The Vestole is a vast, ageless forest and a wonder of nature.
The Vestole is a gigantic temperate forest so vast, that at the farthest ends there are a thousand miles in between. In the entire world there is nothing quite like it. It is beautiful. It is bountiful. And, for the unwary, it is dangerous, sometimes in the extreme.
Every tree imaginable. Fauna in bounty that supports a large and diverse group of predators. Monsters that roam territories that never has seen an elf, secret valleys, hidden canyons, massive cave complexes, impressive lakes; all this and more can be found in the Vestole.
Despite its age, the Vestole is a primal wilderness. Even “settled” territory is rough by the forests of other lands.
The Vestole is a thousand miles wide and roughly eight hundred miles from top to bottom, growing between the great mountain region known as the Starreaches, and the fragmented border remains of the Nerath Empire.
Approximately located in the middle-south portion of the forest are what locals call “The Hills”, which are actually a cluster of mountains, with the lower hills and mountains rising to about 4,000 feet above sea level. These give way to taller mountains, the highest reaching around 8,000 feet.
This mountain range is responsible for the diverse flora of the Vestole. On the west side, rain is frequent although it is not a rain forest, while on the eastern side there is a rain shadow which changes the diversity of the trees and ground plants. Weshwa Lake, a 40-mile long, 34-mile wide alpine lake, lies approximately 5,000 feet above sea level on the western slopes. This and other large lakes on the western side of the mountain range contribute to the climate differences, which also fluctuate from north-south differences.
On the eastern side of the mountains, while the climate is milder, the land certainly is not, with obvious geological upheaval contributing to the landscape. While there are large swaths described as “gentle”, much of it is primal wilderness where survival while traveling is not an easy thing.
Because of many lakes, none of the rivers flowing from the mountains converge and form larger ones. Most rivers are not navigable, with treacherous rapids and falls. All are prone to flooding.
One river does not follow this, called the Gost. The Gost feeds from the northeastern Starreaches and cuts a path going east east south until it reaches The Hills. Thereupon it travels under the mountains and emerges on the other side. Then it cuts a diagonal path going northwest to southeast and meets up with several other rivers at the start of the Western Nerath Aqueduct System, which is intact for the first three hundred miles, and then breaks down.
The Road, which travels to the Starreaches to the outer province of the old Nerath Empire, is such an engineering marvel that it is, unto itself, a geological feature. Who or what built the road, no one can remember.
The Road is two wagon widths wide with room to spare, and obviously a multi-layered construction, which a person can sometimes see when there is a washout. The middle is slightly higher than the edges, with occasional drainage ditches and retention pounds created entirely for the comfort of people using the road.
The Road is made of large interlocking flagstones that resist wear from the weather due to arcane endowment. The Road and its bridges and tunnels will repair itself from damage, given enough time by “growing” the damaged or missing portions.
Intelligent peoples facilitate this damage repair. If a person stares at the road long enough while it is repairing itself, they soon have a desire to help The Road in doing so, either by helping clear or providing raw material that seems consumed by spells in the process. One time, in centuries past, popular legends go that an entire Nerath team of arcane builders set out to study the road and learn its secrets, only to spend over a decade cheerfully making repairs to the structure forgetting all about their original mission.
The road resists intentional damage to it; it is extremely difficult to remove portions of it or even to mar the flagstones with a chisel. Scholars suspect that it also has insidious charm properties that “persuade” the malcontent from damaging it, and, failing that, has a mechanism to consume the person or thing damaging it in repairing itself.
“Don’t **** with the road” is a frequent edict taught to children in the Vestole.
It has been 8765 years since the dwarves founded the Starreach Kingdoms. The Road predates the start of their settlement. Since The Road seems to like nothing better than to charm a group of dwarven engineers, they stopped trying to study its mysteries long ago.
Even so, as the primary trading race, the dwarves are the heaviest users of the road. “About as common as a dwarf on The Road” is a frequent saying.
It is obvious the forest has seen civilizations several times. There are ruins of alpine civilizations. Mountain civilizations. Forest civilizations. Civilizations that seem to predate the forest.
Thus, there are ruins. There are ruins on top of older ruins. There are caverns and cave complexes which do not seem natural. Finally, there are old Nerath outposts. While Nerath did not claim the forest as part of the Empire, no one complained (to their face) when they set up keeps and towers for various reasons.
About the only ruins missing are elven ruins. Given the nomadic nature of the elves and their very small impact on their environment, this is not surprising.
“Elves are smarter than they look” is a dwarf saying in reference to this.
