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Durable Deathtrap

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"Your car needs a service at least every 3 years, but a temple built from stone with primitive tools over one thousand years ago can have a mechanism that runs smoother than a hot curry through a digestive system. Because of magic." on Archaeology

Our adventure heroes enter some ancient ruins in search of something important or valuable. Although the site may have lain undisturbed for centuries or even millennia, the place is filled with a variety of lethal, fully functional traps left behind by the previous occupants. Said traps are often Bamboo Technology considerably more complex than anything else the creators were capable of making. Even more remarkable is the fact that they have not decayed at all, even if the environment is one that should require extra maintenance, and are just as lethal as they ever were, let alone the fact that any poisons should have decayed centuries ago. Projectile traps might even be capable of reloading themselves an indefinite number of times.

If we consider how this would work in the real world, it is obvious that if a facility is in actual use, it is grossly impractical to install traps that must be disabled or circumvented every time. It is much easier and more efficient to post guards as needed. If it had to be abandoned for some reason, traps might be left behind, but it would probably be easier to remove the important stuff and/or collapse the roof. In any case, traps would decay and cease to function if no one maintained them. But in these kinds of stories, the most complex things are the ones that are least susceptible to decay. This will only ever be pointed out if the ancient civilization is, in fact, still around and doing regular maintenance.

Also notable is that several kinds of deathtraps rely on ammunition (such as arrows or darts) that is expended when they're triggered. Other types of traps, such as collapsing passages, falling ceilings or snares, also work only once by definition. Under normal circumstances, these traps are simply manually reloaded or reset after being sprung; in long-abandoned buildings, however, nobody is generally around to do this, but despite this the ammunition is always plentiful and the one-use traps always at the ready, implying that they've either never been triggered once or that something keeps resetting them. Similar questions arise in the case of traps that involve living animals, such as spiders, scorpions, snakes, crocodiles or the like, which normally would either starve in short order or simply die of old age, but which in extreme cases of this trope are waiting, eager and healthy as you please, for would-be explorers to fall into their laps.

Note that in Speculative Fiction this can be hand waved as being caused by self-repairing technology, and in fantastic settings magic traps may be exempt from decaying or running out of ammo or may simply be enchanted to reset or restock themselves after use. Still, in most cases it is a grossly unrealistic way to introduce danger into the environment.

This trope is a staple in fiction featuring Adventurer Archaeologists.

See also Dungeon Maintenance and Ragnarök Proofing. A subtrope of They Don't Make Them Like They Used To and Older Is Better. When the deathtrap is one-time-use-only, this can often be an example of Already Undone for You.

Contrast Forgot to Feed the Monster, for living hazards which suffer for not getting regular upkeep.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Disney Ducks Comic Universe, Donald and his uncle Scrooge McDuck along with their nephews Huey, Luey and Dewey, often run into these in Carl Barks' and Don Rosa's comics.
  • Catwoman: Both lampshaded and subverted in an issue where Catwoman notes that the deadly traps still functional after centuries would be normal in a movie, but in real life would need maintenance. She soon discovers the owner of the deathtraps is still alive.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Volume 1: Bobby Strong, Glamora Treat and Etta Candy accompany a professor to a recently opened ancient Egyptian tomb and discover that it is full of still functioning traps, though as the "mummy" meant to be entombed there is some variety of immortal and living there with a whole bunch of minions these traps have been maintained through the ages.
    • Volume 2: When—future Wonder Girl—Cassie is first introduced she accidentally turns on an "unstoppable" giant murderous automation that her mother was inspecting as the museum had acquired it under the impression it was a large ancient bronze statue from Crete. The this is evidently ancient, and also fully functional and malevolent but fails to live up to it's "unstoppable" reputation.

