Spring-loaded Cream Pie or TPK Blender?
If you’ve been bouncing around DriveThruRPG you may have spotted “Grimtooth’s Ultimate Trap Collection” by Goodman Games up in the high medals. Grimtooth the troll has a love of tricking luckless adventurers to their doom and has over 500 system-neutral deadly traps spread between 6 harrowing books from the 1980’s and 1990’s reunited into a single collection. With nostalgic art and a classic sense of humor, you’ll be locking adventurers in giant lobster tanks and raising them through the roof. Do these classic traps hold up? Grab a torch and be wary of any “treasure chests” as we go through everything you need to know.
What’s in the Book?
Grimtooth’s Ultimate Trap Collection clocks in at a whopping 627 pages, which for an asking price of $29.99 is a good wad of content for your dollar. The collection includes a good stock of art, comics, and histories of “Grimtooth” alongside the 6 books originally printed in the 80’s and 90’s. The majority of the collection though is devoted to the titular traps, and the collection ends with a lengthy and appropriately trap filled dungeon that occupies just under 100 pages. All told it contains:
- Grimtooth’s Traps.
- Grimtooth’s Traps Too.
- Grimtooth’s Traps Fore.
- Grimtooth’s Traps Ate.
- Grimtooth’s Traps Lite.
- Grimtooth’s NEW Traps.
- Grimtooth’s Dungeon of Doom.
Normally I’d go through each book individually, but honestly, you’ll find they all blur together. For better or worse it kept a very consistent tone throughout the series, and you’ll find it works as a set “collection” rather than individual books. So, let’s dig in and see what makes all these Grimtooth books tick.
Most of these traps were written back in the days of 1st edition and 2nd edition, how on earth can they apply to today’s 5th edition or things like Pathfinder? Well, it’s because Grimtooth’s many traps are more like trap concepts instead of anything having to do with rules. The whole book feels very reminiscent of GURPS and the splat books of old.
In a modern 5e adventure path, you might have, say, a spiked pit trap. It would lay out the Perception checks needed to spot the pit, the DC of the Reflex save needed to jump aside in time once you’d stepped in it, and the damage taken from the spikes should you fall in.
Grimtooth traps operate on a more conceptual basis and are rarely anything as simple as just a spiked pit. A Grimtooth trap will simply state how the trap functions, quite possibly with a cutaway illustration of the trap door, the spikes, and how trying to climb out triggers a secondary pressure plate and unleashes the giant lobsters. Nothing, not the fall itself, the spikes, or the giant lobsters have any sort of numbers or “mechanics” attached, it’s all just laid out as a method of ensuring an unlucky adventurer has a very bad day.
This is both good and bad, as it lets this comparatively ancient material function just as well today as it would have 30 years ago, but it comes with the price of DM grunt work. It’ll be up to you as the DM to create the numbers for the fall, the spikes, and the giant lobsters, something more modern and system-specific supplement would do for you. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker by any means, but be aware that you’re buying the concept of the trap that flips the players up, pounds them into pancakes and then drops them onto a devil’s giant skillet, rather than any mechanics for making it work in your games.
This collection oozes nostalgia, if you’re a TTRPG gamer from way back you’ll recognize all the goofy and irreverent violence missing from more modern D&D. Even though I bought it in PDF form I swear I could remember the smell of those old mail-in splat books coming off these trap-filled pages. The tone and often outdated pop-culture references made me feel like a kid reading MAD magazines and prepping for the cool new game of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons after painstakingly painting my little pewter knight.
I will warn you though, some of the illustrations are a touch “of their time”. Nothing too extreme, but there were definitely a few that would be considered racially problematic by today’s standards. There’s only a couple such pieces among the huge breadth of material so it’s not the end of the world.
Sadly, with the nostalgia of early D&D art and flavor comes the just plain MEAN playstyles. The entire collection is framed as traps designed to murder “delvers” (player characters) designed by Grimtooth the troll. The whole thing definitely has an air of “DM vs Players” in both the narrative and the trap designs, a play style prevalent back then but definitely discouraged nowadays. In most modern TTRPGs the dungeon master is usually encouraged to create as much fun for the group as possible, Grimtooth aims to torture them.
