The Shutdown – (10 Disable Device Descriptions for Magical Traps)


We all know and love the rogues and other characters that possess the Disable Device skill and the trapfinding class feature which allows them to deal with magical traps. The mechanics of the skill DCs are relatively straightforward. But how, exactly, does our plucky, dagger-dunking, sneakabout defeat MAGIC in game? Today we look at some thoughts for the flavor around disabling magical traps…

Skill Use: Mundane and Magical

A common misconception in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is that skills are entirely non-magical (as discussed here). Classes like psions (since the ancestral system) and Occult Adventure’s kineticists both gained bonus skills that seemed clearly aligned with minor telekinetics, and druids have always blurred the line with animal related abilities. When specifically considering a skill use, it is therefore probably best to decide how supernatural if at all the skill use is. Consider the following:

  • Player Preference: If a character has been created by a player as being bereft of magical power or ability, magical skill use is probably a poor descriptive fit for their abilities. Conversely, those who like a sense of the supernatural might appreciate a raw, unpredictable magic aura that shorts out things it interacts with.
  • Setting Consistency: If a GM is attempting to create a low-magic setting, attributing magical nature to a situation where there doesn’t need to necessarily to be one. Sticking to mundane skill use preserves gritty low-magic settings. High fantasy settings might require magical skill use.
  • Verisimilitude: Suprisingly, mundane skill use tends to buckle under scrutiny quickly as that thieves tools are often assumed to have consumable resources that start to make a person look askance at a tiny belt-sized thieves’ tool kit after trap number twenty. Magical skill use makes longer periods without reprovisioning more believable.

10 Disable Device Descriptions

Once we have our magical or mundane nature sorted, its time to let the descriptions flow! Remember this check DC is often 26+ and is an accomplishment for a character to be recognized for!

Mundane Descriptions for Disable Device on Magic Traps:

  • “Tarkis sifts the chalk dust from her thieves’ kit in a fine cloudy layer. As it settles into the cracks of the etched runes, she gestures the party forward confident the lightning glyphs are isolated.”
  • “Tarkis shakes out few of the crickets from a small bottle at her belt, then painting each with a small symbol with a tiny brush and alchemical silver she sends them scurrying forward. The lightning glyphs spark to life responding to the presence of cricket intruders only to fizzle out when the connecting glyphs painted on the creatures short out the magical pattern of the trap.”
  • “Tarkis blows the powdered copper of her palm and into the mystic portal. The dust swims the surface of the doorway like a film on the surface of the water, until  it congeals around five points of power. She nods people through indicating that they shouldn’t touch the focal points.”
  • “Tarkis spies the subtle runes, ceiling and floor, that ward the hallway. She slips two small mirrors and with a ball of gummy resin adheres one to her boot. The other she braces flat in the palm of her hand which she lifts like a dancer. She shifts forward in a single movement, each rune confronted with a mirror confusing the spell sleeping there. She mouths an urgent ‘GO!’ to the party as she hold the awkward pose.”
  • “Tarkis scans the faint carving a third time and makes a small quick scratch. She gestures Erzog through and laughs as the barbarian is drenched in fragrant red liquid. Snorting she shows the wizard where she altered the rune of vitrol to vine causing the conjuration to spill harmless wine instead of acid.”

Magical Descriptions for Disable Device on Magic Traps:

  • “Deshine looks over the runes and slides her fingers along their outer edge, discharging a spark cantrip in close proximity. She smiles as the runes glow white, close enough to the evocation to assume it was their own. ‘We have a few minutes.’ She finishes.”
  • “Deshine leans close to the lightning glyphs and hears their magic. In the sound there is a distant echoing thunder which she knows to be a name. The name of the sleeping lightning of the runes. She sings the name and begs it sleep. The runes dim and the party passes unharmed.”
  • “Sensing five focal points in the magic of the portal, Deshine drafts the raw magic of her aura into a plane of five equidistant nexuses of power. Satisfied she lowers the plane of her own aura into the portals open appeture and after a moment of disruption, the portal is cleared.”
  • “Sighting the warding runes above and below, Deshine visualizes her power. Like a river it runs clear. So clear that it can be seen straight through. She steps under and above the runes willing their connection to happen through her, inside her. The runes satiated an urgent flick of her eyes directs the party beyond her.”
  • “Drawing the narrowest line of force, as good as she could manage truth be told, between her fingers as she carefully judges the height above the conjuration carving, she slides her foot across the activation plate. Her fingers stretch the line of power right across the forming nexus of conjurations and interacting with the rules of safe passage, the portal fails to resolve in an ‘occupied’ space.”

Regardless of magical or mundane skill checks, a little effort into the description goes a long way to what might be the rogue players most important roll of the night. Take the time to go beyond “Success” and make it count!

Feeling trapped by basic Pathfinder mechanics? Look for new freedom in Book of Beyond: Liminal Power later this summer or get it as part of the Book of Beyond WIP Subcription. Or see our other products are available on, drivethruRPG, paizo and RPGNow.

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