Wilderness Encounter Ideas For Game Masters
November 13, 2020
- The Magic Pool
- The Blood Demon
- Strange Corpse & Chest
- Multiple Threats
- Forest Temple & Fountain
- Dwarven Quest
- Trapped Centipede & Intriguing Shelter
- Evil Tide
- Unexpected Lesson
- Illusion or Not?
- Wizard’s Rest
- Giant Encounter Set-Up
- Beastly Ceremony
- Powerful Defense Artifact
- Gruesome Ogre Corpse
- Decay Trap
- Sacrificial Root
- Territorial Oasis
- Bell of Doom
- Happy Hippo River Crossing
- Not so Venomous
- Giant Mound
- Standard River Crossing
- Primitive Relief
- Under the Troll Bridge
- Fear of the Small
- Exposed Idol & Honey Pot
- Child’s Cry
- Bird Strike
- Grass Fire!
- Wild River Combat
- Underground Chase
- Weeping Willow
- The Green Menace
- The Hunting Party
- When A Tree Falls in A Forest
- Falling Star
- Raging River
- Navigational Technique
- Desert Disease
- Standing Stone In The Woods
- The Prisoner
- The Wilderness Is A Dangerous Realm
- Desolate Lands, Dangerous Lands
- The Sky Is Falling
- Insane Hermit
- Bandit Mayhem
- Fatal Mirage
- Tar Pits
- The Bridge and The Bandits
- New Life Form
- Native Inhabitant’s Encounter Ideas
- Protect the Hideout
- Jingling Tree Trap
- The Lone Traveler
- The Weak Shall Inherit Nothing
- Grisly Warning
- What’s That Smell?
- Mistreatment During Caravan Duty
- Midnight Chase
- Bridge Challenge of Honor
- Flee! It’s A Dragon!
- Guard the Food
- Godzilla Vs. Mothra
- ‘Ware Nature’s Fury
- Creepy Forest Willies
- Elemental Nuisance
- Searching Goblins
- Moldy Golem Guardian
- Ghostly Knight
- Briar Maze
- Forced March
- Rope Bridge Menace
- Moon Gates & Werewolf Guide
- Bathing Giants Land the PCs in Hot Water
- Drunk Ogres Sleeping It Off
- Vertical Battle
- Moth Invasion with A Twist
- Tree Music Makes Good Cover
- Flooded Burial Ground
- Scorpion Menace
- Bird-Men Attack
- Green River of Blood
- Where to Dump the Body?
- Bounty Hunter Trap
- Thrown Horse Shoe Bad Luck
- Fearsome Gossip
- Magic Leakage
- Troll Toll
- Thief in Disguise
- Bard on Foot
- Strange Weather
- Halfling Weed Has A Kick
- Halfling Ambush
- Scribe/Artist and Student
- Sheep Rustlers
- Merchant Trading with Orcs
- Friendly Donkey
- A Plague of Pilgrims
- Riddle Contest
- Why Don’t You Come Up to My Tree Big Boy?
- Bored Poachers!
- Depressed Treant
- Circus Freaks
- Barbarian Slavers
- Tunnel Networks
- Dramatic Weather
- Lookout! It’s Charging!
The ton of great wilderness encounter ideas in this article make this one of the best supplemental issues ever.
Roleplaying Tips Game Masters from around the world helped me crowdsource and edit these wilderness encounters to help your game. Thanks to everyone who pitched in to help create this awesome GMing resource!
Game masters always need more travel and wilderness encounter ideas. When the party travels your world or just heads out to the local dungeon and back, you want to make things interesting for players.
So please grab my free crowdsourced book, 1,372 Roadside Encounter Ideas right now and save it for offline access at the game table or while prepping your next wilderness adventure.
Wilderness Encounter Ideas
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:
- 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.).
- The pool provides healing to people of one class/ alignment/religion and either does nothing or harms anyone else.
- The pool is a trap (maybe a mimic?) that conceals the entrance to a monster/bandit lair.
- 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).
- The pool is a gate to an alternate world.
- Stepping into the pool transports the PCs to the fairy realm (i.e. Alice in Wonderland).
- The pool could speak to them. It’s a seer, intelligent entity, or special enchantment.
- 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 armor 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 paw’s 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 armor 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 enemy’s 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 troll skin 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 are pugnant 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 SafePlace. 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 life force 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 match his smaller opponent’s 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 goldeneyes 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 man’s 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 minds of the PCs, the bear begins crafting from the air in front of its 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 groups 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 creatures 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 cast 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 scepter 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 scepter 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 a giant birch tree, upon closer examination the tree has runes decorating its roots. These symbols were neither carved or 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 restorationist 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 awarding 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 fora 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. Fastmoving 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 someone 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 attacker’s 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 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.
- They find a child being tormented by a monster, giving the PCs a chance to rescue it.
- 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.
The PCs are in flight close to the earth at a rapid speed when a flock of bird’s spring up into their path causing a Bird Strike. In a fantasy setting they may get knocked off the flying carpet. In Modern or Sci-Fi settings, the engines may take a hit, in which case, Jet style engines can suck a bird in and blow the engine. Now they are flying a crippled craft and may need to land. The landing can be a rapid crash or more controlled safe attempt.
The location of a bird strike does not have to be limited to woods and jungles. Low brush can hide the birds until they rise up in the immediate flight path. If the flight is at a greater altitude the flock may be malevolent and maneuver in front of the aircraft in a suicide attack. Also, large birds can change the severity of the strike. A flock of large birds would need to be dodged through, with more severe results in a strike.
The party is trying to escape from a rushing wildfire sweeping across a grassland. All sorts of beings are fleeing for their lives, and the party must cooperate with them or battle them to survive. Fire and fury is everywhere in a radical flight for life.
Wild River Combat
The party must fight an enemy riding down a raging river through a canyon. The river has rapids and cascades that must be navigated and avoided. From the cliffs and precipices high above, enemy archers rain arrows and substances upon the imperiled adventurers.
A thief who has stolen a valuable artifact must be chased through a cavernous Karst region, full of limestone caverns, underground streams, and sinkholes open to the sky. Animals and monsters have fallen into the system from above and the party must confront all manner of hazards finding the mobile thief. Nighttime in the region brings additional hazards.
A previous Wizard Duel destroyed a small copse of trees, one of which was a young treant. Now, the parent treant (and maybe some friends) stop anyone even resembling a mage. The parent, of course, is a Willow Tree Treant.
The parent (or group of treants) should be of significant power to make the party want to talk. If they talk, the treant will reveal that their offspring was destroyed by a wizard and the treant wants vengeance. The treant offers the garb and items of the wizard who was defeated in the mage duel. The wizard could possibly be one the party knows. (Even better would be if it’s a good NPC who destroyed the copse while battling evil.)
The Green Menace
Normally, when one thinks of encounters one thinks of animals, beasts, and monsters. Of course, there are also the intelligent humanoids. Or perhaps even natural obstacles. But what about plants? And what about semi-intelligent plants?
In this encounter, the party is traveling through dense jungle when they come across large pods lying on the ground with woody stems that stretch upwards into the dark-green canopy overhead. The pods are huge, some 10ft across, and have a dark green rubbery texture. The ground around the pods is, in places, scuffed and the weathered traces of a few shallow furrows can be seen scattered haphazardly over the area.
As the party is standing there, another pod drops down from above. But this one is open and has teeth like a giant venus-fly-trap. A sluggish character will immediately be engulfed by one of these pods. And getting him or her out again, before the caustic secretions cause unconsciousness or even death, may present a problem.
