Everyone loves a good dungeon crawl, right?
Go through an old ruin or ancient castle, defeating the monsters who have taken up residence and plundering it for all its goods.
Sometimes the people who built or live in that dungeon don’t want to make it easy. They can set all manner of surprises and toys that will hamper and harm the adventurers.
In Pathfinder we call these little toys and surprises Hazards, and they have some pretty heavy rules. Luckily, we of the Ashenvault are here to demystify and inform.
Today we are going to break down how Hazards work, how players can counter them, and how GMs can use them to make their next dungeon into a fantasy version of the McAlister house with their own Kobold version of Maccaulay Culkin.
What is a Hazard?
Hazard in Pathfinder is a catch-all term for anything that is hazardous (get it?) to the PCs or NPCs that isn’t another real intelligence like a monster or an opponent. A Hazard could be a devious mechanical trap with multiple working parts, or it could be as simple as a frozen puddle.
Hazards are broken down into three different parts: Traps, Environmental, and Haunts.
Traps are often deliberately placed as a way to thwart someone from moving through an area or taking something. They can sometimes form accidentally, like when magic goes awry or physics decides to be mean.
They can be as simple as a paint can swinging down to smack you in the head, or as complex as a pit trap with a portal to the Abyss inside a pit trap leading to one of the Nine Hells. (Yes that did happen. Our GM was really mean.)
The Environmental category covers hazards that may form because of any kind of random natural phenomena. Dangerous spores, molds, and fungi (that aren’t sentient), avalanches, frozen lakes, pools of acid, and quicksand all count as Environmental Hazards.
Haunts are a unique sort of Hazard. They affect PCs and NPCs on a metaphysical or spiritual level, and are often formed as a side effect of some terrible tragedy or corruption from evil influences.
These are most often the hardest to resolve or remove, as they typically require long-term planning to counteract the spiritually corrosive influence. This could be something like a Ghost or Demon that needs an exorcism or calming of local spiritual influences.
Hazards are treated much like monstrous encounters with stats, categories, attacks, AC, save DCs, and even XP for the player characters. Most Hazards can be entire encounters on their own, and a room that looks people inside and then lowers a ceiling with spikes.
Exploration Mode vs Encounter Mode
Pathfinder has two different modes of play, Exploration Mode and Encounter Mode. While the various details on exactly how those modes work on the whole, it is worth noting how Hazards work in both modes.
Traps are going to almost universally happen in Encounter mode where every turn and action by each player is going to matter. For more mechanically complicated traps, like the above-mentioned ceiling with spikes, you are most likely going to need to be in Initiative Order to make sure everyone can get an action to possibly stop the trap before it kills everyone.
On the other side, Environmental hazards are going to most often come up in Exploration Mode. This would be like a rampaging river with no bridge the players need to cross, or a poisonous swamp between them and their destination. These problems can be resolved with some RP and some Survival tests, but you don’t need to know everyone’s actions by the second.
Environmental Hazards could come up in Encounter Mode on rare occasions. Maybe you need to tangle with some Goblins on a frozen lake, or duel with Dark Elves on cliffs above Boiling Lava. In this case, the GM might dial back some of the hazard effects to make the combat more the focus, but the small difficulties would give the players more variety in their encounter.
Finally, Haunts can work on both levels. Most likely, a Haunt Hazard is going to be the focus of a longer-term encounter. It might have both encounter mode portions and exploration mode portions. Most often though, the focus of a Haunt Hazard is going to be in the Encounter Mode.
The Player Side of Hazards
Most often when Players are dealing with Hazards it is through the process of finding, disabling, or overcoming and enduring them. At my table, we sometimes call this process F.A.R.T.ing or Find and Remove Traps.
You might FART and room, a door, a hallway, or a chest. We are very mature, you see.
Detecting a Hazard
All Hazards have a way of triggering them. Traps have something like a tripwire, pressure plate, or a magical sensor that the players would trip up in some way. In the case of Environmental Hazards or Haunts, they are most likely triggered by proximity.
