Ghaer (3.5e Environment)
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|Ghaer is not the homogeneous hell it's made out to be,|
although it certainly can be a hell.
Situated at the very southeasternmost edge of the continent, the forest of Ghaer is an old haunt by any reckoning. It has stood the test of time, and stands as a reminder of an age gone by. The great woods of old have been mostly cut down to fuel the cities of the great races, and the last remnants of those endless expanses of trees are Ghaer, as well as Dunas in the Midlands. Of the two, Ghaer is the more secluded and less hospitable - which says a lot, considering that Dunas is far from pleasant.
That's not to say that Ghaer isn't majestic, because it is. Towering trees reach into the shrouded sky, leaving the humid forest in a state of simulated twilight during the day and oppressing darkness during the night. Masses of flowers, some as big as cartwheels, sprout from between gargantuan roots that snake their way through the heavy undergrowth. The air is thick with smells both sickly-sweet and disgustingly rotten, and since the winds can barely penetrate the forest, the atmosphere ends up choking.
The forest contains a variety of species of trees, including cypress, sequoia, and several types of pine. All of these seem to grow far larger and especially taller than elsewhere on the continent, and the foliage of the trees lies some hundred to two hundred feet above ground level, depending on your exact position in the forest. This means that the trees, shrubs and plants living below the canopy are of hardy and tough strains, capable of thriving with severely limited sunlight.
Attempts to tame the ancient forest aren't exactly uncommon, but they are, in the long run, uniformly unsuccessful. The sweltering heat and constant humidity of the place ruins wares and construction materials; the local fauna - and some more civilized, if no less deadly inhabitants - are dead-set on driving away intruders; and disease is rampant, at least in invaders. The forest edge houses ruins of logging camps and settlers' cabins, all of them rotten, crumbled and abandoned. All they now house are animals and bones.
Ghaer is the ancestral home of the dunners. It was from here that the race spread out into the world, and it is here the more conservative of their kind remain. Few other folks could survive such conditions, but the dunner capacity for living in trees allows them to thrive here. Ghaer dunners are stereotyped as backwards xenophobes, but even though there is some inkling of truth in this, it is far from a fair assessment. Besides, almost all who come to Ghaer attempt to colonize it aggressively: no wonder the dunners won't accept them with open arms.
The heavy canopy of Ghaer protects (or quarantines, depending on how you look at it) the forest from most of the extremes of weather. Heavy winds can't pass through the trees, rainfall is softened by dense foliage before it slowly falls to the ground, and thunder doesn't reach the earthbound at all. This means that throughout the year, Ghaer stays at a fairly constant 75° Fahrenheit (25° Celsius) and at a high level of humidity. The winters are a bit cooler and slightly less humid.
Ghaer is an ancient forest, and it has had time to grow: almost all of its area counts as dense forest (DMG, p. 87) that runs up right to the coastline. Only the northern edge has medium forest that peters into sparse forest on the borders of Rochvan. Some areas in the heart of Ghaer are truly overgrown, and only have heavy undergrowth and massive trees - sensible travelers stay far away from these parts.
The relatively flat terrain of Ghaer means that the many rivers that run to the sea are lazy and murky things. In many places the water barely moves at all, and these areas quickly turn into swamps (DMG, p. 88). These swamps often incorporate deep lakes, which look exactly like the shallower water surrounding them, making them incredibly deceptive.
Ghaer is often characterized as having constant rainfall, but this is not true. Sure, the air is constantly humid, but this has more to do with the evaporated water in the air that has nowhere to go and no winds to disperse it. When it rains, the rainfall hits the foliage, from where it slowly drips to the humid forest below. This sort of rain alternates constantly between actual rainfall and fog (DMG, p. 94). Ghaer experiences practically no wind, except at the very borders where the trees are sparser.
|When you've seen the snakes of Ghaer, you won't wonder why some think them gods.|
The inhospitable nature of the region means that only the very strong, very cunning and very deadly can thrive here. The natural fauna of Ghaer, including boars, jungle cats and carnivorous lizards are all ill-tempered and without fear of civilized folk, and the local insects seem to be of a particularly bloodthirsty and annoying type. A notable strain of animals in Ghaer are apes and monkeys of all kinds: the hooting calls and swift forms of the tree-dwellers are a common sight everywhere in the forest.
Only those who can raise themselves from the dangerous ground level can truly enjoy Ghaer. Birds in tens of thousands of types fly through the canopy, and their cacophonous singing fills the air at sunrise and sunset. Dunners, as well as their distant cousins the simians, make their home in the trees as well: dunners in treetop villages, the simians in the trees themselves. The roof of the forest is by no means a safe haven, but it is the nicest place to be. The "dunner nation" of Ghaer, such as it is, is the only true bastion of civilization in the forest, although the tribes that live in Ghaer are of a decidedly conservative bent. Some goliaths choose to live in the forest as well, but only on the northwestern edge, and even there they are few and far between.
