“Inspiring Terrains” looks at encounters—fundamental building blocks that bring together PCs, conflict, and environment. With a little inspiration and a few mechanical bits, it’s easy to make the terrain in an encounter just as memorable as the foes. [Part 1][Part 2]
Stagnant Water, Sucking Mud
Fen, bog, marsh, swamp—whatever the name, standing water and thick mud define the unique environment of the swamp. The slowly moving water saturates the soil, clumping it into low hillocks and thick layers of silt. Dead plants and rotting animals do not wash away. Instead, they suffuse the area with a fetid odor of decay and fertilize the life that remains. Still water, oozing mire, and a profusion of life endure year-round…
(Technically, fens, bogs, marshes, and swamps are distinct environments. Likewise, a subarctic wetland will feel quite different from a tropical mire. The default assumption here is a temperate marsh, but many of the powers can be adapted to swamps in different environments. For instance, the springtime power caught in the flow would be appropriate for the monsoon season of a tropical marsh.)
To use a swamp most effectively, highlight the wet and muddy conditions. Review the swimming rules for areas of open water, and consider making much or all of the sodden land difficult terrain. Characters or monsters who become familiar with life in the fen can use its nature to their advantage.
Air through a Reed (At-Will Terrain)
Hollow reeds, tightly woven tussocks of papyrus, air trapped under lily pads—you know where the fen teems with hidden air pockets.
Requirement You must be underwater in a swamp.
Check Nature (easy DC)—You find hidden air pockets
Success You need neither to surface for breath nor to make an Endurance check to avoid the consequences of drowning.
Note PCs can use this power in two different ways: first, air-breathing PCs can fight underwater with less risk; more commonly, though, PCs can sneak up on foes by moving underwater (be sure to give the PCs the appropriate bonuses to their Stealth checks for hiding submerged within the brackish pools).
Caught in the Flow (At-Will Terrain)
The Spring Surge. As the months pass, the swamp changes—making it a very different location than the last time the PCs visited. In spring, as sunshine melts the snow and vernal rainstorms bring rushing floods, the marsh fills to the brim with water. Plants return to life, animals venture from their dens, and the swamp awakens from its winter slumber. The excess water creates otherwise-rare currents through the mire.
You catch your enemy in the unexpectedly flowing water, moving it farther than you normally would.
Requirement You must use a power which forces an enemy to move from, to, or through a square containing water.
Check Perception check (easy DC)—You notice the flow of water.
Success Those undergoing forced movement move 1 square/tier farther.
Target Each enemy undergoing forced movement
Attack Level + 3 vs. Fortitude
Hit Target is knocked prone
Miss Target stays upright but still moves farther
Do-feel-um (Single-Use Terrain)
Summer Swarms. Months of water and sun have fed the teeming life of the swamp. Nymphs hatch into mayflies, worms breed thousands of creeping young, and flies seem to multiply by the minute.
You disturb the reeds and shake the trees, dislodging a swarm of angry insects.
Requirement You must be adjacent to a square containing plant life. (In a swamp, virtually every square meets this requirement.)
Check Athletics check (moderate DC)—You disturb the resting insects. You may fall prone as part of the standard action to avoid the attack.
Success A swarm of vermin rises to harass its perceived enemies.
Target Each non-prone creature in a close burst 2 centered on the triggering square
Attack Level + 3 vs. AC
Hit Ongoing 5 damage/tier (save ends)
Frigid Sinkhole (Single-Use Terrain)
Winter’s Thin Rime. Winter cold stiffens the mud and freezes the top layer of water. Beneath the seeming safety of the ice, though, lie pockets of stagnant, chilled liquid.
You knock your foe through the hardened top layer of the swamp into a freezing pocket of water.
Requirement You must hit a foe with an attack.
Check Nature check (moderate DC)—You find freezing swamp water hidden beneath the surface.
Success Freezing water soaks your foe.
Target Creature hit by your attack
Attack Level + 3 vs. Reflex
Hit Ongoing 5 cold damage/tier (save ends)
Read the Ripples (At-Will Terrain)
Water lapping against the reeds where it shouldn’t reveals the presence of an underwater creature.
Requirement You must be within a body of water or able to see the surface of a body of water.
Check Perception (hard DC)—You notice small ripples and minor disturbances in the water
Success You gain tremorsense 5/tier against creatures within or passing through that body of water until the beginning of your next turn.
Note Because the results of this power depend on how the bodies of water in the encounter are connected, the GM should decide on the boundaries of the various pools in the encounter before play. The simplest choice is to have all the water in a swamp be connected, although this makes read the ripples a more powerful power.
Skip over the Lilies (At-Will Terrain)
Falling Leaves. No less than on dry land, the shorter days and cooler nights of fall cause swamp plants to die back, shedding leaves and vines in their last preparations for winter. Water levels reach their annual nadir. Between the drier land and the copious plant matter, travel through the swamp is easiest in the autumn.
Stepping lightly from solid ground to lily pad and from hanging vine to decaying log, you make your way across open water as easily as you would across dry land.
Requirement You must move over 1 or more squares of water or mud.
Check Acrobatics check (hard DC)—You step adroitly from one solid landing to the next.
Success You pass over water or mud as if it were solid land, neither taking a penalty to your movement nor falling into the water.
Note This power must be used in conjunction with a move action. If the Acrobatics check fails, the movement suffers whatever consequences ensue from passage along its route (for instance, falling into the water).
Swamp Hunter (Terrain Mastery Boon)
Use this boon to reward a player after a series of encounters in the soggy fen.
Your body has become accustomed to throwing off the baleful effects of the swamps. You recover from disease more quickly, and you have learned to extricate yourself from confinement.
Lvl 3 680 gp
Lvl 13 17,000 gp
Terrain Mastery Boon
Property You gain a +5 bonus to Endurance checks made to fight off disease.
Power (free; daily)
For the remainder of the encounter, you may save at both the beginning and the end of your turn against the slowed condition. If you save successfully but then once more become slowed, you may continue to save 2/turn.
Level 13—As above, but you may save against the immobilized and the slowed conditions.
What lies hidden within the wet, sticky, bug-infested swamp?