Friday, December 9, 2016

Traps or "What Was that 'Click'?"

Starting Point

One of the knock-on effects of translating spells is that, as you are thinking up how spells are going to interact with the gameworld, you also realize that there are parts of the world that still need extra definition.

The most recent situation that has come up (with Clerical spell translation) is Traps.

Though Fate Core talks about traps and the system doesn't need any new rules to handle traps, during the process of translating the "Find Traps" spell it became clear I needed to clarify a few things in my own head about Traps before getting the spell dialed in.

Granularity of Traps

So, how important are "traps" in a particular game world?

Depending upon your preferences or circumstances, a trap could just be a single-roll, Passive Opposition "Overcome" action and gameplay continues.

However in the dungeon-laden gameworld of Greyhawk, I believe dealing with traps to be a fairly important activity and worthy of some depth.

Traps are Niche Protection

The gameworld of Greyhawk is one where characters have a class (or niche). Meaning there is a degree of specialization to each class--each class is good at something.

This also provides some narrative justification for the notion of a "balanced" party of adventurers. Fighters are in the party to fight monsters and thereby keep everyone alive long enough to get to the treasure. Similarly, thieves are in the party because there's going to be traps to be defeated and thus, they also do their part to also keep everyone alive long enough to get the treasure.

So with a goal that each player's character should have their moments to shine, I think it makes sense to have traps be considered as important, or have as much game depth, as monsters?

Fortunately, Fate Core gives us a convenient method by which to define Traps as being as important as Monsters with the "fractal" approach.

In short: define Traps more like monsters.

Traps are Monstrous

A GM could use the same broad categorizations with Traps as you do with monsters:

  • Mook Traps
  • Supporting Traps
  • Named Traps

Mook Traps

Mook Traps would probably be just a simple one-time Overcome Opposition roll using Burglary or Crafts. A tie or failure would then result in success at a minor cost or serious cost.1

Example: A Thief attempts to disarm a Trap with a +4 difficulty, and only generates a +3 result. The trap was sprung, but at a minor cost. The GM chooses to let the player think up how that complicates matters. "You disarmed the trap on the chest but something goes wrong. What happened?"

The point is that if there is a thief in the party, Mook Traps can be little more than an annoyance. However without a thief, even a simple Mook Trap might break a fighter's hand and could present a serious risk to the party's survival.

Supporting / Named Traps

As expected, these traps would be more involved. Meaning that if Traps are defined similar to monsters, and thieves are "trap combat specialists", then...

Traps Have Skills

A trap's Attack skill (I'll call it "Deadliness")

A skill representing ability to "defend" against "attacks" by thieves' Burglary skill. I'll just call it "Difficulty to Disarm", to be more consistent with Mook Traps.

Stealth skill if the trap is hidden.

Traps Could Have Aspects

A few examples could be: Poison Gas, Magic trap, Complicated gears and cogs, That's gonna require a block and tackle!

Traps Could Have Stunts

Zone Attack (I can't think of others at the moment--feel free to suggest trap stunts in the comments)

Traps Could Have Stress Tracks

A trap might require a certain amount of damage done to it (disarming it multiple times, or a sufficient degree of bashing), before it's rendered harmless.

What Traps Don't Have

Traps only have Active Opposition2 in the event that the Trap is considered as "attacking" a player. Remember that Passive Opposition, doesn't get a dice roll.

Traps probably wouldn't have Consequences. If they even have a stress track, once it is exceeded, it's Taken out.

Sandboxing a Trap

For the examples that follow, use these statistics...

The Thief

The Thief has the following statistics:

  • Burglary: +2
  • Athletics: +1
  • Notice: +1
  • Physical Track: OO

The Lock

The Lock on the Treasure Chest has the following statistics:

  • Difficulty to Pick: +3
  • Physical Track: OOO

The Trap

The Trap on the Lock has the following statistics:

  • Deadliness: +2
    • Aspect: Poison Needle Within the Lock
  • Concealment: +2
  • Difficulty to Disarm: +1

The Conflict

Does the Thief Find the Trap?

This is a contest between the Trap's Concealment rating and the Thief's Notice skill.

There's a couple ways a GM might go about this...

Thief is Passively using "Notice"

The DM could consider that the Thief is always using Notice skill in a passive sense (even if only to avoid hearing it repeatedly at the gaming table), and then you could just compare the Concealment of the Trap against the Notice Skill, and go from there.

