The throne room is lavishly decorated, floored in gold and purple tiles. At the head of the room, a single throne sits on a raised dais. There, next to the throne, Alcinia’s white rabbit twitches within a small cage. The party advances into the room. Behind them, the door swings closed. The two foxes whom the party have been seeing throughout the mansion enter the room from a door near the throne, followed by a woman in a mask. The Trickster Queen has finally revealed herself. One member of the party steps forward in an attempt to convince the queen to release the rabbit. She insists that the party has not amused her enough yet.
The foxes attack and the room begins to change. First, the room lose gravity. Physical attacks become more difficult to land, and the party and foxes both resort to magic. A round of fireballs and lightning bolts seem to defeat the enemies. The foxes lay still but the room changes again. The room flips upside down. There is no effect on the floating players other than a brief moment of disorientation. Despite her throne now being on the ceiling, the queen sits patiently. With a wave of her hand, the foxes appear in front of her. A magical light surrounds them until a giant dire fox stands in front of the queen. It jumps back into the fray, brushing off minor magic attacks from the party and turning invisible. Again, the room changes. Where there had once been purple floor tiles, there are now squares of lava. That’s right, the floor is lava. The players now have to worry about what happens if gravity gets turned back on.
Throughout the fight, things continue to change. Not only must the party deal with a magical, invisible, dire fox, they must also contend with a raging storms, lava bubbles, complete darkness, an inability to communicate, and a player becoming a teapot. At the end of the fight, the Trickster Queen laughs, professes herself amused, and the mansion dissolves around them, leaving the party standing in an open field with a pile of treasure.
I was quite proud of this fight. Throughout the mansion, the players had been walking into a room only to have an odd effect activate. I had marked certain rooms on my map and every time the party entered, I would roll from a chart of effects. They ranged from random encounters to weapons becoming marmalade to character mind-swapping (each player had to pass their character sheet to a different player until everyone was someone else). I had a total of 20 effects meaning, unfortunately, that not all of them got to be used within the house. So my goal in the boss fight was to roll one every round, compounding the environmental effects the longer the party lasted in the fight and letting the players experience all of the craziness that I had written.
The environment of an adventure can be more than just a setting. There are intrinsic challenges to the jungle or an icy mountain that are not present in a desert. My dire fox boss fight took place in a Wonderland type setting, so my goal was to mimic the challenges of Wonderland. Alice never knows where she is or what rules she will be expected to play by next. She gets bigger, and smaller, and falls through endless holes, and at some point her tears become an ocean. So, I had ridiculous things happen seemingly at random to my players. Zugg even ended up eating his plate armor when it turned into chocolate.
As another example, an adventure that I played in recently centered around a water temple (yes, just like in Legend of Zelda). It featured floors of puzzles with switches that changed the water level and rooms that would drown you if you didn’t rig them right. Zugg got chased by hydras. It was rad. Water was the environmental challenge. We had to carefully ration out our water breathing potions to ensure that we could get through the dungeon. This also meant that we couldn’t take long rests for fear of wasting the time in which the potions were active. Not only that, but we had to be conscious of how our spells would change when underwater or surrounded by water. Electricity spells could shock your friends, fire spells were less effective, sonic spells were doubly effective.
If a player is smart, they will try to use the advantages provided by an environment while avoiding the pitfalls. These types of challenges provide another layer to your adventure and can also result in some pretty creative player solutions to problems. If you’re struggling to come up with challenges for your environment, get some inspiration from the Legend of Zelda games or another game franchise with diverse settings.
Sally forth and create havoc!
Baby DM out.