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.
It was the third time Kurt had tripped over his own feet in the last hour and, if his maps and intel were correct, then he’d have another few hours at least of slow climbs and hard falls left ahead of him. Every time his trouserpant leg sloshed and caught his stride wrong, every time he stumbled, he considered just going the hell home.
He didn’t know a damn thing about the bruisers and breakers in this part of the world and it was clear he was a little out of his element. Back home, a sensible gang would have put some good ole fashioned alchemists fire in a bucket over a door and let a fool get singed a bit. But this? This… filth? It wasn’t proper. And it smelled.
He prayed to the gods of chance and moronic follies that all the Hardstreeters were gone, like Minnie had said they’d be. He doubted he’d do much in the way of saving his own arse if a pack of cuthroats found him sloshing and stumbling his way through their catacombs.
His foot caught a rock and Kurt went down again.
History: The undergangs of the free cities, where the power of the empire and the young kingdoms meant little and nothing, are home to some of the blackest markets, sharpest cutpurses, tightest gangs, and infamous murderers. The cities themselves are bastions of corruption and law enforcement is just another fancy word for “racket” with every noble (self-proclaimed and, rarely, genuine) having their municipal security force made of clever skirmishers and greedy criminals.
Uniquely designed and in popular use in Zoa, by the half-elf thugs and bruisers that made that city famous, is Gephardt’s Ninth solution—or, when combined with some fairly basic and devious artificing, what is more commonly known as “The Bouncer”. While not illegal, most cities tend to find convenient pretenses for prosecuting those who employ it. It is one of the best kept secrets of the far East. On sight, anyone with the Criminal or Urchin background that is also a half-elf may get an immedate History check DC 15 to know the rough mechanics surrounding “how it works”.
System: The Bouncer is an elongated bladder of Gephardt’s Ninth Solution pumped and tied off under tremendous pressure and placed within a genx-sack shaped roughly like a person. Genx is a rough fiber, found in the Zoan forests and harvested for its mild narcotic properties and the ease by which it can be permanencied with minor magic. Gangs stuff the remaining space with straw and sawdust (some are especially devious and stuff it with old mail or other metallic shards to possibly break the weapon that pierces it). Once the stuffed form is ready, it is placed in a chair or squatting on a stool, head down and the spellsneaks in the gang (or those the gang pays for services) enchant the doll to look very real and very unconscious.
The form is most often half-elvish, with appropriate rough detail to draw attention away from the head—yellowing nails, arm tattoos, even especially “magical” looking boots. The form looks for all the world like a sleeping thug outside of a door. Noticing the slightly moving, slightly snoring thing isn’t quite real is difficult at a glance (Passive Perception Dc 18 to notice its noises and movements are “strange”). But, a PC that chooses to scrutinize the sleeping form at a distance or up close may be able to discern what’s wrong with it (note that the intention here is to breed caution, and a sleeping thug is often recklessly attacked by intruders more often than studied from the shadows—only offer the Investigation if they choose to observe and scrutinize the thug at their own request). If close up (5ft), should they then ask to study the sleeping fellow the Investigation DC is 13 to notice it is all “wrong” (the angle is wrong, the breathing is not well in sync with the movements, etc.), if done at a visible distance the check is disadvantaged.
Succeeding in figuring out The Bouncer is “wrong” may prompt the PC to think its a construct or an illusion, but they only get an Intelligence Save to “disbelieve” if they intentionally try and shake off the illusory effect. A success, the thing looks, to them, exactly as what it is. A fibrous sack, bulging with some stuffed thing in it. Otherwise, it still looks like a strange, odd, sleeping thing.
One cannot disable The Bouncer. But, so long as nobody touches it, it doesn’t do anything. Trying to remove the bladder with Dephardt’s Solution requires either Leatherworker’s Tools or Cobbler’s Tools (for the right, lightweight, finessed cutting and shearing scalpels and scissors to do the job safely) against a DC of 12. Using a small knife (specifically, a knife) from another Artisan toolkit allows the same check at disadvantage. A dagger or other large tool autofails the attempt. This is only necessary if one is trying to safely dissect and remove parts of The Bouncer. Ignoring it is a perfectly viable option. Carrying it away is difficult (The Bouncer weighs nearly 200 lbs.).
What The Bouncer excels in as a hidden trap, it lacks in punch. The bladder is simply designed to explode Gephardt’s Ninth Solution (a gelatinous and volatile substance that is easily molded into shapes and easily painted when first cured, but becomes highly explosive with any tremor thereafter) outward in a 15ft radius. For those only partially touched by the radius, roll 1d4—on high’s (3-4), they are covered as well; on low’s (1-2) they are only partially covered in an inconsistent pattern. Piercing the bladder is all it takes, like popping a high pressure leather balloon. Any attack that successfully hits or failed “dismantling/dissecting” of The Bouncer causes this rupture.
