New Hampshire Staff
Dryads of the Cursed Forest

Long before the Mists descended on the Shattered Realms, there was the First Forest. It is said by the Dryads that its trees and plants extended outward with no end as a verdant carpet that blanketed the world. It was a paradise, and for centuries they lived in peace in First Forest, until the Great Sleep began. For years they slumbered in stasis in the form of the plants they are tied to so closely, but while they lay dormant and unaltered the forest around them shifted and changed.

The Home Tree and the Remains of First Forest

The modern day First Forest is an extremely different place than the Children of Autumn knew before the Great Sleep. The trees and plants are still there, but at ground level the vibrant colors that once ran through them no longer decorate the woods. What was once lush jungle is now a fetid swamp. The plant life all around them, while not appearing withered, looks deadened and grayed with plants growing scraggly near pools of stagnant murky water. The canopies of the tall trees cast ominous shadows in which tormented spirits and monsters lurk. While this blight does not appear to cause any rot or physical detriment to the plants it afflicts, these plants provide very little in terms of nourishment, tasting like nothing and leaving those who dare to eat them feeling unsatisfied and unsettled.

Even the size of the forest has changed. Where once it seemed to extend forever, now the forest only extends in a forty mile radius before its border with the Mists. Dryads who have ventured into the Mists and managed to come back report that the forest does continue further, but none are sure for how long, and the dangers that reside in the Mist forestall most people’s curiosity.

Oddly, the taint that affects the plants in the forest only appears to do so at the ground level. Above roughly thirty feet up, the trees and other plants that grow off of them return to normal, the ashen complexion on the trees slowly fading away the higher you climb. Fruit and vegetation flourish with various plant life using the trees for support to grow this high above the ground. Densely packed networks of branches and vines connect together creating large surfaces almost resembling a second forest floor suspended amongst the trees. This delineation in First Forest has lead the Dryads to refer to it as two sections. Anything below thirty feet where the plant life is tainted, and all manner of monster and cursed spirit roam, is referred to as the Underbrush. Above thirty feet where First Forest remains lush and colorful is referred to as the Canopies. The Canopies are where First Forest resembles the jungle from the Children of Autumn’s memories, and nowhere is this more true than the Home Tree.

At the center of the forest grows a massive tree at least fifty feet across in diameter, that towers above every other tree within the forest. This tree, named the Home Tree, is the only plant life in the entire forest not to suffer from the corruption in the Underbrush, its trunk and roots remaining unblemished and full. Dryads that come into physical contact with it often feel warm and at ease. This two traits have lead many to believe that the Home Tree is not just the center of the forest, but the center of First Forest’s essence, with all the other plants in the forest being an extension of this tree. Because of this many Children of Autumn to live near the Home Tree, making it the de facto center of the Dryad community.

In addition to being the center of Dryad culture, the Home Tree also provides a means for them to resurrect. When a Dryad dies and their spirit departs the body, the spirit is naturally drawn to the branches of the Home Tree where any healer can begin the resurrection. As the Realms have recently began to interact with each other it has been discovered that when another race dies, if the Home Tree is closer than an Earth Circle, their spirit will naturally be drawn to the branches of the Home Tree as well. In fact the discovery of Earth Circles was a shock to the Dryads who had never heard of or seen them before. According to the Children of Autumn who were alive before the Great Sleep, in the event that a person needed resurrection, their spirits would be drawn to certain locations of power in First Forest to do so. It is theorized by the Dryads that the Home Tree is one of these locations, and possibly the last one to exist.

Living in the Canopies

The Underbrush, though it is part of First Forest, is almost completely uninhabitable. Monsters, cursed spirits and other varieties of horrors stalk through its reaches, and untainted food is scarce. Even the atmosphere of the Underbrush is oppressive. Dryads who descend into it feel a slight numbness start to take hold on both their mind and bodies. In order to live away from the dangers of the Underbrush the Dryads have instead adapted to living in the Canopies. Sections where the trees are densely packed became ideal grounds to create homes and even villages. Over years the Dryads used their harmony with First Forest to cultivate these sections into stable platforms of entwined branches, vines, and wooden support structures harvested from other trees. The results are large platforms integrated in with the natural environment spread throughout the Canopies. These platforms, able to support the weight of entire villages, are where the Dryads primarily live, safe from the terrors in the Underbrush below.

The largest of these villages is built around the Home Tree. As the central location in First Forest the Home Tree was the logical spot for the Dryads to start building. This village, named Ioned, grew over time into something that is more akin to a city now in size. As the Dryad population grew through a combination of birth and waking from the Great Sleep, other platform villages began to be developed. Networks of rope and vine bridges were built to connect the various village platforms to each other as the Dryads expanded outward, while ladders and stair cases were built to connect platforms as the Dryads expanded up. What exists today is a massive network of platforms expanding for several miles out from Ioned. These platforms are all connect to each other though some may be as far as half a mile apart from another village. Indeed it is possible to travel from a village fifteen miles away from Ioned to the Home Tree without ever setting foot in the Underbrush, though the circuitous routes necessary to do so may make to trip take longer, though much safer.

