Traps, Hazards and Terrain: Hacking

Been Gone

We’ve been awfully quiet here at Rules as Unwritten since Fingolfin and I have been working late, distracted by DndNext and actually trying out new things in side games. That part in the middle, about the new slated edition, is one that’s probably been most of the cause for slowing down the content here. You see, we love 4e. Of course we see many things worth reexamining and course-correcting, we can’t help but be a little bummed.

But I’m over it now (a bit), because 4e is still alive and kicking, at least for me—and 5th edition will be a really great evolution I hope. I play in a weekly game, I run a bi-monthly game out of state, and I’ve even been able to sneak in a few Saturday games that have become little testing grounds to help me solidify my thoughts about what works and doesn’t work in the great game we love.

That said, we hope to bring you more content soon, but sometimes it’s hard to invest time and energy in project pieces that you now know could be irrelevant in the near future. But it’s not so terribly near that we should throw in the towel, so here’s a bit of crunch from the last game I ran that I found interesting.


Have you ever played Bioshock? This is a fantastic game, and although I think I mentioned it before when I played the first game in the series last year, I just recently picked up the sequel, and lo, it is just as good as the first in terms of game play. I have many reasons to remark on why it is such a great game (story, graphics, etc), but the relevant reason in this post is the way the game deals with traps. In the post-distopian submerged world of Rapture they built security systems to protect portions of the city in which you traverse. Since things went haywire down there, you end up facing these little bots and thwarting them is the challenge. The “treasure” that you collect is usually guarded by these machines, and the security usually translates into mini-games, which when solved open the “chest” and reward you, or when failed, bring on a wrath of machines that can slap your wrist pretty nasty.

The mini-game is just a little meter that shows up on your screen with an oscillating needle—you’re intent is to land the needle in a row of the safe areas and to avoid the danger zones that will result in a failure. This can get complex and stressful when there are baddies around shooting at you (thus part of the fun). However, the game introduces an additional level to the hack that makes it even more fun: the ability to turn the trap to your side.

Either by landing the needle in an even smaller special zone in the meter, or by collecting “auto-hack darts” and catching these little buggers with them, you can make these robots your slaves. This sets you up for some interesting situations where you can lure your enemies into zones with your allied devices, and not spend a single bullet of your own to put them down.

Stealing Their Idea

I liked the idea enough to translate it into D&D. One of my gripes with traps is that they are often ignored in combat because of their relative insignificance. I’ve always felt that their danger (either damage or control) should be considered much higher than a normal monster for the shear fact that most do not move at all, and a lot of them can be shut down with a single skill check, thus resulting in the PCs practically ignoring them. For a little twist, consider a trap like the Amber Eye to encourage more engagement with the trap. The trap itself has a means to not only shut down the constant threat it presents on the battlefield, but offers an opportunity to change it into an advantage.

Amber Eye

The Amber Eye trap is a tiny object with a coloration on one part of its surface in the likeness of an iris and pupil. After its owner spends 10 minutes programming what it should detect as enemies, the Amber Eye levitates in place at eye level as a vigilant sentry. When an enemy to the Amber Eye moves within 8 squares, it rolls for initiative and begins to pulse, potentially catching the enemy in its Burning Eye. Though an Amber Eye may seem like a perfect security device because of its longevity and devastating power, its weakness is in its ability to be tricked by others into reprogramming, potentially turning it from a trap into a piece of artillery for interlopers.

While playing Bioshock I thought of that little meter mini-game and felt it could easily be translated into a move action, allowing for a player to focus on the trap with a sacrifice of downgrading a standard action, or to pick at it round by round. The best way to turn the device against the PC’s own enemies is to not miss one of those thievery checks. However, the trap could potentially be distracted as well, if you want to remain in its reach but not get shot at. Hopefully I was able to bring in something new to the trap mechanic, while still providing the good old circumvention methods of either bashing it to bits, or sneaking around it entirely. Enjoy!