Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax was a master of designing clever traps and puzzles meant to confuse and challenge players, as evidenced by a recently shared description of one of his early dungeons. Earlier this month, Jim Ward, an early D&D player and TSR employee, shared some anecdotes on ENWorld about his time exploring dungeons in Gary Gygax's earliest versions of the iconic Castle Greyhawk, the dungeon at the heart of Gygax's home game. The anecdotes provide a fascinating glimpse into Gygax's DM style and design tricks, including the many ways he tried to trip up his players.
One of Ward's anecdotes was about a set of heavy stone doors in the heart of Greyhawk. Ward noted that the doors were locked, and that the thieves couldn't pick them to open the door. Even the Knock spell (which automatically opens locks) couldn't get the doors to open, even though the spell affected the locks on the door. "It wasn't until months and months later that we discovered the locks at the center of the door were fake," Ward explained. "I had to toss the Knock spell to the side of the door where the real lock was located."
The deceivingly simple doors are a great example of how a Dungeons & Dragons DM can build an encounter that challenges a party by playing on their assumptions. Since the doors had a pair of locks on them, Ward and the players didn't think to check whether there was anything more to the doors, which forced them to return to the doors multiple times to find a solution. Although not every door should be rigged this way, it's a great way to push your players to think creatively and not pummel their way through every trap and obstacle using spells and their most proficient skills. After all, a Dungeons & Dragons campaign will get boring quickly if players can simply spellcast or skill check their way out of every encounter with just a roll or two.
You can check out Ward's full batch of anecdotes here, which provide a fascinating and fun look into the early world of Dungeons & Dragons.