I was just reading DM David’s latest post, about “locations and (monster) tactics that encourage dynamic combat scenes“. As always with his excellent blog there are some great ideas there.

One thing he didn’t cover though was specific terrain features that can turn a drab, barren grid into a dynamic combat environment, so I felt inspired to do just that.

…the most memorable moments in a fight often come through a PC interacting with their environment in a creative way.

Apart from creating additional obstacles and interests, terrain features – be they humble bushes or a series of a crate of ripe melons ready to be tipped over – can be used, by the resourceful player, as cover, to hide, or for some other tactical advantage. In my experience, the most memorable moments in a fight often come through a PC interacting with their environment in a creative way.

Winning initiative is key when you’re fighting on a log bridge…

Let’s create two lists… wilderness terrain features and indoors terrain features.

Wilderness Terrain Features

Bushes
Trees
Fallen tree
Boulders or rocks (some massive, others that could double as weapons)
Ditch
Brook
River
Bridge
River ford
Stepping stones or giant lillypads
Slippery log bridge
Lake (with jetty, and moored boats)
Waterfall
Drystone wall
Crumbling ruins of an ancient temple
Hut, shed or barn
Farmhouse
Windmill or watermill
Crate of ripe melons
Long grass, meadow or wheat field
Scarecrow (not the monster… or is it?)
Quicksand
Vines (to swing on)
Erupting geysers
Beehives
Pack of wild dogs
Nest of poisonous vipers
Stampede of buffalo / elephants / dinosaurs
Bog (with bloodsucking leeches)
Campfire
Wagon
Burial mound
Tombstones
Gorge or canyon
Hill, slope or ravine
Landslide
Cave entrance
Moss-covered skeleton of a long-dead dragon
Pit
Well
Sundial
Bales of dry hay
Smoke
Animal snares
Tripwire
Plants that give off poisonous spores
A tree that is really a treant
A huge savage beast that doesn’t like you or your foes
Zone of slowness
Gallows

Weather Features

Since you’re outdoors, don’t forget to consider what the weather is like (as well as whether it’s night or day time). Some conditions that could seriously affect the outcome of any fight are…

An impenetrable mist (range attacks impossible)
Driving rain (range attacks with disadvantage, roll DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) every round not to fall prone on slippery ground)
Galeforce winds
Snowstorm or sandstorm
Freak hailstorm of small rocks which does 1d4 bludgeoning damage a round to anyone in it…
Solar or lunar eclipse

Dungeon or Indoor Terrain Features

Stalactites / stalagmites
Chasm
Pit
Bridge (natural stone or rope? Or broken?)
Underground river (is that water or acid?)
Underground lake (with a ravenous beast inside)
Lava flow
Tables and chairs
Steps and staircases (trapped?)
Ramp
Throne
Altar
Coffins or tombs
Crates
Barrels (full of oil)
Statues
Prisoners in hanging cages
Columns, pillars and plinths
Alcoves
Arches
Maze
Mirrors (…or mirror maze!)
Tapestries
Chandeliers
Slippery, polished marble floor
Portal
Firepit
Fountain
Arrow slits (from which baddies pepper you with crossbow bolts)
Walls that start to close in
Water that starts to rise
Gas that starts to fill the room
Skylight
Murder holes
Trapdoor
Floortiles that randomly give way to spiked pits
Levers that set off various traps
Portcullis
Exploding fungi
Swarm of plague-carrying rats
Lots of confusing illusions
Wind tunnel
Animated armour and weapons
Lift / elevator
Mining cart and tracks
Ladder
Strategically placed glyphs of warding
Giant moving cogs
Giant spiderwebs
Sewers
Bookshelves
Curtains
Magical darkness
Jets of hot steam
Vacuum
Huge bell
Clock
Narrow ledge
Cauldron of steaming liquid
Giant, swinging thurible
Zone of silence
Ropers hanging from the ceiling

What did I miss? Please pipe up in the comments. Damn, pipes.

Of course pimping the terrain is just one way to make combat more interesting, and hopefully this got the juices flowing, but there are plenty more tricks the wily DM can pull out of their toolbox to spice things up when the d20s start a’rollin’. No doubt I’ll return to this topic in due course.