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I grew up watching the Indiana Jones and enjoying the creative death traps and Indy outsmarting them.

What what about dragons?

So this is for a potential novel dealing with a dragon civilization. The dragons are the standard hexapedal model (four legs, two wings) they are roughly horse sized and capable of flight and breathing fire (think Vietnam era flame thrower as comparison) with more realistic hide (scaly and tough, not the impenetrable armor of myth) and preindustrial tech (black powder weapons and sailing ships) and they have come across an ancient temple with something inside protected by puzzles and traps. But here is where I am curious and need the wisdom of the crowd.

See, any trap activated by stepping on the wrong tile is useless if you can just fly over it, as is the standard spiky pit. Even if you make the corridor low to negate that advantage, the dragon might still bypass it by pouncing from the floor-to-wall and then wall-to-floor. Not to mention without some form a fire proofing, one good breath and poof there goes the booby trap.

So what kind of primitive booby traps could be made that could incapacitate/kill a dragon?

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    $\begingroup$ What about the possibility of making the door too small for dragons in the first place? Is the point that you want the "right" dragon to get through, but not one not of the informed "in-group"? Can you also tell us a bit about your dragons - what's their armour like, can they swim, how proficient are they in their ancient obscure languages..... etc. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Mar 13 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ Well the temple was built by dragons of a different “culture,” for “their” use, so I don’t think the smaller doorway will be an option. As for armor...basically none. While their civilization has a kind of plate armor for soldiers this particular group does not have that. As for “ancient language proficiency” their is a member of their party that recognized the culture that built the place. Fairly decent swimmers, the oceans are filled with sea monsters, so they don’t get the opportunity often but they can do it just fine. $\endgroup$ – Jacob Badger Mar 13 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ "the dragon might still bypass [a pit trap] by pouncing from the floor-to-wall and then wall-to-floor" — have you ever actually seen this in real life? I'm not going to say it's completely impossible, but it's nowhere near as plausible as video games make it seem, especially if the intervening wall is smooth rock. Dragons won't be able to jump much further using this technique than they could otherwise, and a bend in the corridor will trivially prevent getting a running start. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Mar 14 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Good traps ideas: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/109016/44800 $\endgroup$ – Legisey Mar 15 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ Flying dragons might not be able to fly inside except in huge rooms due to their wingspan. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Mar 16 at 1:12
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Put the trap in a corridor too narrow for the dragon to unfurl its wings. That will negate the advantage of flying.

Other possibilities are nets and falling rocks, or spears springing out from the wall -- anything which confines the dragon, or injures it so quickly that its flight is useless.

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Nobody likes elevators.

Sorry, the stairway is closed for repairs. Please press the button for the floor you want. Otherwise the elevator will fall 20 floors ... release its crushed contents to the acid pit beneath ... close back up again (complete with a Sorcerer's Apprentice mop and broom to clean up, of course) ... and return to its home floor for the next eager adventurer. (You can ask the physics people whether a dragon flying in an elevator can keep it from falling - usually the dragon doesn't like this answer)

Beaded curtain.

Decorative strings of beads separate the rooms of your complex. Some of the beads are adorned with lovely decorative jewels in the shape of a scarab. What could possibly go wrong?

Snakes. Don't you love snakes?

I don't really understand who feeds the poisonous snakes in those movies, but whoever it is has also trained them to associate the sound (well, vibration) of flapping wings with the sound of food. And they reach that food by slithering down through the holes in the grating above the safe-looking corridor through which the dragon is flying.

Wall of text.

Around here everybody likes to write a wall of text. But there is a nice, solid looking surface in front of that wall where a scholar might perch to read and ponder. That's where you put the trigger for the ballista trap.

The terrible flood of fate

I'd think people would know by now to look around and see if the dungeon is reached via a small hole in the surface of Lake Erie before they begin exploring. But they don't, and a surprise is bound to ensue. When you pick up the big golden idol, do you suppose that (a) a victory message and game credits appear, b) that old sock exactly balances the weight so you can escape safely, or c) there is a tiny string tied to the bottom and with it you've just opened a ring of 50-foot floodgates on every side of the ancient wonder of the world you just discovered, which is now going to be utterly obliterated?

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps I'm being dumb, but what could go wrong when walking though a beaded curtain? (besides the obvious, being struck down by the god of interior design) $\endgroup$ – James K Mar 14 at 10:10
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    $\begingroup$ Common in this genre of movie (The Mummy, for example) is the "death scarab", a hard, valuable-looking jewel that, once warmed up and aroused, turns into a deadly insect with an unnatural ability to burrow into a person and kill them. Now okay, okay, I don't know how much tomb-raiding magic you want here, and it's true that small antipersonnel mines, whether or not in the shape of a scarab, are more legitimate physics not to mention more reliably deadly, but I couldn't help myself. :) $\endgroup$ – Mike Serfas Mar 14 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ You forgot the corridor filling bolder! Your trap filled dungeon isn't up to building code without the corridor filling bolder! $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Mar 15 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for style of this answer $\endgroup$ – Stilez Mar 15 at 18:09
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Rocks fall and everyone dies.

