Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Designing Traps & Fortifications

A little forward planning can create a trap for any occasion.
(The Witcher)
The World of Darkness system has never had much of a compendium of traps and fortifications but the system is easy enough that designing traps and fortifications in Fianyarr really just boils down to coming up with the concept and then pinning on a basic mechanic.

Oh, the area around the fortification is cleared to allow a clear line of sight for the sentries on the walls? Well that would be massive penalties that would render any stealth check impossible without the aid of magic or helpful weather. Say a -10 to any die rolls and must roll every few turns. They’re on a chance die but might get lucky if the distance isn’t too great with each successful roll representing a sentry taking a break to urinate or something similar.

Ah, so the portcullis is down and the player characters want to break them down? Durability 8. Structure 40. They’ll need to deal more than 8 damage to it in a single hit to damage it’s structure at all. Possible – but difficult.

Hmm, so there’s a swinging scythe set to come at their heads while they were walking down the corridor? Give it 8 dice and an attack roll or, alternatively, put the onus on the PCs to make a Dexterity + Athletics check to get out of the way with each success reducing the damage by 1.

Well, the fortifications are designed to give a clear field of fire for the archers while still protecting them? Those behind the walls gain almost total cover and concealment while taking a minimal penalty to their attack rolls to use a bow through those holes.

So that’s the traps and benefits of fortifications out of the way, how about designing a fortification in and of itself? Well your best bet here is to do a little research. Grab a floorplan of a castle. Pick up a book on castles and forts made by the most similar Earth culture. Primary school books are often best as they’re loaded with pictures and are packed full of quick tidbits and succinct detail. Perfect for when you want some quick and easy reference guides.

And don’t forget you can always magic it up. What if there are four square forts that link together magically and so each fort technically holds one quarter of the castle but those strolling around inside it can move so freely from one fort to the other that it might as well all be connected to them? Why not have a castle floating above a bed of lava which functions as a moat? Rather than pour boiling oil through a murder hole set above the gate house they could unleash little violent fairies or even pour through a potent acid?

Statues can come to life while the characters move along and webs of magic might block off certain corridors that can only be bypassed by certain keys (normally objects) or passcodes?

Try to come up with at least one unexpected element to every fort you design in order to keep things interesting and keep your players guessing. That one element doesn’t have to be mindblowing but it does have to feel unique.

So what kind of forts and traps have you built? And do you have any advice to give our other readers?


  1. It sounds nicely simple mechanically to have nice flavourful things going on, which is always a good incentive. It's always a bit offputting inventing details if you suspect any attempt to interact with it will turn into mechanics debates or the use of Grapple rules :)

    I particularly love the fort-quarters idea. You could sort of extrapolate from that and mash it up with embassies: some organisation could have strongholds over huge distances which are nevertheless literally on their own native soil, and which they can move easily between. Great for a secret society, 'neutral' 'peacekeeping' force, wizards' guild or similar organisation.

    How about a castle which is insubstantial, or otherwise on a different frequency from the surrounding terrain? You can only enter affect it by becoming insubstantial yourself. Bonus points if you build it over a chasm, firepit or nest of monsters.

    Consider using gate/portal spells as a fortification. If trouble starts, one-way portals open on key parts of the castle, so anyone rushing through ends up in a central courtyard overlooked by archers, or even at the bottom of a 50' pit for safekeeping. Alternatively, the portals might reconnect the castle in new ways, leaving the invaders running around in circles but unable to reach anywhere useful. A particularly effective version would be not to build any doors at all, and only use portals; simply dispel them during an invasion, and leave no route for the attackers.

    A fantasy setting might also include things like mass shrinking fields, or wards that repel metal objects.

  2. Obligatory link to the article you made me write: here.

    1. Neato! I love obligatory links to articles I dominated you into writing.