Wednesday 30 August 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #227: Dry Hills of Dhuga, With Thoughts on Ecology

Six hexes northwest, four north of Alakran.


This higher ridge of hills parallels the greener ridge described previously, but has not been jealously guarded by the Black Gazelles, so is more despoiled from centuries of high-intensity goat grazing. Sparse acacia bushes and clumps of horsetail grass make poor diet for a herd of goats, let alone sheep.

It might well be asked what all this background on the ecology of the Dhuga has to do with players and their experience. They see terrain, they use terrain; they have no goats to bring to market (usually); what's the point?

An ecology background's purpose is to give plausible, if not perfectly worked out, constraint, development, and depth to an adventure. Consider the sentence "The troll lives on fish from the stream in room 5." Never mind that an underground blind-fish ecosystem can't really supply the troll with enough biomass to live. The fig leaf of plausibility at one stroke gives the troll a motivation (to go to room 5, to defend it), becomes a suggestion for dealing with the troll (give him fish, or more likely, something to eat other than goddamn fish), and adds color, texture, and foreshadowing to the adventure (if the troll is defeated in his lair, a pile of fish bones suggests the nearby stream).

But all of this needs to be visible and knowable to the PCs.  The green vs. dry hills contrast, in other words, needs an adventure for the unearthing of the explanation to be of use. Perhaps ...

There's a goatherd, Kinnik, a man getting on in years with hollow cheeks and a perpetually droopy set to his mouth, who is encountered on a "lair" roll in this hex (1 in 20 chance). His goats eat poorly here on the steep hillsides, and he resents the Black Gazelle parkland to his southwest. Implausibly, he offers the party the 200 gp he has saved away in a jar if they will help him guard his herd as he goes to graze them in the rich meadow of the Green Hills described previously. The full explanation for the ecological situation, he holds back on, finally only saying that "ruffian bailiffs" from the city hold the meadow for "landed interests," and assuring the party that these can be easily chased off by people of such skill at arms and witchcraft as they.

In truth, this sets up a confrontation with a hunting party from the Black Gazelles, possibly (1/3 chance) containing the Radiant Prince himself. If they're not careful, the party will find themselves on the wrong side of the law of Eryptos. Kinnik, meanwhile, is quick to flee the scene with or without his goats, and thereafter flees the hills, for he is an agent sent by enemies of the Prince to suborn trouble. If the gazelles are beaten in combat, this will become knowledge in Eryptos, and if they abuse the party, this too will become knowledge, both to the Prince's detriment.

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