What Happened to the 10′ Pole?

Once-upon-a-time, the 10′ pole was the adventure’s American Express card – you never left home without it. But nowadays you never see one. The option has gone completely in 4e, which makes sense as I can’t remember anyone ever using one since 1st Ed AD&D.


What has changed about the hobby’s gameplay that has rendered this once vital piece of equipment redundant?

I suspect it something to do the fall in the number traps. Once, these were a major hazard in every adventure and the 10′ pole was a useful piece of equipment for locating or disarming them. Possibly a great sense of realism in the game has also played a part. The idea of a warrior doing battle with a 10′ pole strapped to their back seems somehow ridiculous nowadays.


  1. I think it’s the change from describing how you’re looking for a trap, and just rolling to see if you detect traps. With the description the pole can be very useful! With the dice roll it doesn’t say that it requires any special tools… so something as large and awkward as a 10′ pole is left behind.

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  2. In earlier editions, anyone could search for traps, and they often described the trigger mechanism, the damage delivery system, and several ways of evading them.
    That way, the whole party could get involved in the event. Even a total doofus PC could hold back a crusher, hammer spikes into gas vents, chop down a door, etc

    They also used to have some very lethal effects, moreso than the typical monster encounter.

    Now it’s illegal for anyone other than a rogue to even try, so what happens is that one player makes the roll (maybe with an assist from a cohort), while the others go out of the room for a whiz or a smoke.

    The lethality has also been toned down, to make them ‘fair’. If I’m building a lair and I’m considering trapping it, why would I make it fair? I want it to KILL someone! I want to turn them into a greasy stain!Take a look at the listed Challenge Ratings in 3.5; they wouldn’t do more than scratch a PC of that level.
    (Fire Trap CR5: damage a big fat zero, because everyone likely to mess with it has Reflex coming out of their ears, and Evasion.)
    Why bother making any effort to look where you’re going? Just kick all the doors in, and use one of the 50 charges on that cure wand, if need be.

  3. My 3.5 group has grown accustomed to bringing around a 11′ pole, after I extended the radius lengths of all traps by a foot, I was hoping they wouldn’t catch on – no such luck. It’s a shame that it’s not in 4e. Dungeon delving was certainly an art in 3.5 – I haven’t really had a chance to do much of it in 4e.

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  4. @Stuart / @Snorter – Yeah, the way traps are handled have certainly changed. The emphasis on making it a Rouge skill and decline in danger have certainly made players less worried about them.

    @Beth – Making do is part of the dungeon delving experience. It is amazing what you can do with ropes, pitons and other misc equipment when there is an improbably large amount of treasure to be looted.

    @Storyteller – 11′ pole! I love that.

  5. The 10′ pole was wounded by the addition of the thief class and knocked unconscious by the addition of the Search skill in 3.x. But the final death blow came with the addition of Passive Perception in 4E.

    On the other hand, if you wanted to bring it back for nostalgic reasons – just rule that players using a 10′ pole from the front rank of the party have a bonus on their Perception checks to detect traps…


  6. The 10′ was always a silly idea. But 3.5 had the longspear, a reach weapon. Which made a nice and handy multi-task device that could function as a 10′ pole’. Of course, lugging a longspear into the depths of a dungeon is equally as silly. Having a class skill that allowed you to search for traps made perfect sense to me.

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  7. …Y’know, I can’t say I get you all. Just ’cause it’s not listed doesn’t mean you can’t use a 10 foot pole. And if your DM won’t let you buy a ten foot length of solid wood just ’cause it’s not in the PHB, then he’s a jerk (bonus jerk points if he won’t let you cut down a tree and make your own).

    @Tetsubo You mean like how only rogues can detect traps above DC 20? I always thought that was silly! I mean I can understand the rogue having special training to do such things, but last I saw Search is not a unique class skill to rogues, and only a single core class being able to use it as such just never made sense. Maybe if they got it as a bonus feat, then at least other classes can detect traps, but with core alone it seems like there should be a “Warning: Rogue necessary to not get smashed/burned/chopped/eviscerated to death!” sign in front of every dungeon.

