Thursday, July 29, 2010

a trap just for you!

So on Sunday I posted a couple of random screen caps. One of them was Eldrad, the villain from the old Doctor Who episode The Hand of Fear.  Here's another look at her.

Dude looks like a lady.

Gameblog reader Jayson Peters commented that Hand of Fear is the worst Doctor Who episode ever.  I don't really dispute that it's a pretty bad episode.  I don't think I've ever been able to watch it all the way through.  When I first saw it on PBS as a kid I'm pretty sure this is the only episode I ever fell asleep during.  When I borrowed it on DVD from the local library last week I did a lot of skipping around because the set-up to get the villain on the stage seems padded out all to hell.  I grabbed a couple of pics of Eldrad because, hey, space babe.  Personally, it's a bit of a turn-off later in the episode when Eldrad transforms into his true form as a rocky, neckless space dude but I still dig the chick in the skintight rock costume and the weird hathead.

Anyway, there is one useful takeaway from this otherwise ignorable Who outing.  The Doctor and Sarah Jane take Eldrad to her/his/whatever's home planet and journey through the underground ruins of his civilization.  It's a dark, spooky, multi-level maze of corridors and traps, i.e. a standard dungeon set-up minus the goblins.  A plot point comes up in that most of the traps have been designed to affect silicon-based lifeforms, so when Sarah sets off a gout of 'deadly' gas she is immune.

Custom traps for specific kinds of beings are a lot of fun, but not something I recall ever seeing specifically addressed.  I'm pretty sure one of the early 'Pages from the Mages' installment by Ed Greenwood (the first published descriptions of the Forgotten Realms) included a write-up of a poison that worked only on dwarves.  My own personal Killer DM (the dude behind the screen during these two incidents) once hit us with a series of ceiling mounted sledgehammers.  If you were a human you got sledged in the gut.  If you were a dwarf, you took it right in the face.  Halflings could walk right under them.  I've used some evil magical traps that only affect certain alignments or that pimp over paladins only.

Organized, thinking monsters could design traps to target specific real or perceived enemies.  An orcs layer sick of troll raids will probably lean on fire or acid for its traps.  A giant wishing to catch bugbears for dinner might use a cage trap with catnip bait.  Paranoid kobolds might always be setting traps for the 'inevitable' gnome invasion.  Wizards who hate dumb fighters in their stupid platemail might set up more electrical traps.  Living monsters with lairs near undead might trade with PCs for their holy water, so they can arm their anti-undead traps.  Inexplicable death rays might affect only characters possessing or lacking certain completely arbitray characteristics.  "All left-handed characters are immune to the Yellow Ray emitters on level 5" seems like the sort of stupid thing I would put in a dungeon.


  1. Anonymous7:42 AM

    Oh, my son is creating a Tomb of the Giant King dungeon. As it is in Giant Land, the creators of the place assumed only giants would raid it, you see? All of the traps will be giant-sized. So the dart trap will send spears over a human-sized character's head, the pit trap will be 100' deep and have 10' tall spikes at the bottom... that kind of thing. And just getting around will be a challenge due to the scale of steps and doors.

  2. I don't remember that Doctor Who episode, which is odd. Most episodes would keep me up all the way till 2am - when PBS would finally sign off the air (I think I just dated myself.) That episode must have been really bad - since those late night weekend rituals were all-important to me as a kid (as well as Benny Hill.)

    The race-specific trap idea is a neat one. It would seem that magic would be an excellent vehicle for picking out specific enemies to effect - such as anti-elf fireballs. Hmm. You could even have monsters that only attack one type of creature - like a smallish gelatinous cube that only hunts halflings.

    I love the phrase 'paranoid kobolds,' by the way. There is some kind of magic in the enunciation.

