In the troupe D&D 3.5 game my group ran, I hit a turning point when I realised I was back to being a Forever GM and the sole person running the game. I had to do something more with the campaign to make my mark and signal that this was the start of a new era in the campaign. My brother had was visiting occasionally at weekends and joining in with the group’s game. He was a good, if slightly feral roleplayer, often forced into leadership roles and often demanding of their acknowledgement as the smart one of the group.
He returned briefly and made an elf ranger called Thorn. Thorn was an elf ranger with high charisma and little else going aside from wanting to romance the monk character of the player who always played anime women. That’s another story which started out creepy and ended up kind of adorably (they adopted a kobold).
Anyway, the forest. I would use a forest as a kind of pitcher plant for adventurers in the future, but this was my first go. The group had to head in for a reason I can’t even remember. Recovering an artefact or something similar. They set out, did their usual bickering and eventually found a massive forest which was evidently the adventure site. It was creepy enough at first, as the forest seemed to go on far more inside than out. My brother’s character went out ahead to scout and we had a break. At that point I told him the following: He had been replaced and not to worry as his character will be fine, he’ll even earn XP like the others. He was a changeling who served the forest, which ate adventurers. It needed people split up and isolated, taken into the lower places where it could work on them.
Thorn suggested splitting up the party and to go with the evil magician of the group, Servus, played by Steve. He was a high elf blood mage, frail and sinister. Steve and Alfred were good friends, so when Thorn said he’d protect Servus, Steve believed him. When they were going through the wetter, wilder places and Thorn said he’d be able to keep Servus’ spellbook safe. When it was handed over, Thorn stabbed Servus in the back and left him to die in the woods before turning into a flock of birds.
The others didn’t fare much better. The monk, Astarte, climbed a tall tree and at the top could only see endless woods and giant birds watching her. Down at ground level were undead adventurers, their faces covered with flat metal plates, their bodies moving in ways no longer caring about moving like humanoid bodies should.
Eventually they found one of the ways down the bottom. I put on the Silent Hill 2 Soundtrack, which still evokes these scenes in myself and some of the others. Astarte was caught and nailed to a table, barely able to fight off the undead adventurers and get out. Eventually they found Servus and the real Thorn.
It was a little clumsy in places, but it was a good shot of horror in a D&D game, it changed some of the characters and their relationships. Later on I’d experiment with a very different kind of endless forest in Dungeon World which ended up much worse. I’ve more recently found this horror easily found in Trophy Dark, a story game which is specifically a tragedy about adventurers going into a forest that doesn’t want them there to take something which doesn’t belong to them. I heartily recommend it if you want this kind of horror game.