A lava flow isn’t dangerous until you get close to it. Whereas an Avalanche wouldn’t happen (or be a bother to the players) unless they were in the danger zone.
The key to avoiding a Hazard is obviously to see it first before it goes off. Players get an automatic check to detect a trap, unless the trap requires a minimum proficiency to find, like some higher level traps.
In the case of Exploration mode, the GM makes a secret Perception Check for the players vs the Stealth DC of the Hazard. If the Hazard requires a minimum trained proficiency, the GM will only roll for the people who have the necessary proficiency to find it and are saying they are actively searching using the Search Action or the Seek Action. The GM then informs the players what they find.
In the case of Magical Hazards, ones that have no minimum proficiency rank can be easily detected with the Detect Magic spell. The spell does not give any hit as to how to disarm the hazard, only revealing its presence. Magical Hazards that DO have a minimum proficiency rank cannot be found by Detect Magic.
Disarming or Disabling a Hazard
Once a Hazard has been detected, the next action a party is going to take is to disable it so it no longer poses a threat. If it is a mechanical device, that might be followed by attempting to strip it for parts, but that is dependent on the party.
For mechanical traps ranging from simple to complex, it might take as little as a Thievery test based on the DC in the hazard’s listing. If it is very complex, it may require multiple tests to disable or disarm.
For Environmental Hazards, you will need a successful Survival test.
It might go without saying, but a Hazard must be Detected before anyone can attempt to disarm or disable it. You can’t disarm what you don’t know exists.
Damaging a Hazard
Sometimes you don’t have the capacity to just disarm the hazard, and just want to break things. Hazards work the same as Damaging Objects, but also have their own full stat blocks with AC, Hit Points, Saving Throws, and Hardness.
If you manage to reduce a Hazard’s HP below its Broken Threshold or BT, then the Hazard is considered broken and cannot be activated. It can be Repaired, using the Repair Action. If its HP is reduced to 0, the Hazard is destroyed and cannot be repaired.
If a Hazard has no BT, then the Hazard cannot be broken. It still can be destroyed if it hits 0 HP.
When attacking a Hazard that is untriggered, the process of attacking sets it off. However, if you manage to destroy it in one blow, the Hazard does not typically activate.
Triggering a Hazard
Obviously when the Hazard triggers that means it goes off and the effect takes place. This typically goes off if the players manage to miss the hazard, though it might be possible for players to intentionally set something off.
When a Hazard is triggered, it will often have a reaction or a free action that immediately takes place. For most simple Hazards, this is the start and the end. For more complex Hazards with more actions, the Hazard will either start an initiative roll or join an active initiative count on the initiative it was set off on.
Some hazards may have free actions after they are activated. An example being quicksand, which has a free action to suck down multiple players.
Complex Hazards may have a rote set of actions they go through as they move through consecutive rounds. Like above, these actions might set off an initiative count or join one in process. The Hazard will go through these actions as the encounter progresses, and they might even have more than one action on their initiative turn.
The Gamemaster Side of Hazards
When it comes to being the Gamemaster and dealing with Hazards, your job is most likely going to be about designing and building the Hazards for your players to run into and overcome.
Hazards should be treated with the same level of care that a monster encounter should be, making sure the encounter is fun and engaging, while not punishingly difficult. You can select from a list of hazards on the SRD or in the books (with some examples listed below this section), or you can build one yourself from the ground up.
Building a Hazard
When going through the process of building your own hazard there are a few steps to go through: Concept, Difficulty, Stealth and Disable DC, Defenses, and Offenses.
The first step is to decide what exactly your hazard is going to be. Decide what the hazard is going to be, and then decide where that falls into: Trap, Environmental, or Haunt.
You also need to decide if you want a Simple or Complex Hazard.
Simple Hazards are one action and done, while Complex Hazards have recurring effects and extra actions.
Your next step is going to be what level of difficulty you want your players to have with this trap. Like designing monster encounters, you want to make sure it’s within a level range your players can handle. The Hazard XP levels are Party Level +/- 4, so don’t go out of that range unless you want to stop your players dead in their tracks.