Special mention must be made of the serpents of Ghaer. Nowhere on Pansaer are snakes as common as here: there are slithery, venomous types that hide in the undergrowth and swim in the opaque water; thick, ropy types that drop on the unwary from above and squeeze life from their prey; and indeed, stranger serpents still. Cults that worship the World-Serpent hide away in the depths of Ghaer, and their members are the only who can traverse the forest without constant danger - powerful forces make sure of that.
The seclusion provided by the ancient forest also means that a lot of rarer creatures call the forest their home. Hydras live just beneath the water lilies, cockatrices nest in roots, mephits (earth and water, for the most part) flit overhead, and minotaurs make crude hut-villages on the southeastern coastline. It seems like every year some new horror spawns in the darkness below the foliage, and it very well could be so: Ghaer is home to cult after secretive cult, many of which incorporate sorcerers and wizards who abuse their powers to call up that which they can't always send back.
|d% (Easy)||d% (Hard)||Encounter||Average EL|
|—||01-03||1 serpentine demigod, 1d4 snake-man hexweavers (6th-level sorcerer), 1d4 snake-man carvers (4th-level monk),
2d6 snake-man hunters (3rd-level ranger) and 1 domesticated giant centipede)
|—||04-10||1 bone nagaMM2 and 1d2 dark nagas||12|
|—||11-17||1d8 amorphous horrors masquerading as swamp pools||11|
|—||18-25||1 leechwalkerMM2 and 2d6 water mephits||11|
|—||26-33||3d6 huge vipers||10|
|—||34-38||4 caryatid columnsFF in pillar form in a strangely-preserved coliseum||10|
|—||39-47||2d6 dunner subjugators (4th-level fighter with barbed whips and nets) and 4d6 enslaved chimpanzees||10|
|01-05||48-56||1 serpentine lord (as yuan-ti abominationMM1) and 1d6 serpentine handmaidens (as yuan-ti purebloodsMM1)||9|
|06-12||57-64||3d4 five-headed hydras||9|
|13-20||65-72||1 water naga and 1d3 large water elementals||9|
|21-27||73-82||1 fiendish ape and 2d6 apes||8|
|35-42||91-100||1d8 man-eater tigers||8|
|43-48||—||1 goliath crocodilesoul (5th-level barbarian/2nd-level crocodile skinwalker)||7|
|49-57||—||1d4 dunner shamans (5th-level adept) carried to battle by as many apes||7|
|58-66||—||1d6 bog husks||6|
|67-74||—||1d4 minotaurs in a labyrinth of thorns||6|
|83-91||—||1 giant anaconda in a tree||5|
|92-100||—||1d4 Ghaer dragons||4|
Points of interest
Although holding the honorable title of the oldest tree in Ghaer and perhaps all of Pansaer, Mother Pine is surprisingly not a particularly majestic sight. The tree itself is a gnarly, low thing, albeit very broad, and has been close to death for many years now what with the lack of sunlight and other growth creeping ever closer.
Only the care of the tree's "family" keeps it alive. They systematically pull up weeds that encroach on the elder, seek to tear open the foliage that looms above it, and fertilize it with their feces and eventually their bodies. You'd expect such care from the most devoted of gardeners, but the family actually consists of a tribe of sentient apes, some of which know the rudiments of Vulici.
It would appear that these creatures consider the tree their mother not only in a spiritual but in a physical sense as well, but no one's quit sure: communication is hard, since the apes are far from intelligent, and aggressive towards intruders. Rumors of bark-skinned simians living among the tribe would suggest that there's some truth to this belief, but nothing's been proven.
The Coiling Ziggurat
Ghaer houses many ruins. Throughout its history, many have tried to colonize it: from the early men who sailed west and built stone citadels to ward off the woodland night, to goliaths who made simple huts in the borderlands, to even the dwarves of Carag Maragos who tried to extend their reach. Now all that remains is the stone, for wood and corpses both rot away quickly. Sometimes it feels like Ghaer gives birth to ruins.
Among the oldest such ruins is the Coiling Ziggurat. Judging by the dilapidated state of the ziggurat's stone, it must have been built in the prehistory of the continent. By whom, no one can say. It has nonetheless stood the test of time, perhaps due to its size alone - the stumpy citadel rises to some hundred feet in height, and is at least four times that wide. It's fashioned from the turquoise stone common in the area, and decorated with nephrite jade that's worn away everywhere except inside the complex.
Originally called just the Ziggurat, the name of the monument was changed in the early days of the Golden Years. A thick fog overtook the monument - mist is common in Ghaer, but outright fog is rare - and any who approached were bitten and died a convulsing death. When the fog finally cleared, a grotesque ornament had been added to the ziggurat: a massive snake-statue, constructed of bone, coiled around the entirety of the monument. It's as if a massive serpent had snaked around the ziggurat, died, and calcified instantly.
This made the Coiled Ziggurat, previously abandoned and avoided due to the dangers it contained, a holy place to the faith of the World-Serpent Ophidia. Believers far and wide dare the dangers of Ghaer to reach the monument, and consider the intense fatality rate a test of their zeal. Those who come to the ziggurat are threatened not only by the forest itself, but also mindless guardian-statues built of jade who strangle those not fast enough to escape. Spreading rumor has also attracted adventurers and treasure hunters, but they have to face the wrath of Ophidia's faithful as well.
