I’ve been reading about environmental challenges in tabletop roleplaying games and started thinking what examples I could come up with from this genre. I’m talking here of ways in which a combat encounter or character’s progress can be made more difficult by the elements around them.
In Dungeons & Dragons Online, water features in quite a few overland zones and dungeons. It can be a real danger to characters in heavy armour, in particular if they haven’t invested skill points in the swim skill. Drowning in this game is perfectly possible, so having a magical spell or item for waterbreathing can be a real boon on any character.
Water can also hide things. Whether it’s a sea cave that gives access to a dungeon portal, a waterfall hiding a tunnel or a sunken ship on the seabed – there can be a lot of reasons to venture into the water. Just keep an eye on your breath meter…
It’s a standard MMORPG trope that bad players “stand in the fire” in boss fights. Fire is used quite a lot in all games to add threat to boss fight or to keep player characters moving.
It can also be a more integrated aspect of a zone, magma zones are surprisingly common. Admittedly the full environmental effects likely to be experienced by your character in such a zone are usually ignored – it’s not usual for characters to need fire resistance items to avoid continuous damage from even being that close to magma (and the heated air likely to be there).
But falling into magma is a pretty sure way for your character to burn to a crisp rather quickly. There’s often not much you can do to avoid the fate, magma tends to be placed so your character can fall to an inevitable death if careless.
Perhaps the environmental threat that I’ve encountered the least in MMORPGs is the air around my character. The threat of air is less obvious and likely to be differentiated from fire or anything else that you just need to “get away from”. Cloud attacks such as poison gas is certainly indistinguishable in boss fights from fire other than the obvious colour difference. Both damage characters standing in them, both usually last for a time to make areas of the combat area hazardous.
More subtle uses of air are more likely to concentrate not on damaging your character, but by doing what else strong winds can do – for example, move things. Being thrown in the air can be damaging to your character, well unless you happen to have feather fall or similar means to soften the landing afterwards.
In this sense, and beyond boss mechanics that throw your character about, the air in a dungeon or zone can be a challenge in terms of speed of movement. If the dungeons is very vertical then moving through the air can be quite the shortcut.
There’s even that rare example, in World of Warcraft at least, where air is a barrier to simply moving forward – a movement puzzle of sorts.
What environmental challenges (elemental or otherwise) are most memorable to you?