Today I tried out something a little different. Not only by drawing a tree which, as anyone who has dabbled in art can tell you, is a trial by itself, but I also shifted the perspective quite drastically.
Sister Tegra stepped across the clearing, the ends of her ragged dress and shawl collecting loose dirt. She passed one of the stones. Her long, yellowed nails tracing across it seemed to further upset young Lily, whose sobbing intensified. No matter. It would not be long before she forgot, just as Tegra once did.
The elderly woman drew her hood back as she reached the center. Some thirty feet from her were the five stones, equally spaced to form a pentagon. Trees encircled them, tall and strong, their canopy rustling in an afternoon breeze that carried the forest’s scent.
Tegra’s hair hung across her face as she kneeled down. Its brown had drained almost to the root, overtaken by a withered grey. Behind the curtain of wiry locks, she smiled.
Pushing her sleeves back to her elbows, Tegra cupped her hands and scraped a mound of dirt towards her. She repeated this motion until, not a foot into the earth, her hands brushed over a series of hard ridges. Dusting and scratching away the soil between them revealed a ribcage, stripped of flesh but firmly intact.
Dirt caked under her nails as she reached under the sternum, scooping out a cavity within the skeleton. She clapped her hands together, wiping away what grime she could. Reaching back into her pocket, Tegra produced an acorn. It was a healthy brown and hard and smooth like a stone. It wanted to grow, and it would. She cradled it in both hands, whispering into it her intentions and blessing it with a gentle kiss from dried, cracked lips. This acorn, though it seemed ordinary, was special. It had a special purpose, just like Lily, and just like Tegra.
Beaming with pride and excitement, Tegra slipped the acorn into the ribcage’s opening. She shuffled back, placing her hands against the pile of excavated soil and shoving it back into place. It fell through the bones, burying the acorn. After a few moments of patting and sweeping, any evidence of Tegra’s work had been cleared away. Lily watched from the forest’s edge, her breath quaking.
The time was close but her work was not done. Tegra rolled her shoulders and twisted her neck, loosening them with multiple sickening cracks. Her hands hovered an inch above the acorn’s burial. She cast her mind back, recalling the words she had learned so long ago. They were ancient words of a language as dead as those that wrote them. The speech fell to the ground, suffocating the grove’s color as it spread outwards.
Tegra did what she could to focus. The wind slowed to a halt, fearing what might happen if it were to carry her words further. Yet Lily continued crying. Her sniffling and blubbering wormed into Tegra’s ears and obscured her memory of the old tongue.
A thin, leathery arm snapped in Lily’s direction, fingers and thumb pinching together angrily. Lily’s jaw matched the movement of Tegra’s hand, shutting with an involuntary force and containing the girl’s cries within her selfish little face. So ungrateful. She was special and Tegra had chosen her in particular. Of the seven, Lily was the one who might join the sisters. She should be thankful to be in one piece and not buried under the grove’s stones, like her counterparts.
Tegra returned to her ritual. She cast her will through the earth and into the seed, preparing it for things to come. Darkness fell over the grove and the surrounding trees stiffened and cracked in decay. Satisfied, the woman rose to her feet and returned to Lily, leading her away.
“Come, dear, we must prepare some food. My sisters will be here soon.”
– by Troy McConnell
More content by Troy
It’s not the most sensical perspective for a battle map, but for this particular concept, I thought it the best way to highlight the old oak tree in the center. I’m happy with how it turned out, and hopefully, a few people will get some mileage out of it!
I recommend it as a random encounter on a forested road. As the players travel, they hear an ominous whistling. If they follow it, they find the anchor stones are causing the strange sound as the wind whistles through them. In the center is the chained up oak tree, and I’ll let your imagination write the rest!
The Cursed Oak is available as of now:
For exclusive map variants and even the PSD files, consider joining the amazing community that makes these maps possible:
What the HECK MAN! THIS IS AMAZING. Gosh dang, I’ve usually never really considered donating to a patreon before but your passion for your work and everything tugs at my wallet. Just wanted to say thank you for helping a novice DM with a lot of things (after watching your 2.5 tutorial I’ve started using cardboard on everything) keep doing good work man!