It is said “every tree a door to the feywild” and, while that is an exaggeration, it is true that the fey touches the forest in ways it touches no other. Eladrin from the feywild are frequent visitors to the Vestole, traveling there by many gates that exist everywhere, or rituals.
People and Culture
All races able to live in a temperate forest make it their home, but elves, humans and half-elves are the most predominant. There are large numbers of each, but even “large numbers” is a pittance compared to the huge swaths of uninhabited territory filled with all manner of dangerous creatures.
There are gnomes in the Forrest, but they are illusive and non-trusting of larger creatures except elven communities.
The Vestole in order of population:
- Other Races
Despite the diversity and abundance of edible flora and fauna, the Vestole is an unforgiving, harsh land. It is sparse and mostly unpopulated.
Outside of the Vestole, civilization views the forest dwellers as barbarians. Inside the Vestole, the peoples view the outside civilizations as dependent, weak creatures of dubious wisdom and common sense.
The peoples of the forest are very independent and beholding to no one. Good peoples frequently band together for protection, even if of other races. “Lead, follow, or get out of the way,” is a frequent motto. Groups form and disband at whims.
The forest dwellers view clearing and farming as a weakness, and that clearing tracks of land for sustenance when the forest provides ample bounty is stupid and inviting bad luck.
Forest dwellers also view trapping of animals as a weakness and a personality disorder. If you can’t hunt it, you are unworthy to partake in the bounty.
Humans are the primary subsistence suppliers. They plant and cultivate many shade-grown crops, that is, crops that do not require clearing of land. They also are the primary fishers. Out of all the forest dwellers, they are least likely to move from one location to another during the seasons, and so are careful not to damage the ecosystem least famine in the winter occurs.
There is not, nor has there ever been, an elven empire in the forest. Rumors of a great elven nation on the other side of the world persist, but elves of this common land do not congregate in great numbers. The largest elven settlement is roughly two thousand elves. The elves are more clannish than the other races.
There are a surprising number of half-elves in the forest. Current theory is that while that when the winter isn’t snowy, it’s cold and wet, and even an unattractive member of a different race as a bed warmer can easily lead to children.
Gender Roles and Customs
Females of the forest (of any race) hold respect, but the males frequently view them as a stubborn lot, especially human woman who seem to be extra-special stubborn.
Females can hold just as much influence as men (for example, a woman could be the ruler of a keep) as long as they have the strength, the wits or the wisdom to do so.
While women can and do hold influence, most tend to become deferential to males when pregnant or raising children, while a smaller segment becomes extra bossy.
Traditional male roles as the provider and protector are common in the forest, for the forest can be unforgiving to the pregnant and small children.
Of certain note are men who prefer other men and women who prefer to partner with other women. People view these as folk as different genders and a single body containing two spirits, both a male spirit and a female spirit. People believe the men contain a dominant woman sprit and the females contain a dominant man sprit.
Such people are accorded extra respect for their condition, often seen as wise, extra intelligent, or both.
Clans and even villages to a smaller extent are careful not to interbreed. While a female is considered an independent, untamed creature, for a male to obtain a mate he must “capture” her (usually having to circumvent her male relatives, but then again sometimes “encouraged” to do so). If she finds the suitor worthy she will “surrender” and that’s the start of their marriage. If she doesn’t agree, she tries to prevent capture and failing that (most males would typically not know the difference between the desire of not wanting to be captured and putting on enough show to maintain honor), attempts to escape after listening to the traditional profession of love and lust. She will fight back if hampered.
People consider it poor form for the male to persist or press an unwanted claim (before or after capturing a potential mate), but it does happen. Sometimes, he winds up with a throat slit in the night. Others, his strength and persistence win her heart, especially if he treats her with kindness (or impregnates her).
Forrest dwellers also consider it poor form and bad sportsmanship for a young man to give up if he fails at the first attempt at capturing his wife and the female finds (or could) find him suitable. Later attempts are probably more difficult—doubly so if she has other suitors who wish her hand and now know they need to get busy.
Most other people consider traditions like these why the forest people will always be barbarians. The dwarves to the west call this marriage custom “breaking into jail”, especially with human women.
Sometimes a man is obligated to have more than one wife. A common example is a man marrying his wife’s sister who is a widow, or simply lonely.
The reverse can also happen. If a husband has brothers or male relatives and females are in short supply from neighboring settlements, the wife is obligated to tend to their manly needs.
“Divorce” is not a concept people recognize. People either are “married” by agreement or “not married.”
