20 Things to Enliven a Forest Journey

Adventurers are intrepid types and often disappear into the wilderness in search of gold and glory. Many such adventures seem to happen in gloomy woods and impenetrable forests.

By Maciej Zagorski (The Forge Studios)

By Maciej Zagorski (The Forge Studios)


Use the table below, to breath life into adventures set in a woodland or forest. None of the happenings listed below are intended to spawn a full encounter; rather think of them as wilderness dressing designed to add realism and depth to proceedings.

  1. Birds perched in a nearby tree suddenly take flight. They alight in a nearby tree and begin singing again.
  2. A large fox darts out of the undergrowth, dashes passed the party and disappears into another thicket. Perceptive characters notice the foxes’ ear is badly lacerated.
  3. A tree throws its branches wide and high over the path. As the PCs underneath, the branches creak alarmingly as if caught in a strong wind…but there is no wind.
  4. The pathway cuts through a mossy bank. A wide, muddy puddle blocks progress. Beyond the puddle the pathway rises up out of the mud. Indistinct tracks heading into the puddle are evident, but they do not emerge on the PCs’ side.
  5. The pathway runs along the side of a steep bank. Gnarled and twisted tree roots grow out of the bank like petrified serpents—seemingly frozen in the act of questing for those passing by.
  6. The trunk of a large fallen tree lies nearby. Investigation reveals someone used interwoven branches to form a makeshift survival shelter against the trunk. The shelter is obviously old—the wood is rotten and part of the structure has collapsed under its own weight.
  7. A riot of bramble bushes fills a clearing up ahead. Several game trails twist and turn through the thorny mass while the main path skirts the clearing.
  8. The ground in this low-lying section of forest is boggy and wet. The party’s boots quickly become muddy and wet.
  9. The yellowing bones of a humanoid lie propped up against a tree. About him lies the rusted and rotten remains of his equipment. Three arrows fletched with thick black feathers hold the skeleton in place against the tree.
  10. A squirrel dashes across the path and up a nearby tree. It sits on a high branch and chitters angrily at the party. If the party approach, he hurls nuts at them.
  11. A strip of torn red cloth hangs from a low branch of a tree just off the trail. Characters investigating discover a trail of such torn cloth leading several hundred feet away from the path. The “trail” ends in a sheltered hollow—a perfect sheltered campsite.
  12. This section of pathway is particularly rocky and tricky to traverse. Characters moving faster than normal may trip and fall.
  13. A small stone cairn stands in the centre of a clearing. Perhaps set up as a rudimentary shrine, a small hollow with the pile holds three half-burnt candles and a weather-worn portrait. However, the elements have effaced whatever the picture once depicted.
  14. The sound of soft laughter reaches the party from somewhere up ahead. However, no amount of searching reveals the laughter’s source.
  15. A huge, gnarled oak tree looms over its fellows like a giant, throwing them into shade. Nearby trees are stunted and sickly-looking.
  16. A rotting, fallen tree lies amid a riot of wild flowers. Bees buzz about the flowers.
  17. The sound of a howling wolf from somewhere behind the party echoes through the trees. Twenty minutes later it howls again…this time from much closer nearby.
  18. The path leads upwards to a slight hill less covered in vegetation than the surrounding woodland. From this vantage point, the party can see a good proportion of the surrounding forest…and perhaps even their goal.
  19. The path leads downwards into a shallow, mist-drenched valley. Here, sounds are strangely muted and fewer animals seem in evidence. In the depths of the valley, the party discovers a dying elm tree with a human face carved into its trunk.
  20. Leg and arm bones—tied together with thin cord—hang down from a tree’s branches and clack softly in the wind. The party encounters several more similar fetishes.

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This article will appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things, available in March 2016. For more, check out our Free Resources page.

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13 thoughts on “20 Things to Enliven a Forest Journey

  1. I love the puddle with the tracks. Even if it amounts to nothing, it keeps the PCs guessing. These are great as random encounters. It’s always interesting to see how PCs respond to stimuli like this. The illusion of danger, and the apparent avoidance of it, does not necessarily mean there was any. But they don’t know that. Good list here, Creighton.