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You Don’t Need To Be a Thief to Beat Traps in 4th Edition

Written by Janna - Published on January 8, 2009

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

In the past, traps required only detection, disabling, and (if the disabling didn’t work) a series of saving throws. Clerics could detect traps, but couldn’t do much else. Thieves were the bane of traps everywhere, but parties who found themselves without a thief to scout ahead were usually out of luck.

4th Edition has changed all that. Now every PC has the chance to detect traps with a successful passive Perception roll. It still takes Thievery to disable traps in the old-fashioned way, but even non-rogues stand a chance of avoiding or destroying traps. It’s not that rogues have no place in a party anymore; it’s just that parties can live without them now.

So how does one go about dealing with traps in 4e?

Tactic 1 – Avoid Them

This is also known as the ‘well, duh’ approach. If you’re trying to avoid damage, this tactic makes the most sense. But it has two definite drawbacks: it’s not always possible, and it’s kind of boring. Besides, when you defeat a trap, you get XP for it. Turning away from the danger and taking another route doesn’t count as defeating it.

Tactic 2 – Use Brute Force

Maybe your party has a martial type who’s just itching to break stuff. In that case, you could try the warrior’s method of trap dismemberment: brute force. Many traps have critical mechanisms that can be hacked, slashed, or bludgeoned to bits. If this is the case, the DM should assign AC, defenses, and hit points to the trap. Sadly, many other traps are completely hidden in walls, beneath floors, etc. So unless your party wishes to totally demolish the place (good luck!), brute force isn’t always the answer.

Tactic 3 – Outsmart Them

If avoidance and smashing aren’t your style, you might be able to outsmart the contraption. All traps have a list of “countermeasures” you can take to defeat them. Granted, Thievery is usually the simplest way to disable a trap. But some traps can be overcome simply by making a successful Athletics check (or other applicable skill check), moving very slowly and carefully, or performing some other action that the DM deems plausible.

Tactic 4 – Hire a Rogue

When all else fails, you can always come crawling back to the local rogue. Just don’t let them know you tried to go dungeon-delving without them, or they might jack up their rates out of spite.

Don’t Punish Creativity

D&D is a game that puts players’ minds to work. Don’t punish their creativity by telling them their unorthodox trap-defeating strategy doesn’t work simply because you hadn’t planned for such a contingency. If they come up with a solution that could possibly work, go ahead and let them succeed. There’s nothing more frustrating to a creative player than having one idea after another shot down because the DM didn’t think of it first.

What do you think about traps in 4e? Are rogues still necessary, or has every PC become an amateur scout?

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Written by Janna

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You Don’t Need To Be a Thief to Beat Traps in 4th Edition, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

 

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7 Responses to “You Don’t Need To Be a Thief to Beat Traps in 4th Edition”
  1. Chadhulhu says:

    I think they are needed, tho in my first rule in 4e, the Fighter was a better trap finder than our rogue. kinda funny. :)

  2. Ben Overmyer says:

    And if playing old-school style, finding and disarming traps in 4E becomes a deadly affair that any player knowledgeable and clever enough can do.

    No rule mechanic can ever compare to the fun of relying on player skill to find and disarm or avoid a trap; I’d love to see someone try and play Tomb of Horrors with the 4E rules. I imagine it’d work pretty well, even considering a lot of those traps don’t “play by the rules!”

  3. Wampus says:

    I’m still confused on this. As I understand it, there’s no such thing as a “passive Perception roll”. It’s simply 10+Perception score. If anyone in the group has a score higher than the trap DC, they see it, just by being there. If the DC is higher than everyone’s PP score, no one can see unless they declare they’re actively looking for it. How is this an improvement?

  4. Janna says:

    I love rogues. But I also like the idea of smashing traps to death. It reminds me of an old book, “Another Day, Another Dungeon”, where the impatient barbarian shoves the thief aside and forces open a trapped chest.. and subsequently gets fireballed, gassed, and shot up with darts. Ah, memories…

  5. Chris says:

    “I’m still confused on this. As I understand it, there’s no such thing as a “passive Perception roll”. It’s simply 10+Perception score. If anyone in the group has a score higher than the trap DC, they see it, just by being there. If the DC is higher than everyone’s PP score, no one can see unless they declare they’re actively looking for it. How is this an improvement?”

    Well, the 4e sourcebooks specifically refer to “passive perception checks”, so you might as well throw that block out the window :)

    Here are the differences:

    – In 3/3.5, only Rogues could use the Search skill for traps that were DC 20 or higher. So, it didn’t matter how much training you had, if you weren’t a Rogue, you were boned. In 4e your ability to detect traps is completely independent of your class, it is only dependent on your skill and ability score.

    – A passive perception check is a check that the DM makes on your behalf. There are no bonuses for actively using your perception skill. This might be where you say “so there’s no such thing as a passive check”.

    An active check 1) has no bonus 2) only searches the immediately adjacent squares 3) takes a minute (10 combat rounds).

    The idea is that your players don’t walk into every room, or worse every five feet, and say “searching for traps” ad nauseum. If it’s costly and has no bonus, the players are free to mill around, knowing that their DM is checking on their behalf without penalty. However, because you want to empower your players, they can always choose to make an active check if there’s something obviously suspicious to them.

    So yes, there very much is a passive check, and by not having disadvantages to an active check, it’s extremely helpful for running games.

  6. Wampus says:

    It still seems like there should be some kind of roll, whether it be (skill level) – 5 or something to give them a chance to beat the DC passively. Otherwise, it looks like the only time it makes a difference is when a subset of the party is the first to encounter the trap (rogue scouting ahead, etc.) If the DC of the trap is higher than everyone’s passive perception, there’s nothing to be done – they have to set it off if they continue on.

    I know there are solutions (let every trap be seen, for example, or adjust the DCs, whatever). My point is this mechanic doesn’t seem any more FUN than 3e’s version, and it was something that needed to be changed.

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  1. […] been some recent discussion about traps in 4th Edition, especially their detection and destruction. All the talk made me nostalgic for the good old days […]



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