Roleplaying Tips Weekly Supplemental #15
"Wilderness Encounter Ideas"
Attention: Webmasters. Feel Free To Post This File
I think this is one of the best supplemental issues ever. Tons of great encounters ideas. Thanks to everyone who entered the contest - -you've created an awesome Gming resource. Though the contest is over, more wilderness encounter ideas are always welcome and I'll keep appending submissions to this list. Send your ideas to me directly at email@example.com
In the same spirit that the Roleplaying Tips Weekly ezine is free, I think this document should be spread around and distributed without charge or copyright to help as many GMs as possible. If you have a gaming site, feel free to post this doc and send me the link!
I'd also appreciate it if you included the submissions request and email address so this document continues growing. I'll continue to update it and you can request it any time to freshen up your version.
A link back to http://www.roleplayingtips.com would be cool but definitely not mandatory. The main thing is helping other GMs and keeping the ideas flowing.
P.S. This file has only been lightly edited due to time restrictions on my part. If you spot any typos, don't hesitate to let me know.
The Magic Pool
The PCs are traveling through a deep forest and come upon a small glade. In the glade center is a large rock that has a bowl-shaped indentation in its top and water fills the bowl. The PCs hear sylvan music in the breeze as they enter (Pan pipes, flutes, low drums, etc.) It gets louder as the PCs approach the pool in the rock. As the PCs get nearer there are several options:
1) A ray of sunshine breaks through the trees, shining on the pool and illuminating the dancing fey folk around the pool who then welcome and talk with the PCs (or attack them, trick them, etc.).
2) The pool provides healing to people of one class/alignment/religion and either does nothing or harms anyone else.
3) The pool is a trap (maybe a mimic?) that conceals the entrance to a monster/bandit lair.
4) As the PCs approach they will notice their reflections are different than the PCs' real appearance. The reflections could show what the PCs want to be, what will be, what could be, or what truly is (perhaps revealing one of the PC's secrets).
5) The pool is a gate to an alternate world.
6) Stepping into the pool transports the PCs to the fairy realm (i.e. Alice in Wonderland).
7) The pool could speak to them. It's a seer, intelligent entity, or special enchantment.
8) The pool predicts the future through scenes reflected in the sunlight.
The Blood Demon
The group comes across sacred lands and have a choice to go through, which is faster, or go around. delaying them for a few days. Should they choose to intrude, a powerful forest lord angered by the group's presence summons a blood demon. The lord then looks at the group with a strange expression of pity and shakes his head. "You should never have come here." Almost instantly the blood demon shifts through space to emerge from any living creature of flesh and blood. The emerging blood demon is born, erupting in a bloody explosion out of the victim's chest, causing immediate shock and confusion. After the second round, if the group still remains on sacred ground, the blood demon shifts through them and attacks them on exit with claws and natural hook weapons causing horrific wounds.
Strange Corpse & Chest
A flock of black ravens lift up off a corpse as the group moves aside thick vines hanging from the boughs of Banda wood trees. The body was previously a human female whose withered, desiccated form now shrouds a small, stone chest. Her lavishly decorated armour and richly decorated fine clothing still shine as though she had only put it on the day before. From the look of her flesh though, she has been here for weeks. Her dry, skeletal arms grimly clasp the chest and her horrified death mask looks up and to the left, over her shoulder. The chest remains unopened. The small engravings on the stone chest depict a beautiful woman's face with striking red hair. Touching the corpse will cause a green light to animate from within the chest and a green colored astral serpent then appears over the intended victim's left shoulder.
Pausing briefly to crack open the thigh bone of the dire bear, an immense air creature seemingly was enjoying its dining experience. When the group rounds the corner and sees it, one of its massive paws slams down on the ground as it spits out a mouthful of dire bear and takes a long hungry look at the new arrivals. To its side is a woman covered in black dragon scale armour and what looks like the recently killed, still bloody dire bear skin. She looks up at the group, blood covering her face, and begins saying something to herself under her breath. The air creature remains where it is but a low rumble from behind the group turns into a roaring scream as something else under the ground barrels towards the group from behind. From the amount of earth being moved it may be an umber hulk.
Forest Temple & Fountain
At an entrance to an ancient forest temple now covered in vine and overgrowth there is a fountain. Its centerpiece is a large bronze statue of a dying minotaur commemorating a heroic last stand from an age long ago. His wounds are grievous and the heads of the many slain enemies rest around him. Water flows from the heads' mouths, representing the bloodshed on that day into rectangular basin forming the base of the statue. The work is a very grim piece. The battle itself is not named. A test of the fountain reveals it has curative powers; however it only heals wounds of battle specifically and does not assist those with other ailments.
