08 August 2014

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 27 - Dark Heart

This is the twenty-seventh Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

This is not a canon location.

Not all of the background and secrets of Ashwood Forest can be divulged since the characters may not yet be done with this place.

They have learned the forest is a place of power, inviolate to Horrors and those who bear their mark; at least, that is the claim. Though surveying astral space confirms it is completely free from their taint. Some who pass on to death come to reside in the forest, trapped as shades for reasons unknown, though there were a few theories put forth. The transformation into a mindless shade takes time and those who can resolve whatever keeps them in this place will pass on from it.

It has a bounty of natural resources, with true elements and living crystal forming within its borders. There are also plenty of natural dangers, not to mention the shades, to go along with this. Such is the draw for this place, the guardian related a story told to him by his predecessor that the war between Cara Fahd and Landis was fought over the forest and everything within it. There was some circumstantial evidence to support this of ancient battles outside of the borders where their airship had crashed.

Adventure Log – 027 Dark Heart

Written By: Coriolis of Travar

Date: 27 Rua – 30 Rua, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Coriolis the Swordmaster
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Ting the Swordmaster

We are currently in the Ashwood. This area is filled with spirits and mysteries. The guardian of this place cryptically tells us about the many dangers that await us in this place.

We now stand in a sea of ash trees without a solid plan on how to find the one tree we're looking for, so we turn to the spirits for advice. The forest spirits stand about 16 inches tall. They are curious little child-like things(1). Apparently they're also hungry things as well.

Ting showed them that they can eat our food during Elmod and my watch. They ate almost all of the food we had. Which means rather than focus on finding the tree, we now have to use our skills to find food and survive.

Growing up in Travar has taught little of wilderness survival. I talk to the forest guardian for help, hit while polite, he didn't offer much help. Luckily the rest of the group had a little bit more success than I did. Bongani came back to camp with enough food to get us through the day, but only one day.

Using the rest of the day light, we combined our efforts into a single hunting party. Our party came across three behemoths. Luckily, with Elmod's magic we were able to scare off the biggest of the beasts. The rest of the beasts quickly fell to my more blood thirsty companions. We harvest any useful bits off the beasts and head back to camp.

The next day, we leave foraging to Bongani and the rest of us forget the dangers of yesterday and set off, leaving the safety of numbers and traveling alone through the woods. Our solo adventures reveal the wealth of riches that is in the forest(2). The most interesting of these riches was the tree Elmod was looking for this whole time.

A group of shades seem to hang around the tree. Shades are small, Horror-like beings(3). Getting to this tree is going to be a problem.

That night our camp is visited by these shade creatures. We draw weapons for battle and Bongani works on restarting our fire. The fire lights before the blood bath can start. At the sight of the light, the shades recoil to the edge of the light. We don't pursue the confrontation and keep within the safety of the light until dawn breaks.

The next morning, we set off on our own adventures, but are quickly brought back together by the battle cry of Bongani. We ran together to find him set upon by five nightmares(4). Their coats were black as a moonless night. The battle was epic and there were many wounded on both sides. It was a hard fought battle, but we came out the victors.(5)

*     *     *
(1) We have no information on what this could be. The description is specific; refer to an Elementalist for more information and taxonomy.
(2) What kind of riches? Need details. 
(3) What is a shade? Again, this seems to be specific, but we have no records of anything like this; refer to a Nethermancer for more information and taxonomy.
(4) Are these literal nightmares given form, or yet another thing which we have no information about? Details, people, details!
(5) Received and edited by Ela Pono

Par for the course, there was a great deal left out here. Some is covered in the introduction, and a large portion regards the specifics on what they did and found each day. Everything left out of this log was a deliberate choice of the group. There were a great deal of specifics they did not want getting out. Including specific information about Ashwood Forest, the strange things which reside there (spirits and shades), the wealth and rarities which can be found within the borders, and the fact they murdered a herd of unicorns. Yeah, those were the "nightmares". To be fair, they were pre-Scourge unicorns who had been living with the forest for generations, untouched by the Horrors, one got away (though it did stalk them), and they only took a few of the horns to sell. If a few is all of them. Yes, the engaged in unicorn horn smuggling and ended up selling it all to their favorite Nethermancer in Bartertown, Fastoon.

