If you read my blog, you know that recently I traveled the world and one of the places I saw was a rainforest.
I came away from the rain forest with a few gaming related thoughts.
First off, this environment was alien. Very, very alien. If I fell into this environment and had to survive in a place where even touching some plants can poison you, I’d be dead. That doesn’t even consider the animal life that might be actively willing to gack me. Adventurers trekking into environments like this without bothering to hire guides should suffer. I’m not sure how to model this, but definitely there should be some danger that is non-wacko monster related just going into these territories. Rolls to avoid penalties from heat and bug bites and all the non-fatal poisons you come into contact with? Not sure what they should be or how to handle that mechanic exactly, but I know that the Naturalism proficiency (and Ranger/Elf characters) just got a big respect bump in my eyes!
Next, and related to the above, is that wilderness travel is/would be dangerous. I mean, I know it already is in your standard sandbox D&D game, but that is usually because you never know when you might run up on a dragon or 1d6X10 orcs. If you are carving a path into the unknown, as adventurers often do, another very real danger you are facing is the constant threat the land itself is tossing at you. Bugs and poisonous plants that sap your strength and will and lower your reserves. Terrain that destroys your tools, your mounts and other resources. And then there are the creatures that view you as food, or as a threat, or that you simply stumble onto. Like a drop bear.
Getting to an adventure locale in an alien environment would be a trek through a Fucking Fantasy Vietnam.
Another thing that occurred to me is how this relates to elves. The oft quoted negative stereotype of elves are as creatures that live ‘in peace’ with the forest, creating idyllic, hippy-esque people dressed in green.
Now, I realize that northern European forests are not the same as rain forests, but if elves are creatures ‘of the woods’ then they fit into that ecosystem. The most likely explanation for their position of mastery of the land is that they are the apex predators. They may live in harmony, but that harmonious place would firmly be at the top of a deadly system. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be threatened by things in the environment, but when you live and thrive in an environment that is actively hostile to you, you become pretty bad ass.
Hardly the trippy hippy negative stereotype that is so common amongst ‘elf-haters’.
Now of course the standard gaming idea of elves is more them living in a Northern European style wood. Fair enough. I have no idea what the flora was like back in the middle ages, but I do know that many of them were full of dangerous animals. Bears, boars, and big cats, not to mention snakes and poisonous insects. By the time of Tolkien’s elves, English woods were mostly free of such things which is perhaps why the Middle Earth woods are (usually) so idyllic (though I suppose parts of Mirkwood are pretty damn deadly) . But again, these are creatures that live in a hostile country and never seek to tame (i.e. clear it away) like humanity does. What kind of skill set does that take?
I guess what I’m getting at is that the wilderness in your typical fantasy environment would be AT LEAST as dangerous as the dwarven undergrounds, and the creatures that live their equally tough.
I think they should get some of the respect they deserve.