not what made the game fun. Why din't he start out all PCs with triple hit die to make them survive?

    1) Everything the PCs get so do NPCs.

    2) It taught that thinking and planning was the name of the game.

    DM: "You see sixteen orcs lounging around the temple door."

    Player: "We rush out and attack."

    Die are rolled: the PCs kill three orcs. The orcs kill all five PCs.

    Next game:

    DM: "You see sixteen orcs lounging around the temple door."

    Player: "Crap. What can we do to keep from being butchered?"

    And so the game starts centering around thinking, not die rolls and numbers... The thief could have been given skills where they always found traps and so on PCs could have been made super heroes from the start -- and players would have stopped thinking, gotten bored and quit...

  11. The way I always handled the Find Traps ability was the implication that the player isn't as skilled or practiced as the character he's playing. Additionally there's only so much information a DM can give out at any one time unless the game is play by post. Therefore, the player can still take sensible precautions(throwing a sack full of rubble ahead of the group or what have you) and still make the Find Traps roll to be on the look out for things the player might not be on guard for but the character would know to look for or for things that would be obvious to the player, but the DM had to cut parts of his description in the interest of game pacing.