The game’s very name implies that the gaming experience takes place underground, in secret subterranean temples and castle basements. Indeed, the early incarnations of DnD were based on such a concept. But very quickly, players and developers realized that there was just as much fun and adventure to be had above ground, exploring the wilderness.
And if the plains and open roads were likely places to encounter bandits and highwaymen, monstrous warbands, and wandering NPCs, it was the darker, more secretive places that held natural mystique.
Forest Encounters in 5e
And so forest settings became a favorite place to set adventures. They are places where vision is limited, and it is easy to get lost, where furtive magicians keep their machinations away from prying eyes, where outlaws lurk, and the strangest of monsters make their homes.
And even if you are passing through, heading from the town that employed you to the castle ruins that are the location of your quest, wandering about looking for opportunity, or more purposefully heading through the trees looking for a specific goal, it is helpful if the Dungeon Master has some notes to fall back on regarding random encounters.
Forests are usually teeming with life, so having a reference chart for such unplanned events is always helpful. And if you don’t already have them, the charts below will be just what you need.
Using the random encounter charts
The charts below are divided into three tiers based on levels, and an encounter is generated by rolling a d12. This makes any result equally likely.
DMs can either use these charts to create random encounters when the players’ party is spending extended lengths of time in such wild places (the frequency of such rolls is up to the DM depending on how busy he wants the forest to be, or they can use them to help build an adventure by picking and modifying the encounters below to fit their campaign.
Use it how you wish; just remember to have fun.
Forest Encounters: (1st-5th Levels)
|1||A Green Dragon Wyrmling is seen wandering by in the distance nearby. It is actively looking for food and is no immediate threat to the party.|
|2||You hear the shuffling footsteps and mournful moans of some sort of undead, and a group of skeletons comes shambling through the undergrowth. They haven’t noticed the party but are coming closer all the time; if you move now, they might see you, but if you stay put, you will come face to face with them.|
|3||Thunder growls, and lightning cracks overhead, bringing a heavy downpour of rain. It quickly makes the forest floor slippery and hard to navigate, slowing travel time for the next 1d6 hours.|
|4||A gang of brigands suddenly leaps out and blocks your path. They demand a toll, or you will suffer the consequences. They seem intent on stealing from you but aren’t particularly well-armed.|
|5||A pack of Giant Spiders drops from the trees above and seems intent on capturing at least one party to take back with them into the treetops, presumably to eat. (Or are they under the orders and control of a nearby wizard?).|
|6||You enter a clearing to find a group of hungry-looking kobolds. They don’t have the will or strength to fight but will if provoked. If you feed them, they will furnish the party with valuable information.|
|7||A flight of Sprites approach the party and ask if you have any cakes or trinkets. They will accept almost anything, no matter how little value, and will go away happy. If the party says no, the Sprites will cast a spell on them and steal any small items of interest.|
|8||A pack of wolves wanders across the trail ahead of the party. They notice you but don’t look that bothered. They have just fed and will only attack if provoked.|
|9||You encounter a group of fellow adventurers approaching from the opposite direction. They don’t have any information concerning your adventure, but they are well-stocked and may be willing to sell you some supplies or equipment.|
|10||A Ranger steps out from the undergrowth to tell you there is danger ahead. If you offer her food or payment, they will guide you around the threat using secret paths. If not, roll twice once you get a mile down the road to reveal the encounters.|
|11||You encounter a merchant who has just been on a restocking spree in the major city and is now heading home. He has some food, basic equipment, and a few common magic items available, but the price is 30% higher than average. If you choose to attack the merchant, his glyph of warding tattoo activates, casting a teleport spell on you which relocates you a mile away in a random direction.|
|12||Ghostly orbs float out of the forest gloom, dancing about and eventually surrounding the party during a rest. The God of Travelers has sent these orbs to help ease weariness and halve the time it takes to complete the rest. If you attack the orbs before they can confer their benefits, they merely vanish.|
Forest Encounters: Tier 2 (6th-12th Levels)
|1||A Young Red Dragon is attempting to establish its domain in this area and can be seen circling overhead. Occasionally, it will dive into the forest to try to drive away and creature or person it considers a threat. It will only instigate an actual attack if you keep moving away from its domain but will respond to missile or magic attacks.|
|2||The party stumbles across a small, crystal-clear pool right next to the path that they are on. If you drink from the water or merely set any part of your body in the pool, you must make a DC 18 Constitution saving throw. Anyone who fails will fall asleep for 2d6. A remove curse spell or magic of a similar nature will break the spell and awaken them.|
|3||A storm rages overhead, but no rain falls, although lightning dances all around, eventually causing a fire to start in the dry tinder of the forest floor. The fire spreads in a random direction, it is possible to outrun it, but you can’t pass through it, which may cause the party to seek an alternative root to their intended destination.|
|4||A massive tangle of twisted roots, undulating vines, and strange fern fronds blocks the path. You can either take a detour around or try to cut a way through. If you start cutting, you quickly realize that this is a Shambling Mound that will lash out at the party immediately.|
|5||A Fire Elemental is going crazy in the forest after having just escaped after years of imprisonment at the hands of a Pyromaniac Magician. It is leaving scorching trails through the forest, and there is a chance of a small wildfire starting. There is a chance that it will spot the party and attack.|
|6||A large Warband of Lizardfolk warriors approach you and tell you that you are trespassing on their sacred woodlands. They are slightly aggressive but not looking to start a fight. They will escort you out of the forest by the quickest route possible to protect their land. If you refuse to leave the area, it could spell trouble.|
|7||A Troll wanders across the party’s path; it seems angry about something but will only start a fight with you if you give it reason. Although it is already on a relatively short fuse, upsetting the Troll might prove pretty easy.|
|8||By the side of the road are several wrecked carts, perhaps the remains of a merchant caravan attacked. The event must have happened long ago, as creepers and weeds have taken hold. If the party searches the carts, they will find a heavy cloth bag in surprisingly new condition. It has either been put here recently or may appear new because it is magical. It is actually a Bag of Beans.|
|9||As the party is resting, a Treant slowly lumbers into the camp. He is concerned that the party has been causing damage in the forest, and it is his role to protect forest life. He is friendly but may become hostile if not shown the proper level of respect.|
|10||There is a skirmish taking place in the rough clearing up ahead. It appears to be two Goblin bands, and they are probably fighting over territorial borders. Both sides are exceptionally well equipped and probably very little threat. If the party helps either side, after the combat, the goblins will guide the party to the edge of their lands and give them food and water. There is a 10% that they may also receive the honor of being a “Friend of the Tribe.”|
|11||You encounter a party of priests and devotees on pilgrimage to visit three religious sites, two of which are found in the forest. They don’t have any information to help the party on their quest but will share food and water and give them additional information to add to their map.|
|12||You hear the sound of a wounded animal up ahead. If you investigate, you find an already half-beaten Hill Giant trying to capture a unicorn that has become partly tangled in its net. If they help and defeat the Giant, the Unicorn will tell them that if they need him at any time within the forest, they should call out its secret name. Indeed if the party does call out, the Unicorn will arrive and help in whatever way it can.|
Forest Encounters: Tier 3 (13th-20th Levels)
|1||You spot a statue of an elegant elven dancer in a serene clearing in the trees. In her hand, she holds a large cup and in that cup is a Figurine of Wondrous Power. (Is it an offering? If you take it, are there consequences?).|
|2||You come across some ruins, but there are signs of recent activity in the area. If you enter the ruins, you will find an Archmage Necromancer and a horde of undead minions stumbling around. He is not overly hostile to the party but doesn’t want anyone finding out his location. It is up to the party to convince him that they will not disclose his location to prevent a conflict with him and his shambling, shuffling servants.|
|3||Some of the loggers who fell trees in the forest use Iron Golems to do some of the work for them, and one of them has gone mad and broken free of its now-dead creator’s control. It now is rampaging through the forest, destroying all in its way – plants, trees, beast creatures, humans – it doesn’t care. The loggers following it will pay you well to help destroy it before it gets near their hometown.|
|4||A mystical fog descends on the party, the after-effects of a savage magical war in this part of the forest a few years ago. The fog is challenging to navigate, making it easy to lose your way. All spells have no effect in the fog, and all Wisdom checks are rolled at a disadvantage. The fog naturally dispels in 2d8.|
|5||Some people have much to gain if the party fails in its current quest. A hired Assassin and his gang of thugs are watching quietly from nearby ready to attack when the time is right.|
|6||A violent storm lashes the forest for 2d6 hours. Trees are toppled, plants uprooted, and the way ahead is a vortex of dirt, leaves, and rain. If you choose to travel, you do so at half speed, and any Survival checks are made at a disadvantage. Once per hour, a random party member must make a DC 18 Dexterity check to avoid flying debris and falling trees. Failure results in 2d6 pummeling damage.|
|7||A Bone Devil and Chain Devil suddenly appear out of the gloom. The Bone Devil offers the party necessary and advantageous information regarding their quest in exchange for their souls.|
|8||The most perceptive player of the party can hear a low conversation in a bizarre dialect. If they investigate, the party stumbles on a deer and a badger, both standing on their hind legs and talking to each other. They quickly drop back onto all fours and start acting like regular animals. If the party can convince these animals that they mean no harm, they will provide important information concerning the forest. Or at least eliminate the need for the next random encounter check.|
|9||A strange but friendly spirit floats towards the party. They can speak but indicate that the party should follow them. It leads you to a clearing full of fragrant flowers and clear pools of water. It also contains a grave; the spirit indicates that they should rest here. If they opt to take a long rest here, they wake refreshed and full of energy, though the spirit is nowhere to be found. For the next 24 hours, each party member receives a boon; the next saving throw is rolled at advantage. The boon ends as soon as a saving roll is successfully made or when 24 hours are up, whichever comes first.|
|10||You arrive at a clear space in the forest, and an orchard of strange trees is cultivated here. The fruit looks delicious, not unlike a large red apple. One apple can provide a full day’s rations for one person, but they differ from everyone’s tastes. Before eating one, make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. Success means that the apple is nutritious; a fail implies that your body can’t deal with it, and you spend 1d12 hours with food poisoning.|
|11||An older adventurer appears on the road ahead. You recognize him; he is indeed an adventurer that has made a name for himself. He will happily give the party lots of information about the party’s current quest and the dangers of certain parts of the forest.|
|12||A strange, inhuman humming wafts through the forest, not too intrusive, just slightly unsettling background noise. The source seems indeterminable, but as the party travel, it becomes louder. Anyone subjected to the sound for a minute or more will gain an additional 4d8 temporary hit points for the next 24 hours. After 24 hours have elapsed, the hit point total returns to the usual amount.|
Kendra has always been a hardcore fantasy nerd. Growing up in the worlds of Tolkien, Sanderson, Jordan, and Abercrombie, DnD & board games just came naturally. She and her husband, Bryan, started GameCows.com in 2018 as a fun passion project that just took over their lives. An avid board gamer since childhood and chronic DnD chronicler for more than two decades, she loves to play, write, travel, and learn dead languages.