Ghaer is a relatively level forest, sloping only ever so slightly from northwest to southeast. The lazy rivers of the forest run along this diagonal, until they finally deposit their soil-darkened, grimy water into the easternmost waters of Fathme. One particular river, called Tipua in Vulici, has its wellspring near Carag Maragos, runs the length of the Tumbling Fells, enters Ghaer, and snakes its way to the sea, giving it the distinction of being the longest river on Pansaer.
While for most of its length Tipua, which is called Vez in Mitter, is an unassuming little stream, the place where it enters Ghaer in force is famed. This place is called Tipua Falls, a roaring series of waterfalls and whitewater rapids that are nothing like the slow stream it becomes as it passes through the forest itself. The water is teeming with aquatic life, and fishermen from as far away as Patros come to test their lines in Tipua.
A tribe of Perchborn goliaths call the area near Tipua Falls their home. Unlike many goliath tribes who live between the Fells and Ghaer, this one accepts outsiders with open arms, giving them not only free access to the waters, but hiring out their own as guides and instructors, offering lodgings and food for a fee, and selling their handmade wares to those interested in keepsakes. In effect, they've become a tribe catering to tourists: many of the tribe's younger members speak Khabarat, Mitter, Maridian, or even all three.
Some of the other tribes look down on this behavior, which they consider an affront to the noble heritage of their race, and a disgusting distillation of their culture. Thus, other goliaths in the area can be dismissive or even outright hostile to travelers, as a sort of punitive measure. This has led to an unfortunate juxtaposition: the Perchborn tribe, supported by steel and sometimes soldiers from Rochvan and the Twin Cities, wage skirmishes with tribes of wrathful goliaths supported by beasts and strange arcane powers.
Examples of adventures
|An unusual enemy.|
- Gravity, the Greatest Foe: A tribe of borderland dunners on the northmost reaches of Ghaer have decided to improve their quality of life by introducing ironworks into their lives. That said, they intend to stick to their independence by not buying metal tools, but by making them: they've purchased five anvils from Rochvan for their treetop forges (constructed of stone on top of gravel, of course). Now they're faced with the challenge of hoisting the 200-pound hulks into the canopy. Their low-quality harnesses alone make it hard, but the attacks by more conservative dunners, who intend to steal and destroy the anvils, make it outright impossible. And night's approaching, with all the horrors it holds.
- Hungry For Knowledge: Waylaid by a pack of ferocious gorillas, the party (or some of them, or someone they know) is kidnapped and taken to a cavernous homestead. There, they face a surprising figure: Arui, a silverback soothsayer with genius-level intellect. He engages his captives in small talk, but with a reserved, even guilty look on his face. After the prisoners have been reprieved of their possessions, they are taken through winding tunnels towards a strengthening, vicious smell. They arrive in somewhere between a temple and a butcher's shop, with broken-skulled skeletons all around. Arui explains that his wisdom comes from feasting on the brains of sentient beings, all the while sharpening a hand axe and trying to keep his voice level.
- In The Veins: A ritual for the glory of the World-Serpent draws to a close as the midday sun struggles to pierce the canopy above cyclopean ruins. A snake-headed priest releases swarm after swarm of vipersFF from a cast-iron coffer, which immediately start towards sacrificial slaves tied to rough granite pillars. Whenever a slave is bitten by a viper, they undergo a hideous mutation: they, too, twist into serpentine forms, now slaves in mind as well as in body. Delay poison can push back the transformation for a time and neutralize poison clears it outright, but after the form has changed, only death can free those bitten.
- Majestic Hosts: Day after day of vines that your machete can barely clear, day after day of sweltering heat and hunger, and now the forest gives way to a city? You must be hallucinating. It feels very real, though: the panther-headed humanoids who inhabit the city are accommodating, intelligent, and polite to a fault. They radiate an air of threatening power, but shy away from harsh words or gestures, instead giving you a guided tour through the city, which seems to be made of nothing but absurd luxury: houses built of ivory and gemstones, bazaars of expensive fabrics and pelts, fountains of mercury and molten brass. Eventually, the panther-heads lead you to the city's edge and send you on your way, but not before filling your packs with exquisite foodstuffs and wine.
- The Doom That Came To Ghaer: Where it came from no one knows, but where it's headed is clear: an absolutely titanic golem is heading for Rochvan! Easily over two hundred feet tall and weighing thousands of tons, the vine-covered hulk moves with morose determination, trampling the forest as it goes. Trees snap like twigs as it passes, and what little weaponry can damage it can't do so fast enough: there's plenty of it, after all. The only solution is to take the fight within the golem. Someone must clamber onto the golem, fight the guardian beasts and animating spirits that inhabit the construct, make their way through perilous traps including hostile vine-doors and crushing walls, to finally face the hosts of deadly perils at the heart of the thing. If not stopped, the golem will certainly spell doom for Rochvan, possibly to the Sultanate, and perhaps even all of Pansaer.