    Fan Works 
  • In An Entry with a Bang!!, the GDI team sent to New Dallas encounter a laser turret dating back to the Star League still guarding one of the places they try to explore. Then it stops with a shareware-esque notification.
  • In The Two Sides of Daring Do, AK Yearling once asked Princess Celestia why the ancient civilizations would bother designing elaborate traps to guard ancient artifacts instead of just burying them. Celestia suggested the ancients believed the artifacts could be of use to ponykind in the future, but the traps are a test to make sure only the most worthy could get to them.
  • Voice of the Condor: Picked apart when the heroes discover the Mountain of the Moon had been inspected and repaired by Dorad Elo before they arrived, to lessen the chance of the Chosen Ones being buried by crumbling rock during their search.
  • Whip And Wing: Both Daring Do and Indiana Jones venture through ancient ruins filled with these. They manage to avoid dying, but their pursuers often don't. When Daring finally meets the worker assigned to maintain and reset the traps, she beats him half to death.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Several of the Indiana Jones films. Raiders of the Lost Ark had the famous "trap dodging" sequence at the beginning. On the other hand, those traps may have been maintained by the Hovitos. (Someone had to reset the spike trap that got Forrestal.)
    • MythBusters tested that sequence (finding it plausible), and wondered why the traps had a one-second delay (as shown by Indy's initial test). Jamie speculated that "the machinery was rusty".
    • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had the site of the Holy Grail protected by some traps that should be 1000 years old. Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you realize that the last Holy Grail Knight is alive, so it's probably him who keeps traps functional.
    • In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, when Indy and his party enter the pyramid, they stumble across the remains of the dead conquistadors who entered before. Considering the fact that, in order to enter the pyramid (and arm the trap), you have to open the top of the entire pyramid, you really wonder who "closed" the pyramid after the conquistadors. Although it is possible that the natives somehow closed the pyramid, it really stretches the imagination as to how they go about it when the whole thing is dependent on a few bricks slotted in the right places.
  • All the centuries-old booby traps in The Goonies.
    • Though many of these were shown to be falling apart; pieces falling off as the trap activated, and several parts of the caves collapsed completely.
    • Fridge Brilliance says that they were built for instant death, but the time that passed has left the traps barely able to do the killing, giving the Goonies time to get out alive. Plus Prof. Copperpot was killed by just ONE boulder from a trap of Rock Falls Everyone Dies and before reaching the trigger mechanism, so maybe the decaying ropes just snapped and killed the Prof. Now for that wooden ship sitting in salt water for the last 300 years....
  • In National Treasure, when they discover the lost city of gold, it is opened through a complex series of counter weights and then the door immediately shuts behind them using equally complex mechanics. Also the traps and actual city of gold are complicated to the point that even setting them up would be nearly impossible without killing yourself in the process. This also happens in the first one. Partially subverted though in that they slowly fall apart after the first use indicating that they weren't durable enough for daily operation but durable enough to be in the single state and then perform a single transition for centuries. Only partially due to the complexity involved in the set up.
    • The first film inverted this. The long stairway containing the titled treasure wasn't dangerous because of death traps, it is dangerous because it was made out of wood that has been rotting for over 200 years.
  • Particularly egregious in The Rundown, where the collapsing ceiling trap is entirely dependent on the fact that the wooden logs are weak and rotten. So it's a trap that would gradually grow more dangerous with time, until it just completely collapses and becomes useless. The heroes just happened to arrive in time for it to reach maximum potential lethality?

