In an earlier column, I looked at ways to keep a road trip interesting. That article was about a standard walk in the sun. A different type of journey with problems and possibilities all its own occurs underground.
Any fantasy world worthy of the label is practically hollowed out by a network of caverns, tunnels, and subterranean grottoes that would make terrestrial cavers wet themselves. Regardless of what it’s called—Underdark, Khyber, Svartalfheim, or just “the underworld”—a journey through that landscape must be a different sort of undertaking from walking or riding between Riverdale and Midvale. Players should never be able to forget that their characters are moving through a dark, alien landscape.
Like the Scarecrow, I believe that one of the greatest rewards for having a human brain is the ability to think deep thoughts. To imagine the big picture. To envision a grand machine in your mind and then command its wheels to turn and its gears to mesh. It’s the joy of invention, of imagination, of pure creation.
Arenas, Temptations, and Movement: Providing a Memorable and Challenging Environment
Another idea to borrow from Diablo 3 when it comes to boss battles is to crank it up to 11 when it comes to the arenas in which they are fought. Despite the game’s dungeon-crawling heart, you’ll find some truly breathtaking scenes that take place far from subterranean lairs. Cliffsides, cityscapes, and even a battle in heaven take center stage. So, how does this play into our D&D games? Have you ever pitted your players against a corrupt demon invading the Astral Plane and duked it out in that unusual environment? Take some time to add some unusual visceral elements to the locations in which your combats take place, and you might just have your players talking about that combat for years to come.
What irks the guy in charge of D&D Next? Below, Mike Mearls, who is the senior manager of the D&D R&D team, vents a little about dead weight at the gaming table and puts in a good word for all those “little details and mannerisms” that make roleplaying fun.
Mike Mearls was a lead developer on 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and is now the senior manager of the D&D Next team. Mearls co-wrote the 4E Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 with Greg Gorden and Robin D. Laws. He also wrote Mastering Iron Heroes, the game master’s guide to Malhovoc Press’s variant rules for heroic combat. Today, though, Mearls looks back to his early days of AD&D . . . and silent boulders.