House Rule Musings: Disarming Magic Traps

Like almost every GM on the planet, I’ve got house rules. Some I use and some I just tinker with to sate my insane lust for design. For a long time with 3.5 D&D and then Pathfinder I never really thought about how adventurers find and remove traps. It was always a given that the party’s rogue would take care of that kind of thing—I never really wondered how rogues actually disable magic traps.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


But—thinking about it—isn’t it more logical and thematic to assume wizards deal with magical traps and rogues deal with mundane traps? Sure, as the game stands now wizards can use dispel magic to overcome such obstacles, but it seems more appropriate to assume a wizard can defeat such traps by using their magical knowledge to undo their very essences (as I recall—for example—this kind of thing happens quite often in the Magician series by Raymond E. Feist).

So, with that in mind, I’m suggesting this alternative rule for Pathfinder. Note that with this system, the DC of magical traps remains the same as dictated by the core rules.


Make the following modifications to the rogue’s class features:

  • Trapfinding: Rogues lose the ability to disarm magic traps using Disable Device. They retain the ability to disarm mundane traps.
  • Rogue Talent: The rogue gains an additional rogue talent at 1st-level.


Wizards gain the following class feature at 1st-level:

  • Remove Wards: A wizard can use Spellcraft in conjunction with detect magic to disable magical traps. It takes 2d4 rounds to attempt to disable a magical trap. The wizard must be adjacent to the magical trap to attempt this check. If the wizard fails the check by five or more, the trap activates.

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What Do You Think?

Is this a terrible idea? Am I on to something? Let me know in the comments below.

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

22 thoughts on “House Rule Musings: Disarming Magic Traps”

  1. I like it, though I would still leave the door open for rogues (they can always use some extra love). It could be rogue talent with a prerequisite of either the minor magic talent or one of the “magic” traits. The bonus could be half rogue level plus ranks in spellcraft. If you wanted the rogue would still be best at removing traps, but it would cost a fair amount. The flavor is there too, a master trap finder should be able deal with just about anything.

  2. In my style of game, this would go over great. I prefer the sword & sorcery genre, and it would make perfect sense for a pulpish hero to be able to overcome physical traps, but become stymied by sigils invoking the power of things better left unexamined. But a character similar to the Gray Mouser (from Fritz Leiber) may have just the skill to overcome that challenge, as he had some small bit of tutelage in the magical arts. Obviously, Pathfinder/3.x games allow multi-classing, and I’ve always preferred a rogue with a bit of magic in his hip pocket for those unusual situations where the tools of the physical realm just aren’t up to the job.

  3. I’m not a big fan, to be honest.

    From PRD:
    Trapfinding: A rogue adds 1/2 her level to Perception skill checks made to locate traps and to Disable Device skill checks (minimum +1). A rogue can use Disable Device to disarm magic traps.

    This reduces trapfinding to

    Trapfinding: A rogue adds 1/2 her level to Perception skill checks made to locate traps and to Disable Device skill checks (minimum +1).

    Which is still nice to have, but doesn’t much excite me.

    Argument for letting rogue keep it: I’ve read stories where an otherwise mundane rogue uses knowledge of traps to manipulate elements around the trap itself to bypass it. A trap that depends on a living creature touching the door doesn’t have much effect when the rogue can open the door without touching it… a somewhat specialized skill. Also, I’ve read stories where a rogue bypasses a magical trap by using special materials and reagents (in one case spreading a cloth saturated with an extract that dampened magic over the threshold to create a narrow path she could step through without setting off the trap).

    Alternate suggestion: an arcane discovery or feat that allows a caster to apply Spellcraft to disable a magical trap. Probably with a +1/2 caster level (or +1/2 wizard level, if an arcane discovery) bonus to the Perception and Spellcraft checks needed.

  4. I like the Remove Ward idea. But so that we are on the same page, it would be a Spellcraft check instead of disable device? Would Detect Magic give it a bonus, as you said it is used in conjunction.

    I would also agree with Michael, that it should be an option for a rogue to learn through a minor magic talent.

    Hope you keep us posted, as rogues disabling magical traps has never sat well with me.

    1. William, I’d stick with using Spellcraft as Disable Device is not a class skill for a wizard. To me it also makes more sense. If wizard’s start putting ranks in Disable Device they’ll start picking locks and suchlike which (to me) dilutes the flavour of the ability.

      I don’t think I’d add in a bonus for using detect magic–but I do think (like when a wizard is trying to identify a magic item–they should have to use it. I’d have no object to a new spell, though, along the lines of identify that provided a bonus to such disable checks. I probably wouldn’t go with a +10 bonus, though.

  5. I’m opposed to this house rule.

    My first concern is that wizards don’t have perception as a class skill, meaning that even with detect magic always on (which at your table I believe cantrips have a limited number of uses) they are likely to fail a perception check to notice it even if they could disarm it.

