This begins a new series at Many-Sided Dice about traps and making interesting ones. We’ll dial in on a running format in the coming weeks.
Squick sat in the hall, staring at the wide and deep chamber beyond. They’d been in this tomb for eight days. Eight very long days, and they’d already lost one of their own. Ser Broadways hadn’t said anything about Kilmut’s death, hadn’t said hardly anything about anything at all since the day before yesterday. This was a place of dead things and their count would include one more now.
But, Squick wasn’t sentimental. He was here for the job and the riches and while Brodie might be here for noble purpose, Squick wasn’t ashamed of his greed. It made him clever, the avarice. It made him careful. You can’t enjoy money when you’re dead. And so, staring into the chamber with hints of gold and silver and polished marble glinting back to them from the light of their torches, everyone knew to hold fast. If Squick wasn’t charging into the dusty chamber of riches, there must be a damn good reason.
After a long few moments, and a few more consulting his leather note book, the old thief asked for a coin. Broadways eschewed money, so Teller handed him a thick bronze sovereign. Wiping it off, carefully, with a white kerchief, Squick stood up and launched it like a child skipping a stone. On its first kiss of the arid, sandy floor the coin stopped—edge cocked to the side, rim barely touching the ground, frozen and unmoving…
History: The Fratery of the Sands, a conclave and tradition of monks of the Elos Desert going back as long as recorded history, have served the great civilizations that have flourished and declined there without agenda and almost dispassionately—from the noble free cities of the third age to the dark empire of serpents and conquest. Their brother- and sisterhood viewed the purity of the great sun-bleached dunes as being the true, still, calm death that awaits all things. Not horrorful, but clean and final.
One of the ways they served was to consecrate the lost cities, forgotten citadels, noble tombs, and other places where life moved on from with an alchemical sand meant to preserve the beautiful quiet and stillness of the abandoned structure. The Fratery was killed off, to the last member, when the New Empire came to power in recent centuries.
System: Hoardsand is not perfectly magical, and does not give off any true arcane emanation. It looks almost identical to normal pale sand, as anyone might find in any desert or sun-beaten beach, except to the most scrupulous eye (Passive Perception DC 18) which might note that the sand appears to be spread deliberately, covering the whole floor where found, rather than naturally accumulating toward the corners or other features of the space.
Hoardsand reactions to any substance that touches it, aside from air and water. It turns, instantly, into a form of alchemical cement upon contact with leather, wood, metal, glass, flesh, bone, etc. Anything that comes into contact with it is held fast to the stone below. In this way, tomb robbers often find themselves stuck, starving, and eventually as dead as the tomb they came to rob.
The first person to move onto a square (for those using battlemats) with Hoardsand spread onto it finds their foot rooted firm, requiring a Dex Save DC 15 or fall over (prone, and thus stuck along a whole side of one’s body)—on a success, one catches one’s balance with the other foot ahead of the stuck one and doesn’t fall over, though both feet are stuck (one is grappled). Pulling one’s body or limbs free of boots and clothing stuck to the ground requires an Athletics or Acrobatics check DC 10 for boots and gloves, DC 15 for robes and clothes, DC 20 for armor (any kind). Should bare flesh touch the Hoardsand, it will adhere as well requiring a Strength Save DC 10, on a success one has freed their body part but will take 1d6 slashing damage from ripping layers of skin and flesh away.
Neutralizing unreacted (nothing yet stuck to it) Hoardsand requires either an Alchemy or Herbalism Kit and a half hour of sampling, dissolving, and testing the particulars of it—this must be uninterrupted. After which, one may make a solution of water and mixed in reagents that can be used to negate the adhesive properties of the sand. Mixing the solution requires only a few moments and a gallon of water per 5ft square.
Neutralizing reacted (things stuck to it) Hoardsand is not possible short of magical dissolving potions or unguents. However, if the rest of the area is neutralized, one may be able to chip and stonecraft items free with appropriate tools (stonemason tools, chisels and picks) and time. The stone will still be stuck to the item, but at least the item is free and may be usable.
Making the Trap Easier/Harder:
- Placement – Placing the Hoardsand away from entrances will alter the difficulty of this trap. Easier, place the sand near an entrance—this mostly guarantees that only one party member gets affected before people know what’s up. Harder, place it toward the back of a room (so they enter and grow comfortable with the space) and in patches near interesting things like bookshelves or mysterious (small) writing.
- Triggers – the world can force a the reaction as well. Easier, the party simply stumbles across it and gets boots and sleeves stuck. Harder, the sand is located around the perimeter of the bottom of a shallow pit one falls into–the trigger being they might fall onto it unluckily or get stuck as they move to the edge to climb out.
- Combat – For certain, areas without encounters make this a safe trap that might only hamper PC progress and make them very paranoid about sand; but any encounters, even small ones, can make this dangerous. Grappled party members, prone party members–all vulnerable to even weak flying creatures (bats? low CR ghosts?).
