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D&D Burgoo: Getting in touch with your wild side

This summer it’s been my good fortune to visit a lot of parks and zoos with the family. Seeing a little wildlife, exploring a little greenery — even in carefully controlled park conditions — has invigorated my planning for wilderness encounters.

I mean, if going more extreme fits you, be my guest. One member of our gaming group took a safari to Africa last year before running the Serpent’s Skull adventure path set in Golarian’s jungle analog, the Mwangi Expanse. Hey, that’s dedication.

But just a hike in the woods or a trip to a nearby zoo can be good resource for adding flavor and description to your encounters. But it may give you a good reason to look at some of the mechanical aspects of your game as well.


Peoria Zoo's male lion.

Look at this fellow. King of the jungle, right there (or, at least, king of the Peoria Zoo [2]). And as imposing as he appears, Mrs. Lion is considered the true huntress of the family. Male or female, they’re ferocious creatures, and a great monster to throw at the characters. But the lion’s not even listed in either D&D Fourth Edition’s Monster Manual 1 or 2 (though I suppose you could substitute a tiger’s stats, making it a Level 6 skirmisher). In D&D 3,5, the lion is a CR 3, which is respectable for a low-level adventure. But if ever a monster deserved to scale up with the characters and continue to provide a challenge as they advanced, it’s this guy. Certainly, coming up with some combat worthy crunch for a lion is a worthwhile activity for a GM in their downtime, regardless of system. And if nothing else, just looking at this picture gives me a better idea of how a lamia, a lammasu or chimera might behave or act (aside from yawning and sleeping in the sunshine, as this big lion did).


Our family forays to the nearby parks paid off at the game table, recently. I attended one of Ed Healy’s Gamerati [3]get-togethers, this one at Just For Fun [4], a game store in Peoria. We threw together a quick game of Pathfinder. So while the players rolled up 2nd level characters, I spent the time coming up with four encounters we could pass the time with. I was stumped for a wilderness scenario, until I thought of some recent hikes at Matthiessen State Park. [5]


Fort at Matthiessen State Park

The park encircles an upper and lower dells, which when viewed from the sky, looks like a footprint. Using that as a starting point, I designed quick encounters for the park’s signature features: scavenging goblin dogs and tengu raiders at the abandoned fort (which is real life is frequented by crows), bomb-tossing goblins at the waterfall bridge, ghouls at Strawberry Rock,  and a final encounter against the instigators for the adventure, an ogre guardian and a small tribe of troglodytes sheltering in the caverns at the foot of the dells.

Our exploration of the park served me well as I plotted out our little adventure on the fly. Before long the adventurers were making their way through the greenery and down into the sandstone caverns for the final confrontation.

Sure, I could have designed a quick dungeon delve. It would have served on such short notice. But using some real-world references helped galvanize the shape of the adventure in my mind. And, when players asked “why” such and such was one way, or they needed a description of a particular area, I could give it to them from memory. Which was good, as I had no notes upon which to rely.

So, if you’re not adverse to a little sunshine, or if you’re stumped on a locale for your next wilderness adventure, I’d recommend visiting a park or animal reserve near you. I think you’ll be well-served when it comes time to mapping out your next adventure.

If you have had any experiences building encounters or adventures based on real-life locations, I’d please share them in the comments section.


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5 Comments To "D&D Burgoo: Getting in touch with your wild side"

#1 Comment By Ben Scerri On September 14, 2011 @ 8:12 am

Near where I live in Melbourne Australia, there is a sustainable living village, where they showcase several alternative housing techniques from around the world (and some they have developed themselves). This has been a great help when giving an alien feel to a location. I have found, often enough, that alien architecture can go a long way, and some of the stuff I’ve seen at this place have been pretty out there…

#2 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 14, 2011 @ 9:01 am

Wow, Ben, you’re right. I hadn’t thought much about architecture’s role in doing the same. Maybe such an exotic array of buildings isn’t accessible for everyone. But many U.S. college campuses have at least one or two buildings that offer a futuristic feel, to get that alien vibe.
How bout it readers? Have an array of buildings also influenced/inspired your gaming?

#3 Comment By Razjah On September 14, 2011 @ 10:36 am

[7] – A couple times. The flat roofed old mud brick style buildings inspired parts of cities in a historical fiction game I ran set in Ancient Egypt. I have has gothic architecture used well in a monster hunting campaign.

Towers and castles are inspiring, tree houses can inspire entire villages nestled in the boughs of massive trees, carverns can lead to cities in stalactites and stalagmites with many stone bridges.

Walk through an cathedral and, regardless of religion, it is hard not to be inspired by something you see in the building. Places like Turkey that have buildings older than the US is mind boggling.

#4 Comment By evil On September 14, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

I have mentioned this before, but using real life maps and blueprints is a great way to give your players something to see, especially if you have the ability to take out the existing words. They don’t have to know that this map is actually the local university or the local state park.

As a constant traveler, I often find myself taking a stretch break and reading the free pamphlets at rest stops. These often have great little maps or historical information about whatever sight they want you to visit. It’s a easy, thought-reduced way to come up with a story hook.

#5 Comment By BryanB On September 14, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

As I may have mentioned before, the Fresno, CA City Hall looks like a star port or resupply depot due to the Santa Fe train tracks nearby. I still don’t know what they were smoking when they designed it but they must have passed that stuff along to the city council before it got approved. 😀

#6 Pingback By D&D Ezmesi: Vahşi doğanızla temas kurmak | Babil Kulesi On February 3, 2013 @ 9:10 am

[…] Turkish with permission. You can read the original English-language article by Troy E. Taylor at D&D Burgoo: Getting in touch with your wild side, and check out Gnome Stew’s books on the Engine Publishing website. Gnome Stew, Gnome Stew […]