10 Signs of War

War leaves its mark on the countryside. Burnt and sacked villages, mass graves, battlefields and more all appear in war’s bloody wake.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


PCs traveling through a ravaged countryside will no doubt encounter many disturbing and horrific sights. Use the table below, to determine what the PCs discover, witness or encounter:

  1. A smudge of smoke mars the horizon. PCs with sharp eyes notice the smudge comprises a half-dozen or so intertwined pillars of smoke. Perhaps, a hamlet burns.
  2. A towering pillar of black, churning smoke rises high into the sky. From the amount of smoke, an entire village must be on fire.
  3. A great swath of churned mud cuts across the PCs’ path. Even those without any tracking skills can see a large band of warriors—many heavily laden—passed this way recently.
  4. A recently raised stone cairn stands atop a low hill. A ragged, bloody banner hanging from a pole thrust deep into the cairn stirs listlessly in the faint breeze. The cairn is large—15-foot wide, 30-foot long and 15-foot high; many folk probably lie within.
  5. The remains of a funeral pyre smoulders amid a wide circle of burnt and scorched vegetation. Wisps of smoke rise from the chunks of charred wood, smouldering ash and scorched bones comprising the pyre’s remains. Before setting the pyre, the victors looted the bodies of the fallen; there is no treasure here.
  6. The bloody leavings of a minor skirmish cover the ground. Here, the hacked and broken bodies of the fallen lie amid a welter of blood, body parts and broken equipment. The party’s arrival scatters a dozen or so birds and an emaciated dog that were feeding on the dead. The victors looted the dead, and little—if anything—of value remains.
  7. A red tinge to its waters gives this narrow river a macabre appearance. Moments after the PCs arrive on its banks, the bodies of a half-dozen or so individuals bob passed in the current. One, becomes stuck in the reeds growing thickly along this stretch of river.
  8. Two warriors hang from nooses of crude hemp rope thrown over the branch of a large, old oak tree. Each bears a hasty scrawled sign on their chest that reads, “Deserter”.
  9. An overturned cart lies in a ditch by the side of the road. Pinned below it lies a dead, mouldering horse. The cart has been comprehensively looted. Of the owner, there is no sign. Tracks in the surrounds suggest an ambush took place here.
  10. The PCs discover the leavings of an impromptu campsite. Obvious signs including a half-dozen cold campfires, a noisome latrine pit and general rubbish point to many individuals resting here overnight. Three shallow graves lie nearby in the lee of a small hill.

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This article appears in 20 Things #15: War-Ravaged Land. For more free 20 Things lists, check out our Free Resources page.

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