4E: Mearls on terrain effects

July 10, 2008

Mike Mearls beats me to the punch and wrote a quick thing on making the environment a fun part of your encounter.

Though he’s pointing it out for Solos, this is really how I figure -every- encounter ought to be (and pretty much how I ran things for Iron Heroes a couple years back). My additional thoughts?

1. Make sure terrain attacks target different defenses, not just AC

2. Some hazards should be ongoing- like a burning house, etc. These then become tactical elements for various push/slide manuevers.

3. Make sure all terrain attacks/hazards are placed either centrally, or in a place (like near a choke point) which is likely to force both PCs and monsters near it. It might be more “realistic” to have something way off to the side, but if you never get next to it, it never really affects the fight.

4. The Law of Jackie Chan – indoor zones can be filled with all kinds of things- furniture, clutter, tools, barrels, chandeliers, fireplaces, stairs, curtains, etc. And these are good because they give creative players a wealth of terrain attacks waiting to happen.

5. Carts! Players love carts. You can use them as moveable cover, you can ram monsters with them, you can pin things to the wall with them, and you can ride them downhill screaming. I swear. Just put carts and inclines in your game and see.

6. Static vs. Moving vs. Moveable.

Static terrain features don’t move. (“Here is a mast, you can spin it around to smack someone”).

Moving Terrain moves around, either at a specific rate and path, or perhaps a random one. (“In this storm, the crate is going to slide around on the boat randomly, doing damage and Bull Rushing whomever it hits. Look out!”)

Moveable terrain is something the players (or monsters) can move around for different effects. (“Burning Cart! Yay!”) If you use moveable terrain, make sure to have a few places it could be useful. Also, since it’ll take up actions to move it around, it better do something cool or worthwhile to make it better than an At-will Power.

7. Point out terrain features the first few times. Until your players start thinking this way, they’ll probably not use it. After all, most rpgs generally tend to punish improvised environmental attacks (“Throw a chair? That’s like -6 to hit and does 1d6 damage? Why would I do that?” “Dude, that was a different game. Here? Chairs do ranged Push when you hit. And he’s standing by the cellar stairs…”)


One comment

  1. A single Urban Druid + Animated Hay Cart Comapnion = ~ 20 hours worth of joy in my last D&D game. I respect the cart.

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