If the fella got wings, a large net with rocks can be placed all over the roof. Place a moveable floor with a pit-full of water and stakes. Trying to swim with broken bones will be a challenge.

You may draw inspiration from D&D books.

The 2 main ideas are to bamboozle and to hide the real stuff. Place some stuff with a tiny script, so you need to close in to read. Maybe deface it so they really need to get in close.

Another ways is to place an obvious trap, that can be avoided, poorly concealed, then when they try to skip "the trap", they dive into the real deal.

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Put a golden door at the end of a long hallway narrow enough that they have to proceed single-file. When the gold door is opened, it triggers a huge hallway-clearing ballista on the other side. Or a ram, flooding, or whatever else you have lying around that will hit everyone you've lined up.

You could fill areas with natural overgrowth of super-toxic ivy, sleeping poppies, or other problematic flora. If the dragons burn it, make sure that the rapidly-spreading smoke and fumes turn into a far greater hazard than it would have been to just walk through. If the smoke is thick enough to obscure sight or other senses, you can use it to add further concealment/difficulty to the other traps around it.

If you have a trap that can't survive dragon flame, you don't have to discard it! Just build it into some load-bearing wooden columns. Anyone who tries to burn the trap will bring the entire place down on their heads. :)

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    $\begingroup$ Two words: Newport Fairy. One of the worst rose breeds out there, as it will keep growing, and growing, and growing. It will devour your dog, your cat, your car, your house, your pet dragon, and even your very soul if you plant just one in your yard. $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Mar 15 at 13:23
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Some very good answers. I'll try to cover some untrod ground rather than rehashing:

Assume that not all visitors would be dragons: a fall-away trapdoor-floor also flavour and could take one of your party by surprise, with the potential to catch feet or equipment as it closes.

Requiring a visitor (intruder or guest) to expose themselves ... by (say) pressing buttons with wings, hands, and feet. Better not push the wrong one the three hand-buttons when your wings are spread wide... This would also give some non-draconic intruders problems.

Multi-stage traps: pits don't work on people with wings ... ish ... but you can shoot at those once they're spread.

Traps which can pull - snares work well for this.

Species compulsion: Something made of gold that "any dragon is compelled to steal" (if they don't own it) would tempt intruders while not affecting the owners of the building; this depends on the level of innate draconic avarice in your world.

User-operated trap A short maze-puzzle with moving walls can easily be made inescapable, if you don't have a friend to reset it. This also allows the party to find a well-preserved previous explorer (with or without an accompanying whip and journal full of notes). Bad maintenance on an intended path could also be blamed for this.

Classics In general, if your architecture is dragon-strength then most traps will work, except those which require the victim to fall. The "big closing door" is actually more likely to pinch and hold someone who has a tail, doubly so if your dragons are usually quadrupeds. For things like giant boulders, a little suspension of disbelief can go a long way.

More might be possible, depending on the builders' tech-level and maintenance. Anything biochemical is "because I say so", and clockwork or magic can be as advanced as you require.

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Very beefy, but ultimately standard traps will do.

Funny thing about flying; the larger you are, the harder it is, and the less control you have while doing so. Odds are a dragon the size of a horse can't daintily hover through a trapped corridor; In our world, there are birds too big to take off without a running start, and their landings are equally clumsy. A horse sized dragon is far larger than these birds.

In order for a creature the size of a dragon to fly, it will have to go extremely fast, meaning it will have a lot of momentum. It will be unable to turn in narrow corridors, and will absolutely be unable to fly slowly or precisely. As such, as long as the temple interior is not obscenely large, you can basically ignore the dragon's power of flight. They can't use it indoors; not enough room.

regarding pit traps specifically, a flying creature as large as a dragon will not just be able to hover up out of them. To recover from a fall, the dragon will need to build up a fair bit of downward speed first, and then begin to level out in a large, u-shaped flight path. This is simply not possible in a pit trap; how are you supposed to gradually turn a fall into a glide when the pit is only just big enough for you to fall through?

Once that's out of the way, all you need are traps robust enough to pierce dragon hide... and also fire resistant. For dragons, your best options will be spike pits, huge spiked pendulums, and maybe spears shooting out of the walls if you have the technology to launch them hard enough.

The classic rolling boulder would also work well... in fact, a boulder trap would likely work even better on dragons than on humans; if the corridor is narrow enough, a dragon walking through it might not be able to turn around, and would be forced to briskly walk backwards to avoid the trap. For quadrupeds, walking backwards is often extremely difficult.

