Standoff In The Mud
This stretch of terrain between two branches of a river in Mongolia offers an excellent site for a standoff. Whether you want a social encounter, a combat encounter, or one that can shift between the two, this site’s combination of difficult terrain and exceptionally long sight lines promises to create a tense situation.
Mongolia’s Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and neighboring Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area enclose a forested, mountainous wilderness that rises like a mirage from the endless steppe to the south. These mountains contain the headwaters of Mongolia’s three sacred rivers, and maybe even the lost burial site of Genghis Khan himself.
The Herlen river runs south from the mountains into a long, fingerlike valley. Though the valley floor is flat and grassy, it’s pressed in on both sides by the forested hills. When the river drops into the valley, it splits into two channels that rejoin twelve miles downstream. The two channels run parallel, a mile apart, separated by what looks on satellite imagery to be an even mixture of firm, grassy dirt; wet, mushy, pseudo-marshland; and twisting, muddy channels. The space is flat. No trees or hillocks block line of sight. Crossing the space between the channels will be slow on foot, treacherous on horseback, and a nightmare in a vehicle.
This site is perfect for standoffs. Both sides can see the other coming from miles away. The only cover is whatever you bring with you (a truck, a wagon, a spaceship, etc.). No one’s going to be particularly excited to start shooting, because both sides are just so exposed. Maneuvering for advantage is complicated by the sticky, variable terrain between the rivers. Depending on what direction(s) the two sides are coming from, the river channels themselves may be an obstacle.
Conversation might happen just outside effective combat range. In a fantasy setting, that’s shouting back and forth, just out of bowshot. In other settings, that may mean sitting right outside effective rifle range, communicating via radio – or even semaphore!
If the two sides need to get closer, perhaps to exchange prisoners, things get more tense. Both sides may want to start shooting, but without cover or an easy way to maneuver, it’s hard to be confident you’ll win the resulting firefight. Because the terrain so strongly penalizes going on the offensive, using this site could be a fun way to turn a combat encounter into a roleplay encounter.
On the other hand, characters with a few tricks up their sleeves may see the site as a blank canvas – a fun way to encourage your party to approach combat encounters creatively. Spells like Move Earth and Mirage Arcane can create ditches, trenches, walls, and causeways. PCs with access to free labor (or lots of time to kill) can accomplish the same thing with advance notice and shovel work.
While the site is the product of its location, it’s not hard to put it anywhere you want. As long as your desired location has a broad stretch of flat terrain and a river, you can drop this site there just fine.
On a personal note, the post two weeks ago about the cannibal witch Erichtho hit a personal milestone for me! Reddit’s r/rpg upvoted the heck out of it and drove a lot of traffic over here. If you add up all the time folks spent reading that piece, it was the first thing I've produced that spent more time being consumed than it spent being researched and written. Neat stuff!