How to make the forest interesting…

From a thread on DM Academy asking about how to make a forest interesting, moving away from modules.

Wrote a blog post about it, like to read it? Here it goes…

I used to just jot down ideas, knowing that when I covered an 8.5 by 11 piece of paper with names and ideas I usually had a good amount of game time. I’m enjoying tables lately.

Daydream about some cool places, some cool factions, some cool tensions and you can always roll a few if you don’t know what to do. Here’s what I might have in front of me before DMing such a thing:

Places

  1. Serene Glade
  2. Ancient Witch-Tree Coven
  3. Devil Gorge
  4. Ancient Standing Stones
  5. Elf Ruins
  6. Raging River

Factions (roll twice if you want factions fighting – same result might be in-fighting)

  1. Satyrs
  2. Queen’s Elves, returning to lands they left long ago
  3. Witch-Elves, sworn to fell trees, never left
  4. Tieflings (with a keep and small castle town in Devil Gorge)
  5. Gnomes, ply the river
  6. Scattered human nomads, hither and yon

Problems

  1. Something ancient has stirred
  2. One faction’s forces is stalking the other from stealth
  3. One faction’s forces is retreating desperately
  4. Diplomacy among two factions is occurring
  5. One faction is celebrating a holy day
  6. Two factions are trading goods

Encounters do not have to be fights.

And here they are in layout. Sometimes things change from notebook to google doc to layout, which is neat.

Maybe I roll a few times to see what is going on before the game.

The Ancient Witch-Trees, Tieflings twice and a Holy Day.

Maybe a Tiefling assassin squad is waiting to ambush some Witch-elves but some of the Tieflings don’t want to attack them on their holy day, not wanting to upset the Witch-trees.

What are Witch-trees? No idea. I have an idea that their bark looks like bone… Creepy sentient trees…


I rolled the Witch-trees again but got the Satyrs and Gnomes and Factions Trading. Nah, just Satyrs and Gnomes trading on the river – pretty normal. Maybe they are gossiping about seeing some shady looking Tieflings moving toward the Witch-trees.


I’d grab some names for each faction type, maybe daydream about some NPC’s. Name the river. Daydream a bit about the Queen’s Elves and the Witch-Elves and the Tiefling Knight who runs the castle in Devil Gorge.

What do the humans who follow a nomadic path around the forest’s edge think of all this drama?


That is it. That is enough to start. If I need more I can roll and we haven’t even discussed linking the players to this mess.

That is a post for another day.

Make your own! Let me know how it goes at the table.

I’ve got pdf’s with inspirational tables like this over at the DM’s Guild.

Five Torches Deep, Underground Heritages

I wrote a blog post about underground cities and decided to make Five Torches Deep ancestries, inspired by their Origins supplement. I’ll paste the cities below if you don’t want to click the link.

Life in the Underdeeps is complicated. Inter-marriage, adoption and all manner of family and clan relationships lead to people being raised in a culture that one might not expect by looking at them. Talk about it with the table and go for it.

These cities are listed from the closest to the surface to the deepest beneath the earth.

Cities 1-3 are in the Overdark, a cold and dank area where the surface dwellers often feel the most comfortable.

Cities 4-8 are in the Underdark Proper, with tunnel highways that are home to bison-sized mushroom-beasts and heated by lava.

City 9 is in a hollow earth jungle, heated by an Illithid-made sun.

City 10 is in the Underdeep, said to be so far underground that planar travel occurs when going that deep and underworlds are easier to contact.

1

Culicid: a castle town ruled by a vampire, a veteran of the war and self-styled duchess. She takes blood from thralls taken from the surface, as Culicid is a major stopping point for the Drow’s thrall-trade. Culicid has the largest population of free humans beneath the surface, policed by the duchess’ immortal children.