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Traps and Prevention Methods

1. Prevention

If the dragon never enters the dungeon, it cannot threaten the treasure within, right? There are multiple ways to accomplish this:

1.0: Religion/superstition

Yes, I know, in Indiana Jones and Legend of Zelda, people break into, loot, and vandalize sacred ruins all the time, but if the dragons are the only ones there, considering the long lifespan of dragons, they aren't going to do that.

Number one, they may have helped build the ruins, or at least have some sentimental connection to it as a former fixture of their community. Number two, if nothing else, dragons should be much more respectful of the past, especially since those to whom Number one applies will take offense at temple raiders and hunt them down with crossbows.

2.0: Strategic Content

Simply put, if adventurous dragons easily get in and find nothing they want, they'll return and tell others not to waste their time. The genius of this is that there could be valuables inside, but the stinky red herring effectively stopped them and lessened the threat in one blow.

3.0: Little Space

Dragons can take a little discomfort (they sleep on treasure, after all, you think that's comfy? No, but it really impresses potential mates!) but they can't take one thing: little space. There's a reason dragons like to live in big caves! They're like kids with ADHD, they need to move, but instead of running, they prefer to fly.

Narrow corridors and tight turns don't just prevent flight, they drive dragons nuts so only the most disciplined can possibly pose a threat to the dungeon's treasure.

2. Traps

This has been pretty well covered by other answers, but I want to add some ideas, namely:

MONSTERS.

Yes, dragons are tough, they are fast, they are smart, but the OP makes it clear these dragons aren't top of the food chain. Elves, goblins, orcs, trolls, and even pixies can pose a danger to them. If they live in the ruins and have laid claim to the treasure, they'll defend it, chanting "Protect this temple! Protect this temple!"

Never mind the danger of something that isn't a monster and yet is just as dangerous: ordinary human women! From the fact that Western dragons love to eat them and Eastern dragons can be calmed down by them, never mind the tales of shapeshifting dragons having kids with them, we can safely assume women have a lot of power over dragons.

Thus, a sensitive dollface with big eyes could be an ideal guardian for any dungeon's treasure. "But wait," you say. "Wouldn't most dragons just eat her?" Au contrare, the dungeon designers would have accounted for that!

Perhaps the dollface's beauty is such that a dragon cannot harm her, mentally or physically, or her charm and beauty is such that any dragon that sees her is automatically bewitched and will do whatever she says. Perhaps powerful enchantments make it so any damage inflicted on the dollface is inflicted on the party responsible, or the dollface must be kept alive because she is the key to accessing the treasure, and if she is killed by the dragon seeking the treasure, said treasure will be magically taken and locked away.

It could even be that the dollface's power simply makes the dragon look at their life and decide that she is more precious than any treasure; the dragon would take her and leave, leaving the treasure safe. (This would require multiple dollfaces, preferably spawned by magic within the dungeon in front of any treasure.)

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The classic airlock trap can kill almost anything. All you need is a sturdy room with entrance and exit doors on opposite walls. Only one door can be open at a time. The exit door is unlocked via a puzzle mechanism of some sort that is outside the room.

The way these traps operate is that the victim/explorer enters the room and closes the entrance door behind them. Their accomplice then has to unlock the exit door to allow them to continue onwards to the treasure. On the way back, the explorer re-arms the trap before entering the room, which causes the entrance door to open as soon as they close the exit door.

You have the freedom to design these to be as deadly as you want. The worst-case scenario is a trap that fails deadly on the first incorrect input. Once someone inputs the wrong puzzle solution, the linkage between the doors and controls is severed and the doors remain sealed forever. Whatever is inside slowly starves to death. The ability to fly only gives you something to do while you wait. A less-permanent version might have a way of resetting itself eventually, but on a long-enough timescale to ensure the victim's demise. For example, an underground temple might have a small artesian well that only produces water during the rainy season. It takes an entire season's worth of accumulated water to reset the trap, and no living creature could be trapped for that long and survive.

For added suspense, the thickness of the walls/doors and the distance between the entrance and the unlock mechanism can be designed such that the accomplice has zero feedback about whether they've successfully unlocked the exit or not. That's not a problem for the dragons that designed the temple and know how it works. It's a major problem for anyone else. You can't brute-force the correct solution by guessing. If you enter the correct solution but then try something else before the explorer re-arms the trap from the other side, you'll break the lock mechanism, the doors will be stuck in their current positions, and the explorer will have no way out.

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Floor to ceiling spear - triggered primarily by air movement from flying (as well as other motion) releases a set of sprung-loaded spears through the floor or holes in the floor which will impale a flier as easily as a walker.

Toxins and corrosives - the dragon might fly but it can't avoid touching some things, or passing through some places.

Temptation - gold piles hiding a trap?

I'm really trying to think of one that removes the ability of the air, to support flight, or targets the flying system itself, as in, animals that fly usually have extreme adaptations to make flight possible (hollow bones, airflow/breathing systems etc)

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