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Urggrik-Graastok: The Future?by Andrew Theisen
Okay, so that's my take on the twisted forest and the environs of Graakhalia. A fragile ecosystem. I'll have more thoughts on the origins, culture, and society of the Dusanu in another post, but for now, here are some thoughts of mine-
I mentioned (made a big point of, actually) the fragile nature of the ecosystem of the underground realm. So what happens when, say, a whole shitload of humanoid invaders from the Black Mountains, unknowledgable in the ways of Graakhalia, stumble in and boot out the current inhabitants?
Well, those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, right? And humanoids are notoriously damn slow learners. The natural result would seem to be that they would stumble across the Dusanu, and gradually be assimilated by them.
The Dusanu would have to accommodate greatly increased populations, thus spreading their numbers and expanding their territory, and causing lots of problems for the humanoid intruders who aren't smart enough to get out of the way.
Of course, the former inhabitants, now reduced to a fraction of their former strength (although PWA 1011 and 1012 have the Graakhalian populations at around 14,000... sure, it's a fraction of 25,000, but not as shabby as it is sometimes made out)... anyway, they'd be quick to take advantage of the situation, and perhaps use it to get their territory back in time.
Which would shatter the Master's hold on the Plain of Fire... and once his major route for reinforcements is shattered, he'll have a tough time keeping his mitts on Sind... which, as our current almanac for 1014 has it, is having massive problems of its own, to date.
Anyway, what do you all think?
Urggrik-Graastok: My take on it
Deep within the heart of Graakhalia lay the twisted depths of Urggrik-Graastok, a dark forest filled with unknown horrors.
Well, mostly unknown. :)
I've been toying with this for a while now, and I finally worked out a scenario that I enjoy for this area that lay beneath the Plain of Fire.
The story begins:
Millennia ago, the depths of Graakhalia were untouched by the hand of outside civilisation. It was a place of unknown and unknowable horrors- strange, twisted flora and fauna that survived in a deadly ecosystem.
It was to this harsh realm that Gruugrakh gnolls, fleeing persecution from the west, found themselves in. Little more hospitable than the Plain of Fire above, it at least provided shelter and food for the refugees. Over time, they began to adapt to their new environs, their interest in the strange creatures they found there at a minimum.
Not long after their arrival, a group of gnollish explorers stumbled across a vast cavern, full of lush plant life- much of it like that of the surface world, though adapted to the underground. They settled there, in the place they called Graastok, meaning "forest" in their tongue. It was a veritable haven for the beleaguered gnolls... for a time.
They soon found that the forest held more horrors than even the outside caverns. Strange killer trees and horrid beasts stalked the gnollish intruders, slaughtering and feeding on them.
The gnolls might have held out, and turned things around, but for a sudden, unexpected turn of events. During the season that later became known as Braatkrahl, certain of the beasts of the forest- creatures that possessed the qualities of plants and animals- began to release spores. A few survivors managed to escape back to other gnollish camps, bearing horror stories of their encounters, and bringing with them a new name for the cavern- Urggrik-Graastok (roughly "twisted forest", though English doesn't do justice to gnollish profanity). Gnollish bands break camp and move away from the area. A period of avoidance of the cavern begins.
Later, a Gruugrakh wokan and his companions find themselves lost in the caverns, and find themselves in Urggrik-Graastok. Intrigued, the wokan manages to convince his companions to explore it, despite the rumours. In their explorations, they find a curiosity- a group of humanoid creatures living in the forest.
Closely resembling gnolls, but seeming to be fungal in nature, the wokan begins a serious study of them. They are benevolent, unlike most of the creatures of the forest, and are seemingly related to similar creatures that have been found in the caverns- though not bestial like them. They even display a primitive intellect.
Disaster strikes when one of the gnolls is slain by the creatures during Braatkrahl. Outraged, the others strike back at the perceived threat, as the wokan protests. They entreat him once more to leave, but he demurs, and is abandoned by his fellows.
Shortly thereafter, the slain gnoll seemingly rises from the dead, bearing the fungal qualities of his slayers. The wokan is intrigued, and at first views them as a form of undead, but lacking the evil natures of others of undead kind. As he studies them, he realises the folly of this. Further, he is intrigued by their ability to teach one another. They have picked up on certain mannerisms of the gnolls, and the wokan establishes a primitive form of communication with them. Over time, he begins to arrange the abduction of gnolls from nearby areas within Graakhalia, and oversees the process of turning them into fungoid creatures. He removes himself from the vicinity during the sporing season, and manages to avoid becoming a fungoid himself.
