Even if the DM makes an effort to mix things up, combat encounters can inevitably begin to feel a little samey. There are plenty of ways to kick the party out of their comfort zone, however, and one of the simplest is to drop them in the deep end.
Lakes, rivers and oceans all shape the way people live, and that’s as true in fantastical realms as it is in reality. In fact, these waterways can be even more important when you consider the number of monsters that lurk in their gloomy depths, or the mystery posed by an arcane tower jutting from the surface of a crystal-clear lake.
They also represent a great way to add a fresh element of excitement and danger to an adventure. Retrieving a treasure guarded by twisted sea creatures is fraught with all kinds of perils you would never encounter on dry land.
Even if the party finds some arcane way to avoid the issue of drowning, the fighter will need to shed her heavy plate mail if she wants to achieve anything beyond plodding along the ocean floor. At the same time, the Wizard will find it tricky to cast his reliable Fireball at aquatic hordes – not to mention the issues he may run into if he forgets that underwater Lightning Bolts are more than a little unwise.
These encounters can offer more than just problems, however. For one thing, it gives Druids and other shape-changers the chance to shine, and inventive players can always find a way to turn things to their advantage.
Add to this the fact that any battles will force players to think in three dimensions, and you have a recipe for a thoroughly memorable session or two.
There are a couple of issues the DM will need to take into account, of course. For one thing, it’s incredibly easy for the party to be wiped out if they don’t plan properly or suffer a handful of bad rolls. This is always the case, of course, but at least most deaths are a little more heroic than accidently drowning after the Potion of Waterbreathing runs out.
They’ll also need to make sure they read up on the rules for swimming and underwater combat, as even the most dedicated gamers probably find it hard to remember every rule in the book.
These are but minor issues in the grand scheme of things, though, and shouldn’t take away from the fun that comes from taking a battle to a fearsome Kraken in its lair or exploring a sunken temple.
Just remember to keep the Jaws theme close to hand when you’re running the session…