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 was very, very tired of this place. Whatever mad bastard this Conqueror fellow was, the old delver was about one more violently exploding door away from giving up and going the hell home. Even if it mean a week in the cold going down the mountain. Even if it meant having to sneak past that great beast in the valley. Even if it meant foregoing his share of–
Squick sighed. All those lonely coins. No, he couldn’t abandoned them. Not after all the hard work he’d put into imagining how he’d spend them. As the rest of his cadre, with their proper armor and fine ideals, stood about clutching wooden hafts and fidgeting nervously waiting for another horror, Squick studied the plain wooden door ahead of them.
A solid half-hour of cautious tradecraft and he’d found the latch above the jam intended to drop the roof on the unwary and disabled it. This would be the fourth door he’d found like this in a row. Picking the lock, effortlessly, he opened it up to take a little peak and after regaining consciousness, Sqiuck quietly stole everyone’s purse and went the hell home.
History: The hogboglins of the far mountains, fallen into squabbling and near savagery, were once the people of a great Conqueror—his name lost to time. His deeds have merged and melted into the fables and stories of the God of War and not a hob in two hundred years could recall which were whose. The Old Man once ruled the continent, a thousand and more years ago. While the pink men and the hairy squats were all painting in caves, the Old Man’s dynasty was the hub on which the world turned.
His tomb, sealed away and forever hidden, was built by elvish slaves and to a horrifying specification. Not just there to protect his riches and legacy, the tomb was intended to forever taunt the daring and prove the Conqueror more clever and brilliant even from beyond the grave. Using his own highly skilled military mind bent toward a sort of architectural conquest, his devious creations influenced hobgoblin engineers on and off the battlefield for hundreds of years.
A common, and effective, tactic was the Weaker Mark–a form of structural retreat and material trickery, intended to lure an overconfident army (or burglar) ever closer into a trap of their own hubris. Variations of the Weaker Mark can be found still amidst hobgoblin cities, enclaves, and fortifications. Nearly every one of their fortresses or structures who have had hobgoblin engineers constructing them has some form of Weaker Mark. Indeed, finding one is almost synonymous with hobgoblin culture and influence.
System: The Weaker Mark is a series of doors, well hidden and well trapped, intended to lure more highly skilled adventurers down a path away from their objective. They are most commonly found as a series of four doors (four being the sacred number of the Old Man, the number of his generals). Each door is hidden beneath a layer of paint or varnish (Passive Perception DC 17 to notice the irregularity) in a room with—seemingly—no other doors or windows. The rooms are often done in mosaics or artistic frescoes as a cover. The floor is usually worn away subtly (should anyone investigate the room or surfaces, they may roll Investigate against a DC of 12, on a success they do notice the worn path on the floor leading from the door they entered to the paint/lacquer covered hidden door. Once identified, either through magic or skill, the paint can be easily chipped away and behind it is a worn oak door.
The door’s recessed handle is trapped (Investigation DC 19 to find, Thieves Tools DC 17 to disable), a series of alchemically charged iron pegs strike each other if the handle is turned without disabling causing a spark of lightning that strikes the closest metal object. If worn or carried by a PC, they must make a Con Save DC 15 or take 2d6 lightning damage. A potent (but secretly, not intended to kill) wake-up call. Should the trap discharge, any character with a background as a Soldier should be offered a History check (DC 16) to recall how this setup is an archaic, but common hobgoblin trap.
Beyond the door is a slightly smaller room or hall, equally empty as the previous. The hidden door is harder to find (Passive Perception 18) and the Investigation DC is more difficult, as though this room has had less traffic (DC 15). Should the find the door, it is of similar construction as the last one, but made of Ironwood (a more robust and stronger door by far). The recessed handle is trapped in the same manner as the previous, but the DC for the Con Save is 17, same damage. Any Soldier background or Alcolyte background characters may have a Religion check DC 17 to recall that “doors hidden behind doors” is a piece of holy screed spoken by some hobgoblin worshipers of the Old Man, the godlike conqueror who used vast treasures to lure in the weak and greedy.
Beyond the second door, there is usually a skeletal, almost mummified body—usually of a halfing or gnome—with old and archaic weapons laying as though blown backward from a half-revealed iron door somewhat hidden by paint. The body appears long dead, no spirit can be revived or discussed. The door is similarly trapped as the previous except the Con Save is DC 18 and the damage is 3d6 and the rusted handle requires an Athletics check DC 19 to pull open at all. Any Alcolyte or Sage background characters may get an Arcane check (DC 20) to recognize an old and powerful pattern of oak to iron, iron to gold as a mortally dangerous magical tactic of ancient hobgoblin cultures.
