The Keepers of Forgotten Secrets
Khurdran the Woodsman
Brief Overview of Woodsman and Woodsman Culture
The Woodsmen (their true name in the strange Woodsman tongue being a closely guarded secret, those from the south merely refer to them as Woodsmen) of the far north are enigmatic group, shrouded in mystery as deep and strange to those in the south as the forests they live in.
The forests of the far north are among the oldest forests in the known world, full of trees that tower in the air and animals that stalk the darkness that few from the mortal realms have seen. Everything seems larger in this untamed land; from the trees and plants that grow from the soil, to the beasts that prowl and the men who live within. To those who are sensitive to it, there is a sense of raw magic that permeates the area. Many scholars of magic and nature theorize that this saturation of raw magic is part of what makes the norther forests as unique as they are as well as allowing the trees to develop Living Steel; the only known source of the rare metal in the world.
There is a certain amount of superstition associated with the Woodsman lands among those from the south. Most believe that the forests are haunted, if not at least dangerous. Disappearances of those who look to explore too deep into the forests are a common occurrence. While some attribute these disappearances to the Woodsmen themselves, many believe that they are killed by the beasts that dwell within or are led astray by vengeful or mischievous forest spirits. Whatever the cause, many believe that the forest has a will of its own. Some believe that these far northern woods are the last bastion of the raw natural world of old before mortals and Magi began to tame the south lands.
Little is known about the Woodsmen by those from the south. Many of the rumors that surround them describe a people who are near giants, quick to anger, and throw themselves into battle with such a fervor that many seasoned soldiers have turned and run rather than face a line of raging Woodsmen berserkers. Those who have managed to ingratiate themselves with the Woodsmen (no small feat in itself) find that beneath the mystery and danger of these large people, is a rich and often raucous culture.
Many have reported that Woodsmen have no real sense of society as those in the south would understand it. There are no truly defined leaders, chiefs, kings, or any sort of major governmental system. Instead, the Woodsmen are described as free-folk; living and doing as they pleased according to a shared code of honor and respect. Many who have spent any amount of time with them have described them as almost living by the law of nature. This thought is lent credence by the simple statement “adapt and overcome” which seems to be the response most anyone gest on the subject when asking Woodsmen themselves.
Many small settlements are scattered throughout the forest (that are known) where groups live in a sort of village setting; each providing towards the greater good of the group. Everyone pulls their weight in one way or another. Several of these are close knit family groups which some southerners have described as almost “tribal” in nature. Many of these family groups can be identified by several tribal looking tattoos that crisscross their bodies in similar patterns and colors.
Still, there are others who live a more solitary existence. These Woodsmen are some of the most enigmatic, and some would say most dangerous as they have a tendency to be a bit more unpredictable. While they harbor no ill will to any from the south in general, the Woodsmen in general have little patience for those who encroach on their lands uninvited.
As to the question of leadership: it seems that Woodsmen have no true leaders. Despite this, they live a relatively peaceful existence with one another and their neighbors. What is interesting to note is that, while there are no true leaders, there does seem to be a kind of hierarchy established within the culture. This appears to be based on a complicated system of strength, age, wisdom, and honor. While this strange method is convoluted at best to outsiders, the Woodsmen themselves understand it perfectly. Each individual is given respect according to his apparent ranking within the society; the greatest among them are often called upon to give their opinion on important matters. There is a council of sorts, comprised of men and women of all ages, that presides over matters of great importance to the people as a whole. While many disputes are able to be settled by the individual parties themselves (often through some form of physical challenge), there are times where this council is called upon to guide the people. This mostly occurs during the festivals held in Erebach at the four major points of the year; planting, the harvest, winter and summer solstices. The head of this council (if there is one who could be called such) is named Sky’Ree; a mountain of a man with eyes as cold as ice and a voice as soft as a spring rain. When he speaks, everyone listens.
The Woodsmen hold nature in great reverence, which is reflected in their way of life, the magic they employ, and the structures in which they live. Individual house, small settlements, and even the only known major Woodsmen city of Erebach deep in the heart of their territories are all built in deference to nature. Every home is decorated to reflect aspects of the natural world; carved totems of bears, wolves, and eagles pepper areas while reliefs depict the change of the seasons in beautiful colors and patterns more intricate than what many believe such cumbersome looking people could produce; and despite all the wonder and splendor of the art and architecture, not a single tree or rock is disturbed from its rooted spot. The Woodsmen build around and even into the great trees themselves. Brilliantly carved wooden bridges connect tree to tree in an ever climbing highway into the canopy. Many scholars believe that their structures rivaled that of even the Dark Elves.
