With Hurricane Irene churning away in the Atlantic Ocean this week, my thoughts turned to adverse weather and its effects. The scene of a battle in the midst of pouring rain, say like the Battle of Helms Deep in the Lord of the Rings movies, is one of those atmospheric pieces (no pun intended) that amp up the drama of any situation and that, by all means, should be brought to a game. But how exactly? It could be done entirely in description, with the weather simply being there for mood. It could be done with pages and pages of weather-specific rules that detail every single possible effect of rain on the field of battle. Or it could be done with a combination of the two that brings mood into the scene and adds some rules for that extra effect borne out of the specific environmental situation. In short, Environmental Stunts.

These kinds of Stunts were introduced in an adventure in the Blood in Ferelden sourcebook (I won’t say where or in what context to avoid spoilers) to great effect. During the battle in which they are relevant, these specially available Stunts offer players specific neat effects that enhance the drama of the combat in ways which make sense given where/what they are fighting. The idea is a fantastic one and worthy of extrapolating to other areas.

The biggest problem with Environmental Stunts is that they can be as varied as you want them to be, so it is near impossible to create a master list for them.  Yes, we could sit down and compile a list of the most common environmental hazards and hash out a handful of Stunts for each, but even then we’d end up with a list at least 25-30 items long. The game designer and publisher in me smiles in glee at that idea, but the pragmatist wins this round: what made the Stunts in Blood in Ferelden work is that they were customized to the situation at hand and dealt with very specific events tied to that combat. That right there is the key to Environmental Stunts: make them specific and relevant to the situation at hand.

As a general rule, remember that in AGE, less is more: design a handful of Stunts at most; three is about just right. Ideally, you’ll have a nice mix of costs allowing characters to access these neat Environmental Stunts no matter what their Dragon Die roll is. Start with a low-cost Stunt that lays the thematic foundation for the environment with a small but cinematic game effect. Follow it up with a mid-cost option that brings in a bit more interaction with the environment and round it off with a high-cost Stunt that truly shows the danger of this special environment. With these three options covered, you’ll have added a significant thematic layer to your game that showcases that exciting weather or location you all envisioned in your mind.

In addition, Environmental Stunts can also be paired with crafty creatures that make good use of their lairs. In these cases, the creatures may spend Stunt Points on behalf of the terrain to hinder the characters while they take full advantage of their home turf. Lastly, you can combine environmental and location-based Stunts which build off each other to create exciting dramatic opportunities.

All that said, however, keep in mind that not every single environment needs to have Stunts attached to it. Sometimes a snowstorm is just a snowstorm and at most will impede visibility and movement, a case of slapping a -1 or -2 penalty to those two actions and moving on. That isn’t to say that you can’t create some basic Environmental Stunts tied to some common weather effects to have as quick reference or as building blocks. A snowstorm may be just run of the mill, but a heavy snowstorm may already be the launching point for a couple of low-cost Stunt options, which can then be the foundation of a set of Stunts tied to a Blizzard.

Let’s create a simple scenario–heavy rains–that we can then build a couple of Stunts for as an example.

Heavy Rains

More than just your typical rainstorm but not quite a major storm system, heavy rains still dump a handful of inches of water over a period of time and generally make a day miserable until they pass. In some areas they are as regular as clockwork, showing up every day around the same time during the rainy season.
Any character may use a Heavy Rains Stunt at any point by spending the listed amount of Stunt Points.

SP

Stunt

1

Concealing Deluge: You use the pouring rain to your tactical advantage. Attacks against you suffer a -1 penalty.

2

Mud Slip: You make an enemy lose its footing and slip in the mud. The enemy is knocked prone and must use a minor action to stand up again.

3

Wading Through Molasses: The thick mud and puddles make movement arduous, which you exploit to your benefit. Any enemy that moves toward you in the next turn has their move halved and may not run.

These Stunts are just a quick example of what can be done to enhance a particular environment. Concealing Deluge takes advantage of the non-stop rain by offering a base effect for the environment. I toyed with adding an extra penalty for ranged attacks, but opted to keep things simple. The message is clear: the deluge makes visibility an issue and a crafty warrior will use this to their advantage. Likewise with Mud Slip, an example of how you can take a standard Combat Stunt (Knock Prone) and add a thematic flair to it to tie it into the environment. Wading Through Molasses picks up the thread from Mud Slip but twists it towards movement, using the muddy terrain to hinder enemy movements. Coupled with Taunt, for example, it creates an interesting combat situation.

In the next post, we will present a more unique environmental scenario that builds off the above and adds more customized options based on the weather system.

Go forth and create neat and interesting Environmental Stunts for your games. Bring the awesome of scenes set in adverse weather and strange settings to the table and share them with us when you do.

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