This door empties into a larger room with a shallow drop (the room’s floor being 5ft below the previous room. The hidden door is a smaller door (4 and a half feet high) below and to the side of the previous one. So if one entered the second room (jumping down to the floor), the previous door is 5ft up and the hidden door will be to one side or the other requiring a Passive Perception 20 to notice behind the pristine paint and enamel. Chipping away the paint, one notices that behind it is a steel door, almost like a vault door. It has two recessed handles on the right and left sides. Investigation DC 18 to determine that they must both be turned at the same time to pull the door free and they are both trapped as the previous (Thieves Tools DC 20 to disable). If either are touched before disabling, the Con Save is 22 and the damage is 4d6 lightning damage and 1 exhaustion. Anyone with a Sage or Criminal background should get a History check DC 24 to reveal that there are stories about hobgoblin vaults like this, and they speak of gold and almost certain death.
Once disabled or discharged, the door requires an Athletic check DC 22 to lift free after turning the handles at the same time.
Behind it is a solid gold tablet the size of the door itself, etched into its surface is a modified Symbol of Death. Anyone who, before this point, explicitly said they were not in the room, or averting their eyes gets a pass. Anyone who didn’t specify that is considered to be looking at the tablet as the door comes off. No exceptions.
The modified Symbol of death does not affect all creatures in 60ft, which makes it less dangerous to the party, but more powerfully effects those looking at it. The Con Save required of those looking at it is a DC 15. On a failure, take 10d10 necrotic damage and 1d4 exhaustion. On a success, take half (rounded up). An archaic dialect of goblin echoes through the room, the translation is barely possible, but those with language proficiency in Goblin or that have Comprehend Language up may have an INT Save DC 10 to piece together the meaning. It is a hobgoblin saying about the eager fools that equate skill with wisdom and how they fail before they even begin.
The gold is a thin veneer of gold, upon inspection afterward. If chiseled and scraped away, it would be worth roughly 5 gp.
Making this Trap Easier/Harder:
- Placement – Much depends ont he placement of this trap and placement of things in the rooms. If the walls are done in frescos and murals, with the door hidden by that, it will lead the players to believe they are progressing; whereas just blank and empty rooms might give them cause to doubt the whole enterprise.
- Triggers – As the trap is the whole series of traps itself, the trigger is pretty static. But, breaking it down, if you were to increase the damage for each door might higher, it might discourage them to continue (ultimately sparing them the real trap at the end, thus making it easier–counter intuitively); if you weaken it, they may begin getting suspicious about such weak trap annoyances, as well, and suspect a bigger one later.
- Combat – This trap works best without combat–notably, because the rooms are hidden from each other and so later things coming in shouldn’t happen. It should feel desolate. They should look back (those that survive) and think “we just went nowhere for no reason”.
Kallie held the bow taut, drawn, and pointed right at Brodie’s fine and surprised face.
“Do NOT come closer, I really mean it!” she tried to sound calm and reassuring, but it was hard with the weapon pointed at her friends. Teller seemed to want to pull her greataxe from her back, smart lady.
“Tell, don’t. Don’t even think about it. Everyone just back off. I can’t let you… I just… You all leave, just go away.”
The group looked concerned, Pontifex reaches for something in his component pouch and Kallie almost shot him right there.
“I said, just leave. Back OFF. Pontifex, if you so much as move a finger, murmur anything, or touch that crystal I will end you. You know what I can do with this thing at this range.”
The standoff was tense. Kallie hoped she wouldn’t have to kill her friends.
History: The Egress of the Old Man, spoken of in half-a-dozen hobgoblin fables, is a platinum and silver door brilliantly scrolled and almost divinely magnificent. The doors are a device in a dozen morality plays, sometimes as the doors to a heaven for warriors and sometimes as the doors behind which the Old Man’s greatest Red Handed Warmage will tell you your future if you can open them. They are based on actual doors placed on the Temple of War, long predating (by a millenia) the Conqueror’s own life. They were doors to life and death itself, placed there by the gods so that the great hob warriors of old would be able to pass into the forever after when they were too old to fight, and had lived a life of glory.
