This is set in a medieval setting. In a house, how to effectively hide runic traps from a thief? Magic is only available by imbuing mana as a magical rune on a surface (not necessarily flat surface), but the knowledge is pretty common.

Here are additional info on how the trap works:

  1. Magical rune is triggered upon contact with any part of human body. Wearing gloves will not work. Depending both the power of the rune and the human, a wizard may touch a rune inscribed behind a wall and set it off. As a general rule, approx. 1 cm thick.
  2. The rune is one use only.
  3. The rune is charged based on the initial enchantment, however it also feeds on the mana of the person who triggers it, so the power may vary from common thief to wizard touching the rune.
  4. Runes glow continously, as strong as the initial mana used to enchant.
  5. The rune can be disenchanted (disarming the trap completely).

Bear in mind that this is a house, not a castle or dungeon. The trap works as some sort of alarm, or even killing the thief (or anyone unfortunate enough to touch it).

Although it is not needed (because they know there's a trap there), plus points for anyone who can figure out how to protect the residents from triggering the trap, and even further, guests.

  • $\begingroup$ Why does the rune need to be hidden? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ If the point is to protect valuables wouldn't it better to discourage theft preemptively. This is why museums normally put a case over objects instead of just having a pressure alarm. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 2:06
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Most home locks can be picked in under a minute. That does not mean they aren't a useful security feature. Same goes for your runes. I'm assuming the average person can't disenchant them. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 2:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ None of this matters if the smart thief always wears gloves. Even the stupid ones. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 3:12
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    $\begingroup$ @Vylix You should therefore edit your question, because knowing at what point "contact with the human body" ends is SUPER SUPER important. I really don't see why cured leather gloves aren't a barrier. Yes, because magic, but you should define it. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 3:53

6 Answers 6


Do the runes glow continuously, or just when they're created?

If they only glow when they're being inscribed and then go dark, you could hide them on the backside of a door handle. To open the door, you have to pull the handle, which means touching the runes on the back. If you know exactly where the runes are, you might know how to hold the handle so as to not touch the runes, thus not triggering the trap.

If runes glow until they're triggered or disarmed, then your best bet might be to cover everything (or at least some of the floor) with glowing runes, most of which do nothing at all except glow constantly. Knowing that there's probably a trap rune or five doesn't help if you have to step on twenty different runes just to get in the door. If you live there, you'll know which runes are armed and which are decoys, and can step on the right ones accordingly.

In either case, it's probably best to either make the effect of the trap weak enough that you won't kill yourself if you trigger it by mistake; or add in some identification runes so that you cannot trigger it by touching the runes. In that case, you could just paint the floor with lethal traps and be done with it. Many lethal traps- disenchanting surely takes time, after all.

For that matter, if the runes can identify who's triggering them and react accordingly, it might be better to use the runes as locks, rather than alarms. "If the person triggering this rune is the owner of the house, open the deadbolt. Otherwise, zap them."

Guests are more difficult. If you're going with the "doorknob runes" route, then the owner could just open the door from the inside and let whoever they like in. If you're going with the "paint the floor" route, then you won't be able to let in anyone the runes don't recognize... although if you can somehow tell the runes "owner and guests are OK, burglars are bad", that won't be a problem.


Blind spot

You cannot hide them from the inside. But you can from the outside. As a thief, I wouldn't just walk up your front door and pick your lock. I'd rather look for alternative openings such as windows or back-doors. This is where you put your traps and forbid your guests to go or notify them in advance. Of course, you will utilize the blind spot of these objects. I will explain.

Here are the places where you could put your traps:

  1. Windows - When a thief tries to enter here, put the rune behind thick curtains. That way, he cannot see the runic glow unless he inevitably touches the curtains to peer into the room. Since the curtains are thick, the glow is not visible from the outside. This way, you can only apply the runes at nightfall, when your guests aren't there anymore. Or if you really want to put runes in the daylight, then just do it. If they are knowledgeable of magic tell them not to touch the runes. Otherwise, tell them it's an antique magical tapestry and not a curtain and if they touch it, they have to pay for it, etc etc.
  2. Back-door - Envision yourself as a thief and think of what things his body would touch upon entering the room. For instance, normally, you would close the door when you enter a room. Put the rune in the back-side of the door, (just like in the curtains) so it's in the blind-spot of the thief.

