“If you go down to the woods today,
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go down to the woods today,
You'd better go in disguise…”
I enjoy coming up with interesting places and people. So far we’ve been to Swamp City, Nazawrath, and met with the Midnight Ramblers. This week we’re off to the forests for some arboreal adventures and to listen to the songs from the wood. Ramble on!
Bestiary and Persons of Interest
More apex-predator than bucolic forest dweller, the Ghillies are unparalleled in stalking, hunting, and killing. If by the off chance you walk into some while traipsing through the woods, they are never surprised, ever. In turn, they always surprise, 100% of the time. It doesn’t matter how many rangers you have in the party, no one ever sees a Ghillie coming. In combat they favour bows and short blades, seldom using long swords or weapons of that ilk because they prefer to do their killing silently. They craft their arrow points from bone, and their stabbing/slashing weapons from flint and antler. They clothe themselves in the colours and the materials of the forest thus making them nigh impossible to spot. They use a plethora of poisons on their blades and arrows, ranging from the relatively benign to the downright deadly. Class all movement as silent, and visibility as if they were garbed like elves in their wooded environs. Because of their stealth and use of their natural environment, treat the first time they strike an opponent as if their enemy had been successfully backstabbed, even if the Ghillie was attacking from the front.
It’s rumoured they operate under impunity granted by the Arch-Druid himself, and are in essence assassins under his druidic control. They never attack without provocation though, and prefer to lay waste to bands of marauding orcs, goblins, bandits or anything else that may cause the forest and her inhabitants harm. However, if they feel cornered, or in any way threatened, they will attack. They sometimes perform bodyguard duties to high ranking Druids who have business far from their own forest holds.
They weave no spells, instead they rely on their natural skills and abilities of tracking and hunting that have been passed down from generation to generation. They are a nomadic peoples the Ghillie, preferring to spend each night in a different place, leaving before the sun rises. The Ghillie are rare, no one is very sure just how many there are in the realm, nor are they sure of their exact make up. They never mix with anyone else save the Druids, and the Druids are forbidden to speak of them. They are a mystery the Ghillie, a window into an older time, because surely, these primordial forest children were there when the first acorn was planted?
The Ghillie can be found in any forest, wood, wald, or woud there is. It’s not known if they use anything for transportation except their own feet, but they travel light and rely on the forest for food, shelter and medicine. Their language is not known outside of Ghillie or Druidic circles and they can also communicate in their own version of Thieves Cant. They also make fiendish traps to ward off people from areas that they would see protected.
|Ghillie Spike Trap|
For every ten Ghillie encountered, one will be at least a fifth level fighter. For every thirty Ghillie you come across there will be two fifth level fighters and one eighth level. Just who is in charge is anyone’s guess, and it’s said that men and women can lead a pack of Ghillie, they make no distinction between the sexes, and even the very youngest fight as a level 1 warrior. It’s said that those that survive an attack by the Ghillie are offered up in bloody sacrifice to Herne the Hunter, Protector- Deity of the forests. They also worship the Jack-in-the-Green, and are always a part of the Ceremony of the Green Slumber. (More on this below)
As far as treasure is concerned, they have no use for shiny coins or gaudy baubles, and these will be scattered around the corpses of the fallen as a mark of disrespect to their vanquished foes. They communicate with forest animals and use them to pass word from one group to another. They prefer dealing with badgers and squirrels for short distance message carrying, and crows for anything more than several leagues.
Jack in the Green
‘Have you seen Jack-In-The-Green?
With his long tail hanging down.
He sits quietly under every tree
in the folds of his velvet gown.
He drinks from the empty, acorn cup
the dew that dawn sweetly bestows.
And taps his cane upon the ground
signals the snowdrops it's time to grow.
It's no fun being Jack-In-The-Green
no place to dance, no time for song.
He wears the colours of the summer soldier
And carries the green flag all the winter long.’
A rare and powerful guardian of the forest, the Jack in the Green is a sworn protector of all that live there. Incredibly tall, incredibly strong, he answers to no one, not even the druids. Jack is, as Jack does, and gods protect you, if you get on his bad side. Jack never dies, and Jack never sleeps, instead he patrols the forest for hours on end ensuring that all is well in his realm. He uses the birds and the beasts as his eyes and ears and he utilises the special skills of the Ghillie where needs be. Jack is a living thing, created from the flora of the Slumbering Green, and were his physical form ever damaged, or destroyed, it is to the Slumbering Green he returns to await the cycle of rebirth. While in this state, the Ghillie set watch in the Glade of Shadows where this magical transformation takes place. When in combat, Jack summons Tree-Kin, Ghillies and Swathe Elementals to his aide, as well as the regular denizens of the forest. He uses the grass, roots and trees to Entangle his foes, then douses them in Faerie Fire for added effect. Jack casts druidic spells as if he were a fifth level druid but prefers to duke it out old school. Jack can meld with the Root Mind of the living world, and travel vast distances to where he is needed most. He will sink into the earth and reappear wherever there is plant life.
