DMs Guild Review – Jarlaxle’s Guide to Traps

Nearly 100 pages of traps and hazards, as well as DM tips on when (and when not) to use them.

A review copy of “Jarlaxle’s Guide to Traps” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Designed by: R. P. Davis with Jeromy Schulz-Arnold, Ken Carcas, D W Dagon, Justin Handlin, Bryan Holmes, Hal Howard, and Noel Proulx

Everybody loves traps. Well, Dungeon Masters love traps a bit more than players. I’ve yet to see an entire supplement dedicated to trap designs, and at nearly 100-pages, Jarlaxle’s Guide to Traps has a number to choose from. Unfortunately I found the tone wildly inconsistent, and many of the mechanical traps aren’t particularly inventive.

The massive supplement annoyingly lacks a table of contents or preface describing what’s inside, but I can do the work for you. The product is divided into four chapters, with the first providing an effective introduction on trap design and usage.

Traps can (and should) make sense logically, enhance an area with added danger and challenge, and break up the pace between battling, socializing, and looting. Traps should not be used randomly or to punish players – a philosophy that’s broken several times throughout the very next chapter.

Chapter two covers over 40 mechanical and magical trap designs, ranging from simple alarm bells on doors to flipping floors and madness-inducing paintings. While I appreciate the variety between the magical and the mundane, most of the traps aren’t terribly clever or impressive, with the usual floor spikes, explosive chests, and tripwires.

Worse still, many of them hold a grudge against players, with a mockingly cruel tone that I found incredibly off-putting. Part of the description for the log trap, which includes an eye-rolling Ren and Stimpy log song reference states: “the log flies toward the idiot tough guy with enough newtons to turn him into a Fig Newton.”

The dark humor doesn’t exactly work for me, either, like when fire sprays out of a taxidermied cat’s butt for the Catastrophe trap, or this description for the fake-falling door trap: “The multi-ton doors fall over, smashing the feckless idiots to paste. The players roll all the dice they own and total the result. Yes, all of them.” What? This kind of silliness and random cruelty is jarring when next to otherwise straight-forward and serious trap designs.

dms guild review

Chapters 3 and 4 are a vast improvement, however, detailing hauntings and hazards. Hauntings are curses or spirit-based traps, like hearing ghostly children in the distance, or scratching in the walls. They require Religion checks rather than Perception and offer some neat ideas, like paintings that spring to life. Though cursed magic items, including a glitter bomb sword, are a tad much.

Hazards are another welcome addition, providing additional environmental effects that can spice up encounters or exploration, like acoustic crystals that amplify sounds or Grab Grass that restrain anyone who’s knocked prone. For whatever reason, none of the hazards or hauntings suffer from the same tonal dissonance as chapter two, though even combined they represent a third of the content.

Nearly every page is adorned with fun black-and-white depictions of the traps. The art is actually my favorite aspect of the entire supplement, and  fits perfectly with classic D&D. It’s very helpful seeing visualizations of the traps in action and the catroonish faces translate the humor much better than any of the text.

Pros:

  • Fun black-and-white art that showcases many of the traps.
  • Over 40 mechanical and magical trap designs.
  • Over 10 hauntings (spirit or curse traps).
  • Over 10 new environmental hazards.

Cons:

  • No table of contents or preface.
  • Jarlaxle’s commentary ends after chapter 1.
  • Inconsistent tone that ranges from casual and goofy to mocking cruelty.
  • Most of the mechanical traps aren’t very exciting.

The Verdict: Jarlaxle’s Guide to Traps features over 50 traps, haunts, and hazards, but their relatively simple designs and cruel mockery are unbecoming of the drow noble.

A review copy of “Jarlaxle’s Guide to Traps” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using affiliate links for shopping and pledging via Patreon.

Author: roguewatson

Freelance Writer

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