In today's show, our wonderful hosts talked about traps and how to use them in your games in such a way that they are effective and interesting, and don't make the GM look like a complete jerk. Along the same vein, I'd like to talk about environmental hazards.
Environmental hazards are a lot like traps in that they are just sort of "there" for the party to overcome. They don't directly take action against the PCs until they come into contact with it, but they must be confronted when they present themselves as an obstacle. Examples include but are not limited to fires, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, storms, and floods.
An environmental hazard can prove to be dangerous or disruptive to an adventuring party. Rampant fires can burn PCs, potentially to death, as well as destroy places or objects, or at the very least make them inaccessible for a time. Floods are likewise potentially disastrous, and I've actually had a player in one of my campaigns loose their character to a torrentially flooded river the he (stupidly) tried to cross while wearing heavy armor which hindered his ability to swim.
They can also serve to slow the party down. Travelling through a think forest with no trails can significantly increase travel time, as well as make a journey more exhausting, as you are trying to traverse a great deal of uneven ground while avoiding being tripped by roots or being snagged by brambles.
Regardless of the purpose you choose to use it for, it is best to know ahead of time how to resolve the effects of the hazard. In D&D rules for fire or fall damage or other bodily harm inflicted by circumstance and nature are provided in the rules themselves, so this makes the job somewhat easier. That said, you can also use it as a plot point. A good example of this might be a classic horror scenario where a group of people are visiting a cabin in the woods, only to find themselves snowed in, typically while some monster is on the loose. Here, the environmental hazard isn't so much damaging as it is a setpiece that allows the adventure to function properly. If you're interested in seeing how environmental hazards might contribute to a horror scenario, you might consider checking out my Call of Cthulhu solo adventure Alone Against the Tide, where I utilize fog and flooding as tools to further the story and add to the tension of the events.
One other thing to note about environmental hazards is that they are less intentional than traps. Traps are laid out by someone for the purpose of deterring or harming others. Environmental hazards just happen (unless they're caused by an angry deity or spellcaster or somesuch.) This does allow the GM to employ them more readily, as the occurrence of a storm doesn't mean that anyone is out to get the PCs. Sometimes those things just happen. Forest fires could be the result of arson, but it could have just as likely been an accident. Sometimes they have absolutely nothing to do with the plot itself, and simply exist because the world is a lived-in place where things happen. And as inhabitants of the world, the PCs have to find ways to deal with that.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For more on monster based traps, head on over to my personal blog and go read up on mimics in my post "Mimics- Fear and Paranoia." Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.