An innocent person missteps and starts sinking in quicksand. The hero has to hurry otherwise the person is going to drown! Or, not so much. We have seen this in the movies hundreds of times, but quicksand isn’t a drowning hazard. It’s more of a starving or loosing all our supplies kind of hazard. Quicksand is still good for adding drama and challenges in games, even without the drowning.
Quicksand forms in saturated loose sands and silts when the sand is suddenly disturbed and the water can’t escape. It becomes a liquefied soil that loses strength and can’t support weight. Liquefaction (as discussed in the earthquake article) is a specialized version of quicksand.
Quicksand forms near the coast or inland near rivers, lakes, and marshes. The area may appear solid until vibration or weight is added. If you are walking on it, the ground will sometimes feel spongy before you start sinking in. The only experience I had with quicksand was when working near an unknown wetland area. We were taking a trackhoe into a regular looking forest, but within a minute both the equipment and those of us walking started sinking. Right before we started sinking, it felt like we were walking on jello. The people on foot got out pretty quickly, but the trackhoe was sinking fast enough that the operator had to reach back with his bucket to solid ground and pull himself out.
If your characters find themselves in quicksand, they will need to apply sufficient pressure on the quicksand by wiggling their legs so that they can very slowly get out. This won’t always work without some outside help, especially if the character in the quicksand is weak or fragile. Panicking makes it worse since all the movement liquefies a larger area and causes you to sink faster. Even then, a character would probably sink up to their chest before they stop sinking. Anyone trying to pull you out should realize it is going to take time and strength. Since quicksand acts like a thick liquid, you can lay prone and” float” to help this process along.
The amount of time it takes to get out of the quicksand is the greatest source of drama in game. Dangerous animals may attack the helpers or the victim. Bandits may offer help for coin, then leave them stranded. Dehydration, hypothermia, or sleep deprivation can set in while a character is waiting for help. And annoying, but less life threatening, sunburns and bug bites could drive a person crazy after a while.
Unless your campaign has a wonderfully campy movie feel to it, use quicksand to challenge, but not drown, your players.