Dragon Encounters

Making dnd combat fun, finding monsters that fit together, monster tactics and strategies, and other ways of using the monsters of dungeons and dragons

Special article 1: Trap Ideas

Welcome to the first special article. These articles are for when an idea becomes too long to fit into one article, and/or seems like something that will be useful even when not fighting a specific monster.


This box is exploring the different minions you might use together with a trap.

Using minions together with a trap is a great way to add difficulty. It also adds flexibility, as a trap can’t adapt to what the players do against it, but minions can. That said, it can add quite a bit of difficulty, so you’ll want to be careful how and when you do it.

Types of monsters to use with traps.

Insubstantial monsters – includes shadow demon, ghost, shadow, wraith, will-o’-wisp. This is probably my first choice, as these monsters can easily avoid trap effects, and can attack the PCs at any point.

Ranged attackers – includes barbed devil, spined devil, flameskull, kenku, kobolds, quadrone, skeleton, wight, yuan-ti. Ranged attackers don’t add to the traps’ difficulty so much as impose a time limit, in the form of a damage penalty for every turn the players spend on reaching them.

Flyers and climbers – includes flying sword, imp, gargoyle, hook horror, mephits. This is the hardest category to defeat, as these monsters can and will knock the PCs back, prevent movement, and generally double the trap’s difficulty.

Not recommended – Monsters that impose conditions, monsters that effect movement directly, large sized monsters. The first two types will make the traps extremely lethal, the last will have a hard time moving around and avoiding the trap.

(Yes, I suggested using a demilich together with traps, and a demilich fulfills both of the first two conditions. However, I suggested either only using one small trap, or providing NPCs to help carry unconscious PCs out of the trap. Furthermore, I was designing a boss battle, and I fully intended for it to be extremely difficult.)

Other articles that explore traps: Solar, Beholder. (I intend to add to this list when and if I add more articles with heavy trap usage.)

Complex Trap 1. Hallway Chase (Difficulty 8.)

The idea of this one, as I originally conceived it, is that there are a number of rooms, each with different traps in them. The Hallways are also trapped. Each room contains a lever, and the only way to escape this trap is to activate all the levers. To make it harder, the levers only stay activated for a limited amount of time, forcing the players to either split up or to rush through the maze before the first levers pressed deactivate. If this is too complicated for your liking, you can simply make the rooms and hallways go in a straight line which the players have to get through, with or without a time limit.

When using this with a demilich, the levers are basically ornamental. Since becoming a demilich, he’s lost a lot of his sanity, and now he just prowls the trapped sections of his dungeon. This trap is even more deadly now, as the demilich can easily fly away through the traps and come back when he wants to.

You’ll want to make certain that each room connects to at least three others, as with two connections the demilich can get cut off right at the start. You should give the players some means to create barriers, walls of force or the equivalent, or else the demilich can fly circles around them forever. I would make it so that the barriers have to be put up where the PC is standing, as otherwise they’ll easily trap the demilich in a hallway. Like in the case without the demilich, you can just treat this as a line or rooms and hallways instead, and should the party and the demilich both be alive when they get to end, the demilich is trapped and this becomes a normal fight. With whichever option, I would suggest that killing the demilich deactivates the trap, as killing the demilich and then dying inside the trap feels counter climatic.

Finally, you can use the rooms and hallways individually, as a simple trap. Scatter them around a dungeon, perhaps. I already suggest this possibility above, under fast fights.

Hallway Traps: (each trap presented here will be a basic trap, and then a few variants on that trap.)

