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Old 06-09-2021, 03:47 PM   #21
Dalillama
 
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Default Re: When did traps get silly?

Of course, there's also the very common sorts of low-tech traps for hunting: snares, deadfalls, tiger pits, etc. Those might well be found in an inhabited dungeon, and sized for humanoids if the residents are anthropophagus. Dungeon crawling has always elided the difference between tomb complexes with area-denial traps and inhabited tunnels with defensive or hunting oriented traps. The latter ones are checked regularly and reset as needed because they serve an important function for the residents. Falling ceilings, rooms full of poison spear launchers, etc. are a whole different sort of thing. For those sorts, "a wizard did it" pretty well covers questions of how they work/stay working/reset/etc.
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Old 06-09-2021, 05:27 PM   #22
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Re: When did traps get silly?

Perhaps I am simply not reading the right old adventure modules. Do any of the old hands on the forum happen to remember particular adventure modules where the traps have a much more Indiana Jones flavor than the ones in Temple of Elemental Evil?
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Old 06-09-2021, 06:29 PM   #23
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Default Re: When did traps get silly?

Remember that the typical early gamer was a teenaged to 22 year old boy. Bizarre deathtraps appeared so early because they are cool!

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These were all, 100%, without exception, construction aids. Traps aimed at thieves and other infiltrators are basically all the product of modern adventure fiction, with the tiny exception of booby traps used in wartime over the past century or so, all of which have been made possible by modern technology.
My understanding is that in some violent highland regions, there are areas around villages littered with pits and punji stakes ... and I was going to mention the legend of the crossbow traps in the First Emperor's tomb too (it might be a legend, but the people who invented tabletop roleplaying were not equipped to decide). I think in the 18th century people sold things like punt guns rigged to tripwires to plant on your grave and discourage nighttime visits, although I don't know how many moved from the patent office to the cemetery.
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Old 06-09-2021, 06:58 PM   #24
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Re: When did traps get silly?

One pattern I have noticed in early modules is traps placed at a dead-end within the dungeon, empty room, or similar, with no reward whatsoever for overcoming it. This is very odd if you are used to more recent dungeon designs, but makes perfect sense if you are trying to adopt the mindset of a sane person building a fortress—invaders won't necessarily know there's no reason to go down the dead end, whereas as the fortress owner it's easy enough to tell your minions that so they won't trigger the trap. In one case there's even a fake door to lure PCs into the trap! I believe trapped dead-ends were used in real life by Vietnamese guerrillas in their underground bunkers.

I do think silliness is a matter of degree. The traps in the early modules I've read feel analogous to Bond's briefcase in From Russia With Love, while traps in more recent modules feel more like Pierce Brosnan-era gadgets.
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Old 06-09-2021, 09:18 PM   #25
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Default Re: When did traps get silly?

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Originally Posted by Michael Thayne View Post
Perhaps I am simply not reading the right old adventure modules. Do any of the old hands on the forum happen to remember particular adventure modules where the traps have a much more Indiana Jones flavor than the ones in Temple of Elemental Evil?
According to my quick search, Temple of Elemental Evil was first published in 1985. The oldest module I own is Dragonlance Classics which was first published in 1984-1986. Due to the fact it has several authors, the tone is a bit uneven. It does have a number of quite silly trap-dungeon bits, though.
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Old 06-10-2021, 07:56 AM   #26
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It's sillier to try to impose "realism" on kitchen-sink fantasy than it is to have impossible traps, I feel . . . Sure, no realistic low-tech culture wasted time on elaborate traps for a variety of reasons linked to physics, economics, and just plain necessity, but efforts to make hack 'n' slash revert to the real world except when the impossible is present seem perverse.
Personally, I prefer some solid nods to realism - being closer to reality makes it easier to comprehend and predict, and makes the fantastic bits stand out more readily. Getting cinematic is perfectly acceptable of course - sure, ~Medieval/Renaissance clockwork(-ish) mechanisms shouldn't be that reliable, and it's likely inhabitants would eventually screw up and forget to disengage the trap on that hallway (or forget to reengage it after passing through), or not spell out IMHOTEP with their steps going through the room with the collapsing floor tiles, or whatever, but that's as easy to look past as the characters having ridiculous skill levels.

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It's actually a better story when everybody gets to be impossible: wizards, priests, people who can kill you with their mind, mysterious foreigners who can defeat swords with fists, lizard-folk, people who craft traps, the lot.
Now this I can absolutely get behind. Veteran warriors end up stronger and more resilient than their bodies physically should be capable of, master thieves can somehow sneak through well-lit open rooms, and so forth. This needn't be explicitly magical/supernatural (in which case it would be negatable with antimagic, no mana zones, or whatever means are available in the relevant system/setting), just part of the way the world works.
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Old 06-10-2021, 10:25 AM   #27
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Default Re: When did traps get silly?

