As you travel through the thick growth of a forest, a great shadow suddenly moves over you. You raise your head fast, but whatever it was, it was faster. However you try, you don't see anything, and nothing approaches you. Maybe it is better so.
A certain patch of forest is well known for causing anyone who ventures into it to suddenly go blind. Once they leave the area their vision returns. Rumors of treasure hidden within.
On the road up Dethl Mountain, you will encounter the guardian, Rustus, a goron Pyro Mage. only those who can take the heat will withstand him. to defeat him, one must use a goron's worst enemy: water
On route from Geli to Nekrass the characters meet a peasant boy on the road. He's wandering in the direction from which they've just come. If this seems a little bit incongruous, they may wish to ask him a few questions. He's perfectly willing to talk: he's called Lamish and he's run away because he knows he is the heir to the throne of Geli and his parents didn't believe him. How far is his home? About five weeks walk from here. How much has he eaten? Nothing. Has he drunk? Only from the filthy roadside ditches. In short, it's a wonder he is still alive. And yet he seems perfectly healthy.
Is he a thief, waiting for travellers to trick? Is he lying because there's something more sinister under all of this? Is he telling the truth? And anyway, what should the characters do? Do you take him to Geli? Do you try to find his parents? Or leave him to make his own way?
In Azur, the streets are crowded, and the PCs' poor grasp of Azuran makes it hard for them to find out why. Still, they shoulder their way through the crowds, trying to get to the house of the renowned wizard they seek, when suddenly they realise they are standing very much alone. The crowds have ceased their talking and their gazes are fixed on the PCs. The imperiously clothed man standing before them smiles and speaks in Azuran: "Ah! Volunteers! And so eager too!"
There are more ways than one to encounter a dragon. With a low level group it's obviously not feasible to meet one in its lair and fight it. But standing on a bleak moorland, utterly exposed and vulnerable, it can be a chilling experience to see something flying far far overhead. Something that could just be an eagle, but you never know...
A little way up the narrow valley, before they reach the woods, the PCs notice the squat, tumbledown buildings by the riverside. They are hardly big enough for a human to stand in, and the complex cogs and shafts that occupy the central cavity of one of the buildings are perplexing. What were these buildings? And how safe are they to explore?
Alternatively a desolate place is the perfect setting for a derelict chapel or croft. There needn't be any actual physical encounter involved, but it adds atmosphere to a place to see its dead history. For instance, in the Outer Hebrides there are whole deserted villages which were razed to the ground by the English during the Clearances. Such stories give a setting authenticity and character.
Magical forests are never a good place to sleep, especially seeing as much of the population is nocturnal. Firewood taken from the wrong tree can turn against its collectors, and a strangling onslaught of angry twigs and branches can be surprisingly severe and difficult to disentangle yourself from. Fires themselves attract enemies, and not only malevolent predators. Giant moths and gloomwings are tempted by the heat and light, but are often misunderstood.
The PCs are setting up camp at the end of their first day of walking through the Esh-Inel Mountains, when they hear in the distance a low rumbling, like thunder. It grows progressively louder until it echoes off the mountainous bowls around them, then dies away again. At its worst the ground starts trembling. It happens every day at this time, and it is the noise of the Great Carts on the dwarfish underways returning home after a day mining, laden with many tons of ore.
In a crowded marketplace, a man is standing on a soapbox, orating. Some of the crowd are cheering, some hissing, some standing around saying "I can't hear a bl**dy word he's saying". It's a hustings for an election. The PCs can either leave, or stay and listen. If they do the latter, then they can vote too, and they might get quite involved in the cheering. Depending on who wins they might get quite involved in the post-election brawl too...
There are numerous possibilities with this encounter: the PCs might end up talking to one of the nervous candidates before their speech, and offer encouragement and support. Of course this candidate may well turn out to be someone with outspokenly unorthodox views, and the crowd don't take kindly to s/his supporters. Or maybe the seemingly innocuous candidate turns out to be a complete racist, and the PCs wander off embarrassedly, pretending they weren't talking to this person five minutes ago.
A fragment of letter drifts down to the street. You catch it, and unfold the charred edges.
"...know I will always lov..
..at never dies. It is th...
..f my passion that b...
...nd it cannot be ext..
....n heaven or....n hel..
....ill be by you...ide an...
...... yours foreve.........
... Mendates ........
Looking up from the fragmented text you glance around at the rooftops. There. A minute snowfall of scraps of letters is cascading from the chimney of a half-timbered house nearby.
The characters are wandering through the bustling crowds of Lasopolis. A street conjuror is performing a simple summoning spell, something for the kiddies. A bit of odious purple powder in the fire, an incantation and out pops a saak-lizard or a muhmentarsh, writhing from the flaming brazier. But the conjuror has only a poor grasp of the arcane magical tongue. A few stuttered syllables could lead to Other Things coming through the brazier and giving the crowd more entertainment than they had paid for...
Real World: some Indians in the Amazon treat their eyes with a traditional potion applied with palm leaves. Brutally painful, the drug alters vision, giving the jungle's dense green walls greater texture and dimension. You could adapt this to desert or swamps, or other hard to navigate regions.
King dresses as a commoner occasionaly and makes his way through the town. It is an unknown occurance so nobody expects it. This time he is mistaken for a thief and jailed. Not wanted to reveal himself, and always curious for the experience, he allows himself to be arrested. PCs also get arrested for something, probably guilty but pay a fine. How they act towards the 'king' could greatly change how their first meeting will be as the players always meet the king at some point.
The players see a small shrine to the local nature deity just of the trail. Before they even approach it, they can smell the foul stench of rotting meat. If they inspect the shrine, they can see it has been desecrated by rotting organs in the last few days. There is no mistaking it for an obscure ritual, the organs are thrown everywhere, not left in specific places as in sacrifice.
If the players try to clean the shrine, they will soon find it has been boobytrapped to fling sharp splinters covered in the rotting gore in every direction. While only doing a few points of damage, they injured players will likely take sick soon unless they get medical attention.
The heroes find the crumbling, overgrown ruins of what appears to be some sort of grand dining hall in the forest. Deciding that it is a good place to camp, the set up a fire in the center. However, they are woken in the night to see skeletons waltzing in the moonlight to organ music that emanates from the open air. The skeletons touch nobody, dancing around them all night.
A slight rustle of the wind... and it stands before you. A Unicorn, whiter and more beautiful than you ever imagined it. It has deep wonderful eyes, and you can't help but admire this creature. It came to have a look at you, and now it freely goes. You have not the heart to stop it, and it silently vanishes between the trees.
Note: unless specially needed, this encounter should never happen again.
You meet a large number of villagers, walking and weeping beside the coffin of an old bearded man (or adapt to your funeral customs). If asked properly, you learn about an old wizard, a wise man that long helped the tiny village to grow and prosper. Even after death he shows his favour: he gave most of his possesions to the poorer members of the community. All the villagers show him now respect this way. Why do you ask, are you adventurers? (As a last wish, he left a tiny case for the first group of adventurers that crosses the village).
Five men are herding fifteen horses down the road. They won't be very talkative, but are willing to sell a horse, or more horses if the heroes are interested. These men are horse thieves. They are already sought by regional militiamen. Anyone with a stolen horse (all are marked) may get into trouble. If found guilty, horse thieves face prison or even a hanging execution. Similar thefts have happened only a month before, and a reward is offered.
On a location with numerous webs, and at least one big spider, there is a something inside a cocoon. It is humanoid in shape, still moving. If the heroes free it (not before they kill or drive away the spiders), they meet a ... zombie!
The poor zombie wandered the dungeon alone, and tried to kill a big living creature (= a spider). The spider used the usual treatment, even if this victim did not look tasty. The zombie can be easily killed as any other zombie. It got but several doses of spider-poison, so can be something worth if it is extracted. You can mention to a druid or ranger the fact the spider had no poison anymore.
It seemed like a great place to camp. The clearing was good sized and sheltered from the wind. The brook just a few feet away. There is a natural hallow to keep the horses.
Then the night came.
It was like it became a different place. The temperature dropped. The wind, which does not seem to disturb cloth, almost cuts through you like an arctic wind. No one can sleep, as the soft ground has turned hard. The horses are uneasy. The Bats are flying over and stopping in the trees.
And then there is the eyes. There are glowing eyes just inside the tree line watching your group. The mages and clerics can detect nothing, but there is still something there.
(yet there is nothing at all... The Darkness will do nothing unless the players do something to it. And even then it will all seem to be a conincidence.)
Of course, in the morning, it all becomes sweet and light.