The Gaunt Forest
To the east and south of the Burning Hills, lies the Gaunt Forest, a vast woodland that covers nearly a quarter of the lands Darkfort claims. The density of the trees and the amount of light filtering through them varies enormously from area to area; the forest in the south can be deep and thick, yet well lit by streaking rays of sunlight, while in the north, near the Burning Hills, it can be sparse, straggly and dank.
Given the size of the forest, there are many kinds of differing terrain. There are jagged hills in the north, rifts and ravines along the riverbanks of the Drake River, flatlands to the west, and gently rolling hills in the southeast. Directly east, the hills and ravines jumble together, creating steep bluffs and rocky riverbeds. This is caused by the forest’s proximity to the north-western feet of the Beast Shards, where falling rocks regularly have an impact on the environment. Rumors persist that a tribe of ogres or possibly hill giants have taken control of the eastern sections of the forest, finding the terrain quite suitable for their kind.
The southern reaches of the forest harbors a multitude of creatures, both natural and fey. In the elven-controlled portions, the animals live in relative harmony, working along with nature’s rhythms. Game trails wend their ways around trees, often leading to peaceful, crystal pools of clear water in the midst of the woods. Birds happily chirp, their songs complementing the other sounds of a healthy forest at rest with itself. The center of the elven lands reflects a near-perfect tranquility.
However, the rest of the forest is filled with disruptive forces who play havoc with the natural cycle of life. In fact, some magical, fey force has recently bent the the very shape of forest itself such that confusing changes occur around every bend. Stream beds mysteriously flow into nothing or hills fall away over sheer drops, allowing travelers to gaze in wonder at the open, gaping ravines revealing the crust of the earth.
Animals that inhabit those affected regions are even more alarming. Many are dreadful beasts of fell power, and while not all of them are immediately dangerous, they can prove quite fearsome and daunting to the uneducated.
It is said that a small trail leads from the eastern portions of the Gaunt Forest, which stretches up into the Beast Shards. While impractical as a trade road, it is apparently popular among adventurers, who use it to raid into the giant and orc tribes of the north-western Beast Shards, with little chance of counter-attack by those creatures.
Wood Elves of the Gaunt Forest
In the vast Gaunt Forest, the wood-elves hold sway over sections of the forest, making them safe for those who mean them no harm. Other portions of the forest conceal dark contrasts to the elven light.
In at least one part of the forest, gnolls hold power. At least once a season, they organize into hunting bands of a dozen or so warriors and travel across their realm. While on their hunts (often seen as a rite of passage), they systematically slay every creature they come across. The process of death can take longer for elves, as the gnolls relish the opportunity to torture their chosen rivals to death. Periodically, intrepid explorers stumble into such a war band, and the gnolls swollen with courage by the ritual hunt, often exceed the boundaries of their territory and engage in a full-scale raid into either elven or human territory. Since it is regarded as the ultimate mark of bravery to slay and wear an elf skin, their feuds are generally with elves.
The gnolls regularly provoke fights with their neighbors, the bugbears. While they generally live in an uneasy peace, such gnoll raids often force the bugbears into fits of rage, and they retaliate by sneaking into gnoll camps past their lazy sentries. There, they embark on one of two courses; either they slay every creature in the camp, leaving the corpses for the sentries to find, or they kidnap the females and young, taking them into a life of slavery. Though they generally reserve their strengths for use against the wood elves, this routine bickering does a more effective job of limiting the tribe’s growth than active warfare.
With the wood elves the dominant power throughout the Gaunt Forest, the gnolls control the northwest, while the bugbears terrorize the northeast. There are, however, many other beasts that claim the forest for their own. Horrifying wyverns are uncommon, but still seen as lone hunters throughout the woods, hinting there might even be a central nest of them. Furthermore, there are places even the thick-headed gnolls do not travel, for spiders hold the lands there. Although not widely renowned for their intelligence, there is a malevolent force that binds them together towards some alien goal. Located near the center of the Gaunt Forest, these regions are customarily avoided by all who would travel the woods.
Game in the Gaunt Forest is plentiful, and there are many common beasts to be found in the forest. Any traveler of the woodlands, is assured to find many beautiful stags, foxes, elk and other beasts throughout the beautiful woodlands.