Rural environments lie between the cities and the wilderness. They are a broad liminal area, and as such they attract many kinds of encounters in between one state and the other.
This article will look at ways to make rural encounters interesting to the Adventurers.
Keeping The Players Motivated
Okay, so the Adventurers have just left the city limits behind them, and before they get to the wild part of the world they have to get through all this farmland. This is probably the most boring part of any adventure, and most Games Masters would be all too happy to gloss over this bit to get to the good stuff and the weird encounters out in the wilderness.
This part of any trip can actually be the stage for a load of unusual encounters which will keep the Adventurers on their toes.
The rural environment is a liminal state, and a petri dish for the cultivation of liminal states. The Adventurers are between one state (urban) and another (wilderness), so they are neither here nor there themselves. In this part of the world, they are likely to encounter places and circumstances which are "in between," so these are perfect points at which to place encounters.
Places of transition are meeting places for all manner of beings, both mundane and otherworldly.
Crossroads - So many cultures mark crossroads as places where the supernatural and the mundane meet. The Adventurers may meet witches conducting their workings here; and at some crossroads, it is said that if you wait until midnight, you may encounter a Dark Lord, or even Death. And sometimes, you may even catch them in a good mood and be able to strike a deal with them ...
Bends - Bends and curves in the road, whether horizontal or vertical, are notorious for accidents or encounters with other kinds of otherworldly beings, more interested in abduction than in making deals. Strange lights in the sky are common, as are the occasional arrivals rather than departures ...
Borders - Pre-modern worlds generally do not have miles of barbed wire and checkpoints in the roads. Sometimes, the only indication that one has crossed over from one county to the next, or from one country to the next, is a half-buried, moss-covered marker placed there by mutual onsent between long-forgotten nations centuries ago.
Gates - Stiles, gates and similar portals can either mark the transition between one part of the land, or one realm, and the next. A natural enclosed arch formed by two trees either side of a road, where the crowns of both trees connect high above, can serve as a natural portal to some otherworld, whether it be a realm of spirits or the Fae Realm.
Cliffs - Depending on whether the cliff is approached from the top or the bottom, cliffs mark a form of edge. Cliffs and quarries may have fissures, caves, or other portals leading to Underworlds, even Hells.
Shorelines - Lake shores, river banks, and seashores mark the limits of land and water. Encounters here can be with amphibious animals, birds, shapeshifting creatures such as selkies or Longane, water elementals, earth elementals, and even air elementals.
Just as there are places which exist between one realm and another, so too are there times which intersect. The Adventurers may encounter these in those quiet moments between one state and the next.
Dusk and Dawn - It is generally only modern timekeepers which mark midnight as the start of a new day. Before our societies became mechanised and governed by a craving for punctuality, people measured the day beginning with the dawn or, depending on the culture, sunset.
Seasons - The solstices and equinoxes mark the points where the sun is at its highest (Litha) or at its lowest (Yule), and the points where the day and night are the same length (Ostara and Mabon). These are times marked by ritual and ceremony. Similarly, there are traditional times where the new seasons are marked - Imbolc, the beginning of Spring; Beltane, the beginning of Summer; Lughnasadh, the start of Autumn; and Samhain, the commencement of Winter.
Eclipses - Both solar and lunar eclipses are times of great import. The Sun seems to disappear from the daytime sky, and night briefly rules the waking world, or the Full Moon vanishes, replaced by a red circle like a baleful eye peering down upon a terrified world.
The Quarters - Both the Waxing and Waning Quarters, the Half Moons, are moments of transition, too; temporal portals to take stock.
Harvests - In general, rural societies mark three harvests: the harvest of grain, at Lughnasadh; the fruit and vegetable harvest marked by Mabon; and lastly the meat harvest, celebrated at Samhain, where the livestock which will not make it through the coming winter is brought in for its final rest and processing into food, leather and so on.
Samhain also marks the point where the loved ones who have passed during the year, and years past, can roam the world one last time, and be celebrated and mourned before they depart for the next world in the morning.
The people you may encounter in urban areas may also be in some liminal state or other.
Fugitives, Outlaws and Parolees - All are involved in some form of criminal activity. Fugitives are fleeing judgment, and are between clear guilt and innocence. Outlaws are marked, and have no home or status; they do not belong. Parolees are between a state of conviction and innocence, where they are in a state of transition between being marked criminals and bring truly free.
Dreamers - At night, under the stars, the Adventurers themselves can become liminal characters, as their minds hover on the verge of sleep, or on the verge of dream. In certain circumstances, they may hover between the living realms and the realms of Dream, Spirit, Fae, or Death. Dare they open the portals to those realms in their minds?
Stateless People - Any number of people could be encountered on the road, who have no state for themselves. They may be refugees fleeing a war, persecution, or some natural disaster; or they may be immigrants, coming to civilisation to make their way in the world or make a name for themselves.
Nomadic People - Distinct from the Stateless are those people whose entire culture is mobile and nomadic. From migratory peoples following the herds they are tending to people from Nomadic tribal cultures, these are a people distinct to themselves, bringing with them experiences of places, lands, times, and peoples from beyond the lived experiences of the locals.
Shifters - Some people cannot live in the town and flee into the night to protect their loved ones. Caught between human and beast, these poor souls are a danger to themselves and the people around them when the time is right and the Moon is full.
Ghosts and Revenants - Also caught between realms, wandering phantoms see life and death from both sides. From phantom travellers who hitch rides in carriages, only to vanish at dawn, to revenants who claw their way out of shallow graves, bent on avenging their deaths upon their killers, these ghosts, wraiths and shamblers are not to be trifled with.
On A Knife Edge
The situations encountered by the Adventurers in rural areas can be mundane, quaint, parochial, bucolic, or wild, hallucinogenic, dreamy, even terrifying or horrifying. But if you, as Gamesmaster, treat these encounters as liminal situations, and see the transition points, you can make rural encounters both emotive and memorable - certainly, powerful.
Edited by Alex Greene