Furthermore, some of the other pods begin to retract up into the forest canopy, ready to strike again. As they do so, they open into their attack position, and the remains of other unfortunate travelers (armor, weapons, bones, etc.) clatter to the ground. But who will stay about to search through the debris for treasures? Or who would dare attempt to climb the tree to attack this deadly flora at its own level?
The Hunting Party
Often there are wandering monster encounters where the party will meet some random monster that’s prowling about. But what happens when they come across a similar beast in a state of distress?
In this encounter, the party hears the roars/cries/screeches of some monster. Upon investigation, they discover it held in some sort of trap, whether that be a pit trap, a snare, or whatever (decide as appropriate to the monster chosen). Of course, they are faced with a dilemma.
Should they release the monster? Should they just kill it outright? (They don’t want it running wild again, but a quick cross-bow bolt through the eyes would put it out of its misery rather than letting it starve/bleed to death.) Or should they just leave it? In the case of pure good, benign creatures, the choice is obvious. But for evil or semi-evil monsters the choice may not be so clearly cut.
And then there is the hunting party who set the trap in the first place. This could be anything from sophisticated high-elves to primitive barbarians. Should the party have killed the monster, then the hunters will be furious not to have caught their prey alive (whether for a ritual sacrifice later, or for sale to a circus/zoo).
On the other hand, if the monster is set free, then the hunters will again be furious, but perhaps for different reasons: the release of this threat back into their environment, the missed opportunity of food for their starving village, etc.
Alternatively, as the party is deciding what to do, the hunting party arrives with ideas that are certainly against anything that the party is currently considering. Or perhaps they see the party as thieves, attempting to steal their prey.
Regardless of the exact views of hunters and party, there will be lots of roleplaying opportunities as the two groups negotiate.
And if there are such snares in the area, then perhaps the party can fall foul of one at a later stage and then be at the mercy of the same hunters.
When A Tree Falls in A Forest
There is an old philosophical question that is often posed along the lines of “If a tree falls in a forest, and no-one is there to witness the event, does it make any sound?”. The usual answer is yes, of course, it makes a sound.
But what happens when a party of adventurers are journeying through a wooded area, and a slight movement catches their attention. It is a mighty oak tree, tall and majestic, but a bough shakes, and then the tree itself shudders. Finally, the massive trunk splinters and the great oak comes down in a cloud of leaves, broken branches, and split wood. But it comes down in absolute silence! Not a sound, not the merest trace of a noise, despite so many tons of timber falling.
The party may choose to investigate immediately; after all, it is a very strange event. With some form of detection, they may realize that the tree was silenced (i.e. a silence spell) before it came down. But why? And why did it need to fall anyway? Was it natural, or something more sinister?
There may be many reasons behind the silent felling of a tree, ranging from a dying ent (tree-being) wishing to die in silence, to stealthy orcs trying to destroy an ancient grove without attracting any attention from a nearby village.
However, one plot line could be that a mage wishes to acquire the “heart of the forest” – a natural artifact – which is encased in this great tree. However, in order to remove this treasure, the tree must be destroyed, thus enraging the fey (dryads, nymphs, etc.) who make it their home. In order to avoid their wrath, the mage casts silence on the entire area, to thwart their magic while he makes his escape.
Even if the party doesn’t investigate the tree, they could encounter the mage himself, fleeing the area, or the fey- creatures in his pursuit. Or perhaps the fey mistakenly blame the party.
And of course, the reason that the mage wants this natural artifact in the first place could be the hook for a new adventure or side-quest.
Often, we think of fantasy worlds as two dimensional—merely a world surface upon which to roam. Occasionally things come up from the depths of the earth, but rarely do things arrive from the other direction–the depths of space.
In this encounter, the party witnesses a meteorite hitting their world. A blinding flash and a streak of light coming down from the constellations to the earth. A tremor below their feet and then an almighty bang that they feel in their stomachs as much as they hear in their ears.
Perhaps the group may wish to investigate this visitation from the skies. Finding the site of the fall may be a challenge in its own right and the reward may be the acquisition of a valuable mineral resource for the forging of special weapons, armor, or items.
But of course, it might be that the sky-stone is still glowing red-hot, or it is large enough that the internal chill of the object has caused the surface glow to subside and the dull rock to ice over. Maybe the meteorite is buried, and the party can find the impact site but not the stone itself, which is actually many feet under the ground. Perhaps the crash has sparked a fire, which in turn provides an additional hazard.
And what happens when other witnesses to the shooting-star arrive to claim the stone for their own or at least to keep others from it? The sorceress, who sees it as the last component of her most powerful spell, the cleric who sees it as a sign of his deity, the superstitious barbarian who flees it in fear of disease, and the simple villager who comes to worship it.
And perhaps the arrival of the characters, at a nearby village shortly after the event, is treated with more reverence or fear than would normally be expected, owing to the omen that preceded them. Would they be treated as saviors or as demons?
The party and their mounts are travelling up a long deep mountain gorge. The road is narrow and winding and the river is a torrent of white water. The melting snows in the highlands have made the river especially violent, and some freak rain has exacerbated the situation. After several miles of painfully slow travel, the group comes across a place where the river has washed the narrow road away completely.
It is not desirable to turn back. Either it is not possible to turn about a wagon due to limited space, the distance is too far, or the destination of the party can be reached by no other route.
Thus, some method of getting themselves and their gear across the water is required.
It would require the most amazing swimmer to cross the rapids over the washed-out path. But a good climber may be able to scale the steep hillside and find a way around the obstacle. But what of the others? There are no trees to which a rope may be attached, and then how do the horses and wagons also get across?
The pressure is stepped up as the sounds of pursuit may be heard coming from further down the valley. These may be either the growls of beasts, or the shouts of bandits. Worse still, the group may not even hear the approach of attackers over the roar of the raging river.
Finally, the washed-out section of road may expose a cave opening or other fissure into the mountain side that could provide the hook for a new adventure.
So often, characters traverse vast areas of unmarked landscape to flawlessly arrive at some distant destination. These terrains are any that show no distinctive features: a desert, a dense forest, the open sea, etc.
After the group has left the rim of civilization and distinctive landmarks, they wake up one overcast morning and prepare to head off, at which point the GM asks them “which way do you go”. The reply will be a confident statement of a direction, for example… “Of course, we head east!”. To which the GM should reply… “And which way is that?”.
With no sun (due to the overcast weather), the characters will need to devise some alternative method of navigation. This could mean just waiting for clear weather to navigate by the sun or stars, but this could mean a wait of weeks and the supplies will dwindle.
Another option is to look for the tracks of where they have been already. By placing markers (e.g. 10-foot poles driven into the sand), they could at least maintain a straight line of travel. However, this will either slow down their movement, as they need to constantly return to fetch poles no longer in sight, or they will soon run out of such markers.
And if a member of the group has some natural direction sense, what about the NPC in the party who also claims such an ability, but disagrees with the PC slightly (or even completely). Is this just a miscalibration, a misunderstanding, or something more sinister?
Of course, other problems come in when the one landmark they do find is either not on their map, or worse, incorrectly marked on their map.
On long journeys the party often just saddles up and heads off, fully provisioning themselves but often taking their poor pack animals for granted.
So, the group treks across the desert only to notice that their animals begin to get sick. At first, a druid or cleric could quickly heal the animal in question, but as time goes on, the severity of the disease becomes more acute, more animals are affected, and the spells are less effective.
The party members themselves are fine and could quite happily continue on foot should their beasts of burden die, although they would need to leave some gear behind.
