A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

11May/11Off

Hazard: Calming Waters

Hazard - Calming Waters

Don't drink the water...

WARNING: If you're one of my players, this might contain spoilerific material!

I have a bit of a quandary, and figured this was as good a place as any to talk about it... Well, at least here you can speak in blurbs larger than 140 characters anyway.

As part of my campaign, I have one room that in addition to a lot of bad guys and a few other traps there is a stream of shallow water. This water - what I refer to as a Calming Waters hazard - heals the creature that touches them quite a bit (gain a used healing surge or recover your surge value in hit points, +5 temporary hit points, make an immediate save versus an effect), but that wave of healing energy is so powerful and overwhelming that it has a nasty side effect: it knocks you unconscious for at least one full turn.

In a non-combat situation that's all well and good; if a player chooses to drink from the water, well, that's his prerogative. And if he falls asleep because of it he can wake up (eventually). But what if this is a combat situation?

In the same room I have some bad guys, guys that may not even know themselves the power of the water, so they do not know how much of a tactical advantage it would be if their enemy would simply keel over and fall asleep if they so much as touched it. But they will enter combat the same way they would against any other foe, using the powers that come naturally to them. In this case, they have powers that perform forced movement (Thunderwave, for example), so it is conceivable that they could push their enemies in to the water without intending to do that in the first place.

Question: If someone is force moved in to this hazard, do they get a saving throw?

There are some factors to consider here...

First off, if you force move an enemy in to "hindering terrain", they get a saving throw; that rule is pretty cut and dry. For the record, here's the text from "Forced Movement" in the original Dungeon Master's Guide:

Hindering Terrain: Forced movement can force targets into hindering terrain. Targets forced into hindering terrain receive a saving throw immediately before entering the unsafe square they are forced into. Success leaves the target prone at the edge of the square before entering the unsafe square.

...and the text for "Hindering Terrain" from the Rules Compendium:

A type of terrain that hinders creatures, usually by damaging them. Examples: Pits, lava, and deep water. A creature can make a saving throw when it is pulled, pushed, slid, or teleported into hindering terrain.

But is it really hindering terrain? I can't help but think that the concept of whether a patch of land is "unsafe" is up to interpretation by the creature. The enemy may not know it's hindering terrain or that it poses a threat, choosing simply to walk safely around it and not get their feet wet. "Pits, lava and deep water" are pretty clearly dangerous, so an enemy would have it in his best interests to avoid them, but the calm waters are visually nothing more than a shallow (no more than a foot deep), crystal clear pool of water. To the naked eye, it's only difficult terrain until something comes in contact with it.

So if I were a player who got pushed in to the water and the DM tells me "make a saving throw", my first question would be "why?" The act of making the saving throw indicates to me that the water *is* dangerous, something that I probably didn't have any idea of beforehand. It immediately ruins the illusion that the water is either harmless or can have a positive effect.

My issue isn't about saving throws during the entire encounter... My issue is with the first saving throw, when a blissfully unaware creature finds themselves ankle deep in really soothing water until they black out.

The way I handled it before is that the first time it happened that person would not get a saving throw, and the hazard would attack normally. If it missed, they would still not know it is "unsafe", so others that went in wouldn't get a save either. But from the first time it hits and knocks out a target, everyone gets a save.

If this were "fourthcore", there wouldn't be a doubt: you're going in whether you like it or not. Actually, the waters probably wouldn't even get an attack roll and knock you on your ass instantly, but that's not quite the case here. 😉

What do you think?

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  1. Mm, I dunno, I like the idea, however, there are a few “buts.”
    First of all, if I’d be the enemy and saw someone in the water heal and fall asleep at the same time, I’d say “kill him before he does that again” – a couple of free coup-de-graces aren’t really worth the healing, I’d say.
    Second, as you stated, the water does affect the enemy. If this plays out wrong, the encounter could go on forever, people splashing about, getting healed all the time… until someone starts solving that with the aforementioned coup-de-graces.

    Now here’s what I’d suggest: Make the water a true hazard. Make it deep so people would want to avoid it in the first place. If someone does fall in, make them float downstream, perhaps… The faster the better. The party would have to think fast how to get their allies out of there before they float too far away from the fray, while enemies, outmatched, could use it as the perfect way to save their hides.

    Hey, everyone wins!

  2. What do I think? I think the rule on forced movement into hindering terrain is an odd bit of gamism that breaks logical immersion and should be modified. I think that any character should be able to fall prone to negate any forced movement regardless of the nature of the terrain.

    If I can fall prone to avoid being pulled into a pit or into deep water, why can’t I fall prone to avoid being pulled anywhere else? What is it about a 10′ deep pool of water that changes whether or not I can fall prone that is not equally true about a 1/2″ deep puddle?

    With this approach – the players may choose to allow themselves to be pulled into the water at first and that will be there choice (better to get wet than fall prone). And after they learn of that they will most likely choose to go prone instead.

    However, if you stick to the rules as published, I would rule that the terrain is hindering (it harms the characters when they enter it) – whether they know it is or not – and thus they would be allowed a save.

    Carl


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