  • Discworld:
    • Subverted in the novel Sourcery, where the characters discover all the traps in the Death Course protecting King Creosote's treasure are broken down and worn out. Turns out to be a Double Subversion, when the only one that was actually dangerous (the rest are just practical jokes) works just fine. (In this case, the trap is 'only' about fifty years old; the lethal trap in question is one that might plausibly last that long.)
    • Played for laughs in the novel Reaper Man where a pair of priests are guarding a huge diamond inside a temple filled with death traps. Although the death traps work fine, they can't stop, well, Death himself from stealing the diamond.
    • A deleted scene from Raising Steam (included in the exclusive Discworld Convention 2014 Folio) has Moist meet a dwarf whose job is maintaining and resetting the traps in a dungeon. To keep it sporting, he also leaves food and first aid kits in various places. The author's note at the start assures us that this scene was a gift from the goddess Narrativia and has nothing to do with any video game series he and his family members might enjoy.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the main characters arrive at Magrathea—a planet thought to be uninhabited for millions of years—to find that an automated atomic missile system has been directed to fire straight at any incoming ships. Zaphod arrogantly believes that, since the message informing of this is so old, it "doesn't apply to us". That is—until the missiles actually come at them.
  • Used in both Thieves Like Us and the sequel Thieves Until We Die, both times involving the group breaking into ancient tombs. The first was pretty mild ignoring a poison-tipped arrow fired while they were opening a door and a bizarre hypnosis/drug trip they were all put on later. The second was much more elaborate with the temple rigged to completely collapse should fake treasure be stolen or a human sacrifice be made. The thing was built on a clever paper foundation that broke apart after the blood of the sacrifice spilled onto it, but then the real treasure chamber is only revealed as it collapses.
  • Matthew Reilly's 'Jack West Junior' series frequently utilizes this trope. The most egregious example is a trap in 'Seven Ancient Wonders' that when you trip the sensor will shoot a live alligator out of a wall at you. This is a trap that is at least a couple thousand years old.
  • Lampshaded in Andy McDermott's Hunt for Atlantis, where a lead character notes that the deathtraps in an Amazon-concealed temple couldn't still be working — until someone else notes that the local Indian tribe has had plenty of time, motivation and ability to reset the devices. Averted in the sequel, The Tomb of Hercules, where at least half the deathtraps representing the Labors of Hercules have already been set off by earlier explorers and are now harmless.
  • Both averted and played straight in The Bands of Mourning, the third book in the Wax and Wayne setting. The heroes are exploring an ancient temple in search of the titular Bands, and they run across a variety of traps while doing so. Some are still active and must be disarmed, but one — a trap full of Hollywood Acid — had frozen solid years ago and posed no greater risk than a bump to the head. A good thing too, since acid is the only thing that can kill the otherwise immortal kandra they were using to disarm the traps.
  • In Fated, the first Alex Verus novel, there's a Justified example because the maze full of ancient traps was a magical pocket dimension specifically constructed to protect the MacGuffin. There's no reason to think it works by the same rules as reality.
  • Cradle Series: Many ancient ruins, most obviously the Transcendent Ruins that rose out of the Desolate Wilds early in the story, are shockingly intact, traps and all. They of course have all sorts of magical scripts that allow them to maintain themselves and self-repair, but these places have been abandoned for centuries at minimum, and no script is perfect. It's pointed out that there should have been flaws in the script that would have caused everything to go haywire (or at least stop maintaining themselves) long ago.

    Live-Action TV 
  • CSI: NY: One episode revolved around the investigation of a murder that happened within the apartment of a Depression-era mechanical genius tycoon that had been left completely alone for almost a hundred years. Turns out that what killed the Victim of the Week (a Shady Real Estate Agent who broke into houses to appraise them before they officially entered the market) was one of various death traps that littered the apartment, created by the man as an elaborate attempt to assassinate a rival from beyond the grave, and that still worked perfectly even if they involved such insane methods as turning a corridor into a furnace and, again, had not been given any maintenance whatsoever in almost one hundred years.
  • In Stargate SG-1, many relics of the Ancients are still functional and dangerous despite the Ancients living millions of years ago. Semi-justified though as a lot of the stuff the Ancients and other civilizations built are very durable, functional magic, and made out of Unobtainium.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Booby Trap", the Enterprise discovers an ancient ship of archaeological significance, however during the investigation they're caught in a thousand-year-old trap that drains the ship's power and converts it into lethal radiation.
    Picard: Is it possible... that we've fallen into the same snare that killed them? A 1,000 year old booby-trap?
    • This is a double example, since the Enterprise is lured into the trap by its previous victim - a thousand year old ship which still has life support and gravity.
  • Relic Hunter was basically Tomb Raider except with the protagonist split into a sexy heroine and a British sidekick that together recovered artifacts from various ruins. Said ruins were of course chock-full of these.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Considering the number of dungeons that take place in ancient ruins, Dungeons & Dragons has quite a few of these. Though most dungeons are inhabited, kobolds in particular are good at setting traps, but if the only monsters are non-sentient or dormant then the deathtraps must be very durable indeed.
    • For instance, the ruins of the Ancient Giant civilization of Xen'drik in the Eberron campaign setting usually have deathtraps that have stood for thousands of years.
  • Common and justified in Pathfinder. The demon lord Andirifkhu automatically claims dominion over all traps without owners and connects them to her Abyssal realm with threads of her own power, ensuring they will remain functional and deadly until someone intentionally destroys them.