The temple is sealed by fallen rock.
If the water is disturbed, three eight foot tall ancient minotaur spirits, armed with large double bladed war axes, appear and advance on the group.
The corpses of thirteen dwarves are splayed out across a forest clearing each hanging around eight feet off the ground with dark ugly vines holding them up. They were heavily armed, each bearing the black hammer crest on their tunics. They were an elite unit. Crossbow arrows litter the area in all directions. This area is far from any mountain or mine. The dwarves have travelled far to this end.
A trollskin leather bound tome lies open under the body of the leader. It is an ancient text, barely discernible. Something about a plague that destroyed all from the house of Dugrith (a lost dwarven house). The plague featured is symbolized by a creature, four legged with many horns. No name is given, but the entry does mention that the creature reaved unlike any worldly creature and could not be killed. A secret order was established from all Dwarven communities as they sought to prevent another house falling to the same fate. The last scrawl in the book is more recent. "We have tracked the flay scum and tomorrow we shall attempt to prevent it from unleashing the..." (entry ends).
Trapped Centipede & Intriguing Shelter
Within a valley deep in the forest the group notices movement below them and hear large clicking noises. Looking down into the base of the valley they further take in that the movement is erratic; however they cannot make out what exactly it is due to the thick overgrowth. Moving closer, it appears to be possibly a giant centipede creature traveling up and down the bottom of the valley. Its movements indicate that it is trapped. An easy kill or perhaps a rescue. Exploring the surrounding area reveals at the end of the valley there is a small, hidden shelter that appears to be occupied.
An ancient apparition floods through a forest. In its wake a repugnant trail of decay and foulness corrupts any that pass over it. Forest creatures caught in the wake are either lost to it or tainted so horrifically their natural form is indiscernible. Lesser demons begin to ravage the lower canopies. High up in the forest seems to be the only safe place. The group might be rescued by a common forest foe and they will have to work together to vanquish the evil.
The uncomfortably familiar sound of swordplay draws the group towards a grove where they are witness to a savage and incredibly skillful display as two elite fighters strip the lifeforce off each other in a bloody blur of aggression. The first is a wood elf using two superbly crafted longswords. The second, amazingly, is a large, muscle-bound orc like none they have ever seen before. The orc's speed and agility matches his smaller opponents with ease and his weapon, a great long blade decorated with lavish etchings, slices through the air, effortlessly guiding the wood elf's furious blows away.
The combat ensues for an hour until the exhausted wood elf falls to his knees in defeat, bleeding and distraught. The orc then turns to a group of wood elves who had been waiting patiently on the other side of the grove and says something in perfect elven. He then bends down and picks up his opponent and carries him over to them. After the hapless elf is taken away another stands in the grove and the lesson from the master continues.
Illusion Or Not?
A breathtaking young woman with burnished bronze flesh bathes in a spring. Upon her breast she wears only an ornate ruby necklace that flashes with fiery light. Her golden eyes sparkle with intelligence and yet she seems oblivious to her surroundings, lost in the moment and completely enjoying the warm spring. On approach, her eyes are closed as she stretches out in pleasure. Upon noticing the group she screeches. She and the spring instantly change into a rotten tree log and swamp hole. The ruby necklace hanging off the rotten log is all that remains from the previous scene.
Pausing under the low hanging bow of a great oak tree, one of the group notices notches carved deep enough into the trunk for a large mans' foot to take hold. The footholds rise up into the thick of the branches until the leaves obscure rest of the way.
The foliage is so thick in that area and the air so humid the trunk itself is dark and wet with condensation. Climbing further up, the condensation gets thicker until the black wetness on the trunk becomes warm. Closer examination reveals the condensation to be blood.
Soft sensual moans animate from above but nothing can be seen for the tree leaves. Moving further up, the moans change and a creepy giggling is heard--but from what direction?
The top of the great tree serves as a wizard's rest and the wizard has a forest construct or forest golem that serves as guardian. The golem lures victims with charms and mimicry so its master can decide if the intruders are a threat. If there is no threat the guests are welcomed into the rest and luckier guests are treated to a stay in the interior with its lavish, multiple levels.
Giant Encounter Set-Up
Startled by the group's approach, Nugash the Wanderer, First Mage of the Greater Council of Hill Giants, pulls an
enormous oak tree out of the ground and uses it to sweep aside several other trees of similar girth. "Come and sit little friends, Nugash has cleared space for you. Sit and watch, for today you will see something no other has. Good fortune has brought you here today."