  1. Fire: The floor of the hallway is on fire. Perhaps in sections, and they can jump between sections, or perhaps there are statues along the walls that they can jump between. Or you can just set the whole floor on fire on let them figure out how to navigate it.
  2. Variation 1: Have jets of flames appearing from the floor at intervals, and they can make dexterity checks to avoid them. This will also slow them down and split them up somewhat, as they’ll need room to move. Or you can have a single flame thrower than shoots down the length of the hall. They can’t go fast enough to avoid it, so they’ll have to block it somehow. For added difficulty, us a flamethrower at each end of the hall, with overlapping flames, so they have to block both directions at once.
  3. Variation 2: Have a thin sheet of oil constantly pouring down in the middle (and draining away into gutters.) There are small curtains of flame at the ends of the hall. These flames won’t do much damage by themselves, but they’ll ignite the oil covering the PC’s.
  4. Variation 3: the floor is awash in oil, and as they reach the center a trigger causes it to light from both sides, so that they have a wash of flames moving toward them.
  • Blades: The floor is covered in blades sticking up from the floor. There is plenty of room between blades, and the players can easily walk between them, but not if they’re going fast (and the whole setup of this trap calls for them to go fast.) You can coat the blades in poison to make this trap more lethal.
  • Variation 1: The blades jab up at them at intervals.
  • Variation 2: As They reach the middle, the blades start moving back and forth. You can provide statues for them to climb onto, but if they do say they’ll be trapped there, as the blades continue moving.
  • Variation 3: As they advance, the blades start to emerge more and more. Since they’re not angled the exact same way, they start to reduce the available space more and more. Eventually, they’ll be nowhere left to stand.
  • Goo: The floor is covered with a layer of goo, probably with a thin crust on top. The goo acts like glue, seizing their legs and preventing them from moving further. Aside from slowing them, as they get tired, they get slower, and as they get slower the goo hardens around their legs, making it harder to move. If they’re too slow, it will harder around them completely and they’ll be trapped in place forever.
  • Variation 1: The floor of the hallway isn’t even. Since the goo isn’t transparent it conceals this (like any liquid it settled along the floor at an even height.) This means that they can set their feet on a pothole and have their entire leg sink in. This is considerably harder to escape from, and might require help from a fellow player.
  • Variation 2: As they enter, the floor starts slowly sinking. The height of the goo doesn’t change (it’s connected to tanks inside the wall) which means the further they go, the further they sink. Since the floor is descending slowly, by the time they realize it might be too late.
  • Variation 3: Add in iron bars, which they’ll have to break without resting in one place for too long.
  • Marbles: The middle of the hallway contains a huge pile of marbles. That’s it. But getting them out of the way in a hurry will be difficult, and if they scatter they’ll make the floor slippery. [They don’t quite reach the ceiling, which means the demilich can get through.]
  • Variation 1: The marbles are red hot. Magically. [Neither this variation nor any of the others require as large a pile as in the original.]
  • Variation 2: The marbles are metal, and the wall is electrified. Right now, none of them are touching the wall, but that might change once the players start moving them.
  • Variation 3: Instead of marbles, use a pile of bags containing acid or poisonous gas. The bags are fragile, and break easily, releasing their contents when they do so.
  • Pits With Spikes: They have to jump over the pits. To make matters harder, make the floor a little slippery. It won’t stop them when they’re walking, but it will be hard to regain their balance after a jump, and there’s another pit up ahead. Oh, and you’ll want to put spikes on the walls as well, so they can’t regain their balance that way.
  • Variation 1: The pits are covered by an illusionary floor. They can easily get past by feeling their way past, but that will slow them. One solution is if they have one of the marbles from the previous set of traps, they can send it rolling down and keep track of where it disappears. (Note: the floors aren’t slippery in the variations.)
  • Variation 2: The entire hallway is one long pit, covered by sheets of glass. (There are metal beams running the width of the hall that the glass is on top of, every five feet or so. If they’re sharp on top, the players can’t just jump across on them should the glass break.) If two heavy PCs step on the same sheet at once, they’ll break it, or perhaps cause it to start to break. The same if a PC wearing metal armor should fall prone.
  • Variation 3: Anti-Gravity. Put spikes on the ceiling, and maybe a skeleton * lying there so that they can’t claim unfair.

* Meaning corpse, not monster.