It is the custom of the forest people to cremate the dead on pyres and then hold a party (or sometimes a somber wake it a child had died) with a toast to The Raven Queen.
No one knows when this particular custom started, but all the forest people stick to it. These death rituals are looked upon the civilized lands (such as the dwarven kingdoms) as barbaric.
Some dwarven scholars claim that cremation is a cultural self-defense mechanism from some war with the undead ages past. Regardless, the people of the forest feel so strongly in cremation, that, when encountering ruins with tombs and graves, will dig them up and cremate the remains. They will also insist that visitors not bury dead in their settlements (or near the settlements), and view it as bad luck to be around a body dead more than twenty-four hours.
“Don’t die on The Road unless you like it hot,” is a dwarf merchant saying.
Crime and Punishment
The people of the Vestole follow what they call “natural law”:
- Do what you say you are going to do
- Do no harm to others
The first law is the basis for all commerce in the Vestole (civil law), while the second one is the basis of all crimes against a person (criminal law).
If one has been wronged by a “break in the nature”, then one, or his or hers family, is responsible for dishing out punishment. In the case of resistance, the person making a claim can state their case to the group, in which the group (clan, village, and settlement) will lend assistance in punishing the transgressors. Depending on the nature of the crime, anything from a simple fine to torture and death are the prevue of those dispensing justice.
Everyone except the actual people of the Vestole views this as utter barbarity and near anarchy.
There is no concept of rehabilitation. Either a person doesn’t commit the crime again or does. Repeat offenders meet harsh punishments.
Crime and punishment are the frequent misunderstandings for visitors while traveling through the forest.
Reneging on a trade deal
Forfeiture of goods, Indentured servitude
Disrespect of other’s property
Switching by children
Abuse of shared resources
Fine, Community servitude, Banishment
Switching by maidens, Fine, or Castration
Beating, Maiming, Banishment
Child Abandonment by Father
Child Abandonment by Mother
Castration, Death, Banishment
Sexual relations with another man’s wife without arranging for the husband’s pleasure
Acts against the Gods’ will
Varies on the severity up to and including death
Bearing false witness
Banishment, tongue remova
Bartering is very common for commodities. Beyond necessities, there are many goods flowing back and forth between the remains of the human empire and the dwarven kingdoms, but those merchants like coin.
However, these merchants are not “coin rich”. The dwarves have a system of money that is not coin based. Their merchants only use coin to trade outside the Kingdoms, and convert it to their system of monies later. “Wealth” is not prevue of the dwarves, and this outlook in life has been slowly gaining foothold in the Vestole, especially after the fall of the Nerath Empire.
The various people deeply respect the divine in the Vestole, and are a pious people. Favoring individuality, they don’t exactly frown upon lawful religions, but they certainly don’t embrace them, either.
The four most popular religions are Avandra, Melora, Kord and Corellon. Pelor and Sehanine also find favor, but to a smaller extent. Worship varies by location and to a small extent migratory patterns of the settlers (if any). Settlements along The Road favor Avandra, while resisting the dwarven influences of Moradin, Erathis and Bahamut.
Forest dwellers look upon followers and clerics of Erathis with great suspicion and sometimes hostility. They do not tolerate evil religions.
The Raven Queen is paid homage throughout the forest, as in other lands.
The history of the people of the forest is unknown other than “there has always been The Road”. Much has been lost in the rise and fall of civilizations, and the simple people have stopped recording history ages ago. Indeed, the best historical references of the Vestole come from the scholars of the Starreach Kingdoms, but beyond 9,000 years or so, those get sketchy and very speculative.
There are some notable tales, however.
The Tale of Tak
Tak was a human mountain climber said to have scaled each of the highest peaks for reasons other than “because they are there”. Since Tak was a wizard of considerable power, much speculation as to the real reason he climbed each mountain remains.
On each tall mountaintop is a small obelisk bearing his symbol. Mountaineers claim that to touch one gives you luck.
People interested in recent history speculate that one of the reasons the Nerath Empire created keeps in the forest was to guard fell places where the veil between The World and Shadowfell was thin. While such places are natural, fell servants of evil also exploit them.
The Domain of Overlord Hekbal
Hekbal was a dwarf who settled The Hills and carved out extensive holdings. Rumor has it he met his end, over ten thousand years ago, by declaring war on a long forgotten dragonborn empire.
While this was long ago, it was widely believed that Hekbal’s domain was the entire forest, supported by great engineering feats in ruins peppering the land, ruins that last until this very day. It is widely understood that The Road also predates Hekbal.