Not all platforms in First Forest are used exclusively as dwellings. Since the water and vegetation found in the Underbrush is not viable, platforms have been developed for the express purposes of collecting water and growing food. Large platforms formed into deep basins dot the Canopies where rainwater collects from the frequent rainfalls. Other platforms have been cultivated into more shallow basins filled in with soil where various vegetables and fruits are grown. These two types of platforms are cared for and shared equally among the villages surrounding them, so that every village has access to such resources. Meat on the other hand is a very rare commodity. Since only smaller birds and animals live in the Canopies, meat mainly comes from animals that dwell in the Underbrush. As such only villages near the Underbrush and only those that have Dryads strong and brave enough to venture into the Underbrush have access to meat, making it a valued commodity. Even the meat from the unusual beasts that wander in from the Mists are considered a rare delicacy to those who don’t frequently see meat as an option.

While every village is physically connected to the network of platforms, individually they are fairly insular. It is common for neighboring villages to interact with each other, but unless a Dryad travels frequently they are unlikely to know the people from villages more than a few miles away. Individual village platforms often have their own community leaders that help take care of day to day organization of the Dryads in those villages. Despite this, all the villages within First Forest follow the same laws. Murder, thievery, necromancy, enslavement, and other unsavory acts are considered untenable, and those who break laws are dealt with by their village. Crime amongst Dryads is fairly unusual, but when it does happen rehabilitation and atonement are implemented. In severe cases where a Dryad has committed an extremely heinous crime, or rehabilitation is unable to suffice, the criminal will be brought to the Home Tree, and guidance from the Elders will be requested. The outcome of such situations, rare as they are, are up to the Elder’s judgement. Often this entails various unconventional approaches that village leaders had not thought of, or in the most extreme circumstances execution can be implemented.

The Elders

Despite the number of Children of Autumn living in First Forest, since the awakening there are and have always been only three known Elders. It is said that these three Elders woke from the Great Sleep prior to when the rest of the Dryads began to wake three hundred years ago. The Elders do not deny this, though how much earlier they awakened or what they had been doing during that time is not known. Whenever an overly curious or nosy Dryad asks this question, it is gently deflected with a smile and change in topic.

While the three Elders do not govern over the Dryads, they do work to help guide their people as a whole. Their unequaled connection to First Forest, and their ability to travel between any two trees by mere touch, allows them to help guide and advise even the most distant of villages. All three live within Ioned so others can find them when needed, and while they make sure to consult daily with each other, they individually focus on different aspects of helping their people.

Elder Togali, a Barkskin, spends her days working with villages to maintain and expand the various platforms that make up the Dryad communities. Her ability to commune with and shape the growth of the trees and plant life of the forest is what has allowed the Dryad people to expand as rapidly as they have.

Elder Saol, a Spore, focuses on ensuring the good health of the Dryad people. Both a knowledgeable Earth Scholar and Alchemist, Saol teaches those who wish to understand how to heal others. Out of the three Elders, he is the one most often to be found in Ioned working on new elixirs and tinctures, though he often travel to villages when there is a Dryad too sick to transport and in dire need of help.

Elder Trodir, a Thorn, helps organize the Dryads’ defenses against the various monsters and terrors that dwell in the Underbrush. A skilled martial combatant and tactical leader, he both teaches villages how to defend themselves, and functions as the head of the Quellers of the Grave.

Restless Spirits and the Graveyard

When the Dryads first began to wake from the Great Sleep they were both horrified and confused by the transformation of First Forest into the Underbrush. None could fathom how the plant life became so tainted or where the abundance of tormented spirits and monsters came from. Lacking answers, the Dryads turned to the wisdom of the Elders, hoping that their connection to First Forest could shed light on the truth. The answer that the Elders provided, though, was of little comfort.

Many different planes exist attached to the Mortal Plane, connected but distinct. Normally, ritual magic is required to travel between these planes due to the boundaries between them. However, were the boundaries between two planes to weaken, then the energies from those two planes would begin to pass directly between them. Such is the case for the plane known as the Graveyard, a plane containing permanently dead spirits. It is unknown if all spirits travel to the Graveyard upon permanent death, or if it is their final resting place when they do, but the only known inhabitants of the plane are the spirits of mortals who have permanently died. The plane itself is stagnant and dismal, lacking color, vitality, or dynamism. It is not clear, even to the Elders, why the barrier between the Graveyard and the Mortal Plane is so thin at the location of First Forest, but they have determined it is the entropic energies from the Graveyard that have tainted the Underbrush, robbing it of its life.

