Ok, full disclosure... I mainly list all these dark, enchanted woods in this post to provide inspiration for building your OWN fantasy forest in your Dungeon and Dragon's campaign.
Now if you're not into D&D... that's ok... these principles can apply to ANY fantasy author looking to put an ancient forest in their story. But since we have neglected our Dungeons and Dragons compatriots for too long, this section will be juuuuuust for them :)
So if you are looking to add a DnD 5e forest into your campaigns, what should you do?
What Purpose Does Your 5e Forest Play in Your D&D Story?
First things first... consider what role will the forest play in the progression of their characters and the plot of the story. If the party is traveling from point A to point B and you just want to spend a session in a treacherous forest, then you can probably get away with minimal prep.
But if this is a major location, a place they will be wandering for several sessions, then you'll want to make sure it stands out in your world, and even from other forests. And if it is the location of some ancient tomb (like Chult from Tomb of Annihilation), then you'll want the forest to somehow reflect and expand upon the themes of the tomb.
Once you establish the purpose of your DnD 5e forest in your cooperative storytelling, you can begin to work out some of the details.
Level of Magic in Your 5e Woods
Next, you have to consider just how much magic will be taking place in this forest. On the one hand, it makes sense to have this reflect the level of magic in your world: the more common magic is in civilization, the more magical the forest. And if you are in a gritty realism, low magic campaign, it might have more owlbears than pixies... more wolves than werewolves.
However... an enchanted forest should feel distinctly DIFFERENT than the societies your character is coming from. So if they come from a magical society, make sure the magic is somehow different and unfamiliar. You want it to still be a foreign, wondrous, unknown place.
Set the Tone
Now that you know what magical role it will play... it’s time to set the tone. So as yourself... what do you want your D&D party to FEEL when they enter the forest?
Should they feel terror knowing what gothic, horrific monsters await them? Are they filled with wonder by the faery light that twinkles off every leaf? Are they anxious, knowing the very trees are watching them? Are they fearful fairies will catch them trespassing on their domain? Or is it a sunny enchanted wood, a place they will escape, recharge, and experience sublime, life-changing beauty?
I find emotions wheels really helpful for stuff like this. Pick 3-5 different emotions to guide you.
Establish the Terrain
Let your purpose, magic, and tone lead to you what your party will FIND. Consider what they will see, sense, and encounter as they explore this forest.
Start with the basics: what kind of plants? Is the ground rocky… mossy…grassy... full of brush? How tall are the trees, how much light do they block, and what color is the light? Does this forest have any large rivers or mountain ranges running through it? Any ruins from ancient cities? Creating a map or sketch of the forest might help visualize its layout and features.
Don't forget magical terrain elements! Consider putting sacred trees, hidden fairy paths, and portals to they Feywild and elemental planes. And having sentient plants and trees is always a solid choice. The more hidden secrets, the more your party will be eager to explore and discover.
Populating your DnD 5e Forest it with Inhabitants
In my opinion, this is the FUN part! Come up with strange, mysterious non-player characters to meet and monsters to slay!
Does a green hag swindle the desperate? Or is the entire wood the lair of an ancient green dragon? Or it a tiny piece of the feywild on the material plane? Do the ruins of a cursed city spew out undead? Is the forest a window to the ancient past when wood elf druids worshiped at the great oak? Or is it full of only animals, all who speak common and exist under an ancient animal/common law?
Like I said... the fun part :) Here is a list of some common DnD 5e forest monsters from classic folklore as well as D&D modules:
Unicorn and Pagasus
Goblin and Orc Tribe
But whatever you choose, these magical monsters and otherworldly beings should not feel like they were just placed in the forest willy nilly... in fantasy the FOREST ITSELF has an identity. Its denizens are as much a part of the forest as they are individuals. Each monster and NPC should feel grounded and connected to the earth and trees... an extension of the forest itself.
Description and Narration
Congratulations, you have built your very own enchanted forest! You picture so clearly in your mind... its like you are there. But now comes the hard part: getting your players to visualize it so they can experience it for themselves!
Imagine them walking across a normal, empty field. Now place them in your DnD 5e forest... what is different? What do they notice? What do they feel on their skin and in their hearts? When all else fails, you can always trust in the ever-faithful "5 sense method":
5 things they see
4 things they hear
3 things they smell
2 things they touch
1 thing they taste
BONUS 3 things they feel
Bare minimum, imagine they are a video game character turning the camera all sorts of directions and tell them what they see. include how much light, the type of light, colors, temperature, and smell. Use analogies from the real world to create an immediate connection.
Whatever you describe should reflect back on the tone and emotions you selected earlier, as well as drop hints as to what they will find when they explore the forest. Here is an excellent example.
Conclusion: “How to create a D&D 5e Forest?”
Long story short: you take some of the 13 elements that make a fantasy forest and combine them with storytelling practices and game structure. You piece together the look, feel, elements, and monsters until you have a D&D 5e forest to call your own!
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Based out of Spokane, Riley is a freelance copywriter that combines his love of reading, writing, and people into something useful! He is thankful to be applying his passion for imaginative role-playing to help DnD related businesses communicate their value in the best way possible. He's kinda like a bard giving inspiration, except without the annoying pop covers!