At his right side, lying between several trees, a massive staff is carved with hideous giant faces as though the real giants were trapped within. On his left, a great sack made of hundreds of different animal hides and scales...red dragon scales. He begins to draw on the ground in front of you.
Brushing away the hanging ferns and elder forest growth, the group freezes.
Standing waist-deep in the middle of the river is an enormous brown bear with its arms raised high. On the banks of the river, in a circle around the bear, are six of the largest dire wolves the group has ever seen. The dire wolves seem spellbound, sitting on their haunches with gazes fixed on the great bear.
The bear's posture is disturbingly more like a human's then a bear; and as the suspicion forms in the mind's of the PCs, the bear begins crafting from the air in front of it magical runes that take shape and begin to dance around him. In unison, the dire wolves arc their heads back and let out a melodic howl that forms counter-runes that begin to dance in opposition. A great axe (or sword) rises out of the water in front of the bear and the runes are now flying round and round in a blur. They begin to peel off one by one and be absorbed by the weapon. The area is covered in magical light.
As the last rune is absorbed, the dire wolves begin to change shape. As this is occurring, one of the group shuffles their foot position and snaps a piece of dry wood. Even the noise of the river is silenced momentarily as the snap echoes like a gunshot across the water. All turn toward you.
Powerful Defense Artifact
Protruding from a great granite slab in the center of a clearing is a granite sphere scored with markings instantly recognized by the group as star constellations. Upon entering the clearing, it becomes obvious that there are four distinct corners to the clearing. In each corner is a partially covered representation of an element marked on obsidian discs about the size of a small shield. This place feels like it has been deserted for a very long time.
Closer examination of the sphere reveals that the sphere's constellations are not correctly positioned and that there are segments that can be moved. After aligning the constellations with the correct place in the night sky the group hears a god-like voice emanate from within the sphere: "Speak thy enemy's name and speak true." Upon a name spoken by any in the group an extremely powerful elemental creature is summoned and immediately heads out of the clearing. It will not cease until it has removed the living force of the unfortunate being named. If it is destroyed, another more powerful elemental creature sets out on the path. This was a first age self-defense weapon created when there were few beings around with the knowledge to activate it.
Gruesome Ogre Corpse
The sickly sweet stench of decaying flesh draws the group into a clearing. Before them is a horrific site. A large ogre's body fills the area staked out with large chains and garish meat hooks the size of a man's head. His bloated body's organs have been removed and wrapped. From behind the body a vision of startling beauty emerges. Wearing all white, the female figure spreads what looks to be wings bathed in brilliant light. She lightly leaps upon the body and then says something in a language none of the group has heard before. She smiles and begins to caste a spell.
Should the group let the spell continue it will animate the ogre who will attack them.... Or perhaps cast similar chains and hooks towards them... Or perhaps protect them from another ogre who has been stalking them.
The forest before the group moves from lush evergreen brush into a decayed dead zone centering around the statue of an elven girl. The expression on her face is one of fear. Within her stone hands she grasps a brilliant, ornately carved sceptre made from an unknown metal. Anything stepping on the ground within 20 meters around the statue begins to decay instantly. The effect ceases outside of the circle. If the group decides not to approach and continue on the statue calls to them in a fearful plea for help.
It may be that elven girl used the sceptre to kill the being who turned her to stone centuries ago in a last-ditch effort. She has languished here since and is luring the greedy to their doom. Watch your step. :)
A pungent odor permeates the air flowing out from under the cavernous root system of an giant birch tree, upon closer examination the tree has runes decorating its roots. These symbols were neither carved nor painted, as if the living flesh of the tree formed them. A noise emanates from deep underneath the earth. The PCs hearts are frozen in fear, and breathing stops in cold realization of an ancient wonder slipping through the group. Under the tree, sacrifice and murder takes place as a terrible restoration is in its final stages.
The group will discover that one amongst them is key to the restoration and the group can either try to thwart it or join in and see one of their companions become something quite extraordinary.
The characters are lost in a desert and could easily die of dehydration. Amazingly, they accidentally stumble upon an oasis. The pool of water in the middle is surrounded by date palms heavy with fruit. They can hear the sounds of singing birds in the trees and see some of them skimming over the water, catching insects. At this point, the characters will probably be thinking that this oasis looks like a great place to fill their water skins and stay for the night. Unfortunately, it is not going to be so easy. As the characters begin to walk under the first date palm a bird begins to screech above them. This immediately causes the others to join in. The beautiful scene bursts into a flurry of activity as birds take off from every tree in the oasis to dive bomb the characters. With a deafening noise, the birds peck at the characters eyes and tear at their hair. Some of the birds even thump off of the characters' armor and fall to the ground dead with the impact. These extremely aggressive and territorial birds will do whatever they can to protect their oasis.
