Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dwarves as trap-finders

Grrrr! Fear my chainmail loincloth!
There's some interesting stuff in the comments to yesterday's post about the everyman dungeon skills Find Traps, Listen at Door and Find Secret Door.  Some folks took notice of the fact that my little chart gave members of the dwarf class a blanket 2 in 6 chance of finding a trap.  My chart was based upon Moldvay Basic and it's retro-clone Labyrinth Lord.  Here's the relevant language from the Basic rulebook:
"They are expert miners and are able to find slanting passages, traps, shifting walls, and new construction one-third of the time (a roll of 1 or 2 on 1d6) when looking for them."
That's from page B9, under the class description for dwarves, in the paragraph titled Special Abilities.  I can see how someone might infer that these dwarven abilities only apply to stonework, but the text doesn't precisely specify that.  The second parargaph of the trap rules on page B22 don't specify dwarven find traps as anything more than a superior form of the ability every character possesses:
"Any character has a 1 in 6 chance of finding a trap when searching for one in the correct area.  Any dwarf has a 2 in 6 chance."
The text in my LL rulebook mirrors both these passages sufficiently that I'm not going to bother to type it in. 

So based upon the ambiguity in the first passage and the lack of modifying language in the second one, I rule that dwarves have a 2 in 6 chance of finding any trap that anyone else can find.

Does that help us at all with figuring out the problem of the thief Find Traps ability mentioned in yesterdays post?  Here's a comment from Robert Fisher, who is a pretty smart dude and one of my go-to guys for thinking on parsing fiddly D&D rules:
Some people take the interpretation that there are two kinds of traps. Type I traps are the big things like pit traps. Type II are the small traps like a poison needle in a lock.

The 1 in 6 for everyone and 2 in 6 for dwarfs rule—in this interpretation—only applies to Type I traps. The thief F&RT skill does not. (Type I traps cannot be overcome with a remove traps roll.)

Likewise, the generic rule doesn’t apply to Type II traps; only the thief F&RT skill.
I don't really see anything in the rules that supports the assertion that "some people" are making here.  As far as I can tell the rules in question only distinguish between regular traps that anyone can find and magical traps that cannot be found (unless you've got a detect magic or something like that going).  I could see some DMs allowing thieves to find magical traps, since the rules don't specifically preclude it.  I'm pretty sure that would make thieves more magical than I want in my campaign, expecially given that the next logical step is allowing thieves to remove magical traps.  And the step after that is letting thieves pick doors with wizard lock cast upon them.  I just don't want to go there.

Finally, keeping both non-magical thieves and trap-finding dwarves sets up an interesting situation in that dwarves appear to be better at trap detection than low level thieves.  Forget about putting the thief in front to find traps, get the dwarf out there to do it.  If he finds a trap the thief can be called up to remove it.  If the dwarf finds a trap the hard way he's got better hit points, better armor and better saves.  That little bugger is in a much better position to survive setting off the trap.  By using a little teamwork that poor d4 hit die Basic thief may actually live to second level.

Image: Ral Partha dwarf from SlappingPaint.net.  Dude's positively skinny by modern dwarf standards, ain't he?