Traps, you are unsatisfying for players and provide no drama, just non-sequiteur moments of grief. This is how traps seem to function in most dungeon games:
So what are some features of a trap element that contributes to the narrative?
- Hit-Point Tax: You're walking down a corridor and thwack a blade drops down from the ceiling and robs you of 1d6 hit points. Not meant to kill or disable you, but to wear you down, maybe force you to use magic or a potion to get those hp back. Might also slow the game down in case D&D is too fast-paced for you, as players begin to check laboriously for traps every 5 feet.
- Saving Throw-away: The floor drops out from under you and you will either leap to safety or plunge into a pit, depending on the result of a die roll. No drama here, cause there's no choice to be made on the part of the player. It's truth or consequences.
- Red Wire or Blue Wire?: You're presented with a choice, with no clue as to which is the correct one. One chest will open to reveal a 10-pound bag of sugar. The other chest is filled with giant wasps. Will tweaking the living statue's nipple clockwise deactivate it or put it into Berzerk mode? Again, no drama, because there's no real choice.
- This way to the Boss: Enough of this aimless wandering through my dungeon. I have placed this slide trap here to deliver you into my lair half-stunned, on your ass, and unprepared. I had thought of putting the trap just inside the front gate, but I thought it was best to let you go up against some of my weaker minions and do a little plundering first just to warm up for me.
- Eluctable at a price of your choosing. Sure, you can grab on to the edge of the pit. Do you want to drop your sword, shield, or both? You're falling into a hedge of punji sticks coated with orc droppings. Think quickly! I cast wall of ice to cover up the sharp spikes!
- Makes its presence known, but not its solution. A wall of fire? How could we get past it? (Players suggest various solutions, all of which will probably work, but when they get through alive, they have OWNED that trap).
- Actually traps you. A trap, as the name implies, should trap you. The real drama starts when the boss's minions arrive to see what the Have-a-Heart in Sector Three has caught this time.
As I'm developing my blue box, I'm thinking about what resources I'd include for worldbuilding. When you work within a framework of generic high fantasy, you can bet there will be elves, for example. But whose elves? Use this handy menu to elf your elfin' elves to your heart's content. Pick one or more options from each section:
Origins: Elves are:
Relations with Humans: Elves find humans:
- An elder race, superior to humans in many ways, but less ambitious and impulsive.
- Very minor deities entrusted with protecting and sustaining the natural world.
- Refugees from a divine realm adjacent to our own that has since fallen into evil.
- Transhumans who represent a physical and spiritual evolution beyond humankind.
- Descendants of the neutral angels who sided neither with god nor the devil.
Banes: Elves can't abide:
- A loutish, inferior brood worthy of contempt.
- Fascinatingly unpredictable.
- Well-meaning but ultimately destructive, wasteful, and foolish.
- The enemy.
- Pitiable for their brief lives and lack of mindfulness.
Temptations: Elves can't resist:
- Domesticated animals, especially dogs and cats.
Future: Elves believe they are destined to:
- The urge to complete a rhyme.
- The sight of the sea.
- Dwindle and fade as the younger races flourish.
- Perish in a final conflict with humans.
- Gradually interbreed with humans until they are absorbed.
- Return to a promised land across the sea/in the sky/beneath the earth.
- Forever serve their current role in the world with little change.