Few other settings give that Old Country feel to your lair better than a brooding, creepy, twisted tangle of gnarled trees alive with a pitiless mind of its own. Unfortunately, these days the evil mastermind cannot count on having inherited a suitably creepy thicket and must turn to creating one from scratch. With these tips, you can have a dismal wilderness that will be the envy of your fell rivals.
- Possession. The easiest and most effective way to haunt a dark forest is to take one over, either one which is in disuse, one which has been abandoned by an evil presence that has been cast out, or one which is in the possession of a demonic force lesser than yourself. A discreet title search at the local governmental offices can be the key to determining whether a grim wasteland can be overrun without getting your talons dirty.
- Creepification. If you have or are able to inhabit a forest which you find to be insufficiently spooky, it may just be a matter of adding the proper undergrowth. When a mortal is wandering in the bush, or staked down under a threatening canopy perhaps, it is surprising how much of the psychological oppression is actually contributed by the relatively low growth rather than the high canopy. The lovely thing about this is that the small-scale tangle is something which does not really require aeons to establish - one can have quite an impressive twist of machete-fodder in just a couple of good growing seasons.
- Forestation. If the location you desire is a wide-open meadow, things become more difficult. Unless you have the luxury of centuries of brooding over your realm for saplings to grow up into gnarled horrors, the best course of action is probably to raise a forest through magical means. The advantage here, though, is the shock and horror your adversaries will experience when they see that mighty oaks and bitterwood trees have sprung up overnight like mold on bread, perhaps blocking a busy thoroughfare heretofore frequented by your victims.
- Heart of darkness. Plan to have your abode in the deepest heart of the forest. The kind of wood you are haunting will dictate the best type of lair to set up, a medieval castle if you are in the German Black Forest, a stone pyramid overrun with vines if you are in a tropical rainforest, and so on. In some cases, you may arrange to live in the sapwood of a vast tree itself, particularly if you can set up the bulk of your holdings below root level.
Strokes of genius
- In vines veritas. In jungle and subtropical settings, lianas help to establish the eerie mood. You can have too many, however, as half-clad heroes can take advantage of them by swinging themselves into place where they are not wanted, so sprinkle them judiciously.
- Shrubberies. The best kind of underbrush features flesh-ripping thorns, poisonous foliage, stinging tendrils, abnormally rapid twining suckers, or a combination of these.
- Density matters. Use the denseness of the woody growth to your advantage. Your haunted forest may look impenetrable around the margins, for instance, yet thin out toward the center to provide a way for your winged dragon force to come and go with ease. Or, you could clear out an inviting-looking path to lure clueless campers in to places where they should have never tread.
Traps for mere fools
- Slash and conquer. If you need to acquire the forest abode with prejudice toward its previous resident, you are free treat this as any other act of aggressive conquest, with the one exception that the combatants must avoid fire at all costs. The old and gloomy overgrowth will go up like a pile of kindling and you may well be left with a wide open scorched expanse, which, while it may have its own compelling esthetic, does not qualify for the haunted forest appellation.
- Girly trees. It is nearly impossible to make a good haunted forest of you have to work solely with bad types of trees: peach, sugar maple, magnolia, and the like. If the trees you have now speak only of ease, abundance, and relaxation, consider whether this is the kind of message you want to be giving out.
- Babbling brooks. If you have a stream running through your evil forest, take care to make it an evil stream, vile, polluted, and dead. Otherwise you are likely to have crazy anglers traipsing through your lands at inconvenient times, most troublesome to eradicate.
Precious and needful
- American hardwoods. Oaks (the older the better), willows (though not the weeping kind, which look too romantic), cypresses.
- Ironwood, ebony, strangler fig, purpleheart. Better yet, horriblewood, murderbark, or doomtimber.
- Poison everything. Oak, ivy, sumac, apple. Note, poinsettias are not poisonous.
- Army ants. Or any other kind of creepy-crawlie with a military name.
- Giant spiders. Also scorpions, yellowjackets, or maggots. But not termites.
- Trolls. Or, if space permits, giants.
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