10 Things to Enliven a Journey Through the Hills

Adventurers are often trekking deep into the wilderness in search of terrible foes and glittering treasures. Forgotten temples, tribal lairs and abandoned tombs all lurk in the craggy, wild hills of the borderlands.

Cairn Entrance by William McAusland (Outland Arts)

Cairn Entrance by William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Use the table below, to add minor points of interest to the PCs’ journey through the hills:

  1. Rocks clatter down from a bluff overlooking the rocky trail. They clatter down the slope, and the sound echoes through the surrounds. Of what dislodges them, there is no sign.
  2. The pathway continues roughly level for a few hundred feet, before climbing a steep, precipitous slope. Here the going is hard and slow. Above, the pathway crests the hill and disappears from sight.
  3. The trail winds its way through a field of tumbled boulders. Some are no bigger than a man’s head while others are as large as a wagon. Moss covers the boulders and thick, prickly gorse grows up between the stones. From here, wagons can go no further.
  4. A bird of prey swoops low over the hills, searching for its next meal. Without warning, it plummets out of sight behind a nearby rocky outcrop before appearing moments later with a small, wriggling creature in its talons.
  5. As the party travel through a deep ravine, chasm or valley, clouds pass in front of the sun. Gloom surrounds the party and the temperature drops precipitously.
  6. A gust of cold wind roars through the hills; it plucks at the party’s cloaks and moans through crags before disappearing as abruptly as it appeared. Imaginative PCs may believe the moans of long dead travellers laced the wind.
  7. The trail passes under a rocky overhang. The overhang offers a good place to camp out of the wind. However, anyone—or anything—else using the trail would literally stumble into the party’s camp.
  8. A rock fall blocks the trail ahead. Either the party must pick their way across the obstacle or backtrack the way they came.
  9. An arrow—with once-bright blue fletching—juts from a stunted tree growing near the trail. The blue fletching is faded, suggesting the arrow has been here some time.
  10. A crude burial cairn once overlooked this trail from its vantage point atop a strangely conically shaped hill. The cairn has recently been broken into; bones, scraps of cloth and dislodged stones lie scattered about the hill’s summit.

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This article will appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2017. For more, check out our Free Resources page.

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13 thoughts on “10 Things to Enliven a Journey Through the Hills

  1. 11. The decayed carcass of a wondrous creature (Manticore, Chimera, whatever fits your game) is found, surrounded by a sea of buzzing flies, but seemingly untouched by other scavengers. As you approach, you note it’s claws, horns, tail, even the eyes, have been removed by blade of some sort. The creature has one large wound across its torso – a great raking of claws.

    12. The ground for nearly a quarter mile is marked with reflective bits of metal, scattered in a patternless area about thirty feet wide. As you investigate, you note the metal is coins, and they seem to have fallen from the heavens themselves.

    13. A particularly harsh erosion trench runs through the main road and may broken wagon wheels can be seen, in pieces, nearby. There is even sign of campfires made from the remains of broken wheels, sacrificed to the harsh conditions of the road. A rough, side-trail can be seen around the trench, slow going, but far easier on the wagons and animals.

    14. To the side of a nearby bolder can be found a satchel of inhuman size. Clearly made of leather with brass fittings with a stylized, rune-like mark engraved in the front flap. The bag was clearly designed for someone at least twice the size of a grown man and holds considerable weight. One wonders what giant may have left it behind … and whether or not they will be returning for it and the ‘treasures’ the rest within it.

    15. A griffins nest can be found nestled in a cluster of high rocks. Within are the shattered remains of four, petrified, griffin eggs. The stone shells have been smashed and the eggs have been hollowed out. Possibly eaten by something able to petrify flesh.

    16. An abandoned hauling cart is found near a cold camp fire. The cart is loaded with supplies; food, water, blankets, mining tools. In a nearby field, a somewhat skittish mule can be seen grazing – a strange gash visible on its flanks.

    17. A sinkhole, not marked on any map, reveals only shadows and the sound of rushing water from many feet below. The sides are unstable and dangerous to the unwary.

    18. While traveling through a canyon in the hills, the group comes across a field of bleach white bones, some immense in size. The wise among you will recognize the bones of Wyverns and that this is a Wyvern burial ground. The canyon walls above are spotted with shadow filled caves.

    19. A field of brush seems easily passable, but when entered, the brambles and grasses reach out and entangle the travelers. They look for a caster, but find none. A wise priest might surmise that, sometimes, the Entangle spells linger, creating a region that stays active for an indeterminate amount of time. A Dispel Magic might remove the problem, assuming the groups casters have not been restrained.

    20. A steady stream of white, cloud-like moisture drifts up from a odd hole in the ground. It has the smell of hot water, hot enough to form steam on a sunny day. Anyone investigating the hole will hear splashing from below, along with high pitched growling from some small creature(s).

    • These are very cool Damren. Thank you for posting them up. You should post them up on your own blog as well if you have one!

  2. Ever think of doing a terrain variants book? I mean hills can be moorland, buttes, sheer cliffs, coastal dunes, etc. Anyway as always your advice is very inspiring. Thanks Creighton!

    • Thanks for the idea! Could you elaborate a bit on what you’d like to see in the book? Kind of like a GM’s toolbox to make encounters in different kinds of hills interesting?

      • Two things. First, like in the back of the AD&D 1St edition DMG I was thinking of a table of terrain subtypes under the heading “hills.” GM’s could use this for world building. Example: “1. Glacial cliffs: this region of tundra is punctuated by great jagged uplands of glacial ice. Many rises are steep with sheer cliffs dropping into frozen chasms below.” Then perhaps under each subtype you could feature unique weather, things to enliven the journey and encounter samples.

        Basically the book would be an aid to GMs for creating alternative terrain types.