Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: Dungeon Fantasy RPG - Traps

It's exactly what it says
Today, I'm going to look at one of the special bonus supplements for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. Traps is exactly what it says on the tin - a catalog of traps. And it is huge. There is a lot to look at, and there's no flowery prose to dress things up further, so let's just dive right in and continue.

Overview and Introduction

Perfectly rectangular table of contents.
The document is 26 pages long; 3 pages dedicated to the preamble of title page, table of contents, and Introduction; and two pages of ads for more Steve Jackson products; leaving us 21 pages of solid content. The vast vast majority of said content is new by the way, with just a small pinch of a few traps from Dungeon Fantasy 16, and Christopher R. Rice's It's a Trap! from Pyramid #3/60: Dungeon Fantasy III. The contents are split into two chapters: Traps, 13 pages of conventional mechanisms built to hurt intruders; and Tricks, 8 pages of stuff that can be layered on top of mundane situations to make something a little more tricky.
This book, in terms of the categories I generally apply to books, is nearly 100% catalog. It is a long list of traps (and tricks.) And hardly anything else. And while the collection is engrossing, it would have been nice to have a bit more GM guidance; that said, what precious little guidance is there on making traps fun instead of feeling like they are a cheap ploy to waste healing potions, is nearly worth its character count in gold. There's not a lot of advice on creating custom traps, but I'll wax apologist and give them that cool traps are hard to manufacture and mass produce- the good ones are creative and trick people because they don't see them coming. Likewise, there's next to nothing in terms of new mechanics introduced; the traps work exactly as described in Dungeon Fantasy RPG - Exploits and Dungeon Fantasy 2, which by the way, I'd like to point out, among many of the books which are largely revisions and abbreviations of previously published content, this book is almost completely novel, and very easily compatible with the original Dungeon Fantasy line. For readers that are wary of buying the same book with a different cover, you can rest assured that what you get here is 95% new.


The first chapter begins with a small explanation of the stat block for traps, which consists of a summary of the ways that delvers can circumvent danger, profit from it, how bad it is to get caught by it, and so on; in a homogeneous way so that one can scan over the list of traps more expediently to help find the traps that are cohesive to your dungeon and your players. The traps are listed by alphabetical categories, and then alphabetically again under each category. This is helpful because the book omits an index, so at least everything being alphabetized makes the table of contents an improvised piece of equipment that only gives -1 to Research rolls. There are a whopping 43 a-list traps, and in a few of the asides, you have a few variations on those to pad the numbers further. Some of these range from the simple, such as the Bladed Pit... it is a pit, and there are blades at the bottom; to the  Machiavellian and overwrought like the Hieroglyphs of Insanity, which I won't spell out here. Just perusing the list is mildly stimulating, and helpful for inspiring dungeons or novel traps, and it is almost fun just to read through the catalog.


These are kind of a grab-bag of things that aren't quite traps, and they are almost always definitely not monsters, but they are something that separates the delvers from their objective. There are a total of 18 items in this collection, split up into three groups, and I think its most convenient to explore them from those categories
The first set, Insane Architecture, includes a bunch of special fixtures or conditions one can apply to the dungeon geography to make a mundane fight a little bit more challenging. The second set Puzzled Yet? is almost like the traditional traps of the previous chapter, but more testing a party's critical thinking skills instead of whether they can roll a really low number. Surprises and Lies, the final section, is about baffling fixtures that set up the player's expectations for one thing, and then betray them.
I appreciate some of the advice in the asides for this chapter. Puzzles like these are a fun way to do something different in a dungeon for some, but there's also an argument from others that riddles and puzzles that function outside of the rules, in a meta-context, are in contradiction to some of the reasons people enjoy RPGs. The asides I think have some well reasoned arguments and solutions to assuage the worries of GMs that fear that if they put a riddle in the dungeon, the players might never be able to solve it, and thus be stuck forever. This chapter is even more interesting than the previous, but I feel like there is still a problem with a lot of these elements, that once you have encountered them even once, you can never ever use them again because the magic is dead. You might struggle with a tricky riddle once, but if another GM reads this and decides to put it in his game, or worse, you see the same riddle twice in the same campaign (what?) then you have an instant win button for one of the rooms in her dungeon.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

Besides the adventure books, this book has the most original content of all the Dungeon Fantasy RPG books, and that might be why I was more interested in reviewing this somewhat "extraneous" supplement before one of the more primary pillars like the Adventurers or Exploit books, which require a bit more critical reading of content that is very similar to stuff I've read a few times over already. I think, by itself, it is a pretty useful supplement that couples with both the new and the original Dungeon Fantasy lines.


  1. Thanks! I actually wrote all the traps in that book that aren't reprinted from other supplements. PK cleaned stuff up and added vignettes, some boxes, etc. But most of the hazards are mine. So if they suck. Totally my fault.

    1. Actually, I really enjoyed everything in there. The problem I have with the tricks is that since some of them have a somewhat "meta-solution," it's something that could backfire in two ways. The neat thing is that I like the solution for the "players didn't get my clever clues" bad end, which PK speaks to in his comment, but then the other bit is, "Player already knew the answer because he heard this riddle somewhere before," which, I guess as a GM you can roll with that and chalk it up as the character having just a brilliant stroke of instant genius, but it also could feel like a bit of a letdown if you present "You enter the room, and before you there is a 5 quart and 7 quart jug [...]" and a player just blurts out, "fill the 5 quart with blue paint, put in 7 quart, mix with yellow paint, pour back in 5 quart, pour that in 7 quart, add red paint, pour in the frog's mouth, done!"

    2. I'm so very glad to hear it. This is my first physical book and my second monograph. Not to mention it was my FIRST kickstarter work ever. Lots of nerves on this one. Thank you for reviewing it - I'm sure PK appreciates it too.

  2. Yes, Christopher was the creative force here; my place was to revise, kibitz, and organize everything so that the GM could best use his crazy ideas. :)

    One thing worth pointing out is that you brought up a personal grip of mine -- puzzles and riddles being a strictly meta thing. I hate that. So that's why we made sure to include explicit rules for having the characters solve them in-game for times when the players are stumped. (Much like Action did for Housekeeping, and ATE did for Freight Handling, Traps finally makes the Poetry skill something actively useful rather than just a background skill!)

    1. I did like that bit. It's a thoughtful, holistic approach to the desire to include riddle-like puzzles, but not gyp players that have invested in building smart characters who shouldn't be chumped by some two bit sphinx.

    2. PK totally took all my madness and made it readable. I'm ashamed to admit some of the stuff I sent him was a bit on the ...well, it wasn't as clear as I would have liked. But we basically wrote this thing in like 3-4 weeks. It was FAST. He wrote a lot of the boxes too and just made it all work together in a wonderful way. He was a true joy to partner up with.


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