Interactive Terrain

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
So my new EN World Blog Post(tm) gives the first rough ideas I had for making terrain a more interactive element in 4e. I've found too often that difficult terrain, cover, concealment, and the like, are all just there, without any way to do anything to them.

I've got the first seed of an idea in the blog, but it's definitely rough. I'd like to see what the braintrust of ENWorld can come up with. How are your terrain elements more than just passive things? How do your players and their enemies change the battlefield? We all know controllers do this as sort of a matter of course, but what about the rest of us? How do we make terrain something to change and affect, rather than just something to beat up against?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Quickleaf

Legend
Interesting blog, it reminds me of the kind of improvisational play I enjoy - after all, the DMG has guidelines for actions not covered by the rules, something the DM can use as a starting point.

The idea that a PC's powers exclusively effect creatures is ludicrous to me. So even basic attacks target "creatures" yet the DMG gives defenses/AC for objects...which according to RAW the PCs have no way to damage? Apparently the D&D universe is unbreakable, making sieges rather problematic. Riiight. :confused:

I never subscribed to the power system as a hard and fast rule. There are tons of fringe scenarios. If a power "marks all enemies in burst you can see", are visible traps considered enemies? If a power targets "you and each ally in burst", does a mount count as an ally? What about an ambiguous or evil NPC who you're trying to keep alive? Etc, etc.

As far as interesting uses of terrain, I noticed my players rarely initiated it, unless I directly said "you can do XYZ" or the *had* to in order to solve a puzzle or stop a ritual/trap. Most of my home-brewed terrain powers (always described in the narrative) were neglected in favor of monter butt-kicking powers. So my monster made good use of 'em. :devil:

During one fight against the strigha the monster slammed into a broken pillar, collapsing it on PCs (terrain power). In addition to dealing damage (plus half to monster), it pinned them under rubble, created a temporary zone of concealment in a shower of dust, and a burst 1 difficult terrain for rest of the encounter.

Later the strigha forced a PC thru a window, causing them to be dazed and helpless hanging from ledge. Since there was a storm raging outside, it also brought in a violent gust of wind sliding nearby creatures and making a wall of concealment with rain for rest of the encounter.

Later the party's invoker returned the favor. But he had a thing for defenestrating my monsters!
 

jbear

First Post
Interesting ideas. I do have a few questions though.

It seems like these feats would best work with Burst, Blast or Area powers that attack enemies and catch some terrain with it as well, right? So caster classes are going to be the ones that really benefit from these kind of feats/interactions with terrains. An avenger or an assassin on the other hand will benefit far less so. Is this deliberate or is this just because your thinking is at its early stages?

If a character that doesn't have burst etc. invests a single target attack on terrain a player is only ever going to do that if the outcome is more spectacular. Feat slots and standard actions are valuable comodities.

I can understand your feelings about not being able to affect terrain with your fire powers, things even the least self respecting pyromancer would take for granted if magical pyromancers were to exist, I'm sure ( I guess oO''). As a player, the absence of interesting terrain to interact with is to date a feature of the game I play in. My character is a hammer fighter/runepriest hybrid, which means there are loads of feats that could be interesting, allowing to push targets with hits on OAs etc. But Marks are always respected, and there is never anything dangerous to push anyone into. So investing in such feats is unfortunately a waste of time, at the moment.

Which brings me I guess to my point. It may make sense to make interaction with terrain come from the DM perspective. The feats you have come up with would make great tags to be able to tag terrain features with. The react if caught in a burst of the Key type of attack or a a monster/PC uses a Key type of attack adjacent to the terrain feature, or targets someone next to the terrain (This means creatures with single target attacks can play too, which may be more fun).

Perhaps the DM can decide if the terrain is 'activated' by adjacent attacks making a saving throw for the terrain.

As a DM I'd be stoked to have a codified list of key word terrain tags and their respective effects that I could quickly tack onto terrain features. It's a bit of extra work to keep track of, but once the players see this sort of thing happening, hopefully they will catch on and start reminding me/asking me about them themselves (lightning the burden). Actually your list of feats is a pretty darn good start on that list.

Certainly it would make sense for intelligent creatures with certain kinds of attacks (fire, necrotic etc) to fight in areas where they can make the most of the terrain (and hence overtly demonstrating to the PCs how to interact with the terrain advantageously, without having to say 'if you do x then y will happen with thhis terrain feature).

