If there was ever an ability that called for good GM/player communication, it’s the ranger’s favored terrain. It’s one of those supremely flavorful abilities that evokes backstory, differentiates similarly built PCs, and makes your master of the untamed lands character feel like a proper wilderness hero. I even like that it stops working when you get outside of your comfort zone. If you’ve spent your life in trackless jungles and suddenly find yourself in, let’s say, suburban New Hampshire, that’s an amazing roleplaying opportunity. The thing is, I wouldn’t want to spend my entire adventuring career playing with nonfunctional powers.

I started thinking about this issue not because of favored terrain, but because of the ranger’s other conditional ability. If any of you guys listen to the Glass Cannon Podcast, you know that a certain half-orc ranger picked up favored enemy (undead) during level-up. Many levels later and there’s still a distinct lack of undead in the campaign. This has resulted in an ongoing feud between GM Troy Lavallee and disgruntled player Joe O’Brien. The million gp question is this: Is it the GM’s responsibility to provide enough campaign information for a player to choose their favored terrain/favored enemy, or is it on the player to guess correctly from context clues within the game? My thought is that it’s on neither of them. Since they’re running a published adventure path, this is actually Paizo’s responsibility.

You can grab a free copy of the Giantslayer Player’s Guide right here, but the relevant bit appears at the bottom of page 4. It’s in the “Favored Enemies and Favored Terrains” section:

The majority of the Giantslayer Adventure Path takes place in the Mindspin Mountains, though a few adventures take the PCs into underground, hilly, and marshy environments. The best first choice for favored terrain is mountains (which includes hills), and a strong second choice of terrain is underground. Solid favored enemy choices include humanoid (giant), dragon, humanoid (orc), and magical beast.

If you’re going to build a campaign with a specific enemy, a specific theme, or a specific setting in mind, you need to communicate that information to the player. If you’re running with a published product (as in the Glass Cannon example), that work is often done for you. But even if you’re the kind of GM with a spiral notebook full of delicious homebrew, it’s still a good idea to jot down key player information and pass it along to the rest of the group. Take a look at those Paizo player’s guides. There are a lot of them. No need to create something so elaborate, but I think that they’re a great place to get ideas as you begin to draft up your own campaign intro. At the very least it will prevent future arguments about the lack of undead in your giantslaying campaign.

Question of the day then. Have you ever found yourself blindsided by a turn in the campaign? Perhaps you thought you were going on a dungeon delve only to be shanghaied into a pirate campaign without a Swim skill. Maybe you were kitted out for urban exploration and then found yourself trekking through the wilderness. How did you adapt to the situation? Let’s hear it in the comments!