[RPG] Can a Rogue find an undetectable Trap


While the title seems to already anwser the question on it's own (there's no way you can detect something undetectable), should that really be the case?

Let's check three examples:

  • Collapsing Floor trap: it looks identical to all the normal floor around it, except putting too much weight on it causes it to collapse.
  • Door Trap: a mechanism that triggers when a heavy door is opened, causing a massive explosion that blasts everything within 100 feet to smithereens, possibly launching the door at the party at high speeds.
  • Magic Trap: triggered by an Alarm spell, except the material components were eschewed / made invisible, as well as applying a nondetection spell on it to floor detect magic and find traps spells,

Let's say we have a Rogue with 30 Passive Perception, as well as expertise in Arcana and whatever other skills might be useful.

Do they notice the supposedly undetectable floor trap by noticing the floor sag by a tiiiiny bit, or feeling that is starts to give way as soon as they lightly step onto it, quickly withdrawing their foot before it triggers?

Do they notice that the door's movement isn't quite right – actually, they would have no idea how heavy the door is, and as soon as they hear the mehcanism's clicking, it's already too late. Does perception translate into intuition/gut feelin/sixth sense in this situation, or is this trap outright impossible to prevent, not even allowing perception checks or whatnot, making the trapfinder rogue feel useless?

As for the magic trap, is the only way to detect it to have Truesight (not happening before level 20), or even blindsense (still very high level for a relatively mid-to-low-level trap) to somehow feel the invisible arcane runes/silver string – that sounds like a huge stretch.

TL;DR Can a Rogue detect a trap that is physically and magically impossible to notice, if their perception (and arcana) are high enought? Or are some of the more clever traps just impossible to find, making them top choices against intruders in the D&D multiverse?

Best Answer

If something is impossible, it is impossible

I'll quote the opening pages of the Player's Handbook.

In cases where the outcome of an action is uncertain, the Dungeons & Dragons game relies on rolls of a 20-sided die, a d20, to determine success or failure.

If the outcome of an action is certain, then there is no roll or ability check to make to attempt to change the outcome.

Rogues have no special trap-finding sense

While Rogues are traditionally good trap-finders, and they can definitely optimise Perception and Investigation skills to be ludicrously high, rogues have no special features which let them supernaturally detect traps (by the book, anyway). There may be features or spells from other parts of the game which can help detect traps, but not from the rogue class features.

It is up to DM judgement as to whether a ludicrously high result on a Perception check results in nigh-supernatural senses. Fifth edition defines a DC 30 ability check as being typical of a "nearly impossible" task (PHB p.174). While previous editions of the game may have regularly had bonuses and DCs far in excess of this at higher tiers of play, fifth edition follows bounded accuracy, meaning there is little point in defining DCs much higher than 30 because a designer should not expect a regular character to easily exceed that DC (although players cheesing the system might be cause to reconsider). What counts as "nearly impossible" as opposed to just plain impossible is up to the DM and the tone and genre they want at their table. But in general the DM has no reason to set a finite DC for an impossible task - they just declare it impossible, no roll required.

But is the trap really undetectable?

In your cases, you need to consider whether all components of the trap are completely undetectable. In some cases this may be true, such as in the heavy door scenario or the magical alarm. But in some cases the disguise may not be perfect.

To take the collapsing floor as an example, there might be hairline fractures in the floor, or it might sag slightly, or when a single foot or 10-foot pole is placed on it the floor sounds hollow or shifts slightly. These might be very difficult signs to detect, but someone with an astonishingly high Perception should notice them.

Even in the door scenario, it may be possible to notice a glint of the mechanism through a gap around the edge of the door. Trap makers aren't perfect.

But even if the mechanism of the trap is somehow perfectly obscured, traps do not exist in isolation. Traps will be avoided by the denizens of the dungeon. As such, there should be evidence that the space associated with the trap is unused while nearby spaces are used. The trapped door, on closer inspection, shows no sign of use. The collapsing floor has dust but no footprints. And so on.

Checking for lack of footprints applies to old traps. For very recently created traps, you might instead find evidence that the trap-maker had been about recently. This is perhaps less of a tell-tale sign of a trap, but it's something.

With a very high Perception, you need to think very carefully about whether there is truly absolutely no possible way to detect even a clue of the trap's presence, even indirectly.

If you are the DM, you also need to consider why you are designing a literally undetectable trap. If it's a matter of "that's what the NPCs would do", then consider also the possibility than the NPCs might not be flawless trap makers able to remove every single clue of a trap's existence, and that other factors may indirectly reveal the trap anyway. It may help to consider whether the PCs could make such an undetectable trap, or whether there would be some limitation on what the PCs could plausibly achieve.