High above you a ceiling of leaves moves like the surface of the sea. It is held up by great wooden limbs, and rains down an endless confetti of vivid green leaves. It casts its shade in a wide circle all around you, and at its center is a trunk hemmed by crowded, intertwined roots…
I’m a long time fan of the Zelda series, and I have always been especially enchanted by the great Deku Tree in his many appearances, big and small. An ancient tree with memories longer than generations of men is something that speaks to my imagination! There’s a certain magic to mundane forests in real life, an an exaggeration of that which we are all familiar with makes for a great fantasy element.
I have been meaning to draw something like that for a long time, sitting at the back of my mind. Well, my recent foray into the Ni no Kuni games reminded of the idea, and I figured it was high time to take it on! I had always been intimidated by the roots especially but hey, I wasn’t going to get anywhere by only choosing easy projects.
So, this map is my take on the ancient tree fantasy trope. It’s cut-away near the base, so you can still use it as a Deku Tree if you wish, but it might also serve as a hag’s home, the base of an elven tree-village, or any of your extra-large-tree-needs.
What do you think? Do you have an ancient forest in your campaign world? I’d love to hear of your imaginative uses for this map, so please share them in the comments. 🙂
Garth steadied himself against the branch, looking to the quaking knees and wide eyes of his party members. The colossal tree was like a web of wooden tendrils. Each limb reached out into the sky, a half-dozen feet thick and coated in moss and leaves. The adventurers had escaped into its canopy for safety, trusting that it was too thick for the beast to penetrate. It now circled them, wingbeats causing even the tree to tremble in fear.
The party mage, Saryel, a reclusive elven priestess they had picked up while hunting goblins, was their best set of eyes. She had her finger pressed to her lips as they listened and waited. After several drawn-out moments, her head perked up slightly and she turned to her companions. A careful hand motion indicated that they had an opportunity to move. Their fighter let out a long sigh before flashing an awkward smile to the rest of them. They both returned it, though not without a shared acknowledgment that this situation would not exist had it not been for her.
Slowly, carefully, the group edged their way along the branch. Garth and Saryel moved with a silent caution, rendered entirely futile by the clanking of Jessie’s plate armor. It was not for lack of effort, of course. Jessie’s physical makeup and equipped armory simply functioned as a loud, joyfully ostentatious opposite to Saryel’s pragmatism. Fortunately, they made it to the trunk with no issue.
The problems came when they crept their way around the central pillar. Garth led the way, pressing his back to the wood and shimmying across the thin connections of branches. The others followed, bumping and pushing into him as he stopped against a large formation of collected twigs.
His compatriots whispered accusing questions and questioning accusations, all falling on deaf ears. Garth could only look up at the lip of the monstrous, bowl-shaped nest before him. A pink head slowly rose over, bulbous eyes socketed on either side of a sharp, black beak. It was covered in white fluff and stood over twice Garth’s height. Its emergence shocked the other two into silence. A silence that it quickly broke with a shrill, mind-shuddering squawk that cut through the quiet tension and boomed out for miles around.
The party ran. They were no longer concerned with caution or silence. Everything had gone to hell and a scrambling, floundering escape was all they had left. Though they did not share it, everyone in the group was resigned to walking away with at least one less member. The vote was two-thirds in favor of Jessie if it would come to that.
Garth came to the edge of the branches, catching Saryel with an outstretched arm. They both turned around as a gargantuan wingspan eclipsed the day’s sun. The two inhaled deeply, preparing either for a spell or a final scream before their gruesome, untimely deaths, at the hands of a bird of all things. And then Jessie hit them.
The seconds that followed would repeat in Garth’s mind for years to come, waking him in cold sweats on otherwise serene nights.
He looked up after the befuddling impact. Saryel and Jessie were above him, flailing their arms in an effort to reach each other. Their screams were lost in deafening winds and the canopy drifted into the distance behind them.
Garth rolled over as the realization of their descent hit him. He felt Saryel grip his ankle. Fighting the panic from the approaching ground and shadow of a giant, diving eagle, he searched the tree’s roots. Nestled in the sprawl of interlacing wood was a cave, likely home to another monster, but enough for now. He violently pointed at it, turning back to ensure Saryel understood his message.
The eagle’s talons were closing around Jessie, whom herself was wrapped, bawling, around Saryel. The priestess chanted a determined passage. Moments before two party members were plucked from the air by an enraged mother bird and the third was left to liquefy against the ground, they vanished in a flash of magic. Somewhere below, the shivering, sobbing trio reappeared in the mouth of a very shocked kobold den.
– by Troy McConnell
More content by Troy
Download the Ancient Tree Roots Maps & Assets
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The free Ancient Tree Roots battle maps
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