Bell of Doom
This encounter idea is a good opening for the DM's latest Big Baddie, and could be worked into just about any campaign.
The adventurers come across the ruins of an abandoned or destroyed city. Among the few towers left standing is an ancient bell tower with a spiral staircase leading up to an ancient brass bell. In their exploration, should the party mount the steps and examine the bell, it bears a sigil in an ancient language meaning "Doom". Should they attempt to ring the bell, they'll note that it doesn't even move - it seems to have rusted into place, being immobile in even the heaviest of breezes. Even oiling or hard shoving or magic won't cause it to move; the bell is utterly still. If they decide to rest in the city for the evening due to an oncoming storm or the like, late that night, in the midst of the darkest hour, the bell begins to ring... The back story: The bell is called Doom, an artifact created to assist in the warding of the ancient city. It will not ring unless there is a threat which is capable of destroying or subjugating the majority of the city's occupants. Yep, a party of adventurers sleeping in the city's shadow count as occupants...
Happy Hippo River Crossing
River crossings are often thought of as the place for predators to attack, but not all hostile animals are predators. Herbivores that are known for spending a large part of their lives in water can be very vicious. An example is the Hippopotamus, which is believed to kill more people each year than alligators. The vicious herbivores would be at their worse at night, when they can be stumbled on and thrash and crush the interlopers. During the day, they will not take kindly to being pushed out of the ford and will attempt to grab and drag off to deeper waters any offender.
Not so Venomous
The setting: another world.
The travel: by foot.
The terrain: thick vegetation.
In this scenario, explorers from off-world/other dimension are traveling through thick vegetation with the help of a guide. While the guide and the PCs are hacking at a particularly thick growth, thick vines drop and swing down delivering a venom spitting serpent. It sprays its poison for the eyes of the guide and PCs. The venom blinds the helpful guide who collapses in pain and fear. (If goggles or face shields are worn then the venom is effective on skin contact) The PCs will avoid the worst of the spray, only getting enough to cause some pain and mild irritation. (cheat the PCs' save. If the PC makes a save declare that they get only half the effect. If they fail the save cluck your tongue and say, well a save would have avoided the poison) Now the group is without their guide's eyes to lead them, and they are deep in the habitat of these venom spitting serpents.
The good news, is that the venom is only deadly to the natural inhabitants of this world. Most off-worlders, while finding it painful, and are only irritated by its exposure. Some off might even find it an undiscovered stimulant.
The group now faces a few problems. Can they find their way to their objective without their guide to lead them? Will they leave the poor fellow to be serpent food? How long can a GM scare the players with non-poisonous serpents? If they are a mixed bag of races, will one suddenly get a high or excessive vitality from being sprayed?
How do giants ambush prey? They tend to be a little big to conceal themselves behind a bush. Imagine if you will, a water hole or game trail crossing a stream. The giant gathers brush and mud to turn itself into a mound, and settles down to wait for prey. Most likely it will wait for a nice moose or a large stag, then spring out and dash it against a bolder. But what if a party of adventures happen upon the giant first. If the giant believes the party is dangerous to itself, it will stay still and hope for them to leave. But if a mischievous PC or NPC should leap on the mound to look around, or the prized moose picks that moment to step out where the giant can get it, the giant may very well spring the ambush on the moose startling the PCs. Then again, the giant could just be an evil being attacking any to come across its water hole.
Standard River Crossing
Often glossed over, crossing a river that does not have a nearby ford or bridge can be challenging. There need not be predators or other animals to cause problems. Fast moving rivers can sweep mounts, riders and foot travelers away bringing the risk of drowning. Wide rivers may be more than can be easily crossed and may need someone to actually use that Devise or Engineering skill for something other than traps. Don't forget the banks. What may look like a good spot may be soft mud or quicksand. It is also possible to be swept down river past the intended "landing" and end up trying to get a horse up a bolder- and rock-strewn bank before being swept back into rapids.
Animals may spook when in the water if not trained well enough, and try to dislodge their rider, seeking to free themselves of the burden in the unfamiliar water. Submerged rocks and trees will be a nasty surprise when suddenly encountered in the murky river water. Usually there is a deep hole on the down flow side of these.
Think of the humor of the foot traveler that is crossing the river with some belonging held dry over head when they are the one to find the 'sinkhole' in the river bed.