    Video Games 
  • Features prominently in the Tomb Raider games.
    • Tomb Raider: Legend featured a few subversions — one level had bamboo spike traps that had long broken down and could be used for climbing; in another level, Lara had to reactivate a stopped swinging-blade trap just so she could get past it, and at one point, Lara dispensed with the usual timed jumping and plowed through a spike trap with a forklift.
    • In Tomb Raider: Anniversary, there's one level in which a few of the locked doors don't open all the way, but you can still get through them via a passageway above them.
    • Zig-zagged in the reboot trilogy. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara lampshades an ancient blade trap that lines an entire wall still being in good working order, but in other locations, the traps/set-pieces collapse just as Lara interacts with them, or were triggered long ago and are now locked in position.
  • Prince of Persia
    • The ruined castle levels in Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame have fully functional scythe traps.
    • Subverted in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, where both a past and present version of the fortress are visited: the past has many working traps, while in the present most traps have decayed or collapsed. At various times, the only way to get past some traps is to use a time portal to go the present, walk through the nonoperative traps, and then go back to the past in a new portal (note that all other games in the series used this trope to a T). Justified since the locales of the other games were still inhabited until at least shortly before the games' events. In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the Prince even activates the traps himself before noticing that pits, spikes and whirling blades might not be that effective against regenerating, teleporting sand monstrosities.
  • Both the Rakatan ruins on Dantooine and the Temple of the Ancients fit this trope in Knights of the Old Republic. A particularly egregious example, as the Backstory says that both places were visited by adventurers just a few years ago, who presumably had to pass through the ancient traps and 30,000-year-old sentry droids as well, yet they're all intact. Can be hand waved using the Speculative Fiction option: the building could plausibly contain automation designed to repair its own death traps. As for the Star Maps, those were designed to repair themselves.
  • The Angkor Thom temple from Eternal Darkness fits this trope perfectly, featuring hallways equipped with slamming wall sections, humongous blades capable of slicing a man in a single blow, and holes that fire poisonous darts. It can be chalked up to Mantorok using its dying powers to maintain it. Given that we know just how powerful Ancients are, and Mantorok has been repeatedly shown to be capable of manipulating events thousands of miles and in separate timelines, even as he slowly kicks the bucket, it's safe to presume keeping the temple's traps running would be entirely within his power. Alternatively, Pious and his patron Ancient could have done so with equal ease for the exact same reason, in order to prevent people from getting into the temple and having access to Mantorok.
  • God of War:
    • The Temple of Pandora in God of War circumvents the issue of why to put traps in a place that was in regular use, as it was built expressly to keep the "unworthy" out, and served no other purpose except gruesomely killing people. Despite supposedly being a thousand years old, almost all of the traps and machinery are in perfect working order. At various points, you see people who attempted to infiltrate the temple as well, living and dead, yet all the traps are reset behind them. The manual briefly appears to offer an explanation by sharing legends that the architect is actually still alive in the temple somewhere... but in the game, it's eventually revealed that he's been dead for a long time, going back to the problem of no one to maintain or reset the traps. Possibly it's serviced by the gods, or the dead Mooks.
    • The Temple of The Fates in God of War II is in similar position. It's the place where nobody's supposed to live and is mainly designed to protect the Fates from everyone who would want to change, you know, their fate. Unlike The Temple of Pandora, it's less ambiguous about who's maintaining these traps, as you meet and kill some servants of the Fates such as Theseus and two unlucky priests, so it's not unreasonable to think they have somebody for that job as well.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • While the series has several switches in ancient temples rusted so they can't be pressed easily, the rest of it still follows the trope.
    • Justified in that some of the temples are meant as tests for The Hero, and various Hyrulian deities likely maintain the traps to ensure that only The Hero enters. This is especially apparent in Breath of the Wild, where the dungeons were also constructed with advanced Magitek that is perfectly capable of surviving eons without active maintenance.
    • The Wind Waker further justifies this, revealing that there must be a Sage in each Temple in order for that Temple's power to exist in the world. Most likely, they maintain the traps within.
    • The Divine Beasts and Guardians survived 10,000 years underground before the first events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, then worked perfectly when switched on to fight Ganon the second time around. Unfortunately for those in Hyrule, this continued when Ganon hijacked them, and right through the 100 years Link's been sleeping in the Shrine of Resurrection plus the adventure itself.
  • Lampshaded in the first Paper Mario in the Dry Dry Ruins:
    Goombario: It's amazing that these ruins still have moving parts. Haven't they been buried here for ages and ages? And yet, when we push switches, stuff moves... Amazing craftsmanship. You've gotta applaud the designers.
  • The Ayleid ruins of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion are full of durable deathtraps. One of the books on Ayleid history lampshades this fact.
