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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Nature’s Delicate Dollhouse
At first glance, the terrain may look like scrubland, the plants gnarled and weedy. The ground in some areas seems like solid rock, but in others is reddish or chalky. The plants barely reach the height of a young child. You might think the area is dying, but the stunted plants are actually hundreds of years old and thriving. This is a pygmy forest, also known as an elfin forest or a dwarf forest. They’re characterized by stunted growth, usually due to poor soil. These types of forests are rare, as soil conditions must be harsh enough to stunt the plants, but not enough to kill them.
Some of the world’s few pygmy forests are found in northern California. Miniature pines, cypress, and redwood trees can be found there, draped with dwarf lichens and mosses. Redwoods, which usually reach a height of over 200 feet, can barely scratch 10 feet there. Thin branches sprawl out from brittle trees, only weighed down by small tufts of leaves. Spots of richer soil produce clumps of two or three trees that are merely small, not tiny.
Some of the California pygmy forests have been subject to significant clearing, logging, and other types of destructive development. The ecosystems are delicate; even foot traffic can be enough to kill off some plant species. In 2015, a pygmy cypress forest and a pygmy pine forest in northern California became targets of a plan to clear parts of them to build a waste transfer facility. Several groups, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, believe the project will have an adverse impact on the pygmy forests and are fighting it.
Pygmy Forest in Play
At your table, it wouldn’t be surprising if activists or even druids were fighting back against the destruction of these rare forests. The party could be tasked to bring down those who wish to clear the pygmy forests, or they could be hired to go into the forests and eradicate those standing in the way of progress. Alternately, a pygmy forest could be a great backdrop for an unusual encounter. Merely venturing into such a bizarre landscape should prime players to expect the unexpected. In a fantasy campaign, maybe your PCs discover a rather expansive pygmy forest where magic infested the land, stunting both plants and natives of the forest alike. Even monsters could have shrunk, like an awakened tree only a few feet tall. The world’s dwarves will be quick to argue that there’s no connection between their race and this magic forest, but the discovery of an impossibly ancient dwarven ruin at its heart may upend theories of dwarven origins.
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