10 January 2024

Terrain, Terrain, Terrain

I have been enjoying Baldurs Gate 3 and in particular the complexity of the terrain in many of the fights. I have written before on adding scale and verticality to make fights more interesting and even if you are not having a fight, interesting terrain can be a puzzles to set your players - and I think there are further interesting ideas to take for our tables.

First - two changes to the rules make interacting with the terrain 'cheaper' than in RAW 5e:
- Jump is a bonus action meaning everyone gets a mini 'cunning action: dash'
- Shoving is a bonus action (not an attack)

The first aids you interacting with the terrain and the second forces your enemies to.

Verticality is more prevalent - making it a factor in ranged attacks - and coupled with chasms (fall in and die) being common makes it an interesting opportunity. Shoving people off heights inflicts fall damage and also potentially slows them down getting back in contact.

Engagement can get forced at bottlenecks, cover is provided by ledges and height difference, you can break up attacks by slowing down some foes and dealing with them piecemeal.

As well as the existing terrain of the battlefield, you can also shape the conflict with spells and consumables - creating a choke-point with acid pools or simply a gauntlet where a foe needs to attack across flaming oil.

These pools of hazard also provide further opportunities to combine with shoving for damage off bonus actions too. Hit the bad guy twice and then shove him into acid. It also gives a nice way to finish off near-dead foes without wasting your attack. The impact of the pools of hazard are heightened by the way the AI makes pathfinding mistakes for both sides - a horde of small enemies will dash lemming like into a fire (and perish) trying to get at you - and your own party members will automatically try to form up when a combat finishes and wander through acid, fire and other hazards willy nilly to do so.

As an aside - against rogues and other hiding foes I got good use out of 'painting the target' with alchemists fire or other flame effects ahead of missile fire from other members of the party. Similarly, thrown junk is great for whittling off enemy effects and also proved able to hit some foes where bows could not.

All told, lots of ideas here to bring to the table, even if the restrictions of our table-top terrain setups mean the full verticality is hard to achieve, I think bonus-action shoves and more widespread use of consumables to shape the battlefield would make more fun and interesting fights. I like the way it keeps a variety of tactics going even at higher levels compared to the 'only obvious action' that can be RAW 5e. A flask of oil can only do so much damage, great to add into the mix when you can still strike a foe directly, but not worth replacing your primary attack. Maybe for true old school games this would be a role your hirelings fill?

Setting up interesting terrain fights does not have to be overly complex - a wooded hillside, a switch-back staircase - and can make fights against similar foes feel very different. Some might argue that melee-specialised characters that cannot do anything out of contact with the foe will have a hard time in places where they cannot get to grips with the foe but I would suggest that it just pokes people to think more creatively. The enemy is not going to always come at you under favourable conditions, fights happen in the dark, in bogs, on tops of walls - victory in adverse conditions is all the sweeter.

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