The second part of Difficulty is deciding on the Hazard’s overall statistics. Extreme Hazards are going to seriously tax your party, a High Hazard is going to be difficult but not punishing, and Low might be something like a speed bump.
Stealth and Disable DC
Next, we need to find out how easy it is to find the hazard (if it is concealed), and how easy it is to disable. This is based on a combination of the party level and the Extreme/High/Low choice above.
|Level||Extreme DC||High DC||Low DC|
|–1||18||15||12 to 11|
|0||19||16||13 to 12|
|1||20||17||14 to 13|
|2||21||18||15 to 14|
|3||23||20||17 to 15|
|4||25||22||18 to 17|
|5||26||23||20 to 18|
|6||28||25||21 to 19|
|7||30||27||23 to 21|
|8||31||28||24 to 22|
|9||33||30||26 to 23|
|10||35||32||27 to 25|
|11||36||33||29 to 26|
|12||38||35||30 to 27|
|13||40||37||32 to 29|
|14||41||38||33 to 30|
|15||43||40||35 to 31|
|16||45||42||36 to 33|
|17||46||43||38 to 34|
|18||48||45||39 to 35|
|19||50||47||41 to 37|
|20||51||48||42 to 38|
|21||53||50||44 to 39|
|22||55||52||45 to 41|
|23||56||53||46 to 42|
|24||58||55||48 to 43|
The DCs here represent what the players need to overcome using their skills in Perception to see the trap and then the resulting Skill Test to disable it or disarm it.
It is a good idea in the concept stage to think of what the players might do to overcome a hazard, and hint narratively about how to do it. However, if the players get creative and figure out a different way, make sure to encourage them to think outside the box. Give them a possible bonus on the roll.
Maybe a pit trap can be glued or jammed shut or magical runes defaced to cause the spell to fail.
Some Hazards require training and proficiency to find. This is very true with traps concealed by opponents. When a Hazard requires a minimum proficiency to find, it can only be found by someone actively looking using the Search or Seek action. The below table is a good guide for difficulty.
|0 or Lower||Untrained||Untrained|
|1-4||Trained (except for Perception)||Trained|
|19 or Higher||Legendary||Master|
If the Hazard is physical like a trap, then it can be affected by attacking it. Its values are decided on the Difficulty spectrum of Extreme/High/Low and the Party Level. If the Hazard is formless or simply magical, then this step can be skipped.
E represents Extreme, H represents High, and L represents Low.
|Level||EAC||HAC||LAC||E Save||H Save||L Save||Hardness||HP*|
* The Broken Threshold is usually half the hazard’s HP.
Some Hazards might make more sense to have different hardness levels depending on what they are. Complex Hazards may also have more than one portion that needs to take damage in order to fully disable or destroy them.
Your final step is figuring out your Hazards Offenses. All Hazards attack in some way with Complex Hazards having several different effects. Complex Hazards are often more like fighting with a monster or opponent rather than just a one and done like a Simple Hazard.
Like the above portions, this also has options based on level and Extreme/High/Low settings.
Remember this is just a guide, and you can improve or reduce as needed for your encounter.
