Traps & Secret Doors

Sorry, I misspoke a bit. Yes, by “you get a chance” I meant conditionally, as in, if the trap is there you get a chance to test against it.

Likewise, if there’s no trap, you won’t test, but the GM is likely to offer more details about the room.

I think it can also be very helpful to say “ah, yes, and I’m up front, searching for traps” as the party travels onward. It reinforces the idea that you’re the front scout, it reminds people that you’re searching and scouting, and it can also help delineate a new area. (If I’m understanding this right.)

So, the searchscumming doesn’t happen, because you’re not asking “okay, I search now, do I find anything?” It’s abstracted a bit (or it would be if I ran it). But I wouldn’t run the other extreme of only triggering it once. You have to remind the GM that you’re still searching. (Which is also something I could see falling at various levels, given the group.) You could also think of it as a “status check” moment. “I’m searching for traps, as per my instinct.” “I have an arrow at the ready, watching for enemies.”

Also, don’t forget that you can go the old school way (as noted in the Old School Primer) and come up with a way of searching the room that counts as a Good Idea!

YMMV I suppose but I’ve found it silly and distracting and ultimately monotonous…yet, prior to non-TB Instincts, painful and foolish not to do. shrug

That’s why I plan on taking the instinct. Without an instinct, I’d probably expect to spend a turn to search, whether there’s anything there or not. I do recognize that that’s probably too nitpicky, though.

edit: Scratch that. With no trap there, there can be no obstacle, and therefore no successful or failed test for advancement. Guess I just need to accept being open about there being nothing there, and the beneficial effect on the flow of the game that would have. It wouldn’t be reasonable to charge players a turn for a test that can’t exist.

Right, exactly what I meant to say.

eta: Though I suppose, there are situations where an instinct could act as an interrupt… or could their not? If you have the instinct to always search for traps, and the GM says you set off a trap, couldn’t you point out the instinct and have the GM give you a chance to save yourselves (assuming the damage hadn’t been dealt already, no going back in time or anything)? Or would that be foul play? It doesn’t seem like it would disrupt anything to me, but I don’t have that much experience working with instincts and such…

I think, and this is based on nothing, really, but it looks like it would be less onerous with TB, because A) fewer areas, typically, and probably fewer areas per session, and B) it’s a chance to interact with the room, TB-style ([Description] Where are you searching? [More description] Are you using your hands? [More description] Ok, roll.) That would get tiresome (maybe) with other rules, but if you’re only getting through a handful of rooms per session, that’s very little of the overall time, probably, especially if there’s nothing there to find in the first place.

Exactly, it’s not like d&d where you have to point to every square and say “I search that” and then roll. It should move pretty quickly and with the 1:1 significant event to turn ratio, you aren’t saying “I look around” more than once for each time that you actually do need to look around…

You know, this is one of the things that kept me up nights.
In the Ur-Game, you search for secret doors, whether they’re there or not. In fact, it’s important that you never know if there’s really one there. Doing so preserves the air of mystery and keeps players exploring the unknown and poking around where they shouldn’t.
Eventually, in the Ur-Game, you develop a method. You develop search teams. You explore every square. You Greyhawk it.
Searching the unknown becomes a routine. You fail to roll that 1 and you have the next team member search your area. Six searches for each area is good odds—worth the torches and wandering monsters if you’re on to something good.

That’s okay. The game changes. Eventually, you get that wand or spell and searching becomes even more automatic. That’s good too.

I lost sleep thinking about how Torchbearer would emulate this cycle. If I can’t search every square, is it truly a dungeon exploration game?
You can’t search every square in Torchbearer. The engine doesn’t work that way. If there’s nothing there, the GM doesn’t call for a test and the game moves on. Oh no, the players will KNOW that there’s nothing there!
And if there is something there when the fateful words, “I search the room” are spoken, and you call for the dice, they’ll KNOW there’s something there. Ack. Game over. Game broken. Don’t bother playing.

Wait. But a player doesn’t get to roll the dice by muttering “I search the room” in Torchbearer. The GM’s right and true response is, “What do you do? Where do you search? How do you search?” The answers are important. If you search the barrel and there’s nothing in the barrel… Hm. That’s a little more meaningful. But we can still do that ad nauseum, right?

Well, if there’s no roll, you describe and move on. Is that such a bad thing? I guess it moves us more quickly toward the good stuff. That seems okay…but also like Dungeon World. Gross.

But what if there IS something in this room? You have to call for the dice. The players, provided they describe their actions, are owed a roll. Then they’ll KNOW something’s important. And that just ruins the exploration. They’ll keep searching and searching and searching…

Wait. Again. This isn’t D&D. There’s no spare time in the game. Players in TB having time to search repeatedly? I chuckle evilly at the thought. And who cares if they want to throw the dice? I don’t. More die rolls means more turns, more rations consumed, more light burned; and even better, more twists and more conditions.

And if there’s nothing interesting in area, move along. But before you do, ask yourself why that area is part of this adventure. You better have a reason!

That’s how I learned to love the search in Torchbearer. There’s no time for frivolous actions. And if the players meta-game a bit from a Scout test, so be it.

