Little Spaces Design: Creepy Copses

As a writer, the word “copse” has always evoked a sense of dread as a description for a group of trees or shrubbery, almost as though a copse was similar to a corpse but of a vegetal variety. Because of this, I’ve always tried to work it into my own work somewhere. Thus, Little Spaces: Creepy Copses was born!

These spaces are all about the greenery and the sometimes spooky and creepy effects those places can conjure. Places such as the Mirkwood in J.R.R. Tolkien‘s stories and the Black Forest near Hogwarts from J.K. Rowling are rife with shadow and danger hiding around every branch and trunk above and below. So why not create such places of horror and wonder in our own worlds?

Just like the other Little Spaces products, we’ll apply a combination of rolls and tables to determine what the context and sensory description might bring us. Find one or more senses. Figure out what we’re describing as an element. Toss in a few descriptive keywords and we’re instantly wondering what we got ourselves into by following that forest path at dusk…

Spiderweb Forest - art by William C. Pfaff

Spiderweb Forest – art by William C. Pfaff

The elements don’t seem spooky at all… The first five are:

  1. Tree
  2. Sky
  3. Shrub
  4. Path
  5. Thicket

Now let’s look at the first ten items of the descriptive terms we’ll use:

  1. Loamy
  2. Decomposing
  3. Waste
  4. Green
  5. Vibrant
  6. Decay
  7. Dappled
  8. Tainted
  9. Poisoned
  10. Layered

Whether we’re describing something in the real world or one imagined in some fantastic world of magic or aliens, this approach can really inspire our brains to bring out some intriguing options to explore. If I use even just these terms I can come up with:

  • (Taste/Shrub/Layered) The forest floor is littered with debris from the multiple layers above. From the high canopy, a scattering of giant leaves have drifted on the strange breezes down to the ground. And from the middle-layer, a few fruits have fallen to rot down below or be found and consumed by any of a hundred species looking for an easy meal. But down here you find more than a few shrubs destroyed by small grazing animals looking for food, shelter, and safety from the more aggressive hunters in the area. A few stray berries remain and are safe to eat, not quite ripe and a bit bitter but still full of flavor.
  • (Hearing/Path/Dappled) Along the woodland path you see dappled shapes dancing on the forest floor, sunshine filtering down through the thick foliage. Each stiff breeze rustles the leaves until the patterns dance, adding to the wonders of this place. And each time those leaves and branches touch, it adds to the white noise all around you. Unfortunately that means you didn’t hear the giant cat walking on padded feet behind you until it attacked!
  • (Sight-Touch/Tree/Vibrant-Waste) Beneath the tree, the nest of some small creature appears abandoned but recently lived in. A cache of beautiful fruits, nuts, and leaves waits for a snack within the tiny den. It would be a waste to leave such edible wealth behind. But as your hand reaches in, your wrist becomes restrained as the opening closes and a group of small warriors surrounds you with sharpened spears ready to stab and tenderize your tough hide for their own community meal…

None of these is particularly creepy I’m afraid, but each offers a unique forest-based encounter for a party to experience. And the final product includes a list of 20 different elements along with 50 descriptive terms for a huge number of combinations. Who knows what sort of trouble your PCs might get in?

Little Spaces: Creepy Copses will be available soon, but in the meantime feel free to play with some of the random generators and pick up one of the other Little Spaces products at RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, Paizo, or d20pfsrd!

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