Ok, maybe not that hidden. If anyone is still under the impression that 4th edition is just 3.75th edition, this description of how traps will work in 4th edition should pretty much put the last nail in that coffin. Those saying that this game is shaping up to be a major departure from previous incarnations of the game are absolutely right.
From the beginning, the basic gameplay of D&D involved a series of mildly challenging encounters that would slowly wear away at the resources of the party, punctuated by serious challenges that posed a real threat to life and limb. Resource management was a core component of the game. Do we have enough spells/hit points/supplies to tackle one more room? Or, less often but far more thrilling, “Oh shit! That room was a hell of a lot tougher than we were expecting. Do we still have enough resources to get back to safety alive?”
In that game, traps were the niggling little things that plinked you every now and then. Most were not deadly, but they forced you to cast spells, drink potions, or just suck it up and deal with the loss of hit points or stat drain. They were not particularly thrilling, could even be annoying, but they also were markers that told players they were headed in the right direction.
In 4th edition, traps now seem to fall into two categories: tactical terrain features and set-piece center pieces in their own right. The tactical terrain features are the stuff of table-top wargaming. They’re used to add a fun wrinkle to the usual slug-fest of combat. They’ll be the surprise extra complication that make our heroes appear to be in over their heads, sure, but they’ll also secure flanks or offer extra protection to less reliable troops. The set-piece center pieces will be like the glorious contraptions that you find in the Indiana Jones and National Treasure movies. Chances are, you’ll know there’s a trap there. The fun will be in figuring out how it works without getting mauled by it, and getting around it, or finding a way to turn it on your foes, so you can get at the goodies that the trap guards.
(Interestingly enough, I’d say that most traps in MMOGs are far more like the traps in older versions of D&D. Those sorts of traps are easy to code: step in the wrong spot, and get whacked for a few hit points. The new traps will require a lot of specialized coding, AI design, and art to reproduce in a MMOG. In this aspect, at least, the upcoming D&D is far more unlike current MMOGs than the older versions.)
I expect to see the thief beefed up as a combatant, and the reviews we’ve seen of Races and Classes do seem to back this up. No longer a tool to minimize the resource drain of traps, the thief needs a new role to play. Making them sharp-shooting assassin types would seem to fit very well with their style. Thieves are going to be more fun to play. The DM is going to have to work harder to include traps in the dungeon, because the typical pit-with-spikes by itself will hardly be worth including. Now, a pit with spikes that must be traversed while the party is trying to hold off the advancing hordes of army ants, on the other hand…
All in all, I have to say I like a lot of these ideas, and I may very well buy a copy of the 4th edition DMG to plunder it for such notions, which is saying something. While I did buy a copy of 3rd edition's PHB, I never felt the need to get the DMG.