D6 Environmental Aspects

by Jack

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Rainforests

Any number of traditional D&D sessions have made use of forest settings – goblins, wolves, bandits, ogres, dryads, and myriad other beasties can be dropped in without seeming out of place. Ruins fit in nicely, as do caves, graveyards, and other dungeon-y bits. In my experience, most players have a mental image of a standard temperate mature woodland, probably with mixed deciduous tree growth – old oaks and maples, low-growing shrubs and the like.

Rainforests are different.

If you’re going to do a jungle setting, especially one that’s populated by jungle-specific creatures, or intentionally contains a tropical element, there are some things to consider.

1) Variety

Hundreds of different types of creatures live in a rainforest. If you’ve been wanting to introduce a new type of monster, a rainforest is probably a perfect place to do so. With natural resources so plentiful, almost any imaginable species can find the necessary sustenance. The inhabitants are not only extraordinarily diverse, however. Rainforests also exhibit incredible …

2) Biological density

Rainforests have an immense population. As one of the most fertile habitats, you can expect there to be tons and tons of living things and life-cycle activity in every direction. In my experience, a normal temperate forest generally has an interior visibility out to about 20-30 yards. A rainforest would have a mere fraction of this. In terms of combat, this may mean partial to full concealment for anything not adjacent to the player due to dense plant growth. Additionally, if random encounters are part of the system, you may want to increase the odds significantly to compensate for the higher population. Consider making diseases more frequent and/or severe, as bacteria are also everywhere, partially due to the …

3) Moisture

This is a very wet environment. Regular precipitation leads to treacherous terrain, floods, and high humidity. It may also make maintaining mundane equipment more difficult, as rot and rust can be accelerated. Constant rains also produce a …

4) Canopy

Life in a rainforest happens in all three dimensions. An entire world can be found among the treetops, separated from the earthbound species by a gap only spanned by the trunks of the forest behemoths. Gargantuan trees can serve as obstacles, pathways, or even hollow shelters. Certain encounters may even force the characters to take to the trees themselves to avoid a flood or a miles-long swarm of army ants. The canopy can also be home to …

5) Predators

With living species comes the developing food chain, and there are always dominant life forms to prey on those below. These do not always follow identical patterns. A lone monster may range over a certain area, sating its hunger on smaller, weaker animals. Alternatively, a voracious plant, rooted in one location, may ensnare the occasional passer-by – or a swarm of fish or insects may infest a stream, eating whatever is discarded by something in the canopy above. This is just one example of the way that …

6) Nature Dominates

Sentient tribes and civilizations may make their home in the rainforest, but anything left unattended is swiftly reclaimed by the natural world. Ruins that would only be overgrown over several centuries in another environment can be engulfed over a few brief years. Magic may even accelerate the process, allowing primal powers to be empowered in certain situations. Of course, when the group wakes up to find trees and vines have overrun their cleared campsite since the night before, they may not be overjoyed.

These aspects can contribute to the atmosphere of a tropical environment. Feel free to pick and choose!

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Coastlines

For those that use the nautical setting, there generally comes a time to make landfall. Very few crews will go too long upon the bounding main without eventually needing to put into port to resupply, spend their loot, visit the taverns, and find other entertainment. And then, of course, there’s the ever-popular aspect of getting marooned and wandering about the island. When spending time on the coast, consider -

1) It Changes

Wind and wave contribute to dynamic landscape. The energy expended by these two forces of nature can significantly modify the environment. Erosion and storms will frequently restructure the coastline, perhaps revealing a concealed cavern or treasure – or washing a campsite into the surf.

2) They Vary

The traditional white sandy beaches are only one of the many geomorphologies. Some coastlines are made of pebbles or cobbles, while others can be bare rock. Cliffs may occur when the ocean carves away at the land, exposing the stone strata, or when volcanism creates new land. Other features may include fjords, mudflats, reefs, marshes, quicksands, dunes, and deltas (to name only a few).

3) Unstable Ground

Soil is mainly held together by its clay content, an element that is frequently missing near the coastline. Loose terrain can make travel difficult and accidents more common.

4) Resources

Fresh water can be difficult to come by in a marine environment. Drinking brackish water or seawater can lead to salt toxicity – with symptoms ranging from mild irritability to muscle spasms to coma. Food can be entirely absent or extraordinarily plentiful, depending on the fertility of the surrounding waters. Caution may be required to avoid dangerous or poisonous species, however.

5) Weather

When land and water meet, weather severity becomes much more exaggerated. As the sun’s energy evaporates water from the ocean, the vapor is introduced to the atmosphere and fuels all manner of meteorological events. Typhoons and hurricanes are among the most severe, and typically cause the most damage when making landfall. Once over the continent, they lose much of the moisture that supports the storm cell and eventually dissipate. Differences in temperature cause the strong winds that most beaches experience. Land warms and cools much more quickly than water does, generating a wind cycle throughout the day. In the morning, the land warms rapidly, causing the air above it to rise and creating a low-pressure area that draws the wind inland. When evening arrives, the water holds the heat is has absorbed during the day and the dry ground cools, pushing strong winds back out over the ocean. For more information, investigate temperature gradients.

6) Tides

Depending on the location and dynamics of the coastline, the tide can have drastic effects. The intertidal zone can be a place of great diversity for the organisms in the beach habitat, and serves as a location where almost anything can drift in from the waves. Species living here must be able to adapt quickly, living in the water one minute and out of it the next. Rapidly rising tides are extremely hazardous, charging in with immense power and speed. A strong receding tide can reveal a hidden ruin or wreck or even sweep an adventurer out to sea.

Have fun at the beach!

photograph by Mara

photograph by Mara

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Grasslands

Sometimes the traditional medieval woodland setting becomes a bit too status quo for the GM, and the grassland locale tends to be a default alternative. A grassland, however, is by no means just a big pasture. The subtleties and characteristics can be intriguing to explore.

1) Variation

The concept of a standard grassland template is a misnomer. “Grassland” could refer to anything from a shortgrass prairie to a tree-spotted savanna. Tallgrass regions, shrublands, steppes, and heaths all fall within the general category, but each of these have unique aspects that set them apart. Decide which one your adventurers are exploring, and tailor your descriptions accordingly.

2) Population

Most grassland environments are characterized by the presence of vast herds of animals (in recent history, frequently ungulates, but feel free to use dinosaurs, flightless birds, plant-based lifeforms, or whatever). These herds tend to function as a linchpin in the ecosystem – other species prey upon them, others form symbiotic relationships or subsist in their shadow. No one species has to be dominant; the African biomes, for instance, hosted robust populations of many animals: wildebeest, antelope, buffalo, zebra, and more. The habitual grazing practices of these herds tend to be one of the main controls that keep the grasslands from becoming covered in tree growth. Of course, it’s not the only control …

3) Fire

The role of fire in the grassland environment is often highly dynamic. Some fires will occur naturally, and it can be a fearsome event when a dry prairie roars into an unstoppable conflagration. Other times the fire is set deliberately by the people dwelling there in order to maintain the environment, clear an area for settling, or even to drive game into a hunter’s ambush. Of course, with fire existing as a prevalent element, one could use it to connect the grasslands to populations of dragons, azers, ifrits, and the like.

4) Resources

Grasslands can provide a number of strategic resources to whoever controls the region. The grassland environment is usually highly fertile and can withstand long periods of sustained agriculture and livestock use given proper care. Armies march on their stomachs, after all. In a hunter-gatherer culture, having access to the the aforementioned herds can provide all the necessary resources for survival, and prime hunting ground is a precious commodity. Valuable trade routes can often pass through the vast territory as well.

Enjoy your grasslands!