When it’s scenery, of course.
What exactly is the difference between scenery and terrain, and why should anyone care? Let’s take that in 2 steps: definition and use.
Dictionaries are only a little help when it comes to defining words in such a specialised context as tabletop gaming. However, the basis seems to be clear: terrain is the lie of the land and nothing else, whereas scenery encompasses not only that, but also the details that are scattered over it. Think about the use of the word scenery in theatre: for stage dressings. That’s more the sort of thing we are doing when we set up a nice tabletop to kill each other over. Terrain then is our tabletop itself, the flat surface, modular boards or whatever that form the backdrop onto which we place scenery in the form of buildings, trees and phone booths (depending on your game).
Does this distinction matter? Clearly not to most rule writers as the term “terrain” is almost ubiquitous in modern rulebooks, and taken to mean scenery (using the above definition). In a more general sense I deplore the loss of subtlety in language, and here there is some that is being ironed out by careless usage. At the same time I am ashamed to say that I am part of this ironing crew. Perhaps I need to try harder. On the other hand, perhaps it really doesn’t matter. A professor of English once said to me that the purpose of language was to communicate, and if we all understand the word terrain to mean houses and trees too, then that serves its purpose. In terms of rules and so on, is there any value in the distinction? Not a great one that I can see.
What do you guys think? It’s a bit of an odd burble today, but I’d like to know your opinions too. Why not post your thoughts below 🙂