  • Moving Walls: Have the walls smash together, or the ceiling drop down, in various places every so often. They’ll probably be able to pass without real difficulty, (You might as well just assume that they pass successfully) but it will leave them separated from their companions for a turn. For an even harder version, have the walls or ceiling smash in one place, then in the area right in front of it, than a little further forward, as so forth until the front PCs are not only separated from their companions for a turn, but also by thirty feet of distance. (Note: The traps in this last section are built at increasing combat difficulty. If you run them without a monster, they won’t be much of a challenge. That said, you can find other monsters to run them with if you don’t want to use these traps with a demilich.)
  • Variation 1: Split Hallway. Put a wall in the middle of the hallway, splitting the hallway in two. The hallway moves back and forth, meaning that on one side there is plenty of room, and on the other there is only room for one person to move, no room for another person to get past, and as the people on that side have to practically turn sideways in order to move you might give the hallway the status of difficult terrain and give the PCs standing there disadvantage on attacks. Which side of the hallway works which way is unpredictable, as the hallway doesn’t shift every turn.
  • Variation 2: Moving Floor. The floor shifts unpredictably, so that sometimes the person in front can find himself carried ahead. Or it can be a narrow line of hallway that moves ahead, carrying someone from the back ranks of the party toward the front. You could also have a large patch of hallway start moving backwards, so that they have to dash if they want to advance down the hall. I would remind you that characters are only supposed to be able to dash for a number of rounds equal to one plus their CON modifier (minimum of 1.)
  • Variation 3: A stretch of the wall about the height of most players’ feet and lower legs slides out until it reaches the opposite wall. If the players don’t want to get their feet crushed, they’ll have to step on and start walking on the top of the wall that moved out. Then another wall section slides out, and they have to step up onto that in order to move even more froward. Eventually, they’ll reach a stage where they don’t have room to walk, only to crawl, and eventually they will be trapped between the two walls without escape.

I have just provided far more traps than are possibly needed. Despite that, I don’t necessarily recommend using a different trap in each hallway. In the first place, this is complicated and confusing, and secondly it can sometimes be interesting to run into the same trap more than once. It lets them refire the methods they used before, and use methods they thought of afterwards. Especially when used as part of a fight, it doesn’t have to be original to make life interesting.

I would also suggest using all the variations of one trap rather than one of each. These is something to be said for themes.

Finally, you can use them as individual traps scattered through a dungeon as well.

All this advice also applies to the room traps I’m about to present, and to the pieces of the next two complex traps which I’ll include afterwards.

Room traps:

For the room traps, I’m going to provide four dangers, to put in the center of each room, and four obstructions, to be put at the sides in order to make it hard for the players not to walk into the dangers. You can combine any danger with any obstruction, and in that way create a total of sixteen different traps. (Not that I recommend using more than six at the absolute most, and probably less.)

Four dangers:

  • Trapdoors: The room is divided into squares, and each turn a number of the open up, possibly in a pattern. You can also have them move like a chess horse. Since you’ll be using at least two trapdoors, it’s unlikely they’ll figure out the pattern unless you tell them or give them a strong hint. Decorating the floor in white and black tiles like a chessboard might help.
  • A device in the middle of the room whirls around sharp discs attached to cords. Being hit by a disc does obvious damage, but being caught by a cord is even worse. The cord winds itself around the PC until the disc hits him, leaving him immobilized and xxx in addition to the damage. (This is physics, not magic.)
  • Tall metal poles run through the room, going from the floor to the ceiling. The poles are electrified with lightning energy, touching them does lightning damage as well as leaving the person stuck to them unless he can make a STR save to pull free [he can try once a turn, for half his movement] or if someone helps him. [One person helping him gives him advantage on his next STR save. Two people helping grants him automatic success. The people helping take lightning damage equal to half the amount of touching the pole, unless they somehow protect their hands.]
  • Fire breathing statues: There are one or more statues that breath fire once a round. The statues rotate to face the PCs. They also slide sideways, although not forward, to block players from going past to reach their objective. They are hard to destroy, and if destroyed they become a pipe constantly pumping a gradually spreading fire into the room.

