Archive for April, 2010

Let me begin by saying, I’m by no means a rules lawyer. Quite often I’m reminded by my players at the table about how a particular rule works – usually it’s little things and we move on pretty quickly. For my players and myself, the rules are a guideline – something to aid in the playing of the game, not the be all and end all of it. Never let the rules get in the way of awesome.

That said, as I was putting together some elevated terrain the other day, I got to thinking about how it would work, rules wise. What sort of bonuses and penalties would be involved? Furthermore, how does elevation work with large or larger creatures? This thought process has brought me to this post and, in extension, to you. I want to know what, if any, rules you use for elevation. Does it even factor into your game? It hasn’t really in mine yet, but I’m hoping to change all of that. Here is the process I went through to get the draft rules I have so far. As I say, I’m very open to hear suggestions and your thoughts and/or experiences.

1. The rules should be simple

I really don’t like looking rules up when there’s a flow of energy at the table. I usually house rule something on the fly, especially if one of the players offers a fair solution. Any new rules being implemented should be simple and easy to remember! They should add fun to your game, not time page flipping.

2. The rules should make the terrain attractive

No point in making all these rules if no one wants to use elevations! It got me thinking as to why people use high terrain in films. Why does Errol Flynn jump on to the table to fight off the kings guards when there was a perfetly good floor right there?

3. The rules should make sense

This one is pretty self-explantory. Yes, we’re in a fantasy setting, but there is still a certain logic to the way things work. Break this and you break any possible immersion.

Fumbling my way through the guidelines above, I came up with the following rules… er, guidelines for people standing on higher ground. Have I said that I’m not a huge rules person and that I’m very open to suggestions here? *ahem* anyways, here they are:

Increased critical hit chance

Why does Errol Flynn stand on the table rather than the ground? He’s closer to his enemies head! At least, that’s one idea. This is even more relevant when fighting large or larger creatures.

Increased damage from ranged weapon attacks

Why not include magical ranged attacks? Why not increased attack instead of damage? Well, the reason is gravity. Gravity is what gives elevated archers the edge. It makes their arrows, javelins and stones rain down with more oomph! I don’t think that gravity would have the same effect on a magic missile, and I certainly don’t think it would give the archer more accuracy.

Bonuses to armour class

This is one that I was ‘umming’ and ‘arring’ about. It made sense in my head one way, but I couldn’t see it as being applicable in all situations. Someone standing on a table in a bar shouldn’t benefit from increased AC against someone standing right next to them, right? The bonus becomes a situational thing and behaves basically like cover. Have a look at the tables below to see how I tried to make it make sense.

Chance to be knocked prone

Standing elevated and fighting in melee? Your enemy sores a critical hit on you? You get knocked prone. Sure, you’ve got greater access to his head, but he’s got that to your legs. I didn’t want to inlude many detriments to higher elevation, but this one fit in with rule three, above. I don’t think it translated well against larger creatures, however. If you’re standing head height with an elder dragon, you’re not going to be knocked prone because she’s taken your legs out from under you, since her claws and or jaws are as big as you are.

Situational effects

There are no rules for these affects, and they’ll have to be made up on the fly or thought of when you’re preparing your encounter. Using the example above, you’re standing head height to an elder dragon, depending on the situation, that dragon is going to find it difficult to use any tail based attacks against you. The same goes for bursts and blasts. Are they exactly the same height and width, or is there some discrepancy? I imagine with some dragon breath abilities, they might be thirty or forty feet long for every ten feet thick. Be careful here, as you do want to keep things simple, but making some minor adjustments like these can make the world seem more dynamic.

Everyone at the table!

Here are a couple of quick tables I put together to aid in my own understanding of the relationship between height and elevation. If you plan on using them, remember that they’re guidelines – there’ll be a thousand and one instances where the ideas don’t wash. If you have any suggestions on how to improve them, let me know!


Click on them for larger images.

