Lairs with Flair
The party has fought its way past the undead hordes populating the dungeon, avoided certain death and dodged traps that nearly ended the adventure in a grisly and untimely manner. Finally the intrepid explorers burst into the chamber where the dark priest and the final showdown between good and evil awaits them and discover… another large room, just like every other room in the dungeon.
Not very exciting, is it?
Now imagine the same scene, only after knocking down the creaking wooden door the party steps into a lavishly decorated cathedral deep below the surface. Incredible paintings glorifying a dark god cover the walls, and malevolent eyes stare down at the party from the shadows of a second floor. The priest chants rituals over an onyx altar while wax slowly drips from candles in a chandelier overhead.
Most dungeon-based adventures feature a climactic battle, а showdown with the primary enemy in the dungeon that heralds the end of the adventure, or, the end of the adventurers. Additionally, many adventures have other critical battles that can change the course of the entire adventure. Setting these encounter locations up as memorable locales is a good way to ensure that the players understand the gravity of the situation and to take an otherwise bland backdrop and make it into a setting that spices up the final showdown.
Lairs with Flair Aesthetics
In the example above, the second room is far more interesting and memorable because it adds unique elements to what could potentially be just another room in the dungeon. Players will remember the encounter for weeks, months, or even years to come precisely because they could form a solid mental image of the setting. Though many consider the backdrop to be less important than the actual battle, there are certain elements of a dungeon’s background that can be integrated into any encounter to further differentiate it from less important encounters.
Design areas for major encounters with a motif in mind, and do not be afraid to try new things. An underground prison is familiar; an underground cathedral is not.
Lairs with Flair have Multiple Levels
One good way to spice up a major encounter is to add a second or third floor to the location of the battle. This can be anything from balconies set into the walls to an entire upper level. Archers and spellcasters can use such higher ground to attack targets below without putting themselves in immediate danger; some DMs may choose to extend the +1 bonus on melee attacks from higher ground to ranged attacks if appropriate.
Similarly, combat that takes place on one level often spills down into another, meaning that knocking an opponent off a ledge or leaping to safety below can turn the tide in battle.
Conversely, adding sub-levels to an encounter locale can be equally as interesting. Pit traps are common examples of such an addition, but adding an entire lower level opens up the arena and gives both sides of the conflict room to maneuver.
Additionally, if the sub-level is only a few feet below the main floor, enemies
can pop out of holes and make their attacks, then withdraw to the lower level to move to a different location without exposing themselves to other characters (gaining cover by hiding underneath the floor of the primary level).
Moving Between Levels
Moving from one level to the next is usually accomplished by simple movement (in the case of stairs) or by making Climb (ropes, ladders, vines) or Jump checks. During combat, these can be especially hazardous. If a character is attacked while in the middle of climbing (such as while hanging onto a wall of vines, or while dangling from a rope) she loses her Dexterity bonus to her AC and is flat-footed. If she is damaged, she must make a Climb check to avoid losing her grip and falling.
Moving Over Open Spaces
In situations where there are large open spaces in the combat arena, such as in the case of a room where balconies dot the walls above the main floor, some characters may wish to move over those open spaces without having to move to a different level. In some cases, a Jump check will be sufficient to allow such movement, but in others special rolls might be required.
For example, jumping from a balcony onto a chandelier or dangling rope and swinging to the other side might require a Jump check to make the leap and then a Climb check (DC 10) to grab on. The character swings a distance equal to twice the result of his Jump check distance.
Additionally, swinging on a rope, chandelier, or other dangling object allows the character to swoop toward an opponent with increased speed. Any character swinging in such a fashion may bull rush an opponent within range.
Lairs with Flair have Cover
Cover is an important element of combat that should be added to any room in a dungeon where a major encounter takes place. Cover not only gives the player characters a way to keep from being destroyed by powerful enemy attacks, it also gives the DM a way to move key villains into safe locations if the players find the encounter less than challenging. Cover works to the advantage of both the player and the DM, and can be placed in almost any location.
Columns and pillars make excellent cover while still blending in with the overall design of the dungeon, and small alcoves in the walls or decorative statues provide both atmosphere and practical uses.
Lairs with Flair have Obstacles
One of the best ways to add a new element to standard combat is to introduce terrain obstacles that make basic movement more difficult. These
obstacles can transform almost any encounter; battling five orcs may not seem like much of a challenge, but battling five orcs when trying not to fall on a floor covered with slippery moss is.
Lairs with Flair have Falling Objects
Falling ceiling tiles, collapsing pillars, and plummeting chandeliers are all examples of ways the backdrop can interfere with combat. Whenever a character passes through a square that is the target of a falling object, the character must make a Reflex save (DC 15) or be struck by the object. Use the standard rules for damage from falling objects (Dungeon Master’s Guide 303) if the save fails.
Lairs with Flair have Grease and Oils
Dungeon floors are rife with slick substances ranging from spilled lantern oil to half-dried blood. Any character moving over a section of the floor covered in grease, oil, or other slippery liquids must make a Balance check (DC 12) or fall to the ground. This ends the character’s move action.
Lairs with Flair have Running Water
Running water can encompass anything from small aqueducts in the floor to artificial (or unintentional) waterfalls.
Any character moving over running water in a dungeon must make a Balance check (DC 12) similar to moving over an oily patch. Additionally, characters may hide behind a waterfall in a dungeon, gaining concealment (but no cover).
Lairs with Flair have Shifting Terrain
Some combat arenas may have terrain or floor tiles that shift when touched.
These can include tiles that drop away when pressure is placed on them, or stones in a floor that shift up and down constantly, making movement hazardous.
Any character that moves over terrain designed to shift its height or position must make a Balance check (DC 17) or stumble, ending his or her move action. Failure by 5 or more means the character falls prone.
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BY RODNEY THOMPSON