An Adventure in Five Acts – Prelude
The Forest is a kingdom that comprises the entirety of a single, lone island in a vast ocean with no end. It has a culture not dissimilar to that of Late Anglo-Saxon England or Ireland (early 800s), with similar myths, legends, and tech level. The realm mainly comprises vast tracts of wild, ancient, open forests, with many of the trees in them being well over a thousand years old. Young mountain ranges with sharp peaks are on the rimward (north), dawnward (east), and duskward (west) coasts*.
Traversing the forests are three major rivers that flow from the rimward, dawnward, and duskward mountains (Blue River, Dawn River, and Dusk River, respectively) into a central lake (King’s Lake). From here, another river (Lake River) leads to Big Beach, a beach-like area on the hubward (south) coast. It is these rivers that are the main arteries of the land – there are literally no roads on the island and goods and people are transported by boats and barges that can sail upstream using the prevailing winds but must be rowed downstream. Lake River ends in a shallow delta that cannot be navigated. Only very few people – if any at all – have ever ventured out onto the sea because out there, as everybody knows, violent currents and winds snap barges in two like matchstick toys; giant ships manned by ice giants attack everything on it; megalodon sharks eat anything and everything they find in and on the water. As a result, The Forest has no contact with the outside world – if such a thing exists.
The island is not very large – it is said that it will take about ten days to get from one end to another. Apart from Big Beach and the coastal mountain ranges, some notable features of the realm are: the Three Brothers, three large craters at the heart of the rimward mountains and estimated to be some 15,000-18,000 feet high, with the surrounding mountains ranging between 3,000-15,000 feet; Apple Island, where the King and his court reside and which – if not because of its apple-like shape – gets its name from the many apple trees that grow there, which, incidentally, yield an excellent cider; the Isle of Bread, which gets its name from the fact that it looks like a loaf of bread and which is separated from the main island by a strait with dangerous shoals and currents known as the Shark Straights,
The population is human. Faeries, pixies, dwarves, elves, monsters, and dragons are known only from fairy tales, with only very few exceptions. In fact, the only ‘monstrous’ creatures on the island are giant versions of regular animals.
Climate: The Forest has a distinctive climate, with the wind always blowing inland and big differences in temperature between the seasons. Winter lasts for two months and is cold, with lots of snow and temperatures ranging from some -15 to -20°C; spring and autumn also last two months each and both are characterized by strong winds and thunderstorms; summer lasts for four months, the first two months being known as the First Summer and the second as the Second Summer, with temperatures habitually rising to some 35°C towards the end. A year has ten months, which each month having 40 days and a week counting ten days and hence known as a ten-day.
Politics: The realm comprises twelve duchies, each in turn divided into baronies, perhaps 40 in total. The duchies are A: King’s Castle, Apple Island, or Lake District; B: Duchy of Wyrsn; C: Duchy of Dara; D: Duchy of Thuxra; E: Duchy of Bagabuxsha; F: Duchy of Palava; G: Duchy of Mim; H: Duchy of Sarazin; I: Duchy of Nisibis; J: Duchy of Dauberval; K: Duchy of Weald; L: Duchy of Blurh. The wealth and influence of each duchy is measured by the length of its river fronts. Because the Duchy of Mim has no important river on any of its borders, it is considered to be the poorest.
Society is hierarchical to the extreme, not dissimilar to the feudal societies of the early European Middle-Ages. All dukes answer to a single King who rules as primus inter pares rather than as an absolute monarch. In times of peace, the King is either succeeded by one of his descendants or a new one can be appointed by the dukes upon his death. The current King is called Adelwolf Rex Paternoster III and he peacefully succeeded his father to the throne. His wife, the Queen, is called Elexa and the pair have three children – two daughters (aged 14 and 11) and one son (aged 8). Since men and women are considered equal, the King’s eldest daughter is the current successor to the throne.
The opinions the various dukes and barons have of each other range from disdain to outright animosity. For example, dukes often consider barons to be little more than soldiers with an attitude, while barons regard dukes as their equals but with a big mouth. In another example, the dukes of Nisibis, Dauberval, and Weald all consider themselves to be the rightful ruler of all three duchies – this because these three duchies were only created relatively recently when the duke who ruled all three of them as one was elected King and divided his lands among his three sons.
As a result, military skirmishes are not unheard of, although large-scale battles and outright wars occur only rarely, with the last major war having been fought some 150 years ago. An important reason for this is that there are strict rules as to the number of soldiers the King (500 men), the dukes (150 men), and barons (50 men) can keep. The most recent political disturbance to speak of was the result the discovery of a rich diamond mine in the rimward mountains some 50 years ago. Many dukes laid claim to it until the previous King (the father of the current King) decided to create the Duchy of Blurh, which now comprises only said mine.
Never in the history of The Forest have their been conflicts or wars with creatures, peoples, or entities that did not come from the realm itself.
