Monday 16 May 2016

Random Encounter Tables: the Taiga

Getting back to the wilderness random encounter table series for ATWC. This one deals with the immense reaches of bog and forest that lie north of the steppe and south of the tundra, in a vast band a thousand miles across. The taiga is sparsely inhabited by humans, but the birds, animals, monsters, and spirits are plentiful there. Go deep enough and who knows what you might stumble across, lurking among the swamps and trees? - 1881 Wood Engraving Siberian Indigenous People Costume Bow Arrow Fowl Hunting - Original Wood Engraving - Prints:

Random Taiga Encounters (roll 1d12)

1: This part of the taiga is the territory of a Wise (talking) wolf and his pack. The Wise wolf is hungry for decent conversation; the rest of the pack are just plain hungry. They will stalk the PCs at a distance, growling and howling and looking for opportunities to pick off vulnerable pack animals or similar, while their alpha calls out from between the trees that all he really wants is an opportunity to talk to someone interesting for a change. If a well-read and/or well-travelled PC is willing to sit down in the middle of a circle of hungry wolves and indulge his appetite for long, rambling conversations about art, philosophy, and current affairs, he'll agree to call off the rest of the pack and lead them off to hunt musk deer or something instead. 

2: A group of Children of the Pines, busily engaged in carving fantastical totems for the local spirits. They are superb woodcarvers, but have no other materials to work with, and eagerly offer to barter with the PCs for items of gold, silver, copper, or other precious metals that might be pounded flat and used to ornament their woodwork: in exchange they offer carved goods, the pelts of animals that they have shot, the healing sap from their veins, and knowledge of the nearby spirits. PCs who treat them or their totems with disrespect will be directed into the domain of a particularly psychotic bog spirit, who loves nothing better than drowning groups of stupid travellers in his bottomless swamps.

3: A band of hunters, armed with bows, guns, and traps, looking for any animals whose pelts might fetch a good price in the markets of the south. They are expert woodsmen, but extremely superstitious, living in a state of constant anxiety that they might accidentally anger the spirits of the deepwoods by killing some favoured beast. They are an excellent source of information on the surrounding woodlands, but will not associate with any group who they think are likely to anger the spirits by their words or deeds, knowing full well that such entities are usually firm believers in guilt by association. 

4: An absolutely enormous bear, regarded as sacred by all the nearby inhabitants. They are not mistaken in this: the bear is the favoured pet of a local spirit, which will be very upset if it is killed, although a competent shaman should be able to calm it down with the aid of some suitable offerings. The bear itself isn't especially aggressive, but it doesn't like being bothered and may lash out at people who refuse to leave it alone. Its pelt, if intact, would fetch a considerable price in the markets of the south.

5: A young married couple, emissaries from a taiga clan, on their way to the distant shrine of the Golden Lady: their people are planning a great migration, and they have been sent to beg the Lady for oracles regarding the fates that would await them in the various lands which they are considering moving to. (The young woman is also pregnant, and she secretly hopes that the Golden Lady will bless their unborn child, as well.) They are both skilled travellers, but they have never been so far from home before, and their supplies are starting to run low after navigating their way through the seemingly interminable boglands. If the PCs assist them they will offer to ask questions to the Golden Lady on their behalf, although the PCs will obviously need to go back into the taiga to meet their (now-migrated) clan in order to hear the answers!

6: A grove inhabited by a shurale, which recently stole two adolescent girls from a nearby village, hoping to keep them as the jewels of its collection of precious and beautiful things. One of them tricked it into letting her go within a few hours of being caught, but the other is slightly slow-witted and is still stuck inside its lair; the escaped girl is camping in the woods nearby, trying to work out some way of staging a rescue so that she won't have to make the difficult journey home alone. She will implore the PCs to help her in this, but begs them not to actually kill the shurale, as her community rely upon its knowledge of the spirits to avoid accidentally trespassing against them. The shurale itself is in a foul mood because of the girl's escape, and is determined not to allow itself to be tricked again. 

7: A flock of ironclaw ravens inhabit this part of the taiga, sharing their lair with a filthy and demented outcast whom they regard as a kind of human pet. They know better than to attack armed groups, but will send their outcast out howling and gibbering, to lead them into the most dangerous and treacherous parts of the forest; their hope is that they or their horses will perish there, and the ravens will feast upon the resulting carrion. They try to keep their distance from the PCs, but observant characters may spot huge ravens with glinting beaks and talons high up in the trees, watching them from above...

8: A shaman and her assistants, on a hunting mission; the chief of their clan has fallen gravely ill, and the shaman has discerned that this is due to his soul having passed into the body of a nearby elk, which she is now trying to hunt down for use in a healing ritual. She will gravely insist on the PCs not killing any elk they encounter for fear that they might end up killing the chief by mistake, and would be happier if they accompanied her until the hunt is over so that she can keep an eye on them. The elk in question is weirdly intelligent due to the human soul inhabiting it, and will be extremely challenging to catch. 

9: Outriders from a deep taiga clan, riding through the forests on domesticated trees, which creak alarmingly as they scurry through the woods on their innumerable root-feet. Their riders are odd folk with a not-quite-human air about them; they are searching for another deep taiga clan whose camp they believe to be nearby, and question everyone they meet in exhaustive detail as to whether or not they have seen any sign of it in their travels. They are an excellent source of information on all tree-related matters, but they are utterly uninterested in the outside world. Any PC who performs a truly extraordinary service for them - locating the rival clan and helping them to ambush it, for example - may be rewarded with a domesticated walking sapling of their own.

10: This part of the taiga is haunted by a mad, shape-changing Hortlak, which sneaks from shadow to shadow looking for creatures to devour. It can take the shape of any animal, but its mind is so shattered that it's constantly forgetting to actually behave like the creature it's pretending to be, meaning that the PCs are likely to be in for what will seem to be a series of extremely bizarre encounters with oddly behaving animals (a bear that hisses like a snake, a wildcat awkwardly walking on its hind legs, etc) as it tries to spy upon them 'in disguise'. Sooner or later its hunger will get the better of it and it will attack, preferably while the PCs are separated from one another or asleep.

11: A war party of taiga nomads, heading home with the spoils of a successful raid on a rival clan: furs, weapons, horses, reindeer, and slaves. They are jubilant and drunk and high on their own success, and their captives are eagerly watching out for any possible opportunity to escape and flee into the trees. PCs investigating the feud that led to the raid in the first place will discover it has involved generations of tit-for-tat raiding, with any pretence of moral high ground on either side lost decades ago. If the PCs do anything to distract the warriors then 2d6 captives will immediately make a break for it, with both sides loudly demanding that the PCs assist them: the captives yell wild promises of riches with which the PCs will be rewarded if they can help them escape back to their homes, while the warriors make blood-curdling threats against anyone who helps their slaves get away.

12: The domain of an angry spirit. Her mortal lover recently died in a hunting accident; now, enraged and inconsolable, she takes out her grief and frustration on anything that comes nearby. Terrible weather, falling trees, flooded rivers, runs of incredible bad luck, and forests that seem to rearrange themselves whenever no-one is looking are just some of the ways in which she will afflict anyone who intrudes upon her sorrow. The local inhabitants have learned to avoid the area, but if the PCs can somehow manage to console the spirit - through offerings, distractions, grief counselling, building a really nice tomb for her dead lover, or whatever else they can think of - they will be celebrated as local heroes. Attempts to contact the spirit are best made at her sacred pool, deep in the woods, where she sometimes deigns to appear amongst the reflections in the water's surface.

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