Samuel is getting a +1 critical step bonus, but is in danger of being knocked prone.

Overview of the battlescene. Our brave adventurers take on a huge red dragon.

Ol' Myron better hope his shield is working properly. He's 20ft up against a huge creature, giving him no bonuses.

Gerron here gets a bonus to critical chance, however, being an extra 10ft high and bringing him face to face with the beastie.

Finally, being 40ft high, Polson is getting a +4 bonus to damage against the dragon with his arrows. Sure hope he doesn't get knocked from his perch, however.


While we’re at it, how about some feats to make elevated terrain more attractive?

Nimble feet

You take no movement penalty for scaling terrain up to five feet higher than you (this includes stairs). This feat lets you shift up to five feet onto higher elevation as a move action, and/or 5 feet down onto a lower elevation as a minor action.

Elevated thinker

You are not knocked prone as a result of being hit with a critical attack whilst elevated to an attacker (unless it is a specific result of the type of attack). Furthermore, when you gain an extra critical step because of your elevation, you may increase that step by +1.

Dedicated tumbler (must be trained in acrobatics)

When you leap of your own accord from higher terrain, reduce any damage you may recieve by an amount equal to your level. Furthermore, once you land, you may move a number of squares up to half your acrobatics skill (rounded down), with a +4 bonus to any opportunity attacks accrued whilst you do so. This movement is included in the action you took to jump.

Sharp shooter

Increase the bonus to damage you get from making elevated ranged weapon attacks by +2. Furthermore, increase the range of those attacks by +4/+4.


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Hanging around on twitter as I often do, I came across a response to a NewbieDM blogpost where he talked about the benefits of just playing around with your dungeon tiles to see what you can make, and them using that location in your game (http://newbiedm.com/2009/09/22/playing-with-my-dungeon-tiles/). I think I already got a little more mileage out of my tiles than Newbie, as I’ve used smatterings of them here and there since I first bought them, but always the other way around – location first, and then trying to make the tiles fit it. I have to say that Newbie’s approach is another one of those genius ‘duh! Of course!‘ moments, usually accompanied by a slapping of the forehead. While I probably won’t do it for every encounter or locale, I’m hoping to see some great benefits to my game, with some fully fleshed out areas made with tiles. I paid for them, why not use them to good effect!

This brings me to my second adaptation for dungeon tiles, also stolen from NewbieDM (http://newbiedm.com/2009/09/23/adding-a-new-third-dimension-to-dungeon-tiles/). As the man has done, I’ve just gotten some cotton spools from my local craft store (in my Australian case, Spotlight). Now, I was originally disheartened to find that I couldn’t buy a consistent size – the packs all seemed to have various sizes! I thought I’d try them anyway, and after a little experimentation, I’m really quite happy with the results! The adjusted sizes have given me a number of different ‘pillars’ that can be used, not only to hold up second levels, but also as set dressing. Firstly, they can make good inn tables, or the little ones can be the table ‘legs’ for the Harrowing Halls tiles:

Acting as the table itself...

...and as the legs of the table

Below is a quick slapped together dungeon room displaying the usage of the ‘cotton-reel pillars’:

The three types of pillar I was able to make with some wood glue and a quick coat of paint


The shifter finds the best spot to evade the beholder...

...and the dwarven sorceror ducks behind a pillar...

...while the dragonborn fighter races up the stairs to the beholder...

...while the dragonborn fighter races up the stairs to face the beast!

And, as usual, the evil mage (both literally and figuratively behind it all)

Meanwhile, the evil mage (who is both literally and figuratively, behind it all), looks on.

So there you have it. My contribution to Newbie’s awesome idea. Shine on you golden stallion! The only issue I have with the greatness of the 3D tiles is that they make everything on your map else that isn’t look kind of… flat (oh yeah, you saw it coming). True story though. Have any experience playing with 3D tiles? Had to adapt your playstyle or even make a few house rules to suit?

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