Four obstructions:

  • Shifting Walls: The room is rectangular in shape, but the walls sometimes shift 10-20 feet (you should probably start with 5-10.) The walls all shift together, and the shape of the room is always the same, but the result is that PCs standing close to the walls are suddenly thrust toward the danger.
  • Spiraling Walls: The room is circular, and the walls start turning around when they enter, slowly reducing the amount of space in the room. This is gradual, and not a large problem [the entrances remain in place] but there are a few statues wielding rods fixed to the walls, and when they come near a PC they attack him. The statues are extremely solid and very difficult to break.
  • Slippery Floors: The floors are slippery, as though they were greased. The main danger isn’t falling prone, [although this might be an issue also, DM’s decision] but rather the fact that once a PC starts to move in one direction it’s hard to change course until he reaches the opposite wall [or finds something else to grab hold of.]
  • Blazing light: Every other round, the light in the room becomes blinding at they can’t see where the danger is.

Complex trap 2: Platforms above water (difficulty 6)

The players enter a platform high up in a large room. The room is rapidly filling with water. For now, the water is far below them, but that won’t be the case for long. Escape involves jumping from their ledge to a hanging platform, and them from platform to platform, until the last platform lets them exit through a trapdoor in the ceiling. Each platform is higher than the last, buying them an extra round or two before the water reaches them.

The add to the challenge, they can’t let the water reach them. Perhaps it’s boiling hot, perhaps it’s acid or poisonous, perhaps it’s full of giant sharks or similar threats, or perhaps there’s an oil fire on top of the water and rising with it. (Water won’t put out an oil fire.) Choose one. [Or combine them all, and have the room be filling up with boiling, poisonous acid that has an oil fire on top and special giant sharks that are immune to fire, acid, and poison damage swimming around inside it.]

(Incidentally, both the boiling water and the oil fire ideas should cause the entire room to become an oven in which the PCs can’t possibly survive. Then again, that’s also true every time Mario runs a lava level [especially the indoor lava levels.] In general, most action games ignore indirect damage, including D&D. Witness the fact that you either take full damage from fire spells [half on a DEX save] or no damage. It doesn’t fall off gradually. And I know that the reason is because otherwise it would be very hard to calculate, but the fact that D&D simplifies damage remains. If it really bothers you, though, add air vents and wind for air circulation.)

To make it more interesting, here are some traps for the individual platforms.

  • To start with, you can use the fire and the blades ideas from by hallway traps before. You can also use any of the room dangers, except maybe the trapdoors, and even that might work. (Even if you used them before or want to use them afterwards, facing them in a hallway might be different enough from facing them on a platform to allow you to use them twice. As for the room dangers, over here you don’t have the obstructions.)
  • Another set of ideas include: sprays of acid that geyser from the platform, a poisonous mist, a platform covered with poisonous spiders or snakes, one covered with biting insects, Rising and falling blades, etc. You could have two or three parallel platform, and they can choose which one of each pair they want to face. If you’re not doing it as part of a demilich fight, you can also use various monsters on the different platforms.
  • A tilting platform: If it’s not balanced, and has more than one person on it at a time, it tilts backward or forward toward the side where the most weight is located. (With the water rising rapidly, they can’t afford to go one at a time.)
  • A spinning platform: When you get on, you get to other side in a hurry, although you don’t remain there for long. If this seems like it isn’t much of an obstacle, you’re probably not using a demilich.
  • Another tilting platform, this one with a boulder attached: When they get on, they cause the platform to tilt slightly, which causes the boulder to roll toward them. The boulder has a hole through its center, and a rope goes through the hole and has both ends attached to the ceiling above.
  • A greased platform: Hard to navigate in a hurry, easier if you’re holding on to each other for support. Or you could make it slightly bowl shaped, so that they tend to slide toward the center.  