Wildman of the Woods
Not much is known about the Wildman, except that he is shy and will do anything to avoid being seen. We know he exists, because the famed ranger, Greenslade Fane, has been studying them for years. Males stand between 8-10 feet tall, while the females are only marginally smaller. They tend to live in caves in the forest, near a source of fresh running water. They hibernate in the winter. Their diet consists of berries, roots and very occasionally meat, but this is the exception rather than the rule. They weigh around 350 pounds and one swat from their ham-sized hands would be enough to break your neck. If you see one coming, better turn the other way. They are peaceful for the most part, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Herne the Hunter
“Sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest,
Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight,
Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns;
And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle,
And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain
In a most hideous and dreadful manner.
You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know
The superstitious idle-headed eld
Receiv'd, and did deliver to our age,
This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.”
— William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor
A woodland deity, bloody, bold and resolute. He is primal savagery given flesh, and, just like nature, he is red in tooth and claw. Clad in a helm of antlers, wearing armour of bone, and wielding a sword of ice, the Hunter and his pack of hounds stalk the wilds in search of wrongdoers to punish for their misdeeds, no matter how slight those wrongs may be. All transgressions are met with swift punishment, the severity thereof depends on Herne’s whim. Sometimes they would pay with their life, sometimes with the promise to do something for the horned hunter. Whenever the gods would track someone across any of the plains of existence, it is Herne they set on their quarry. He is a master tracker that sees all, not even invisibility could work against him and his hounds. Herne also ushers in the change in the seasons, and his celestial passing is tracked with great interest by the druids, who use their dolmens and standing stones to great effect. Lustful and wild the one moment, slothful and melancholy the next, Herne is a true servant of the Great Cycle.
The Hounds of Winter
“I still see her face
As beautiful as day
It's easy to remember
Remember my love that way
All I hear is that lonesome sound
The Hounds of Winter
They harry me down…”
Great hounds, massive beasts with tongues and breathe of wintery cold with flanks the hue of fallen snow, and their eyes! Their eyes are as blue as the icicles that hang from the boughs of the World Tree, and they sparkle and flash like lightning out of a vaulted winter sky. In addition to the terrible damage wrought by their sharp claws (1d8) and fearsome bite (1d10) they can breathe out gouts of frost (1d12) that will slow their opponent. Like Herne, they are keen hunters and nothing escapes their keen sense of sight, or smell. Not even being invisible can shake these dread hounds from your tail.
The Green Knight
A burly Knight of the Wood who journeys far and wide teaching the uninitiated in the ways of Chivalry and Honour, (and some say stupidity) through his use of the ancient ‘Beheading Game’. The Green Knight approaches those in need of the lesson more than most, and proposes that if they are brave enough, they may cut his head from his shoulders using his emerald axe. Not many take the Green Knight up on his bizarre offer because the caveat is as follows: that the Green Knight will return in a year and a day to do the same to them. If the player accepts the dare then he will indeed sever the Green Knights head from his massive shoulders, but the knight will not die, instead, he will pick his bloody head up by the hair, and say through his now bloodless lips, that he shall return in a year and a day to collect on his bargain. And so, no matter what happens, he will return, and if the person refuse to kneel and stretch their neck before him, they will be cut down and killed where they stand. However, if they acquiesce, then they are spared the fate of a beheading. Just what the lesson is in all of this is lost on most scholars, but the most famous player of this ‘game’ was Sir Gawain of Arthurian Legend.
The fury of the forest given form. The swathe elemental can only be summoned by Jack in the Green, or by Herne the Hunter. Not even the Arch Druid has access to such mighty creations. Unlike most elementals, they are far from stupid, and do not resent being summoned to do their Master’s bidding. When angry, they appear like a large tree covered with snapping, thorn filled branches, as well as long vines for entangling and strangling their foes. When at ease, they appear as a human carved from wood, resting in the shade of a tree. There is no duration to how long a swathe elemental may walk the earth, only being dispelled by their creator will send them back to the Slumbering Green. So, they could be set to watch a particular area in the forest for many years without anyone being the wiser. They can only be struck by weapons of magic, and fire does double damage to them. When reduced to one hp or less, the life-blood of the swathe elemental is jettisoned into the ground through its roots to give life to the Slumbering Green, if it is needed, so, in essence, they never die, they are recycled and thus go onto to feed the next one.