  8. @Panda-s1 – It is not that a player cannot have a 10′ pole but its disappearance from the books and regular play are symptomatic of a change in the way the game is played. Whether this is a good thing or not is something else entirely.

  9. @Panda-s1 – I am a fairly handy person. There any number of things that I can and have done around my apartment. I’ve installed locks, put in faucets, put in weather stripping, etc. Nothing all that major. But if something major needed fixing around my place, such as replacing my toilet, I’d call my landlord or a plumber.

    Which is what an expert like a Rogue is useful for. He handles the things that a generalist can’t. So while your standard adventurer can find simple traps, you need an expert for the really complex stuff. Which to me makes perfect sense. Even if someone can find a trap, they may well not be skilled enough to disarm it safely. Or at least not damage whatever the trap is protecting. Sure, a fireball might get rid of the trap, but it also destroys the valuable painting.

    In real life and role-playing games there are reasons that we hire experts.

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  10. @Tetsubo See I can understand a rogue being good at disabling traps, it’s the detection that I don’t get. Sure anyone can detect traps below DC 20 to search, but there are very few traps like that in the DMG. While the mechanics of traps is complicated, I’d at least expect any reasonably trained adventurer to look for things like wires, and loose tiles, and hinges in places where there shouldn’t be hinges ’cause there’s more to dealing with traps than disabling them, but there’s only two ways to know if they’re there.

  11. @Panda-s1 – A high DC trap isn’t going to have any of those features. It would be nigh undetectable by anyone that isn’t an expert. With possible double or even triple blind elements. If an average adventurer thinks he has spotted such a trap, he’s already dead. High DC traps are made by masters and will only be found and disarmed by masters. Question: How often do your fellow players run into such traps?

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  12. did the 10′ pole die because “instant death” traps died? Seems like nowdays people just take the damage, or beat the trap with max’ed Reflex scores. Ho hum. Maybe fatal traps need to return to the game?

  13. @Tetsubo Not many, but that’s ’cause I don’t run many dungeon adventures to begin with. I look at it like this, there’s two different kinds of obstacles in a game like D&D, universal and situational. Situational obstacles are things where something specific is needed, like trolls need to be damaged by fire before they die, or monsters that are immune to magic and the non-caster party members are needed. Universal obstacles are things like getting into the thieves’ hideout, or negotiating with a duke to get some help, those are situations with a multitude of ways of getting around them.

    The problem is traps should be a universal obstacle, but by limiting the detection of traps to a single core class it makes it situational. Basically if there isn’t a member of the party with trap sense, I can’t have a dungeon full of crazy traps without it being unfair. Stopping traps is universal though, disabling traps is only one way to go about it, and there are certainly other ways to stop a trap. But there’s only two ways to detect a trap (well three if you count Detect Trap, but that’s cheating IMO). By making trap sense a feat based ability, then it’s just a case of any party member taking it, but honestly I’d rather it be a case of anyone who is sufficiently good at finding things could see traps.

    And I know traps are well hidden, but I rather it be a case of a higher DC to find the trap, then having it be a default.

    @Anarkeith Oh hell naw, fatal traps are a stupid idea. They completely go against the idea of chance and luck. A character should be able to use their abilities to overcome something, but a fatal trap is the antithesis to that idea. I mean you’re basically telling a player “Mua ha ha, your character dies because he should have stepped on the tile to the right instead!” If you want a “fatal” trap, my solution would be a trap that does potentially lethal damage, not automatic death (i.e. 10d6 damage on a 5th level character over death).

  14. Being a former Telecom Tech I can’t sing the praises of the 15′ pole highly enough. In the cabling/wiring industry some brilliant gent has realized that if you take 5′ lengths of some material (often reinforced fiberglass, sometimes glow in the dark) and put sockets on one end and threaded nubs on the other, then you have a 15′ pole that can accept an amazing diversity of tools at the end, and can be used as 5′ 10′ and 15′ poles. They can be used to prod things, catch cables with a hook (or whisk attachment) or push cables/strings/whatever through narrow strait passages.

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