One of the easiest ways to spice up combat encounters is to add some real depth to them – literally.
When you’re putting together a battle it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking up some cool monsters with interesting tactics… and then sticking them in a flat, rectangular room with no distinguishing features.
This doesn’t mean that the encounter can’t be good, of course, just that it’s not going to be as exciting as it could be. The right choice of terrain can make a fight with old, familiar foes instantly memorable, and one of the most reliable ways to achieve this is by basing the encounter around multiple levels.
Even if it isn’t incredibly realistic, giving players the chance to throw their foes over ledges or cry ‘death from above’ as they leap from a balcony is a great way to let them have fun. More than this, it also allows martial characters more opportunities to do something beyond launching the same old series of attacks.
As with anything complex, running a scenario like this is going to require a little bit of improvisation and rules arbitration from the DM, but most aspects of it are reasonably well covered by the official rules. You can push enemies over, trip them up or simply grapple them over a ledge.
There are going to be some locations where having multiple levels doesn’t really work – on a frozen lake or a grassy plain, for example – but most setting should allow for convenient craggy boulders, balconies or rooftops.
Even if doesn’t always completely make sense, most players are more than happy to wave away any inconsistencies for the sake of a good time. After all, they’ll happily accept the near-universal presence of chandeliers whenever the Swashbuckler feels like pulling an Errol Flynn.
Speaking of Errol Flynn, this clip from the 1939 version of Robin Hood shows just how effective and exciting a battle can be when it’s spread out over all the room on offer. Don’t you wish your battles could conjure up this feeling of derring-do?