Into the woods: Exploring the Arástavar

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

― John Muir

Following the Tien up-river from Falcon’s Reach through the wooded hill country, the tree cover gets denser and denser until you find yourself in the mightiest forest in all of Almeri — the Arástavar. Home of the cloud-touching hartwood trees and the secretive Arást elves, the forest holds vast resources and deep mysteries coveted throughout the Cidrian Shards.

The country between the Reach and the forest itself is a lightly populated rising land of low hills and wooded copses known locally as the Rollers, and to Venitine empire as the Verden Protectorate. The empire has paid even less attention to this region than to its typical holdings (other than ensuring the continued flow of hartwood), and when they do post a governor they are most likely corrupt or exiled. The once-mighty river fortress of Verden is now little more than a trading post and night-time stopover for loggers.

Even the few Venetine forces posted in this hinterland know that their authority does not extend into the deeper forest. Only the elves hold sway there, and the few gargoyles that defy their power. The hardy loggers who work the tall timbers do so at the pleasure of the elves — and few range far from their camps.

Elves in the Arástavar

There are not many who have deep knowledge of the Arást elves, and even fewer who have seen more than a few of their settlements. They believe that they have been chosen to shepherd and protect the forest, and only allow outsiders within their domain to further this goal.

In truth, the elves are only slightly more forgiving within their communities than to those without. Most elven villages hold no more than a dozen or two family groups and those are spread loosely throughout the treetops to lessen the impact of their presence. In terms of our previous race card blog, they would be more akin to the wild elves than any other group.

Each village is given sway over a region of the Arástavar through a byzantine set of relations that leads to the Speaker — the one who holds the bond to the forest and is the final authority among the elves. The title of Speaker is granted for one year at a secret midsummer ceremony among the leaders of the scattered communities. Very few Speakers publicly admit their status.

These villages are usually made up of loosely connected family groups, or by shared philosophies and interests. They are most often built high in the canopy and building clusters joined by flying bridges and ratlines. There is little centralized power, but occasionally speaking groups of the eldest and wisest come together to make joint decisions. Few outsiders ever live long among the elves.

The Speaker also controls the Privileges that allow loggers to harvest the Hartwood trees. Individual trees are chosen within a region and outsiders are given permission to enter the Arástavar for this work. Workers at the logging camps are given little latitude to move about the forest and poaching is subject to death. Elvish craftsmen have the skills to build sky-ships and ornithopters (see details here) but their use is limited close to the ground.

They have also built working relationships with the wild gryphons that perch high atop the mighty trees. More a partnership than a rider/mount situation, a gryphon and its rider work together to achieve their goals. The gryphons are more intelligent than an average mount, and extremely proud, and might not always follow their rider’s command.

New IQ 11 Skill: Gryphon Handler (3). This talent allows a figure to climb atop and ride a willing gryphon without making a DX test. They may also fight while mounted at –1DX, rather than the normal 3. Untrained figures must make a DX test (determined by the GM) each round to stay aboard a flying gryphon.

New IQ 13 Skill: Gryphon Trainer (2). Prerequisite: Gryphon handler. A gryphon expert can soothe wild gryphons, make them docile, and convince them to be ridden as mounts. If a gryphons reaction is not hostile, they may make 3/IQ test to earn the creature’s trust and begin to train the beast. Figures with Animal Handler talent only pay 1 for this talent.

Timber is treasure

Between the dangers of the forest and the work itself, the ever-watching eyes of the elves, and the nature of rough men away from civilizing influences, the logging camps are not warm and inviting places. But the rewards for pulling down these mighty trees and bringing them to market are great, and there is no shortage of those willing to take the risk.

The massive trunks and timbers of these trees are simultaneously strong and quite lightweight, perfect for use in sky-ships and slender towers that crown Almeri’s great capitols. Weapons and tools made of the wood only break on 1-3 of 1d if attacked by a spell or broken in combat, and if enchanted only on a 1. Hartwood shields can be used with one less DX penalty. It requires a master craftsmen to work with the difficult material, and items made from it cost 10 time the normal amount

Red skies

The one group that refuses to bow the elves’ rule is the timberland gargoyles. The treetops are their natural habitat, and are not eager to relinquish their domain. Normally the tribes try to avoid attracting the attention of the elves and their fliers, but occasionally the skies run with blood. Without the magic or the craft of the elves, the gargoyle tribes rarely fair well in pitched battle. So they seek whatever support and allies they can. They work with hardwood poachers and others who would exploit the Arástavar, and its rumored that they have made even darker alliances.

Beyond the great forest the land rises even higher to the ice-capped peaks of the Yaavurii. It is said that this land is also ruled by elves, but even more reclusive and secretive than the Arástavar elves, But that is a story for another time.

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