Thursday, 3rd November, 2011, 02:18 AM #1
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Review of Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox by Sneak Attack Press
One of the features I think makes D&D 4E a very exciting game to play is the expanded use of terrain in the building of combat encounters. When characters and monsters possess a wide range of powers which can push, pull, or slide their opponents around the battlefield, adding dangerous terrain to the encounter offers a new level of excitement and thrill to the play. What used to be considered part of the set in which a combat occurs, dangerous terrain can often give one side a momentary edge when they hurl their enemy into a fire, or over the precipice, or even into an allies’ spell effect.
And terrain does not stop with just hazards, but it can also represent the concept of terrain powers, and provide an extra attack in a combat to a character that figures out how to take advantage of it. Toppling a burning brazier or dropping an iron chandelier on an enemy can often do as much if not more damage to them than using one’s own encounter power, and it costs the hero nothing but a standard action to employ.
But creating special terrain and terrain powers takes time, and the offerings from WotC are often scattered across a dozen supplemental books. But recently, Sneak Attack Press has come out with a supplement of these terrains and terrain powers for use with D&D 4E encounters, offering DMs a comprehensive collection at their fingertips in Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox !
Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox
- Design: Matthew J. Hanson
- Illustrators: Caspar David Friedrich (cover), Constance Gordon-Cumming, Caspar David Friedrich, Galtier-Boissière, Carlos Schwabe (Interior)
- Publisher: Sneak Attack Press
- Year: 2011
- Media: PDF (32 pages)
- Retail Cost: $4.95 (available now from RPGNow.com)
Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox is a supplement for D&D 4E to offer ways to add a variety of mundane, magical, or fantastical terrain features into a combat. The book offers not only a primer on building special terrain features into a combat encounter, giving advice on how special terrain can be used and how the create it, but also a wide selection of over 50 terrain types, which are ready to use in encounters.
The production quality of Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox is fair to average, with sharp writing, and very good guidelines for the contents, but presented in a rather bland layout. The PDF has a table of contents, and an appendix grouping the terrain types by location, but lacks bookmarks for easier navigation, which would have been particularly handy in skimming through the types of terrain. The large list of over 50 terrain types is simply listed alphabetically, rather than by types of terrain powers or some other method of organization. The book is basic and utilitarian in format, and a presentation could have improved the reading experience greatly.
The artwork is good, if a bit sparse, with pieces that evoke the ideas and concepts being described on the page. Much of the work is line art and shaded pencil sketches, but it definitely works, although I wish there had been more of it, particularly when it came to the sample terrains.
Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox is divided into three chapters, working through the various topics of building and using terrain and terrain powers in D&D 4E combat encounters. The author chooses a logical progression through the various topics, which makes this book essentially an instruction manual, as well as a resource for 4E Dungeon Masters.
Chapter 1: Building Terrain is a bit of a misnomer, introducing the reader more to the theories behind using terrain in advanced 4E combat encounters. It identifies some of the basic principles about special terrain and terrain powers such as why it should be used in an encounter, and the various types of powers it might have. The author lists some examples in each category type which appear later in the book, with reference pages so the reader can check them out.
The next chapter, Chapter 2: Terrain Powers, could have aptly taken the name building terrain from the first chapter, for here the author provides some very sound advice on designing terrain powers. This chapter of Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox is a short couple of pages, but there is plenty of solid construction tips to help DMs design their own terrain powers. Between this chapter and the preceding one, the author provides the basis to assist the reader in understanding the process by which the terrain powers provided in Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox were created.
The final chapter, which comprises nearly two-thirds of this supplement, is Chapter 3: Sample Terrain. Here the author has provided a listing of over fifty different terrain powers which ready to drop into a 4E encounter. Each entry comes designed with a recommended level, some flavor text, and information about how to set it up in an encounter, what knowledge skills are needed to recognize and use it, and even ideas on how to re-skin it into other similar terrain types. While the samples are designed with a particular level in mind, they are scalable, so they can be used across a broad level range with some adjustments. Many of the terrain powers come with a “power card”, which can be used by both DMs and players in the course of an encounter, depending on whether a monster or hero figures out the terrain feature first.
As an example, one of the first entries in Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox is a ballista, and the sample given is designed as a Level 8 terrain power. The ballista fills several squares with difficult terrain (it’s a big siege engine), and can be used to launch a ballista attack at enemies. Its damage is potent, and could easily help characters out in a pinch against a large and fearsome monster, like a dragon. The author also points out that the ballista can be re-skinned as pretty much any other siege engine, or have a damage keyword added to make it magical – like a lightning thrower.
The sample terrains and terrain powers range from the mundane, like the aforementioned ballista, to the alchemical (exploding keg) or naturally occurring (logs floating down a river), to more fantastic and magical types (floating stones and wild magic zones). Some of these terrains are dangerous to any creature which gets pushed into them, like a chaos mote which blasts anything near it with random elemental effects. Other terrains provide gain powers or attacks, such as flight stones, which turn your next move from them into a flying speed, but only for one round.
The author also offers a number of tips and variant rules in the form of sidebars in this section, discussing everything from how to keep players from abusing terrain by sliding monsters in and out of the area repeatedly to whether magma is a viable terrain type. The variety of the samples offered by the author in chapter 3 of the Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox is quite extraordinary, and their ready-to-use design makes it easy to add them to almost any encounter.
Overall Score: 3.8 out of 5.0
Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox is a pretty impressive supplement that can add considerable depth and excitement to D&D 4E encounters. While the supplement is a bit underwhelming in its presentation, it makes up for that by being overwhelming with serious amounts of “crunch” in the form of special terrain, terrain powers, and rules to make them work in a combat encounter of almost any level. And given modest price offered for the amount of content the publisher is offering in Advanced Encounters: Terrain Toolbox, it easily qualifies as a “must have” for any 4E DM looking to take encounter building to the next level.
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 2.75
- - Design: 2.5 (Layout is plain and presentation mediocre)
- - Illustrations: 3.0 (Pretty good, but really needed more in the sample terrain section)
- Content: 4.25
- - Crunch: 4.5 (Solid crunch, with ready-to-use samples of terrain)
- - Fluff: 4 (Good sampling of terrain types for almost any fantasy setting)
- Value: 4.5 (A steal for the huge amount of content packed in this PDF!)
[Author’s Note: This writer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.]
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