Here are a few sketches and some description of the Plain of Vines, one region of the setting for a revised Violence Spells Gods and Politics, the fantasy role-playing game I am writing.
The Plain of Vines is multilayered like a rainforest, but instead of the trunks and branches of large trees establishing the structure, you have ruined towers of twentieth century style cities acting like trunks, and vines encasing the buildings and stretching between them. This region was once urban, and wealthy, inhabited by a technologically advanced nation. It is now ruins covered with a massive profusion of vines, with piles of muck and rot building up around the base of the buildings. The people that live in this environment now do not look like the people who lived here before. The god that caused all this is probably still here somewhere.
Why Go Here?
- Treasure: Loot from a technologically advanced and ancient civilization is impressive (glory), can be sold for lots of money ($$$), and may be useful (magical/technological artifacts and weapons).
- Lore: Advanced technology/magic requires know how, and records of this lore probably survive in the ruins. Lost lore is impressive to powerful people capable of using it (glory, allies, political favors). And the PCs might be able to use this knowledge themselves (experience, abilities, etc...).
- Exploration: There is glory in exploring the dark places of the world where most people are too afraid to go. Especially when you have impressive scars earned on the trip, and a place like this provides cool scars.
- Monster Slaying: There is glory to be had in rescuing communities from monsters, and there are probably monsters in the vines causing problems for adjacent communities.
- Reclaim Territory Lost to a God That No One You Know Worships: Yeah. This is late stage stuff or perhaps a campaign. But think of how glorious it could be. And the god of this region might have few if any worshippers, might not even have divine allies. Maybe the PCs' gods are backing the venture. Maybe the PCs are allied with a diaspora community who claim this land as theirs. Maybe they will elevate the PCs to positions of leadership for reclaiming their heritage, or promising them a return to their promised land.
This region is divided into three horizontal layers. Each layer has different terrain characteristics, different creatures, and different things for the player characters to do. The ancient buildings of the ruined city vertically link the layers. So do the vines themselves. As the players move from hex to hex on the map in the Plain of Vines, they move within their current layer often using overland travel turns (1 day). Movement between layers happens in the same hex, often requiring more detailed action using exploration (6 minutes) or scouting (1 hour) turns.
- Move: normal, cost: 1/hex.
- Description: People call this region the "Plain of Vines" because the surface looks like a plain covered in blankets of vines. This is however only the very top layer. It is analogous to the upper canopy of a rainforest, but instead of a permeable leafy layer, this is a dense, impenetrable mat of interwoven vines, like a continuous skin of wicker of varying thickness covered in leaves. It is so dense in places that it gathers soil which allows other plants, even trees, to take root. Animals and people can walk on it. Significant changes in height between ruined buildings results in "hills", "plateaus", or "cliffs".
- Challenges: No fresh water, large game to eat, nor significant food to forage, and little shade. Despite the lush appearance this is like a desert. While small groups of normal sized humans are unlikely to cause the surface to collapse, large groups or large creatures are at risk.
- Collapse: Sometimes the surface collapses. Typically this is caused by the weight of too much soil gathering in the fabric of the vines, made heavier with rain in a storm. Sometimes lightning speeds the process. Sometimes a plague of locusts chews through the vines. Whatever the cause, the surface collapses in a gash or sinkhole, vines at the edges hanging down in sheets like ripped fabric which can allow characters to climb down to the "Middle" layer. These gashes often knit themselves back together in the course of days, sometimes longer. The sun reaches the lower levels and stimulates a brief flourishing of life. Opportunistic creatures gather at the edges to take advantage of the situation, flocks of birds, swarms of rodents, even people. Distance to the "Bottom" layer depends on the height of the buildings in this area and ranges from dozens of feet to hundreds.