From an actual session planning perspective, this was fairly intensive and allowed some of the less used abilities to have their day. It was pretty simple to have the group separate themselves from their supplies. Which was the first time they were far from a base of operations, in dangerous territory, with nothing to eat, or safe to stay. Wilderness Survival became incredibly useful. Though there is a bounty of life, much of it is strange and dangerous, making every expedition potentially dangerous. This also meant time had to be divided between staying alive and finding the secrets of the forest.

Which leads to the major feature of their time in the forest:

I created a bunch of envelopes (well over a hundred), each with an encounter of some kind within. The characters would set out into the forest and use some kind of ability to help them in their exploration. Each of the envelopes fell into a category, whether it was botanical in nature, an animal encounter, mystical, or random, and the ability used would dictate what category of envelope they drew from. Result level would give how many encounters they had in a given day.

Included in a number of the envelopes was the tree they were looking for, The Dark Heart. This was very popular with the players and caused them to make all kinds of terrible decisions which nearly resulted in their deaths; if you disappear into the forest alone, no one will be able to use a last chance salve on you. They spend significantly longer than they had probably intended in the forest, just exploring.

Some examples of encounters include:

Dead Ash: A black ash stands lifeless. There are no leaves or forest spirits in its branches.

Fruit of the Forest: Protruding from the trunk of a giant ash tree are nuggets of wood which appear exceptionally vibrant.

Massacre: A macabre scene happened here. There are eight bodies resembling bipedal wolves, slightly smaller than a human. Fur has been sloughed off in places, revealing long, black marks on their skin. The eyes have been plucked and their tongues torn out.

Message in a Bottle: Perched in the boughs of an ash tree is a very small scroll case. At the base of the tree is the corpse of an ork. They haven't rotted, but show some signs of being picked over by scavengers, black marks on their skin, and broken limbs. The scroll case contains some scraps of paper with cramped, but tidy, cryptic writing.

A Monument to... Something: A step pyramid has been constructed of skulls. They appear to be mostly human and ork, but all Namegivers seem to be represented. The ground in the surrounding area is torn up and a buzzing drone fills the air.

Unexpected Undergrowth: Around the base of an ash tree are protruding some small, green, opaque crystals. A bit of excavation reveals there is significantly more underground.

Unnatural Remains: A number of ash trees have grown around a large, otherworldly corpse. A single, pristine, white ash is growing through what would mostly likely be consider its "heart".

Those in the picture, which are ones they did not find, are:

Murder Scene?: A large swath of ash trees and undergrowth are brittle, dry, and dead. Eventually, you discover briar and wood in the shape of a woman with a long iron spike in "her" chest. her face has a look of terror and her body is frozen in pain.

Penny Lane: You come upon a lane of trees, black and white. Some have grown around copper-colored chains, others just starting. Some of the chains hold skeletons. Shades climb down the trees, faces contorted in pain, reaching out, stretching their long limbs and fingers.

A Tale of Two Kaers: A skeletal arm emerges from the trunk of an ash tree. Clenched in its bony fingers is a scroll case. Within the case are notes which imply the existence of two kaers located somewhere south of Jerris. The evidence is in the form of Theran supply logs, ancient letters to family members from a destroyed kaer in Landis (in Dwarf, not Throalic), and records of some news spread by Hugh Louis - famed pre-Scourge Troubadour.

Topo Berry: This black and pink berry is bitter and causes severe nausea in anything who consumes them for a day. Prolonged exposure can result in death.

The Wreckage of Stars: Scattered through this portion of the forest is the wreckage of a Theran kila. It has long been destroyed and overrun by the forest. There is a cemetery nearby, overgrown with ash trees, though the gravestones are untouched. 

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