Thursday, February 2, 2017

Planetary Terrain: Woodlands

The Forest Moon of Endor

Woodlands, like jungles, are mature “climax” environments of large, slow growing primary producers. Unlike jungles, woodlands are subject to greater climate variation, usually tied to the seasons. Food is abundant at certain times of the year, but scarce at other times, and everything in the environment must be able to cope with the cycle. On planets with extreme climate variation, there may be no jungles, only woodlands. By contrast, on a planet with little climate change, woodlands would be rare (replaced by something akin to a temperate or cool jungle-like, high-altitude tropical forests)
-GURPS Space, Page 143
 Forests, like plains, tend to suffer from lacking a real exotic flavor.  We're more familiar with forests than we are with a variety of other terrains.  Even so, forests feature strongly in our stories, from secret, underground forests, to the forests of fairy tales to the exotic forests of alien worlds.  Forests represent the core "man against nature" story, as its the first such story most westerners personally encounter.  To us, "wilderness" means forest, and when one "goes camping" one goes to a forest.  Our image of forests as idyllic is even shaped by our desire to preserve a sense of wilderness by cultivating forests, which are closer to parks to than to truly overgrown wilderness.

Why go to a Woodlands?

For the trees!  The forest, like other places rich in live, enjoy considerable biological diversity, though slightly less than those of islands, jungles or swamps.  Still, they represent areas rich in nutrients and energy, enogh to allow great and might trees to spring up, but not so  great that they don't have to deal with seasonal fluctuations or the occasional "drought" of resources, which limits their biological diversity.  In principle, a forest might be a fine place for an exotic biological, but it's certainly a decent place for a colony.  Vibrant life means plenty of food for the colonists, and all the trees make for handy building material, and the seasonal nature of the forest often makes it a little easier to traverse than the interminably overgrown jungle, making it a happy medium between plain and jungle.

Bodhi Tree
Forests, like mountains, are often deeply tied into religion.  While the dark and terrifying nature of some forests lends them better to Broken or Dark Communion, the idea of a "sacred grove" is common throughout mythology and legend.  A forest world might hide some ancient, gnarled, psionically-infused tree at the foot of which a great mystic achieved powerful insights.

Forests, though, are harder to land in than a plain. While the land is typically easier to clear and thus landing sights possible, those who really want to get around in a forest will be better off going on foot than trying to fly directly to their location of choice, making forests another ideal "wilderness adventure."

Perils of the Woodlands

Woodlands might be warm, but we associate tropical forests with "Jungle."  Instead, a forest is more likely to be cold (B430), just not year round.

Forests, like jungles, experience both rain and fog, but seldom extreme wind (that is, the trees tend to break up the wind). Both apply a -1 to -2 to vision (IR vision halves this, as usual).  Furthermore, the darkness of the forest might apply up to a -2 to vision in the darkest parts of the forest.  Heavy undergrowth inflicts a -2 to see or attack anything at a range, and improves concealment to -4.

Forests tend to provide fairly even footing, but a profusion of roots and hilly terrain might create uneven ground.  Such ground inflicts a -2 to DX, a -1 to defense, and might require a DX roll if a character moves faster than a careful walk.  Characters with Sure-Footed (Uneven) ignore -2 to attack and -1 to defense.  Characters might also fight while on narrow branches.  This requires the lower of their weapon skill or Acrobatics, and after an attack or a defense roll, the GM might require players to make a DX roll or fall!  Characters with Terrain Adaption (Woodlands) may ignore all of the above.

General concerns are thus:
  • Rain and fog apply -1 to -2 to vision.
  • Darkness in the heart of the forest apply up to -2 to vision.
  • Dense vegetation applies -2 to vision.
  • Uneven ground: -2 to DX, -1 to Defense, and roll DX or fall if moving faster than a careful walk.
Specific Perils include:
  • Falling Tree (DF16 32)
  • Fire (DF16 32) A forest fire is often the most dramatic threat that an be offered in a forest adventure.
  • Sinkhole (DF16 33) Uneven ground and complex root networks might hide underground caverns or underground rivers.
  • Stinging Plants (DF16 33) The forests of Europe are full of stinging nettles, poison ivy or posion oak. While they're not likely to be more than a nuisance, the challenge might add some color and character to the forest.

Wonders of the Forest

The forest is most often and most thoroughly defined by the sort of trees in the forest.  Most non-tropical forest vary between "needle leaf" evergreen forests in colder climates to the broad leaf forests of more temperate climates, to "tropical forests" which we generally define as "Jungle," but it should be noted that tropical forests can be seasonal, just with "monsoon" and "dry" rather than a cold winter and a hot summer.  Thus one can also make the case that seasonality can differ from woodland to woodland.

Alien forests might, of course, have alien vegetation. We might see glowing fronds, carniverous vines, giant mushroom canopies, unusually fleshy "leaves," or just strange coloration, like deep black leaves drinking in the light of a dim red star.

More mundane plants can still prove to be most impressive.  The California redwoods, shown in the shots for the Moon of Endor, are
breathtakingly enormous and ancient. Bamboo forests offer an entirely different take on what it means to be a forest, blurring the lines between herb and tree.  The New England area is famous for the rich variety of colors its leaves produce in autumn.  The presence or absence of other vegetation might bring character to a forest as well: A forest clean of shrubbery or brush makes for a beautiful walk and brings a sense of peace and serenity.  A forest thick in hanging vines or tangled and thorny brambles presents a much greater challenge to traverse.

Life thrives in a forest, though it must move in time to the forest's seasons.  Great predators like bears and wolves stalk among its trees, only to slumber or hunger during a lean winter.  Herbivores like deer and boar make for excellent meals for any civilization built into the forest.  Even smaller animals, like songbirds and squirrels, can lend a distinct flavor or character to a forest, especially if they happen to be especially beautiful or isolated to that particular forest.

Forests have a variety of relationships with communion.  Haunted forests, full of shadows and ghost stories and twisting paths, might be twisted by Broken Communion, while demonic forests wherein children can "make deals with the devil" or where witches famously cavort, might be full of Dark Communion.  But forests, and especially sacred grove, might be holy to True Communion.

Technologies of the Forest

The technologies of the jungle largely apply here too, including the usefulness of IR visors, though people native to colder forests might invest in heat suits or expedition suits, or just thick garments (or furs!).  Forests tend to be sparse enough that hunting with a rifle becomes practical again, though most who venture into the forest will carry some sort of item to clear away brush, like an ax or a morph-ax.

A people tied to the forest will be deeply tied to its life.  They will certainly build their houses and structures from the trees, but they might even build them into the trees.  Their cuisine will be full of forest berries and meat that hunters brought back with them from the forest.  For transporation, they'll master a network of paths throughout the jungle or possibly carve out highways though the forest (and even, sometimes, through the trees themselves, if they're sufficiently large).  Like the plain, though, the forest is generally quite welcoming to human-scale life, so a society that comes from the forest is unlikely to be as alien as civilizations native to other forms of terrain.
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