Population and Settlements: The Forest counts some 120,000 registered tax-payers, which has led some to estimate the total population to be about 240,000 souls, some 1,400-1,500 of which make up the ruling classes. The vast majority of the population live in settlements on the rivers, which leaves the forests to animals and the occasional outcast, hermit, or bandit. The King and his court live on Apple Island in King’s Lake.
Of all regular settlements, those on King’s Lake are the largest and most ‘cosmopolitan’. Indeed, virtually the entire lake shore has been ‘urbanized’ and the settlements here are centers of trade, culture, and education, with some notable examples of the latter including the Royal Aristocratic Academy, the Bard’s College, the Boatsman’s College, and the Engineers’ College.
The people live in what are called barrows or boat houses, which are or represent upturned boats covered with a thick layer of earth. The simplest version of a barrow has a central entrance leading into a central room with a room to each side – usually a bedroom and a pantry. In the middle of the central room a fire is kept burning in a large construct consisting of four metal legs supporting a metal plate used for cooking. Fixed to a hole in this plate is a metal pipe that leads through an opening in the roof – the chimney.
Even the King lives in a collection of barrows, in this case vast edifices with ornate halls, stately rooms, bedrooms, and grand staircases to rival those of the richest Medieval mansions.
Religion: The divine is represented by ‘the three faces of god’, known as Olm, Ilm, and Ulm. This ‘god’ is not so much a god the classical sense of the word as that ‘he’ is a representation of life – or perhaps nature – with each of his ‘three faces’ representing ‘three major aspects’ of life as it is seen by the Foresters.
Olm’s three major aspects are woods, battle, and festivals, each represented by its own symbol: a treant, a treant-satyr hybrid, and a satyr, respectively. Olm is considered to represent the male aspects of life and the main body of his followers are male Druids, Rangers, Bards, and dedicated Priests. Of note is the legendary Tree of Olm, a tree that is said to hand out gifts to people who can find it. Unfortunately, the tree has no fixed location: it appears in random locations all over the island and then disappears again.
Ilm represents women and the female aspects of life and her three major aspects are: life, children, and the harvest, often symbolized by a mother and child, fruit, and a sheaf of corn, respectively. Some 200 women can be considered to actively serve Ilm in some sort of way and among these are Witches, dedicated Priestesses and, for example, midwives. Most villages have special Women’s Houses, places where women go for council, for company, and to give birth. A legendary item associated with Ilm is the Kettle of the Coven, a golden kettle said to be guarded by a coven of priestesses of Ilm and believed to be able to predict the future and brew magical potions.
Ulm represents the evils of life – shadow, death, and disease, his symbols being a headstone (headstones are shaped like Celtic crosses), a black circle, and skulls. Ulm has no clergy as such and is ‘revered’ only by people who are somehow associated with one or more of his aspects, most notably gravediggers and funeral singers. A legendary weapon associated with Ulm is known as the Sword of Shadows, which is believed to instantly slay all whom it strikes.
It should be noted that all three ‘artifacts’ mentioned above are known only from myth and legend. There is no proof they actually exist.
Scattered all over the island are holy places, each dedicated to one of the ‘faces of god’. Pilgrimages to these holy places are quite common and the reasons for them are many and varied (e.g., spiritual guidance, before major undertakings, to bless a marriage or newborn child, to beg for some other favor). The holy places are typically dominated by some striking natural phenomenon (e.g., a cascade, a rock formation, a specific tree). Among the better known examples would be a giant lightning-struck black oak on King’s Lake (Olm) and Ilm’s Rock just outside of Big Beach (Ilm). Only very few of these holy sites feature temples or shrines and any man-made structures found there have usually been built by people seeking to make money off pilgrims.
Economy: The people of The Forest are largely self-sufficient, which makes that they normally travel only to go on pilgrimages and that there is no organized trade to speak of it (no guilds, no shipping companies). That is not to say that trade does not exist: commodities such as specific kinds of lumber, agricultural produce, fish, minerals, finished products are still transported from areas where they are found or produced to those that require them – but on a small scale only.
People are used to seeing to their own needs, cutting their own trees, growing their own food, collecting their own herbs, and so on. Even if one could find a ‘herb shop’, the owner would probably have to take an order and then go to the woods to collect the herbs before he can actually sell them.
Magic: Magic is the domain of sorcerers and sorceresses, individuals who have somehow gained the ability to generate strange effects that emulate standard spells, often as the result of some sort of traumatic event. While these individuals are not exceptionally rare – some 100 are known to exist – the vast majority of them can generate perhaps one or two of such effects. There are only a handful of sorcerers of greater power, each known for one or two signature spells. Among these are Loremaster Fist of Big Beach, a 50-year-old former boxer who can ignite objects by touch; James of the River, a 40-year-old man who lives on a riverboat and speaks with fishes; Wandering Bandolo, a 30-year-old sorceress without a fixed abode who can find things and make them disappear; Magus Seaworthy, an 80-year-old man who lives on what is said to be a sea-ship and who can fly and control the wind; and Roald Blackstaff, a 40-year-old man with a nasty reputation who lives in the Duchy of Weald and who can kill living creatures by filling their lungs with some liquid. The most powerful of the sorcerers is Augustus Magister Rex, the 60-year-old rector of the Royal Aristocratic Academy and Adviser to the King.