    - Ark

  3. I liked The Hand of Fear pretty well. Eldrad is a great villain in the classic Dr. Who mode - i.e. self-righteous, myopic, pointlessly malicious. And the King's message from beyond the grave is a great crystallization (zing!) of the sardonic humor that always marked Dr. Who at its best. Pretense : Eldrad is the unstoppable champion and avenger of her dead, godlike society. Reality : Eldrad is a an egotistical jerk who fucked up their planet in a failed bid for power and her society leaves as its final testament "our whole species committed mass suicide rather than survive to be associated this bitch!"

    I had long Wonder the Hand itself was the inspiration for the Hand of Vecna, since the series came out like a year before the DMG, but then I learned about "Eldritch Wizardry," so now I wonder if the writers had played OD&D and decided to write an episode with the Hand of Vecna in space.

    The setup is indeed padded all to hell; this is a valid and familiar complaint from most of the original run of the series. The great creative coup of the modern Dr. Who series is "you know, maybe we CAN have 1 or two part stories." Like much of the old series there is about 2, maybe 3 episodes worth of material here, but, them's breaks because the orders are for 4 or 5 episodes per story - I think they preferred to pad out first acts to have better pacing once the story got rolling. I wouldn't be surprised if in the 70's a lot of viewers generally skipped the first episode or two and called the recap montage "good enough."

    I will grant that it ranks in the bottom half Tom Baker or before era storylines, but after that - while I know there are people who will disagree with me - it is in the flower of the 80's that the show learns to truly be boring . Amidst what still looks like the same universe of radio shack death rays and rubber disco monsters the tone grows portentous, the doctors increasingly humorless, the dialogue soap-operatic, the companions shriller and more prominently featured. Pompous, ostensibly 'dark,' the emperor unaware of its bare-assedness.

    Like Eldrad!

    On the plus side, the "hip," pounding, unending, "is there a way to turn this off" synthesizer chase music that soundtracked the show's breathless flight from viewers and relentless drive toward cancellation would be great to score an Encounter Critical game - some of the DVD releases have isolated music tracks that you can listen to seperately (though, sadistically, not remove from the episodes), suggesting the archiving and marketing teams have a sense of humor the showrunners were missing around then.

  4. And on the subject of traps:

    One of the most infuriating yet potentially hilarious types of trap is the one that affects characters based on some kind of local contingency - for example a magic trap that fries any trespassing wizard - except those who have made obeisance to the big statue on the first floor that bids you kneel and say "Forgive my intrusion, Thoth-Amon, thou, who art greatest among Magic-Users!"

    Season to taste as to favor the naturally craven who would genuflect on their own initiative "just in case," or to provide clear warning to watch the prouder types grumble and debate whether they value their dignity more than their hit points.

  5. I have to say, I absolutely NEVER, EVER remember traps when designing (and quite often when playing) games. NEVER. So this idea while hilarious and fabulous, is going to leak right out of my head in about 5 minutes. Dangit.

  6. This is one of the things I really like about the way Trollsmyth designs dungeons. There usually isn't a straight up "this trap only works against elves" kind of thing, but they usually are built by a particular person to keep particular kinds of other people away. So the traps guarding the treasure room are different from the traps that kept the apprentices out of the interesting levels.

  7. When I did some traps for FFG's "Traps and Treachery", one of the things I kept in mind was exactly that, that some of these complexes might be inhabited and the locals didn't want to get caught in their own traps. So I had some traps which didn't work if a very heavy weight was pressed on them (or no weight at all), but would trigger if a light... say, human sized... weight was on them. (These were for giants, of course). And the aforementioned neck-height traps that ignore kobolds and goblins, but kill taller invaders.

  8. Grimtooth's had at least one or two traps with those height-specific effects (of course, they also had party-position specific effects and lots of cool other things).

    I did a thing for WotC once with a poison that only works on Jedi :) Because, frankly, I hate Jedi that much. No, more than that. No, more. Not quite there yet. More.

  9. Update: Horns of Nimon, which I've been wanting to see for YEARS, comes pretty darn close to Hand of Fear in its suckiness, as I discovered tonight.

    Saving grace? Romanadvoratrelundar, of course!