Tactical Terrain: Trees | New Rules for Dungeon Masters

Today, I received the Tactical Maps Reincarnated pack from Wizards of the Coast. It’s a pretty cool little pack that comes with 20 different maps on 10 posters, each one measuring about 36″ x 24″.

They got me thinking about the different types of advantages that terrain can provide creatures during combat to make much more interesting encounters.

I thought I’d start this series with trees.


You’re bound to run plenty of wilderness encounters with your characters. Here are ways that trees can provide tactical advantages and interesting combat encounters.

Animals. Trees are usually homes to wild animals. When a character interacts with a tree, roll a d20 and consult the table below or choose a result that you feel is appropriate:

  • 1 – 16: even if there are animals in the tree, they don’t do anything.
  • 17: the tree is home to a swarm of bats (50%) or a swarm of ravens (50%). If a creature climbs the tree or disturbs it, the swarm attacks the creature until it moves 20 feet or more away from the tree.
  • 18: a panther makes its home in the branches of the tree. If disturbed, the panther attacks.
  • 19: a constrictor snake makes its home in the branches of the tree. If disturbed, the snake attacks.
  • 20: the tree is coated in aggressive fire ants. Any creature that touches the tree must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or become covered in biting ants. A creature covered in the ants has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks as long as the ants remain. A creature must use its action to remove the ants by brushing them off; alternatively, if the creature moves through enough water to submerge itself, it washes away the ants.

Climbing. Most trees can be climbed. If the tree has a lot of low-hanging branches it can be climbed requiring no check at all. Those that don’t have a lot of branches may be a bit more difficult, requiring a DC 15-20 Strength (Athletics) check to climb up. Once a creature is at a greater height (say 10 feet or higher than the creatures below it) you might provide disadvantage to passive Perception checks to notice them. Moving through the branches of a tree is the same as moving through difficult terrain.

Cover. Most Large and Medium trees provide at least half cover (+2 bonus to AC and Dexterity saving throws) or three-quarters cover (+5 bonus to AC and Dexterity saving throws) depending on the width of its trunk. Huge trees with larger tree trunks that take up the entire square can provide full cover.

FallingWhen a tree falls over and there is nothing to break its fall, the tree comes crashing down, creating a line 60 feet long and 5 wide that starts from the trunk’s square. Each creature in the line must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw. A creature that fails its saving throw takes 19 (3d12) bludgeoning damage, falls prone, and is restrained by the fallen tree (escape DC 18). Another creature can use its action to free a creature restrained by the fallen tree with a successful DC 18 Strength check. 

Fire. Trees are highly flammable. When subjected to a spell or effect that ignites objects, the tree catches on fire. Each turn that a tree is on fire, it takes 1d10 fire damage. If a creature ends its turn within 5 feet of a flaming tree, it takes 1d6 fire damage.

Objects. Unless awakened through magical means, trees are considered objects. Use the statistics for an Awakened Tree, but it has the following changes made to it:

  • Its speed is 0 ft.
  • The tree’s Dexterity score is 0. Plus, its Intelligence score is 1, its Wisdom score is 3, and its Charisma score is 1.
  • The tree has no languages, special traits, or actions.
  • Although the tree’s size is Huge, only its trunk affects creatures on the ground. Its trunk is considered Medium.
  • Any time a tree takes slashing damage, or its hit points are reduced to 0, it must make a Constitution saving throw equal to 10 or half the damage taken, whichever is higher. On a failed saving throw, the tree falls in a random direction (see falling). Any creature within 5 feet of the tree that is falling can use its reaction to make a DC 16 Strength check before the tree falls; on a successful Strength check, the creature chooses the direction that the tree falls.

Snow. A tree covered in snow can become a hazard for any creature standing under it. If a creature hits a tree with an attack or uses its action to shake a tree whose branches are covered in snow, each creature standing within 5 feet of the tree’s trunk must succeed on a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw. On a failed saving throw, a creature is knocked prone.

Stealth. A creature can hide within the branches and foliage of a tree. Some trees lose their foliage in the fall and winter, making it easier to spot a creature that isn’t appropriately camouflaged.



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Art by Shutterstock (used with permission).

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