A well equipped group usually finds the ambush of primitives almost comical. The weak attacks are often deflected by better defenses and group's return attacks are devastating to the primitives. However, remember that the primitives know the terrain and the local flora and fauna. They would also employ a quick strike and fade tactic, always trying for a mini-ambush for a small bit of surprise. Particularly vulnerable to primitives are pack animals and porters. Both of which tend to be lightly protected. Sometimes with fast moving and terrain knowledgeable opponents, the best the PCs should hope for is to drive the primitives off. So players will have to move out and bring the primitive into direct conflict to prevent them from picking favored attack positions.
It is all fun and games until some one falls into a pit trap.
The simple trap can bring great despair to a well armored warrior. The deeper it is, the harder the fall, then there is everyone's favorite: Spikes. But for a nasty twist, put a vicious unknown opponent in the trap. Flesh eating worms don't care about plate mail or advanced storm trooper armor. Make the trap a camouflaged natural hole and lure a badger or wolverine type animal in it. Just because the primitives are a low technology superstitious lot, does not mean they are dumb. They will know the area and use it to their best advantage.
Under the Troll Bridge
The natural obstacle to overcome is a deep chasm with the natural bridge to cross it. The bridge can take the form of the classic fallen tree, an arch of stone, or an ice bridge. Nesting or hiding in the area are creatures that will attack anyone or anything that crossing the bridge. Their tactic is not to stay and fight. Rather, they seek to knock their intended victims off the bridge and then feed on the remains at the bottom of the chasm. I expect, for this tactic to be viable the attackers intelligence
should be higher than that of standard creatures.
The attacks can come from under the bridge with the creatures reaching up to grab feet and legs. Or the creatures can jump up on the bridge, grab and pull the victim down. Large flying creatures will work as well, but won't gain much in surprise, but swooping to knock their targets off balance would be effective.
On a twist, change the chasm to water or marsh with the bridge just above/at/just below water level and the attackers being water based, possibly reptiles or leaping fish. I've seen film of 20 foot long crocodiles leaping 15 feet out of the water. Also river dolphins don't have to be shy herbivores. There could also be leaping piranha.
In both cases the greatest danger is falling from the bridge and either plummeting to a messy death, or drowning.
Fear of the Small
The cautious heroes are moving silently through the woods to the enemy encampment when one companion moves into a spider web of the venomous banana spider. The screams of terror awaken the enemy. Having witnessed this one in real life while on maneuvers, the panicked Marine started to dance around and swat himself in fear of a spider bite. If he had been much closer to the ambush he would have alerted the opposing force. The key here was not how dangerous the spider was, rumor had made the venom lethal when it wasn't, but how fear of a small creature almost caused dire consequences for the rest of the group.
Spiders are not the only threat to cause fear. The sudden warning sounds of small reptiles trigger defensive responses. Usually it's a "get the heck out of there" type of response. The warning of a rattler snake would cause most PCs to jerk away, causing an alarming amount of noise. Built up and imagined fear of a small threat can cause an overreaction and a good deal of noise. It is the response to fear that is the major threat.
In a twist, the animal's threat sound may be all the noise needed to alert an intended quarry. The harmless reptile that has evolved a high-pitched scream to intimidate predators would make an alarm system unrecognized by magic and technology.
In different terrain the creatures will hide or surprise in different ways:
* Plains: the creatures hide in the tall grass waiting to be startle characters.
* Desert or sand: they would be buried just below the surface waiting to be stepped on and cause fear or surprise.
* Rough and rocky: they lay in wait in crevasses or behind rocks to make silent travel more difficult.
* Woods and jungles: the small fears have the most places to hide and surprise. Hanging down in a path they can cause revulsion and surprise. On the ground there's soft earth to hide in as well as brush.
Remember, it is not the small animal that is the threat, but the characters reactions. At the very least, the encounter will raise the tension level as the commotion may cause unwanted attention.
Exposed Idol & Honey Pot
An idol once concealed by heavy undergrowth is revealed when a wind storm knocks a tree down, dragging the underbrush from the idol. Nesting in the idol is a stone bees' hive whose honey has curing properties. Depending on the level of magic or technology, the honey can be used raw to cure wounds or transformed into more potent cures. A remembered rumor of there being an active hive of stone bees in the area that no one can find. Maybe overheard at the last village.
The sounds of a crying child come from the thick underbrush. Vines, branches, and closely packed trees hinder travel. Two possible results for the rescuers.
1) They find a child being tormented by a monster, giving the PCs a chance to rescue it.
2) The sounds were a mimic to get the PCs to fall for an ambush.
Remember the thick underbrush and obstacles in the ensuing combat. Swinging a great sword will be impossible. Moving to swing most weapons will be impossible. Aiming bows at the rapidly moving monsters would be very difficult. The fight will require close-in and short thrusting weapons.