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.
“You already ruined two quills! Why don’t you let me give it a go, you clearly don’t know how to properly use them” Meilla was a boiling kettle outrage. Her calm and dismissive demeanor was threadbare when Kallie snapped the tip of the wizard’s first pen and turned into only barely contained rage at the splitting of the nib on the second.
It was times like this that Kallie had to remind herself that they really were friends and that the secrets locked away in this ancient library were more important than the consequences of the fight that was coming between the young delver and the now pissed off mage. If they didn’t find the Bone Scroll, innocent people would die. It was just that simple.
Taking a deep breath, Kallie tried a different tack. She’d tried encouragement and pleading, maybe some fear was in order.
“Hon, if you don’t hand me that gods-damned quill, I’m going to take my finger off this line here—you see that? I’ll pull this finger off that line and we’ll all be very lucky to not die of hastened dysentery in seconds. Crapping yourself to death in the span of a breath is a horrible way to die…”
History: The Luminaries, an offshoot of the worshipers of the Riftmaster, were a heretical sect of mages and clerics put to death in the time of Reetesh Exile II, also known as the Architect, the last of Mallean Dynasty. Their faith was more interested in arcane mechanics than mysteries, having famously invented several devices in violation of church tenants to keep the purity of the River (the great flowing current of magical power in the universe). They sought to bring magic to the material, the high-minded priests of the Riftmaster leveraged the crown to destroy them for it.
However, given their mechanical predilections, several of their old keeps and towers—many lost now—as well as many temples and monasteries of the time utilized a heretical security device they called a Chirograft. One of the finest, most effective ways to keep unwanted people away from precious things.
System: Chirografs were made into existing doors and almost exclusively used on them, though there are some rumors of adventurers finding them on smaller things (like chests or trunks or windows). When newly made, they are easily spotted, though age and time can obscure them as paint and ink fades.
A door with a Chirograft will have an intricate pattern of darkly inked lines drawn over it on both sides (if less than 100 years old, Passive Perception 10; up to 200 years, Passive Perception 15; up to 500 years, Passive Perception 20). Knowing what a Chirograft is, on noticing it, requires a History check DC 20 or a Religion check DC 15 (advantaged if also proficient in Arcane).
Every failed attempt to open a Chirograft door increases the potency of the effect if triggered. As a result, ancient doors so trapped that have turned away many dungeon delvers over the ages are especially dangerous (Investigation Dc 10, if the Chirograft is noticed in the first place, to deterimine the age of the ink and wood). On a success, the PC can safely estimate an approximate age (and if they passed the history/Religion check or are informed by someone who has may know the rough DC and average damage of the trap).
Attempting to open the door before the Chirograft is disabled inflicts a Charisma Save DC 14 as the Chirograft unleashes the power of the River and arcane energy washes over the PC, inflicting a curse of Magical Vulnerability on them (they are disadvantaged on Saves with respect to magical effects; can be removed with a Remove Curse and any appropriate divine prayer spoken over the removal, Religion check DC 10 to know any), inflicting 2d6 necrotic damage, and teleporting them 2d4 times 5ft. backwards (but not beyond a wall, if in a room, no collision damage). On a success, they suffer the same effect but no Curse.
The lines and patterns on the door are a combination of Mage Hand infused ink and Bronze and Copper metal parts inside the door. With a Calligraphy or Painters toolkit, a proficient PC may duplicate the shade and texture of the ink easily and may attempt a Calligraphy or Painters Tools check DC 14 (the PC attempting this must also be proficient in Thieves Tools or be helped/assisted by someone that is, the pattern is a lock afterall). On a success, they alter the layout of the metallic parts of the door and disable the trap effect, unlocking the door in the process with dull metallic clicks sounding within. On a failure, the pattern is marred and one suffers the effects of an attempt to open the door as above, except their save is Disadvantaged.
Making the Trap Easier/Harder:
- Placement – There are not likely to be any placement issues at place, though one could have the door/Chirograft located in such a way that the random teleport distance puts them over a ledge or over something dangerous to make it a higher consequence for failure.
- Trigger – The age of the door/Chirograft is going to be the main driver of how easy or hard it is to notice (Passive Perception) and that will be the kickoff to figuring out what it is. Having it be a recently made one makes it almost auto-noticed and having it be very old will make it very hard for anyone to see unless they advantage their Passive Perception (which can be done with many items and help from others).
- Combat – Combat from monsters that use magical effects (beholders, for instance; or, even tiny Mephits) can scale the danger up a lot. Someone getting Cursed and becoming vulnerable to magical effects will make failing DC’s more likely and devastate a party. On the other hand, clever parties being attacked by non-magical monsters might think to Shove or Grapple/Move monsters into the door to Curse or kill them.
The room was completely obscured in a grey-green mist. Squick could see only a few feet into the space, enough to make out the beautifully tiled floor done in vibrant blues and greens. It was part of some larger pattern, obviously, and the hedonist in him wondered if it was something lurid and wanton.
“Do we go in?”, Teller’s voice was hushed and told him that she was probably unsettled by the strange cloud. Brodie knew what it was, they’d seen this before down in the jungle last year. What was it with these bastards and the damned fog stuff? As near as Squick could tell, they weren’t immune to it—the idea of flooding a place with something so dangerous when you couldn’t guarantee safe passage? Madness.
