By Gabor Lux First Hungarian D20 Society OSRIC Levels 3-5
South of the dark walls of Mur, an overgrown forest lies between two mountain ranges. Its namesake, the immortal beast Gornate, noted for his thirty-six eyes and a peculiar taste for collecting human spinal columns, has made no sign of his presence in many years. Even so, the woodlands hide numerous dangers. Robber bands, man-eating beasts, abandoned manor houses and mysterious ruins dot a land divided by rivers and mountain ridges. The people of the city rarely venture into the forest, but recently, three notabilities have expressed an interest in sponsoring a hazardous, but lucrative expedition. While serving three masters may be too much for a single adventure, a resourceful and lucky company could return rich from… The Forest of Gornate!
This 36 page digest contains a forest with about 45 locations and a couple of small sites with about fortish locations to explore. Terse and evocative, it does things right.
What is a wilderness adventure? Hexcrawl? Pointcrawl? Some combination of the two? We’ve got a map with some distances noted between adventuring locales. So, wilderness pointcrawl? Sure.
Lux the Gaborian does something very well: he can edit himself. This is, almost certainly, the single most useful skill one can have as an adventure writer. As we look through our standards, we see that evocative writing is key to making the adventure/room/encounter come to life in the DMs mind, so they can then engage in the process of riffing on it to bring it to an even more fully realized environment. Ah, but to do this well? Do we write paragraph after paragraph to describe the encounter? We could … and then we must pay a lot of attention to formatting, so as to allow the DM the ability to quickly scan the encounter and locate needed information. However, there is another way. To write tersly. Brevity being the soul of wit, the challenge then becomes to write an evocative encounter, tersly, full of interactivity and/or potential energy. No small feat that. And to get there it requires the ability to edit. To look at what you’ve written and throw parts of it out. To be able to say “That thing I wrote sucks” and improve it. Picking better words. Riffing on yourself. And thusly we arrive at the pinnacle of adventure design: the terse and evocative sentence full of potential energy. This IS the best way to do things. And also the hardest, by far.
Looking at our Gornattian Forest we see an almost LACK of formatting. Each encounter location gets a small name, with which to frame what is to come. Then a couple of sentences, perhaps with some bolding to call out as few choice words, like bas-relief or some such, so as to ensure the DM focuses on that. A primary stat block that is generally on one line. The formatting here is suited to the terse descriptions, bringing additional clarity, without having to resort to the full existential crisis brought on by longer descriptions.
Speaking of evocative writing, in the context of the titular forest monster of legend, Gornate, “only his thirty-six eyes and a peculiar taste for collecting human spinal columns are noted in legend.” Note the specificity here. Slightly absurdist, as local legends can be. But, specific. Not abstracted. Not “a horrible monster” or “it does terrible things to people.” But specific. Something that few adventures do and yet bring the adventure to life in magical ways. “The armour and weapons of the armoury have been ruined by seeping water, and everything is covered by mud; however, an old, pincushion-like suit of armour is riddled with 18 crossbow bolts +1” Not just a quiver of bolts. Not just laying in a just. Pincuishoned out of a suit of armor. Absolutely. This is how you write a description. This is how you bring a room to life.
Wanderers generally have something going for them. An attitude. A description. Something, with few exceptions. Rumors vary in quality based on how close to the forest you are, using a table and varying dice to roll on it, a concise trick. Cross-references aplenty abound.
Interactivity is great. Dilapidated houses hide treasure in their rafters … if the place doesn’t collapse first. This is is a trap. Or, rather, is just a thing that happens and is handled like a trap. There are lots of people to talk to in the first, and interact with, on your way to find [whatever it is you are looking for.]And there is a potential energy in the descriptions, the way a good hex crawl description is written. We get a general situation described to us, in such a way that we can riff on it and bring it to life. The writing leverages the reader, the DM, to provide more than what is on the written page. “Hidden trail: This route crosses a range of cliffs dotted with weeds and hardy shrubs. 6 wolves live beneath a stone ledge, who scurry off if approached boldly.” A trail, hidden. Along a cliffside, wandering down it. A couple of shrubs. There’s more to this, a second and third sentence. 3, to bring this encounter hidden depth and more interest.
It’s a decent wilderness play area. Some woodland encounters. Some more in depth encounters. Several features to explore. A few different things going on in the forest. And the locals, the human populace, integrate well in to the environment, in a realistic way. More top notch stuff from Gabor Lux, and easily dropped in to your home game. It’s gpoing to become a staple of my Dungeonland west march.
This is $6.50 at DriveThru. The preview is eleven pages, showing you the map and the first fourteen encounters in the forest. A good preview.