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Basic Information

A swamp is a region that mixes solid land with shallow bodies of water. The water is very slow moving, and covered by abundant vegetation which in some cases may be hard to distinguish from solid land merely by looking at it, thus making movement very difficult without (flat) boats. The animals living in a swamp are likely to be abundant and diverse, and usually swamps are plagued by stinging insects such as mosquitoes. Leeches are also common in most freshwater swamps.

Swamps can occur in any suitable climate - large areas of tundra become swamp during the summer thaw - and can vary in vegetative cover from little but tussock grass (as found in many peat bogs) to a thick, jungle like tree cover. Tall grasses are also a common form of swamp cover, especially in European coastal salt marsh. The distribution of the water content may vary as well, from a uniformly wet area in which only the trees protrude, through areas in which small areas of land are mixed with open water or large shallow expanses with reeds or sedges growing through them to expanses of wet mud which may or may not be overgrown with grass, heather or myrtles. Many costal swamps are tidal and change remarkably depending on the state of the tide. One of the more alarming types of swamp is "quaking bog", in which a thick mat of floating plants, sometimes including small trees, grows over the surface of a body of water, sometimes for miles. This creates something which is apparently solid - if damp - ground with a disturbing tendency to ripple … and the occasional possibility of falling through the mat and being trapped beneath.

Alternative names for swamp include "marsh", "bog" and "fen" … most of these names have precise, or at least original meanings as well but tend to get used quite promiscuously. Strictly speaking, the generic term is "wetland" and the word "swamp" refers only to the fully wooded version, but that level of detail is not usually preserved outside technical documents. Here's a quick bullet list of the differences:

Terrain hazards include quicksand and/or quickmires, drowning and the local wildlife. Disease is usually rife as well, often due to the biological diversity - besides whatever is transmitted in those insect bites, the bites themselves and any other injury will be nearly impossible to keep clean, food, clothing and skin will suffer from being constantly wet (not to mention cold in many circumstances), and whilst there's plenty of water, very little of it is microbiologically safe. Navigation in swamps is traditionally difficult as well ("it all looks the same to me"), which makes everything else that much worse. Being constantly wet can also lead to skin problems for those not adapted to it.

Swampland is usually marginal, inhabited by small (and frequently migratory) populations. Dependent on the nature of the swamp they may support themselves by fishing, gathering and selling reeds and reed based crafts (or other bog plants as appropriate) and/or by hunting and gathering. Those looking to harvest and trade more exotic resources of the swamp include the leech-collector, bog iron hunter, fowler and fueller.

Few food crops except rice stand much chance of growing in swampland. Swamps associated with rivers are sometimes good places to sift for alluvial gold or gemstones. Cutting of peat from peat bogs is often a significant industry and some varieties of wetland develop bog iron which can be a useful resource on a small scale. The production of bog butter is done in bogs as well. The rushlight is traditionally made from rushes that grow in wetland areas. One other notable swampland product historically was the papyrus reed which was the primary source of paper for the classical world and the ancient near east.

List of Swamp Monsters:

Because it's always fun to introduce a cryptid to your hazardous water:

Dangerous animals (of the mundane / real-world) native to swamps:

List of Noteworthy Swamps

Real World

Fictional or Conjectural Swamps

  • The Dead Marshes of Dagorlad.
  • Swamp Planet, because you can't get more noteworthy than "the size of a whole planet" :)
  • The Wran, of Osten Ard.


Game and Story Use

  • As swamps tend to combine low visibility with slow movement rates, it is extremely easy for a fugitive to hide in one - presuming that he is familiar with the terrain, of course.
  • Many stories tell of "swamp monsters" that ambush travelers in a swamp - and given the local conditions, a surprise attack is rather easy to justify.
  • Swamps also make good hideouts for undead - since they don't need to breathe, they can wait underwater indefinitely while the characters are very close by and unaware.
    • Until, of course the undead creature attacks with a Deadly Lunge.
    • Bog mummies being particularly good for this role.
  • The deadly lunge might also be quite good through quaking bog - even if you escape the critter, you still have to get through three or four feet of thick plant mat before you can breathe again.
  • Dungeons in swamps … not as silly and idea as they sound. Occasionally a swamp forms because you get a thin layer of earth on top of a sheet of impermeable rock that prevents water draining away. The dungeon builder constructs a caisson, pumps it out and digs down to the rock. He then puts up a permanent, waterproof structure and breaks through the rock into whatever lies underneath.
  • Castles in swamps can be built in a similar fashion - or even just by building an artificial island. Once built they are hard to besiege since the attackers will have great difficulty establishing siege lines, sapping and mining or bringing up siege engines. As Hereward the Wake demonstrated a well fortified base in a swamp can be very hard to reduce - the Normans only managed to dislodge him after a monumental engineering effort that involved draining large areas of swamp and building a series of causeways and artificial islands.
    • Unless the attackers are lizardmen or something similar, in which case all bets may be off.
  • Swamp dwelling communities are often insular and isolated (and frequently inbred as a result) … good places to play up a variety of horror tropes up to and including Innsmouth.
  • Swampers are liable to have good boating and/or swimming skills and, likely, good local area knowledge. Other skills will depend on the swamp and how they live in it.
  • Quaking bog terrain could be extended in some settings into sea-water, with thick costal mats extending out from land, and perhaps occasionally breaking off to form a floating island. This is unlikely on more violent coastlines, but on those where wave and tidal action is limited - especially inland seas and great lakes - it is entirely possible. Similar assemblages of seaweed have also be used in fiction - in real life these things are not load-bearing but, again, fantastic versions can be quite robust.
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