CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The World Is A Dangerous Place

Environment and Terrain in Your Game

Combat against villains, traps and pitfalls, and the locked door you need to get behind. These are probably some of the most common challenges we come up against. If you’re playing a game based more on social interaction, you will also see diplomatic challenges. What I rarely see are environmental and terrain challenges. Surviving on a deserted island, making your way across the perilous desert, and scaling a mountain peak are all common in fantasy novels—and even non-fantasy novels. Oftentimes in RPGs these aspects are glossed over or ignored altogether.

Of course this isn’t true in every game, I’m sure many of you use environmental hazards in your campaigns. For those of you who haven’t but are interested, today we’re gonna take a look at some ideas for adding them to your game. There are two broad ways for you to make the environment a test for your players, in combat and out of combat. I’ve touched on some of the out of combat ways the environment plays a part of your story in my three part series on using the forest in your game. We’ll look at some other things you may want to use to affect your players.

Intense heat and intense cold come to mind first. How often have you thought about what your PCs are wearing when they traverse the frozen north or slog through the scorching desert? Did you players remember to buy the cold weather gear before heading off? In Pathfinder warding off extreme weather can be easily remedied with the endure elements spell, but what if your caster doesn’t know it? I find that to be a quite common dilemma. Someone with the survival skill can help mitigate the issue if no knowledgeable caster is around, but failed fort saves add the extra effects of heat stroke or hypothermia depending on their location.

Direction is also a common hazard when travelling in the out of doors. Not every places has a road that leads directly to their destination, although again I find many GMs (and I’m guilty sometimes too) will just allow their players to make it to where they are going. When players are on a time-sensitive mission, getting where they need to go as quickly as possible could be the difference between life and death. If the group doesn’t have a ranger, druid, or someone trained in survival in their group, getting lost could be a big problem.

Piggybacking off getting lost, we have things like starvation and thirst. Depending on the environment, food and water may be difficult to come across. Getting lost may make things worse as their dwindling supplies evaporate. I know a lot of people don’t keep track of the minutia of rations, but if you’re going to add these kinds of effects to your game, you might want to keep track for a while.

Although all of these things are not directly related to combat, they can affect it if you end up being fatigued from any of these sources. One of the parts of the environment that makes combat more challenging is terrain. How many times have you fought the enemy in an open room with stone floors and little furnishings? For me it’s been way too many. So spice up your combat with environmental hazards.

One of the easiest ways to use hazards is difficult terrain. Whether it be scrub and roots catching your feet or uneven rocky surfaces that you can’t get traction on, difficult terrain requires a different strategy than just going toe-to-toe with the enemy. Abilities like freedom of movement can make you a superstar when fighting on difficult terrain. It’s also a great time to let guys with a high acrobatics skill keep their balance while walking along uneven surfaces.

Higher ground is another terrain feature we don’t often see enough of. Your archers firing down, lose a little of their oomph. Meanwhile melee fighters can really take advantage from that rocky outcropping. You can use this even indoors by putting tables, balconies, stages, or daises in your room.

Cover, the bane of ranged characters, is one of the most underused aspects of the game. Rooms tend to be square or rectangle. Alcoves, pillars and other such obstructions are uncommon, although not unheard of. When you’re out and about through everything from small rock formations to trees, cacti, waterfalls, and various other obstructions can be used as cover. And in a similar vein, concealment can also play a major role. The fight on the misty morning moors or under the spray of a waterfall is not only epic looking but requires more tactical thought.

When you fight monsters in a room you are usually right on each other when combat begins. How many times has the GM started an outdoor encounter with the combatants within forty of fifty feet of each other? What happens when the keen-eyed elf and his band spot you overland from hundreds of feet away? Usually feats like far shot are pointless because you usually fight up close, but now you have a fleeing enemy firing at you from a long range.  This is also an excellent time for range increments and mounted characters to really affect combat.

There are probably dozens of more ways environment can help color the tone and pace of your game, but these are some of the basic things you can think about as you weave them into your story. Have you used environment in your games? What effect have they had on the stories you tell? How about on combat?

Helping you explore new aspects of the game is what the CRB is all about. If you have found these and my other articles beneficial to your gaming experience please consider contributing to my Patreon. The CRB has also spread its wings across social media and you can join the CRB communities on Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, and Twitter. As always, my inbox is open on all platforms for questions and comments.

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