20 Things to Liven Up A Swampy Journey

Adventurers are intrepid types and often disappear into the wilderness in search of gold and glory. Many such adventures seem to happen in murky swamps and dismal marshes.

By Jeff Ward

By Jeff Ward


Use the table below, to breath life into adventures set in a swamp. 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. With a muted snap and splash, a diseased tree branch falls into a reed-fringed pond.
  2. The path is muddy, and several large puddles dot the area. One is deeper than the others—but the muddy water disguises this fact. PCs not taking care to avoid the puddle could twist their ankle (1 damage and movement halved; DC 15 Reflex avoids).
  3. A rotten, fallen tree lies across the path. The tree has obviously lain here for some time, and previous explorers have beaten a path around its now crushed crown.
  4. Suddenly—with much squawking—birds pecking about on a muddy bank burst into the air and fly away. Ripples spread ominously in the nearby water.
  5. This stretch of the marsh smells particularly terrible; swamp gases rise from the fetid water, and the sounds of wildlife are conspicuous by their absence.
  6. A single large claw print mars the glistening mud of a nearby bank. Nearby, the reeds and thick grasses have been flattened by something large moving through them.
  7. The party come across a half-sunken rowboat—its bottom stove in. One oar floats in the water nearby; of the owner nothing remains but a bloody smear on one side of the boat.
  8. Ahead, the party spy a slightly raised, drier area partially screened by thick bushes. Investigations reveal the remains of an old campfire and a small pile of stacked wood.
  9. Brown, muddy water oozes up from the ground throughout this area of marsh. Here the path peters out, and there is no easy way of getting through. Movement rates in this area are halved.
  10. At this point several small streams come together to form an elongated pool fringed by a thick stand of trees at one end. A wide, sluggish river flows away from the pool.
  11. The remains of a partially collapsed hut lie crushed by a fallen tree. A small outbuilding—in slightly better condition—stands nearby, but is empty of anything of interest. It is, however, sturdy enough to provide shelter.
  12. A cloud of flying, stinging insects surround the party eager for their next meal. For the next hour they buzz about the party, causing a nuisance of themselves. The insects’ administrations distract the PCs (-5 on Perception checks) unless they make a DC 12 Fortitude check.
  13. With a splash, a bird plummets into the waters of a nearby pool. A few moments later it emerges with a wriggling fish clasped firmly in its beak.
  14. The bones of some kind of humanoid lie sprawled among the mud and muck, slightly off the trail. The bones belong to a lizardfolk or other thematically suitable race; it still wears a polished necklace of worn stones interspaced with a few shards of jade (worth 25 gp; DC 20 Appraise values).
  15. A spear—its haft decorated with feathers—has been stabbed into the soft earth just off the beaten track.
  16. A tree stump has been carved to represent the face of some kind of leering demon. It faces the trail and its mouth is open wide. A DC 15 Perception check reveals a tarnished gold piece hidden at the back of its mouth.
  17. Four skulls hanging from rough woven hemp rope dangle from a nearby tree and clack together in the gentle breeze. The skulls are likely of lizardfolk or boggard origin.
  18. Thick mud covers the trail; a single, forlorn boot juts up from the middle of a particularly churned area. Investigation reveals the boot was once of fine quality and has the initials “JN” embroidered inside.
  19. Sunlight plays on the waters of a nearby stream wending its way through the muck. The water is surprisingly clear, and observant PCs (DC 15 Perception spots) notice a school of small fish darting about in its shallows. Survival checks made to get along in the wild gain a +2 circumstance bonus if the PCs spend one hour fishing here.
  20. A heron wades in the shallows of a bog-fringed pool. Suddenly, the water churns about it, and the heron is gone—the only evidence of its passing a small amount of blood in the water and several floating feathers.

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GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing

If you enjoy the table above and like dungeon dressing, check out GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing—Endzeitgeist’s choice as the number one book of 2014! Crammed with over 200 pages of information and charts designed to bring your wilderness adventures alive, GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing is an essential part of any GM’s arsenel.



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7 thoughts on “20 Things to Liven Up A Swampy Journey

    • 😉 Perhaps there is something strange or otherworldly about the gold piece? (Or perhaps I made a mistake!)