[RPG] How to make traps and puzzles more engaging


Inspired by the recent UA about Traps I considered making trap/puzzle encounters more common, but I don't know how to solve an issue, which was mentioned in our gaming group.

A player mentioned in another game (different DM), that traps are unfun and boring because either you take damage or the rogue gets to roll perception/investigation and then disarms it. Thus I mainly used traps for alarms, releasing enemies or literally trapping PCs.

Complex traps/escape rooms are just a collection of "you take damage, go on" and "roll a check with your tools". Even though the UA suggests arcana checks for some traps, there are classes which can do literally nothing or are just plainly worse at it than others.

Typical puzzles are more likely to test the players than the characters, so some players would rather make an Investigation check (and repeat it indefinitely until they succeed) and solve it that way than thinking about it as a player. Puzzles like a collapsed bridge above a rift might lead to the players just searching for a different way across, because they don't want to spend all spell slots from the one and only spellcaster of the group.

Still, many characters are not useful in such a situation and for some players a combat encounter feels more engaging than any trap/puzzle encounter, because they know how to act, there are no characters left out and they generally have more abilities and choices to deal with a creature than with a trap. So, how to make a trap/puzzle/complex trap/escape room as engaging and fun for the players, when the system gives them more options and balance for combat encounters.

Best Answer

You cannot do better than follow the advice in the Angry GM article. In summary: have only one or two types of traps that are detectable by the players.

What the article does not address is using traps as battlefield obstacles which is the way armies use "traps" like landmines and barbed wire. These things do not stop enemy armies but they can channel movement - clearing minefields and barbed wire takes time. Either the enemy takes the time and you can redeploy to meet them as they come out of the minefield or they go around the minefield into an area already under your guns.

These types of traps are not "set and forget", minefields have to be patrolled or the enemy will lift your mines and use them against you as the Australian Army found out in Vietnam.

What works for armies can work in D&D. Intelligent monsters can use traps to delay or channel movement during an encounter. A fight with kobolds is easy, unless they know where the pit and arrow traps are and you don't - they can manoeuvre so the straight path to them takes you into a trap. Once this happens a couple of times your players will move around the battlefield with much more caution.