So. Your players are tracking Zalgag, the two eyed cyclops, through the woodlands where he’s rumored to have his lair. The ranger is using her tracking skill to follow the trail of trampled ferns and broken branches, then, she rolls a 1. The players have lost the trail. Worse yet, you use classic hexcrawling rules, and they’ve gotten themselves lost. Still worse, nobody thought to purchase a compass. The situation is bad for them, but for you it’s even worse. You’ve gotta figure out how to make being lost in the woods interesting.
Fortunately, you’ve got this table.
- An ancient stone church. From the construction you can tell it originates from the very earliest days of the common faith in this land. Back when the abhorrent faiths that were once practiced here were forced out at swordpoint. A titanic oak has fallen on the roof and crashed its way through the floor, revealing a hidden chamber beneath. There appears to have been no way to reach this chamber from the church prior to the floor collapsing.
The floor of the chamber is covered in a layer of dead wasp husks 2’ deep. The many-pored hives of their living descendants hum with activity all along the chamber’s walls and ceilings. Directly under the altar in the church above is a stone ring, 3’ tall. Human femurs have been placed on the inside edge of the ring, each pointing towards the center. There are hundreds of these, leaving only a narrow passage of about 5’ in diameter down the center of the ring.
Runes in an ancient local tongue describe the necessary ritual. A victim’s face must be pressed to the narrow bone passage and pain must be inflicted on them. Their screams suffice as an offering to the god of this place. After having been so long forgotten, the deity will be willing to proclaim anyone who gives it offerings as a champion. Much will be given, but much will be expected.There is a passage in the wall which wends beneath the earth for nearly a mile before opening out into the side of a treacherous gorge. The native peoples built this place to worship their god in secret after open worship was banned, and to negate the hateful presence of the interloping faith.
- A meadow where the trees overhead are so thick they form a veritable cavern. It would be dark as night, if not for the multicolored, luminescent fungi that hang from every tree branch, and float on the waters of the pond. This is the court of the pixies. A place which can only be found when you’re not looking for it.Typically the pixies hate to be intruded on by the big folk. They punish intruders with cruel games. These are really just sadistic tortures with strange rules, and a false hope that the victim might ‘win’ and be allowed to leave.
Today, however, the pixies have need of some of the big folk. They have a gift for the big-folk king, and need someone to deliver it. Unfortunately, the serpent bird became enamored of the shiny paper the gift was wrapped in, and has stolen the gift for its nest. The pixies require the players to retrieve the gift before they take it to the king. They assure you that the human king will reward you amply for your trouble. He will not. If the players are reticent to pursue this quest without any obvious reward, the pixies would be happy to play “games” instead.
As it happens, the gift is a smooth white stone with a jagged “X” carved into its surface, and colored with a pasty red powder. If touched, the stone causes the victim to be uncomfortably large for any man-made room they enter. In nature they are normal size, but as soon as they walk through a doorway they will find they have to stoop, and cannot take most actions normally. (Though they can always fit through doorways, somehow). Their new size confers no benefits of strength.
The pixies would be deeply offended to learn their curse did not reach its proper target.
- The characters break through the underbrush into a small clearing where they find a council of bears. Most are sitting on fallen logs or tree stumps, while 2-4 are standing amid the rest, having a formal argument with one another about the moral state of the forest, trade agreements with the squirrels, the reliability of sense perception, or some other esoteric topic. When the characters are noticed, the bears will be mortified at having been discovered. Some of them will begin awkwardly acting like normal bears, but these will be chided by the rest for being ridiculous. After all, humans aren’t that stupid.
The bears are polite and highly rational, but are insistent that they do not want their intellect to become widely known. While they have no currency with which to bribe the players, they offer their council on any number of issues the players wish to discuss. Of course, they are given to long argument on even the simplest subject, but patient players will always receive good information. Under no circumstances will the bears resort to violence on the player’s behalf.
If the players attempt to betray the bears’ secret, they will have a difficult time of it. Tales of the bears are common enough from travelers in these woods that the surrounding villages have adopted the term “Meeting The Bear Council” as a euphemism for consuming a certain kind of hallucinogenic mushroom that grows on by the river there.
- In the middle of nowhere, its presence not even indicated by a deer trail through the underbrush, is the Crosseyed Wolf Hunting Lodge. It’s a large, well maintained building, with a green moss growing on the walls and roof. Within, the building is rustic and homey, with a welcoming barkeep and a host of cheerful huntsman. Notably, some of these will be peasants, while others may be as high ranking as princes or kings. There is no rank in the Crosseyed Wolf Hunting Lodge.
On the walls hang trophies from all manner of bizarre creatures, the likes of which the players have never seen or imagined. Furry toad heads the size of an elephant’s, with majestic deer antlers; a fleshy horse with no eyes and 12 rows of razor teeth; a coiled python with the upper body of a mole-like thing where its head ought to be. The hunters are only too happy to share exaggerated stories of how deadly each creature was, and how much daring it took to bring it down.
The Crosseyed Wolf Hunting Lodge is managed by Gullenet the Jocose, a muscular wizard of considerable skill with portals. The exploits of his youth made him wealthy enough to fund this place for the next four hundred years (which is good, because he plans to live at least that long). Gullenet’s specialty is creating portals to other worlds, and he spends years doing careful research to find new and exciting prey for the finest hunters in the world to tackle. They gather here once every two years (aided by Gullenet’s portals) for a great hunt. And a new one is just about to begin.
- A tree with a wise old face in its trunk. When approached, it will greet whomever it sees with a raspy voice, as though they were expected some time ago. It will agree to answer a single question for any group of people who come before it. It’s answers are generally nonsense disguised by profound language and portentous tone. It avoids specifics, but if need be, it will give specifics that are very far away from wherever it currently is.
Truth be told, this tree has only been sentient for about 6 years. It is not very old, nor is it very wise. But every face in a tree seems to look old and wise to humans. She got tired of trying to convince people she didn’t know the answers to their questions (everyone assumed it was some kind of test), and instead just started making shit up to get people to go away.
- One of the party stumbles into a hole, taking taking 1 point of damage. It was disguised by a burlap tarp covered in dirt and dried leaves. The hole is 6’ long, 3’ wide, and 8’ deep. It’s lined with tightly packed stones, and there’s a metal grate at the bottom. The whole thing is covered in ash.If the players spend any time searching nearby they will find human bones. It doesn’t matter where they look. In hollow stumps, fallen logs, under stones, everywhere. It would be difficult to dig in a spot within 100’ of the hole without finding bones.
If the players wait, there is a 1 in 6 chance each night that Hershel Volik will arrive, carrying a body. Hershel lives in the nearest village. During a childhood he tries not to remember, Hershel developed a taste for the meat of his fellow man. He makes frequent trips to towns throughout the area on business, and his murders (about one every week) have thus far gone undetected.