A broad mound of bare granite sits a little above surrounding treetops, and is capped with scattered massive boulders of the same warm-colored rock. All shapes are smooth and rounded, on boulders and the elongated crest of this bedrock ridge.
Dimensions The bedrock ridge is a quarter mile (400 m) long, 500 feet (150 ) across, and presents a hundred-foot (30 m) climb from nearby lower ground. The largest loose boulder on the ridge is 30 feet (10 m) high and 50 feet (15 m) long. The smallest boulders, relatively rare, are the size of bushel baskets. The map shows boulders (with dashed insets for curved undersides with more than two feet, or half a meter, of clearance) and arrows marking uphill direction on the bedrock ridge slopes, on a five-foot (1.5 ) grid. A larger-area image for this schematic map is available for download on the FOR GAME MASTERS page.
The larger boulders, the size of small buildings, sit in a cluster near one end of the ridge top. The rounded undersides of these huge, loose rocks have enough space for a person to shelter beneath, or stoop to pass between touching boulders. While they look precariously balanced, these rocks have so much mass that they are quite stable, and very unlikely to move.
Smaller boulders, the sizes of appliances or cars, are scattered on parts of the steeper outer slopes. These make it hard to completely scan this broad area of the tor surface from any one· spot (excepting maybe the tops of the largest boulders).
Origin of these features: this whole massive rock formation was slowly sculpted by chemical erosion beneath a deep layer of soil, which widened any fractures, separated boulders from bedrock, and rounded all rock surfaces. As the soil was gradually washed away, the exposed boulders stayed in place, to ultimately rest as balanced rocks on the ridge line.
The granite surface is hard, fairly smooth, and washed clear of soil, except in some fracture depressions where a few small trees take root.
Part of the ridge crest surface, an area free of boulders, is pocked by broad, shallow pools of water in pits sculpted into the granite. These rain-fed pools are several feet (a few meters) across, a few inches (cm) deep, with vertical or even slightly overhanging rock rims. Weathering of the granite has been accelerated under these puddles; deepening them over time and helping them collect more water.
On the outer edges of the ridge, the granite is deeply weathered out along straight fractures, creating deep fissures between stone blocks. Many of the fissures on one end of the tor are wide enough to provide waist-deep trenches as hiding places. Some are even deeper, making corridors that people can move through single-file, between smooth, vertical rock walls that rise above head height. On the other far end of the tor ridge, an upper layer of partly-loosened boulders sits spaced out along crisscross fracture lines, presenting a maze of narrow, hidden walkways.
This site provides both broad views and hidden places for secret meetings. There is good fodder for metaphor and story theme in the contrasts of openness and concealment that this place affords.
In this generally forested area, this is a natural place to seek open view of the sky. Characters might also come here to survey the surrounding landscape, to meet others in an easy-to-identify place, or to escape real/perceived dangers in the surrounding woods.
The rounded crest profile of the ridge means a close horizon in the cross-ridge direction. From any single spot on even the most open ground, a viewer can only survey one of the sides of the ridge or survey much of the broad ridge top. A more comprehensive view is not possible, for someone on the ground.
Rare, small trees on the ridge provide the only easy anchor points for tent ropes, grappling hooks, wire fencing, etc.
In the maze of walkways between boulders, narrower branching fissures provide ready hiding places for objects or small creatures.
Characters might race to find/collect something hidden in rock fractures or in the rain pools, with time running short before it is collected by competitors, or ruined by exposure to the elements (a delicate fungus drying up, a document whose ink will run when dry snow around it melts, etc.).
At times without wind, the surfaces of the rain pools will be still enough to mirror the sky, looking like windows into another sky below-ground. A fantasy story might capitalize on this simple illusion, giving it more reality.
This will be an especially striking scene when partly covered by winter snowfall. The snow, dazzling in sunlight or luminescent in moonlight, will set off warm-colored boulders and bare grey/black trees.
A campfire on the ridge crest will be visible from miles away, but likely out of direct sight for anyone ascending the ridge slope (though hints of firelight may still be seen reflected off of the boulders, along with giant shadows of· those near the fire).
The different parts of the tor present extreme contrasts in fighting conditions: broad, smooth rock surfaces, constricted rock clefts, nearby places for concealment abundant or entirely lacking. This is an apt spot for a group to carefully select particular ground for combat.
With some effort, small boulders could be set rolling downslope as weapons or distractions.
For characters fighting among large boulders, it may be difficult to use weapons that are swung in wide arcs.
In late fall or early spring, the rock surface may be dry, but the rain pools may be still frozen, with slick surfaces.
The rock fracture corridors and mazes not only provide multiple sheltered approaches to the ridge crest, but have room to hide a few dozen attackers quite close by.
An explosion on the ridge might set some smaller boulders rolling downhill. Fracture clefts in the bedrock surface could provide enough trench depth for a character to shelter below the level of the blast, or survive the passage of fast-rolling boulders.
Elephant Rocks State Park, near Pilot Knob, east-central Missouri. This site has free public access, year-round.