While I was working as part of a d20 System redesign group back in 2009, I fielded some ideas for an abstract movement and terrain system that focused more on the elements of an encounter location than the placement of those elements. Based on my experiences with devoting time to drawing detailed maps only to have key terrain features ignored, I thought it would save time.

I wanted to create a system whereby the game master could design the terrain much as they designed creatures, adding specific advantages, disadvantages, and other details to the terrain, and allowing players to decide whether or not to utilize them. When a spike pit could potentially be located anywhere on the battlefield, it should be possible for any creature to push any character into it.

Dice mechanics actually support this over a map-and-grid system. The dice can represent variables that are trivial on a tactical level, like whether there’s something to grab onto while a monster is pushing you off a ledge. Then again, depending on how detailed your character powers and abilities are, there’s always room for dramatic abilities like “Take My Hand!” which might prevent just that sort of thing.

Having an abstract terrain system would actually make it more readily obvious when a character is taking cover from something, if they must declare they’re using the terrain for just that purpose. This morning I realized that due to the relative nature of cover (based on line of sight), cover should always be of a temporary nature, lasting one turn and needing to be reestablished constantly.

What will be important is figuring out how to define terrain types and subtypes, much like how Magic: the Gathering defines creatures. Star Wars CCG and Dungeons & Dragons have some terrain-related stuff, but mechanics of the former are fairly abstract and the mechanics of the latter rely heavily on a map-and-grid system. So, mostly I’ll be looking to tactical wargames for ideas in this area.