I truly wish I could claim this idea as my own. It is a great way to throw a curve ball to your PCs and generally mess with their heads. Sadly, this idea springs from a short story I read as a child and for the life of me I cannot remember the name. Plot yes, but I have no clue on the author, other than it was probably published in either “Asimov” or “Fantasy and Science Fiction” magazines 30 years ago. If my description rings any bells, please post in the comments so I can properly source the short story.
Update: The story is called “Alien Earth” by Edmond Hamilton.
The setup is dead simple and actually a bit cliched. A local king charges the PCs with penetrating a jungle, a foul morass and determine what happened to a previous exploration party. Both parties seek a rare herb said to bring great power and knowledge.
Our party fearlessly charges into the jungle morass and after a few days encounters a tribe that might have some information about the herb. There is, of course, a catch before they will give up their secret. The party must undergo a ritual and “speak” with the local god, aided by a shaman. Lead into the deep jungle by the shaman, the party reaches the sacred grove and the ritual begins in earnest. The shaman does much dancing and the ritual culminates with the party breathing deeply of the “sacred smoke.” As the ritual completes, the shaman dies due to a snake bite, heart attack, poison dart or whatever. It is critical to get him out of the picture.
As the shaman falls to the ground, he melts to bleached bones in seconds and the bright jungle light goes dark grey. Then the PCs notice that the jungle itself begins to move and quiver with unnatural life. Vine creepers twitch and flow across the ground, seeking warm flesh. Soon, a green tide seeking to devour the PCs begins a brutal pursuit. Every step is a battle against the living jungle to reach the safety of the village.
The jungle is not magical or possessed by demons. In fact, it is a totally average jungle with the normal assortment of plant life. The sacred smoke did not bring the jungle to life, it slowed the PCs down by the factor of 1000. A subjective second for the PCs is now weeks or months of real time. The jungle is not any more mobile than before the ceremony, but now the PCs are on “plant time” and perceive the plant growth. A grey sky results from day and night flowing faster than the PC’s perceptions.
I like this encounter idea for a couple of reasons, notably it is unexpected and better than the “triffids” that populate every RPG campaign jungle. A “slow” encounter also allows PCs to time travel forward in time, years if need be. Time jumps in a campaign allow those newborn messiahs to reach a useful age and deadlines in the far future to suddenly arrive.
“We don’t have to worry about the demon lord’s awakening, that does not happen for another 10 years…. What? Tomorrow? How did that happen?”
It gives me a warm DM fuzzy just thinking about the look on the party’s collective faces.
Let me know if anyone uses this idea, I would like to hear how it goes.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer