Saturday, March 7, 2009

Environmental Hazards

Something's been striking me as missing from Keep on the Shadowfell. Something that should be there, but isn't.

Well, plot, characterisation, cohesive adventure design, a wide range of monsters, and opportunities for roleplaying, obviously. But something else.

I eventually needed to run down the old-school dungeon checklist to work out what it was. Keep has goblinoids, magical items, nasty traps, incomprehensible magic, multiple dungeon levels, and even a riddle (which we're getting to, slowly).

What it doesn't have are environmental hazards, which I think is a great shame.

Rooms filled with gas, lava, or ice; rooms with gaping chasms and crumbling ceilings; rooms with slippery floors next to precipitous drops; thundering underground rivers and rickety bridges over umbral abysses; these are staples of the old-school dungeoneering tradition. They don't always make sense, but it's clear by this point that making sense isn't something that's greatly troubling Keep. It should have taken the next step and included this classic terrain.

Environmental hazards are great because they create atmosphere. They remind players that dungeons are dangerous because they are claustrophobic holes in the ground. They reinforce that what the players are doing is inherently dangerous, not merely dangerous because there might be monsters down here with them.

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