Even without “stats” or damage numbers, it’s hard to justify a player character surviving blending, or being forced through a serrated grate. The books use a rating of 1-5 “skulls” to measure deadliness, but even the low skull ones are nasty. Even the “non-lethal” traps are designed to lop off fingers, sever tendons, and generally punish the players for daring to exist. I’d have less of an issue with the lethality, but many of the traps aren’t really designed with a positive outcome in mind. Some of the traps have a correct solution, clues to follow, or a clever way through unscathed, but a lot of them just kill you. Most in fact, seem to be designed to kill the players even if they make the “right” decisions, in such a way that the DM will get to feel clever but the players wouldn’t have had a chance. Jump out of the way of the obvious dart trap, did you? Bet you didn’t think you’d hit that invisible wall and then fall into a previously unseen pit of boiling oil hid by an illusion huh? Oh no… Your character fell through the trap door? Well you drop into the grinding blades and die instantly, too bad. You get the idea.
There are definitely some traps here that I felt were very clever and plan on using in my later games, but I can’t help feeling with most of them I’d have no chance of surviving, and that’s not really something I like inflicting on my players. It’s like a 30%-70% split of “fair” traps to “unfair” traps in my mind, but 30% of over 500 traps is still a lot of extremely clever and nefarious tools for me to use in my next dungeon.
As mean as I find a lot of the traps, they’re definitely memorable. Your players will never forget the time they almost suffocated in 15-foot deep shag carpet, or the time they fell into a chute and were launched up like a clay pigeon at an orcish archery range. As lethal as they are, they’re usually funny, or are at least memorably convoluted or bizarre. This is really where the collection’s strength lies. These are books of ideas, and they’re genuinely interesting ones. You can easily find books with more balanced or fair traps, but you’ll be hard pressed to find such a large collection of interesting traps.
Grimtooth’s Dungeon of Doom
The massive dungeon at the end of this collection is about as lethal and unforgiving as the original Tomb of Horrors and I don’t make that comparison lightly. I’d be genuinely amazed if a party of any level adventurers could make it through without at least one TPK and a fresh set of characters. Players will be minced, mulched, blown to kingdom come, and cursed, and that’s just between a couple rooms. It could be toned down with some liberal interpretations of what damage should be caused, but it’s still a meat grinder and should only be delved by characters you’re not terribly attached to.
What’s Good About the Book?
This is an absolute ton of content. Each trap is unique, it’s not “pit trap”, then “pit trap with spikes”, then “pit trap with poison spikes”. When they say over 500 traps they’re not kidding around. Each one is an ingenious and evil mechanism, from the intricate room traps to the insidious item traps, even if your players hate you for it they’ll never forget the time they were murdered by robot sharks or the time their looted “gem” melted into superglue in their bags. The art and illustrations reek of nostalgia but can still be applied to your modern game systems. Even if you only apply a couple of the traps found here in your campaigns, your players will be impressed with your clever and dastardly inventions.
What’s Bad About the Book?
The traps are largely designed in the mindset of “DM Vs. Players”. The vast majority of the traps have little to no warning or are otherwise “unwinnable” once triggered. You can potentially scale the traps down, but it can be difficult to justify surviving some of the downright brutal effects of the traps as described. The system neutral aspect is a double-edged sword. It’ll work for any system you happen to be using (it even has some neat sci-fi traps) but you’ll have to generate those stats and inflictions on your own. This is a collection of ideas not a collection of rules and mechanics.
I enjoyed reading through Grimtooth’s Ultimate Traps Collection, and it’s definitely a ton of content for the money, but I think I enjoyed reading it more than I’ll end up using it. The combination of the nostalgic artwork and the work it will take modifying the setting-neutral traps forces me to call this a DM toolset for experienced DMs only. I feel like it was made for the D&D veterans, bringing books they either played with (or quite like the ones they played with) as kids into an accessible collection for modern roleplaying experiences. However, the brutal lethality and adversarial tone just don’t mesh well with the play styles of most modern gaming tables. If you were playing D&D and GURPS back in the day then this collection will be useful, but I think the primary value will be that wave of nostalgia. If you’ve only been gaming on tabletops in the last decade or so this collection will serve as a fun time capsule but will take a lot of work to turn most of these death traps into sources of fun instead of TPKs.
Final Score for Old School TTRPG DMs: 6.5 out of 10
Final Score for Younger DMs: 4 out of 10
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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