I did have one dungeon setting in which I used traps extensively, but there were a number of conditions which I felt made them sensible. They were mostly magical traps; it was a single mage, whose talents leaned more toward crafting than to summoning and binding; and he was in an isolated area, where reliable mercenaries were in short supply. Finally, he was defending a position which was short on most resources, except time. So naturally his defenses would be constructed and laid over a long period of time: symbol spells, guards and wards, and other static magical defenses.

Once the players encountered a few of them, got the pattern, and handled a couple, I elided the rest and they moved on to the next phase of the encounter.
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Old 06-10-2021, 10:50 AM   #28
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I did have one dungeon setting in which I used traps extensively, but there were a number of conditions which I felt made them sensible. They were mostly magical traps; it was a single mage, whose talents leaned more toward crafting than to summoning and binding; and he was in an isolated area, where reliable mercenaries were in short supply. Finally, he was defending a position which was short on most resources, except time. So naturally his defenses would be constructed and laid over a long period of time: symbol spells, guards and wards, and other static magical defenses.
If I ever finish work on it, my Oubliette setting for GURPS DF* will have dungeons that make heavy use of traps, but most of those (~5/6) are sublethal, intended to restrain or incapacitate delvers, allowing the monsters to capture and lock them up in one of the dungeon's functionally-inescapable (without outside help) gaols. Dungeons in that are themselves magical, and part of a complicated system-gaming ritual to generate copious amounts of energy; people delving (even destroying, provided it's sufficiently matured) dungeons actually contributes to the energy generation, as does having the dungeon terminally corrupt people from outside of it (hence the emphasis on capturing rather than killing, although the result of terminal corruption is either death or a fate arguably worse). Some of the traps are elaborate - one is a room that seals off and lowers down (to prevent delvers from just bashing the sealed door down) once someone inside messes with the treasure chest in the center, then gets flooded with monsters.

*Magic will largely function differently from GURPS DF - I haven't decided yet if delvers will even be able to cast spells and the like, but if they are I'll be using some sort of Magic as Powers system, like Sorcery (if not, the closest you could get to a mage would be someone with magic items that approximate such).
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Old 06-10-2021, 12:28 PM   #29
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Default Re: When did traps get silly?

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As for the logic of the traps themselves, put me in the "Who cares?" camp. My thoughts run immediately along the lines of "A self-resetting crossbow is silly, but a two-headed immortal from another dimension, capable of slinging around objects with telekinesis, is not?" and "Contact poison that remains present and viable indefinitely is silly, but a potion that instantly closes wounds is not?"
For me, personally, I prefer a setting that is like our own except where explicitly different. I like having a reasonable expectation that things will be somewhat predicable, and I don't like having to guess which set of rules the scenario designer wanted to apply in the next room (Is this room dictated by the internal logic of the setting, or did the writer think of something kewl?). Establishing the rules is a big part of making a consistent setting, and is absolutely critical (IMO) to making a setting that can be interacted with rather than merely observed (or flat out ignored, as in most hack-and-slash games). If a setting has advanced clockwork that can operate flawlessly for centuries, I want said clockwork to be doing something other than trying to shoot me in the face (though if it exists, and someone has a good reason to want to shoot me in the face, that's different).
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In the genres where traps like this appear...
And is a part of why I care so little for said genres.
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Old 06-10-2021, 03:08 PM   #30
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Default Re: When did traps get silly?

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For me, personally, I prefer a setting that is like our own except where explicitly different. I like having a reasonable expectation that things will be somewhat predicable, and I don't like having to guess which set of rules the scenario designer wanted to apply in the next room (Is this room dictated by the internal logic of the setting, or did the writer think of something kewl?). Establishing the rules is a big part of making a consistent setting, and is absolutely critical (IMO) to making a setting that can be interacted with rather than merely observed (or flat out ignored, as in most hack-and-slash games). If a setting has advanced clockwork that can operate flawlessly for centuries, I want said clockwork to be doing something other than trying to shoot me in the face (though if it exists, and someone has a good reason to want to shoot me in the face, that's different).
Sure, but I think it's essential to accept that in settings with gods, magic, and wonder materials, "silly" traps are exactly what you're talking about: They're a small facet of a broader effort to say that, for consistency's sake, all those spells, miracles, and extraordinary substances must change the face of economics (e.g., a cash economy at nominal TL3, and even the poor trading in minted silver and gold) and technology (which ends up pushing TL(3+1)^ or TL(3+2)^). They can't just result in fireballs, healing spells, and mithril armor for adventurers.

The traps are part of "changing technology." They're internally consistent with healing potions and elven carriages, no doubt. It's just that it's a ton of work to map out exactly how one leads to the other, and what the precise made-up pseudoscience and wild technology underlying them is. I firmly believe that GMs with limited time budgets and authors with limited pages can be excused for hand-waving this mapping as part of the +1)^ or +2)^ that I mentioned. Standing in the real world and trying to define exactly how divergent and superscience tech works is a bit like standing in the present and trying to predict the future: If you could really do it, you'd have that tech in the real world! But you can't.
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