Still thinking about minions and summon magic. Guild Wars 2 elementalists will reportedly have the power to conjure new terrain elements, like walls of fire that can be used to modify an ally’s, or their own, attacks. Maybe summon spells should work similarly? We could start with a power like “call the cavalry,” but how do you control them once they’re on the scene?

That actually makes me think of how the players might interact with the terrain, and maybe even their opponents in the scene. It’s typically a standard action to interact with an enemy, and usually what you’re doing is damage. There are other little advantages to gain, but those tend to be in addition to your basic damaging effects. Ultimately what you’re doing is, “attacking the problem to make it go away.”

Only being able to solve problems with violence is one common complaint against dungeon simulators like D&D. How do you call in a negotiator without magic, though? How do you solve problems with means other than violence when you’re in the middle of the wilderness? Do you call on a magic talking animal that helps you convince your enemies to back down or surrender? There’s a serious break from reality there.

Maybe the first thing that needs to be broken down is this idea of isolation. A dungeon is a very easy environment to control from the game master’s perspective. They decide what’s there and what isn’t, and they can quickly change the themes to match whatever story they want to tell. I remember when I was having trouble coming up with encounters at one point, convincing myself that anywhere could be a dungeon.

To break out of that mold, it might be best to consider that until specific restrictions are imposed on the environment, any player or character can make use of any of their powers. The environment might add new features, but I think they’re usually used to add restrictions. Maybe they should be seen as both — or maybe that’s strictly the difference between “setting” and “terrain.”

One establishes conventions or imposes restrictions, while the other grants new encounter options or enables additional functions of existing powers. Nowhere to run to escape from battle? Setting. Take cover behind a barricade? Terrain. Only fifteen minutes before the bomb explodes and everyone dies? Setting. Specially-installed skylight for reinforcements to zip-line through? Terrain.