    • This is very true in Skyrim as well. Both the ubiquitous Nord ruins and the slightly less ubiquitous Dwemer ruins are packed with fully functional ancient traps. Spikes come out of the floor, inexplicable darts shoot out of the walls, spiked doors swing around at you if you step on the wrong button... and in the case of Dwemer ruins, perfectly functional steampunk automata get up and start attacking you. This is justified in several ways. In Nord ruins, the resident draugr, when not busy killing interlopers, maintain the place, though it does beg the question of where they get the materials. Even so, several ruins do feature places where decay has obviously outpaced the ability of the dragur to perform upkeep. Dwemer metal, meanwhile, is famed for being corrosion-proof, the Dwemer themselves were masters of Magitek (the robots seem to be powered by some combination of steam power and soul gems), and there are plenty of little spider robots running around with oil-cans and maintaining the rest of them. And killing interlopers.
  • Ancient ruins in Drakan feature fully functional traps. It seems that whirling blades are much more durable than stationary stone walls.
  • The Wild ARMs games are full of these, though they are usually of the "blocks the way" rather than the "kills you" variety. In Wild ARMs 2, the devices seemed to have been tailored exactly so that the specific combination of abilities of the heroes who explored them thousands of years later are needed to bypass them. As one example, there is a switch in Wild ARMs 2 that's at just the right height that the only way to hit it is by knocking down a series of crumbling pillars like dominoes. The trap relied on the dungeon being an ancient ruin to be bypassed.
  • In Painkiller, the medieval-style shields used by the Templar enemies can block all of Daniel's weapons - even the rockets that should have taken both shield and user simultaneously. Justified in that they were (strangely themed) demons in Purgatory and that they and their equipment were most likely made from Hellish materials and souls.
  • The Wario Land has the Golden Pyramid in the fourth game (complete with portals, music room/karaoke and shop), and Rollanratl in Shake Dimension (despite being a few thousand year old robot guardian of an ancient civilization, it can still hold up the roof, fire missiles and shoot laser beams at intruders an infinite amount of times).
  • Subverted with a certain treasure in Wario: Master of Disguise (named the Vengeful Robot Controller):
This remote allows you to summon a giant robot hidden deep within the bowels of the earth and unleash him on your unsuspecting enemies. But it's out of batteries.
  • A modern equivalent is the excess of unexploded cars in Fallout 3. Because Every Car Is a Pinto, shooting a car anywhere, with any kind of gun, will cause it to violently explode. But even those parts of the Capital Wasteland that have seen decades of urban warfare still feature cars that have not yet been shot. The town of Minefield is inhabited by a sniper who will shoot at the cars around you before he can even see you, yet inexplicably has never done this to anyone else before.
    • The Fallout games in general do feature traps, but most of them were clearly set up long after the bombs fell and they are typically much more makeshift and Boring, but Practical, like tripwire-activated shotguns and Bear Traps, which makes sense in a Scavenger Death World full of Mutants and psychopaths where someone is still around to reset the traps.
    • Pre-war death traps in pre-war locations still exist, typically taking the form of Killer Robots or turret guns killing intruders if a security measure is tripped. Their reliability after a nuclear apocalypse and decades of neglect is Handwaved as a combination of "things were built to last in pre-war days" and "robots maintaining the facilities".
    • The Sierra Madre Resort and Casino in the "Dead Money" DLC for Fallout: New Vegas plays with this trope in interesting ways. The Villa outside the casino proper was built on the cheap by a corrupt construction company and several Apocalyptic Logs mention that the buildings are a genuine hazard that could collapse on people (this isn't an actual risk in game, probably because the game engine would require heavy scripting just for the most minor cases of structural damage, and because the DLC is hard enough as it is without worrying about the ceiling falling on you). The casino on the other hand was built without any expenses spared by the best construction team on the market because it's intended as an emergency shelter for a girl the owner had a crush on in the case of atomic warfare. The "deathtraps" in it are either crazed holograms killing everyone on sight, wouldn't have been traps when the casino was built, such as the decaying speakers making your bomb collar explode, or were jury-rigged at the last minute by the owner to trap a guy in the casino's vault for trying to rob him. The later can cause a Non Standard Game Over if you're not careful.
  • Freedom Fighters (2003) has explodey (and otherwise useless) cars seasoning its levels. It's a good safety tip to pop a car before using it for cover. The computer controlled opponents conveniently never think of this. Possibly justified by the fact that the enemy troops have no reason to leave burned-our wrecks lying around in areas they're operating in; some of the materials used in building a modern car create some really nasty chemical byproducts when they're burned.
  • The penultimate dungeon in Final Fantasy XII is a giant dilapidated lighthouse that crumbles with your every step, but all of its poison trap, slow-gas machines, and Spikes of Doom work as if they were just installed. Justified, because the traps are definitely magical in nature.
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • The Assassin Tombs in Assassin's Creed II dating back to at least 1290, the Romulus Lairs dating back to the Roman Empire in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and the Masyaf Keys lairs in Assassin's Creed: Revelations dating back to the early 1200s. The Auditore Family Cryp is around two hundred years old by Ezio's time and over seven hundred by Desmond's time, and still has an elaborate network of lever-activated and timed gateways. Brotherhood subverts the trope a bit with the introductory segment where the modern protagonists go through the Auditore Crypt, and in the intervening 500 years the mechanisms have all decayed (though functional pulley-operated bridges still exist). The Assassin Tombs may at least be somewhat justified, depending on whether or not the Assassins used reverse-engineered technology from Those Who Came Before.
