My husband has been a fan of the Grimtooth’s Traps series of fantasy RPG supplements (usable with any system) since the first one came out around the early ’80s. Naturally, he picked up this omnibus. My husband is also supportive of my writing–so he dropped this tome in my figurative lap and suggested I write about it. I thought, “Why not? ‘Specially since Hallows’ Eve doth approach, when people crave scary things.”
This is one heavy duty (460 pages!) softcover gaming supplement, available for about US$36 on Amazon (hardcover $50). The collection includes all of the standalone sourcebooks published plus a lot of extra content–interviews with those involved in creating them, cover art from various editions, and new material. Traps Too has a detailed section on using the traps for the Fudge RPG, which was the basis for the Fate system. The traps have been redrawn by the original artist. One big caveat: Grimtooth comes from the era of RPGs when scenarios were tough, and well, grim. “GM as Deadly Opponent” was a very common style of running a game in the ’70s and ’80s–if not the only GMing style. These books are a product of that mindset, in my opinion, and take it to the extreme. These trap creators clearly believe that E. Gary Gygax coddled his “Tomb of Horrors” players and didn’t put enough effort into making it a TPK scenario. I estimate 99% of these traps will leave PCs dead, dead, beyond-Reincarnation/Resurrection-spell-DEAD, regardless of how few skulls they have! (Traps are given a rating of 1 to 5 skulls or similar symbols.)
Now there is humor (all dark!), and lots of it in the traps, particularly in the names, which lampoon or call out everything from beloved fantasy novels to history. There are several Rings of Doom, for example, and a Hindenburg special–yes, there’s a blimp of sorts involved. (Oh, sorry…almost forgot! Spoiler Disclaimer/Warning: I have tried not to give much away about any given trap, because I know DMs won’t thank me for telling their players, whose PCs they intend to victimize, All. The. Details about the traps. Yes, I am totally terrified of offending any DM who would use these as-is! Why do you ask?) One of my favorite names is “Is it Piccolo, or is it Memorex?” The title is inspired by a classic TV commercial but the PCs have to make a choice that they don’t even realize they have to make! On the other hand 😉 there are a few just-plain-silly traps, like the Plaid Thumb. Most of those are in the Traps Lite book, but neither DMs nor players should make the mistake of thinking all those are harmless…
While it was intended for fantasy games–particularly those focused on dungeon delves–if you like traps and puzzles in your scenarios, they can be used for other genres. The last of the included supplements, Traps Lite (1992), has a whole chapter of Sci-Fi Traps in fact. A lot of these involve things like reversing gravity or fooling with O2 tanks. Pro Tip #1: Be wary of any EVA boots suggested by “GrimBuck [Rogers].” The accompanying art in this section has good comics featuring favorite SF TV shows and movies rather than just trap diagrams. (There’s more SF comics in the omnibus bonus material at the end.)
If steampunk is your thing, the trappings, if you will, of these traps involve not only saws, gears, and elaborate machines, but really science-y stuff. More than a few sport electromagnets and generator turbines, instead of some sort of magic energy. There’s an electricity-driven model critter, not a magic-driven golem. This tome could be helpful if you need to brush up on the Periodic Table. Throughout (not just that SF chapter), you will find traps and items of a theme I call “Better Dying Through Chemistry.” Gas properties (e.g., weight relative to air or other gaseous elements/compounds) are used in a number of Corridor and Room traps. Elements that react violently with some common substances (Sodium, Magnesium, etc.) are important too, especially for trapped items. Think about what might happen to rogues who remove such metals–maybe objets d’art?–from where the DM has placed them…I did mention that the vast majority of Grimtooth’s traps are deadly, right? So don’t forget superhero games, where Death Traps surely make the Top 10 Tropes list. The new PC/s will probably be an alchemist or artificer in a fantasy game or a genius scientist in a supers/steampunk/modern one. I suggest you allow this, even if you have to homebrew mechanics–you owe that player!
Pretty creepy, grim contraptions (and rooms and corridors and knicknacks), no? WAY more deadly, to be honest, than I would use in games I run, since my GMing style is much more lighthearted and “I want my players to have fun.” To be fair though, I did find suggestions for altering the deadliness of the traps, such as using less harmful liquids (dye, not lye). And while I wouldn’t want to use this in my scenarios, I did find Ultimate Traps entertaining to flip through and read. The interviews talk, among other things, about what it was like to work at a gaming company when D&D was not only undisputed king of RPGs but there just weren’t many other games out there as well as how the Grimtooth franchise came about. The comics are well-drawn and put the humor in dark humor, and I loved them. Pro Tip #2–Don’t go on a date with hottie trollette Grimtina. You won’t live long enough to be worried about whether big brother Grimtooth approves…
Okay, okay, even though I am obviously not the kind of GM/DM the Grimtooth books cater to, I do have a favorite trap. It is found in the bonus material under the name “Madame Curie’s Memorial Fountain.” Pro Tip #3: Silver isn’t the only element that looks like silver…
So does your party dare to essay Grimtooth’s Ultimate Traps?
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