Thursday, September 20, 2007

Booby Traps

We all know the story. The intrepid adventurer, be he archeologist, knight, or commoner-who-is-really-the-son-of-the-king, is creeping along the passageway of the ancient and fearsome Really, Really Evil Dungeon, a place that has been lost for a thousand years. Alongside of him is his trusty comic relief, who is there to make him look good (or at least competent).

Just as the comic-relief is about to step forward, the adventurer holds out a hand.

Wait, he says. There may be booby traps.

The adventurer then throws a stick or rock or marmoset right where the comic relief was about to step. There is a thwap (or possible a thwip) and an arrow zings across the passage, right where the comic-relief would have been.

A quip is made and they continue on, to rescue the spunky princess with large breasts.

Here is the thing: how the hell does that trap work? Think about it. Adventurers are continually running across long deserted tombs, dungeons, and strip malls and encountering traps that have been sitting there for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and they still work. My last watch, comparatively a marvel of technology, ceased functioning after a mere 8-years.

Wood rots. Metal rusts. Even stone will crack or become overgrown. Even if someone is tending these things on a regular basis, the failure rate would have to be high.

Obviously, it is just a movie or book, but I am always amused by this. Ancient technology, for no readily apparent reason, always works.

Someday, I want to see this:

The hero and his sidekick are moving along the deserted dungeon corridor. The sidekick stumbles and grabs a rock to steady himself, which activates an unseen trap.

There is the horrible screeching of metal scraping against metal and iron spikes appear from the holes in the ceiling. Once, they would have shot from the holes with amazing speed, impaling anything below them, but now most of them are rusted into place. Only one lone spike descends, but agonizingly slowly. The hero looks up and calmly takes one step to the right. The spike continues to descend, but there is a sudden PING and then it stops.

Huh, says the hero, before continuing on.



Oons said...

It would work ... but sadly I can only see it appearing in a spoof. *shakes head* I've often wondered about that stuff too ... especially when it comes to things like Tomb Raider.

Anonymous said...

it might if the next trap killed said comic relief as now hero and sidekick are careless because of there victory over millenia old technolagy.

Gillsing said...

In fantasy games, stuff could concievably be enchanted to not deteriorate with time. But I too often think of the silliness of ancient traps working after such a long time. One of my most successful traps was a boat on an underground river. It claimed two adventurers' lives as they bravely set off along the river only to end up being flushed down a whirlpool.

Though now that I think about it, their boat should probably have gotten stuck at the place where the water was about to meet the roof of the tunnel, because I don't think the current would've been quite strong enough to drag the boat down as it hit the roof. So they should probably have died from starvation while shouting back to their two friends to throw out a looong rope. Not sure how much rope it'd take, but those two friends would definitely have had to return to civilization to buy as much rope as they could carry. I don't even know if the shouts would make enough sense at such a distance. Water under the bridge now. Hehe.

Anonymous said...

Yeah so there are metals that are quite resistant to corrosion... there are some metal alloys that actually get stronger with age. And provided there isn't really a source of water dripping onto it, or trees growing through it, many ceramics (stones) etc are nigh impervious to the rigors of time (water being a source of mechanical corrosion as are tree roots). Granted for them to have such technologies at their disposal it makes you wonder why their civilization a) collapsed. b) why anyone was left if they *could* do this in the first place. and c) how the knowledge didn't survive if people did.
I think it would certainly be plausible for the well designed trap with today's technology to be functional as well as plausible for something to have gone wrong, and for the wear of time to have disabled such a trap.

Anonymous said...

The irony is that actual real-world booby traps still work, are quite effective, but are a helluva lot more subtle and cunning than the movie ones. Why booby trap a tomb with a complex series of gears, levers, counter-levers, etc. that will eventually fail as they corrode or settle when you can simply cover the corpse and all of the valuables with a dried hyper-deadly toxin, fungus, or bacteria as was done in some Egyptian tombs? Disturb the dust, inhale it, and BAM! dead archaeologist. Oft times the real world is far more incredible and amazing than the movie world, but because it is also more subtle it doesn't get the sex appeal of the giant rolling bolder.

Jason Janicki said...

That's what makes it fun . . . hoping that the trap actually works on the annoying sidekick.

I love it, Gillsing. I'll have to remember that for my game.

What if they died out because their traps were so good?

"Honey, could you feed the dog?"
Opens cupboard, trap goes off, civilization ends.

I hadn't actually heard that about the Egyptians. That's kinda cool, in a really nasty way.

Fire Walk said...

...because, as everyone knows, ancient civilisations put booby traps on everything.

One way to show decay without being comedic might be that the decay has turned something that should be ridiculous overkill into something doable with skill. Stone portals that slam shut in the blink of an eye shudder closed, just in time to roll out. Your incoming wall of arrows only half work, so can [i]just[/i] be dodged. Things like that, especially if we get to see them in full effect earlier.

Jason Janicki said...

that's an interesting thought, fire walk. That would certainly help with the suspension of disbelief.