    • Averted with the Mayan temple in Assassin's Creed III, where the primary hazard comes from the fact that the whole place is falling apart.
  • Diablo doesn't have many traps of the classic variety, but a common baffling feature of dungeons is skeletons inside barrels. Who put the skeleton in there, why it has not the skeleton broken out, and why, if the skeleton put himself in there so he could ambush you, does he always wait to show himself until you've broken open the barrel and the skeleton is directly in the path of your weapon, are all unanswered.
    • Diablo III continues this, plus coffins that pop up out of the ground in a field for no apparent reason and open to release a skeleton.
  • The Uncharted series plays with this - while the adventuring segments rarely actively try to kill the player, any slippery handhold or misjudged jump can spell a quick, flat death. The puzzles often involve navigating rooms with huge clockwork systems and complex hydraulics which are always visibly decayed but, as a rule, will never be quite so decayed that Drake can't get past them. There are countless occasions where the loss of one more tiny architectural detail would render the game unwinnable, and just as many occasions where that same brick or pole will fall off the wall as soon as Drake is done with it - meaning if anyone had tried before him, or if it had rained particularly hard the day before, Drake would have had to turn around and go home. While not exactly "Death traps", this trope is also invoked with the old guns that Drake and crew pick up in the first and second games that have been laying around for a half century at least in conditions that would utterly destroy the functionality of any firearm within a few months, and having them operate perfectly without jamming, specifically the MP-40s and P08 Lugers he picked up left over from Those Wacky Nazis, as well as the AK-47s he finds left over from an old expedition into Shambhala.
    • Subverted in the jungle sections of the first game: There are several traps made of wood that should had been either already activated by the local wildlife or just rot to the point where they weren't functional anymore. Turns out the ones that created them are still alive.
    • Played straight in Among Thieves, where Nate and Chloe fall into a room with a descending spiked ceiling.
  • Zigzagged in the Enrichment Center in Portal 2, depending on which part of the game the player is in. While you're in the upper levels of the Enrichment Center that you got familiar with in the original, the place is dilapidated, overgrown, and bits of it aren't functioning right. When you go down into the bowels of the Enrichment Center to the original iteration deep underground, the electronics and equipment you need to use is in perfect working order, right down to the pre-recorded, automated messages from Cave Johnson, who was long-dead by the time the original game rolled around. However, the environment itself is definitely not. Collapsed walkways are everywhere, many of the spheres once containing test chambers are in ruins and flooded, and all of the elevators leading to the surface are out of order.
  • In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Starkiller visits the ruins of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, and the security system is still operational, forcing Starkiller to contend with droids and Hard Light simulations.
  • In Serious Sam III: BFE: You go inside a pyramid where everything is crumbling and yet there are still levers that activate falling ceilings. Could be justified in that there might be some Sirian technology behind the scenes holding everything together.
  • In Dwarf Fortress. In Fortress Mode, traps can get jammed if triggered enough times in quick succession and projectile weapon-based ones require reloading, but they don't require any maintenance and can stay functional indefinitely. Averted with the tombs that show up during worldgen, as they're littered with degraded traps that vastly reduce their ability to harm an adventurer.
  • Pi'illodium, a mechanical boss in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, is in working condition when encountered. The entire Pi'illo Kingdom which it was supposed to guard the temple of had collapsed about two thousand years before the game starts. That still didn't stop this thing firing an infinite barrage of heat seeking missiles at Mario and Luigi, flying, making comments in Robo Speak about how their deaths were imminent and setting off a thirty second self destruct timer when its health got low. Probable same deal with Earthwake in Dreamy Wakeport, assuming it was given the nightmare chunk to hold back when Antasma was defeated the first time round. Two thousand years of no kingdom or civilisation didn't stop that Humongous Mecha either.
  • The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time averts this. You visit Cichen Itza at 1050 AD, when the traps for the three underground trials have been recently built and are fully functional.
  • Deadfall Adventures, taking place in several temples of doom, naturally features a lot of these - crushing walls, descending ceilings, spear traps, fire traps, collapsing floors and swinging blades (possibly not an exhaustive list), all in tip-top condition. The upside is that many of them can be used to dispatch enemies.
  • An early sidequest in Rakenzarn Tales involves exploring the hidden ruins belonging to the kingdom of Averiarus. Just the one area contains electrical floor plates, three doors each requiring a written passcode, an bridge with teleportation orbs and a controlling switch, all topped off by a giant golem who serves as the boss. Keep in mind this place was abandoned since the kingdom fell at least 1000 years prior.
  • Nethack's vast dungeon of horrors is full of these—bear traps, chest traps, trap doors (both the "what happened to the floor" kind and the "why did that door explode when I opened it" kind), pit traps with optional poison spikes, you name it. The magical traps were presumably made and maintained by the evil Wizard of Yendor, but it's not clear where the rest of them came from. They don't always successfully entrap you, but that's mainly a Luck Stat mechanic rather than attempted realism; some traps can be reset and used on enemies, if your character manages to avoid setting them off in the process.