|Level||Simple Attack||Complex Attack||Simple Damage||Complex Damage||Extreme DC||High DC|
|–1||+10||+8||2d4+1 (6)||1d4+1 (3)||19||16|
|0||+11||+8||2d6+3 (10)||1d6+2 (5)||19||16|
|1||+13||+9||2d6+5 (12)||1d6+3 (6)||20||17|
|2||+14||+11||2d10+7 (18)||1d10+4 (9)||22||18|
|3||+16||+12||2d10+13 (24)||1d10+6 (12)||23||20|
|4||+17||+14||4d8+10 (28)||2d8+5 (14)||25||21|
|5||+19||+15||4d8+14 (32)||2d8+7 (16)||26||22|
|6||+20||+17||4d8+18 (36)||2d8+9 (18)||27||24|
|7||+22||+18||4d10+18 (40)||2d10+9 (20)||29||25|
|8||+23||+20||4d10+22 (44)||2d10+11 (22)||30||26|
|9||+25||+21||4d10+26 (48)||2d10+13 (24)||32||28|
|10||+26||+23||4d12+26 (52)||2d12+13 (26)||33||29|
|11||+28||+24||4d12+30 (56)||2d12+15 (28)||34||30|
|12||+29||+26||6d10+27 (60)||3d10+14 (30)||36||32|
|13||+31||+27||6d10+31 (64)||3d10+16 (32)||37||33|
|14||+32||+29||6d10+35 (68)||3d10+18 (34)||39||34|
|15||+34||+30||6d12+33 (72)||3d12+17 (36)||40||36|
|16||+35||+32||6d12+35 (74)||3d12+18 (37)||41||37|
|17||+37||+33||6d12+37 (76)||3d12+19 (38)||43||38|
|18||+38||+35||6d12+41 (80)||3d12+20 (40)||44||40|
|19||+40||+36||8d10+40 (84)||4d10+20 (42)||46||41|
|20||+41||+38||8d10+44 (88)||4d10+22 (44)||47||42|
|21||+43||+39||8d10+48 (92)||4d10+24 (46)||48||44|
|22||+44||+41||8d10+52 (96)||4d10+26 (48)||50||45|
|23||+46||+42||8d12+48 (100)||4d12+24 (50)||51||46|
|24||+47||+44||8d12+52 (104)||4d12+26 (52)||52||48|
When your party overcomes the Hazard, you should award them with XP based on the level of the Hazard. Like the above options, this one has a quick reference table as well.
|Level||Simple Hazard||Complex Hazard|
|Party level -4||2 XP||10 XP|
|Party level -3||3 XP||15 XP|
|Party level -2||4 XP||20 XP|
|Party level -1||6 XP||30 XP|
|Party level||8 XP||40 XP|
|Party level +1||12 XP||60 XP|
|Party level +2||16 XP||80 XP|
|Party level +3||24 XP||120 XP|
|Party level +4||30 XP||150 XP|
Examples of Remarkable Hazards
Below are some examples of a few pretty good Hazards to show you how they are put together.
Hazard Name Hazard [Level]
Stealth This entry lists the Stealth modifier for a complex hazard’s initiative or the Stealth DC to detect a simple hazard, followed by the minimum proficiency rank to detect the hazard (if any) in parentheses. If detect magic can be used to detect the hazard, this information is located here as well.
Description This explains what the hazard looks like and might include special rules.
Disable The DC of any skill checks required to disable the hazard are here; if the hazard can be counteracted, its spell level and counteract DC are listed in parentheses.
AC the hazard’s AC; Saving Throws the hazard’s saves. Usually only haunts are subject to Will saves.
Hardness the hazard’s Hardness; HP the hazard’s Hit Points, with its Broken Threshold in parentheses; Immunities the hazard’s immunities; Weaknesses the hazard’s weaknesses, if any; Resistances the hazard’s resistances, if any
Action Type This is the reaction or free action the hazard uses; Trigger The trigger that sets off the hazard appears here. Effect For a simple hazard, this effect is often all the hazard does. For a complex hazard, this might also cause the hazard to roll initiative.
Routine This section describes what a complex hazard does on each of its turns during an encounter; the number in parentheses after the word “Routine” indicates how many actions the hazard can use each turn. Simple hazards don’t have this entry.
Action Any action the hazard can use appears here. Typically, this is a melee or ranged attack.
Reset If the hazard can be reset, that information is here.
BROWN MOLD HAZARD 2
Stealth DC 21 (trained)
This unassuming fungus leeches heat out of the air.
Disable DC 18 Survival (trained) to safely remove the mold
Emit Cold (aura, cold); 5 feet. Brown mold deals 2d6 cold damage to nearby creatures.