    That aside my bigger concern is why only wizards. Why not any arcane caster with detect magic and spellcraft. For that matter why not let clerics (given that one of the classic magical trap spells, glyph of warding and the primary spell for trap detection, find traps, are cleric only spells) disarm magical traps.

    That said I do like the idea that magic can only be beaten with magic and physical usually trumps physical, I just think this single shift would require a lot more work mechanically and thematically before I would be willing to implement it.

  6. If the Rogue gets an extra talent at first level, why not keep everything as it is and instead give him the ability to dispel magic. Which he can use to dispel magic traps only?

  7. Goddamnit, this is the best! I’ve always thought that. Didn’t make the least sense to me that rogues had the power/magical training to disarm MAGICAL traps. Of course, in Pathfinder we have rogues that acquire minor training in magic (in the case of rogues that take the Minor Magic, Gloom Magic, Demon Lantern, and such rogue talents), which I find it’s cool, and I believe it’s derived from the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series (have to get around reading that, there’s a Neil Gaiman audiobook of it, btw). It’s an example of how awesomely customizable characters can be in Pathfinder.

    I will implement this house rule, however I will allow rogues to disable magical traps through taking a rogue talent, but Minor Magic will be a prerequisite to this rogue talent.

    1. Please don’t. The rogue has a hard enough time keeping up with any given class that can use magic as it is.

      Besides, these guys live in a high fantasy world. Shouldn’t they have various tricks and countermeasures against traps that would stump most normal clowns? Much like a “master thief” would know how to bypass a lot of high tech alarms with simple tricks “I drew a new connection on a the glyph/printed circuit board that keeps it from tripping.” Besides, something has to explain why thieves’ tools are so expensive – some special powders, inks, and maybe a little crystal whatsit that helps detect magic wards is the reason.

      Most of the good rogue archetypes dump trapfinding anyway. Allowing them to pick it back up via a talent makes sense, as would getting “poison use” via talent of even straight out of the box. Poisons tend to be garbage in Pathfinder anyway, so why not let your table’s wannabe sociopath to have them? That way he can feel special, even if most of the people at the table would rather have an alchemist, ranger, investigator, bard, inquisitor, etc. along for the ride.

  8. The idea of Rogues disarming magical traps initially came from an original R. E. H., Conan story. A thief used ancient counter spells and signs passed down through his profession as a tomb robber.

    The ancient pyramids in our own world include engraved spells against those who would violate the resting place of the kings, and especially against grave robbers. It only stands to reason that the more experienced a thief would have a greater likelihood of knowing protections against such magics.

  9. The negative comments keep seeming to revert to the same thing: that rogues will have been around, experienced and picked up magic at some point.
    I can’t help thinking that if you said the same of a barbarian or fighter, the instant thought would be “multiclass”.
    Not sure how other people’s campaigns go, but rogues have always been one of the most stupendously overpowered classes going in ours. Stealth and subterfuge completely circumvent so many situations, rogues will never be underpowered.
    If you play low combat, after a couple of spells have been exhausted, magic users need a nap every couple of minutes to retain much utility, they could do with another way to bind them back together with the group.

  10. I like it in theory, I might certainly think of implementing it in a storyline where the party has no rogue (a problem with my current group starting out with White Wolf rather than TSR).

    I would think it might work as an optional rule for rogue players that they can choose to have Trapfinding or a bonus Rogue Talent.

    Also I might expand some of the Cleric Domains to include the wizard version of the ability.

  11. Great idea! I have played since the vanilla was created. My dad wrote ready ref sheets to add house rules to a game that was only governed but a few tables at the time. Dm’s should feel free to customize their world’s and rules for their game.

  12. I like this idea for 3.5 as a feat choice or istead of a bonus wiz feat. The problem I have with this is that most magic traps go off with proximity or sight and mechanical are proximity or contact trigger. So a wizard standing next to a trap is going to set it off every round most of the time and it takes time to disarm which have even more triggers. That’s a lot of risk for a low HP class with no evasion. In my game if a magical trap is detected with magic the rogue get bonus to disarm and finding it.

  13. I think this is ok, but you don’t have to give an extra talent. Just move the ability to disarm magic traps to the use magic device skill (same difficulty). Not that rogues need more incentive to take that skill, but it does make more sense to me. Also, let sorcerers have the ability to remove wards the same way.

  14. Like it! Yes, other casters with trap type spells should probably get it (perhaps each class disarming their own kind of trap, or at least arcane/divine).
    Could give it a range, perhaps at a penalty to the check, so poor weedy wizards don’t get hit by the effect while disarming it.
    I always think rogues who want magical abilities should multiclass, as per back story of Gray Mouser, for example.

  15. Maybe as part of the thieves tools set there is a something like a limited rod of negation that doesn’t automatically disable a device but is skill check based and can only effect traps.

  16. I think I am going to add this to wizards, but not remove it from rogues. In my campaign roges have always deactivated magical traps by physically damaging the magical runes, breaking the ward/ circle etc. I on’t see any reason to remove that, BUT I have always thought wizards should be able to do something to magical traps, magically
    and so I like this.

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