Monday, February 29, 2016

Terrain Hazards: Labyrinth

Labyrinths. Kinda like a maze, kinda not? I mean, I think I remember a piece of pedantic trivia, that a true labyrinth isn't a maze with dead ends and the like, but just an expertly crafted winding path that fills a given area. But in any case, that's not a super important distinction for what we are going for. Combat in a labyrinth is more of a distraction from the actual encounter that is the maze, but what kind of interesting properties can we apply to combat when in a labyrinth? Let's find out.

Weird Geometry

Painting by renowned artist,
MC Hammer
I mean, I like tactical combat mats, and this doesn't lend itself so well, but this could have profound implications if attempted.  If you retreat backwards one step up a wall, do you really retreat any further? If you fall prone in a corner, are you still standing if your feet can touch the wall? Falling damage? Arrows? Everything can be weird. Maybe people that rely on projectiles all have penalties as if they were shooting upwards, and maybe flying characters need to roll against aerobatics every time they move to stay airborne. Perhaps monsters are used to the irregular orientation and don't suffer penalties. This also gives a chance to shine for someone with 3d spatial sense or absolute direction.


Of course, mazes are already confusing enough, but what if a battle field has regular portals that can take a player from one side to the other? What if the entire field is encircled? There would then be no way to absolutely protect weaker "back row" fighters if monsters could just turn around and attack them from behind, but doing that means that the monsters expose their own backsides. If we combine this terrain feature with a monster that has 360 degree vision, we create a situation where every player has to watch each other's backs against a monster that can easily attack someone from behind every time someone makes a hasty move.
Fast characters could use these portals for building up momentum for unusually powerful slam attacks, and if movable, you can borrow a page right from the portal games of allowing an object to fall for quite some time before launching it at extraordinary force at a target. A monster or a weak wall might both be interestingly valid choices in a confusing maze.

Cheating via Climbing the Walls

Hey, your thief paid good points for perfect balance and climbing, jumping, and acrobatics. Someone that can climb on top of the walls of a maze can have a fantastic advantage in short-circuiting the maze, but also in staying protected. Of course this does not preclude enemy encounters from using the same techniques against players.
On the other hand, someone abusing this technique might not have good line of sight of all the enemies that might be aiming at him or her from below, who might have an exceptionally good shot at this plain as day target. Consider the effect of walls to both those above and those below. If you have a maze in a setting like this, consider how you will incentivize the party to stay together as well.

Ever Present Pursuer

This is less a terrain feature of labyrinths and more like an important trope set piece. Often times, confusing mazes are meant as traps for unspeakable beast. The fact that a maze that anyone can enter or exit at will speaks volumes to how well built and confusing a maze can be, if there just so happens to have been a beast that has lived there for some time that still hasn't managed to escape. The ever present danger of being caught might be incentive to attempt to blow through enemy combatants instead of fighting. An interesting twist is if enemy characters are acclimated to life in the labyrinth, they might pick up on more subtle clues the players don't know and scatter before they understand the danger they are in. The surprise of a SM +4 worm that fills an entire tunnel frame soon after with impossibly high stats to defeat (well, they can try, I guess) can lend some interesting urgency to finding one's way out of the maze.


A common theme in some mazes. A house of mirrors might be represented as one encounter with several 1 HP "dummies" representing the reflections in mirrors. Fog is also a popular mechanic in mazes that might give visual penalties. Strange acoustics from perfectly shaped walls might lead the party astray if trying to listen for audio cues.

Other Thoughts and Closing

All these ideas feel a bit mechanically soft this time, but I think that each could spice up a somewhat mundane fight in an interesting ways. Regular geometries and narrow spaces are both relevant as well, giving characters a way to find cover without moving far by going around a bend. I think mazes are more a good way to let someone else be the star of the show than the fighters, but they don't have to be devoid of combat challenges either. I mean, the Minotaur in Crete is a story all about a maze and a fight, so there is that.

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