A spell that permits a character to speak with the animals, or some other form of divination, may reveal the source of the animal’s ailments. It could be as simple as poor feed or a lack of water, and range right up to an extra-planar being that is stalking the group in invisible form, sapping the life of the animals, in order to hinder the group or for its own sake. Of course, this would depend on the level of the group and the particular campaign background in which the GM has set the encounter.
Standing Stone In The Woods
The party is journeying through a vast, dense forest one day when they happen upon a lone standing stone in a small forest clearing. Scattered about are human bones and rusted weapons and armor. There is no indication as to how these people died, and other than the scattered equipment there is nothing else to be found. The party members will experience slight feeling of dread, and any mounts or animals with the party will behave in a fearful manner.
An expert tracker in the group will note many trails leading off in all directions into the forest undergrowth, but they will prove essentially impossible to follow for long. An astute character may also notice that there are no animal sounds (the twitter of birds, the buzz of insects, etc.) to be heard.
Eventually, the group will move on. About a mile later (regardless of their direction of travel), they will come across another similar standing stone. Again, if they travel on, they will come to another, exactly one mile on. At some point the group will become suspicious and realize that they are returning to the same stone, over and over. This may be discerned by something as simple as marking the stone with chalk. Careful navigation (which is actually a challenge in a dense forest) will confirm that they are being magically returned to the same place.
Solutions to this puzzle vary, depending on the level of the group. It may require simply reversing the direction of travel, exactly halfway between the two stones, to avoid having their path reflected back to the stone. It may involve waiting until dark for an ancient spirit within the stone to come forth—which may in turn be the hook for a new quest or a dangerous combat. Alternatively, it may involve actually destroying the stone itself–quite a challenge should the stone stand several meters high.
However, once the solution is found and the party leaves the stone for the last time, no amount of searching will ever find it again.
The PCs are travelling through an old forest, a shortcut from one town to another, though the locals say the forest is haunted. After a midnight vision, the characters chase an illusory spectral form through the woods and underbrush and find a serene lake, bathed in moonlight. In the center of the lake is a cairn of stones, forming an island, with a massive blackened stone in the center. The paladin says the rock radiates a great evil.
If players leave to investigate in books and local stories, they’ll find that a great battle took place in the woods between a witch and a priest. When the battle ended, there was no sign of victor or loser, though the woods started having strange mind-affecting dream-visions.
In my game, the priest in the story served a demon-lord secretly and his body was inhabited by a demon servitor. The ‘witch’, a sorceress, summoned a great angel to destroy the demon and died in the summoning. The demon sacrificed the life of the dark priest to bind the celestial away, escaping to his own dimension. The dreams of the celestial are the spectral images seen dancing through the forest.
Freeing the celestial will earn its favor, and perhaps a quest to find the escaped demon and destroy him and his servants.
The Wilderness Is A Dangerous Realm
Another setting that really inspired me is not from fantasy, but from the real world. I went on vacation to my retired Aunt and Uncle’s house in a middle-of-nowhere town called Vernon, which was about 40 minutes from the nearest city of any size. The house they lived in was on a road that had one piece of property about every 200 yards. It was on a long and winding dirt road surrounded by a lush, dense forest.
Being something of a city critter, I never imagined the kind of density a normal forest had, so I was quite amazed as I took a nice little stroll down the road. Being a fantasy gamer and writer, I was inspired. I could just imagine the madness and confusion one could experience in a battle in the forest. All the undergrowth and sudden pools constantly challenging your balance, all the places a well camouflaged fighter could hide. Combat could happen in large groups so the battle would deteriorate into small skirmishes and melees.
You could be hacking your way through one encounter and, called by distant war horns, head off to another and you’d never know if an ambush was right on top of you until the first arrows flew. And unlike in the video games, the roads are NOT the safe place. Heading out into the open road is just asking to be spotted and shot down before you knew what hit you!
In respect to gaming, this all results in lots of rolls and lots of risk! Dexterity rolls to keep your balance in precarious situations, contests of stealth and perception to ambush or avoid ambush. And rolls for tactics and strategy for leaders. Of course, this would have to be fueled by lots of quick and vibrant description, and a lot of use for the old battle-mat.
Desolate Lands, Dangerous Lands
One of the most interesting yet realistic landscapes I have ever encountered was described in the Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. As Perrin and Egwene follow Elyas, he leads them through northeastern Andor into a terrain plagued by constant dips and rises in the treeless hills. I was so inspired that I designed a whole region of my current campaign setting to be like them. They are the perfect setting for a gritty and paranoid group of characters. The whole land is plagued by rocky outcroppings and so many dips and rises in the earth.
Just think of all the mayhem you could set in your PCs’ minds just by putting them on a road through that. Half an army could be hidden out in that mess.
What’s even more inspiring is what happens when the proverbial poop DOES hit the fan! Just think! A small group of bandits with a good working knowledge of the land could wreak havoc on even large caravans. The roads couldn’t be wide so groups would have to spread out or crowd together. The sound of a birdcall sets all hell loose. Archers pop out from rises.
They fire their first volley quickly, aiming for melee guards and the lead wagon drivers in the line. Before the second volley is notched fighters pour from their cubbies between outcroppings, hacking down defending archers as they set their sights at the ridge top.
What defenders remain are in a bind. The melee fighters can’t get up to the archers on the ridge and the defending archers can’t use their weapons on the attacking fighters because of the close quarters. The attacking fighters use small arms for close quarters combat while the archers take easy pot shots from above. Even if things go badly for the bandits the fighters can retreat while the archers cover them, and they use their knowledge of the terrain to escape stealthily and continue other hits-and-runs.
Another possible aid to the attackers is to disable the lead wagon to create a road block. They could kill the horses, cut them loose, or just hack the wheels out from under the wagon. With no chance of going forward, caravanners would try turning their wagons around and retreating, which is the easiest way for attackers to run them down.
Tactics would change depending on the defenders. If the travelers were guarded by lance-bearing knights there would be no need to do anything but fire shots from the ridges. The knights’ long weapons would be useless. A panic would likely rise, doing half the bandits’ work!
This does, of course, assume a low magic area. If the caravaneers have a fireball-toting mage then the whole tactic goes to the wind. But that doesn’t kill the idea, it just presents more chances for you (the GM) to present a more devilish ambush!
The Sky Is Falling
The PCs are walking somewhere when a wounded dragon (or some other big flying thing) crashes down, nearly smashing them. It’s a cloudy or foggy day so they didn’t see the fighting dragons or whatever before. The dragon might ask them for help, perhaps to find some magical plant or object that could heal him before he dies. Also, whoever wounded and downed the dragon might come looking for whether he is dead enough yet.
The PCs come upon an old man, his skin cracked and leathery from exposure, compulsively balancing rocks upon one another in bizarre columns, each about 5′ tall. The entire time, he’s mumbling to himself about “building the egg tower for Pheenos.” The enigmatic codger has created about thirty of these piles in geometric shapes throughout the dunes and sagebrush. He’s harmless unless the PCs knock over a column (somewhat likely); then he’ll attack them (however ineffectual that might be).
Should they ever manage to reason with him, they may find out that he’s delusional from thirst and possibly suffering from latent mental defects (he hears voices, hallucinates). How he managed to survive this long on his own is a mystery. Maybe there really is some minor spirit (“Pheenos”) toying with the old guy, using magic to keep him alive.
The PCs are on a narrow ledge winding through a mountain pass. To their left, the mountain side rises sharply; to their right, the mountain side plummets steeply into a river that is full of white-water rapids from the spring run-off.
Just around a blind bend, there is a ledge about twenty feet above the trail that is covered with scraggly pine trees. Within the trees, bandits wait with crossbows and bows. Because of the blind bend in the trail and the cover of the trees, the bandits are difficult to see, so they are likely to surprise the PCs.
