Something I noticed whilst playing a video game was the amount of crap I was breaking. Every time I swung my sword it seemed like I was breaking some part of the environment. Tables, chairs, bottles, pots, walls, and columns were no match for me. Then I realized that I don’t do this much at all during my games. My players have told me my fights are fun but I know that bringing in damage to the environment would help push the characters to a new level of fun.
First is the scale. Depending on your style, PC level, and system the amount of wanton destruction you allow needs to fit. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for a level 1 PC in Pathfinder to miss with an attack and accidentally blow out a stone wall. Now if you’re playing Dungeon World or are high level D&D I could see this happening. My games tend to be more wuxia to super human in nature so things are going to break a lot, but if you are playing more realistic game you can still have general breakage. No fight will be without random set pieces to break (if you have your players fighting in empty rooms you have a problem). Tables get knocked over when someone backs into it, a tree branch gets chopped off in the forest fight, maybe a support for the mine ceiling gets bashed and some rocks fall… you get the idea.
Not every blow should destroy something. I suggest that you save it for extreme rolls. Crits and fumbles are a great time for this. When a crit happens go ahead and have the damage be beneficial to the PCs while the fumbles end up harming them. Another thing to consider is how the damage gets done. It’s easy to figure out how the barbarian or wizard break things, but what about the rouge? He’s not super strong or launching fireballs. Instead he could use his opponent. Maybe when he’s fighting the giant, he tricks said giant to accidentally hitting a column holding up the ceiling or maybe when the rouge does a couple of quick blows to the minotaur the beast backs into and knocks over the alter to its foul god. My favorite is when the PC kills something via hitting it with their sword but then I narrate something else. Instead of the fighter just stabbing the orc chieftain to death he instead parries a savage blow then kicks the orc square in the chest. The creature stumbles into a fire pit, igniting the furs it wears, and now runs screaming into and through a door leading deeper into the dungeon.
The most important thing to remember is to be creative. If you’re not sure if what you have in mind is over the top, then it isn’t. You’ll know when you’ve nuked the fridge.
Thanks for reading.