Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Gust of Ideas

"We are flying high, there's no way to say goodbye" - DJ Splash, Flying High

In the last post, I wrote about water and water encounters.  My good friend Rob (who plays Murph, a character you will see later in this post) made a request that I write about all four elements (earth, air, fire, water).  I thought it was a good idea, and so, I happy to be here writing my ideas about air.

The most common thing seen with air magic is wind.  You create gusts and whirlwinds, or you spin around like Link in the Legend of Zelda games.  There are plenty of spells and abilities that represent this, so being one attuned with air shouldn't be hard to play.

However, the biggest benefit of harnessing air gives is the ability to fly.  The pixie races already starts out with this ability, and other classes can pick it up depending on what they level up into.  Drow can take the levitation ability as a racial utility power, or they can gain it by taking the Bregan D'aerthe Spy theme.  Other races (non-drow) can gain the ability to fly through other theme powers.  Windlord, from Heroes of the Elemental Chaos, is probably the most obvious choice, but there are others like Wizard's Apprentice that give you the option as well.

For most characters though, the ability to fly is going to be gained through magic items.  I started to browse through the Compendium again, but the list was so huge that I opted not to give a list.  One can find items that possess powers that grant flight pretty easily.  The next easiest way to give them the ability to fly is by riding flying mounts.  More on this below.

Encounter wise, I've been toying with the idea of a fight amongst the clouds, with PC's jumping and flying between platforms.  I'm a huge fan of the 3D terrain elements from the Harrowing Halls and the Deserts of Athas Dungeon Tiles (if you want to make me happy, just give me a set.  I can always use more 3D tiles). 

My friend P@ has long talked about the idea of a floating castle in the sky.  The idea finally made it into our world as Cloud Keep.  However, this location has never been explored, just simply placed on the map.  I've been brainstorming what kind of a place this is (with P@'s contribution), and toyed with a lot of ideas myself.  I think a battle amongst the clouds on flying platforms makes sense in a location such as Cloud Keep.  I could also see it being located among a djinn's palace or something fantastic in that regard.  I got out my dungeon tiles and began constructing a rough area connected by bridges and floating platforms.  To me, it could be slightly more refined, but the whole thing was pretty inspiring, and sometimes you just need to start laying tiles down.

The heroes battle a gang of hired drow amongst the clouds.
I used a regular wet erase battle map to lay the 3D tiles on.  This divides the "sky" part of the battlefield into spaces, which can help the players visualize things like distances.  It also helps me keep track of where things are.

In the foreground, Murph the cleric grapples with a drow.  Behind him, an elevated drow prepares to fight Kat while she rides her hippogriff, launching spells at her foe.  Alfred the Wise guards the bridge, while Caitrisana picks her next target.
Using dice is an easy way to keep track of how many squares above the map the figures are.  It's not totally to scale, but 1 die = 1 square is just an easy way to keep track of what's going on.  I don't believe that you really need some sort of 4 inch tall platform to show the levitating drow.  It would become too easy to get knocked over.  The effect looks cool anyway.

One of the bigger questions I've been asking myself is, what if the characters can't fly and pursue a battle like this?  I think the most important thing is to give players little bonuses that encourage them to be heroic and have fun, but don't make it broken.  Caitrisana, for example, is a star pact warlock.  If she's fighting among the clouds, we could say that the power of the stars is stronger up there.  Perhaps by allowing her to make an Arcana check, she is able to harness that power and move between platforms.  I think the best way of accomplishing this would be to make it an encounter power so it is not abused.

Another important thing to note in the picture is Kat the Witch riding a hippogriff.  As I had stated above, flying mounts open up realms of possibilities for open air combat.  All the players don't even need to have the mount.  Give it to one player and let that player play in a unique way and be somewhat of the "star" of the encounter.

Not having all the answers for an encounter is a good solution too.  The players will always be trying to brainstorm and fight as a team.  You'd be surprised with what they will come up with.  Remember to encourage out of the box thinking,relax, and to take a deep breath of air.

Kat, with her hippogriff and her bound demon familiar


  1. This is a cool setup. (:

  2. This inspired me to find a buck-beat hippogriff figure for Alfred.

  3. Doesn't that mean that Alfred has to find a hippogriff in order to have one?