20 Things to Say When a PC Looks for a Trap and Finds Nothing

Because sometimes player paranoia is a good thing...

Players are a paranoid bunch. The only thing they hate more than finding a trap is not finding a trap when they are certain one lurks nearby!

By Arthur Rackham

 

Use the table below, when a PC makes a Perception check and finds nothing, but remember to modify the entries to take into account the dungeon environment. For example, if a dungeon has floorboards or worked stone walls you’ll have to do some minor work on several of the description below. Read:

You don’t find anything out of the ordinary, but…

  1. The floor doesn’t seem completely flat. Several parts are slightly higher than the surrounding areas.
  2. Dust on the floor is thicker in some places than others.
  3. A gentle breeze caresses your face. You can’t determine its source.
  4. The mortar in the walls is old and crumbling. In some places, it has completely disintegrated leaving gaps between the bricks.
  5. The floor at one point seems to be slightly concave and the stones look slightly damp.
  6. Your (torch, lantern or other) light casts strange shadows on the walls as if they are not as flat as they first appeared.
  7. The area seems slightly colder than you’d expect.
  8. The area seems slightly warmer than you’d expect.
  9. There is a faint, acrid smell in the air.
  10. You are pretty certain you heard the faint grinding or groaning of stone on stone.
  11. The air is perfectly still—it’s as if the dungeon itself is holding its breath…waiting for you to make a mistake.
  12. The area seems safe, but for a moment you thought you heard a faint clicking sound.
  13. The ceiling looks a little odd. Perhaps it’s not built properly, but you swear its sloping down toward one side of the room.
  14. There’s a fair amount of stone dust and small pieces of stone lying against one wall.
  15. The faint smell of smoke hangs in the air.
  16. Several sections of the walls have soot stains reminiscent of that left by torches set in sconces. However, there are no sconces present anywhere in the room.
  17. Scratches on the floor show something large and heavy was dragged through here. However, the scratches stop roughly halfway across the area.
  18. In three spots, water drips from the ceiling onto the floor. None of the resultant puddles seem very large suggesting the water is draining away somehow.
  19. Faint growths of mould on the (floor, wall or ceiling) hint at an organised pattern of sorts unlikely to occur in nature. (The pattern could be suggestive of a hidden portal, trapdoor, pit or sigil of arcane of divine nature).
  20. The proportions of the whole chamber just look wrong. Some pieces of architecture—protrusions and niches—seem to serve no purpose whatsoever and the ceiling seems suspiciously low.

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16 thoughts on “20 Things to Say When a PC Looks for a Trap and Finds Nothing

  1. hahaha, some of this is completely evil … ! had a really good time just reading this list and thinking about the possibilities. its all about pacing of course — this will be a brilliant list particularly if the PCs need to slow down a bit, perhaps for a bit of paranoid RP among each other between combats.

    and of course its (as usual) wildly inspiring to read your lists. based on some of your olfactory suggestions i started my own list of a few others:

    21. The unmistakable though very faint aroma of campfire rations, slightly burnt potato bread in particular, hangs in the air.

    22. You just manage to detect a weak yet tart stench rarely smelled outside of barrooms — stale beer, sawdust, and urine. (Under some circumstances this could be a smell that is actually on one or more of the PCs — especially if they’d be in a barroom brawl before entering the dungeons of the sewers, or it could be absorbed into the soft leather boots of the party thief who is crawling about checking for traps.)

  2. 23 – You remove a rusted lockpick stuck in the keyhole. Someone was here before you and definitly failed to finish the job.

    (this could lead to 20 mins of in-party discussions, good time to have a DM break)

  3. 24. Something suggests that the sound of stone resetting against stone that you are convinced you heard a few minutes may have come from this room.

    25. Isn’t that the indistinct remains of a Draconic instruction you can read on the wall? It has a koboldish inflection, you’re sure…

    26. There’s a distinct handprint on the brick right in front of you. it would be so straightforward to press it; is the mortar completely sealed against the stone?

    27. As you wet your lips in concentration, a draft from your right almost instantly dries them. Or did it come from your left?

    28. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot a rune up in the corner of the wall. Either it’s glinting because your torch is flickering, or it does so each time you move. it’s hard to tell…

    29. A bead of sweat runs down your temple and drips from your chin onto the floor. As it hits the ground, you are convinced you hear a deep-throated chuckle.

    30. You’re sure there’s no trap, but in the pressurised surroundings, you can’t remember if you checked that slightly lighter-coloured brick. Maybe you should look at a few of them again, just to be sure…

    • Excellent. Thanks for the added listings. Soon we’ll have enough for another table. I’m glad we all enjoy breeding paranoia at our tables!

      😉