In my article “DMing Muse” I mentioned a few elements that are good to put into a DnD game, and then decided that “Wait a minute, this would be great to talk about also!” So here I am again! Some of the elements I mentioned in that article are traps, monsters, friendly npcs, non friendly npcs, illusions, places, puzzles, mazes, eye candy, items, plot, story, combat. I’ll be going into more detail about these things and perhaps adding a few. So, let’s get started! (Also, if you already understand something such as “Combat” feel free to skip that section and read what best suits you, or read the whole thing to perhaps get a differing opinion, )
Traps, where they go, when, and how?
Traps are sometimes one of the most overlooked aspects of the game. You roll a die, see a trap, roll another die, disable it, continue on. But what about the beautiful dynamics of a well created trap? You’re genius’s, not it’s time to put that creative ability to work. Your players are too smart, and just rolling a die no longer suffices! There must be more to it! Well, there can be. First off, create a well designed trap. I read a book awhile ago I believe it was an ADnD book that I honestly can’t remember the name of had a various selection of traps and defined them, how they worked etc. I’m sure there are more modern ones that may help, I also stumbled upon a website trying to find this book and found it had some rather useful tips and extras that can be found here ( http://www.acc.umu.se/~stradh/dnd/mirror/Ezra/books/olear/ADnD/NetBooks.html ) Though be warned they are in a “ADnD” format I -believe-. But I read through some of it and it can be easily put into many situations. It’s a rather B-Rate website but doesn’t make the content any less.
So, when creating a trap perhaps instead of just the same old rolling technique when they roll to disable the higher the roll the more “information” you give them about the device, from there on they must take the steps on their own to disable it. If they are stuck, help give them tips such as “You being a rogue know that pressure plates only activate when they are pushed down.” so then they can decide to disable it for extra experience with whatever mechanisms it is attached too, or they wedge it so if someone steps on it the pressure plate will not push down (this will give substantially less experience) or they can do nothing and simply avoid it (which still should allow a small amount of experience.) and perhaps they use it later on to their own advantage. (A monster is chasing them, so they use the pressure plate and set the trap off on the monster. Experience points!) You can make traps as much a part of your game as combat or roleplay.
In the 4E handbook on page 85 it discusses Traps and Hazards. It describes the difference between a trap and a hazard being “..Traps are constructed with the intent of damage, harry, or impede intruders. Hazards are natural or supernatural in origin, but typically lack the malicious intent of a trap. Though both feature similar risks, a pit covered with goblin-constructed false floor is a trap, while a deep cahsm between two sections of troglodyte cave constitutes a hazard.”
It’s a good idea to read through this for more tips, most of these things you can always find other tips for in the DM’s guide or players handbook. It even gives a various list of different potential traps and hazards, winging it tips, and more. Remember traps can be magical in nature OR natural. Traps aren’t always pressure plates, sometimes they are magical silent alarms or many other various things. Switch it up and enjoy!
Also remember: Too much detail can slow a game down, perhaps you like keeping traps simple. That’s also fine.
Extra resources: For 3rd edition, page 119 in the DM’s guide has a chart for traps according to CR (Challenge Rating) page 114 explains some mechanical traps, building them, and gives you a list of ideas. Page 115 on the right begins to explain magical traps. (3.0 DM’s guide; sorry I don’t have 3.5)
Monsters, friendly NPCs and non-friendly NPC’s.
Monsters obviously are a big part, but keeping the monsters different help keep the game in flow. Such as instead of goblins create some other small creature that is unique or at least different so that people don’t feel “bored” with your selection. There are many, many books with various monsters or you can come up with your own. To do this either come up with your own stats or use stats of a similar monster in the book. These are just simple steps to help spice up your monsters. Or give your Goblins personality, by giving them tribe symbols, war cries, tactics, or just different scenarios to make it more interesting.
On that note, NPC’s can be monsters as well and visa versus, if you capture a goblin with the means to get information out of him he then becomes an NPC and needs more of a personality and response basis, NPC’s can be friendly and non friendly so always decide what type of out look they have on the party. Perhaps you have a human party with one elf, and the NPC will not speak to you with the elf present, or will only speak to the elf. Maybe he doesn’t like someone because he’s heard about them, or the way the dress. NPC’s can be bias for many different reasons, and sometimes they can be caring all around. Remember to give them personality and that if the players attack a PC then it becomes a “Monster”, and if they capture a “Monster” he then has the capability of being an NPC. Good luck and remember, be creative!