Gephardt’s Ninth Solution (Arcane check DC 20, advantaged if one has any background or concrete experience with alchemy) smells foul, with an odor akin to a papermill; it is oily and viscous, like a greasy mixture of rendered bear fat and snot; and regenerates slowly with exposure to air.
Anyone fully covered must make a Dex save DC 10 at the end of any full movement or fall over from their clothes and legs and arms occasionally sticking together inconveniently. All creatures are advantaged on Passive Perception to notice them by smell. Standing or passing within 5ft of them requires a Con save DC 10, or take 1 poison damage (representative of the wretching, nauseating feeling one gets from the smell, this damage cannot drop one below half, rounded-up, of one’s hit points). Additionally, the victim is disadvantaged on ability checks requiring free and multidirectional movement or use of tools or limbs (jumping, climbing, feats of Acrobatics; but, not simple Shoving, for instance). In addition, any stow or draw attempt must be preceded by a Dex save DC 10 or one gets stuck or caught in one’s clothes and loses the attempt to do so.
Knowing how to get rid of the Solution requires a History check. With a resulting 10 or higher, one knows that washing off the Solution with water (or with low magic like Prestidigitation) will suffice to get the most apparent gunk off; but the Solution is designed to get into one’s pores and deep in the fibers of clothing and objects. It will slowly regenerate and one will find themselves covered again (as described by the limitations above) in 3d12 minutes. With a 15 or higher, one knows that taking time to scrub with soap and water (clothes and items as well, at least 30 minutes) will get a deeper clean and get rid of it for 2d10 days. With a 20 or higher, one knows to fully dissolve the solution, one needs to soak for an hour or two in a tub of either extremely old wine (even cheap wine, near turned to vinegar) or very high quality salts and rimmel soaps (available freely with Wealthy accommodations). Anyone with a Criminal or Street Urchin background can make this check with advantage.
The half-elves of Zoa popularized calling it “The Bouncer”, both for it’s obvious look and because when it came to protecting their underclubs and hideouts, it did the job of “showing people out”.
Making the Trap Easier/Harder:
- Placement – One can make the trap a bit easier by putting it in an obvious place of interest, like right in front of an ornate door being the only doorway that’s got dimmed light and is in the dark to call out that people should be cautious. Also, leaving a particularly nasty looking weapon in it’s “hand” will cause foolhardy sneaks and rogues to “kill first” and “ask questions later”. Placing it in such a way that discourages ranged attacks will make the trap harder to deal with (like in near darkness, reducing the odds of “shooting”, which can’t be done blind; increasing the chance of “stabbing”).
- Triggers – Most any conventional Rogue is going to notice this trap. It is, afterall, right there in front of them. Knowing what it is avoids the trigger. Any attack will set it off. One can make more out of the trap itself by having it triggered by fleeing crooks that the party is chasing. As the bandits are running back to their hideout, one stays behind near The Bouncer and when the party closes on her, she can release a held action to “stab the guy” and spray everyone down in the Solution. She gets hit, but she can always get clean later.
- Combat – It should be noted, any combat immediately after this trap goes off will be harder. Not attacking, per se, but taking potential tiny bits of poison damage by being around each other in a fight, having stow and draw issues, all of that will advantage other combatants. A wizard with Prestidigitation can help neutralize that, in combat, but it will eat up actions.
“Did the Baron put you up to this?”, Trip Dashwood grinned broadly as Kallie and the rest poured into the large room. They’d tracked the bandit king through six days and two towns worth of traps and misdirection and finally had him cornered. The tower was remote, looked nearly run down from outside, but once they came in they knew it was the right place. Ornate tapestry, heraldic shields, stolen art and sculptures from a dozen petty courts. Truly, this was the haven of a master thief and swindler.
Two fights, one vicious falling staircase, and a battered down door on the third level up and here was the “Merciful King” himself. Him and his cronies. Amidst a shelved library, the half-elf stood tall and proud, a bottle in his hand and a truly infuriating casual grin on his face.
In a flash, he took a swig of a bottle on a nearby table and yelled for one of his cronies to finish it and kill them all. The throw went wide and the bottle clattered and tinkled and came to rest halfway between the thug and Teller. A knowing glance between the thug and the barbarian passed and both raced for the glass bobble spinning gently on the stone.
Kallie screamed something like “no”, but the plea was lost in the primal howl the huntress called out as she raced for the bottle before anyone else could get to it.
