The Barony of Great Oak
This land occupies the high, wooded hills on the north bank of the River Scelptar, just downstream from its headwaters in the thick, almost impassable Qurth Forest.
Baron Brammath Freen, once a minor noble of Chessenta (a handsome, aging, dignified LN male Mulan human Ftr4/Ari3), rules over a sparsely-settled but militarily capable woodland realm of small steadings and many foresters (the Baron has a small bodyguard of seven Ftr4-6s, and a Baronial Wizard, but most of his subjects are skilled archers quite capable of defending themselves, being Rgr1-5s who know Great Oak's forests well). The Baronial Wizard is the white-haired, sour-spoken and cynical, but wise and kind-hearted Ammuth Lorkan (a LN male Tethyrian human Wiz8). The Baron's home is Great Oak Keep, a vine-overgrown, crumbling tower and attached manor that stands on a rock shoulder jutting out from the north bank of the Scelptar. Much older than the barony, it has extensive cellars and dungeons and--rumors insist--a hidden connection with the Realms Below (the Underdark), but many of its ceilings are unsafe, and much of the Keep is disused, abandoned to dust, mold, and spreading fungi.
Sixty-odd summers ago, the keep was the home of "the Snarling Duke," a courtier fled from Tethyr because of his lycanthropy... and his filching of a baron's treasury. The courtier, a warrior of impressive appearance, arrived as plain Arlos Pethmur, but gave himself a duchal title, and became loved by his subjects for his kind, just rule. The aging Duke of the Oak simply disappeared one spring, and a persistent local tale claims he fell down one of the secret stairs inside the walls of the keep, or stumbled into a trap in its dungeons, and lies there still, moldering and undiscovered along with most of his stolen coins.
Farm crops and forest game amply feed Oakers, but the barony has traditionally traded little (beyond forest syrup, berry wines, and woodcarvings) with wider Faerūn. Traveling merchants are made welcome, of course; the coins brought in by the careful hospitality of Great Oak's inns (a store stands near each inn, where merchants can purchase the forest syrup, woodcarvings, and berry wines made by Oakers) buy many things not otherwise available in the barony. The fastest-growing local trade is now the housing, healing, and provisioning of adventuring companies who come to the Barony to explore the ruins of Godswalk Keep and the long-abandoned dwarf-hold of Copperdelve.
Oakers say Godswalk Keep was a proud fortress-city of men in the days of proud Netheril. Today, it's an overgrown valley of crumbling ruins haunted by spiders and ettercaps, where stones often collapse underfoot to plunge intruders down into dark cellars where treasure or death may await.
The gods are said to walk these spider-haunted ruins when the stars are right. At certain times of year, Oakers insist, Garagos stalks the ruins, slaying all creatures he finds--except the Dancing Lady (the goddess Sharess) and the Forgotten One (the sinister, shadowy figure of Jergal).
To See and Survive
To certain sages, decadent nobles, and fellowships of adventurers across Faerūn, the Meeting of the Three (or the Howling, as it's sometimes called, after the sound Garagos is said to make when he encounters the deities he cannot slay) is one of the "must see" wonders of the Realms. This tradition is the origin of the motto "To See It and Survive It," which survives today as a watchword of the underground followers of the god Savras: "To See and Survive." Some sages have written that those who position themselves so as to see the avatars of all three gods at once (and survive any attacks from Garagos) gain the power of trueseeing (which also reveals the auras of creatures, much like a combination of detect chaos, detect evil, detect good, and detect law) for 1 day per experience level of the observer. Of course, for this power to be of any use, that observer must somehow escape the ruins alive, avoiding the bladebarriers that Garagos can cast from his hands, and the energydrain that Jergal enacts by passing through living creatures. Sharess makes no attacks on anyone, but her passion and beauty as she dances are such that many observers are enthralled and stand fascinated, unable to look away from her while the other avatars sweep down upon them (a character must make an Intelligence check for every round within sight of the Dancing Lady; any failure results in stopping to watch for the next round; the next round's check is the character's chance to escape thrall).
The Various Locales
The "village" of Great Oak is now just a handful of ruined cottages, a half-collapsed mill used only a few days a year as a sawmill, and an inn facing the doors of Great Oak Keep, The Old Oak (Poor/Cheap), that's run by the Baron's staff, and serves as servants' quarters when there are no visitors. Of old, the village was much larger, and was the site of a Talking Tree--an oak of huge girth--all trace of which has now vanished. Some believe it was burned years ago by priests of Baelros (Talos), who believed it to be "a vile thing" whose "dark power in the land" had to be destroyed.
The woods around the Barony grow swiftly, and many a visitor has become lost on lanes that fade away in deep woods, the farms and hamlets they once reached are now overgrown and reclaimed by the forest.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .
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