    1. He unlocks the door
    2. He peers in the room
    3. He goes inside
    4. He closes the door on the other side.
    5. Triggers the rune

I think that's it. If the situation with your guests are really unavoidable, then I recommend just putting super loud noise runes as traps. (Baby cries, dog barks, creepy voices, human shouts, glass breaking, etc.) So if the guests activate it, nobody gets hurt.

Or if you really need damaging runes, just set them up at night time where guests are not there anymore.

You could also, spam super strong (noise) runes in an ante-chamber or a living room. That way, the thief is discouraged upon the sight of so many runes. Should he attempt to disarm them all would take so much time. And he may not be able to disarm them anyway if he's just a common thief.

You could also go next level and do traps within a trap. Make a distraction. Make a rune visible, then make a tripwire trap or something. When the intruder tries to avoid or disarm the distraction rune, he triggers the other trap, perhaps you could make an enchanted object fall towards him so he touches your other trap. Something like that.

This is a little off-topic but you could also try to play mind-games on him. You could try to set up many visible rune traps, and so he tries to avoid them. But in reality, you're using hidden bear traps or other human traps that are of course, not so much obvious unlike your glowing runes. ;-)

  • $\begingroup$ "Making an enchanted object fall toward him" Wow, I've never thought about that! This can make a chain of "enchanted objects", but the thief will never know which one has the real one! $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ The curtains themselves might hold the rune. (If it must be carved into a solid chunk, that chunk could be a small chit sewn onto the curtain.) This could make touching the curtains activate something on its own. Also, a rune could be set s.t. it holds back something else that acts as the alarm: disenchanting anything seen could be a bad plan. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ (just to round out this answer a smidgen) $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 14:02

Here are some points you should consider when creating such a system for your world for it to make any sense:

1) Be mana-efficient! I do not know how this is accomplished, but let's assume opening a portal into another dimension would be more mana-intense than a rune that just makes a sound, use the cheaper option that doesn't glow as brightly, maybe even too faint to see.

2) Do not use deadly rune-traps. Sometimes people forget. Sometimes people are drunk. Sometimes children are places. You do not want a rune that kills the neighborhood children. Also a dead thief might mean anything from revenge to a trial or it just might be a mess, especially if you were out of town for a week. Also if there are multiple thieves - sure you get one, but your stuff will still be gone.

3) For runes not to trigger at any old insect that comes walking by, they already have to be specific to a certain life form. It makes sense to create a magic system where certain people can be excluded from a trap. Also see 6).

4) Just because the thief knows it is there doesn't mean that he will find it in time. Consider people that have a sign on their door telling thieves a dog lives there. Why wouldn't you just shut up about it and let the dog hunt down the burglars as soon as they enter? Because it makes no sense. a) The door/window they break is often more expensive than the stuff they steal b) see point 1. You do not only want to catch thieves, you really want to prevent them from ever trying to enter your house. Try a system like this: 3 runes, one clearly visible and 2 elsewhere so that you cannot possible disenchant all 3 of them. If this is not possible in your world (for example because mana is expensive), move on to 5).

5) Do not place your rune at the entrance. This is where people will expect it. Place it outside the house or inside where thieves will come by.

6) If a glove will not protect you, put the material your gloves are made out of on top of it. In order to answer this really one needs to know exactly how your runes work and I do not get the impression you spend a lot of time thinking about it or you would've defined that aspect. Please think about how your runes work and then you can easily come up with things to put on top of runes. Where exactly to put them, well, nobody can answer this without actually seeing the house (e.g. in a 3d model) and then figuring out where thieves have to touch. Also this would be a weak system if you can just wear 1cm thick gloves and runes are useless. I would go for the following: Have the mana signature of a human activate the rune within a metre or two. This is also a possibility to exclude family members and so on, see 3).

7) Put your runes very close to your valuables. This only works if there isn't a lot of worthwhile stuff in your house like TVs/Laptops/tools or whatever but only if you can put most your valuables on one spot you do not need to access often. Place them on something protected by a rune or put your rune directly on them. Yes, in principal they apparently can be disenchanted, but who expects a rune to be there? I wouldn't. Well, unless - see 8).

8) A world where this is fairly common might mean either that thieves do not enter houses in general or that thieves have found ways to avoid them anyways - no matter what. You have not specified how common this would be. If it is the only house with runes, you do not need to hide them well because nobody expects them or even knows what they are. If there are a couple of houses with rune protection, thieves might not go there at all - see my dog example from earlier. If every house has them, well, you are screwed. You cannot hide them well enough because thieves are too creative and will always figure out a way to deactivate them.