When Kurt jimmied the door open, he found it piled high and obstructed with dozens of bodies. Some dead only months, perhaps, but a few dry and skeletal, tumbled all together with their weapons and packs. It was almost as though he were looking up from the bottom of a pit where heroes and villains all had fallen over the years. Bodies. A heap of bodies.
He poked one, in his experience it didn’t pay to wait for the horrors of the deep places to pick a time most suitable to them to attack… no, one might as well poke every body one finds in such a place. Best case, it was just dead and that’s all the well. Worst case, the thing rears up to murder you, but better on your tersm and time than theirs.
Poking one and then two, nothing. Three. Nothing.
Kurt pushed and pulled and crawled over them, staring down the length of the long tunnel. It didn’t take a genius to figure out something down there did this here. And, whatever it was, it wasn’t greedy. Kurt backed out of the passage and started looting bodies. He’d call it an early day and head back to town—let whatever thing down here liked stacking bodies stack away.
History: Whereas many diabolical devices over the years and across the land were created to punish trespassers or ensnare them, some few were designed to absolutely keep things away. The conjurers of the Brandobian Imperial Courts, loyal servants of the old empire, were masters of the Galeward, a mesh of arcane and mechanical technology that brought forth a very tiny sliver of the Elemental Plane of Air to bear as a protection from fast hands and skulking sneakthieves.
While some of the Arch-mages and Master mage-wrights of their heritage still possess the ability and requisite skill, the times when such things were used have long fell out of fashion. Knowing what a galeward is requires either a History check DC 18 or an Arcane check DC 16 (advantaged if one is a Conjurer).
System: A galeward looks like a great curved piece of wrought iron and is often placed over a doorway or on the wall behind something others shouldn’t touch. They are imperceptible an unremarkable at long distances, but if within 60ft the DC to notice (Passive Perception) is 16 and if within 30 ft the DC is 12.
At each end of the curved rod there is a hollow and within that a screw that can be turned this way and that in sequence to turn it on and off—assuming one has the right Thieves Tools or Tinkering Tools to run a thin metal slat several inches into a narrow hole and twist the screw correctly. Deactivating a galeward is a check with either tool set against a DC of 15. The manner in which they’re anchored into and built into walls often precludes removing them, however.
The metal rod has countless pinholes in it from which an airy breeze seems to emanate. With a change in air pressure, the galeward’s interior baffles retreat and tiny portals to the Plane of Air are clear, bringing a hurricane-like force of wind that blows away from the rod with tremendous force. This change of air pressure can be caused by the opening of doors to the chamber it is in or any significant fire or air related magic, it takes maybe ten seconds or so for the change in pressure from these events to effect and activate the galeward.
Once activated, the galeward blows winds in excess of hundreds of miles per hour and continues to blow for potentially days before resetting. Anyone within 120ft. of a galeward when it activates is blown away from it (in one direction, often to the back of the chamber or hall it is in). Treat every 10 ft. one blown backward as falling damage against the back wall or hard surface they hit (1d6 blugdeoning per 10ft). Every affected person gets a Dex Save DC 14 to land against the surface feet first rather than flat against it. While the galewind is active, consider “gravity” to be sideways with the landing surface “the floor” and the galewind “above” keeping people “down”.
Standing up against the galewind requires an Athletics check DC 20. climbing the floor towards it requires an Athletics check DC 15 every 15ft. (taken after the movement itself; so move 15ft toward it, then attempt the check)–failure means slipping and being blown back again. For every failed climb attempt, the PC should make a Con Save DC 5 x number of climbs failed or gain 1 exhaustion, representing the enormous physical effort taking its toll.
Making the Trap Easier/Harder:
- Placement – So the room it is placed in is going to determine a lot for the difficulty of the trap. Easier, place it in a room that is smaller (or perhaps shallower). A room that’s only 30ft by 30ft. for example is going to have a lesser penalty and less chance of climb failures. A longer room (full 120ft. by 30ft.) will maximize the fail chances and damage and exhaustion. Also, keep in mind the door or hall the entered through. A door that opened to the room inward will be blown shut and may trap them inside from the force of the wind keeping it closed. A door that opened outward means they may be able to wriggle over, open the door they came in from, and get out of the way entirely and plan a way of adancing against the wind more freely.
- Triggers – Air pressure leaves a lot to test for. One could reasonably dial up the difficulty by having the trap get set off by simply too many warm bodies in a space. One could make it easier by requiring things like only big events like live fire close by. Similarly, you can make the trap easier by reducing the time between the change in pressure from the door opening (to have it kick up while they’re not yet in the room very far) or make it harder by making the time longer (for maximum fall damage).
- Combat – In truth, combat around this trap wouldn’t work very well and is not likely to make the experience much harder or easier. It could make it exciting, as anatagonists like goblins or soldiers are fighting the party while trying to survive the galeward as well. But, all in all, it’s designed to keep people away—as such, things probably avoid it.