When the bandits begin their ambush, they fire at the PCs from the high ground and from behind the cover of the trees.
The PCs must either fire missile weapons up at them (with the disadvantage of the low ground and the bandit’s cover while the PCs are completely exposed). Alternately, the PCs can climb up to the bandits, but they must use hands and feet, meaning that they cannot use shields, cannot dodge, and cannot fight back while the bandits are firing at them from above.
In addition, the bandits can roll boulders at the PCs who are either climbing or standing on the trail: if a PC is hit by a boulder, there is a good chance they will fall down over fifty feet into a raging river full of boulders.
The trail after the bend is straight and exposed for several hundred feet, so if the PCs decide to run away, they must either go back the way they came (behind the safety of the bend in the trail) or be exposed to fire for several rounds. Also, running on the trail could be dangerous…
The players are travelling across the desert, the rolling dunes of sand are everywhere in sight, and even though they don’t like doing it, they have to look at the sun to know that they’re going in the right direction. The occasional sand storm whirls across the horizon and is strangely attractive due to the cooling wind speeds.
Anyway, the PCs must fight both the inhabitants of the desert, and their own mirages, which, for some reason, are all hostile. The mirages take different lengths of time to disappear, so the PCs are never entirely sure when they are fighting a mirage and when they are fighting living creatures. Fighting these ‘phantom creatures’ that constantly spring out of the sand and conversing with ‘phantom natives’ only ads to the fatigue and distrust, so that the PCs don’t know when they are fighting or talking with something real.
Smart players will eventually realize that the mirages somehow involve the potential to get water (e.g. the mirage creature springs out of water hole, is made out of water, or simply has water), but then a real creature (or tribe or whatever) offers the same potential, sending the players into confusion once again.
A tar pit has opened up in the midst of some valuable pasture land and prized sheep and cattle are getting sucked into the tar when they go down to drink the water from the surface. Now a variety of nasty predators and carrion-eating creatures has moved into the neighborhood to take advantage of the situation. The adventurers encounter the area when they are asked by the townspeople to look for a missing shepherd.
Once they get there, they are attacked by a series of predators. With each attack they risk being driven into the tar themselves. If they survive, do they just fence the tar pit off, or do they figure out that earth elementals created the tar pit as a portal back to their home plane?
The Bridge and The Bandits
A major bridge is out and caravans are backed up on both sides of it. When the adventurers come across the situation, a bandit raid is in progress, and they are caught in the crossfire.
New Life Form
The shuttle craft’s navigation system has gone out and is forced down to an uninhabited continent on a mining colony. While the crew is outside setting up an emergency beacon and putting up a temporary shelter, they find evidence of a heretofore undiscovered sapient life-form: if they establish contact before the miners do, they’ll win a discovery bonus from the Federation Science Commission.
Even though they have only minimal survival gear, they set off for what they think is the aborigine’s camp, unaware that they are actually walking into their hunting grounds. They fall into a pit and have to talk fast to keep from being killed by the aborigines, let alone to establish formal relations with them.
Native Inhabitant’s Encounter Ideas
- The characters stumble across holy ground and have to talk/fight their way out of the transgression.
- The characters are lost and low on supplies. The natives help them, creating opportunities for rituals such as joining the tribe, marriage (unknown to the player being married), joining hunting parties, etc.
- The natives are low on supplies and attempt to negotiate with the players for more, or sneak some from the players’ camp, causing great moral conflicts with good characters who want their supplies back, but can’t bring themselves to take them back from people that need them more.
Protect the Hideout
Ok, for some reason the PCs are strolling through a wood, populated by goblins. They walk through a small clearing with a stream and they hear “Protect the hideout!”. Now if the PCs were standing in the water, they dump a bucket full of piranha or similar fish into the water. After this they stand on little tree stands above and fire arrows, and maybe a shaman is up there casting spells too. If the PCs kill the goblins, they might find the hideout they were protecting.
Inside, there is a dungeon going deep into the hillside. The first half of the dungeon is infested with various creatures that enjoy snacking on the goblins. About halfway through the dungeon, they find a boarded-up door. Now through there is the hideout. After they kill the leader, they find papers showing how they planned to use several dozen kegs of oil and fire to burn up and blow up the critters outside of the boarded door. The fact is, if the PCs hadn’t intervened, the fire would’ve spread outside and would’ve burned down the huge forest.
If for some reason the players don’t attack the goblins, the forest and settlements nearby would be burned down. They’d probably see fire and smoke in the distance, and town criers would be yelling the tragedy throughout the streets.
If they raided the hideout, they found treasure and eight dozen kegs of oil. The label on the barrel shows the name of a local merchant, the players can take it to him or tell him the location of the stolen oil for a nice reward.
Jingling Tree Trap
Re: Purple tress that jingle in a breeze.
Using the purple musical tree idea could be fleshed out more if the area was inhabited by an aerial creature like a djinn or a creature from the plane of air. It could use its wind creating abilities to ‘jingle’ the trees to attract passers- by to it. This could be a trap encounter or maybe the creature needs some assistance returning to its home plane.
The PCs see a monolith carved with the words of several ancient languages. No one without an ancient language’s skill would be able to interpret them. And even bards would have difficulty making sense of them. After the PCs have a chance to examine the monolith, everyone gets a very odd feeling. Nothing damaging, nothing strong enough to analyze. About100 yards later, there are more monoliths with even more ancient languages carved on it. Pictograms, symbols, and other obscure carvings that can easily be misinterpreted.
The odd feeling intensifies to a full-blown magical effect emanating from the monolith. If the PCs keep looking for monoliths, they’ll find that they ring a large area filled with dead or undead vegetation, mutated indigenous creatures, and other strangeness. An aura of dread permeates the place. Careful investigation will show this to be a magical fallout zone and the carvings will be warnings to stay away in every language known at the time–which will not include Common.
The Lone Traveler
A lone traveler is encountered. Obviously not used to wilderness survival, this person may be found near death, badly wounded, or just scared and starved. The traveler has a story for why he or she is out here alone. Could be a runaway serf trying to hide from the authorities, a noble kidnapping victim who escaped and can’t find his or her way home, someone fleeing an advancing army or a marauding monster, an escaped virgin sacrifice fleeing both the dragon and the village search parties, a shape-changer pretending to be helpless in order to steal something or lead the PC’s into an ambush.
The Weak Shall Inherit Nothing
After the PCs clean out a dungeon and are ready to heal themselves and figure out who’s carrying what, another group of well-rested adventurers show up with wagons and carts. They begin the process of grabbing everything that isn’t nailed down.
Freshly killed dead bodies are lying around. They may be partially eaten or just left intact except for the wounds that killed them. If they were killed by a monster, that monster is still out there…. somewhere. For a dash of terror, have some evidence found on the bodies indicate that they were experienced adventurers.
Deaths by weapon could indicate that the PCs have entered a war zone with skirmishers and snipers still nearby, that these were victims of bandits–innocents who got in the way of bloodthirsty bounty hunters, bounty hunters beaten by their quarry…the possibilities are endless.
What’s That Smell?
One of the NPCs the PCs are traveling with is so afraid of getting insect bites that he/she is convinced to buy insect repellant. Or it could be someone with horrendous body odor that they mask with perfume. Only it’s musk from a rutting male monster. The attacks start when the group passes into appropriate terrain. Until the PCs find out about the musk and eliminate it on EVERYTHING, female monsters in heat will attack them repeatedly, going after the character with the musk. This is the clue that something is not quite right.
Mistreatment During Caravan Duty
The PCs are hired to be guards on a caravan or escorts and their supervisor is an incompetent fool who has no idea how to manage people. This means playing favorites, badly thought up guard schedules, and poor working conditions. The PCs and any NPCs who are in the situation will be racking up resentment and possibly subdual damage from not enough food or fatigue or other bad conditions.
A chase scene. In the middle of the night, monsters or enemy NPCs kidnap someone and the PCs must track them, chase them down, and rescue the prisoner. If you want to be truly devious, make the kidnappers much more powerful than the party so they’ll try for a bloodless resolution.
Bridge Challenge of Honor
If there is a paladin in the party, have them arrive at a bridge crossing held by a rival paladin who challenges the PC paladin to a contest of arms. Make this into a huge chivalric production. Only catch is, the paladin who loses must give up all belongings, including his/her companions. This should lead to a huge amount of pressure on the PC paladin, and the rest of the PCs with their freedom at stake will of course want to take action to affect the outcome of the duel.
Flee! It’s A Dragon!
A dragon flies overhead but doesn’t attack. That means fear saves. If there is a herd of animals present or non-warhorses as mounts, the animals panic and scatter and PCs must fight to control their mounts, chase down panicked animals, find their way back to the trail if they were themselves fleeing in panic.
Guard the Food
If the PCs don’t specifically state that they’re taking steps to keep wild animals out of their food by hanging it from branches (or just have them make a simple Wilderness Lore roll), sometime in the night wild animals (dire or normal, your choice) eat all the party’s food. Unless your cleric can create food, your party now has to hunt and forage to get provisions. This is a good one for city dwellers in the middle of nowhere.
Godzilla Vs. Mothra
Two groups of monsters are battling it out. It could be territorial aggression, rival tribes, or an invasion. You decide whether the monsters will ignore the PCs, divide their energy between enemy monsters and PCs, or unite against the PCs.
‘Ware Nature’s Fury
A major storm hits. The PCs see it coming a couple hours ahead of time. Depending on the season and region, it’ll be a blizzard, a thunderstorm, a tornado, hurricane, sandstorm. It hits fast and hard. A simple Wilderness Lore roll isn’t going to get them through this. And if the PCs are high level, an elemental or two will add extra nastiness.
If the PCs have a particular destination, they can get hopelessly lost. Point out that landmarks don’t look right, the river bed that was supposed to be there isn’t there, the rock outcropping that looks like a griffin’s head is missing, etc. Blame it on a blown Wilderness Lore check, a Maze spell lingering in the area, a guide who is utterly incompetent, an incorrect map.
This is a good method to hook PCs into adventures. Plot out several sets of tracks with different animals, numbers, types, and age of trail and let your rangers have a field day with lots of kibitzing on the side.
Creepy Forest Willies
A very creepy forest. It’s dark. You can’t see the sun under the forest canopy. No birds are chirping. No insects buzzing. It’s too quiet. A DM with good descriptive and atmospheric skills can milk this to the utmost without ever a monster being encountered. Call for Spot and Listen rolls periodically. Call for Scry rolls from anyone with an INT of 12 or better. Make them see and hear and sense things. If you do want to have a monster show up, make it an aberration, an outsider, a demon, devil, undead, or some
other thing not found in nature.
A small water elemental (or a woodland spirit, such as a nymph or dryad) extinguishes all fires in the immediate vicinity of a pristine mountain lake where it dwells.
A group of greedy goblins are searching for a buried trove which they hid beneath a rock. Unfortunately for them, a hill giant has been moving rocks around and they can’t find the treasure.
Moldy Golem Guardian
The PCs encounter a shield guardian covered in a yellow fuzz. It stands near the long dead body of a wizard, which is also covered in the yellow fuzz.
The golem attacks anyone who comes within 30′ of the wizards, or anyone who attacks the wizard or itself. It will not pursue more than 100′ from the wizard spot, and will target anyone molesting the wizard.
The fuzz is of course, yellow mold. The mold will erupt each time the golem is hit, and it will also erupt on the first two attacks the golem makes.
The golem fights until destroyed or until its targets are destroyed.
The wizard’s belongings are left to the DM. Belongings may have been ruined by the mold, or the passage of time.
At twilight, as the PCs journey near a swamp or other lonely place, one of the PCs notices a mounted figure in the distance, a warrior or knight judging from its armor and the horse’s barding. The figure is obviously staring at the PCs when it gestures for them to follow. It begins to ride off. When the PCs get within say 100′ or so they can see that the mounted knight is skeletal, as is his mount. If the PCs stop, the knight stops to gesture them forward.
As they travel thru the swamp, the knight answers no calls, and its mount seems able to keep the distance to about 100′ from the PCs. Spells affect the creature as they would a ghost – though no spells pass thru it, both knight and mount simply seem to shrug such spells off.
If destroyed, the knight will reappear the next night.
The knight travels only at night. The journey takes less than an hour. Along the way, if the PCs fall victim to pits or sinkholes or wandering beasts, the knight waits for them to follow once more.
When they reach a low embankment, the knight stops and points up the bank, and waits. Should the PCs investigate, they find the remains of an armored knight and its dead steed. The bones remain, having been gnawed on and weathered over the years. The knight has been dead for decades.
The armor (knight’s and horse’s), as well as the knight’s sword and some other items, are magical, and will prove a boon if the PCs properly bury the knight and his mount. Should they simply raid the body, the items could turn cursed. Or perhaps the ghostly knight follows them and attacks as they sleep, returning each night until he is buried.
The PCs are traveling and come upon an immense briar. It is no doubt magical. It completely blocks the path and extends for as far as they can see to the left and right. It is twenty to thirty feet high.
There are some bare patches that have formed a sort of maze. Of course, the creator of the maze, a druidic minotaur, hunts the PCs down for food. It uses entangle and its pass without trace to avoid to the thorns and avoid tracking. Any summoned animals would be used to distract the PCs while he strikes from the rear, using pass plant to escape.
The thorns do not burn easily thanks to the druid’s spells.
The PCs unknowingly travel right into a pixie-controlled area. They are accosted by the invisible faeries and told to march straight back out or be punished. If they can plead their case for crossing, the PCs can march through the area, but they must not dawdle. That is, they keep walking, even thru the night, without stopping to sleep or eat. The pixie land requires at least 48 hours to cross without stopping.
At the end of the journey, the PCs are exhausted and sleep deprived, and that is when they are beset by whatever monster the DM wishes to launch at them. This is a chance to confront a higher-level party with a group or a lone monster of lower CR and still have it be a threat.
If the PCs are having a hard time (that is, the DM underestimated the damage the monster can cause to the hampered PCs) a few of the faerie folk might take pity and come to the PCs aid. Of course, they may also steal some things when the PCs collapse to sleep.
Rope Bridge Menace
The PCs are trekking thru the wilderness and come to a ravine. A wooden-rope bridge once spanned the chasm, but now only one side of the bridge remains–basically two ropes, one 3 feet above the other spanning the gulf.
The PCs can go around, but it will add a day or two to their trek. They can scale down into the ravine, but are faced with the prospect of crossing the raging river that runs thru it.
Any PC using the rope to cross (or flying over) will be attacked by one or more of the creatures roosting in the ravine’s cliff. This cave is on the PCs side, and out of view unless a spot check is made. The creature can be anything from a single peryton, manticore, or chimera, to a flock of striges. Basically, any flying creature that recognizes a ‘captive’ audience. The PC on the rope can fight but takes a -4 to hit and loses all Dexterity and Shield benefits, plus, if fighting, he must make a climb check or fall into the raging waters below.
