I previously detailed a skill challenge that featured the party chasing their prey along the rooftops of Gloomwrought. Once the party finally corners their prey – in this case, traitors of Ghost Talon – the unstable building in the Shattered Isles collapses. The challenge I faced was bringing the Shattered Isles to life for the ensuing encounter. The Shattered Isles are described as a series of five island jutting out of the water. A bit of the flavor text provided in the Shadowfell boxset (p. 58) is below:
Some parts of [the Isles] are eternally on the verge of collapse . . . Parapets droop at extreme angles, black stone seeming to flow down their faces like wax running down a candle. Cracked edifices lean together over narrow cobbled streets and end abruptly at the shore . . . Monsters of many sorts lurk among the ruins, and these creatures can snatch even the canny folk who live near such threats and know of them. The thick, black fluid known as necrotic seepage sometimes boils up from the polluted earth, and islanders who know enough to stay away from it can avoid contracting the disease it carries.
I could have drawn a map, which would have made my life significantly easier, but I imagined something else entirely. The images conjured from the flavor text seemed to need something more than a two-dimensional hand drawn map, and this is what I created.
Below, I present my low-cost solution to bringing the Shattered Isles to life.
High-Concept Idea? Low-Cost Terrain!
My goal for the encounter was the build off the chase scene; the party was pursuing their prey and when they finally cornered the enemies, the building would collapse into the necrotic sludge and initiative would take place. I wanted to use liquid in the encounter, and although our gaming group has access to many Dwarven Forge pieces, it did not seem a good idea to place them in water. In considering how to create another form of terrain that could be used as a substitute for the isles, I wandered the aisles of a local crafts store. In this case, I browsed through Michael’s, and found a bin of cheap wooden plaques of various shapes and sizes.
I then searched for paint that could turn the wooden plaques into something that would more resemble blocks of rubble and wasted city streets. Thankfully, the craft store carried Krylon’s Make It Stone line of spray paint. Now that I had multiple pieces of terrain and the means to paint them for well under $20, I had to figure out a way to include liquid in the encounter without damaging the gaming table and the rest of the room!
I first searched for a Tupperware lid that could be turned upside-down and used to set the pieces of wood and a small amount of water in for the encounter. However, I did not have anything in my home to suited the purpose. The best alternative was a baking pan. The final touch was dying the water so it held a necrotic quality; clear water would have been too boring! I bought an inexpensive four-pack of food coloring and mixed red and blue to create the purple necrotic slime.
The result was a lively encounter setting for the players and the monsters. Combined with the horrible and tragic chase through Gloomwrought’s rooftops, it was an excellent night of gaming. Although, I never sprayed a clear-coat or sealer on the wooden plaques after they were painted. As a result, the paint on the edges and bottom started to flake off, which actually added to the effect – but made a bit of a mess in the pan. My advice would be to use a sealant so the plaques are reuseable; I ditched the plaques in the trash after the evening’s game. Lesson learned!
Running the Encounter
To begin, I rolled a d6 for each of the surviving monsters from the Rooftop Chase Skill Challenge. I also informed each player to roll a d6. Each monster and player could land on any of the four pieces of rubble or in the necrotic sludge.
- 1-2 – Necrotic Sludge
- 3 – Upper Left Rubble
- 4 – Upper Right Rubble
- 5 – Lower Right Rubble
- 6 – Lower Left Rubble
The monsters or players starting in the necrotic sludge suffered level-appropriate damage from the hazard. I did not make the hazard terribly nasty, but each DM can flavor the hazard to taste. Monster and players that did land on rubble were required to make an Acrobatics or Athletics check to determine if they started their turn Prone or were able to keep their balance during the collapse. I did not have monsters and players suffer falling damage unless they landed in the necrotic sludge.
From this point, the monsters and players rolled Initiative and the combat played out as normal. The necrotic sludge was a constant hazard and monster and players were forced to move around the pieces of rubble as the battle shifted. The monsters were shadar-kai and since they have a teleport ability, it made for an interesting set of circumstance since they could quickly gang up on an isolated player!
I did not score the wooden blocks or otherwise create a grid for the miniatures on the pieces of rubble. I was content to “eyeball” the squares on each piece of rubble to allow the players and monsters move their speed and jump between rubble pieces. My advice is to get creative with terrain and do not feel beholden to “the grid.”
If you are looking for ways to add interesting terrain to your game, then look no further than your local craft store. Other options include styrofoam and other materials to build terrain. For the encounter above, you just need to following:
- Four wooden plaques
- One can Krylon Make It Stone spray paint
- One set of food coloring
- One baking pan
Instead of a hand-drawn map to depict the action, you now have practical effects to convey the grimy and sinking setting for the players battling enemies while bobbing around in the Shattered Isles.