On vacation, we hiked through the Red & Blue loops of Table Rock State Park, in southwest Missouri.
It was a touch under 5 miles, so if we'd stretch that path into more of a straight line rather than a distended "8", I could pretend we traversed a 6 mile hex.
A quick encounter table was generated randomly in the field (d10):
- 1-3: 1d3 bicyclers (these were also mountain bike trails, and those folks be crazy*)
- 4-7: 2d3 hikers
- 8: Woodsmen cutting trees (heard, never seen)
- 9: A hunter with a hound (heard (hound baying), never seen)
- 10: A turkey vulture carcass, spread across 3 locations
The '10' result on the above table is what generated the most interest during the hike. First, we found a piece of wing, about 4 feathers worth. The trail wound on a few hundred more yards, then, a good portion of the torso of the bird. After that, a larger bit of wing, this bit still with insects hovering around.
What happened? Was the bird caught on the ground by a bobcat or some such? Unlikely.
The torso was found hanging in a snag, about chest height. Dropped by another bird? Was there a fight? Bit of an argument over who eats what, and the group of the birds always flying about around the dam looking for trout turned on their own?
Or, as is the way of things, did one of their brethren fall to old age, and this was the obvious end, as a member of their venue turned into meat?
At any rate.
A carcass is a great encounter, or, a prelude to a possible encounter. What killed the thing? What ate it?
The additional detail of it being spread across some few hundred yards is the kicker here though - that implies much more than just a simple "pounce and feed" - there's implied conflict there. Predators taking a respectful distance from each other while feeding? An argument over the choicest bits? A combat between competitors?
The intent is to foster paranoia.
Imagine if that had been a youngish dragon. A bit of wing here, most of a torso there, more wing further along. What killed it? What ate it? A bigger dragon? A flight of griffons? A roc? Caught on the ground by a bulette? Intelligent humanoids, taking a rare opportunity to eliminate a dangerous species when vulnerable (or to harvest it's parts)?
It's a flexible introduction to a possible encounter or lair, and, if just left as that encounter and never followed up on, provides a bit of verisimilitude to the area, showing the PCs that the world is operating without them.
* The best mountain biker encounter was the ~12 year old boy just killing it up the trail, he was in the zone and moving fast, in that way only kids can pull off. Some tens of feet behind, his poor dad trying to keep up, mutters " He's cruising for a flat tire" as he passes us by. :)