Having overseen the creation of nearly a dozen of the creatures, and taught them gnollish ways, he brings the fungoids back to his camp, to display his accomplishment. The other gnolls, having heard tales of the creatures, won't listen to the wokan's tales, and attack he and the things on sight. Only a few remain. The wokan tries to rally them, to convince them they can grow strong and dominate the gnolls, but to no avail. The creatures turn on the wokan and assimilate him into their population.
Soon, tales of gnollish camps that have been devastated, leaving no survivors, begin to be passed around Graakhalia. They are dismissed at first, but they come with more frequency, and the gnolls realise there is a problem. The fungoid creatures are on the rise, and war quickly breaks out between the two populations. Though at first driven back by the gnolls, the advent of Braatkrahl quickly turns the tide back in the favour of the fungoids.
The war rages for years, with fluctuations in the success of both sides. Finally, a gnollish shaman, having studied the creatures, suggests the Gruugrakh flee into the upper caverns, far from the creatures. They do this, and over time, the attacks decrease in frequency, finally dwindling completely over a period of a few decades. The gnolls begin to move back into the lower caverns, but strictly avoid Urggrik-Graastok, a territory which has become taboo.
Many centuries later, Sheyallia elves, fleeing northwards from the Serpent Peninsula, find themselves sharing territory with the Gruugrakh gnolls. Fighting breaks out between the two groups, and the elves begin to settle into areas not already claimed by gnolls. Among these are the caverns surrounding Urggrik-Graastok.
They soon find the forest, and like the gnolls before them, hope to claim it for themselves, as it is reminiscent of their aboveground homelands.
They find small groups of the fungoid creatures, and though they first mistake them for gnolls, soon realise their plant like nature. They are intrigued by the creatures (now primitive once more, having forgotten any vestiges of gnollish culture they might have picked up), and study them.
Again, like the gnolls before them, a few elves fall victim to the creatures' spores during Braatkrahl. The elves react differently however; more in tune with nature, they don't view this as a hostile act, but rather as a natural floral activity. Rather than attack the creatures, they allow them to remain, and fulfil their natural life cycles.
Over time, the creatures, whom the elves call "Dusanu" (roughly, "Fungus People")- and to whom they equate a status among the underground flora that the Treants have in the above world- settle into a pattern of cooperation with the Sheyallia. Their remarkable learning ability proves intriguing, and the elves begin to teach them Sheyallian culture, and a form of sign language. They avoid the Dusanu during sporing season, and (aside from an occasional incident) do not antagonise them and cause the release of spores. The two races live in harmony in the forest. The attacks of the gnolls have become less frequent as the elves move into the forest, for they still fear to get too close.
Unfortunately, this proves to be a bad thing for the Sheyallia. As the gnolls are the primary source of sustenance and reproduction for the Dusanu, the fungoids are forced first to increase the range of their attacks- venturing further into gnollish territory; an event that causes the gnolls (whose shamans still tell tales of the horrors of the fungus men) to retreat into the upper levels. Thus the Dusanu are forced to turn inwards for their food- to their "allies", the elves.
The elves, unawares at first, are slow to respond to the threat. Though more powerful than the Dusanu, who disdain the use of weapons (though they use other tools), they quickly find themselves outnumbered, both by the Dusanu as well as the other horrors of the forest, which they have yet to fully tame. They begin to flee into the upper levels of Graakhalia, where they must fight the gnolls already present.
The elves and gnolls eventually come to an accord, realising they must share this space underground, and form a tentative peace (that eventually unifies them as a people). They initially form loose agreements to occupy separate areas of Graakhalia. Both groups mutually agree to avoid Urggrik-Graastok.
Slowly, the two groups begin to venture forth once more, as the Dusanu menace dies down. The relatively short lifespans of the creatures insure that, without a constant influx of new specimens, they will gradually die down to subsistence levels. The elves make contact with them once more, and enter into cooperative talks with them. They agree to leave the areas around Urggrik-Graastok as a "neutral zone", with aggressive acts beyond the bounds being tantamount to war. The two peoples begin peaceful coexistence once more, with elves periodically venturing into the forest to partake of the fruits of that place, and to remember the wonders of the aboveground. The Dusanu, in exchange, benefit from elven culture and civilisation (and later, Gnollish as well.)
Both elves and gnolls take special precautions not to cause the Dusanu populations to rise beyond their natural, stable levels, preferring to allow nature to keep them at population levels the underground can handle. The threat of the Dusanu has taught the elves a valuable lesson in tampering with an established ecosystem. The three races live in relative peace for a long, long time.
So long as nothing disturbs the natural ecology of Graakhalia, things remain (relatively) quiet...