Some spooky things adventurers might encounter in a dark wood:
1 – ILL WIND: A sudden gust of unseasonably cold (or warm, depending on the time of year) wind causes unprotected flames (torches, campfires, candles) to gutter (1-in-6 chance of going out completely); horses and other animal companions must make morale checks to avoid panicking.
2 – FOOLISH FIRES: Off the path, eerie lights bob and blink in the woods. Characters must succeed Wisdom saving throws to resist the urge to follow them deeper into the forest. Every minute or so a character spends in pursuit of the lights, there’s a 1-in-6 chance they wink out.
3 – LOST PATROL: Coming down the path is a squad of 1d4+2 soldiers bearing archaic arms and armor. When asked, they will claim allegiance to a fighting unit (or country) that hasn’t existed for decades (or centuries even, whatever length of time will seem the creepiest). If pressed on this matter, they’ll become increasingly belligerent. If the party leaves them be, they will march off in the opposite direction, disappearing into the gloom.
4 – TASTES LIKE BURNING: Beside the path is a patch of bushes bearing oozing purple berries. A successful Bushcraft / Survival check will determine that the fruit is pretty poisonous. A character that eats a berry and fails a Constitution saving throw will be laid low with intense stomach cramps, vomiting, profuse sweating, and muscle spasms until they rest for 8 hours; increase the difficulty of the saving throw by 1 for every additional berry eaten.
5 – CABIN IN THE WOODS: A rickety one-room shack, currently empty, but obviously inhabited. Whoever lives there:
1 – Just went out to take a piss and will be eager to know what these heavily armed dingbats are doing inside their home.
2 – Is in a secret room beneath the cabin, doing something vile.
3 – Is tied up and near death in the loft; a perceptive character might hear their feeble cries.
4 – Ran off in a hurry by the look of things.
6 – COLONY OF BIRCHMEN
illustration by Bernie Wrightson
A cluster of disconcertingly humanoid-looking trees by the side of the path is actually a pack of 2d4 carnivorous tree people, waiting in ambush.
Birchman (Large monstrous humanoid [plant])
Hit Points: 35 (4 HD)
Armor: equivalent to chainmail (bark-like skin and woody flesh)
Movement: half human speed
Attack: clutching limbs +4 (1d8 damage and target must make Strength saving throw to resist a grab); a birchman can’t attack if it has grabbed a creature
Special: Dismember – Once a birchman has grabbed a creature, it will attempt to wrench off a limb (an opposed Strength check with a +4 bonus for the birchman; if the birchman wins it deals 1d8 damage. If it rolls maximum damage, the birchman tears off one of the creatures limbs).
7 – UNHALLOWED GROUND: The soil itself is tainted with a malevolent presence. Magical healing is only half as effective in this area. If someone were to fall asleep here, they must make a Wisdom saving throw to avoid possession by the force haunting this place. If successful, they merely suffer from horrible nightmares and awaken stiff and grouchy (Disadvantage on all Dexterity and Charisma based checks for the day). Should a character fail, they will come under the influence of a dark entity.
8 – VILLAGE OF CUCKOOS: A collection of dismal hovels populated by scrawny weirdos (treat them as being permanently confused, as the magic-user spell). Their madness is contagious – every hour spent in the village, a character must succeed a Wisdom saving throw or being acting like the cuckoos. After three failed saving throws, a character is irretrievably mad.
The source of the insanity is:
1 – A cult with extremely unorthodox practices.
2 – A weird artifact displayed in the center of the village.
3 – A defiled burial ground upon which the village was built.
4 – An evil magic-user.
5 – Spongiform encephalopathy from cannibalism
6 – Generations of inbreeding.
9 – KINDER-CORVEN TERRITORY: The path takes the part through an area of the forest inhabited by kinder-corven. Perceptive characters might notice the unsettling wicker ornaments dangling from tree branches.
10 – NODESTONE
The path widens into a small clearing, in the center of which stands a weathered megalithic structure. Characters attuned to the supernatural will sense that the stone thrums with arcane power. By tapping into the stone, magic-users can cast spells as if they were 10 levels higher but have Disadvantage on all checks to avoid magical mishaps and suffer consequences twice as severe if they improperly cast the spell.
There’s a 1-in-20 chance the party comes across a magic-user attempting some kind of spell or ritual at the foot of the stone.
11 – HUNGRY EYES: A stealthy predator stalks the party. During the day, a perceptive character might catch a fleeting glimpse of shadowy figure peeking out from behind a tree; at night, a character on watch might see red eye-shine just outside the perimeter of camp. On a particularly bad Perception check, a retainer might get snatched off the path or dragged into darkness.
12 – A DOOR: A sturdy portal is built into the side of hillock the path curves around. It is the entrance to:
1 – A raided crypt and the unquiet dead angry at the theft of their grave goods.
2 – An intact crypt and the unquiet dead angry to be disturbed by grave robbers.
3 – The prison cell of an elven criminal, driven insane from isolation.
4 – A bandit hideout.
5 – A network of subterranean fortifications from some ancient war.
6 – A magic-user’s secret laboratory.
7 – An abandoned mine.
8 – A shrine to a forgotten god.