DM Basics: Above and Beyond!

When I was growing up, My grandmother was always telling me “Look where you’re going, not where you’ve been!” I’m endlessly curious, and my short-term attention span frequently has my eyes wandering around. Unfortunately, I have a short-term memory too so I don’t always remember what I’ve seen…but that’s a story for another blog post.

What I’d like to talk about today is perspective, and visuals in tabletop gaming. I find that, especially in games that use a flat game-map or grid, the Gamemaster will restrict all of the goodness and fun of encounters to the same flat plane. This happens less with theatre of the mind, but it still happens from time to time. In my experience, players do not often look up, behind, or around them. Sure, when they enter a room they say “I want to look around and roll *perception skill here*”. If you push them for what they’re looking for they tie it to an object, rather than a place. What I find to be deliciously fun, is to make use of all the available dynamic space, and below are some really good examples of how to do so.

Hiding behind objects: Do the goblins in the room hear the party coming? Remember, most creatures have self-preservation and don’t want to die, so maybe they hide behind curtains, under tables, or behind freestanding mirrors. If the party pokes their heads in and leave, you can reuse them in another room, or if they stay, there can be a surprise ambush. With an ambush like this, there’s more depth, the goblin behind the mirror has coverage, the one under the table perhaps grabs a book as a shield. Is the book important? Maybe. So many possibilities.

Glyphs from Above: Just like in popular TV shows like Supernatural, sometimes things best hidden are hidden in plain sight. You could put trap glyphs, puzzle pieces, or hostages on the ceiling. Someone goes missing? Maybe a giant spider spun them up in a web that runs down a hallway, or in the corner of a dark room. You could put glyphs that trigger sleep spells, or for higher tech games: forcefields/containment cells. Locked door? Maybe there’s a power source at the other end of the hallway and you need to twist puzzle tiles up the wall and along the ceiling to power the door.

Jetpacks, Flying, and Terrain: There are a lot of cool tech, spells, and abilities that allow players and baddies to rise up off the ground, but a lot of times these aren’t used, or aren’t used properly due to the flat battle maps, or difficulty with visualization. There are a number of solutions, however. We’ve used everything from clear risers, dice, and tokens to show how high up someone is. From hovering soundlessly, to flying, there’s a whole lot of space that goes unused.

I hope this post has inspired you to shake things up and keep your players on their toes! If you want to talk about more diabolical schemes you can hang out with us on Discord. You can also hang out with us on twitch to see this technique and others in action.

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