Tervr’n was a red dragon of immense size and age, killed in aerial battle with battle wizards from the Nerath Empire. Such was the might of the Nerath flying soldiers; these feats were not commonplace but all too probable.
Tervr’n’s legend persists, as he was a sneaky old dragon. No one knew where his lair was, other than somewhere in the forest. Treasure hunters have been looking for his horde to this day.
There are several links to the underdark throughout the forest’s extensive cave systems. Over a half-century ago, several drow came to the surface and tried to make a home in the Vestole, even venturing forth during the day.
When approached, the drow were not overtly hostile, but neither were they friendly. Speculation persists that they were non Loth worshiping refugees.
In any event, there small community disappeared during a harsh winter, and nobody has seen drow in any large number since.
The March of Golems
Several hundred years ago, a platoon of iron golems was seen marching along The Road heading east. What the golem’s ultimate destination was, no one knows. Several sketches of the march persist, and dwarven scholars put some credence to it.
It goes without saying that a force that can create a hundred iron golems is disturbing. Even Nerath at its apex could not perform such a feat.
Campfire tales say that a mortal could, at the crossroads of The Road and the King’s Trail, seek infernal aid by making a pack with a devil.
Legend says this went on for a number of generations until a paladin of no small repute banished the fiend in an epic battle that took many months for the road to repair.
Rumors persist to this day that the devil was back after a hundred and one years, and that the truly desperate can be find this infernal agent.
City of Minotaurs
Somewhere in The Hills are the ruins of a minotaur-ruled a city. They met their end when the Nerath Empire and the Dwarven Kingdoms of Starreach smashed their forces into between them.
The Pyramid Prison
For some unknown reason, a black pyramid will appear in random places throughout the forest. Legends say unknown people built it to house their most notorious criminals in an extra-dimensional pocket plane, a fantastic place of dread and loneliness. Now tales claim that there are treasures from this fallen civilization contained within, but while getting into the prison is easy, getting out may be quite difficult.
Power to the Pixies?
Every generation there are odd tales of pixies emerging from the feywild to engage in naughty relations with other races, and then fading back into the feywild after a week of debauchery.
This odd legend seems to be the stuff of drunken lies or bad mushrooms, but there are good and pious women who claim to have been “drugged and molested” by pixies in their youth and then “deflowered” in a fairy ring, an interesting telling considering there are no male pixies.
Gods of the Seasons
Several hundred years ago, the four Gods of the summer, fall, winter and spring walked the Vestole during each of their seasons, seemingly visiting people at random. Clerics call this time “the affirmation” and it is widely believed by dwarven scholars this was an actual occurrence.
Groups and Societies
There are several formal groups and societies within the forest.
The druids are an odd bunch, but they do have a loose hierarchy. A group composed of multiple races; the druids worship both Melora and Corellon, but are true druids in the sense they derive their power from the primordial forces from within the forest.
Druids, they say, seem to exist to protect the forest from problems arising from the multitude of ruins. Sometimes they will hinder ruin seekers, other times they will help.
The rangers form a loose organization to exchange news, come to the aid of people in need, hunt criminals and serve as the first response to incursions of evil and fell monsters. They are widely respected, but they have no organization, per se, only a code that serves as a guideline in certain situations.
The Anachronistic Society of Tree Hugging Wizards
The Anachronistic Society of Tree Hugging Wizards is simply an ancient social gathering of wizards who call the Vestole their home. They follow sparse guidelines on non-interference to each other, privacy, and various esoteric exchanges of information.
They also throw the occasional party, and emphatically deny the rumor that the generational pixie invasion from the feywild is the result of a party ritual gone bad.
The Road Rats
The Road Rats are a mercenary group that travels up and down The Road, often employed by caravan masters to scout ahead or provide protection services. They also serve as couriers.
They claim that The Road confers health and vigor, and most common folk, while they respect their business acumen, think of the group simply as a place for misfits and people who simply can’t sit still in one place for too long.
Spandtri, “women of the spear” ( or “spear of the woman” ), are a formal group of warrior women with their own code. Sometimes seen as quiet and dour, they can be friendly after a person proves himself or herself. Spandtri judge actions, not words.
When a woman doesn’t want to conform to the customs of the forest, settle down with a man, and raise a family, and if she has martial prowess, she can become spandtri.
Men consider it bad luck to get a spandtri pregnant. While not chase, potential suitors shun them for this reason.
Spandtri pledge to protect good people and the people they live by appreciate them greatly for their selfless service to the community.
Spandtri are not spear maidens from the old Nerath Empire. The spandtri do not accept maidens into their ranks.