by Mike Shea on 15 February 2016
Dungeons and Dragons games give us an unlimited special effects budget. Powered by our combined imaginations, we can create entire worlds that simply cannot exist in our own universe. Any boundaries we place on these worlds are placed there by us. Any limitations are our own whether intended or not.
Expanding our imaginations and breaking out of these limitations can give us and our players truly fantastic locations to explore and in which to do battle.
Today were going to look at ten fantastic encounter locations. These ten locations are intended to seed your imagination when building your own locations or to be lifted and used directly.
Think of these as a taste of the places you'll find in the upcoming book, Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations.
You will note that some of these locations do not work well on a gridded battle map. You are free to either figure out how to conform it to one or try your hand at running narrative combat. In fact, these locations are designed to show both players and DMs how narrative combat supports such wonderful battle arenas.
Each fantastic encounter location includes read-aloud text you can use directly or paraphrase, a description of the location, and area aspects which highlight potential interactive elements of the location. You are intended to use these features however you see fit. They might simply be flavor, players might come up with something interesting to do with them, or you might tie a mechanical effect to them. Use whatever would make the encounter more fun and interesting.
These encounter locations don't include any story or monsters. Add whatever monsters and whatever story hooks fit your game.
The energy of creation and destruction roars around you. Slabs of cooled black iron float in a sea of fire and electricity. A blast of violet lightning strikes a nearby iron island, sending it flipping over into the chaotic sea. A great crystal pulses with red and black energy, the heart of the Abyss itself.
Area Aspects: Islands of black iron, bolts of violet chaos energy, the pulsing abyssal heart.
The PCs begin standing on unstable slabs of black iron floating over the sea of the chaotic energy that forms the Abyss. The slabs shift and move, some flipping over as bolts of violet energy crack across the surface.
You stand on the links of a great chain, suspended hundreds of feet over the sea of molten iron below. Each link of the chain must weight as much as a castle. Each of the links in the chain is decorated in large dwarven glyphs of power. Far off, a great creak echoes and the chain shifts, sending the link ahead of you over from one side to the other.
Area Aspects: Massive shifting chain links, dwarven glyphs of power.
What connects the chains at either end is up to you. The PCs are able to cross the chain without difficulty until they engage in combat. The movement of a large weight can shift a link about twenty degrees with a great thunderous screech. Who can say what power the dwarves infused into those glyphs.
The thick strands of this web stretch over the cliffside and down into the bottomless abyss. Cocoons of creatures, some dead and some still weakly wiggling, sit embedded in the nearly vertical web. What beast lies at its center fills the nightmares of those who look upon it.
Area Aspects: Thick sticky web strands, mysterious cocoons.
Hanging nearly vertical, those that wish to climb the web find the large sticky strands both helpful and frustrating. Moving is painfully slow, requiring great patience to not tear one's self free and fall into the abyss below. The web is highly flammable, burning large sections into ash and sending anything within those sections into the pits.
Red gem-filled eyes shine in the upper shadows of this cyclopean idol. It's twisted grin seems to leer at those who would dare attempt to ascend its surface. A necklace of demonic faces, each twisted into shapes of rage and agony, circles the colossal idol's neck. Thick iron spikes pierce out of the idol's stone surface, many covered with a strange tarry black liquid.
Area Aspects: Black-coated iron spikes, shining gemmed eyes, twisted demonic skull necklace.
Nooks and crannies within the idol's surface can hold all manner of monster protecting the statue and feeding off of it's dark power. The spikes may in fact be poisoned or simply coated with the blood of former victims. The upper reaches of the statue is said to contain a wondrous treasure.
Massive stones orbit and collide above the swirling sea of storms below. Great gusts of wind crash against the motes, sending them spinning outward or smashing into one another. Hail of sharp rocks tear across some of the motes without warning. A bolt of black lightning strikes a nearby rock, stealing its strange magic and sending it hurling below.
Area Aspects: Colliding stones, wind gusts, rock hail, anti-magic bolts.
Combat on the rift motes is hideously difficult. Even those who can fly or levitate can find themselves smashed between two orbiting rocks. Bolts of static electricity that seems to dispel magic makes things even more disruptive. Only fools would hope to defeat their foes among the motes.
In all the ages known to mortals, the beast has walked its path. Great spines and scales cover it's massive back, the plates shifting as the beast moves. Cracks in its shell reveal it's layers of fiery skin beneath the scales. The beast takes little notice of those who ride on its back, for the lion does not hunt flies, but it may choose to swat them if the annoyance becomes too great.
Area Aspects: Shifting scales, fiery skin below, the great swatting of flies.
This beast may take any form relevant to the situation, be it a giant turtle, a huge frog, or a massive dragon that soars in the skies above. It is a creature none know how to kill even for those that would want to. For even the greatest villain cannot stand the thought of bringing such an ancient creature to death.
A mile high waterfall flows down from the rocks above into the valley below. Sharp rocks and deep fissures offer just enough purchase to ascend the brutal wall. Rainbows swim in the misty clouds, a faint song in their wake, beckoning those who dare climb the sheer rocks to end their tormented journey with one last embrace of the wind.
Area Aspects: Mile-high falls, singing rainbows, razor-sharp rocks.
This vast waterfall contains numerous tunnels and alcoves from which assailants might attack those who dare climb the waterfall. Aerial monsters in particular are fond of attacking quarry too distracted with the climb to give much of a fight.
Large circular cages of wrought iron hang from huge rusted chains that disappear into the darkness above. The cages swing eternally back and fourth, momentum carried by centuries of inertia. Sharp spikes pierce out from the wrought iron of the cages to dissuade any attempt at rescue. The cage doors have no locks, the dead space below serves as the only lock they need.
Area Aspects: Huge swinging cages, spiked bars, antimagic shell.
An eternal prison for the damned, the environment around the hanging cells prevents any form of magic from taking root. Those placed in the cells are soon forgotten, their very lives stripped from the collective memory of those who once knew them.
Massive crystalline titans have collapsed and shattered here, their broken bodies spanning a deep gorge. A strange resonance echoes off of the stone walls, its volume rising and lowering. Deep cracks and razor sharp edges line the titanic statues. In the chasm below, the crushed crystal forms a bed of lethal razor-sharp glass shards.
Area Aspects: Huge titans of glass, pool of shards below, harmonic resonance in the air.
These huge crystal titans form a bridge over an otherwise impassible gorge. Formed by heroes and monsters of old, the titanic statues now threaten to crumble underfoot. A well-timed resonance may shatter the columns, sending those atop them into the flesh-flaying pools below.
Former D&D designer Rodney Thompson once remarked on the "three Fs" of good locations: fantastic, familiar, and functional. We can use all three of these to build our locations, beginning with what makes the location unique and memorable to our players. Next we play off of our players' experiences to make the locations realistic, at least in game-world terms. Finally we build in what makes this location functional for both PCs and NPCs.
Beginning with three simple phrases that define the world (the notable features above, for example) can help us build an interesting location our players will remember for years to come.
If you enjoyed these encounter locations, they are just a taste of the upcoming book, Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations, available this summer.
If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master and Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide.