10 Intriguing Swamp Encounters — RPT#555
Bringing Swamps to Life[Johnn: Last week, we presented you an overview of what swamps are all about and some of their hidden dangers.
Today, Silveressa offers you a few great encounter seeds to help inspire your swampy games.
A reader wrote saying the swamp tips were great, and he’d file them away next time his group hit a swamp. That’s super, and I’d just like to call out that you can add a swamp nearly everywhere because they do not have to be big.
A quarter mile square is easily big enough to fit a couple of swamp encounters into. And you could fit something like that in a park, just outside the city walls, or even underground if you set up certain conditions.
So, I encourage you to muck around with swamps in your games.]
Encounter #1: Dead Man Climbing
Who: A corpse perched part way up a dead tree covered in rotted clothes with a half torn backpack dangling from one bony arm.
What: Investigation reveals inside the rotten pack are mostly rags and a few tarnished coins, along with a vial of a faintly glowing elixir, the label long since faded into obscurity.
(The potion could be anything from a cure disease tincture to a topical insect repellent or flammable oil.)
When: Most groups will spend several minutes retrieving the corpse and discussing and analyzing the bottle’s mysterious contents. That makes this a great encounter to use when you need to stall for time to prepare the next piece of your adventure or to break up the pacing with some inter-party interaction.
Where: The tree forms the centerpiece of an isolated island that’s just large enough to gather around the base of the tree. Thick undergrowth obscures the slippery roots of the trunk and an abandoned bird nest.
Encounter #2: Bird in a Bush
Who: A large bird with a broken wing struggles to remain upright. Nearby, a large crocodile sneaks up and readies itself to make a meal of the injured animal.
What: The bird will befriend the PCs if saved. The croc attacks the nearest thing on round 2.
When: A short encounter that can provide the group with an unexpected animal friend, and give a feeling of life in the swamp occurring independently of the characters’ actions. It works best as a way to speed up the pacing with a brief spot of excitement.
Where: In a stand of matted reeds near a deep channel of brackish water.
Encounter #3: Gas Attack
Who: A small clearing (with a foul smell) looks to be the result of a sudden explosion several days ago. Charred branches and burnt swamp grass litter the large circle. The remains of a small animal lay at the center.
What: The damage is the result of a swamp gas explosion, and any open flame could easily trigger another such eruption.
When: This encounter could be used when the party stops to rest or make camp, since part of the fun from this one is the secondary pop when the group’s campfire ignites the second pocket of gas.
Where: A dense area on one of the few islands that sport solid enough ground for a brief rest stop.
Encounter #4: Mini Map
Who: A large decayed tree looks to have a crude map carved in its side. A rusty knife lays half-buried in the mud at the tree’s roots. Unfortunately, the stump is surrounded by blood grass, and nearby tracks hint at this being the hunting grounds of a sizeable alligator as well.
What: The map could be a quest or nothing more than a crude warning about a nest of swamp vipers a little ways ahead, as the fading scratches could be easily misinterpreted.
When: Another good encounter to use when you need time to prep the next piece of the adventure since clearing out the blood grass and deciphering the map will take most PC groups 10-20 minutes.
Where: The stump sits to the side of a clearing, visible to passersby. The dull glint of the rusting knife helps draw attention to the location.
Encounter #5: Boar in a Bog
Who: The panicked bleating and grunting of a large animal echoes from nearby. Closer inspection reveals a dire warthog, mired in a sink hole and struggling in vain to free itself.
What: If rescued, the creature will be exhausted and easily slain. Else it will lumber off after several minutes if given the chance, leading the party to a well-used boar run winding amid the marshy areas of the swamp.
When: A good encounter to use when the group is running low on supplies, since the temptation to kill the boar for dinner will be high, but properly preparing the meat will prove challenging in the damp swamp environment.
Where: Behind thick overgrown ferns and mossy cattails out of the PCs’ view. Those who charge the source of the noise could also become trapped in the sink hole.
Encounter #6: Storm Break
Who: A peal of thunder heralds an impending storm, the sudden breeze a welcome relief in the humidity of the swamp. Unfortunately, the high winds and downpour will make continued navigation difficult, and many of the swamp’s predators will be using the plentiful cover for their own protection.
What: The storm will arrive in under 10 minutes, and many of the local animals are already scurrying about to seek shelter, resulting in a small wave of chaos as rodents, reptiles and birds dart about.
When: A good encounter to use as prelude to something more significant, or to prod the PCs into action if the pacing slows due to deliberation and uncertainty.
Where: Virtually anywhere in the swamps, especially an area with multiple options for shelter a short dash away.
Encounter #7: Will-o’-the-wisp
Who: The adventurers see a strange flickering light hovering over the swamp a short distance from their camp. It seems to be beckoning to them, as if it wishes to lead them to an as yet undiscovered secret of the marsh.
What: The light is a will-o’-the-wisp, and if followed will lead the pursuers to a run down mud hut – that of an old hermit who has long since passed away.
Inside the hut are a few personal belongings, hunting spears and hand-written a diary detailing the hermit’s life and several points of interest within the swamp.
When: A good encounter to spring on a PC during guard duty, or to tempt the curious PC of the group with a tantalizing mystery.
Where: Shortly after dark, a little ways off from the party’s camp, where the lights can be seen between cattails and over-grown fronds.
Encounter #8: Fishing Pool
Who: In a nearby pool, the water churns as several large fish swirl about in a complex mating dance. The water froths loud enough to drown out the sounds of nearby insects and birds, as well as draw the interest of hungry predators.
What: The fish are large and edible, but taking the time to catch them will result in an inquisitive alligator arriving to interrupt the party.
When: A quick drop-in that can be used at any time, but best saved for when the party’s food supplies are beginning to dwindle.
Where: A deep pool of water, several feet off the party’s chosen path, surrounded by fallen logs to make a natural well appearance.
Encounter #9: Spider Ambush
Who: A soft chittering awakens one of the sleeping party members, who notices to their horror a nearby companion is covered in predatory water spiders. The melon-sized creatures position themselves in preparation for a feast.
What: The spiders will attack the sleeping person within 3 rounds, or if disturbed sooner, spread out to assault any who disturb them.
When: A great encounter to highlight the nocturnal dangers of the swamp and provide for a challenging combat scenario given the majority of the PCs will likely be sleeping without their armor on.
Where: Wherever the party makes camp, ideally near a large body of water or marshy area with plenty of narrow water channels.
Encounter #10: Missing Son
Who: Near the edges of the swamp a male voice can be heard, yelling the name “Thomas” repeatedly. Investigation reveals a farmer from nearby hunting for his 13 year old son who had gone fishing earlier that morning.
What: If the characters assist the farmer in finding his boy they will earn a free night’s lodging and the goodwill of the farmer and his community.
When: Best used either near the beginning or end of the PCs’ foray into the swamp. Can work well as a springboard to take the party deeper into the fen than they would otherwise have reason to travel.
Where: On the edge of the swamp, where the houses of a nearby community beginning to peter out and the wilderness is reasserting its domination.
Here are a few great resources to help with getting a better feel for the dangers of a swamp, and how to best portray one within your game.
(Note: Most of the TV/movie titles can be found on Netflix instant streaming)
Man vs. Wild – specifically the Panama and Florida Everglades episodes, which cover the Mangrove and Everglade swamps.
Swamp People – A reality TV show portraying the day-to-day activities for several Cajuns living in the Atchafalaya River Basin swamp in Louisiana: Swamp People.
Swamp Thing – A superhero style action movie set in the Louisiana Bayous: Swamp Thing (film)
Streams of Silver by R.A Salvatore (book #2 of the Icewind Dale Trilogy) While swamps aren’t; the main feature of the storyline, there is a memorable multi chapter adventure through a grueling swamp, complete with trolls and a giant purple worm: Streams of Silver (Forgotten Realms: The Icewind Dale Trilogy, Book 2).
Son of Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster It features an interesting fungus based swamp during the first few opening chapters of the novel that stick out as one of the more unusual takes on a “swamp” I’ve seen so far: Son of Spellsinger.
The Forest of Peldain by Barrington J Bailey While not entirely a swamp based adventure novel, many of the fantastic predatory plants featured in the book (such as Mangrab Trees and Cage Tigers) can be easily adapted for a swamp environment: The Forest of Peldain.
Bits of the Wilderness: Into the Swamps – Over 180 different descriptions and plot hooks for swamp settings and adventures, without a doubt a must have for any GM planning to run an extended session in a swamp. (A free demo of the book can be found here: Table Top Adventures), Bits of the Wilderness: Into the Swamp.
E-Adventure Tiles: Swamps – 16 different tile sets to use for marshlands and swamps with your favorite minis: e-Adventure Tiles: Swamps.
E-Adventure Tiles: Swamps: Shorelines – An expanded set of tiles for minis, features the shore line between swamps and the surrounding environments: e-Adventure Tiles: Swamp Shoreline.
Brining It All Together
By combining the hidden dangers of swamps, with the normal excitement of overland travel, you can easily create a memorable set of adventures that will leave your players talking about the perils of marshy bogs long after they have been left behind.
Like any other wilderness environment, part of the struggle isn’t just navigating the terrain, but surviving (and overcoming) the unique challenges this land has to offer, and hopefully walk away a little bit wiser for the ordeal.
If you have any questions about running swamp encounters, or tips of your own, feel free to hit the reply button!
A Brief Word From Johnn
The Expedition Journals of Amestus Armen
This is a neat approach to GM materials. It’s pure fluff, in fiction format, in monthly instalments.
I’ve backed this Kickstarter and think you should check it out. Note that the KS deadline is Friday, August 3.
My First Appearance On A Podcast
Prismatic Tsunami interviewed me last month. It’s my first appearance as a guest on a podcast!
Before this year, I was too nervous about public speaking to accept the podcast interview requests that occasionally came in.
But my Toastmaster membership is paying off, because I was hardly nervous before or during the interview.
Also, Erik Carl made the interview fun and easy.
You can listen to the podcast at: MetAnon Ep7 – Interview with Johnn Four.
Reader Tip Reques
How to handle a player with dyslexia?
One of my players has dyslexia and dysgraphia [Dysgraphia].
She needs more time to process what’s going on during encounters and decide what she wants to do.
It’s a combination of her analyzing the situation, deciding what she wants to do, and then reading her character sheet and spells (she plays a cleric). We’re all fairly new players still learning 3.5 and how to play the different classes.
Outside of combat, it takes her longer to choose how to interact with NPCs. And even once she’s started talking with them, there’ll be long pauses in the middle of her sentences.
She has to work extra hard to implement what she’s thinking. There’s a disconnect between thinking something and recognizing, “Hey, that would work!”
Oh, and the other factor I forgot to mention is ADD. Two of my players take medication for ADD and a third keeps it mostly under control.
Do you have any suggestions for how I can keep the game flowing without rushing her and making our game nights unpleasant for her?
Roleplaying Tips readers, Sarah is in a tough situation. Do you have any advice or tips for her?
Just hit reply. Thanks.