“Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish...It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.”
Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness
One of the enduring themes of neo-oldish D&D in the past five years has been the notion of dungeon as a “mythic underworld.” Philotomy the originator of the phrase stated it quite succinctly: “a mega dungeon should have a certain amount of verisimilitude and internal consistency, but it is an underworld: a place where the normal laws of reality may not apply, and may be bent, warped, or broken.”
Inexplicably the theme hasn't extended itself as thoroughly to the ancient realm of the mythic: wilderness. Projecting our dreams and ideas into the wilds is a timeless thing that changes with our own times. It is nature as giver, supernatural evil, challenge, peaceful refuge, antidote to civilized decadence or whatever. The theme endures and deserves some gaming love as a motif for adventure sites.
Of course in fantasy gaming almost all wilderness is mythical in the sense that human civilization has a weak hold and things monstrous or magical often live in their bounds. But I'm talking here about the cranked up high version. The kind of wilderness that is truly otherworldly, the enchanted wood, divine mountain, sacred grove or magic garden gone feral.
Mythical Wilderness is a major running theme in the eponymous campaign. Where going into the wilds—crossing into the Weird--is going into a different physical reality. Characters can feel an electric undercurrent as they pass out of the human realm and can expect just about anything.
Not surprisingly as it comes straight out of that broken line of reasoning and play, Mythical Wilderness plays a huge role in the soon-to-be published mini-sandbox Slumbering Ursine Dunes (now in its fifth editing iteration and being run again on Google Plus if you'd like to come out and play).
The Dunes incorporates most of the following laundry list: an internal ecology and weather climate distinct from the surrounding “real world”, impossibly large dunes; magical fields; mythical demi-god guardians, and a random "weird" events system, a chaos index, that dynamically changes the sandbox with player actions.
Internal Dynamics Trump Ecology. It may have beasts going through the motions of such things as predation or a climate cycle or the like or it may have nothing at all like that (no mundane animals, nothing consumed/shat etc). The internal logic and dynamics of the place trumps all and it is not beholden to the regular rules of either the mundane natural world or human civilization.
Unhooked from Time and Space. Time is completely relative inside it and may have any number of effects. It may work like the Faerie mounds or realms of Northwestern European folklore with years passing in the outside world for a matter of days inside. Or it may preserve residents of an ancient past or border/open into another plane of existence altogether.
Inimical or Supernatural Terrain. Trees may grow to fantasic heights or widths. Whole forests of giant gnome red cap mushrooms may bloom. Miniature mountain ranges rise, amnesia-producing rivers spring or seas of lava spread. The terrain itself may even be actively hostile to outsiders, twisted trees and vines may trip or attack.
Bends Outside Magic. Spell effects will often be different. Certain spells may be amplified, dulled or neglected in effect. Certain areas may be magically fertile or completely barren. Endless fun for the GM.
Layers of Mystery. Part of the great fun of having this kind of funhouse wilderness is that whatIsland in Lost here.
Powerful, Semi-Divine Boss/Force. Invariably the strange, weird, mysterious and fantastical nature of the Mythic Wilderness is due to a force or master. A terribly powerful being-- the Horned Master of the Wild Hunt, Green Man, Faerie Queen, Demonic Tree-Spirit, Batshit Archmage or what have you—that the PCs run from/parlay/barter/fight.
Anything else you think should make this list? War stories of your own creations?