Using Terrain in Your Encounters

Using Terrain in Your Encounters

Terrain should affect your encounters.

Just as locale is important to liven up your encounters (see Many Small Dungeons), the terrain of that locale should be a factor as well.

Not just thematically, but to challenge your players as well!

A common terrain effect is the ambush pinch-point; a narrowing of access bordered by thick forest or high ground.

The terrain determines the location of an encounter as well as options for dealing with it.

GMs can use terrain features to create different options for how a scenario might play out.

For example:  a party have to infiltrate an encampment to rescue or retrieve something/someone. Terrain features can be a major part of this type of scenario and will enrich the gameplay.

The encampment backs onto a large, high rock feature within a forest.  The antagonists have used a natural 'bowel' at the base of this outcrop.

Two smaller rock features form part of the outer boundary.  A palisade fills in the gaps between these features and the rock face.

It includes one gate and a watchtower. A ditch surrounds the whole.

Wary of attack, the antagonists have cleared a stretch of forest around their encampment, creating a clear field of sight which is patrolled by foot soldiers.

The terrain features may well dictate the party's plan of attack (you can provide a rough map at the time of their departure).

The clear area may force a night mission.  Some in the party might have the skills to climb along and over rock faces - bypassing the palisade or gate.

The ditch might provide covert means to move around the perimeter if aided by a distraction elsewhere.

Even if your party attempts an unsubtle frontal assault, terrain features/fields of fire will directly affect their success or otherwise. The terrain provides options to improvise/regroup/retry as events unfold.

In this scenario, most of the in-game work will be done by the players - the GM has the map, stats for adversaries and responds the defending forces as required.

The narrative is dictated by the players who use their skills, allied with the terrain,  to execute their mission.

Requiring just a map, some stats and some dice, a terrain-based scenario is one of the quickest games to plan - and can be among the most fun to play.

In addition to choke points, try challenging your players with high ground in your terrain.


Terrain and Environment will be a big part of my upcoming Encounter Builder (not available yet).

Check out Encounter Builder Updates

Happy Gaming!

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