Also my second point is that I think the inability to interact with terrain this has more to do with the DM and how they prefer to deal with combat rather than 4e not making sense because there are no hard fast rules for damaging objects. Is that even RAW? Really? I remember listening to one of the very first 'Aquisitions Incorporated' (?) podcasts as they descended into the Keep on the Shadowfell and Jim Dark Magic was able to target an object (the rug covering the rat swarm filled pit?) with his powers. I let my player set things on fire, smash them up, blow them away, freeze areas etc. using their 'Do something Cool' Encounter power card in combination with their powers and existing relevant terrain. This avoids the waste of actions targetting only terrain features with no 'Cool' result or not cool enough result (even misses here will still usually interat with the terrain in a fun advantageous way, but to a much lesser degree) and which also strikes a balance between allowing my pyros set things on fire but not all the time with every attack (which could become problematic to adjudicate constantly).

Anyway, I think interesting terrain, especially terrrain PCs can interact with, is massively important ingrediant in building interesting and memorable combat encounters. SO I wish this thread a long and healthy life! :)
 
Last edited:

Evilhalfling

Adventurer
very inspiring

Now I want to go through and look at this weekends adventure for terrain to blow up. One battle is likely to take place in a dining room, quartered by thin wooden screens. Currently the screens and tables etc, have hp but I think ill use minion rules for them instead, all the better for them to be torn down and punched through.

For the tables and benches, I will use slips of paper instead of drawing them on the map. this should make their mobility and destructibility more apparent.

unfortunately the party favors psychic attacks.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
It seems like these feats would best work with Burst, Blast or Area powers that attack enemies and catch some terrain with it as well, right? So caster classes are going to be the ones that really benefit from these kind of feats/interactions with terrains. An avenger or an assassin on the other hand will benefit far less so. Is this deliberate or is this just because your thinking is at its early stages?

If a character that doesn't have burst etc. invests a single target attack on terrain a player is only ever going to do that if the outcome is more spectacular. Feat slots and standard actions are valuable comodities.

My thoughts were that when you attacked a creature in a square, it counts as an "affected square." So if you were an Avenger with the feat, and you were lowering your Greatsword at the enemy, you'd ALSO destroy Cover or Concealment in the square that they enemy may be benefiting from.

It still favors Controllers (of all stripes -- Hunters as much as Invokers), but since the effects are very controller-y, I considered that a pretty decent way to keep role protection. An Avenger who picks this up would add a bit of control to their abilities (mostly, removing darkness and breaking cover and concealment), but a Hunter who grabbed it would expand their controller suite.

But it is still an early primordial thought. ;)

As a DM I'd be stoked to have a codified list of key word terrain tags and their respective effects that I could quickly tack onto terrain features. It's a bit of extra work to keep track of, but once the players see this sort of thing happening, hopefully they will catch on and start reminding me/asking me about them themselves (lightning the burden). Actually your list of feats is a pretty darn good start on that list.

That's an idea worth pursuing a little more -- the idea of short "terrain tags" that you can slap onto a square really quickly, that creatures in the combat can activate briefly. The problem lies in being descriptive without being exhaustive -- you want enough to play with, but not so much that each encounter means you need an entirely new list of brand new tags...hmm...I'm wondering how this might play into the concept of Terrain Powers, too...

I let my player set things on fire, smash them up, blow them away, freeze areas etc. using their 'Do something Cool' Encounter power card in combination with their powers and existing relevant terrain.

Part of the dilemma is that you want rules so that a DM doesn't accidentally unbalance an encounter. My character in the adventure, as a pyromancer, would look for something he could burn in every encounter. Page 42 is a good stop-gap, but since it's part of my strong theme, it would affect the balance of the game to do it in every adventure. And the DM is kind of a newbie DM, so I do want to keep things nice and simple for her.

Anyway, I think interesting terrain, especially terrrain PCs can interact with, is massively important ingrediant in building interesting and memorable combat encounters. SO I wish this thread a long and healthy life!

Something I completely blanked on is that the DMG II has rules for Terrain Powers, and those rules could use a good massaging.... ;)

Evilhalfling said:
For the tables and benches, I will use slips of paper instead of drawing them on the map. this should make their mobility and destructibility more apparent.

Hahaha, when one is destroyed, just blow on it until it flies off the board. ;)

unfortunately the party favors psychic attacks.

Hmmm...

Psychic: Affected squares carry a strange, confusing aura. Until the end of your next turn, creatures who leave the square actually leave it in a random direction (roll 1d8).
 

