On the Thursday Trick, Sliding Staircase

Locked Inside
Sliding Staircase (Special)

Trigger: Mechanical: Pressure PlateEffectsNever Miss
Multiple Targets
Save: DexterityDuration: Instant
Resets: AutomaticBypass: None (Avoid)

Description: Not enough attention is given to stairways.

I have lots of them in my dungeon and my players are much too trusting. I've seen plenty of Scooby Doo, and even the most naive gamer should know that when you're chasing ghosts, stairways invariably turn into slides.

Note that unless the stairs are very steep, characters may not slide to the bottom of the stairway. A dexterity or reflex check may be used to stop your fall. Modifications may be made. Variations include:

  • Coating the stairs with oil
  • Setting fire to said oil
  • Having a pit trap open up at the bottom of the stairway
  • Weapons such as razors, hammers or spikes coming from the ceiling or the landing where the characters end up.

Detection/Disarming: If you describe something interesting about this stairway when you have never said anything about stairways before, then your players will of course not be tricked. They will immediately become suspicious and examine this stairway like it hides the secret to the eternal life.

So make sure you always mention some things about each stairway your players traverse. That said, when the players examine the stairs, these are some of the things they will note.

  • There will be gouges and scratch marks from where metal has scraped along the stairs.
  • Near the walls, there will be curved marks from the stairs shifting down
  • Each step may have some fairly minor "give" because of the fact that it mechanically moves up and down
  • If the stairways are coated in oil (or set aflame) residue, scent, and other physical detritus from that should be detectable
  • There may be bloodstains or other signs of injury. Also, if people slide to the bottom and die, there may be a pile of dead bodies

The Tricks and Traps series examines original and classic traps discussing how to present the traps while maintaining the agency of the players. A complete list of sources may be found here. The Tricks and Traps Index page contains a complete listing of all the tricks and traps on this site, or you may browse by tags.


  1. "...make sure you always mention some things about each stairway your players traverse."

    Great advice, simply stated. I think this could stand for a lot of locations/features in role-playing games, as you suggest, to stop people automatically thinking "There must be something tricky/set-piecey about this place!"

    I also love the provocation (to me) of doing something with stairs. I've put traps in the few dungeons that I've designed and run so far, but the stairs have always been like loading screens for me, a pause while the next level comes up. No more!

    Great post.

  2. "So make sure you always mention some things about each stairway your players traverse."
    That seems contrary to how I've understood your "empty room" advice. Still trying to find the right balance for this myself.

  3. Don't forget the "center of stairs worn down by generations of feet" where appropriate...

  4. I remember this from an early module. Does anyone remember the module?

  5. I had the sliding staircase trick pulled on me while exploring a dungeon in the Desert of Desolation series of B-coded modules (B4,5&6?) I don't know which one of the three it was. The staircase funneled the party down to a boss monster which nearly killed us all.
    Does that answer your question? I tried to provide a little context.

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