The Red Hand Warmages have made such doors, pale in comparison, to honor and seal away the tombs and mausoleums of great generals and leaders. In proper hobgoblin fashion, they are amongst the most deviously ingenious traps for the wary looter ever designed in the world.
System: The Weaker Mutiny is a trap, carefully and ritualistically placed on the most sacred places in hobgoblin history. They resemble a pair of doors, richly and elegantly designed, themselves a work of art and treasure.
The DM needs to know the full Int Saving Bonus for everyone in the party ahead of this trap. Don’t ask just before, get that information ahead of time.
On sight, everyone proficient in it should get a History check DC 15 to recognize the doors as a hobgoblin design and know they protect something valuable–which is always true. Detecting Magic will reveal they are magical and possibly that there are Evocation, Abjuration, and Enchantment effects in play if they scrutinize on purpose (do not off that for free). Should anyone come within 1ft. of the door (which will happen on an Investigation unless the player specifically makes clear that they’re investigating at a distance or with long poles), have everyone make a Constitution Save DC 15–anyone within 60ft. of the doors.
Ask for the number they rolled and their total–make this sound casual as though you’re only confirming they did their math correctly.
Ignore their total, they think they’re making a Con Save. Use their roll to determine who succeeded and who failed the secret Int Save that actually happened. Everyone that succeeded the save takes 1d4 fire damage as an intense rush of heat flows outward from the doors. Everyone who failed needs to get an index card with the following on it:
“The heat blows past you and you can see some of the gold on the surface of the doors has melted revealing an ominous symbol beneath the surface. A strange feeling comes over you, like a great gaeas has been placed on you, deeper than any simple restoration could ever cure you of–as though the hand of the gods are on your shoulders.
If you can manage to transport these heavy metal doors, without anyone else touching them or interacting with them, to a hobgoblin settlement or village, you will get a free level up and whatever they’re worth to those hobgoblins (you may roll an Int check to determine their monetary value).
If, however, anyone else touches them or interacts with them–even magically–you will lose half your levels (rounded down) at that moment and they will lose one level.
If you tell anyone else what’s on this card (in any way), if they attempt to break the gaeas and fail, if you tell them what you have to do, tell them about the divine gaeas, or let them approach the doors (if they come even 10ft closer to them), you will be reduced to level one–only a wish or miracle of some kind may fix it.”
Please note that anyone else under the gaeas (who got a card) is considered an ally to your cause and you may collaborate and share the spoils, but will both be negatively affected by others’ violations. Also remember, that the last strike of a melee attack may be used to knock out an opponent, should it become necessary to save the party from folly by force.”
Freeze the game at the point of that Con Save, don’t allow people to move the story past that point until the victim(s) has read their index card and understood it. If they have questions, they should write them down and the DM may respond verbally or written as needed. If they check to see the worth of the doors, quote a very high number (character level times 10,000 gp)
This effect only lasts 10 minutes, the PC’s should be allowed to RP out the difficult to understand complication. Should other PC’s try and do things, give wide latitude to the victim’s in trying to react or pre-empt it (if a PC tries to cast something, the victim(s) should get a chance to shout that they shouldn’t or even get violent to disrupt it, within reason).
Should the victim(s) convince the rest to back away, successfully, and attempt to detach and wrestle the several ton doors down, the effect will fade long before they make any significant progress. The DM should inform them that it’s all fake. In their minds. There is no curse or gaeas. No consequences.
Notably, this could happen after the victim(s) subdue or kill the rest of the party.
Making This Trap Easier/Harder:
- Placement – putting this trap at the very beginning of a dungeon will make it a lot harder to avoid or think through because the players aren’t already invested in the dungeon at hand; on the other hand, if this door were all the way at the end of a dungeon, the call to leave and go away with riches before going in the final rooms may cause them to disbelieve in the consequences and try and work around the problem. They’re more likely to actually think its best to complete the gaeas if they come across it first.
- Trigger – You can make the trap easier by quieting the range of the effect to 30ft. or less. It will impact fewer people, and a party with more people unaffected are more likely to be able to handle a lone crazy. A party of half-effected will maybe turn violent.
- Combat – Combat would not make this trap much easier or harder. Except that it may cause some desperate actions by the victims to keep even the monsters away. In truth, its best left as a standing, empty trap that beings the party to fight amongst themselves.