Dungeons & Dragons Online

TERRAIN, and Using it Effectively

TERRAIN, and using it Effectively – DM Tips

Using terrain Effectively Video:


Hey folks, I’d like to share with you some advice, in video and written form, on the use of Terrain in your Tabletop RPGs.

I see a lot of questions and suggestions on adding terrain to your combats and skill challenges, but just plopping down some environment features is not the end of the technique, it is the beginning. Here I will spell out definitions and techniques for how to actually go about making terrain that is effective and will add drama to your encounters/scenes.

The official dictionary definition of TERRAIN is: a stretch of land, especially with regard to its physical features

How that relates to DnD (and other RPG settings) in my mind, is to redefine Terrain as: Anything in a scene or setting that is not a creature, (but also sometimes a creature can be a terrain feature…).

So Terrain in an RPG is not only the swamps, treetops, bushes, boulders, weather, it is anything and every physical thing in a scene, Think of it all connected.

HAVE A PLAN! Don’t just make the terrain a backdrop, make it an active force in the encounter.

There are 4 categories of Terrain, and some of them can overlap, but this gives you a good breakdown of options when creating Terrain and designing encounters:

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Set Pieces, like scenes from Indiana Jones,

Monster tactics and/or habitats they can exploit,

Terrain that moves (rivers, landslides, lava, wind),

or even

Monsters that cause terrain changes, throwing trees, carving swaths out of the ground, etc…

A Set-piece is a pre-planned situation, scenario, and/or set-up, that will drastically change the landscape and danger once it triggers. Indiana Jones boulder, Fast and the Furious car scenes, falling bridges, explosions, pretty much all the action scenes in movies are based off set-pieces. Something will change the world in a way that makes the protagonist have to act quickly to avoid certain disaster, while trying to do something else.

Examples of Set-pieces:



Monster Tactics that use terrain and their natural habitat/defenses. This is where you plan your environment and the creatures/enemies in it to their own advantage. Goblins know to attack then retreat behind walls for full cover, a chameleon stays in the trees to avoid detection, luring players into traps, or other pitfalls/kill-zones, or terrain the monster knows it can move better or fight better in.

Examples of Monster Tactics using terrain:


Moving Terrain can be classified as rivers/oceans, landslides, floods, earthquakes, basically anything that keeps the actual ground/water under them in constant motion. This type of terrain tends to work itself out, since it is organic and dangerous by its very nature. But it is still a good idea to have a plan and think of ways to use this environment. The river is moving quickly, so a simple skill challenge to cross, add in some swimming creatures and now you have a very dangerous situation that requires players to plan and really work out.

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Examples of Moving Terrain:


Sometimes it’s Monsters that create Terrain changes. Giants ripping up trees and throwing them, causing damage, and eventually cover/concealment. An Ankheg digging holes/tunnels under player’s feet, a massive leviathan causing a tidal wave. Etc… In these instances you can make the monster’s abilities/tactics tie into the environment to basically create an organic set-piece, caused by the actions of the creature. Fight a Red Dragon in a thick forest? One fire breath now makes a forest an inferno of danger.

Some examples of Monsters that cause Terrain changes:



I hope this helps some DMs with not only adding terrain but using it effectively in your own games. it doesn't take much to make a flat combat dynamic, you can use just 1 or multiple techniques from above, the simplest tweak to otherwise mundane combat can make a HUGE difference in fun and drama.

Source: reddit.com

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