It is debated among the Dryads why this phenomenon occurs at the site of First Forest. Some claim that the Graveyard attached to First Forest in an effort to consume its essence. Others contend it is more likely that First Forest bound itself to the Graveyard after the barrier weakened in an attempt to seal the barrier between planes, and that this binding is the only thing stopping the energies of the Graveyard from spreading further.The Elders refuse to speculate on this topic, at least in public. At present the energies of the Graveyard seem to be limited to the Underbrush, though rumors abound that the height of the Underbrush has risen inches over the course of the last few decades. As detrimental as the entropic energies of the Graveyard are though, they are not the only threat caused by the weakened barrier between the planes.

The permanently dead spirits of the Graveyard are no longer native to the Mortal Plane, but did come from it once. Normally their ability to touch the Mortal Plane is severed upon their permanent death, but with the boundary to the Mortal Plane so thin, they can sense its presence and are drawn to it, much as a still living spirit is drawn to an Earth Circle. These spirits are able to cross the weakened boundary, and in fact do so instinctively as a moth to the flame, but doing so changes them. The means of their passage is neither natural nor painless. While the spirit may have been docile or contented in the Graveyard, what arrives in the Mortal Plane is not. The result of their passage into the Mortal Plane is a cursed spirit, twisted from whatever nature it had previously. These spirits have little mind to do anything but attack the living. Their motivation or drive to do so is not understood as very few seem cognizant enough to speak. Those few that can are often too delirious with rage or fixated on a single thought to communicate in any significant way.

The forms that these cursed spirits take on vary from spirit to spirit. Unable to substantiate themselves in the Mortal Plane in their natural form, many are forced to store themselves in the corpses of animals or permanently dead people. Others store themselves into the plant life that exists in the Underbrush and form into shambling monstrosities. Others still are twisted beyond recognition into creatures such as Banshees or Will-o-Wisps. Whatever form they take, they are a threat to all living creatures, and need to be destroyed. Many Dryads believe that once their form on the Mortal Plane is destroyed, the cursed spirit will return to the Graveyard, much as an elemental on the Mortal Plane returns to its natural home when destroyed. However, while many believe this, there is little evidence that is the case.

The Malwoken

When the Dryads underwent the Great Sleep, First Forest sheltered them in the form of the plants that they were so closely tied to. For untold eons this protected them from the world as it changed, allowing them to awaken in the modern era befuddled but unharmed. Even today, three hundred years after the first Dryads began to wake, some still rise from their slumber. If these Dryads are lucky they will wake in the Canopies where they are easily found. Those less fortunate wake in the Underbrush, and are naturally drawn to the Home Tree. Wherever they wake in First Forest, once they find their people, or the Elders find them, they are cared for and offered all the help needed in adjusting to the new world. Finding a Dryad newly awakened is usually considered a happy occasion for the Children of Autumn as they take joy in welcoming their kin back into the family. Sadly, not all Dryads want to rejoin their society.

Keeping the Dryads safe as plants during the Great Sleep may have protected them from the ravages of time, but what First Forest could not have foreseen was the creeping corruption the Graveyard brought. Much as the plant life in the Underbrush became tainted with the Graveyards energies, so too did some Dryads as they slept. Bearing plants resembling those in the Underbrush, these Dryads upon waking relish the change the Graveyard brings. Unlike their former brothers and sisters, these Malwoken do not view the weakened barrier between the planes as the danger it is. Instead they view the prospect of the Graveyard and the Mortal Plane merging as a natural progression, and the way things should be. They seek power from the Graveyard’s energies, and attempt to expand its influence by further weakening the barrier between the planes. As far as the Dryads are aware, none of these attempts have been successful, but that does not mean they never will be. Much like the cursed spirits, the Malwoken seem to have no respect for life, and often adopt the opinion that those that stand against them will be more than ready to switch sides once they are permanently dead spirits. Unlike the cursed spirits, the Malwoken retain their intelligence, making them much more of a threat. Beyond that there seems to be some connection between the Malwoken and the cursed spirits. While the cursed spirits seem to lash out at anything alive, they completely ignore the Malwoken in their hostilities. There have even been sightings of Malwoken capable of controlling the cursed spirits, and implementing them as soldiers in their plots.

One of the things Dryads find most unnerving about the Malwoken is the fact that they do not all wake from the Great Sleep in the Underbrush. Records of Malwoken waking in the Canopies, where no sign of the corruption from the Graveyard shows, leave many Dryads on edge and confused in regards to how the Graveyard is corrupting them. This is especially the case when an instance of a Miswoken occurs. The Miswoken are similar to the Malwoken in appearance, usually sharing the characteristic of grayed and deadened plant life, but do not share the Malwoken’s implicit views on the Graveyard. They do however often show sincere curiosity about the Malwoken’s viewpoints. When found, these Miswoken are hastily brought to the Elders for guidance, and over time their confusion on the state of the world is cleared away.