AC 18; Fort +11, Ref +5
HP 30 (BT 15); Immunities critical hits, fire, object immunities, precision damage; Weaknesses cold 10
Leech Warmth [reaction] Trigger Fire comes within 5 feet of the brown mold; Effect The brown mold expands into every square adjacent to its space. As it grows, it pulls more heat from its surroundings, dealing 2d6+6 cold damage (DC 18 basic Fortitude save) to creatures within 10 feet after it expands.
Reset After expanding, the brown mold can’t grow again for 1 day.
This is a great example of a simple environmental hazard. It requires someone trained to detect it and has a very simple reaction and trigger. This would be great to randomly spring on your players when they are underground.
GRASP OF THE DAMNED HAZARD 17
Stealth DC 43 (master)
These desperate spirits are the echoes of people who committed great atrocities in the name of an evil god.
Now, they are left with only the knowledge that their souls have been damned, and the unwavering belief that they can better their fate by providing powerful sacrifices for their fiendish masters.
Disable DC 46 Religion (master) to inspire a deity to intervene and counteract the ritual
Mark for Damnation [reaction] (death, divine, necromancy) Trigger Three or more sentient living creatures of 13th level or higher enter the haunt’s area; Effect The haunt deals 6d12+35 negative damage to each creature in the haunt’s area, and each creature must attempt a DC 40 Will save.
Critical Success The creature takes no damage and is doomed 1.
Success The creature takes half damage and is doomed 1.
Failure The creature takes full damage, becomes doomed 2, and is marked for damnation.
Critical Failure The creature takes double damage, becomes doomed 3, and is marked for damnation.
If a creature that is marked for damnation dies within the next 24 hours, including from the haunt’s damage, its soul is immediately dragged away to the plane of the evil deity that the damned spirits served, where the creature’s soul is held captive by one of that deity’s powerful servitors.
Only wish and similarly potent effects are able to recover the lost soul directly; however, it is also possible to recover the soul by journeying to the evil plane and defeating the soul’s captor.
Reset 1 day
An example of a really powerful Haunt, this is going to take some real doing to overcome. This complex of a hazard can make an entire session’s worth of content.
SEISMIC SPEARS TRAP HAZARD 19
Lines of searing lava lance through the area, causing targets to shake as if caught in an earthquake and potentially become petrified.
Stealth DC 43 (master)
Cataclysmic Rain [reaction] (arcane, earth, fire) Trigger A creature enters the marked area; Effect Fiery spears make one Strike against each living creature within 5 feet of the marked area.
Ranged [one-action] seismic spear +40, Damage 3d10+10 fire damage and 3d10+10 piercing damage plus personal quake; no multiple attack penalty
Personal Quake A creature struck by a seismic spear is clumsy 3 for 1 round as their body shakes uncontrollably. On a critical hit, a target must succeed at a DC 39 Fortitude save or be petrified for 1 minute, or permanently on a critical failure.
Reset The trap resets after 1 minute.
Good example of a simple trap, this one is going to hit hard and have multiple effects. However, just because it has additional effects, doesn’t mean it’s complex. It’s only one action to strike.
A good example of the Complex type…
ACIDIC NEEDLE LAUNCHER HAZARD 16
Complex Mechanical Trap
A ceiling-mounted launcher rains resinous needles onto intruders, after which the needles melt into acid.
Stealth DC 38 (master)
Disable Thievery (DC 36) to disable some firing mechanisms, making three adjacent squares in the trapped area safe to enter.
AC 39; Fort +30, Ref +22
Hardness 26, HP 104 (BT 52); Immunities critical hits, object immunities, precision damage
Needle Rain [reaction] (attack) Trigger A creature moves into the area indicated on the map Effect The trap shoots an acidic needle at a random target in the area indicated on the map, then rolls initiative.
Ranged acidic needle +35, Damage 2d6 piercing plus 8d6 acid
Routine (3 actions) The acidic needle launcher fires a needle at a random target in the area indicated on the map.
This trap has multiple actions that take place over the course of its activation. It’s really easy, as it is just attacking over and over. Some others might have other actions though, so it is worth it to plan out how they are going to go over the course of the initiative order.
Happy Pride, Pathfinders!