Exports: bio-luminescent mushrooms, messenger bats, goats


2

Xenosh T’allotha: In Drow this means, All-Mother’s First Rest, as it is the first place the Drow stopped to rest during the exodus from the skylands.  It is a small town, really a village built around a series of wells and underground waterfalls that has grown out into the tunnels that lead to it.

Exports: Religious artifacts, Riding spiders, Monk bodyguards


3

Anvil: The decrepit holdfast that houses the dwarves who sided with the underground armies. It is ruled by a council of petty dwarven princes who have been trying to elect a High King since the war ended. Some whisper that outside political pressure has thwarted this process.

Exports: Mead, dwarf-made weapons and armor, dwarf-cut gems


4

Titan: The Githyanki fortress city built from the buried fossil of a forgotten lizard demi-god is watched closely by the Drow matriarchs. The Githyanki were allowed to keep control of this city after their attempted coup under the watchful eye of a powerful Drow priestess, along with sending hostages to Endë-Osto and their sleeping red dragons were hidden from them.

Exports: Dream-walkers, Swords-for-hire, Warlocks-for-hire, Domesticated Umber Hulks


5

Quaggothan: More of a meeting place or a camp site than a proper city, this is the ancient site where the Quaggoth elders live out the last days of their life when they can no longer follow the mushroom herds. It is ruled by a Drow-appointed governor who oversees the trading and make sure the Quaggoth feuding never gets out of hand. Merchant caravans always stop here to trade their foods and it has become a hub of trade and news.

Exports: Mushroom bison meat, odd artifacts the Quaggoth unearth in their travels


6

Kitji-Naal: Two cities divided by an underground river and ruled by twin matriarchs who rarely meet, but communicate via magical mirrors. The city is the largest and most populated city in the underdark; its politics are a convoluted mess of ancient feuds, assassin’s knives and inter-House warfare.

Exports: Poisons, Assassins-for-hire, spider-silk, books


7

Sclera: A dank, and dangerous city ruled by feuding gangs of Beholders – each with its own Eye-cult. This is the city with the highest human population in this layer of the underdark. It also boasts the underdark’s only public temple to Asmodeus, the Devil-God.

Exports: Scrying, mirrors, spies, indentured-devils


8

Eämbar: A newly founded city that is a port, connected to the ocean by a series of complicated crystal locks that link Eämbar to the ocean’s crushing depths. All manner of undersea sentient can been seen on the city streets, sometimes in specially made tanks of water pushed by servants.

The matriarch is the youngest to ever hold the title and the most renowned swords-Drow in the underdark.

Exports: Fish, undersea crafts, spider-silk crystal


9

Endë-Osto: The deepest city of the Drow and the Drow capital, is ruled by the eldest matriarch whose throne is said to float weightless in the center of the earth. Her queensguard is made of the most cunning of the drow sword-maidens, who ride dinosaur steeds bred for battle. The city is in a hollow-earth with a bruise-purple sun, said to have been created at the height of the Illithid Empire.

Exports: vegetables, dinosaur steeds and ranger-guides


10

Svinifrilijihirim: Despite Endë-Osto being at the center of the world, this Gnomish city is still somehow deeper, due to a trick of planar geometry. The city, often called Deeptown for short, is home to a powerful ward, created to keep a Pit Fiend in the uninhabited darkest depths. The Pit Fiendwas unleashed by the skylanders into the underdark during the War, has destroyed a Drow city single-handedly.

Deeptown is home to a powerful council of wizards and it is a great city for finding tutoring or for apprenticing one’s self to any of the Schools of Magic. It does boast the underdark’s only Bard College that is home to one of the finest libraries in the underdark, rivaled only by Kitji-Naal and Endë-Osto.

Exports: Wizards-for-hire, Bards-for-hire, magic items, alien gems, gates to other worlds, spell components


And once you’re done and you want to make the place a political mess – A Web of Cities.

If you liked the writing above you might like one of my pdf’s with more than a dozen pages of inspirational tables…

https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?author=Judd%20Karlman