Groundbreaking – Walking through the forest …

Hello, Randal here, back for more Groundbreaking. I recently moved from the rather flat and boring central valley of California to the Pacific Northwest. Since then, I have taken my family on walks just about every other day. There is a children’s song / video that my kids loved on YouTube about “Walking Through the Jungle” where they see and hear sights, sounds, and animals of the jungle. We have been singing/playing “Walking Through the Forest” as I try to teach them about the new world they live in. Additionally, as I drive around, I am soaking up every detail I can wrap my brain around, because so many things change the ideas I have about running games and encounters in a forest environment. Don’t get me wrong, I have been camping before, and hunting in Wyoming, but that was long ago and I was always there for a purpose other than soaking in the sights and sounds. Now, I am simply existing in the environment and it is changing how I look at it.

Without further ado, I present to you a series of “Sights, Sounds, and Finds of the Forest”: Marathis’ Cradle Edition.

The Phoenix Redwood. This redwood stands above the local trees, and can be seen from quite a distance (assuming you are far enough from the forest’s edge or can get above the tree line). The scale of this tree almost seems unreal, but that is only the first part of this wonder. If you actually travel to and find the base of this tree, you discover that there is even more to be amazed about … the base of the tree is growing from within the petrified stump of an even more ancient, even larger tree. While the live redwood is as wide as two wagons (15 ft.), the petrified stump is easily another wagon bigger (22 ft.) and almost 10 feet tall!

The Giant Logger’s Road. Much of travel through a forest is slow going as you walk over and around trees, bushes, and more. If you are lucky, you find a game trail going your direction, but these are often just as hard for people to traverse than making their own path. While following one such trail, you stumble into a 15 ft wide clearing in the forest that runs in a straight line as far as the eye can see in either direction. The remnants of grooves in the ground indicate that larger/wider than normal carts passed through here, but it doesn’t seem to have been used in a very long time.

Woodpecker Mimicry. When walking through a forested area, it is common to hear the jack-hammering sounds of a woodpecker. There is a particular grove of semi-sentient trees (animal intelligence) that have learned that woodpeckers can help rid them of certain insects that are bad for their health. On the flip side, they need to be able to scare off the birds to avoid extensive damage to the trees from prolonged feedings and nesting. To this end, they have evolved special branches that create the sounds of a woodpecker when shook and they teach their saplings the various woodpecker drum beats used to indicate an abundance of food to attract or a territorial dispute to scare off.

The Clearing. Vegetation grows anywhere that it can get water, sunlight, and nutrients. Forests do not form shapes or patterns on their own. As the light brightens ahead, you realize that there is a clearing and you walk out into it, only to be stunned by the perfectly square shape, roughly 100 ft. on a side. The edges are marked by the stumps of trees space roughly 5 feet apart, cut about a foot above the ground. The interior of the clearing is simply grass with a few daisies mixed in. Further inspection from above the would imply that there might have been a home’s foundation in the clearing, based on the shape/layout of the grasses, weeds, and flowers. It would take digging at least 3 feet down to find anything.

The Collapsed Well. When large wells are drained, the ground above them can settle. Digging to water and building a stone well is going to add a bit of weight to the area. Increased foot traffic might just be the straw that broke the camels back. The collapse and loss of a well could very well spell the end of a fledgling settlement. Walking through the woods and coming upon a sinkhole of 15 to 30 (or more!) feet with some felled trees lying across the crumbled remains of a stone well is sure to be a confusing sight. Any attempts to investigate would involve risk of falling. Any attempts to move or dig up the site would risk further collapse into the cavern below.

The Bear Buffet. Far from the last source of water you have seen, your canteen is running dry. You flip through your spellbook and use your know direction to water spell, turning yourself to the direction to travel, and holding the incantation until you have a rough distance. Turns out, you aren’t all that far! About half an hour later and you hear the sounds of a bubbling brook or fountain around the other side of a large maple tree. As you approach, you notice that there is a low droning hum, or buzz, and that there are a number of bees in the air. You cautious walk around the tree to see that a small fountain seems to have been built against the base of this maple tree, capturing the bubbling water from a natural spring that pours out from between its roots. Additionally, there are taps on either side of the pool of water. After investigating, you discover that the one on the left is simply a tap for the sap/syrup of the maple tree while the one on the right is a tap for the honey of the enormous beehive in a hollow above.

The Killzone. A particularly traveled game trail is now used as the main path for travelers on foot or horseback, but due to the thick brush and dense trees in the area, wagon traffic is forced to go around. You are traveling along a particularly thick and dense section when you realize you have to relieve yourself. You notice a tree next to a little drop that would be perfect, and step off the path to take care of business. When you turn around to return to your group, you realize that the thick and dense foliage that makes up this mile long stretch of trail is in fact a carefully crafted net that has living vines and branches woven throughout its length and up to a height up 10 ft. or more. You just happened to look upon a section that seems to have been damaged recently during a storm. Who built this net and for what purpose are quite the mystery.

Ok, I might have stolen that last idea from Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood.

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Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him vast amounts of ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, playing with his kids, bowling, or running a PF campaign, Randal is likely writing some new mobile web app ( to enhance the experience of playing Pathfinder!