- Exposed Ruin: Entries at the tops or sides of buildings are sometimes left exposed. Discovering these depends on luck, or the PCs can take a risk and go at the surface with axes to make a hole. Of course they might make a mistake and expose themselves to a long drop. When the vines "realize" that a building is exposed, especially an entry into one, they grow to cover over the hole. Perhaps the god is still directly responsible for this, or perhaps the god made the vines this way so that they naturally do it themselves.
- Inhabitants: No communities occupy the Plain of Vines. Individuals and small bands sometimes come here from elsewhere, staying for longer periods only rarely, and when they do, they make shelter in the ruins below. Animals are scarce, but mostly limited to birds, rodents, and insects.
- Move: slow, dangerous. cost: 4/hex. Moving faster than walking risks slips and falls as the vines sway and are slippery.
- Description: Thick cables of entwined vines stretch between buildings in a random network, and many can be walked on to serve as paths of travel. They connect adjacent buildings, and also meet one another in tangled nodes between. They occur at different heights throughout the "Middle" zone, passing over and under one another. Eventually if a character is willing to climb and spend the time negotiating a twisty, complex path, they can also lead to the ground, "Bottom" layer, or up toward the "Surface" layer, albeit in this case only if the characters are able to also find a way through the continuous mat of vines overhead.
- Challenges: The vine cables are slippery. The smaller cables can sway wildly with the weight of someone walking on them. Often the fall to the bottom is far. Additionally the lighting is at best dim during the day because most sun light is captured at the "Surface".
- kraken nest: usually of one individual or a family and well hidden. The krakens seem capable of getting the vines to grow as they want so that they form pockets and tunnels that they can live in. Often this is inside a particularly thick cable or at a nexus of many, but the openings are on the bottom which requires climbing to find it and enter. In the nest are things the kraken has stolen and krakens if they are not out hunting. See Inhabitants below for more info on Krakens.
- Structures: There are so many of these, that these are more like patches of terrain than isolated features. You will probably want to switch to exploration turns if the characters are investigating this environment rather than just passing through. All structures of the ruin are encased in vines which makes climbing on them straightforward. Many terraces and decks and the roof tops of lower buildings are walkable even if covered in vines. The nature of this depends on the structure, so consider what the outter surface of the structure is like and how the vines attach to it. Things like stadiums, temples, forums, bridges etc... have complicated exteriors. Massive arcologies will be be full of sky bridges, towers, and terraces. And a building could be partially collapsed but held together and up by the vines making for a very unusual thing to crawl around on. These are not just all boxes covered in vines. Just the outter surface could be an interesting place full of lairs. Maybe some invaders have set up camp and guard an entry into a particularly rich building and swarms of Kraken Snails have been attracted to them. In short, this is an opportunity for adventure as the party pokes around a complex environment if you want it to be. The inside of the structures is something else as well.
- Snail Kraken Most are normal/medium sized but these things range from the size of a rodent as young, and continue growing throughout their lives to exceed the size of humans and even horses. They crawl about in the vines and camouflage themselves by changing their skin color and pattern. They are carnivorous hunters, and usually hungry, but they are also intelligent and curious thieves. Each pad at the end of a tentacle has a very sensitive eye in addition to numerous claws. They use these like a swarm of submarine periscopes to spy on individuals while hiding the bulk of their body. Their claws can also tear at flesh, and the pads are dextrous enough to grab and steal items that interest them. They close their eyes when grabbing things, but may also snake their tentacle around the item to hold it so that they can open the eye again and inspect the thing. They have their own language with few words but many gestures, skin colors, and excretions to communicate complex ideas, and feelings with one another. Despite this they do not form communities, and are difficult for humanoids to communicate with. Cross species communication requires an invented pidgin language which is difficult to develop given that they are mostly interested in eating and stealing. Appealing to their curiousity and maintaining it is mandatory during negotiations, especially if they are bigger than you.
- Animals: Bats, rodents, spiders, snakes, amphibians, various flying insects including a firefly that is poisonous enough to eat that the other critters leave them alone. The kraken snails however consider the firefly a spicy delicacy usually best enjoyed in small doses. Enterprising krakens will take spider webs and use them as nets to catch the fireflies.