Moon Gates & Werewolf Guide
The PCs are looking for the entrance to a dungeon or some sort of old shrine, etc. known to be a few days away. They have acquired a guide familiar with the area. The entrance, the guide says, is visible only in the light of the full moon.
On the night of the first full moon, still a day or two from their goal, the full moon’s light reveals the guide to be a werewolf! He transforms and begins to savage the PCs. If they kill him, they may never find their goal, so they must fight to subdue. This same transformation will occur every night of the full moon. The guide in human form may or may not have memories of the event. If he doesn’t, he may wonder at why the PCs wish to tie him up before nightfall.
Bathing Giants Land the PCs in Hot Water
Traveling through a volcanic/hot springs area, the PCs come upon three fire giants relaxing in a hot spring pool of lava. The PCs need to pass the area–perhaps the entrance to whatever dungeon they plan to raid lies on the other side of the pool in a sheer cliff wall.
The giants have left their armor and equipment outside the pool.
When combat begins, one giant will make a grab for his sword (he is closest to the gear) while the others will splash scalding water or lava at the PCs. Treat the splashes as an area attack, possibly a line or cone 30′ to 50′. Damage would range from 1d8 for water to 4d6 for lava. (DM’s discretion). Saves as appropriate.
Drunk Ogres Sleeping It Off
The PCs have camped for the night with a low fire of coals-no real flames to speak of, but hot enough to cook over and to keep them warm.
They hear loud, deep laughter from multiple voices echoing in the distance. The laughter is not menacing. A PC making a successful Spot check will notice a bright spot among the darkened hills, most likely a camp fire. The fire appears to be on a hilltop some 400 yards away.
If the PCs do nothing, nothing happens. The sporadic laughter continues for another hour, and then stops. The far-off campfire seems to die out normally. Nothing else happens.
If the PCs investigate, they need not be too stealthy (other than not using any light source to approach the camp). The campsite belongs to a group of six ogres engaged in some revelry to celebrate their recent success against a tribe of orcs. They drink from small barrels of ale, eat partially roasted shanks of meat, and toss gold coins at each other from several small chests. (The number and composition of coins is left up to the DM. Copper, silver, and platinum all look like gold when reflecting fire light.)
The ogres are not completely wasted, though their level of inebriation and the combat negatives are left to the DM. A low level (3-5) party coming upon six totally smashed ogres (-6 to hit and -3 to AC) would be challenged but not overwhelmed.
A smart party would wait until the ogres have drunken themselves to sleep and then move in and slit their throats. I advise the DM to allow the party a single round of coup- de-grace attacks and have the slain ogres bellow out as they die, awakening their fellows.
The ogres could be replaced by trolls, giants, or ettins, or a mix of all of these (I prefer the latter—2 ogres, 2 trolls, an ettin and a hill giant. Variety is the spice of encounters.).
This encounter allows the party to practice stealth (if they aren’t stealthy on the approach, the ogres will notice and all hell will break loose on the party).
It also allows a party of lower level PCs to fight several big scary monsters. At times it may seem like they have bitten off too much (this usually occurs after the first time the ogre’s club connects with someone). Pursuit of a fleeing party would be half hearted at best, as most of the ogre’s treasure is laying about the campsite.
And finally, having the ogres inebriated gives the DM an out, should things get too hectic. For example, when one of the drunk ogres swing his club and misses the PC, maybe it connects with the ogre standing next to him. Depending on the state of drunkenness, this encounter can range from comic relief to sheer terror.
The party is travelling overland when they come to a rocky crevasse. While not impassable, it will require careful navigation. Unknown to the party is that the crevasse is the home of a small collection of beings hostile to interlopers. (These creatures can be whatever fits the geography and challenge level of the adventure.) The encounter should appear to the party to be a technical challenge, clambering up and down rocks, transporting their gear without breakage, etc.
The whole time that they are engaged in this, they are being watched, and when they are at their most vulnerable an attack will be launched. Beating off an attack while scattered over 200 vertical feet of rock will certainly add a certain level of tension!
Moth Invasion with A Twist
Setting is pretty much anywhere from temperate to tropic. Deep forest will be better for the loss of visibility
Telegraph the danger slowly with what first looks like migration of herd animals followed by an all-out stampede of all the creatures of the forest. Most likely the players will be thinking flood or forest fire at this point. Feel free to mislead them with talk of the dryness of the forest and the apparent lack of any deadwood on the ground.
The strangeness starts when the slower animal/monsters pass partially or totally denuded of any fur or claws.
Then comes the visual of a brightly colored cloud of wings, little ones. Tiny little moths that cover the gamut of the rainbow in their display.
The forest is kept clean by a cloud of small moths who ONLY eat dead tissue or fur. The players are safe, but any leather, hair, wood, paper etc. that they have exposed is not. Vulnerable to area effect attacks this could be done along the veins of army ants. Easy to kill some but there are so darn many of them.
Origins? Think about it for a moment. Neighboring necromancers or containment of a lich would be an obvious purpose for the creation of such a swarm.
Nasty? Only to the ego and perhaps the wooden weapon crowd…don’t like that staff he/she rolled up? This ought to put paid to it.
Tree Music Makes Good Cover
Take purple trees that make music when it’s windy and add some danger: large snakes or other tree dwellers that are camouflaged by the tree bark and leaf patterns. The trees’ music covers the sound of their movements and allows them to ambush their prey (the characters).
Flooded Burial Ground
An ancient and forgotten burial ground flooded in some past century and now a shallow lake with numerous small hills that are grassy and bare and in the middle of it. A great place to meet undead as well as water-dwellers; set it next to an inviting swamp and it’d make a great treasure-hunting ground for a black dragon. The water makes for a series of small, confined battle areas and will make any encounter more tactically challenging.
A deep arroyo, its sandstone cliffs layered in sunset pastels and honeycombed with small holes that are home to a multitude of scorpions — small and large and everything in between. Experienced PCs will think nothing of small, normal stinging creatures, but hundreds of them at once can present a dangerous challenge.
The PCs travel down the winding, narrow trail hidden in a deep forest when suddenly they hear screams and shouts in the distance. An elf or a good thief can also hear a few metallic clanks and the galloping of horses. A few moments later, the PCs hear a series of long, ear-piercing shrieks and the galloping becomes louder. The shrieks stop, but the galloping continues.
Around the corner of the trail ride four armored men on great horses. The trail isn’t wide and horsemen try to ride straight thru, running the PCs off of it. If the party goes forth, they will find a good dozen Aarakocra(gangly bird-men), and spread across the ground are one dead, and two injured bodies of other armored humans.
The bird-men will put up a good fight, and it is always interesting to see how players adjust to the bird men having the advantage of flight. If the party runs away, they will more than likely not be followed as the bird-men will just snack on the already fallen humans. But, if the players kill all the birds and save the two injured humans (and nurse them back to health, possibly even escort them back to town) they’ll receive a nice reward for giving the NPCs their lives back.
Green River of Blood
A river of green blood, a pursuing enemy and visible, scattered materials. For added fun the green blood can be a slow poison
Where to Dump the Body?
The PCs meet someone who is on the way to dispose of a body.
He might come from a nearby village where he killed someone and is looking for a quiet place to bury the body or get rid of it in other ways. The body might be concealed on a wagon. Or maybe he just started to dig a hole when the PCs meet him.
Bounty Hunter Trap
A random character falls prey to some sort of trap and a hunter (or two) pop out. They are trying to trap a vicious wolf raiding the area – 50gp bounty on every wolf tongue – which can also be used to pay taxes (this actually is historical!).
