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


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?


Contest Results (Finally)!

First of all, once again I apologize... This has been a hellish month, and had I known that it was going to end up like this I probably would have handled the contest differently. It is my first contest after all.

Due to my inability to focus in a time of adversity, I put the call out for judges. Four people responded (all of them have chosen to remain nameless), and one of those four never responded to me sending them information, so I'm basing the following results on the other three. Each judge was to take all five entries and rank five of them them in order from 5 (best) to 1 (worst). All three judges' score would then be added and the highest score (out of a possible 15 points) would be declared the winner.

Using that mechanism, after a few days of deliberation on their part, we ended up with a two-way tie for 1st place and a two-way tie for 3rd place.

Due to the delay in prize selection, and adding the fact that I did not choose to be the tiebreaker myself (if I wasn't capable of judging before, I don't consider it proper to be judging now), I have decided to award all four with a prize in one way or another.

After seeing all the entries, I did notice something: Although "standard" and "elite" monsters are pretty well defined and everyone handles them the same way more or less, the "solo" encounter is a whole other story. I've seen multiple ways that the request for a "solo" is encounter was interpreted... Some did a very basic and plain solo creature surrounded by traps and hazards. Others created a sort of hybrid, where it's one creature that goes through three elite stages (once the "elite" version of the monster is destroyed, it's replaced by a different version of it). And others didn't put many mechanics in to the encounter and preferred the story and the potential roleplaying aspects of the situation play out.

So here are the results, as chosen by my crack team of judges, in no particular order except for the prize grouping.

TIE FOR FIRST (no particular order)... Prize: Heroes of Shadow (or equivalent) from Wizards of the Coast

  • "The Fountains of Unbearable Grief" by Caoimhe Ora Snow (@dazedsaveends on Twitter): The background story won over most of the judges. It also includes a very detailed encounter area with a variety of different terrains, and the solo itself is quite the intriguing concept.
  • "Fountain of Sorrow" by The Id DM (@TheIDDM on Twitter): This was more than I personally expected and reads like a full adventure (it's close to being longer than most the other contest entries combined), complete with an adventure summary, a social scene leading up to the encounter, a random encounter table, custom magic items and more. I would have taken points off for making the enemy my name spelled backwards though, so be lucky I didn't judge it... 😉

HONORABLE MENTIONS, TIE FOR THIRD (no particular order)... Prize: $10 Amazon gift card

  • "Ego-Tastrophy" by Jeff Gupton of Blackbyrne Publishing (@BlkbyrnePublish on Twitter): It probably helped that two of the three judges were creative designers, and one of which is a published designer. Very straight up encounter against a golem, but the inclusion of a tactical map was nice. And the judges were simply fascinated with the name of the creature: the "Horace Brigland Borgtite Golem".
  • "Lair of the Tentacled Horror" by Raja (NOTE: PDF does not contain the area map; don't have access to it right now, so it will be posted separately soon): The judges liked the concept of a monster that spawned minions repeatedly (similar to SvD's Endless Hordes, but instead of being a separate hazard it's part of the creature's mechanics). Mixed that with a very Cthulhu-esque atmosphere and enemies (cultists and tentacles! Woo!)  and it looks quite entertaining. This was yet another submission that went above and beyond presenting more than just an encounter; it included an entire underground system of caverns through which the "tentacled horror" can pretty much move at will. PCs would probably have to slice through several tentacles shooting up from out of the water before the BBEC ("big bad evil cehalopod") shows up.

Thanks to everyone for their submissions. I promise the next contest will be simpler, will be easier for anyone to enter without much effort, and will be decided upon significantly faster.

If you are one of the winners above, please contact me privately (through email or through Twitter DM) to make arrangements.

I may include some of the other submissions in a future post; I don't know yet.