The characters enter an area that “may” contain traps. The resident rogue makes an appropriate check and rolls low. Now everyone starts making checks until someone feels they’ve rolled high enough to call the area safe. If no one succeeds, then the players get nervous, and try to find excuses to make another round of checks.
This is a problem in a lot of role playing games, and I understand that no one wants to step on a land mine, but as a dungeons and dragons game master, this kind of player activity can be very frustrating… not to mention time consuming. Here are a few methods to resolve/mitigate this issue.
Go Old School (Zero Edition)
Some players expect to make one check and know everything there is to know about the area they are in. To combat this expectation, require players to describe their actions in detail and direct their attention to an object or area. This method isn’t quite as strict as requiring players to tap every square with a 10 foot pole, but the ideas are in the same vein.
If a player insists on making only a “cursory glance” around the room, double the DC of the check. That’s right, I said DOUBLE it. If a player looks in an unrelated area, raise the DC of where the trap really is, or make it impossible for players to learn about it.
Think about it– even a high level rogue should not expect to be able to “twirl” around a room for a few seconds and see every detail– rogues survive through targeted, careful examination.
Make Failed Checks Matter
Normally, players should not be allowed to make the same check twice unless they somehow obtain more information about the topic. In the case of traps, a “second round of checks” can be ‘arguably’ achieved by making a dim room brightly lit.
To encourage players to learn what they can and move on, give them a sense of urgency. This would most often come in the form of a quest where time matters. Ideas may include a dungeon that is only accessible for a brief period (after which players would be trapped forever), or perhaps a horde of creatures are pursuing the players, or perhaps the players are trying to save someone who might be executed, etc.
If the players are simply exploring a basic dungeon, you could have a wandering monster spot them, and warn others up ahead– possibly granting the monster ambush a surprise round.
One method I am fond of is that when the players are searching for traps– they’re already in it. And if they fail checks to SEARCH for the trap, the trap activates right then and there. Normally this is a possibility for traps the players are trying to disarm, but once and awhile this method can spice things up. Classic traps in this category might include the walls closing in, the giant bolder, or the self-destruct switch.
Keep Players on Their Toes
Everyone expects traps in a long-forgotten dungeon. If you do have traps in these locations, make them interesting. Include layers of traps. Perhaps the obvious traps are really intended to encourage players to push forward into a serious of more devious traps.
You should also throw traps at your players at times they wouldn’t normally expect as well. These don’t have to be deadly, either. A minor trap can often provide a bit comedy relief. Perhaps a character steps into a snare trap meant for a rabbit, or a mole hole. Everyone enjoys watching ridiculous things happen to uptight Paladins…
How do you deal with this problem? Any absurd stories of players taking ridiculous steps to avoid springing a trap?