A Tie would be resolved according to "The Four Outcomes" [^2] ...look under "Mook Traps" above for an idea what to say in that circumstance.

Even in the event of failure, and that if the Trap is not noticed (the difficulty being higher than the skill), the Thief's player could elect to spend a Fate point and alter the narrative.

Alternatively, the GM could also choose to roll the dice for the Thief without saying why (and increase the tension).

Thief is Actively using "Notice"

If the Thief is focused on actively looking for Traps (which could then be used against the Thief if a monster is laying in wait nearby...), then the Thief gets to use the normal 4dF roll to Overcome the difficulty.

Does the Player Know there is a Trap?

In Fate games, there's often an assumption at the table that the player knows more than what the player's character knows. This is in contrast to how most source material game sessions went in the past, where the player only knew what the player's character experienced.

So now, the GM would tell the player of a Thief that a trap is on the locked chest, and then prompt the player to roll to determine if the Thief finds it. However if the Thief fails, the player still knows there was a Trap (which can create a more cinematically-flavored tension at the table). The players are now similar to movie watchers who know there's a trap on the chest, as the Thief's hands edge closer to the poison needle...

So the Thief's Notice Skill generates...

(Skill "Notice", +1) + (Dice 4dF, +2) = +3

...against the Trap's Concealment of +2...

(Thief +3) - (Trap +2) = +1

...for a successful noticing of the Trap.

So now the Thief is aware of the Trap and the aspect. Keep in mind that the Trap has not yet been disabled, and it's still deadly! However the fact that the Thief knows it's there prevents it from being deadlier than if it was a surprise. Forewarned is forearmed!

Disarming the Trap

The Thief attempts to Disarm the poison needle for a value of...

(Skill "Burglary", +2) + (Dice 4dF, +1) = +3

The Trap's "Difficulty to Disarm" is +1 so...

(Attempt, +3) - (Difficulty to Disarm, +1) = +2 to the attempt

...and so the Thief has successfully disarmed the poison needle trap. Note here that the trap is only providing passive opposition and doesn't get a die roll.

Picking the Lock

So the Thief attempts to pick the lock with the following examples...

The Trap is Armed

If the Trap is armed, then the during the Thief's action to pick the lock, the Trap interrupts the action by attacking the Thief:

(Skill "Deadliness", +2) + (Dice 4dF, -1) + (Aspect Poison Needle Within the Lock, +2) = +5 attack

The Thief tries to snatch his hands back, defending with...

(Skill "Athletics", +1) + (Dice 4dF, -1) = +0 defense

...for a result of...

(Attack, +5) - (Defense, +0) = +5 stress to defender

The Thief (defender) takes 5 stress to his physical track, which will likely lead to a Minor Consequence of "Poisoned". Additionally, the lock has not been picked.

What about Armor?

Any defensive benefit of armor depends upon the nature of the Trap and the nature of the armor. In this example, a poison needle in the lock, the thief would be assumed to have removed any mundane armor covering his hands. Magical protection might still be of use in this circumstance, however.

The Trap is Disarmed

If the trap has already been disarmed, or has already been sprung (from the example above), it might look like this...

The Thief attempts to Pick the Lock for a value of...

(Skill "Burglary", +2) + (Dice 4dF, +3) = +5

The Trap's "Difficulty to Pick" is +3 so...

(Attempt, +5) - (Diffculty, +3) = +2 to the attempt

...and so the Thief has successfully opened the lock on the chest.

Other Thoughts on Traps

"Just Bash It!"

It's possible to try open the chest by just chopping it with an axe or attempting to break the lock with a prybar. Again, depending upon the circumstances, the Trap might injure the party in the attempt, the violence might damage the treasure held within the chest, or might alert nearby enemies to your presence and intention. Your mileage may vary.


Also remember that circumstances in a dungeon can make the thief's job a lot harder than if disarming a trap was done under "laboratory" conditions.

  • Combat is going on.
  • The thief is injured / hung over.
  • Mental consequences.
  • Did you Hear Something? Monsters are about.
  • Do You Mind?? Other PCs are looking over his shoulder because they don't trust the thief with a treasure chest (even a trapped one).

  1. Fate Core, p. 189. 

  2. Fate Core, p. 131. 

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