DracoSuave

First Post
The idea that a PC's powers exclusively effect creatures is ludicrous to me. So even basic attacks target "creatures" yet the DMG gives defenses/AC for objects...which according to RAW the PCs have no way to damage? Apparently the D&D universe is unbreakable, making sieges rather problematic. Riiight. :confused:

RAW, the DM can allow attacks vs creatures to work against objects. So long as you're not doing it for something rediculous or dumb, there's nothing saying you can't if it makes sense.

------------------------

Anyways... interactive terrain is well within the game. There's many ways to go about it. At a simple level, there's exotic terrain that has different effects depending on actions done in or to it... above that there's hazards and traps which are more complex and sometimes handle the situation better.

You have a LOT more flexibility in this game than you'd think by assuming rules are there that aren't.
 

pemerton

Legend
I recently ran an encounter with a necromantic spider swarm in a library. This was the first time in the campaign where the PCs had fought in a small area chock-full of stuff that they didn't want to destroy. At the same time they were using close weapon attacks (dwarf halberdeer) and close fire attacks (human wizard) to try and take out the swarm. In both cases I insisted on skill checks to avoid knocking over scroll racks and/or setting books on fire - Arcana for the wizard and (I think) Acro for the fighter.
 

webrunner

First Post
If I remember, I always make note of things that would get destroyed. For example, casting fireball next to a window blows out the window.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
You have a LOT more flexibility in this game than you'd think by assuming rules are there that aren't.

Well, it's up to the DM.

And that's one of the issues with relying on the DM to make a judgement call. It's up to the DM, and some DMs (especially, but not exclusively, new DMs) are very wary of un-balancing anything. Once you go to the level of "Oh, I guess your fireball can melt the slippery ice in this combat," there's the fear of going to the level of "Oh, I guess this fight wasn't challenging at all because you melted all the slippery ice, and now it's just a flat plain with some difficult terrain."

As a pyromancer, I can't just be like, "I want to light that stack of oily rags and dry twigs on fire," and have it happen, even though it would probably make sense and be awesome, because it might introduce some balance problems in an oily-rags-and-dry-twigs-heavy RPG setting ("Kindleworld, the World Without A Match!"). It's up to the DM to make a judgement calls. New DMs don't have that confidence, and even old hat DMs are sometimes loathe to go outside of the rules and do something interesting (like the Robot Chicken podcast where the "powers only work on creatures" concept came from).

So, that's why I'm looking for something more hard-and-fast than Page 42. Someplace I can point to a third party (the rules), and say "Okay, DM, even if I can't fiddle while Kindleworld burns, I want to do something with my fire other than cause damage. I want to affect the terrain elements in this combat."

And while it was the pyromancer that gave me the idea, I think it's as applicable to any fighter who wants to cut a table in half with his greatsword or any cleric who wants to illuminate the darkness with the light of their deity, or any thief who wants to cut the ropes on the rickety bridge sending their enemies plummeting into the gorge.

It's something that the game already has a little of (Terrain Powers in the DMGII are a start, but they still rely on the DM to set them up), but I want to hear how people are doing it.

So, DracoSuave, what's your tale of awesome interactive terrain?
 

DracoSuave

First Post
Well, it's up to the DM.

And that's one of the issues with relying on the DM to make a judgement call. It's up to the DM, and some DMs (especially, but not exclusively, new DMs) are very wary of un-balancing anything. Once you go to the level of "Oh, I guess your fireball can melt the slippery ice in this combat," there's the fear of going to the level of "Oh, I guess this fight wasn't challenging at all because you melted all the slippery ice, and now it's just a flat plain with some difficult terrain."

As a pyromancer, I can't just be like, "I want to light that stack of oily rags and dry twigs on fire," and have it happen, even though it would probably make sense and be awesome, because it might introduce some balance problems in an oily-rags-and-dry-twigs-heavy RPG setting ("Kindleworld, the World Without A Match!"). It's up to the DM to make a judgement calls. New DMs don't have that confidence, and even old hat DMs are sometimes loathe to go outside of the rules and do something interesting (like the Robot Chicken podcast where the "powers only work on creatures" concept came from).

So, that's why I'm looking for something more hard-and-fast than Page 42. Someplace I can point to a third party (the rules), and say "Okay, DM, even if I can't fiddle while Kindleworld burns, I want to do something with my fire other than cause damage. I want to affect the terrain elements in this combat."

Welcome to every roleplaying game ever.

You sadly, can't have every contingency planned for without a tome so large that finding what you need is impossible. That's what Rolemaster is for.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top