Despite their seemingly rough and often off putting nature, the Woodsmen enjoy a great party. Social gathering are events that bring Woodsmen from all over for games, food, and drink. Tests of strength, skill, and dexterity are common and the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol and food is a given. It is said that some of these festivals have lasted for weeks on end before finally disbanding.
Most outsiders describe the Woodsmen as gruff, rude, blunt and humorless. While by an outsiders standards this may be so; but tell a Woodsman he has no sense of humor and you may find yourself on the end of a very unique Woodsman prank. The simple matter is that Woodsmen see no need for disguised words or fancy speech. They say what they mean, mean what they say, and make no apologies for it. If one were to ask a Woodsman for his opinion or thoughts of something, they had better be ready to receive an unfiltered opinion or thought. Some Woodsmen have learned to temper their words a degree when dealing with outsiders; more often than not remaining silent so as not to offend the outsider’s “delicate sensibilities.”
When it comes to their lands, outsiders are welcomed with a wary caution. There are smaller settlements along the boarders in which trade and the exchange of information occur (primarily with the Vikings who whom they share several boarders;) but very few outsiders are allowed deeper into the Woodmen’s realm. Those who try are met with quick and fierce opposition. Woodsmen are masters of the forest, and it is widely accepted that they will see you long before you ever see them; and by the time you do, it is likely already too late. They defend their homes and boarders from incursion with almost reckless abandon; so much so that many believe that Woodsmen are really spirits; manifestations of the forest’s rage and will given form. While many who attempt to penetrate into the forests are repelled before long; those who do manage to find themselves deeper in are never heard from again.
Their dealings with people are generally peaceful and concern themselves little with the affairs of the south. More so, they are content to live in their chosen land and let the southerners squabble amongst themselves. So long as their lands remain unthreatened, they are content to keep to themselves.
On the whole, Woodsmen employ magic natural world. Where magi primarily draw their powers from arcane sources; Woodsmen are able to tap into the raw power of nature itself. This manifests itself in many ways, and can vary from one practitioner to another. Most accounts describe a people who are almost shamanistic in their practices and methods of employing magic; while a few have described a more extreme manifestation of magic. For all Woodsmen, including those who do not actively practice the use of magic itself, the raw power of the untamed forests seep into the blood. Many explain that this accounts for the Woodsmen’s almost overwhelming size and strength (even in the women) as well as their long lifespans. It is well documented that a Woodsman’s lifespan (barring illness or injury) far surpasses that of the mortals to the south.
Most reports detail Woodsmen who can command plants to rise up against enemies, call upon animals to fight beside them or lend aid, or even enhance their own physical or mental faculties by calling upon the appropriately accepted animal patron. The most commonly encountered form of magic comes from these, and from encounters with Woodsmen warriors many have dubbed “berserkers.” These Woodsmen seem to have the ability to throw themselves into a frenzy in combat, enhancing their strength to unimaginable proportions while shrugging off blows that would fell most mortals. These walking machines of death are some of the primary reasons behind some of the superstitions behind Woodsmen.
Still, there are those who reportedly have the ability to employ natural magic in more drastic ways. Altering their appearance or abilities to match that of some animals, to those who are said to have the ability to change form into any animal they wish at will. The latter of these is more rumor than fact, however there are those who swear to have witnessed such transformations themselves.
The primary exports of the Woodsmen is the Living Steel which they have mastered cultivating deep within the forest. This rare and wondrous metal fetches quite a price for the Woodsmen in trade. In addition to this, Woodsmen ales and spirits are often highly coveted by Inn keepers and rulers alike. Known for their potency and savory nature, a celebration in which Woodmen alcohol is served is destined to be a great one.
In terms of trade partners, the Woodsmen primarily trade with the nearby Vikings; though trade with southern regions has slowly become more and more common in recent years. Most of this trade takes place in the Woodsmen border towns. Few Woodsmen traders will travel farther south away from their homelands for trade, though it is not unheard of.
Notes to the DM:
Khurdryn is a bit of an enigma as far as Woodsmen go. While most from the south find him abrupt and off putting, most Woodsmen feel he is a bit too friendly with the outsiders sometimes. Even so, he has still garnered much respect among the Woodsman people, and has even been entrusted by Sky’Ree to act as a sort of ambassador to the south on behalf of the Woodsmen. He is above average in height but among of the strongest in the forest.
Sky’Ree is a man that Khurdryn GREATLY admires and respects. He is a man just on the down side of middle aged with long silver hair and beard. Despite his age, he is a still a force to be reckoned with. Tall, even for a Woodsman, and thick with muscle; he is a measured man who is philosophical in a way. He has garnered great standing among his people and is well respected by all. It was by his order that the location of the Light Elves is a closely guarded secret amongst the Woodsmen as well as their mutual alliance and protection. He is likely the one Medcalf would have dealt with most other than Khurdryn.