Kunming Stone Forest

Once a month here on the Molten Sulfur Blog, I run content taken from our book Archive: Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs. This post is one of eighty entries in Archive, each more gameable than the last!

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Image credit: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, released under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Kunming Stone Forest
The Petrified Wildland

A forest of stone, as far as the eye can see, some pillars melding together and eroded just right to make archways that welcome travelers into the jagged depths. Vines drape down the pillars, creating a lush green head that completes the illusion of stone trees. Tucked away among the limestone pillars are caves made of the same material, a few lakes, and a tall waterfall draining into a pond. Stone pathways lead through some of the more open areas, but off the path, some of the pillars sprout so close together that the area can be difficult to traverse without climbing. It can be easy to get lost among the limestone trunks.

Like clouds, the towering spires of southern China’s Kunming Stone Forest entreat the imagination to make sense of and give names to their forms. Traveling the jagged corridors of the forest, you might glance up at a limestone cliff and see a rocky figure, bulky at the base but towards the top extending a lean appendage curling down and back to itself. Such an appendage resembles the trunk of an elephant, and guided by that resemblance, so too, does the rest of the figure resemble a stone pachyderm gazing across the forest from its rocky perch. Elsewhere in the forest, seven pillars appear to be the silhouettes of seven towering ancient elders petrified in conversation after gathering for a meeting. These are two of the many landmarks in the stone forest, the Elephant and Seven Elders Gathering.

But no landmark in the stone forest is quite as renowned as Ashima.

Ashima stands on a small peninsula, her stone body slim and cloaked beside another formation. In most versions of her legend, Ashima was a beautiful young woman in love with a young man named Ahei. But the son of an evil landlord was infatuated with Ashima and desired her for himself. Ashima refused his offer of marriage, for she loved Ahei. The son, Azhi, was outraged and seized her for himself, meaning to force her to marry him. Ahei came after her and challenged Azhi to a singing contest. It is said the contest lasted three days and three nights, with Ahei conquering in the end, and Azhi being forced to set Ashima free. The legend has varying endings, though they all involve a sudden flood as the lovers flee from Azhi. Some even say it was Azhi’s power that caused it. Ashima is said to have drowned in the sudden flood, but she rose as a stone and a symbol of hope for freedom to choose whom to marry.

Kunming Stone Forest in Play

The legend of Ashima could have lingering remnants in a fantasy campaign: the echoes of contesting singers, the spirit of a woman trapped in stone, or possible ancient magic from an envious lover tainting the land. The Kunming Stone Forest could also make an expansive dungeon where your PCs try to make their way through on landmarks alone. But what if those landmarks are more than just formations conveniently shaped for memory? What if the elephant described above were actually a living golem waiting to rise and trample trespassers? Outside of the fantasy realm, the Kunming Stone Forest could be an interesting place for a large combat encounter. The stone trees could be both useful and dangerous. They can be cover from incoming fire, but with enough force, chunks of limestone can be knocked free, creating dangerous shrapnel. With the pillars sprouting so close together in some areas, it might be possible for your PCs or their enemies to topple one and create a treacherous domino effect.

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