I found the rules for quicksand but those aren't exactly what I'm seeking. While I am using a marshy environment I want to create terrain which can suddenly give way under the PCs. There are a few criteria I'm seeking from an answer:

  1. Random surface area. It's not a man-made dungeon here but a vast landscape with variable-sized potentially collapsing floors.
  2. Random height. I don't have a clear distance to drop (again, not a man-made dungeon) and would rather not model each individual drop after the same pit trap.
  3. How to determine (for game hazard purposes) when/whether one will open or not? "More weight" is really vague - is there a way to model an increased likelihood? The terrain in question is incredibly volatile so such things would be very likely... What are things the PCs can do to make it more so? Landing after jumping, riding horses, wearing heavy armor, enlarge person are all I could think of.
  4. Would it be possible (again, game purposes) for characters to use survival to tell if certain ground would give way? Not for the presence of sinkholes - I'm planning on making that horribly obvious. I mean "should I approach that treasure or not?"
  5. Would characters get a reflex save? Should this depend on what they were doing and/or the width of the opening?

The area I've got portioned off for sinkhole-intensive terrain is a good distance and not easily circumvented without magic. My party will be starting at 2nd level and if they follow my clues will choose to avoid this environment completely, for a while at least. How can I model terrain so that if they decide to challenge nature, she will most likely swallow them whole? Again - not quicksand, but sinkholes. Cave-ins that happen due to cavities below the surface, where the ceiling/floor becomes too thin to support the weight above it.

EDIT: The above model is lacking a few things which I am seeking here.

  • How to determine the formula for 1 and 2. Any additional PC-related modifiers that should normally be considered for 3.
  • DCs for survival, or any other related skill, and times when a check should be called for. Before walking on? While standing upon? After falling? (kidding on the last one)
  • DCs for a reflex save or other relevant check to avoid. Modifiers as well, for the variable width/actions involved.

It just hit me that the encounter level might matter for these. I'm planning on having three difficulties, one set for fourth level characters (the warning), one set for ninth level characters (worse) and one set for fourteenth level characters (nigh-certainty). I plan on barring flight through wind conditions.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered making it a balance check? While it is possibly one of the most useless skills (in my opinion), it seems to suit your situation quite well. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 1, 2013 at 13:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Garan in some situations that would make sense, you're right. \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 15:15

2 Answers 2


I'm sure this won't be the most satisfactory answer, but I would be tempted to approach this problem using my percent dice. Really, the trick is just in picking a suitable "percent chance" that each factor might occur. For example, in response to your points, I came up with something like this:

  1. For every 15 feet travelled, roll the percent dice. The ground has a 35% chance (or adapt as you see fit) of giving way to a sinkhole. I'm not a strong statistician, but as I see it, the percentage you select will reflect the percent surface area of your terrain that is covered with sink holes. You can determine the chance depending on how much of the terrain you want to have sinkholes.

  2. If the ground collapses, roll 1d4 and multiply by 10 feet to get your depth. Once again, choose the multiplier based on how deep and damaging you want the sinkholes to be. Since characters can ignore the first 10 feet with a successful tumble check, and we want the fall to be damaging enough to be a deterrent (but not deeper than the average length of rope) I created rather cavernous sinkholes. You could reduce the multiplier if you find this too epic.

  3. I would adapt the percent chance in (1) to reflect the differing stress the PCs are putting on the terrain due to weight/movement, etc. Make the chance 80% for extremely large or heavy PCs.

  4. With a successful survival check (DC=12) before a taking a declared route, let the PCs see your percent dice roll from #1(but don't inform them of the DC/percent threshold for "collapse") so that they can judge whether or not they think the ground will give way.

  5. Give the PCs a reflex save (DC=12), but make them check each 5' square in their "retreat" to ensure they are not part of the sinkhole until they reach a "safe" square.

You can of course modulate the percent chances to make it harder or easier to navigate this terrain, but this should enable you to create terrain on the fly.

I don't know if I would modulate anything other than (1) based on encounter level (unless the PCs have taken on more equipment, making them heavier), as the physics of the situation shouldn't change in response to the PC level, but you can make the terrain progressively more sinkhole-ridden, the farther from the path they wander. It is also possible to start adding in creatures of the deep in some of the larger sinkholes to provide an extra challenge.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure if I properly responded to your edits, but I elaborated based on what I understood. I'm not sure the answer provides the "formulae" you were looking for, and I'm not the queen of setting reasonable DCs, but they should give you a starting point to work with. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cat
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 11:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ True, physics wouldn't change. I was thinking just meaner sinkholes, but increasing the die/multiplier for width and depth could accomplish most of the scaling at least. I like the idea of sticking nasties in there later. \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented May 2, 2013 at 15:15

My mind started running and I realized that it more or less matched the pit trap with variations. Nevertheless, I'll start from the top:

  • Treat it like a special attack with target: 1 person or AoE for save purposes

  • Arbitrary or once/turn Reflex saves at a predetermined DC (20 recommended). If using a map, it can be pre-planned spots; if the sinkhole is

  • Character falls MoF * 3 (Margin of Failure) feet

  • If you want, you can start with a multiplier of 0, and do a +1 for each 100lbs the character weighs and is carrying since they should technically be keeping track of both of these figures.
    A 150lb character with 215lbs of gear is a multiplier of (365 % 100 = ) 3. If they fail the check by 4, then they fall (4 x 3 = ) 12 feet.

  • Parallel to the Camouflaged Pit Trap, Survival DC 24 to spot, modify as desired, maybe a synergy bonus from Lore: Marshlands or Spot/Search

As far as "challenging nature and losing", they're sinkholes. They don't have HP to lose so unless there's an M-U going crazy with earth warping spells, there really shouldn't be a 'win' for the players. I will be looking forward to comments to help refine this answer.

Edit 1: I would recommend that the check to find them and the saves should be disproportionate. A smaller hole is easier to avoid but harder to spot or a larger hole (unless it's that big) is easier to spot, but harder to save from. So maybe start at 20 as a base for each DC and then do +2 to one and -2 to the other to reflect the size.

The rolls for "after falling" are not necessarily bad. You can always give players a Str based reflex save instead of a standard one to catch themselves after falling.

Relevant skills could include (in no particular order):

  • Balance
  • Tumble
  • Jump
  • Spot
  • Search
  • Survival
  • Climb
  • Knowledge (Area Specific)
  • Knowledge (Nature)
  • \$\begingroup\$ More or less, yeah. Except it's not predetermined width or depth wise and it's all-over terrain. How to determine AoE? I did have certain sinkholes planned but I'm not sure how to get unplanned-ones accounted for. Having the depth be based on margin of failure? Also, the terrain map is massive: more than 36 square miles in an overland map. Preplanning each one seems an exercise in wasted DM prep. Your multiplier = distance fallen or surface area? I like that idea, as well as adding in extra risk for set amounts of weight. 100lbs seems a good cutoff to me. The PCs winning means they survive. +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 18:17

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