Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I am still talking about D&D

More specifically, dungeon-building. I'm going to be putting together one, you see, and so I've been compiling lists of encounters and how they all flow together and so on. As you know, I've been talking about how I would encourage explorers in a game, which, even if my players aren't Explorers by nature, I'd still like to do because it gives them the opportunity to be rewarded by investigating the world they live in; and rewards are something that appeal to all player types. For the power gamer or slayer it is a chance to use new and different powers to defeat their foes (through terrain powers which I'll talk about shortly), storytellers and actors might find their characters feel a little easier to inhabit when the world comes to life for them, and they can see how directly it can be affected. Thinkers and Explorers are both rewarded by the fact that there's new stuff to incorporate into their plans, and a mechanics-based incentive to not spend every action making an attack. Watchers get the opportunity to try something new, which can be exciting.

So anyway, with that in mind, I've been looking at how I would encourage players to go beyond their lists of powers in fights. My friend Frank, who is an awesome guy, suggested that I design fights where mastering the terrain becomes more important than defeating the monsters. Essentially, I'd be making the terrain as great a threat as the monsters. I think this is a fantastic idea, and I've been putting together an encounter with that in mind.

I've also been thinking about giving players more options which are revealed through exploration. This is where using the player's passive perception/insight scores comes in handy, because I can give them a subtle hint that something bears further investigation. On top of that, it makes them feel like their skill choices were worthwhile, which I'm always down with.

Now one way I'll do this is through terrain powers. These are powers, usually attacks, that are granted by taking an action of some kind to interact with a piece of terrain/dungeon dressing/room feature. Here's an example:
An evil cult has inscribed a mystic circle on the floor, at the center of which is an iron brazier filled with smoldering (smouldering if you are British or a jerk) coals. Around the brazier, the evil cultists chant, using their fell magics to empower some dark ritual with fell and dark and dark and fell energies, that are also dark, but strangely, not fell. So a hero, fed up with how many fells, but not darks strangely enough, the cult just used, shows up and rather than rushing at the cultists with his sword, rushes at the brazier and pushes it onto the cultists.

So now I would describe the coals and flame spilling out onto the cultists, and the chaos that ensues, and to back me up, I can give the brazier a terrain power. I can say that the player makes an attack at something like, his level + 3 vs. Reflex in a close blast 3. Targets hit take 1d6 + Level Fire Damage and are knocked prone, with half damage on a miss. Then, depending on how tough the fight has been for the PCs I can give them another boost here by having the spilled coals act as difficult terrain that causes 5 points per tier of fire damage if you move through more than one square in the zone on your turn. This lets me help the party out in a tough spot without being obvious, and the opposite is true as well. By having monsters employ terrain powers, I can make a fight tougher if it looks like the players have it too easy.

Terrain powers are useful tools that help you both spice up an encounter, and allow you a greater degree of behind the scenes control. And for my style of running games, I like to keep my meddling with the plot and the way the action goes as behind the scenes as I can, so I think these are fantastic. The trick here is in revealing these to your players without coming flat out and saying, if you do this, X happens. So instead considering describing that the brazier looks unsteady, or have a PC with a high perception notice that the brazier doesn't seem to be anchored, or even something unusual about it, warranting an active perception check.

So I am going to try and put these to use as best as I can in the coming days.

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