Enter the Party
The players are informed that the party is to consist of a group of young nobles, each the son or daughter of a duke. These noble heroes are to have enjoyed an education befitting their status, making all of them 1st-level Fighters with the NWPs Reading/Writing, Etiquette, Heraldry, and Land-based Riding. After that, they can be of any single class the players like, in effect resulting in either dual-classed 1st-level characters or 2nd-level Fighters.
The PCs were educated at home until their parents decided that the time had come for them to start their studies at the Royal Aristocratic Academy and it is here that our noble heroes met and got to know each other before they finished their studies and returned home.
Sir Eber Ard Weald (Fighter 1, Ranger 1) is the eldest son of the Duke of Weald. He is incredibly strong and often states that he has been “groomed as the right hand” of his elder sister, the future Duchess of Weald, to whom he invariably refers as his “wee sister”. After his education, wanderlust and a love of nature and solitude made him choose the path of the ranger rather than that of the knight. In his own words, Sir Eber is currently assigned to “guard and rule the headstrong poachers and miners in the mountainous outskirts of his father’s duchy in preparation for his future office”.
Sir Navarre Dauberval de Vergennes (Fighter [Noble] 2) is the firstborn son of the Duke of Dauberval and, as the ducal heir, he has been raised to a life of hunting, knightly combat, nocturnal revelries, fine food and choice ciders. With the exception of his time at the Academy, he has spent most of his life in the family castle in the mountains, a stone edifice most of his peers consider to be socially questionable. It is here that he learned to ride**, hunt, and survive on his own and often stared in wonder at the giant eagles soaring high above the snow-capped peaks.
Sir Oengus “Moon” of Nisibis (Fighter 2) is the son of the Duke of Nisibis, second in line to the throne behind his elder sister. A man of few words when among his peers, he has but little interest in affairs of state and a love for the rivers instead. Although educated at the Academy like all noble sons, he only feels truly at home on the water and in the company of bargemen, sailors, and other river folk.
Sir Oerknal of the Forest (dwarf; Fighter 2) is a strange, squat, bearded creature many consider to be a changeling for lack of a better word. According to Sir Eber, the creature was acquired by his grandparents a long time ago, who raised it as one of their own children. This makes it quite a lot older than the rest of the noble heroes – that is, in years.
Sir Suvali Ard Wyrsn (Fighter 1, Sorcerer 1) is the youngest son of the Duke of Wyrsn and the last in line to the ducal throne. He is a calculating individual who proclaims to prefer peace and quiet to the bold escapades of some of his more flamboyant fellows. Weirdly, he seems to persist in attempting to steer conversations to certain “restful nights” at the Academy.
Sir Scaralat de Sarazin (Fighter [Cavalier] 2) is the firstborn son and heir of the Duke of Sarazin, a
Every year, starting some 14 days after the spring storms have ended and the rivers have calmed, the King proclaims The Fortnight, a festival to which all dukes and barons are invited and which most attend. The festival is held on Apple Island and it can be compared to the ‘start of the season’ as it was known in Victorian times. It is a time of meetings, revelries, theatrical performances, dances, grand banquets (food and drink are big things in The Forest), afternoon parties, and charitable events***. Eligible young men and women are presented to society and the Great Council is held, which takes political decisions, discusses and possibly resolves disputes and passes judgment on matters of importance. This year, it seems that all ducal houses are present, which means that there will be about 1,500 Foresters on the island, some 400 of which will be nobles and another 400 the King’s soldiers.
This year, the Fortnight is a prelude to the Royal Tour, which will see the King and his courtiers leave King’s Castle to go on a grand tour of the duchies lasting most of the summer. An annual event until some 100 years ago, the Royal Tour now takes place only once every five years.
And so it is that we join our noble heroes on Apple Island, where they have renewed their acquaintance. Some of them have sat through the Great Council and even Sir Eber’s bearded creature has been presented to society.
Presently Sir Navarre and Sir Scaralat have escorted a company of eligible damsels to a number of gondolas for an evening tour on the lake and a midnight picnic with some excellent wines and expensive dishes. Our noble heroes are determined not to let the fact that the island is under heavy guard (soldiers are stationed along its shores at regular intervals) spoil what promises to be a sweet summer’s night.
* The Forest is located on top of a pillar rather than on a spherical body.
** The horses of The Forest bear little resemblance to the bred horses of the knights of Medieval Europe. Rather, they are more like wild horses – or even ponies – able to survive on their own and without requiring additional fodder.
*** It should be noted that these charitable events are often aimed at lifting the spirits of the poor rather than actually providing them with any succor. Attending the performance of a fine play, a demonstration of the newest dance, a place among the servants at the tables – these are all considered appropriate ways to strengthen the resolve of the less fortunate in the face of their daily hardships.