- Move: 2/hex due to uneven ground, and frequent pools of soft mud.
- Description: The bottom layer is covered in soggy algal muck, detritus, and fungus. Some of the fungus is bioluminescent but otherwise this is a dark place. Herds of detritovores browse the waste and consume it while hunted by predators. Hulking buildings loom all around encased in thick mats of tangled vines. Rubble from the ruins lay in drifts sunken in the muck. Large bodies of water form when the place periodically floods and then gradually recede as the water sinks into the ground.
- Challenges: Quick-sand/muck which can swallow a person. Fungal spores filling the air make non-natives sick when breathed for a day. The spores from bioluminescent fungus also cause hallucinations.
- Pools, lakes, marshes: since water is scarce and ephemeral, lots of the wildlife will come here while these last. Non-natives however risk becoming very ill if they drink the water.
- Buildings The primary feature of the bottom are the ancient ruins encased in vines. They are filled with ancient wonders now seen as magic. Treat this technology like magical artifacts for attempts to activate and control. Depending on the beliefs of the newt people - this may be seen as desecration or taboo behavior. The newt people however do maintain entries to many of these buildings and guard them.
- Villages Newt people live in large, complex groups, and worship the god of the vines.
- Glowing Fungus Fields Large patches of bioluminescent fungus. Creatures attracted to light come here. The spores of this stuff are hallucinogenic. Just breathing the air gets you high, and you will see things that are not physically there. The newt people are also affected and consider these hallucinations an important part of their religious experience.
- Snail kraken hunt here as solitary apex predators picking off stragglers for dinner.
- Newt People Bipedal newtlike humanoids live here in the dark. They may be the descendants of the original inhabitants. They have their own spoken language, live in communities, and sometimes guard buildings. The krakens are their enemies. The player characters will probably be viewed the same way as they have a complex belief system which treats the ruins and their contents as alternately sacred, and taboo. First contact will be tense. Other than their newt like characteristics they can be a lot like humans. Some live like humans, have live births, breast feed their young, and have a complex set of beliefs about the ruins which are not fully resolved. Others go a bit more wild and become more newtlike, laying eggs in seasonal pools rather than birthing live young, grow larger, and have the ability to change their bodies, growing gills as needed or even become much larger with teeth and claws. These "wild" newts only consider the ruins taboo which should be destroyed. These two types gather in different villages, and do not get along. They are still capable of communicating with one another.
- Animals Herds of beetles of various sizes and shapes, some as big as your foot, some with horns/spikes that can rip through a leather boot. Clouds of gnats and white flies. Weirdly primitive arachnids that eat the beetles and are usually very poisonous. Most are small, but some are as big as your head. Diverse array of amphibians and moluscs in the muck and seasonal pools. Worms. Snakes. Rodents. Most of this mass of life is composed of things like the beetles which eat the rot. There are lots of beetles. But then there are all the predators which eat whatever flesh they can get. The predators if they are hungry enough, disturbed enough, or in large enough numbers, might swarm a character and try to eat them. A few poisonous bites could leave a character paralyzed, and fallen in the muck to be digested there if not rescued. The wildlife is not the primary problem here, but it is a background concern to be guarded against. Stupidly disturbing nests of creepy crawly things should result in an attacking swarm. Pissing off an arachnid as big as your head could be a problem too. Better to just move around this stuff and leave them alone unless you know what you are doing.
- God of the Vines Perhaps it is the vines. Perhaps the biggest kraken. Or perhaps a giant newt. Its appearances shift. This was a nature god which destroyed the civilization of its people, and obsessed with maintaining the ruin as a monument to hubris. It is usually burrowed deep within the muck. It still shapes the life around it, but given the amount of rot and consumption of rot around it, this god of life seems to be in the death phase for the time being. It is also angry, vengeful, and unpredictable. Best to stay out of its way.