History: In the old courts of Mercy Ebonflowerwood, the first of the great Zoan bandit-kings amongst the half-elf thieves and heavies there, it started as a trick and grew to be a way of life for the clever and fast-talking chiefs and bosses amongst the free city’s underworld. When the Devestation came and the crooks and scalawags migrated farther west, they brought with them The Tosspot and its become a favorite “safety net” for clever bandits ever since.
The Tosspot is found, most often, amongst brigands and more socially adept gangs of criminals. Using it well requires some careful preparation and a convincing manner.
System: The Tosspot is a two-part alchemical trap. The glass used to make the bottle or vial is a type of rare sand found in the far East called Sinkgrain—named so due to the churning and frequent sinking holes that appear when people walk on it. Useless for most purposes, it does produce a very strong glass possessed of a small amount of the Sinkgrain effect.
Once violently disturbed, Sinkgrain builds up a sort of galvanic, tremorous charge. When stoppedit emmanates a liquifying field that effects natural stone and earth, shaking and vibrating it into fine sand and loose debris. The effect is short-lived and highly localized. A glass object made from it, should it be similarly violently jostled and then stilled, will produce the same effect.
The most common trick with it is to throw a bottle made of Sinkgrain and trick others into touching it (thus stopping the barely discernible vibrations). The resulting sinking effect (into earth, through stone, etc.) is often enough to give one an advantage or edge in escaping or murdering those that have come to do one harm.
Famously, Mercy of Zoa, would take the “potion” when ambushed and throw it to the biggest and dumbest of his enforcers (whom he’d lie to about what it did, to make it convincing), but just out of range—giving the guards or marshals or adventurers that came to do him harm a chance to snatch it up before his thug could get it. When the creature that does this throws it, make a disadvantaged Athletics check and have the bottle clatter beyond the reach of the minion or ally. Then have the creature shout for the minion to go get it and drink it along with attack orders.
If any PC elects (unprompted) to doubt the whole scene (suggesting it might be a ploy or advising caution about the bottle), give them an Insight check DC versus the passive Deception of the originating creature. On a success, they know that bottle is a trap of some kind. On a failure, they think the originating creature is trying to trick his minion into drinking it because the minions hate Enlarging potions.
Should the PC’s ignore the seemingly important bottle, the minion will race for it, and after the PC’s have their chance to touch it, will rush in and fall prey to the trap themselves. Should a PC race to get to the bottle first and touch it in any way, they trip the trap’s effects themselves. The bottle is tossed just out of move and dash reach of the minion “accidentally” and within move range of the PC’s.
At the end of the turn where it is touched by anyone, the trap discharges a violent hum and causes an immediate and localized quicksand in an 5ft radius around the bottle. If on natural ground, the victim gets a Dex save DC 15 to stay upright as they sink in, on a failure, they turn and sink in at an odd angle. While in the “quicksand”, they are considered Restrained but may spend an action to make an Athletics check DC 13 to climb out at the end of their turn. If on any kind of non-magical stone, rather than dirt and earth, they will suffer the same effect as dirt and earth (but the DC to climb out is 15), so long as there is ground below. If done on a floor or stone only 5ft thick over a pit, the PC will sink right through and fall into whatever pit is below that. The victim will get a Dex save DC 20 to grab the lip of the hole and not fall. While hanging on the edge, in this way, they are considered Restrained but may make an Athletics check DC 15 to climb up at the end of their turn.
The half-elves of Zoa are famed for being right bastards.
Making the Trap Easier/Harder:
- Placement – Having the trap go off on the second floor of a tower is more dangerous than having it go off on ground level. Not just for falling damage, but should the party see particularly dangerous things to fall onto on the first floor before going up, they can be foreshadowed on the hazards of spikes and other dangerous things. One can make it much easier to avoid the trap by having the floor all around the area look a bit patchwork, like its been repaired many times.
- Triggers – This is a trap that relies on player incautiousness to work. Racing in, thinking only with steel. being right next to the bottle when it goes off will cause them to fall prey to the trap if something else touches it. 5ft. radius will get the close standers-by. On the otherhand, there are several levels of protection from the trick that start with knowing what half-elvish gangs are like (through study or background), doubting motives, scrutinizing the lies criminals say… why trust a bandit you’re attacking about anything?
- Combat – This is a trap made for small combat. It can be easiest with just the one minion to race against; it can be scaled up harder with more minions. This is a trap designed to remove one party member from combat and make them vulnerable for a turn or two–and in the event that more than one party member gets too close and is affected. The delay of it going off at the end of the turn means the PC that grabs it may well get close to an ally or end up with an ally getting close to them. Thus both might be affected. More than one party member may race toward a particularly beefy or dangerous looking minion and find themselves all together when it discharges.