Thursday, April 8, 2021

On The Woodland Pathcrawl

 There's an allure in wandering into the woods and distancing oneself from "civilization" and getting back to nature. Of course the woodland most of us experience has been shaped by hundreds maybe thousands of years of contact with humanity. The woods I camped in and explored as a child in New England are full of forgotten trails, forgotten foundations, and seemingly misplaced rock walls (the forest they cut through was once cleared out farmland); the woods near a favorite country resort my family enjoys has century old middens and disused roads that once connected points no longer important enough to reach by foot or wagon. These are the sort of woodlands I want to play RPG adventures within not primordial otherlands but he land next door where civilization intrudes but gives way as often as it advances, where secrets are hidden by a row of trees for years because nobody has wandered off the trail in that direction for a long time.


The pace and nature of woodland pathcrawling is different from the mile eating pace often assumed by wilderness adventuring and by slowing down the pace to poke at smaller features and secret places the woodland starts feeling more like the dungeon a mysterious labyrinth that is a host to unknown horrors, hidden wealth, and unseen challenges just ahead. Of course this is a dungeon without (frequent) walls as instead of being restricted by abrupt barriers of stone the difficulties of pressing ahead through bracken, brambles, bogs, and hillocks lead to be guided by tracks, trails, paths, and even roads. While the woods may overgrow farms and overtake and eat into structures over decades and centuries there are still clearings that create little tiny islands of normality or foreboding otherness; these clearings serve much the same functions as the room does in a dungeon and the paths serve as a combination of terrain and corridor.

 

The most obvious feature (beside the ever-present woodland) for the Woodland Pathcrawl is the paths themselves from the freshly laid track to the ancient cobblestone road. These forest paths will set and restrict the pace for adventure. Each type of path should express limits and benefits of taking that route. A freshly laid track will mostly aid navigation and perhaps quickly lead to someone or something else traveling about the woods. The wider and straighter the route the easier it is to see and be seen in addition to how quick a pace one may set on foot, astride amount, or with a cart full of goods. Paths are not all straight and direct channels to places you may want to go now however as they may have initially been laid by wandering game animals and broadened by hunters and lumber men, a work camp at on end may have connected to a hamlet but a coupe miles away that was long since abandoned and reclaimed by the forest; the span of cart path you are walking along may indeed lengthen your journey but it keeps you from stumbling through a bothersome bramble.

 

So in future posts I shall outline procedures for blazing trails and wandering about woodlands, along with the mapping and stocking them out for play. A dungeon with few to no walls can be as deep a labyrinth as any other. There chart I posted last time was a teaser and a point of reference for these forthcoming posts and I hope to provide some useful tools and interesting tidbits to for your old-school and new fantasy RPG campaigns.



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