The Vagabond King
A charismatic chap who rambles the greensward in search of easy marks. He does not use violence though, and abhors killing, much preferring to knock someone unconscious with his blackjack than stab someone with his dagger. He likes to target fat, slothful, merchants and bankers who have more than they could possibly spend. He travels with four extremely viscous Halflings though, who have no compunction about killing. Their names are Neeps, Tatties, Kith and Kin. The Vagabond King has to give them extra shares of the loot to sway their killing hands. He only keeps them by his side as he swore a dying oath to their mother. Were it not for that, he would be glad to see the last of their little bloodthirsty backs. There is a high bounty for the King, and an even higher one for his pack of feral Halflings, and the forest is littered with the bodies of those who have tried to collect, and failed. Be careful when you meet the King and his Halflings, you never know how it may go.
Oddities & Rarities
Chapel in the Green
An ancient place that was old when the lands were young. Many have worshipped here over the years, and the gods to which the chapel has been dedicated to, number in the thousands. It is a holy place, but it was built in honour of the Slumbering Green, as opposed to a god. There is always a caretaker set to guard the chapel and offer succour to those that need it. Once a person is inside the chapel, no bad deed can be performed there because of the overwhelming goodness of the Slumbering Green, and thus, this turns an evil mind who would hurt, to one that would help. Once such a person leaves the Chapel, that initial sense of euphoria and wellbeing will fade away, leaving the chaotic person somewhat dazed and confused. The caretaker is bound to house, feed and heal anyone who needs it, and will gladly accept any donations that the party (or persons) will make. Unbeknownst to nearly everyone, (except the caretaker) there is a swathe elemental right outside the front door that will aid the caretaker and the chapel if need be. If a person were to spend the night and pay a small tithe, they would receive a plus one to all their Saving Throws for that evening, and the following day.
Sword in the Stone
A moss covered boulder that does indeed have a sword sticking out of it. There is a motif of a sleeping dragon carved into the stone. The sword is a permanent illusion though, and it will disappear the moment someone tries to grab it, and draw it forth. However, that being said, let the players roll percentage dice, and, if one of them rolls a 1% then the sword is indeed real! It is Caliburn, a sword of legend. A longsword of +3/+5 vs. Dragons. It will vibrate and hum whenever a dragon is near. The wielder will automatically take only half damage from dragons’ breath and is immune to its charm.
That’s what happens every seventh day, the people of the forest gather right after sunset to listen to music, swop stories, and generally catch up with all the news. The entertainment is provided by a singing group called The Beetles, which are famous throughout the greenbelt. The get-together is called a Hop, in honour of a type of dance that is performed to the music.
The Trees of Cloth
A tradition to mark the passing of a loved one, a piece of the deceased’s hair, or clothing is tied to a tree and left. It is done to ensure that the soul of their loved one makes the journey to the other side successfully. It is bad luck to remove any item of clothing from any of the trees.
Unanswered prayers? Well head to the Tree of Coin to remedy that. When you feel that things are just not going your way, drive a coin into the boughs of the Tree of Coins, say aloud what it is that you are looking for, then leave. Hopefully your luck will change for the better. You may only hammer in one coin per new moon. It goes without saying that taking from the Tree of Coin would be a bad, bad, thing. The kind of thing that might even get you on Herne’s bad side if you were ever to cross paths.
Random Encounters/Plot Hooks
You stumble across the slain bodies of several centaurs. A local druid beseeches your help in tracking down, and bringing to justice, their killer.
A Dryad spirit has been kidnapped by an evil entity that has set up home in the forest. Find out what it is, destroy it, and help the Dryad back to its kind.
Bear with a sore head
A bear is seemingly responsible for several fatal attacks in the past few weeks. Find out what’s going on.
A prince has escaped his tyrannical father and fled to the forest. Help guide the boy to his mother, the queen, without being caught by the Kings bloodthirsty bondsmen.
I’m not really one to mix Sci-Fi with my Fantasy, but I couldn’t resist a nod to E.T. Help a group of Greys find their friend who disappeared over a week ago while exploring the forest. Perhaps he was captured by an evil witch? If she gets her warty little hands on any of his alien technology, she could become damn near unstoppable.
|Sit back and listen to the songs from the wood.|