Things I Have Done:
- this is no good
- "You pick your way through the stalactite-littered room. They are hard and cold and sharp. How do you know they're sharp? Well they look that way. Maybe you touch one? You don't? How?" Blah blah blah.
- no good
- "Roll under Dex or fall down."
What I've Been Thinking About
- say what it looks like
- say any physical effects simply being there produces (pupils shrinking, sweating, shivering)
- if the above produces mechanical effects, tell them what
- think of the considerations you would have to entertain were you actually there
- make them entertain them
- ding them with stamina loss (q.v.) for doing strenuous or tedious things
- anti-ding them with refreshment for taking in the beauty or comfort of it
- make them dread just the thought of going back through that room or else long for the refreshment of it
We want outcomes like:
- "not that hill again"
- "let's take a breather beside that milky pool"
I think the key to this is to:
- ask a concrete question about their interaction with the physical space
- really the point of these is to make the players think about the imagined space
- call that jargonically "an interaction", as in, they have now pressed A on the glowing rock formation
- use "interactions" to zoom in and do interesting things
- use interactions to check for wandering monsters
- when you check for encounters, say what you're seeing (and/or smelling/hearing/etc) as if you were an observer in the room
- You: The floor rises up ahead of you. It's all slick broken rocks, some pebble size, some as big as you. You'll have to go slowly to keep your balance.
- Them: Okay we go up it.
- You (to leader, asking a leading, specific question about interaction with the physical space): Do you try to keep your balance walking upright, or do you stow your gear to use your hands for balance? It'll cost you less stamina to use your hands.
- Them: [they tell me how they're going up and mark off the appropriate amount of stamina on their sheets]
- You check for wandering monsters.
- Whatever the result, take the opportunity to describe something else about the space: the crunching of the rocks, the drip of water. You can make the description seem like a WM encounter—don't tip your hand.
- If there is a WM, keep that poker face: reveal the WM through the space.
- Repeat as long as warranted, like if the climb is long ("There's a huge boulder ahead: which way do you go around it?"; they tell you; they lose more stamina; you make WM check; you describe something else).
- Take the opportunity of any failed checks, missed attacks, or whatever to use the space against them: slip on the rocks, save to not drop your gear or slip down the slope; you hit the speleothem: as your weapon rebounds they get a free shot, or there's dust everywhere so you can't see; your torch dislodges from its place and starts rolling down the hill
- In general, monsters should not be negatively effected by the environment but will use it to their advantage.
- You can call for balance checks, etc., but be sure to penalize for encumbrance and to let the players specify their movement in such a way that no check may be required (such as stowing gear to use hands for balance)
Use the mechanical moments (WM checks, saves, ability checks) as opportunities to make present the physical space, its feel and limitations and dangers.
Use encumbrance and tie it together with a stamina system that works across all editions and levels.
Such that simply traversing the environment is itself a game of resource and risk management.