On the Thursday Trick, Natural Hazards

I've given some examples of this before, but one of the things that makes a useful trick is using the properties of natural substances. As I finish up alchemy, it's given me plenty of ideas about natural substances and the dangers that can result from their use.

I've already talked about phosphorus and what can happen when it's exposed to air. Here are some other ideas for deadly natural substances.

Sodium (Wiki Link): This is silvery metal (Looks like platinum!) that has wonderful properties when exposed to water. It begins to leak a damaging alkali and a highly flammable gas. The classic example from Grimtooth is having a giant "platinum" statue in a room behind a waterfall or beyond a pool. The explosion should do both large flame damage, but also spray their wounds with solvent, causing lots of damage over time.

Agency: Have your resident dwarf or appraiser identify strange metals before carting them off.

Methane (Wiki Link): Silent, Natural, Odorless and highly flammable (If you didn't know, methane in your house smells because they add something to it). And it's not really the explosion damage, but the likely cave-in afterwords that's the real danger.

Methane is also a great example of an asphyxiant. Even if your players don't carry a single flammable item, methane and other substances displace air, and there is little notice. The first thing that will happen is the characters will begin to feel drowsy as they start to suffocate. Other simple asphyxiates include propane which is also flammable, and Carbon Dioxide which is not for a nice change of pace.

Agency: Tradition was a canary, but any small creature dependent on oxygen will die long before humans. Your wizard wasn't really that attached to his familiar, was he?

Another natural danger is radiation. Normally radioactive materials make you ill a few hours after exposure and soon cause death, but because this is a fantasy game you can have it cause mutation which is much more enjoyable, for the DM. (And here's an awesome table by Scrap Princess)

Agency: Your best bet, for players is to pay attention to the local flora and fauna. A well described radiation danger would include lots of subtle but tertiary descriptions of strangely altered local inconsequential flora and fauna.


  1. A concerned reader writes in:
    "Well, I'm sure for fantasy this would be fine, but i would be calling BS if you tried to pull that sodium trick on me.

    Pure sodium is so reactive to water that it will oxidize quickly and potentially explode just being in contact with the humidity in the air which would be abundant near a waterfall.

    It might work if you had oil dripping over it constantly, or a small statue in a bowl of oil. Also it wouldn't take much messing with it to realize that it has a consistency closer to butter than to platinum.

  2. Source:

    Grimtooth's Traps, p. 38: "Behind a waterfall of some sort stands a grotto or alcove... Within the grotto sits a mound of treasure; resting atop the treasure is a beautiful statue of a water nymph. The statuette is made of silvery white metal and is obviously of great value... The statuette was sculpted from pure sodium, an element that will combust upon contact with water. When the characters carry this item back through the waterfall, it will almost certainly become wet and explode."

    1. I'm fairly certain sodium is an actual existing material in the real world. They can't copyright facts.

      The source for this article is actually in the article. The sentence about "the classic" is in fact a nod to the trap you mention.

  3. firedamp is heavier than air and is invisible and has no scent. A person continues breathing while submerged in gas in a downward corridor and wont likely notice it and just pass out and die. In a coal mine crossed boards across a passage signify no entry. And as mundane as two crossed boards sounds it is a signifier of deadly danger and no one would cross them without a safety lamp held low. A good reason to carry a canary in a cage albeit a noisy solution to the problem of not having a safety lamp.


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