Heavens and hells, but Squick really hated Wespers. He lamented how he was likely going to lose his new scarf and, dammit, probably his new boots as well. But, nevertheless, without waiting for suggestions from the rest, he wrapped the scarf around his face, dropped his pack, borrowed Brodie’s cloak, wrapped himself up tight, and closed his eyes while the old paladin shook out three waterskins all over him, soaking him to his socks.
History: The Wespers were a cult of warlocks infamous throughout the Southern Continent, a band of primal and chaotic devotees of a Great Old being beyond the skies they called The Pierced Flesh. It wasn’t long, maybe a generation or so, before knowledge of their dark dealings and cruelties made it to the attention of the chiefs and governors of that land and the Wespers were hunted on sight, less one find corruption and devastation in one’s domain.
Wesper strongholds, both ones they created in the deep dark places of the jungle and ones they found and took over in the world (old tombs, keeps, hidden caverns) were rife with vicious traps and hazards. One of the most common was Witchfog, also known as Bloodsweat (for the appearance of victims of it in the first stages).
System: Witchfog is entirely alchemical, it comes from a volatile concoction of rare, foreign reagents (some of which are unearthly) and a dark, masterful skill. The bubbling goo is almost pitch black, like tar, and gives off a constant release of an acidic fog designed to dissolve any porous substance it comes in contact with. An open container the size of a glass bottle can create enough acidic fog within a few seconds to fill a 15ft cube. If anyone has witnessed the brew “running out” it hasn’t been documented, it seems to perpetually create the fog.
One can notice the fog by both sight and smell (a pungent rotted apple scent) automatically, if within 10ft. of it (even through a door or non-air-tight barrier). History check DC 15 to recognize the scent or look, advantaged if one has any kind of scholarly background at all; beating the check by 5 (so, a total of 20 or higher) also informs the PC that the Wespers traditionally carved out a hollow in the stone or hard floor, filled it with an epoxy that created an alchemical glass, to make a sort of immovable cauldron to brew the fog in places they wanted protected.
Ending one’s turn in the fog, one must make a Constitution save DC 8 + the number of saves one has had to make times 2 (first save 8, second 10, third 12, and so on). On a failure, one takes a number of d6 points of acid damage equal to the number of saves one has had to make. A success, one only takes half the damage. The fog is so frictionless and vicious that retreating from the cloud to safety does not reset the save DC or increasing damage, as the particles are still in one’s clothes and skin, ready to react. A thorough soap and water scrubbing can reset, however.
At the end of one’s first turn in the fog, one’s carried and worn items are fine. At the end of one’s second turn in the fog, any leather or cloth less than 1 inch wide/thick begins to dissolve (will require mending to survive hard use). At the end of the third turn, any thick leather or thin metal (daggers, rapiers, joints on some armor, mail) begins to damage similarly. At the end of the fourth turn, the thin leather and cloth dissolves entirely. At the end of the fifth turn, the thick leather and thin metal dissolves entirely. At the end of a sixth turn thick metal will be damaged, and at the end of a seventh turn it will be ruined.
Soaking one’s clothes and possessions will prevent the item damage and advantage one’s self on the Constitution saves.
Finding the “cauldron” is the hardest part, the DM should divide the room into quadrants (they can be rough) and write down on a card which the cauldron is in. Finding it requires an Investigation check (taking an action) while standing in a quadrant—this represents the PC straining to hear the bubbling, read the flow of the gas, even get low to the ground to try and see any change in the floor. At the end of their turn, make saves appropriately. If they don’t find it, they will need to move and conduct another action. At the end of their turn, they can make saves appropriately.
If they find it, however, disabling is relatively easy with an action. If the character has any kind of pot, bowl, or even a soaked blanket to cover the cauldron, it will suffice to keep the fog at bay for 1d4 minutes. A sealed, air-tight glass or polished stone cover will last 1d6 hours. Glassblower or Potters tools (DC 15) will allow the character to seal away the cauldron completely with an hour of work.
Note, magical wind and similar attempts to blow away the fog are only partially effective as it dissipates and generates so fast from the cauldron that at best, it will buy a free turn without having to make saves for someone initially entering the space but no more than that (save DM fiat). Also, note that the actual black tar is dangerously acidic and will dissolve any object that touches it directly in moments. Attempts to “sample” it into other containers are likely to lose people fingers and hands as it chaotically bubbles and pops.
Making the Trap Easier/Harder
- Placement – making the room larger than 60ft by 60ft (which is already a large room) will increase the challenge by forcing the PC who wants to disable it to waste more movement getting into a new quadrant. Rogues with bonus Dash actions won’t have this problem, though, unless it is a truly giant room.
- Trigger – There is no trigger for this trap, normally. Although you could make it a Witchfog cauldron that has been sealed by a different party once upon a time and have it either accidentally (stepping on a low profile ceramic cover) or on purpose (by a knowing ranged NPC/monster) shattered to release the fog on everyone around.
- Combat – Few things can survive in the fog, but possible encounters could be acid immune creatures or perhaps devotees who don’t mind dying in the fog if they can take others with them. Generally, though, its pretty alien stuff and creatures would avoid it.