Okay the title for the post is a lie and that's becasue part of what I'm doing with a Woodland Pathcrawl is using a more "dungeon" nature to locla scale outdoor adventuring. The paths serve as a means to direct players from point to point, regulate travel speed, and make choices matter and what's off the path is and isn't the same thing it is in a dungeon corridor: the wall.
Of course saying off the path is a "the wall" doesn't really cut it when it's actually the whole darned forest that's off the path. Players and DM;s don't generally worry about what what is between the paths that isn't room... it's almost always stone and that as we most of us realize is typically laborious to move and even less convenient to walk through. Having the woods itself beign what next to paths and between clearing is a lot less restrictive some of the time.
The density of the woods off the path encourages the PCs to stay on the path, visibility and travel rate are reason enough to stay on the path BUT those woods not generally being a solid wall make it much easier for things to hide and wait. The wandering monster becomes much more palatable, it can come from anywhere, it might have even made the path. So the nature of what surrounds the path can't be ignored in a Woodland Pathcrawl. The density of trees, related undergrowth and other features pathside and beyond will shape how the players respond to the paths and how they work in the adventure.
I feel it's necessary to reflect on what is immediately on the side of the trails and further away.
Possibilities as to what can be on the side of a trail:
- Fences and Walls- Not all woodlands are howling wilderness, or they were not always so. The immediate roadside (perhaps) on both sides can have wooden fences or low walls of piled stones. The function in game play is to dissuade leaving the path and to provide tactical cover in encounters. The path also serves to remind the players that their charcetr are walkign through a dynamic area where there are or were other folks.
- Hedges- Essentially an (originally) manicured wall of dense foliage. It's still a wall or fence like above but much more obstructive to travel and viewing what is beyond. Particularly old and studrcy hedges can slow or stop armored vehicles in the real world and they can certainly do so with adventurers, their steed s, and pack animals as well.
- Vines- Dense clusters od vine growth can make stepping off the trail troublesome. Vines also produce a sense of fecundity and oppression as well.
- Ditch- A ditch or trench at pathside doesn't seem like much of an issue and often it will not be at least until yuo are tryign to get your stubborn mules across or out of one. Trenches also offer the chance for cover as walls and fneces but are of course nowhere near as obtrusive. Fill these trenches with water that is being drained away and they are much more bothersome, in some regions people still travel with poles specifically to ease travel over the ever present flooded ditch. The heavier a party of PCs travel the more a trench (and more so a flooded trench) is going to direct and discourage going off trail quickly.
- A Brake of Trees- a row on closely growing trees with close and dense undergrowth. Such features are either planted or encouraged as border markers, wind brakes, and to restrict rapid travel (It's difficultly to charge a company of horsemen through an area a horse simply can not pass).
- Drop-off or Hillside- the path passes along side a steep drop-off or an steep hillside (maybe one of each on either side). This obviously restricts travel and creates choke points to make players nervous.
- Bracken- Dense undergrowth, you can see through it (mostly) but a man or beast will flounder about and find an impressive amount of greenery checking their progress.
- Waterside- the path travels alongside the water whether it is a brook,stream, or river is of little matter to anyone without a boat it's not getting crossed without difficulty.
Possibilities as to what can be further away from a trail:
- Dense Thicket- Trees so close together visibility is cut short and moving at a rapid pace just impossible, a thicket can be so dense horses can't even be lead through them.
- Root Gnarl- no so much a problem to agile folk but a virtually impossible forest floor covering anyone with a mount, cart, or pack animal tryign to travel between the exposed ancient gnarled roots among great old trees.
- Brambles and Briars- dense tangles of thorny and dense undergrowth that discourage travel.
- Bog- Sodden mucky land often with deceptively deep spots that could swallow the unwary. Rapid travel afoot is impossible and nobody in their right mind will attempt to go into one with a mount or cart.
- Water- More obviously flooded than even the bog. A deep water logged forest , a pond, or a bend in a local river can certainly check travel on foot.
- Hollow- Whether it is a trivial dingle or a sinkhole there is seldom a reason to travel across such a feature as entry and exit are difficult and there is little to be gained. Sure there might be somehting hidden down there but yuo know what is also down there.. twisted ankles.
- Overgrown Grove- not so much a barrier but a reminder of the transient nature of man and his attempt to conquer the woodlands.
The above are not meant to be exhaustive but simply suggestions and how terrain nearby and afar can be used to funnel and direct travel along the very obvious trails. Mechanically paths are where you get "lost" by not being sure where they go while going off trail is how you get seriously lost and have a much harder and longer time reaching destinations.
As this project matures I'll produce some tables for what's on the sides of trails and further away. It's important to understand the "walls" of the paths are a part of the setting and adventure in a woodland pathcrawl.