You had been traveling through the oppressively dense trees of the Glintwood for days. The ever present drone of insects just out of sight. The constant shifting of shadows as you turn your head. You had become numb to it, as you traveled west along the road they called The Highway; dubbed that only because it was the only road between Glintwood Clearing and Berry Bustle. There was little conversation, even your mount made little noise, you heard only that which the forest chose you to hear. At night, you barely slept as your senses were barraged by croaks and chitters and hums and shrieks. As your guide dismounted and began leading his horse on foot toward the creek near the trail that led south, you couldn’t help but feel dread that you were going to be consumed by the forest without The Highway to keep them at bay. You made camp on The Highway one last night, but you were unable to sleep. It seemed as if the noises were louder and quieter at the same time, there seemed to be an air of contention in the forest around your party that night. Without realizing it, you finally hit your wall and fell asleep. You were not prepared for what you saw when you awoke.
Randal here, finally getting back into the swing of things with Groundbreaking. We have discussed The Glintwood, and Glintwood Clearing, as well as Berry Bustle, but we still have quite a bit of the Misty Forest to cover. The ancient ruins that are constantly covered in water from The Shallows is very likely to be a draw for adventurers, so I thought it would be a good idea to provide a bit of atmosphere beyond the simple descriptions we have used previously.
You awoke to an absence, but one you couldn’t place. As soon as you noticed it, your eyes were drawn to the trees along the creek. While you had torches to see the night before, you had to travel a good 100 yards off The Highway to find a spot good enough to camp. Waking up, you find that the style of trees are different, not only in species but in spacing and tone. They are no longer massive and dominating, towering above you to block out the sky. These trees seem more … looming, and ponderous. Although spread further apart their branches reach out and manage to stifle the air around them. You can’t ride twenty feet without needing to duck or dodge branches, and you feel certain that some of the branches are reaching out to grasp at your cloak. The sound of the branches against your clothes, gear, and saddle make the strangest grating sound. And that is when it hits you … it is quiet, too quiet. Suddenly it is all you can focus on, the silence. No insects, no wildlife, nothing but the clop of your mount’s hooves, the grating of the tree branches, and the beating of your heart in your chest. Even your mount’s hooves begin to sound dull, as your heartbeats get louder as you look around at the others, who seem to be ignoring you, then to your guide, whom is watching you with a strange smile on his face. You stop, eyes locked with his for a full 10 breaths, your ears only register heartbeats … boom, boom, boom. Your guide’s mouth twitches, and then he breaks out in laughter, a deep, rich, belly laughter that draws the attention of all around you. The spell is broken, the forest seems normal again, you even hear raven cawing as they flap away, annoyed by the laughter. “I see this is your first time entering the fog.” you’re guide chuckles again as he turns to continue leading the group. The others look at you quizzically before following, and it is only after they disappear one after another into a fog you hadn’t seen before do you realize why the rumors about this place persist.
GM Note. I wanted the swamp to be just as strange and powerful as the forest is, but in a different way. As before, I want it to seem plausibly realistic, but with an obvious fantasy angle. While the forest and swamp are both oppressive, I wanted them to feel so for different reasons. With the forest, I was kind of going for an “ever out of reach” vibe in that you can hear things, and even see things, but you just couldn’t reach them due to the thickness of the trees or the dimness of the light or the ever present bugs. I think with the swamp I am going more towards a claustrophobic angle. The fog will ebb and flow, but it will be constantly making your look around to make sure you aren’t alone, and the every present quiet will only deepen that feeling.
Where the forest canopy dimmed the light, the ever present fog creates a grey pall over everything. Almost immediately after setting off, your guide lights a lantern, but you cannot see any noticeable difference in the lighting. The fog moves through the trees, but seemingly never in the same direction for long. It will close in one minute, giving you only twenty or thirty foot visibility only to dissipate and let you see hundreds of yards ahead. Your guide is following a trail that you cannot see, and your companions all let your attempts at conversation drop, as if speaking would offend the fog. Eventually, you start to feel the same way, and turn your thoughts inward, trying to figure out how long you have been traveling. Time doesn’t exist in this forest, in this fog. You have just begun to realize this when your guide calls out that it is time to stop for lunch. Afterwards, as you prepare to continue, you see him refilling his lantern using a bartender’s jigger, and you realize that he is using the lantern to track the passage of time in this place.
GM Note. Fogs are really just clouds on the ground. Clouds are dense pockets of airborne water, and so they are going to change in density and visibility as they move passed you or you move through them. Once you make them move in different directions, they seem to take on a life of their own.
On the second day, you notice that you barely go 15 minutes before you are walking through puddles, then shallow pools, then around pools of water that don’t seem to have a source. On the third day, your mount spends more time ankle deep in water than dry. Eventually, after pushing lunch back an hour, your guide informs you that you have reached your destination. After a short meal of rations, he gathers you all on a low stone wall, the remnants of a small hut, you think. “As promised, I have delivered you to the Misty Ruins. Gather round, and pay attention, because you aren’t going to get to see this again for at least a week.” he says as he pulls miniature bellows from a pouch hanging around his neck. He licks his finger and holds it up, a motion you have seen him do numerous times to check the air. He smiles, “Good, I got us here just in time.” he beams proudly, the most emotion you have seen from him since he laughed at you. He then chants something in a language you can’t place before giving the miniature bellows a squeeze. Magic wind springs forth, creating a cacophony as trees and debris and water are all blown away. It is from this sudden and violent expulsion of air that the fog is blown away, and the area becomes suddenly bright as the sun can finally reach the ground. You reflexively shield your eyes, unaware of just how accustomed to the dim light you had become, and are able to see it all, at least for a minute. You gaze at the remains of buildings and other structures, likely spread out for miles, but filling the entirety of this momentary clearing. You have yet to take it all in before the fog thickens and blocks out the sky, and then, almost angrily, closes in on your group until you can only see a couple of feet ahead of you. It is in this moment that you realize that babysitting archaeologists might not be as easy as it sounded.
GM Note. I haven’t decided how much of the ruins I want to divulge, perhaps keeping it a mystery, but I did want them to be expansive and difficult to navigate. Describing it from an outsider’s perspective is the clear choice for describing how strong a new area affects you when you visit. Since PCs are almost always outsiders, being murder-hobos and all, I feel this style of narrative is a good fit. Although, I am starting to wonder what goes through the mind of the guide now that I am thinking about it … perhaps another time.
Perhaps next time we will deal with a haunting, visit the dinosaurs, go fishing, or head into the caves … Join me before then to discuss what you would like to see included at our Discord server https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj.