The lost woods from the zelda series are a pretty classic location. One that initially seems like it would be great for a tabletop setting. Unfortunately, mazes in general tend to be hard to do justice for and this seems no different. I've done some searching around, reading angry GM articles, etc, but nothing amazing seems to be coming up.
Perhaps using a version of this spell?
This deck of cards system also seems moderately promising for a maze type encounter: http://exploring-infinity.com/2011/12/28/building-a-better-labyrinth-a-maze -mechanic-idea/
I'll most likely be using the deck of cards if I can't think of anything better. What ideas do you clever folk have?
Use some forest dungeon tiles and have a map of the maze behind your GM screen. That way the party can only see the area that they're currently in, and proceed out of the exits shown on the dungeon tile to the next room. You then pick up the tile and replace it with another, as dictated by your overall maze map.
That's basically how it works in LoZ (discounting Breath of the Wild).
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how to do it.. .well you don't have to have it as a complete maze, though it does help and even more so if it is between to mountain ranges or between a mountain range on one side and a body of water on the other.
now for the woods itself.
Solid fog permanently in the woods, you can not see more than 15 feet of you in any direction.
you go in and may or may not find your way out...
|Mark Hoover 330|
1. Pick any dungeon, the more confusing/maze-like the better
2. Solid Fog to contain the PCs
3. Contingencies against the following tactics: Burrowing, Climbing, Flight, Teleport
Otherwise, run the Lost Wood like a dungeon. Bonus points for including braziers or torches with minor directional magic on them, false paths that lead back to the beginning, and Zelda monsters. For more PF theme, add a minotaur and lots of forest-dwelling monsters.
Finally please note: any dungeon-forest I've run has encountered a common, singular issue - no roof. PCs have climbed a tree Bilbo-in-Mirkwood-style and either looked around or in one case just used a potion of Levitate and super-jumped away.
Consider one part of the solution: vertical monsters. Pick monsters level-appropriate with Climb speeds or that can fly, and make a "dungeon level" in the canopy. Considering that a party of PCs with a knotted rope climbing a tree has between a 0 to 5 DC Climb check, given enough time they could take 10 all the way up so deterring them with a nest of Tatzlwyrms or a green dragon or something could really put the breaks on their ambitions.
another way around the no roof part and to counter super jump away and looking around is to have said perm. solid fog all you see, so if you climbed up a tree 3 miles in the lost woods all you would see is miles and miles of solid fog.
there is also that one carnivore plant that sits in the canopy line of trees.
There's also the matter of "it's magic". If you don't take the "correct" path, it doesn't matter what you see--you end up where the magic says you end up, much like the "infinite hallway" trope, in which no matter how far you walk, the door at the end doesn't get any closer.
The principles I'd use when designing such a challenge would be
1. Make the way forward use a subtle mechanic that is simple enough once you know it but very unlikely to be stumbled upon by the average NPC. The original game just used a set path; if you knew it, it was child's play, but figuring it out otherwise would require exhaustive testing. Breath of the Wild used the wind direction (as indicated by the occasional torch) to clue the player as to which way to go.
2. Use the Three Clue Rule. Ensure that there are at least three likely ways the party might either figure out the trick or otherwise pass through the woods. Example: They could (1) find out the secret from a local druid known to be an expert on the environs; (2) use Perception or Survival to notice the wind patterns; or (3) convince one of the many forest spirits inhabiting the woods to guide them through, either via Diplomacy or perhaps by defeating it in combat or some other sort of challenge, such as performance or riddlecraft.
3. Make sure that leaving is always an option. This is more of a thematic thing--leaving the Lost Woods is generally easier than proceeding through it. It also keeps the players from becoming utterly stuck if they somehow miss all the clues before getting, well, lost.
Thanks for the advice everyone. I'll definitely be using some foggy surroundings to keep some mystery and limit the tree climbing.
As for subtle mechanics/clues I was thinking of adding a few flowers to each map(this is on roll20, so they'd be visible and not necessarily out of place). And perhaps using a trick such as the route with most/least flowers or something being the right one.
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Generally how I run mazes is abstractly, with a set number of progress points. Players start at, say 1/6, I stick them in one of a bunch of prepared sections of the dungeon for whatever encounter I want to do there. They finish that, maybe find something to progress faster or more easily. Then they tell me how they're navigating the maze, roll relevant skills, and I figure out if they progress to 2/6 or if they're still stuck wandering around 1. If the maze is big enough, eventually rations and camping and other survival concerns come up.
My experience has always been that running a fully mapped maze is an excersize in frustration for everyone involved because dead ends and backtracking are just the worst. You can alleviate this a little bit by making sure the players always get or find something no matter where they go, but that can get difficult to manage in bigger mazes.
Regarding solving for various movement abilities:
Burrowing straight through: I'm fully behind players blasting through walls Lina-style, and I wouldn't even want to stop them, though I'd probably start having a lot of encounters converging on them for more difficult situations.
Burrowing underground: Call before you dig exists for a reason; burrowing itself isn't necessarily safe and can run into all sorts of natural hazards. You really just need to have some kind of plan for how your maze operates in three dimensions. Also the players need some way to navigate while burrowing, which becomes exponentially more difficult if the maze is underground and three dimensional. In the case of a forest, I'd probably let burrowing work for solving some encounters, but trying to burrow right through would run into various encounters with underground things or obstacles.
Flying: For a forest, I'd probably just give it a thick canopy that makes getting above it not that helpful except for say, locating the direction of a fire or something. This is a pretty realistic challenge that actual aerial surveys of real forests face. For the actual Lost Woods, you could go so far as to have some kind of illusion cover that makes viewing any section from more than X feet away show players the wrong things, sort of like anti-xray mods for Minecraft servers. Obviously if there's some kind of fairy village or something, they're likely to be hidden by more than just the physical presence of trees. For something that ISN'T the Lost Woods, also note that flying high enough to get a view of the entire maze advertises your presence to everything that cares to look, which is ultimately giving more information than you get. If someone is purposely hiding out in a maze, this is going to be how you get attacked by their flying monkeys, or just how you allow them to set up an ambush for you.
Another way to kill flying as a solution is to have the players forced to navigate a forest maze in the middle of a forest fire. Smoke can be resolved in the immediate vicinity with magic, but then the mage is spending additional resources and still can't navigate by air because there's smoke everywhere. Note that you don't even need to have the fire be right where the players are for this to work. Wildfires will spread smoke for miles and miles.
Teleport: Kind of a non-issue moooost of the time, as long as the objective is IN the maze. If the objective allows you to travel around it to a known location, then your problem is more motivation than anything. You could have an encounter that forces the players into the maze and have the whole maze locked down, or just have the players realise there's goodies to be found in the maze once they're there. As long as there's some reason for the players to actually explore the maze, teleportation shouldn't be a huge issue. If you want to TRAP them in a maze, I'd suggest having it be on another plane.
I'd go for something along the lines of the Lost Woods from Breath of the Wild. In BotW they're a dense forest shrouded in fog that are tricky to navigate. Mechanically I'd have your players make a series of Survival checks for every 30 min of walking (DC 15?). If they get enough successes (5?) then they get to where they want to be in the woods.
Along the way they can go through some forest-y encounters, like fey, traps, plant monsters, wolves, a sleeping giant, etc. I'd do this in between Survival checks. If they succeed the Survival check by 10 or more they get to avoid an encounter (let them see what the encounter is from a safe distance). If they fail the Survival check by 10 or more then they automatically run into the encounter.
Some low-level encounter ideas:
-Some wolves start stalking the PC's. Give your PC's the chance to notice the wolves, then they ambush!
-A brownie is dancing around a ring of mushrooms and invites the PC's to dance with her. If they dance well she'll show them the way (auto-succeed next Survival check), but if they dance poorly or refuse she'll mislead them (auto-fail next Survival check).
-A hill giant is sleeping in a glade, an empty barrel of halfling beer next to him. The PC's can sneak past him, but the giant does have a magic sword tucked in his belt they could try to steal...
-A scared halfling runs into the PC's. He's panicky and has clearly been in the woods for several days (possibly someone from town?). The halfling has been lost and afraid of almost everything in the woods, including the PC's. If he can't get away, he'll lash out at the PC's out of paranoia. Good way to show how the woods can mess with your mind.
-PC's come across some tasty looking mushrooms. A Know:Nature or Survival check can identify the good ones to eat (treat as Goodberry) but failure will deal some Wisdom damage (can be taken recreationally, if your PC is into that).
-PC's need to cross a swampy mire to get to their destination. The muck is waist deep for a human, so small PC's will need help (possibly stilts?). There's a patch of swamp that acts as quicksand, threatening to drown anyone who enters it. Once out of the swamp water do a Heal check to see if anyone thinks to look for leeches.
-Deku Baba's and Deku Scrubs are nice and easy threats to throw at your PC's. Deku Baba's can remain still and act like other shrubbery, then try to bite and grab a PC. Deku Scrubs can shoot large nuts at them to fend them away from their territory. Not sure what their stats would be, but maybe like a Gourd Leshy?
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Burrowing underground: Call before you dig exists for a reason; burrowing itself isn't necessarily safe and can run into all sorts of natural hazards. You really just need to have some kind of plan for how your maze operates in three dimensions.
GM: "After half an hour of struggling through deep underground tree roots and bedrock, you push through a clod of dirt and find yourself in an underground hovel lit by a small hearth. A shadowy, hunched form, like an old man, turns and regards you with glimmering eyes from its shadowed face. "Pay me for the wall repair charge." You find yourself back in the forest. Your purse feels lighter."
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A 'return to the start' maze works in D&D. You simply show them a map they can travel through and then describe the world acting non-euclidean.
GM: There's a thick forest grove up ahead, it splits off into 3 directions other than the entrance you're at, North, East and West.
Player 1: I go East.
GM: You wander through the Eastern branch of the forest, you arrive several minutes later back the entrance..
Player 1: I go North then.
GM: You wander North, you find a different grove that once again splits multiple directions...
And so on until they get the patter right. Of course this is D&D so every time they fail feel free to add in a bad effect, an annoying but quick combat or a loss of time negatively impacting something.
If I recall my Zelda lore, from the early games, perhaps have a DC 10 will save, +1 per previous save, to avoid taking wisdom damage. If reduced to 0, you get Baleful Polynprphed, either to a woodland creature or one of the fairy caretakers of the Woods. Saves should be made per tile.