And here are some traps for the area between platforms:

  • Have the falling water coming down between two of the platforms. Even if you’re using sharks or an oil fire, the force of the falling water will be hard to jump through, and if you’re using acid, poison, or boiling water, a thin sheet will make a significant obstacle.
  • If you are using giant sharks, have one of them jump out of the water and grab a PC. Because the water is rising, they’ll have a chance to get back on a platform, without which this would be a very deadly idea.
  • Have the platform be going up and down. They have to jump at the right moment. Not a problem in itself, but if you have the platform narrow to a point, so that only one of them can jump at a time, this will be very problematic. [For a sneakier variant, have the platform they’re jumping to be the one that narrows to a point. The same problems as before, plus the possibility that they won’t realize and that they’ll crash into each other.]
  • Place giant spiderwebs, flaming hoops, or something else between the platforms that they have to jump through just right or else they’ll get snagged or take damage. It’s possible that they’ll find a way to remove these obstacles before they jump. That’s an okay solution too.

The final platform (don’t use more than 5-6, max) will end near the ceiling, and there’ll be a trapdoor or air vent or some such that they can exit through. If you’re using this as part of a demilich fight, you can have the water stop rising as it reaches their platform, letting this become the stage grounds of the final fight.

The three remaining traps in this article are meant to be fought without a demilich:

Complex Trap 3: Electric Boulders (difficulty 22)

(Of all the traps in this article, this is the one that I would most hesitate to add a monster to. I feel that it’s lethal enough already.)

(This is the most complex of the traps remaining in this article. I’m placing it here because it resembles the previous traps more than the other remaining traps do. I would not use this at the beginning of a dungeon, however. If anything, I would use the last two traps in the article first, and use this afterwards.)

The trap area is a long hallway in the shape of a square or circle. There is a large metal boulder that rolls along throughout the hallway [in fact, given the size of this trap, I would provide 2-4 boulders. This way they can’t pull ahead of the boulder for too long, nor do you have a problem of the not encountering a boulder for the first few rounds of entering this area.

The boulders are metal, and humming with lightning energy. Touching one, or allowing one to touch you, will cause you to take an amount of lightning damage above and beyond the amount of bludgeoning damage that a boulder trap normally delivers. (Should it roll over a PC, they’ll take bludgeoning damage as well.)

The fact that the boulders are metal should make destroying them extremely difficult, but if that does happen it will unleash a massive lightning bolt that will travel in both directions and do even more damage than being hit with the boulder directly would do. Also, there are still several other boulders rolling through the trap.

Instead of a downhill slope, the normal means of keeping the boulder of a boulder trap moving, this trap relies on magnetic power, summoned magically. There are four or more metal archways along the length of the trap, each of which puts out magnetic pulses of steadily increasing frequency. When a boulder rolls through an arch, the strength of the pulse resets itself. The different arches do not emit their pulses at the same time.

(One of the goals of doing it this way is that if a Wall of Stone, Wall of Force, or other obstruction is placed in the boulder’s path, and the boulder isn’t strong enough to break through at once, the boulder will roll backwards a little, as the arch behind it pulls at it, and then roll forward even more strongly than before. Since the strength of the archway increases until a boulder rolls through, it will be hitting the barriers with more and more force until it breaks through.)

The way to escape this trap is in the form of portals. At seemingly random times, portals open up in this area, and jumping through a portal before it closes lets you escape the area. The difficulty, aside from the fact that the portals are only open for a few seconds, is that only one person can escape through a portal at once. The portal closes as soon as one person goes through it, and all remaining people have to continue outrunning the boulders until another portal opens up and lets one more person escape.

(In theory, the portal can lead into another dangerous situation. A room with monsters, a flooded chamber where the people have to swim through tunnels while the rushing water seeks to slam them into the walls, a narrow ledge next to a drop buffeted by high winds and with another boulder they have to outrace, or other. If you do this, I suggest focusing on the players still in the boulder trap until they all escape, and only then starting to deal with what the players who escaped the first trap were facing while their companions where still busy. Just keep track of what order they went through the portal, and how many rounds passed in between different players exiting.

If it wasn’t deadly enough yet, here are some obstacles for them to deal with while attempting to keep ahead of the metal boulders.