9) The guests: I already talked about good rune placement. If they are next to your valuables only, this problem is already solved. If they are next to a back door where normal guests won't go, the problem is solved as well. If you can deactivate them and activate them later (like a normal alarm), the problem is also already solved. If you tell the guests where your runes are and how to deactivate them - look, it all comes back to: How is this even a problem? If you have deadly traps that can't be deactivated, I personally would rather go with not having runes protecting my two piles of trash - unless I have something super valuable and in that case runes will not be where normal people/guests/family walk but close to whereever I keep that. Design your runes in a way that make them easy to deactivate for a couple of hours.


To be hidden and guest or child safe you can't trap the house and must trap the treasure or valuable storage. Place them on a trapdoor under a rug or under your fire grate in your fireplace. Alternatively place them behind someplace that requires a ladder, maybe behind the crossed axes /swords /antlers over the door or mantle.

Place them on the back where the covers would be grabbed to move them. Better if the covers are heavy requiring a good grip and the handholds are narrow making gloves difficult.

Think about good places to put a wall or floor safe and only be concerned about protecting valuables.

I did think of one way to trap the house safely. Put the rune on something mobile. It's not uncommon to have guest dishes or decorations. Why not set the table with the UNINVITED guest dishes before you go out. Move the extra pretty flower pots into the windows to make sure they get enough sun. Put out the UNwelcome mat.

Alternatively stick the valuables on a high shelf. Place runes under something on the top side of the shelf to discourage reaching up and feeling around. Trap/rune the stepladder. Hide the stool when going out.


Overcoming the >1cm barrier - with needles

With your rule that 1cm of material has to be between the person and the rune to not trigger it overcoming this barrier becomes important. If you are bent on using runes you need some way to make sure that the thief triggers the rune if he, for example, steps on it.

The easiest solution to overcome this would be to use a needle trap. When stepping on a certain normal looking floor tile the thief activates a trigger and a needle springs forth. You can easily disguise this by making every floor tile seem to have a couple of holes, but only some are used as a mechanical trap - the others are decoration.

The needle springs forth and has a rune inscribed on it. As other answers already discussed placing runes on the back side of door knobs I take it your runes can be pretty small. By piercing a hole into the clothing of the thief and bringing the rune close to the skin you can activate it even if your thief is cautious.

Of course enough clothing could prevent this - but your thief may not be able to use 5cm thick gloves and still break into your house. After all the needles could be everywhere. The windows, the aforementioned door knobs, the doorframe, the picture frame that has to be moved to get to the safe with the valuable stuff.

Making number based locks more difficult - by having each lock place their numbers somewhere else and only allowing people to feel what number is where

You should try to make your most important valuables as complicated to access as possible. You dont want the thief to use a little stick to put in the code into your combo lock - make him use his fingers to feel where the buttons are first by making it a hole just big enough for a hand with a bending downwards. Then arrange the numbers random, but make them easily identifiable with your finger tips. Manufacturers in your world would surely be able to mass-produce something like this if using runes could be used for more advanced stuff and by normal people.

Making your runes not only a loud alarm - make them a communication device to call the police

Your rune is programmed to send information to the nearest police station: finger prints for example for runes that are placed in such a way that the thief has to touch them. The door knob runes would be perfect for this. Or make them send DNA information if they are needle based and the blood from the thief triggers the rune. Make them activate a security-camera-rune that sends a photo to the police when you can force the thief to look into something - a spyhole in the door for example.

If your thief know that the really valuable stuff is probably secured with runes that immediately call the police and send them information that would surely lead to him being identified that would massively discourage him. Especially if normal people could place runes without spending a lot of money.

Needles and calling the police won't kill your guests

As always information is incredibly important. Sure, hurting them might discourage them, too. But that's not what you want if you want your house to be secure for guests. Telling your guests that they should be careful around the valuable stuff or they might get stung and the police would be immediately called is enough to discourage them from getting near the window, but they wouldn't die. The worst thing that might happen is that you have to call the police and tell them that your guest wandered off and wanted to take a peek at something he wasn't supposed to see - nothing big and they don't need to come.


Can runes trigger or stabilize other runes? The obvious cheat seems to be a very weak trigger, detonating harder to hide runes.

The second obvious solution is a mechanical trigger, moving a hidden rune into exposed contact with the intruder. A scroll could flap open, perhaps, or an object be slung.

The right kind of package might make an object difficult to move without touching obscured areas. Imagine something you have to wedge your hands under to lift, hopefully with very slick sides. This would at least require a tool to expose the runes. The contents could be extracted from underneath.


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