And lastly, there’s no “search for secret doors” ability or skill in this game for a reason. It’s called Scout. You scout around. You poke that chest with your 10’ pole to see if it’s trapped. Well it’s not trapped. It’s a mimic. You don’t know that yet, but you’re going to—one way or another. Players don’t get to say what they find, just that they’re searching. So you might call for a search roll. The players are looking for sliding panels and you’re thinking, “I wonder if any of them will just say, ‘I look at the ceiling’ and see the ghouls perched there?”

Hope that helps! Welcome to a whole new world!

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This, this is what I hope the outcome of my pre-game discussion with our GM results in. :wink: I have a hunch it works out OK to be open about that. Even better, to be open about there being a secret door that Scout fails to find. In my mind I’m envisioning that I (as GM) might as well include that info IC in the failure description, something is there but just out of reach of understanding. Then watch the team spend a Turn ripping the walls apart with a Health Test. :slight_smile:

@Luke - thanks for the mind dump, I’ve follow up on that once I’ve had time to clear my head this morning and marshal my thoughts…

Well I have a feeling that a common twist for not finding a trap would be setting it off. After all, if you follow the spirit of the game, that they have to describe what they are doing, then chances are they are describing an action that could potentially set off the trap, right? How do you know the chest is trapped if you aren’t poking at the chest? How do you know the floor is trapped if you aren’t on or near the floor? (I don’t have my pdf in front of me at the moment, I’d like to look over the traps section again…)

Depends if the trap is avoidable - if it’s avoidable by some action, yeah, it’s a twist. If it’s not avoidable once triggered, and either hurts you r poisons you, that’s not a twist - it’s a narrative description of imposing a condition.

So, trigger it, trap door opens, and a quick athletics can save vs pit, that’s a twist (and another roll, so another turn)… if it just jabs you with LSD or ergotamine toxin, it’s a condition (Afraid), or with snake venom, it’s also a condition (sick)…

Note that most of the poison type traps, when triggered, have a health test, they don’t automatically give you a condition. Which would make setting off the trap a twist in those cases, right?


I always tip the players off to the presence of a secret door. It may be a trail lead to a wall, or odd fumes or scrapes in the flagstones… Secret doors that remain secret are boring – they add no value to our unfolding story and provide no suspense. But we use them often. Why is that do you think? I reckon its because they evoke a sense of mystery and suspense when they’re found. I also feel that if you focus on the mechanical value of secret doors, other than a chance to log tests and use up turns, then you are missing the point. The point of a secret door as a dungeon element (rather than just an obstacle), is that its a road sign that someone (or something) has the intent to have something remain hidden. It’s a chance for the players to pause at the threshold and wonder what’s so important behind there that it merits concealment. It gets interesting when you open it.

The only time I make a secret door hard to find is when the players have been tipped off to look for one. Then the act of finding it (and possibly unlocking it) becomes part of the ‘what if’ unfolding narrative. It becomes a difficult choice The adventure becomes about figuring out how the door is concealed (and what that reveals about the setting) and how to open it, rather than a matter of rolling tests and using turns until it’s revealed.

Another use for secret doors is to let the dungeon denizens move around in unexpected and/or strategic ways; this can sometimes be fun, and can make an adventure fun.

In this case, I’m rather fine with them being very hard to detect - for one, the ones using them would make sure to hide them as well as possible, and also there is a very real way for the players to figure out something is wrong. If monsters assault them from an implausible direction, they’ve already been tipped off that there is something there.

Apart from that, however, I heartily agree with the sentiment that secret doors should be found. Otherwise, what fun are they?

I wouldn’t do that because Torchbearer is a dungeon Exploration game. Tipping them off to a lot of these things takes away that feeling of exploration and “look what i found! (because i was clever)”. Players should investigate every room and everything. When you don’t look for something you don’t find it.
I am however not totally cagey with the information either. If they look at place X, where the secret door is, i will probarbly tell them something to tick them off, just because there should be marks etc. of the secret door beeing used before.
Players can find secret doors; a lot of the time it will need a test; they still have to say where and how they look or there will be no chance of finding one.

I’m with Praion on this one. I try to give lots of description so that clever and attentive players can pick up on things – disturbed dust, faint scratches on the floor, a light draft that causes candles to flicker, etc. But otherwise I’m downright ruthless. Like Praion, I’m not cagey. If you look for something and there’s something to find, you get to roll. If your description is really good and it makes sense to me that it would allow you to discover what’s there, I call it a Good Idea. You find it with no test.

But I don’t give anything away for free. Players have to earn it with their cleverness and inventiveness.

So here’s an example from our game last Thursday. We’re in a subterranean ruin, and the ceiling’s mostly caved in, and most of the rooms are filled with debris. We come to a room that isn’t. Like chumps, we walk in, and our paladin falls in an illusion-covered pit trap that’s filled with debris and angry rats.

Had we said “We’re going to move carefully, scouting the room” we would have gotten a scout test and spent a turn.
If someone had the “Always search for traps” instinct, we would have gotten a free scout test.
Had we said “I poke at the floor with my ten foot pole”, that might have been a Good Idea.

Is that right?

You’ve got it. Although if you had said, “We’re going to move carefully, scouting the room,” I probably would have asked for a little more detail. How are you scouting? What are you doing?