Imposing trees on all sides, the sounds of wind rushing through the leaves, the driving snow in your face as you seek cover. This is harsh winter in the forest, a place for only the most hardy… or the most foolhardy, into which category usually fall adventurers. After the dangers of fire in our last column, we now introduce these quite different dilemmas to your players.
These hooks are very easy to fit into any world, so they are not written for a particular campaign setting. Just add them wherever you have a forest in need of additional challenge.
War of the Flyers
The PCs happen to be on the road, in a rural area with mountains visible in the distance and a great forest within a day’s ride (not too uncommon in most settings). In the distance they see figures swooping through the air over ranch lands; as they get closer, they see that these figures are some kind of humanoids vaguely resembling elves.
This is the scene they come upon:
The humanoids swoop overhead with great bows in their hands, while below cattle and farmers alike show great alarm. One young woman runs from the house with a bow and begins firing at the creatures. Their response is not to return fire, however, but to take aim at the cattle and begin firing. Interestingly, most of them use their feet to assist in firing the bows. A couple keep harrying the farmers, while one shouts in anger at his fellow creatures. Clearly he is trying to get them to stop, even as they down two more cows. Their communication is in a language you don’t know. Throughout the attack, they don’t directly attack the farmers, but use their flying skill to evade attacks and keep the farmers off balance.
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1. These creatures are raptorans (see Races of the Wild for the 3E version). Treat them mechanically as winged elves (fly 6). They have been driven from their normal hunting grounds in the mountains in the distance by a green dragon. They are desperate, and this group has resorted to rustling.
2. The one who is opposing the attack is a ranger who would rather see his people return to their homeland. The only problem is getting rid of the dragon, and he would be interested in the PCs offering to help with that task.
3. There are groups of raptorans all over the area, since a whole tribe of the creatures was driven away by the dragon. Operating in small groups, some are responsible for attacks on other ranches and farms, while others are reported as helping villages and trying to make friends with the locals.
4. The raptorans live high up in the mountains, in caves above the tree line. The dragon has taken over their largest community cave complex, and claims the entire forest area around the old raptoran settlement. Some of the monstrous locals accept this new master and will hinder the PCs, while others rebel and could be potential allies.
5. On the other hand, if you like twists, the dragon could be a prisoner of the raptorans and an excuse for the raiding. In this case, the ranger is a renegade from his people and somehow allied with the dragon. Everyone is probably evil, so choosing which side to work for might become an interesting challenge.
6. The raptorans were in fact slain by the dragon, and raised as undead servants by a necromancer ally of the dragon. Now the undead flyers hunt for the dragon. The ranger who is opposing the hunt thinks it is still alive (and does not see the other raptorans for the undead that they are), and fights the control of the necromancer subconsciously. He may succumb once he has gotten the PCs interested, and his betrayal later could be a big complication.
War of the Upright Walkers
The refugees slip quietly from the woods and onto the road ahead of the adventurers. All told, there are more than 200 of the poor souls, most of whom look like they’ve been attacked by animals. The tale they tell is a sad one, too—and strange. They have been driven from their homes without even their possessions. All they have are the clothes on their backs.
More details follow. The people are from a village deep in the nearby woods. A couple of days ago, they were attacked by what they describe as a horde of woodland animals, creatures that normally leave them well alone: comprised of a pack of wolves, some bears, wolverines, and even deer. The creatures did not let up until everyone had either abandoned the village or been killed. It seemed no matter how many animals were killed, there were always more waves of creatures. Finally, after about fifty of their people were slain, and more than twice that many animals, they had to flee… and have been harassed all the way here.
A couple people in this group heard about an attack on an elven settlement about two days’ travel north of their village, but assumed it was raiders. They have no other information about what happened at that settlement.
Sefton, the village ranger, does not think the animal attack was natural at all (how could he possibly?), but did not have time to think much through it during their escape. He’d like to go back and investigate, but feels he has a duty to get the villagers to safety. He asks the PCs to investigate for him. As payment, he tells them that he left a magical device in his home and they are welcome to it if they find out what motivated the attack. (Treat this as a single parcel for a quest reward, choosing an item 4 levels above the PCs’ level).
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1. A band of druids has vowed to rid the forests of all creatures that walk on two legs. They are controlling or allying with the animals to drive out other humans. The fact that the druids are also humanoids, and whether they will leave or become the masters of the whole forest to “protect it” is yet to be determined.
2. The animals are themselves being driven from their homes by a forest monster(s) of epic ferocity, such as a green dragon or an enclave of mad treants that don’t even want animals around.
3. The elven settlement mentioned above was likewise attacked and everyone in it slaughtered. Evidence can show claw and teeth marks, or the PCs could find faint evidence of weaponry. The PCs may even come upon this settlement first, adding to the mystery, before meeting the villagers.
4. The animals are mere biological tools used by elf-hating drow to drive the elves from the forest or slay them all. The attacks on human and other humanoid villages is accidental in that it is not planned. The drow don’t mind at all that these other humanoids are killed; it’s just not part of their original plan.
5. The druids behind the animal attacks are not druids, but rather werewolves or other lycanthropes. Or perhaps they are lycanthrope druids. They are driving everyone out because they are afraid of being hunted themselves and killed.
6. Whatever party is behind the attacks has a band of dryads, hags, satyrs, cyclopses, and even banshrae allied with it or enslaved to it, and these are used to assess the threat that the PCs possess.
7. For a really bizarre twist, you could have the spirit of the forest itself responsible for driving out anything that is parasitical on the trees and animals of the forest. The spirit of the forest does not assume that living in the forest does not make one “of the forest,” and has its own ideas about what belongs and what does not.
War of the Diggers
The adventurers are traveling through a wilderness area that has become the home for some hardy gnomes. It is near an old and dark forest, but the gnomes live in the plains outside the forest tending sheep and building villages. They hope to secure the wilderness right around themselves and create a safe town for their kind to live in.
As the PCs travel, they come across a field with a herd of sheep standing quietly. What makes the scene odd is that there are four visible areas of ground eruption around the sheep. The crater-like areas look like places where some creature emerged from the ground and then went back under the earth. Near each one, the PCs find personal belongings (what the gnome shepherds would possess). If the PCs search the area, they find some tracks about 100 yards away from the sheep heading toward the forest. There are more craters nearby, and then the tracks of a four-legged clawed creature. The tracks lead into the forest, and from time to time a dropped piece of clothing (such as a hat or scarf) indicates the presence of missing shepherds as well as the creatures.
There is no one here to outright hire the PCs, but if the PCs take their information back to the gnome village (either they know of it already, or might come upon it later if they do not immediately investigate)—about 2 hours from the forest, they will find concerned gnomes who do ask them to look into the matter. Of course, it’s more mysterious if you just leave it at the strange scene with the sheep and the craters, and let the PCs get hooked from there.
(Note: This one might be a tougher sell, and you might have to have the PCs or the sheep suddenly attacked by a bulette or elemental… or else something burrowing, to get them interested).
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1. Fey creatures that live in the forest are hostile to the settlement of the gnomes so close to their own “territory,” and have conjured these earth-burrowing creatures to remove or scare away the gnomes. The creatures could be bulettes, some new kind of elemental, or even something like a purple worm.
2. A group of adventurers penetrated the forest to find and explore an old ruin. In the process of doing so, they released some magically bound creatures that are looking for the ancient wizards who captured them (to take revenge, of course). The adventurers are dead at the ruins, but the creatures are kidnapping the shepherds to collect information in an ever widening search for the ancient wizards. In the Forgotten Realms, these might be ancient Netherese wizards or even more ancient elves.
3. The burrowing creatures have a base in the forest, and that is where they take the gnome shepherds (and eat them soon after, poor guys). The base is either at the ruins or at some site held by the fey masters, but either way the creatures may abandon it soon to move their attack further out.
4. The burrowing creatures come from a realm deep underneath the forest. They are taking the gnomes as slaves.
5. If you like twists, you might make one of the gnomes in the village (or a whole cadre of them) allied with the parties responsible. Their interest is to get their comrades to move back to a safer location. They have tried normal channels, and are known for their opposition to this settlement; however, because relatives are here who won’t go back, they don’t leave. Their allies are using their plan as an opportunity to advance their own agenda. Thus, there could be two courses of investigation that confuse the issue.