The Quellers of the Grave

Due to their extreme ideologies and the dangers that they pose, all Malwoken have been labeled as dangerous, and to be killed on sight. This decision was made by the Elders after decades of trying to reform a variety of Malwoken. Hundreds of attempts at ridding them of the corruption of the Graveyard were made, never once bearing any fruit. Though the decision was painful for the Elders to make, it was viewed as necessary and readily accepted by the Dryad population at large.

More than just reactionary measures to the Malwoken were needed to keep First Forest safe. Despite the protection offered by living in the Canopies, attacks by cursed spirits on the Dryad villages are not unheard of. In addition, it is unknown what actions the Malwoken might take if left to their own devices. For these reasons it was decided that a more proactive approach to the threats from the Graveyard was needed. Under the guidance of Elder Trodir, a group was formed dedicated to hunting down and exterminating the cursed spirits and Malwoken. This organization, known as the Quellers of the Grave, makes frequent forays into the Underbrush looking for signs of cursed spirit or Malwoken activity, and clues that may help them understand how the weakened state of the barrier between the planes came to be. While only the most dedicated Dryads join the ranks of the Quellers of the Grave, it is a duty that many Dryads hold in high regards. The opinion that First Forest bound itself to the the Graveyard after the barrier weakened to stop its energies from spilling out into the Mortal Plane is a popular one. Many assume that if First Forest chose to protect the world from the energies of the Graveyard, then it is the Dryads’ duty as denizens and guardians of First Forest to do the same. Thus many Dryads are driven to join the Quellers of the Grave’s ranks out of a sense of duty.

Dryads and other Realms

Up until the a few years ago the Dryads believed themselves to be the last civilized race remaining, and that the rest of the world that First Forest once covered was reduced down to the Realm they live in now. They have learned differently since other races have begun to explore the Mists and wandered into First Forest. Adventurers from the other Realms brought stories of the distant lands and geographies the Dryads had never even dreamed of. Slowly the Dryads began to venture out into the Mists themselves. Some were drawn by the desire to see these fantastical lands of mountains, stone cities, open plains, or windswept deserts. Others were drawn out by the idea that maybe other pieces of First Forest still existed, waiting for the Dryads to return to them. The Quellers of the Grave took a particular interest in these other Realms. While no other race seemed to describe their homeland as having conditions similar to the Underbrush, the concern that the Graveyard could possibly reach into these other Realms was too great to ignore. Additionally, cursed spirits and Malwoken have been seen wandering into the Mists on more than one occasion. While they were usually presumed dead or gone, the possibility that they were traveling to other Realms was suddenly a concern.

As the Dryads began to travel and see what the world devoid of First Forest had become, they began to notice many oddities. One of the most surprising for them was that after they first arrived in other Realms, Dryads in those Realms began to wake from the Great Sleep, much to the surprise of those Realms’ denizens. As these newly found Dryads begin to wake, some have made it their purpose to travel to other Realms with the goal of waking their brethren and helping them find their way back to First Forest.

A practice that caught the Dryads completely off guard was other races’ willingness to remove their own spirits from their bodies. Generations of dealing with the cursed spirits from the Graveyard have left the Dryads uncomfortable with the concept of a spirit that is not bound within its own flesh. This often leaves them rather bewildered at the concept of the Spirit Store and Controlled Spirit Store rituals. Dryads do however recognize the difference between the corruption that happens to a permanently dead spirit that crosses over from the Graveyard, and the magic involved in placing your own spirit in another vessel. What the Dryads cannot fathom and find entirely abhorrent is the concept of the Spirit Farewell ritual. Many view the effort of actively bringing a permanently dead spirit back to the Mortal Plane, for even a short while, as an affront to everything the Children of Autumn are struggling to do. Even when shown that the spirit brought back is uncorrupted and different than the cursed spirits of First Forest, most Dryad still view the practice as disgusting.

Playing a Dryad

The Dryads are a resilient people that consider all members of their race family. Despite all that they have lost since the Great Sleep they have continued to persevere. Having substantial experience with the horrors that this new world has to offer they work towards making the world a better place for those around them. This can be through standing vigilant against the forces that rise from the Graveyard, or simply trying to make the lives of those around them better on a day to day basis.

You might consider playing a Dryad if you are interested in protecting the Shattered Realms from the corruption of the Graveyard. If the cursed dead do not interest you, you should still consider playing a Dryad if you would like to play a character who actively tries to make the world around them a better place.
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