Thrown Horse Shoe Bad Luck
A character’s horse throws a shoe-happens more often in real life then it happens in games. the PC must walk the horse back to town or risk having a lame horse. A variation can be a stone in the hoof.
A bunch of women from a nearby town gathering berries/mushrooms/truffles spots the party. They can (if treated politely) provide a lot of local rumors and information. The downside is they are horrible gossips and by tomorrow mid-day EVERYONE in the region will have heard of the party… and not everything heard may be correct “Yes, I heard about you lot… they say you are deserters from the army…”.
The PCs encounter singing or talking plants, animals, and stones–a magical oddity. A spell book or powerful magic item is buried nearby and the magical radiations leaking from the item have had this side effect. If it’s removed from the immediate area the special effect will gradually fade. If it’s returned to the area, the effect re-occurs. Other variations include blue trees or pink shrubs in a small area….
An ‘unofficial’ toll station and roadblock. The local monsters have gone into business for themselves. They’ll try to con the party out of a few coppers or silver each + a toll for the animals of course…
Thief in Disguise
A wandering tinker/toymaker – actually a thief and a good one at that (specializes in Open locks and Find/remove trap). This guise gives him an excuse to carry a lot of the tools of the trade with good excuse. He is travelling from one city to another.
Bard on Foot
An oldie but a goody–a wandering minstrel. He’ll ask to accompany the party for a brief time–safety in numbers and all that. He’ll pay for his food with songs and jokes and stories along the way. This might fun for the players but the added noise will act to increase the chance of wilderness encounters unless the party tell him to shut up. The bard will not rob the party at all (someone will always be suspicious of the bard anyway) and may be able to pass on rumors, local history etc.
A mysterious rain of frogs or fish. The players will bash their brains out trying to figure the significance. Enterprising players with food preservation skills may turn this into a money-making opportunity…
Halfling Weed Has A Kick
A small winding track that can barely be made out—maybe made by a small barrow as well as feet. The trail leads to a concealed garden of halfling pipe weed that has a bit more…kick!
This may be concealed due to taxation or legality issues or it could just be the family’s private plot. Pilfering the garden in any major way can have repercussions if the halflings find out or the authorities note the unusually large quantity of (possibly illegal or taxable) pipe weed.
As the party is riding down a forest track a hail of arrows and sling stones rain against armor and shields and hit the party for minor damage (in the pain and confusion the party will not notice the arrows are blunt with a wooden bulb on the business end and the sling stones are loose clay that hurt or even stun but break apart on impact).
A cry of “hold your fire” rings out. A burly Halfling in leather armor, with a broadsword strapped to his back, and a red cloth strip around his right arm steps onto the path.
“Ere; you aren’t blue team!”
The Halflings are holding military exercises with the neighboring Human army (or ruling/occupying forces if Halflings live within another kingdom rather than having their own).
They’ll apologies but apart from offering a hit of some cider they happen to have along they’ll do little else. This can go a number of ways but remember that Halflings in the wilderness can be near invisible and move silently without ANY thieving abilities. They will have some real arrows and sling stones in addition to the blunted versions.
Also, in the event of party retaliation, have the leader and maybe one other escape (little buggers are hard to find). While his troops (between 5 and 10 Halflings, slings/short bows, daggers, small spears and leather armor) are 0 level Halflings, he’s a 5th level soldier/ranger type (has a good tracking skill and knows the area like the back of his hand). Have him take shortcuts and routinely ambush the party with slings, arrows and booby traps. Rambo? He’s nothing! A night raid to run off the horses will leave the party stranded on his home ground.
The little guy has high physical stats, hit points and maybe a ring of protection +1 or 2 (to offset the low leather armor AC and aid with saving throws) and a potion or two of healing (which were bought along in case of training accidents). Have him use his broadsword (2-handed) to good effect if the party get close enough to melee, or fight in small and tight places where not only is dagger fighting needed but also the humans lose DEX bonus for AC while the halfling retains his.
It’s entirely possible the little bastard could kill the party–they’ll never look down on Hobbits again.
If a 0 level Halfling escapes, he’ll alert the authorities of what members of the party look like.
Scribe/Artist and Student
Riding through the hills in the vicinity of a town they see what looks to be a half-orc dressed in robes beating a human child with a stick. Around the area scattered papers/scrolls blow in a gentle breeze.
The half-orc is the town scribe. The town doesn’t hold him guilty for his birth and his family paid for the best education possible. Now he is well liked and carries a bit of weight in the community.
The child is his apprentice. They decided to study outside today and the teacher is punishing the pupil for bad/sloppy work.
It’s possible the party will think the Scribe is actually a Mage and, in any case, will be inclined to kill first and ask questions later when it comes to a half-orc.
In the hills outside a town city the party spies a bunch of men in ragged clothing and cloaks beating up a shepherd and ‘stealing’ his sheep.
The guys in ragged clothing (and equally dirty and ragged tabards are under their cloaks) are the local tax collectors gathering arrears-hopefully the party will ask questions first. They could also (if you want to be really evil) be real bandits impersonating the local lord’s men. The shepherd, long since beaten senseless, will be in no condition to say otherwise.
Merchant Trading with Orcs
A merchant in a wagon passing the same direction as the characters offers the party a job. Two days of easy caravan guard duty at 1 gold piece and food per day. The merchant claims to be an agent and apprentice of a semi-famous local mage and would feel safe (“although I am totally confident of the customer’s good faith and my own ability”) with a few strong arms as well. He’s on his way to deliver a shipment of goods (“a bit of this and a bit of that – general supplies”).
What the party doesn’t know is that the merchant is a mage and is selling smuggled weapons/armor as well as general goods. Moreover, his customers are orcs, hobgoblins, etc.
The party will be much surprised when they roll into a ring of about 50 bad guys and even more surprised when the baddies are actually friendly (they assume the party are renegades or bandits).
Needless to say, the party is participating in a capital offence. The mage (while still considered an apprentice by his master) is 2nd or 3rd level. He left his spell book at home having pre-memorized/prepared his spells for the journey. As his master’s agent he’ll have access to some good spells.
Along a bend/break in the wilderness/edge of the stream a lonely donkey stands braying. Look! A free donkey!
The donkey will perform routine acts of intelligence to try to get the party to understand that’s he’s different in the hopes they work out that all is not as it seems.
For example: alerting the party to the presence of a pickpocket in the act, warning them of monsters or traps by braying/making noise, leading the other animals to safety in the event of danger, sniffing out water, etc. They donkey is actually a polymorphed adventurer who has retained his mental facilities in the change. In effect, he’s a super smart donkey! It may be awhile before the party catches on. He also kept his original hit points so this burro is REALLY tough.
A Plague of Pilgrims
Pilgrims on their way to a holy grove/site ask the party for food and alms. For an added twist you could make them lepers or plague carriers…
When walking through the forest/wilderness the players see a gold piece in the middle of the path/road/glade. (This should be good for 10 minutes of paranoia.) When they pick up the gold, they hear a voice “So you like gold do ye? Want to get some more?”
A brownie or leprechaun challenges the party to a riddle match–win and they get X amount of gold, fail and they’ve got to complete a small quest (although you should avoid using this term).
The quest could just be the disarming of some traps, destruction of a giant spider or snake, the warning off of a particularly callous hunter, etc. The twist is that, if they fail to honor their bargain, a ranger/druid/elf will pay a little visit to the party at a later and unexpected time.
Why Don’t You Come Up to My Tree Big Boy?
You guessed it–Dryads.