  • Lampshaded and hand waved in Dungeon Damage. Most traps were built by hired Dwarves (who had much more advanced tech and durable materials than most in the Medieval European Fantasy setting) and the traps are reset by a waterwheel connected to an underground river, which turns gears to ratchet the doors etc., back to their starting position after each trap goes off. Ironically, many of the treasures protected are much more perishable than the traps themselves; papyrus scrolls or valuable spices, for example.
  • Lampshaded and played straight in Modern Day Treasure Seekers. The kids speculate on how traps should decay over time, but several are still triggered.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: Inverted in "The Ultimate Weapon", with a Mayan temple that's dangerous mainly because it wasn't built to last. Well, that and the Mayan God Of Death hangs out there; but aside from that, there's a grand total of one trap. In fact the "ultimate weapon" is just a brittle old sword that crumbles into dust the moment someone lifts it.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Played with in an episode in which Aang and Zuko explore the ruins of a long extinct culture. When they run into a series of booby traps, Zuko wonders how the traps are still operational after all this time. It is soon revealed that the race wasn't so extinct after all.
  • Thunder Cats: In "The Tower of Traps", several traps through the whole tower are still active long after the one who created them died.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: In the first scene, Jackie is leading people through the castle of "Mad King Ludwig", said to hold dozens of deadly traps. He spots a hidden wire on the floor and cautions his group to stay back.
    Tourist: Aw, c'mon, what are the odds of these traps still-
    (Jackie takes the tourist's cap and drops it on the wire. Stone slabs slide out of the walls, slamming together inches in front of the guy's face. When they slide back, Jackie puts the cap back on his head — and closes his mouth)
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Despite being the site of a violent battle prior to a thousand years of neglect, all the traps and secret passages of Celestia and Luna's old castle still work in "Castle Mane-ia". Subverted with the deathtrap part though; they're not meant to hurt anyone. They're there in the first place because of Luna's and Celestia's proclivity for pranks (Twilight even found an old journal, talking about how one of the traps were always Luna's "favorite"). Fluttershy actually is more worried about the dangers of actual old ruins, such as floors giving out and falling debris.
    • In Daring Do episodes, Daring typically goes through ancient Mayincatec ruins with puzzles and traps still perfectly functional and loaded with fresh ammunition and living flesh-eating critters.
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero; during the five-part series where Dr. Mindbender created Serpentor, Zarana (that would be Zartan's sister, in case you didn't know) breaks into a tomb to steal the DNA from a mummy. Although a recorded guide by Mindbender warns her of the still-functioning traps he clearly didn't know about a few, including one that grabs her foot with a stone vise, then triggers a Descending Ceiling that threatens to crush her. She eventually slips her foot out of her boot to free herself and escape.

