Theme Thursday: Stunning Scenes

Today’s theme attempts to inspire you to create fantastic adventures based on scenery. A great encounter is based not just on the what (monsters) and the how (roleplaying), but also where the adventure takes place. It is one thing to fight a dragon. It is another to fight that dragon atop the crumbling tower of mages, in the city of Stardawn. In Pathfinder and D&D, you’ve got to go for the epic, the inspirational. Even if you run a game where the mundane is fun, every now and then the story had better lead up to a dramatic climax.

Stories depend on place and time to have a life of their own. Here’s how to run four great scenes:


Thematically, this is the place of hunter and prey. Give the players the opportunity to hunt something…and make sure they get hunted by something bigger and more frightening. Use jaguars, tigers, gorillas, and other animals. The girallon, lizardfolk, boggard, and other animalistic humanoids make great jungle encounters. Here’s an intro: The thick green foliage parts before you with a soft rustle as you look out over the verdant clearing, formed eons ago by a great fallen tree. 


Classically, the swamp in fantasy is home to the worst, the most gruesome, and the most terrifying monsters. You don’t want to leave this classic out of your game, but you don’t want it to be predictable either. I suggest putting people into the swamp. A few houses dotted here and there, among the werewolves, the undead horrors, and the aboleths. Let them speak in whispers of the terrible and unstoppable froghemoth. Then when your characters finally meet the slimy monster, they’ll be well and truly scared and excited. Never underestimate the power of a good buildup. Here’s an intro: The ramshackle building stands on wooden stilts above the muck you are tramping through, sending the dim flicker of its lamps out into the murk. You don’t hear any sound but the distant hooting of owls and croaking of frogs, so either these folk are afraid or there’s been something here before you…

Floating City

Often seen in gorgeous fantasy art, yet not often used to good effect in Pathfinder and D&D games. The citizens of such a place will probably have a fairly developed sense of superiority over “those below.” Make sure to give them a few verbal tics or repeated phrases that let the players know how these people feel. However, that superior feeling may be somewhat justified, as a place like this ought to be deeply magical. Use inevitables, golems, pegasi, sphinxes, rakshasas, and other spectacular creatures with spell-like abilities that might fit into such a city. Here’s an intro: You footsteps fall lightly on the white flagstones as you step into the incredible Tralisen Square, formed by the curved walls of four impossibly tall spires. Something you can’t quite see in the vast white and blue expanse is flying overhead. 

Temple City

Not quite the same as the jungle, as now we have constructed buildings. A great setting for brutal fights, sacrifices, or even religious debate. Use demons, devils, angels, golems, and other creatures called by divine or heretical magic to good effect. Here’s an intro: As you walk among the great stone temples, you sense their ominous presence both above and below you, hiding secrets of unimaginable terror and glory. The distant drumbeat announcing a sacrificial ceremony calls to the pumping of your blood and you can feel it thrumming in your chest. 


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