After having reviewed the sequel to this product first, my perspective is a bit backwards from the improvements presented there–but nevertheless I wanted to cover my own experience on what I feel is a very solid resource for a Pathfinder GM. The goal presented with Woodland Encounters is to provide for interesting alternatives to randomly-rolled encounters during the course of your campaign; ideally, this helps accomplish more memorable scenes during travel than ‘2d4 critters stumble out, roll initiative’. Let’s take a look at how it stacks up!
Included here are 8 pre-staged encounters which can be incorporated into most any wilderness environs; each begins with an introductory write-up and optional ‘box text’ to set the scene, as well as initial suggestions for a prospective GM regarding the circumstances at a glance. Following that, you’ve also got suggested tactics, terrain features that can come into play and finally pertinent stat blocks presented in a concise, clear fashion–as well as quick snap-ins to raise or lower a given encounter’s CR. As a complete package, you’re left with all the necessary details to run a given encounter easily accessible at a glance, which I feel Raging Swan Press
has handled very well.
Several of the encounters as-presented offer opportunities for diplomacy and roleplaying as avenues for your players–with the bandit ambush for instance, ready options are presented for a more amenable parting of ways between parties–and the ghostly remnants of the conjurer Valentin offers a fine opportunity for characterization as well. That said, a majority of the encounters presented would invariably roll right into more straight forward combat (an element the sequel improves upon considerably).
Despite this, the staging and composition of even the combat-pitched encounters does lend towards a more inspirational angle–provided you have the time and inclination to flesh them out. With a bit of love and care one could certainly draw some memorable parlay from Jarla the Ogre Huntress, or paint a scene with the Blood Moon goblins (particularly if you’re fond of the entertaining mannerisms Paizo’s re-imagining of the little fellows can also lend to this.) It’s a shame that a more distinct lore was not included–there’s mention of a keep and the like, but I would have liked to see more personality behind this tribe in particular.
Of the included encounters, the Gnolls with their ill-fortuned Pugwampi, the creepy isolated hovel with its ghoulish barbarian Garilax and the Shattered Bridge, haunted by the ghost of the conjurer Valentin are my three favorites; the latter-most of these, the Shattered Bridge, is available as a free sample in its entirety on the Raging Swan Press website–and also happens to be one which I’ve had the opportunity to work with in our own group’s campaign, so I’d like to expand upon it as an excellent example of an encounter.
With the Shattered Bridge, a recent and terrible storm has collapsed the span over a river–and in the process, crushed a hapless conjurer by the name of Valentin Pennanen beneath it. Why Valentin was traipsing about in a storm capable of collapsing a bridge can be left to one’s imagination, but the net result is he now haunts the site and is rather unhappy about his present circumstances and keen to blame whomever happens upon it.
As presented, you’ve got what I feel is a potentially fun battlefield arrangement: the broken up bridge can provide something of a navigable obstacle course of checks and terrain, the river itself and its embankments add additional hazards (particularly given Valentin has a penchant for telekinesis used for combat maneuvers!) and the flying ghost of the wizard Valentin himself throws out a mix of control spells (such as stinking cloud) and augmented summons.
In practice, this can make for an interesting encounter with elements to engage a variety of characters in a party individually while they work to wrangle or appease Valentin’s riled spirit; the bridge and river can be a fun challenge in and of themselves provided you keep the spirit in the general vicinity for his haunting. For our particular group, the party was traversing the river in a barge–so the collapsed bridge served as an obstacle which needed to be cleared, prompting for their run-in with Valentin.
Altogether, I feel it’s one of the stronger offerings from the product in its variety and usability in framing a memorable ‘random’ encounter. It -is- possible to talk the poor fellow down from his angry state, but it is a difficult diplomacy check to do so. You can play up the personality or story to the spirit and make for an unusual encounter at the given CR range and provide a challenge without particularly terrible risk of character death or the like.
Overall: This product is 23 pages, with 8 occupied by cover, credits, copyrights, OGL and the like–leaving 15 for the encounters presented. Five pieces of black and white artwork, partly stock from other offerings. Errors were very minor and there were only a few nitpicks I had with the sizing and spacing of stat blocks among the rest of the content–nothing terrible, though. You receive both a screen and printer-friendly version of the PDF which is a nice touch.
Raging Swan Press provides a solid foundation for a very promising series of products and I look forward to future offerings in the series. The material here is accessible and easy to use, the information is readily available at a glance and there is a decent variety of encounter flavor to tailor to a given campaign’s travels. Since the intention is to make random encounters more memorable, the offerings here are a solid start in that regard.
While not as strong as its sequel, I feel that you get a very functional and entertaining collection for the price point and with a bit of work even the more standard-fare encounters can be made to shine in your own game. I’d rate Woodland Encounters 4 stars–worth the price and a solid resource for any Pathfinder GM; if you like the material here, I encourage you to check out the sequel.
As an after-note, as with Woodland Encounters II I found Raging Swan Press to provide excellent customer service in answering questions and clarifying content; they even helped with a little bout of brainstorming which helped to inspire integrating an encounter. A very good experience!