    Real Life 
  • There are a few traps built into the great pyramids to deter robbers, that, thanks to low-tech design, continued to catch stupider people, mostly by trapping them in tight spaces or building huge pits in the middle of the passage. Needless to say, the robbers got around them. But the skeletons of past robbers were still present when modern archeologists found them (this is a problem with durable deathtraps, the dusty skeletons with punji sticks through the eyes tend to be a tip-off).
  • Truth in Television: Land mines can last for a very long time. Live ones are a serious problem in developing countries with decades-old fields lost in the records.
    • The situation in Laos deserves a particular mention; it was a real-life target of derision during the Vietnam War, where bombers would offload any excess munitions. There are still numerous non-profits dedicated exclusively to combing farms and safely detonating the explosives.
    • European countries including Germany and Britain still discover unexploded bombs from World War II. There are also artifacts from the first world war being unearthed in France and Belgium to this day, called an Iron Harvest.
      • They still cause deaths to this day, often from being turned up by ploughing (they're the number one source of damage to farm equipment in some parts of France and Germany, in fact), or set off by fires burned over them. They're also a LOT less stable after nearly 100 years, and tend to be easier to set off than when they were made. It makes it very tough to make them safe - there is work for the Belgian and French bomb disposal squads for many years yet...
      • Six of the 25 giant mines (tens of tons of explosives each) set under the Messines ridge were not detonated in the battle. One of them was dug up after the war. Five were not. Four remain - one of them went off of its own accord in 1955.
      • One particularly impressive example of how true this trope can be was the case of the unexploded Luftwaffe 2,200-pound bomb that was uncovered in 2008 under the then-under-construction British Olympic Stadium. Apparently at some point during defusing efforts the bomb began ticking, with the internal clockwork fuse being apparently jarred into action. A clockwork mechanism, buried underground and under the water table for 60 years after slamming into the ground after being dropped by a plane, began ticking. Wrap your mind around that for a moment.
      • This perpetual danger of unexploded ordnance remains the drive for contemporary landmine bans. The US response has been to create landmines that deactivate after a set time, or when batteries fail.
      • It's not just explosives: after the war, the allies simply dumped much of Germany's chemical weapons stockpile into the sea. Fishermen in the Baltic Sea still occasionally dredge up corroded, leaking shells full of still potent gas.
  • Ironically, in Real Life you don't need to put traps in most caves or any decayed ruins—they're plenty dangerous to explore on their own.
  • According to some accounts, the Anasazi cliff dwellers had one in which you needed to climb down a set of hand- and footholds to get to their living areas. But if you started with the wrong foot (either left instead of right, or vice versa), you'd come to a point where you couldn't reach the next foothold down — and, so the accounts say, this was usually after you'd climbed far enough down that you were too tired to climb back up, or something along those lines. Meaning you'd just hang on there for a while, arms hurting more and more, until you fell to your death.
  • High-order maritime salvage operations behave very much like these even through the the traps are not intentionally engineered, whether a wreck is five days old or five centuries. The combination of deep water, foul weather, rusty engineering, hungry fauna and old explosives makes for a lot of hazards. Some wrecks (typically felled ammunition freighters) have been deemed too dangerous to approach, despite their accessibility.
    • One such, the SS Richard Montgomery, is in the Thames estuary. It contains enough explosives and is close enough to built-up areas that if it went off it could cause flooding and property damage to the local area. Despite being in shallow enough water that the tops of its masts are still visible, it is considered safer to enforce an exclusion zone of several miles around it than to try to clear it up. This may however turn out to be a self-defeating strategy — decades of decay have made it ever more likely to go off by itself, while decades of property development have increased the potential for harm if it does.
  • It was thought it was just a myth that Qin Shi Huang's tomb was filled with mercury rivers so small ships could sail for eternity, by killing anyone who tries to disturb it. When his tomb was finally found, it was discovered that the tomb is filled with extremely deadly levels of mercury, meaning the legends may be true, and that Huang may get his wish. Even though the tomb hasn't been opened yet, ancient accounts of its construction mention it having bronze crossbows rigged to fire when disturbed. In the past several bronze crossbows from this time period have been found needing little to no maintenance to fire. Fear of these death traps is cited as the number two reason the Chinese government won't allow any expeditions to open the tomb.
    • Many ancient tombs in China have a cheap and reliable approach: cover the main structure with huge amount of fine sand. Running sand will collapse when grave robbers try to dig tunnel into tomb.


Video Example(s):


Generations of Arrow Reloaders

Ryan discusses the problem with a durable arrow-shooting booby trap.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / DurableDeathtrap

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