Save vs. Traps!

So Twitter was discussing the notion of the old-time D&D trope of “find traps” as in “I search for traps” which often takes the form of player characters creeping along through an adventure, playing a game of verbal cat-and-mouse with the DM and rolling endless Wisdom (Perception) checks to see if they find a trap or not, with cagy responses like “You don’t perceive any traps…”

I mentioned that the whole process of “finding” traps, that is, noticing them before it’s too late and they go off, should be a saving throw in D&D. After all, saving throws are literally the rolls you make to avoid hazards—like traps. Sure, you make saves after the trap has gone off, but what about before in order to avoid that? Initially, I thought a Wisdom save, since Wisdom (Perception) checks are usually what you use to find traps, but then I thought: an Intelligence save!

Intelligence saving throws to detect and potentially avoid traps have the following going for them:

  • Intelligence is one of the most under-utilized ability scores for saving throws. There are just five instances of it in the Player’s Handbook, versus 49 for Wisdom saves.
  • Of the existing Intelligence saving throws, they often involve detecting when “something’s not quite right” like an illusion or a false memory. Makes sense that they might also take subtle things the character notices, put two and two together, and come up with “this may be a trap…”
  • The classes proficient in Intelligence saves are: Artificer, Druid, Rogue, and Wizard, the prime trap-makers, which only makes sense they’d also be good trap detectors. It also means you don’t have to be proficient in the Perception skill to be good at dealing with traps.
  • It makes Intelligence less of a dump-stat for characters who mean to be wily and avoid traps. Certainly makes sense that the fairly unintelligent barbarian or even sorcerer is more likely to fall victim to a trap.
  • Classes that have special trap-detection abilities may get a special ability to add their proficiency bonus to Intelligence saves solely for the purpose of detecting traps, or they might get to use a different save (such as Wisdom) for that purpose.

Best of all, making detecting traps into a saving throw means there’s no need to roll secretly or be cagey about it. The roll happen the moment when a character could trigger the trap: If the Intelligence save succeeds, they notice the trap is there in time to (potentially) avoid it. If they fail the save, they trigger the trap. Either way, they know there’s a trap there!

Since it’s a saving throw and not an ability check, benefits that affect saving throws—which, again, are meant to avoid or minimize harm—apply, but not necessarily benefits that apply to ability checks. It’s definitely a notion I’d like to try out in my next trap-filled dungeon!