Joseph Erwin – Freelance Dungeon Master

Join in the Adventures!

Environmental Encounters

Combat is a central part of a lot of RPGs. You can tell just how important it is by looking at the character sheet of a system and checking to see how much of it is dedicated to statistics and abilities which have direct bearing on combat (Strength modifiers, Class abilities, Weapons/Armor, etc.). This is by no means a strictly bad thing. Combat is a physical and visceral way to express the prowess of the characters, and when death is on the line as a potential consequence of losing combat, the struggle is very exciting! Some of our favorite stories in fiction (and in some cases, real life) culminate in a Big Fight, and it works very well narratively and mechanically.

That said: There is something to be said for non-combat or “environmental” encounters.

What are these? It’s hard to summarize due to the potential variety, but what it boils down to for me is this: An encounter or challenge in which the environment poses a constant, active threat to the characters (often times resolved using non-combat skills or attribute rolls).

This goes beyond just the traps and snares in a dungeon, which are largely passive until activated. Examples of environmental encounters would be thus:

The characters are on a sailing ship, crossing a body of water, when a storm whips up! The characters would have to rush about, freezing rain whipping their faces and clothes, desperately bailing water, furling sails, and battling against the wind as it strives to capsize the ship. Rolls for the characters would be to avoid damage from falls, temperature, or being swept overboard, and to enact repairs on the ship.

Another example would be: a catastrophic fire has swept the city, and now the characters must focus on extinguishing uncontrollable blazes, rescuing countless people, moving rubble, and pushing people in the direction of evacuation.

Another: While traveling in the mountains, a sudden avalanche strikes on a narrow pass! The characters need to flee or find shelter as hundreds of tons of snow pour down around them, closing in on them, tripping them up, and (in the worst of cases) burying them alive…

Exposure, getting lost in a deep forest, and struggling to force a space ship out of a dangerous overload are other ways of posing a threat which, while no “villainous NPCs” may be directly involved, can still cause great danger!

Published by Joe Erwin

I am an independent creator and GM with a deep love of storytelling and adventure! I desire most to share these things with others, and I hope to do that through my work and my writing.

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