Hazards of the Trail

On May 1, 2005, Posted by , In Campaign Workbook, With No Comments

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Overland travel is fraught with difficulties. A huge network of broad roads, muddy trails, and dusty footpaths crisscrosses every campaign world. Although some of these trails, particularly those between larger cities, have a semblance of maintenance and may be patrolled, others are simply muddy tracks worn and rutted by the passing of people and animals. The more remote the track the less likely it is to be maintained, and with the inherent dangers of wilderness travel roadside hazards may remain for many years, steadily growing worse as the road slowly deteriorates.

Here are a few hazards that might develop along a remote trail. Most of them give the PCs a chance to use skills such as Craft and Jump to good effect. Each situation has a number of possible solutions, but expect your players to come up with their own ideas as well.

THE FALLEN BOARDWALK

The trail winds around a lazy bend as it skirts the edge of a large meadow. Recent rain has caused sections of the meadow to flood, and the floating carcasses of two large beasts are visible in the mud. A murder of crows pecking at the bodies suddenly scatters into the surrounding trees, revealing that the carcasses are not those of wild beasts, but horses. A timber boardwalk stretches across the meadow and has collapsed under the weight of the horses that now lie dead, partially buried in the meadow’s muck.

The road ahead crosses a boardwalk (a raised timber walkway like a flat bridge) that is 100 yards long and stretches across a soggy meadow. The water table underneath the meadow has risen to the point that the soil has taken on the consistency of quicksand (see the DUNGEON MASTER’S Guide, page 88), which now covers the entire meadow. PCs approaching the dead horses can see that a 15-foot section of the walkway has collapsed into the mud. The remaining boardwalk is not safe.

Anyone making а DC 15 Knowledge (architecture and engineering) check or a DC 25 Spot check can identify a 5-foot section on the far side of the collapsed area that is also rotten. Anyone stepping on this section causes more of the boardwalk to collapse, depositing anyone on it into the meadow and subjecting them to the effects of quicksand. The meadow is bereft of other plant life save the occasional scrub or bush. The boardwalk continues past the meadow for 40 yards. The nearest alternative safe path through the marsh is several miles away.

The heroes might try to jump across the collapsed section (DC 15). If one of them manages to cross, transferring the rest of the party using rope is a fairly straightforward process, requiring 70 feet of rope and a DC 10 Use Rope check. Finally, the bloated horse corpses could make serviceable (if gruesome) rafts.

THE STRANDED MERCHANT

A merchant’s hefty six-wheeled cart is stuck in a huge muddy rut in the road ahead. Тһе horses attempting to pull it free whinny frantically.

There are four horses attached to the cart. Two of them are being crushed by the front of the cart, which will break their back legs in three rounds unless they are freed from their tack. Anyone making a Handle Animal check (DC 10) recognizes this immediately. It takes a full-round action to release a horse.

If the characters manage to free the horses before they are injured, the merchant (a gnome called Renquin Longstone) and his guards gather around the characters asking for help. Renquin’s guards each have 13 Strength. Renquin himself does not stoop to manual labor under any circumstance. The cart can be lifted (Strength check DC 40) or clever characters could dismantle part of the wagon using a DC 10 Craft (carpentry) check to create a makeshift lever. This decreases the DC of the required Strength check to 25. Freed horses could also be encouraged by DC 15 Handle Animal or wild empathy checks to pull the roped cart out of the rut, allowing them to add their Strength bonus to the effort.

THE SWOLLEN RIVER

The pathway ends at the top of a gully some fifty feet wide. At the bottom of the gully, a raging torrent of white water coursese from left to right. It looks as though the narrow path normally crosses the river below via a ford, but the waters are so torrential that simply wading across them may no longer be possible.

The ford is submerged to a depth of 6 feet. Large creatures their way a the river must make Strength check (DC 15) each round or be washed away. For Small or Medium creatures the across tempting to force simply too deep to wade forcing them to swim. The Swim check for the torrent is DC 20. Swimming characters move 10 feet downstream per round due to the current unless they use 10 feet of their swim speed to swim against the current. Thirty feet downstream a set of rocks makes the equivalent of an attack each round against anyone who remains in the water. The rocks have a +8 melee attack bonus, and inflict 246 points of bludgeoning damage on anyone they strike. These rocks are found upstream as well as downstream for some 300 yards in each direction.

Hazards of the Trail Travel Dangers DND Campaign Dungeons Dragons Campaign Workbook D20 Pathfinder Fantasy RPG TTRPG Dungeon Magazine

THE BOGLAND

The trail simply ends at a large expanse of grey-green bog hundreds of yards across. By the looks of it , other travelers have attempted to cross the bog by an ever widening circle of routes. Unsettlingly, one of the trails simply stops about a third of the way around the bog. Several small stumpy bushes are the only plants that grow here.

This floating bog is extremely deep. Anyone attempting to cross it who weighs more of 50 lbs. begins to suffer the effects of quicksand (see the DUNGEON MASTER’S GUIDE p 88). A character that makes a DC 15 Spot check can make out large open mud trailing ahead into the gloom.

These are the marks of makeshift rafts; anyone examining the bushes (Spot DC 15) can see that they are stumpy because many branches have been broken off. A DC 10 Craft (carpentry) or DC 15 Survival check allows a PC to create a small makeshift raft to float over the bog

THE ROCKFALL

The road has collapsed ahead, leaving a giddy scree slope descending some three hundred feet to the river below. A rope has been pegged cross the slide to allow travelers to cross this dizzy fall and regain the road on the far side. In all, some seventy feet of the trail ahead has collapsed.

The rope is frayed, as is visible to anyone making a DC 15 Spot check. If more than 100 Ibs. is anchored to the rope, it snaps, swinging the character into the valley below. Falling characters can keep hold of the rope with a DC 15 Strength check, otherwise they drop off the rope and slide down the long slope. A sliding character falls 60 feet per round, taking 346 damage each round, A successful DC 15 Reflex save stops the slide.

With the rope gone the PCs must attempt a DC 15 Climb or Balance check to cross the collapsed section. Once a rope is established across the fall a Use Rope check (DC 10) ensures that the knot does not come undone as everyone crosses,

OTHER HAZARDS

With so much diverse terrain to cover, the possibilities for other hazards on the trail are endless. Heroes could face snow-covered mountain passes, collapsed bridge trails that have fallen into the walks that run along perilous cliff faces.

Natural hazards are often incorporated into part of an organized ambush. Cunning bugbear highwaymen could fell trees across trails, or perhaps orc brigands alter or remove road signs to misdirect travelers to an ambush they have prepared in а box canyon.


BY RICHARD PETT
BY KYLE HUNTER