However, have the Dryads deliberately not (initially) use their charm power (will only use in self-defense) but have them try to get party members to co-operate of their own free will. Have them stress that they need this ‘joining’ otherwise the woods/trees/area will suffer as they are not able to keep the species going on their own, orcs and evil things will have greater sway, etc.
“You’d be doing me a big favor AND I’ve a few sisters who also need some help”.
Have them promise that they only require one night and will not delay the party or seek to hold cooperating males beyond that. Have them swear an oath. The dryad(s) are being honest and kidnapping gives one a bad reputation AND brings the local druid into it…
The dryad(s) will tempt the more red-blooded party members and (once again) generate a lot of paranoia.
If the PCs ‘help’ then they are rewarded with a wooden cup (natural formation of wood rather than carved) that fills with clean water 3 times a day or a pouch full of acorns that can be eaten one per day as a substitute for food for the day. In both cases, the recipient is warned that the magic will cease after a year and a day.
4 or 5 minutes of faint but growing louder banging can be heard. A rustling and a series of squeals warns the party a minute before an enraged boar charges into the parties’ midst and attacks the party in a mad rage!
The local rulers are out hunting for boar and have their beaters out scaring up the game.
If the party kills the boar the beaters/lords will accuse the party of poaching (although they will have the sense after a few minutes of conversation to concede that poachers normally don’t use battleaxes, 2 handed swords etc…).
If they party are in serious trouble (boars can be TOUGH) have the lords/beaters intervene…
The party, while exploring in the woods, hears a groaning sound. They can’t figure out where it’s coming from and probably become paranoid. Suddenly, one of them step on a root of a tree, and a great cry roar out. The party turns around to see a tree animated. It’s a treant. The treant begins complaining about something random. (GM’s Fun Time.) When the players try to talk about something else, the treant goes onto another random subject and starts to complain.
The treant is neurotically depressed. If the players try to do something for the treant, the treant will wish them to do something else, and something else, and so on. The treant will never actually say what is actually wrong with him, but a curse was placed on him so he can’t move and becomes depressed. A simple remove curse will cure him, but the players don’t know that…
(This is recommended for a party with some morals. Evil may not work ’cause they will just try to kill everything.) The characters are exploring through a forest. During the night right before they rest they see a figure. As the figure comes in torch light range, the characters notice the face: a big red nose, a pale white face, crazy colored curly hair… Oh my, it’s a clown. The clown doesn’t speak one word, but waves the party to follow him deeper into the woods.
After following the clown through the woods for quite a while, the party comes to a clearing. In the clearing is a magnificent sight. Great, loud music roaring. Booths set up everywhere. Trapeze artists doing amazing tricks. They are at a circus. In the center is a great big tent. The clown will continue walking into the tent, continuing to beckon the party.
If the party enters the big tent, the clown is nowhere in sight, but there will be chairs set up facing a stage. On the stage is a speaker. He is running a show. As he wraps up his fluent charismatic speech, the show begins. It is a freak show; humanoids of tremendous abilities, although quite atrocious. While the show is going on, the speaker goes down to talk to the party.
The speaker welcomes the party to the circus and gives each character three free tickets to spend as he or she wishes. (Such as booth games, and such. This is the fun part for the GM.) A small prize for a successful game is recommended.
After a character is done with his or her three tickets, they begin to feel weird. After everyone is done with their tickets, they begin to change. Each character begins to transform a bit, each in their own different way, until they all are freaks, one way or another. When they try to leave, the speaker calls out to them and says they can’t leave, they must stay now for they are freaks. The characters (if they are smart) will have to explore the circus.
They will have to fight their way through new monsters and freaks and explore the place until they go into the big tent and find a trap door to the bottom. There, they find the speaker, and he morphs into a giant spider. After killing him, they find a magic orb which takes away their freak abilities and features and they arrive back at their camp. (They can keep whatever items they got at the circus though.)
The PCs are following a caravan of slave-traders in winter. Light snow is falling and the whole landscape is “dressed” in white. The slave-traders are a brutal, barbarian tribe who sell humans, elves, and half elves to a trader near the mountains. The barbarians are all brutal and strong, and it’s obvious that if the PCs want to free the slaves it will be a very tough fight.
Near the foot of the mountain range the caravan stops at a hill (which as well is covered in snow) to give some rotten food to the slaves and to water the horses that are pulling the wagons (a small, frozen-over river meanders next to the hill, which the barbarians broke up in a little spot to get the water). The hill is absolutely bare, no cottage, no scrub, no tree to find on it…
If PCs attack, the fight is tough indeed. But in the middle of the fight the hill itself stirs and erupts, showing that it’s not a hill at all, but a colossal, white dragon (which was sleeping in this isolated country site). Everybody is covered in a white cloud of snow by the emerging dragon.
The PCs stumble across a tunnel. If they decide to explore it, they find out it is much bigger than they thought, a tunnel city like the under dark, only not infested with drow and the like, but local natives (goblins and whatever). A tunnel or cave in the middle of nowhere that no-one knows about will also let you know how inquisitive the party is. Whether they investigate straight away or go and research it at nearest town, if they go in, how deep they go and so on.
A fight in a lightning storm or flash flood situated in a dense forest with heavy fog is WAY more dramatic than a fight in a dense forest on its own. And aside from the combat side of it, are the players able to defend themselves from the recent cold snap that takes the temperatures to below freezing level at night?
Lookout! It’s Charging!
A party moving casually through a wilderness area is surprised by a charging beast. It crashes through the brush, tops a dune, or arrives in whatever sudden manner is environmentally appropriate.
A Listen check will reveal that something is coming, and from what direction, seconds prior to the creature’s arrival. A Reflex Save will allow characters to jump out of the way. If someone does not get out of the way, there is a chance they will take a charge attack. The beast is not intent on hurting the party; it is simply frenzied and moving in an erratic line. After any first attacks are resolved on either side, the beast crashes to the earth, dead.
No obvious reasons for its death are evident. A Spot check reveals inflamed areas around the creature’s eyes and nostrils. Detect Magic will call up phosphorescence over the beast’s lungs and nostrils. Detect Poison will highlight an all-over pattern of areas. A Heal check will inform the PCs that the pattern brighter near the animal’s brain and spine.
The creature has expired from a virulent disease; one engineered by an insane gnome alchemist/wizard. The beast broke through the wizard’s stockade of test subjects, after being infected. The disease is alchemical and attacks the nervous system, but it is infused with magic to make it highly transmittable. The mad gnome plans to get revenge on the world of tall people.
The disease is kept in vials that evaporate upon breaking. Infection is highly likely, and even a Reflex Save to get out of the area before breathing only reduces the chances slightly. An infected creature can spread the disease through contact (mostly with its fluids). The disease causes death within 5-15 minutes.
If the PC’s eat the beast (it’s a great encounter for a starved party), they will almost certainly contract the disease, unless they purify the carcass first. Even minimal physical contact with the creature may be enough to catch the disease. If they backtrack the beast’s trail, they encounter a small, two-story fieldstone tower with a system of shored up tunnels underneath as well as the aforementioned stockade attached to one side.
If the gnome knows the PCs are coming (he will have a perimeter of ingenious alarms), he will be too excited by the chance to test his concoction on living humanoids to worry about how dangerous the party looks.
He will hide in the top level of the tower and drop a vial of the stuff out a window and onto the party as they get within range of the door. He will then down a vial of antidote (one of several on hand), and try to avoid contact with the party until they drop over dead (or should have). The door to the tower is magically locked. The tower contains a full alchemist’s lab, a small treasure chest (in a hidden alcove in the tunnels), some food stores, etc.
Thank you for visiting Roleplaying Tips. I hope these wilderness encounter ideas help your game.
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