The Old Margreve
The Old Margreve
“The hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark, narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. …The old folk have gone away, and foreigners do not like to live there… The place is not good for imagination, and does not bring restful dreams at night.”
— H.P. Lovecraft, “The Colour Out of Space”
The Old Margreve is a mysterious and awe inspiring forest that lies to the east of Zobeck and can be reached from the city within a day or two. To a passerby, it may look like any old world forest, but everybody in Zobeck knows that there is “just something wrong with the place”. This numinous ancient forest evokes powerful feelings on three levels:
Mysterium tremendum – it unsettles the nerves of interlopers,
Mysterium fascinans – it conjures awe and intimidation the deeper one delves,
Mysterium deus – it evokes unsettling feelings of being in proximity to the supernatural or divine. Even Baba Yaga confesses of the place: ”The Margreve came before such recent inventions as gods and spells and names and language.”
In the years of the Stross Family rulership of Zobeck it is said that the forest was ruled by the Shadow Fey and that they gave permission for the Stross nobles (and ONLY nobles) to use the forest as a private hunting ground, but this is not really true, for although powerful Shadow Fey may once have existed within the forest, The Old Margreve has never really been “ruled” and in fact, appears to have a life of its own.
The Old Northern Road
In elder days, the Old North Road cut through the forest on the trade route to the rich northern cities that are now part of Morgau and Doresh, and indeed both the road and the trade still continue, although somewhat diminished. Where the road was once guarded by the eight Griffon Towers under Zobeck’s Order of Griffon Riders, this is no longer the case and the towers have fallen into disuse. However, there are still inns along the road at three day intervals where traders and travellers can rest their weary feet or beasts of burden.
The Old Northern Road is the only route that crosses the forest from one side to the other. It is also the only route or path within the forest that does not seem to change, all other paths being subject to the power of the forest itself. The road runs from Zobeck to Castle Valach, on its way to Bratislor in the north and usually takes about two weeks on foot or eight to ten days for a wagon or train.
The most civilised resting spot along the way is the Eyes of the Forest Inn, defended by experienced military men and managed by Zobeck natives. It is the midpoint on the road, but there are other lesser inns as well. Much of the traffic consists of Kariv caravans and it has often been remarked that those seen on the road do not nearly match the numbers that seem to arrive in Zobeck, prompting a rumour that some of the Kariv may have a deal with the Shadow Fey to use Shadow Roads for part of the way. Feral Griffons, descendants of the elder Griffon Order, roam the area and will sometimes attack caravans from above.
Stopping Points on The Old Northern Road
It is known that the ruins of Shadowcrag Castle lie several days to the west of the Eyes of the Forest Inn, and it is believed that other old places may exist within the forest.
This is an area about one third of the forest to the west of the Old Northern Road that is mainly flat, apart from the mound of the ruined Castle Shadowcrag and the hilly area where the forest meets the Dwarven Cantons.
Line of sight is typically 30’-60’ (1d4+ 2 × 10)
This area is about one third of the forest and consists of the area encompassing the Old Northern Road. The trees are predominantly deciduous in the south and coniferous in the north.
Line of sight is typically 50’-120’ (1d8+ 4 × 10)
This area covers one third of the total forest area, to the far east of the Old Northern Road. It is a monotonous collection of indistinguishable trees with a handful of small lakes and is notoriously difficult to track but easy to get lost in. All survival checks are at -5.
Line of sight is typically 90’-180’ (1d10+ 8 × 10)
The Life of the Margreve
The Margreve is about three quarters location and one quarter magical beast. Its personality, will and mindset are ancient, bordering on alien. It nourishes itself. It defends itself. And it remembers those who have challenged it in the past. It is in many ways like any other creature, with the notable exception that it is the size of a country.
SENSES: It enjoys a forest-wide tremorsense and recognises those who travel through it by blood spilled. The first time an individual bleeds upon the forest floor, the Margreve knows him or her and catalogues their acts under the signature of blood until they leave the forest. When an individual re-enters and bleeds again, the forest “remembers” the blood and connects current activity to the catalogues of the past. The blood of ancestors is also remembered, such that those whose ancestors once performed dark deeds in the forest will feel a great threatening presence all around them.
MEMORY: What the Margreve consumes, it remembers. In addition to recognizing and remembering creatures by the blood they spill, the Margreve absorbs many of the memories and much of the knowledge of those who expire beneath its canopy. Anyone who lays down, even for a moment, is in danger of the being held and consumed by the roots of the forest and people who have lain for more than a day, will need to be physically cut out and chopped from the very trees in order to be removed.
ATTITUDE: The forest dreams of ancient times, of the behaviours of long-dead creatures and pre-civilized forest dwellers, and as a consequence, the Margreve considers correct those behaviours of old, and believes incorrect behaviours must be pruned like limb and blossom. Interlopers who exhibit incorrect behaviour take their lives in their hands when they step into the woods, as the Margreve has an attitude toward each inhabitant dependant on the forest’s memories of their actions and their adherence to the Old Ways. Newcomers to the Margreve inherit the attitude of their closest blood relative.
MOVEMENT: Like all intelligent creatures, the forest has leraned that the element of surprise provides great tactical advantage, and using its tremorsense it can tell when target creatures are still and their heartbeat slow. The Margreve may move paths, add forks or redirect game trails at will. During the day, the canopy can be moved to block the sun’s rays and create up to an acre of dim light to affect creatures who suffer under such conditions. Similarly, it often creates the opposite effect for Vampires travelling through its domain. Landmarks cannot be trusted. A compass is the explorer’s only friend.
Global Powers of the Margreve
Aura of Rust: Iron and iron alloys rust quickly in the Margreve such that sharpening and replacement cost of rusted axes and saw mill blades makes large scale logging unprofitable. A dagger becomes broken in a day, destroyed in 2. A light metal-hafted weapon becomes broken in 5 days and destroyed in 10. Mending and Make Whole effectively repair rusted weapons.
Aura of Wildness: All beasts and animals in the Margreve have a tendency toward reverting to a feral state. Lycanthropes and individuals with the Wild Shape class feature will struggle to assume humanoid form.
Awaken and Control: The Margreve can awaken all flora and fauna within its domain to act on its behalf. The extent of this power is not known but bards sing of a great Margreve expansion when “the lands east of the Cloudwalls fell to an army of treants to rival the legion of angels”.
Reincarnation: All fauna can be spontaneously reincarnated within the Margreve.
Siphoning Magic: The Margreve siphons all magic cast within its borders. In an area where a Cure Light Wounds spell is cast, the grass around it becomes lush and vibrant. This is because the forest has siphoned off some of the power of the spell. The Margreve desires caster to cast more spells so that it can siphon more spell energy. Once a spell is cast, the Margreve recognizes that the caster “has food” and capitalizes on the opportunity to extract more spells to siphon. By manipulating trails and carrying sounds, the Margreve may route dangerous creatures toward spellcasters in the hopes that more siphonable magic arises as the caster defends, attacks and heals.
Magical Nature: All sentient inhabitants of the Margreve have some magical ability. Even those who do not normally use magic will have at least one CANTRIP or ORISON that they can use at least once per day.
The Hearts of the Forest
The power of the forest is concentrated in its hearts. There are currently two hearts – Western and Central – it is said that the Eastern Heart is yet to develop but that the timing of this event is imminent. In each HEART vast concentrations of magical power have been siphoned and stored for millennia so that the power held within each of these hearts exceeds that of major artifacts. Few interlopers are tolerated in these areas and they are fiercely guarded by powerful forest guardians.
The WESTERN HEART harnesses the bulk of its power from the Shadow Plane. The HEART’s taproots pierce the plane of shadow and grip its tattered edges, suckling on its negative energy. Shadows in the west are disproportionately long, even at noon and plant life flourishes in dim light.
The CENTRAL HEART is a place of unbridled wildness. Trails disappear behind trailblazers, poisons are more deadly, diseases more virulent and travellers devolve supernaturally to beasts. The forest uses Warp Wood and Animate Plants frequently and it is said that Baby Yaga often makes her home in this region.
The EASTERN HEART is said to be “on the cusp”. Although the Margreve crested the Cloudwalls and spilled upon the Rothenian Plain centuries ago, a new Eastern Heart of the Forest has not yet formed, but rumours abound that this is not far off.
Rumours regarding The Old Ways
Inhabitants uphold countless superstitions and traditions, representative of the Old Ways. Many vary wildly from place to place, but here are just a few with forestwide adherents:
Flora and Fauna
First Old Margreve Adventure: Hollow
These are the rough working notes for the adventure.