In a world where compendiums filled with monsters abound, there is no shortage of baddies to hurl at PCs. But sometimes an enemy is best left unseen and unexplained. And I’m not just talking about casting invisibility either. Judging by its title, Fantastic Terrain by Crit Academy and Justin Handlin may sound like a resource for navigating bogs or hills. But the reality is these terrains are “sources of energy” wherein players face unseen hazards, some more meaningful than others, depending on who’s around.
There are plenty of ways you can hurt a man
And bring him to the ground
~Queen – “Another One Bites the Dust”
Writer(s): Crit Academy and Justin Handlin
Publisher: DMs Guild
Product Length: 41 pages
Available Format(s): PDF
This accessory is pretty straightforward. The author wastes little time getting to the good stuff. There are no reminders to “make the game your own” or to paraphrase or edit anything as you see fit. I like that. I think by now it’s understood that DMs always have that option. Reminders are unnecessary.
The best way I can describe what this resource contains is to say it’s filled with environmental hazards. Yet even that doesn’t completely do it justice as that conjures up images of sandstorms, floods, and the like. Basically, this is the resource you’ll consult if you want something to slow your players’ progress when things like traps, locked doors, caltrops, or stinking cloud feel too pedestrian. These hindrances range from the physical to the metaphysical. Sick of the wizard circumventing your best obstacles with spells you forgot he had? Throw in an “Antimagic Zone” and let him rely on his wits for an alternative.
Each entry, and there are over fifty, has a great description of what it is followed by an example of its usage. This isn’t done pedantically. The author doesn’t assume our ignorance. It’s just a useful tool to spur us on. To illustrate my point, I’ll discuss one of my favorite entries in a little more detail.
“This metallic green ooze-like substance is a mixture of acid and quicksilver. ‘Quick Sear’ is usually found in small puddles no larger than a 5-foot radius circle.”
Right away we know what quick sear is and where to find it. In just two sentences we know whether it’s a likely candidate for our adventure or not. If the players will be traipsing around a place where a greenish puddle is unseemly, we move on. But if we’re talking about a ruined wizard’s tower, we can consider it. “Quick Sear” grants resistance to lightning damage to anyone who enters or ends their turn in the puddle. However, that character must also succeed on a DC12 Constitution saving throw or take 11 acid damage (half as much on a success). Not all of the terrains give a boon and a bane. But I like that this one does.
The author suggests the obvious: making this a still puddle that a player may walk across. But makes another suggestion that it could be contained in a jar (an easily broken one) or at the top of some stairs where it could run down towards the characters.
Some terrains are physical, like “Quick Sear”. Some of them I can’t imagine using to good effect. I didn’t love some of them such as “Confused Gravity”. It’s exactly how it sounds. Gravity gets confused and instead of attracting bodies downward, towards the ground, it may reverse and pull up. Or east. West. Meh.
But all in all, these are mostly great considerations for your adventures. I find them particularly useful for adjusting an adventure for unexpected party levels without having to resort to doubling the number of kobold encounters, for example. You can boost an NPC’s lethality quickly by adding “Conjurors’ Bemoan” or suggest an alternative route by including “Razorvine” and do so without railroading your players.
Perhaps the most distracting is inconsistent font sizes. Usually, this happens when someone is trying to adjust a vertical alignment within a text. The font scales up or down to fill the space. I’m not sure that’s what happened in the example below though because the increased font size/weight carries into the next column.
But don’t let my pettiness on the production mislead you. Content is king. And Fantastic Terrain reigns supreme in that regard. It’s incredibly useful and imaginative. We should all be so lucky to face them in our adventures. Gilles Deleuze once wrote, “You never walk alone. Even the devil is the lord of flies.” I like to think of that as meaning that just because an enemy is unseen, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
- wide variety of options covering several occasions
- easy scaling for party level/size appropriateness
- straightforward approach
- minor layout issues with font size and image feathering