  • A poisonous mist lies over a part of the hallway. It doesn’t have to do poison damage; it just has to make them nauseous and weak [I.E., poisoned condition] so that they no longer have the strength to outrun the boulders.
  • A wall of continually falling, boiling hot water. Or just a wall of flames. Or flamethrowers mounted in the walls that turn on and off.
  • Loops of rope, ties like lassoes, handing from the ceiling. The boulders just knock them out of the way as they go by, but humans/humanoids will have trouble making sure not to accidently put an arm through them. If they do, and pull tight, the rope will tighten itself around them, and they’ll be unable to get away before the boulder reaches them.
  • Small potholes, possibly covered, which the boulder rolls right over but which can trip PCs.
  • A long stretch of metal covered floor. Not an obstacle in itself, but metal conducts electricity [oops, I meant lightning damage] so all of a sudden the boulder’s lightning damage will hit them despite their being 10+ feet ahead of it. (I’ve also seen comics where electricity causes it to be hard for the person to break away from the source of it. If so, add them being fixed to the floor in addition to receiving lightning damage.

Complex Trap 4: Descending Ceiling and Walls (difficulty 15)

As they enter the room, which is empty but may contain a raised dais with a book on it or some other form of distracting furniture, both the ceiling and walls holding it up start to descend.

The walls descending means that breaking the walls as a means of escape will be a lot harder, as any area they hit will be moving and will soon sink below the floor. You don’t have to have the door slam shut, you don’t even need to use doors at all but can replace them with archways, as the doors will soon be below floor level. One or two people might escape, if they think to all dash for the exit as soon as the trap triggers, but it will be hard for everybody to all fit out.

The dungeon’s master crossed this room by walking in and being ready to go back toward the exit as soon as he reached the part where the trap triggered. Alternatively, by sacrificing a minion. Once this trap is activated you can just wait for the room to descend and then walk across what was previously the room’s ceiling.

Complex Trap 5: Rushing waters (difficulty 12)

The door to this room opens out onto a narrow ledge. The area below is filled with rushing water, which is coming into the room on the far side in a massive waterfall that spans the width of the room and then flows toward the entrance side of the room, where it descends through a hole similarly wide right in front of the entrance. The size of the water’s entrance and exit means that the water is flowing far too fast to be swum against.

The exit is a heavy sliding door, up on the wall on the far side, right behind the waterfall. The players can make out the door, but there are only a few inches between the door and the waterfall, definitely not enough room to stand (even if it wasn’t high up.)

There is also a fireman-type pole leading down into the water next to the ledge.

The players won’t be able to see this, but the water falls out of the room they’re in into a second room, smaller than the first, although still sizeable, where it flows in the other direction and ends up falling through a portal back into the first room. Should they block off the room they’re in, perhaps with a Wall of Stone, there is a trigger that activates when the second room fills up. It will cause the entrances through which the water is flowing to close, and for other entrances to open on the other side of the rooms they’re in. It will take five rounds from when the players block the portal for the secondary portals to open.

The way the dungeon’s master crossed this room: There is an indestructible umbrella nearby whose pole is a staff that allows you to cast Control Water, Walk on Water, and Wall of Ice once a day each. They have a limit, however, of only being able to affect anything within five feet of where the caster is standing. (You can let the players discover this staff or not, depending on how you want to play this.)

The lich would use Control Water to descend the pole and enter the other room without getting wet. As he entered the other room, he would cast Wall of Ice to block off the hole leading out of the first room, after first crossing into that room himself. With no more water coming in, the water would gradually drain out of the second room and let him walk across it. After that, he would cast Walk on Water, unfurl the umbrella, and stand on top of the water until the water had sunk just enough for him to open the exit out.

(In order for this solution to work, we have to say that the flow of water coming in from the second room is somewhat less than the water exiting from the first, original room. This also means that when the second room fills up and the openings reverse themselves, the flow of water coming in from the second room greatly increases. This is needed in order to give the second room a way to drain.)

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About Me

I have been a DM for several years, and I was designing home RPG games since my young childhood. I have been a fan of many different types of games (computer, board, RPG, and more) and have designed several for my own entertainment. This is my first attempt to produce game content for a wider audience.