Deepest and least tamed of the Border Kingdoms forests, the Duskwood fills the eastern end of the Borders, separating the Realm of the Smoking Star (a bucolic forest a-crawl with wild magic) from the largely-lawless Realm of the Ready Sword (home to brigands, misfits, and many monsters).
Few folk dare to venture far into the Duskwood's thick tangles of moss-girt trees, clinging vines, and many tiny rivulets that tumble down from knife-sharp, central ridges to carve deep 'breakneck' ravines thickly cloaked in underbrush. The breaknecks render impossible mounted passage through the forest -- or ground pursuit of anything that can jump long distances or fly. The undergrowth provides ample cover for giant spiders, snakes of astonishing size, and owlbears. Beholders are reputed to drift menacingly among the trees, and the forest is known to harbor at least one large thirst (flock) of stirges.
So numerous are the monsters of the Duskwood that some sages believe a colony of deepspawn must dwell in its depths. Others point out that the forest's plant life flourishes just as frenetically and that old tales of a nature god dwelling in the Duskwood, or it being the onetime home of a Netherese sorcerer whose now-untended generative magics run amok, may be nearer the truth.
The Duskwood's rich flora includes many rare, shade-dwelling herbs and fungi that grow larger, richer, and in more profusion than anywhere else in the known Realms. Alchemists, dyers, herbalists, scent-makers, mages, and priests will pay handsomely for specimens.
Among the ridges at the heart of the forest lie pools whose waters glow faintly with magic. Some say these were created by a Netherese arcane spellcaster of awesome might, but there are many other wild tales about their origins. The truth is unknown. These pools (the sources of the Dusking Rivers) combine the abilities of a spellward of arcane might[DMG II] with the power to restore charges to immersed magic items of a charged nature. These legendary properties have brought a host of adventurers deep into the Duskwood down the centuries, and most reported the pools to be guarded by something called the Vauntagar.
Dusk Pool Effects: Non-magical items aren't made magical. Magic items that don't use charges are unaffected, but the fact that they don't use charges will be instantly communicated to any creature touching them during immersion. At the end of every ten hours of continual or partial immersion of any magic item that uses charges, roll 1d6. A result of 1 means no charges have been gained, a result of 6 means ten charges have been gained. For rolls of 2 through 5, the item gains a number of charges matching the number rolled. Broken periods of immersion or periods of less than ten hours duration confer no benefit. A Dusk Pool can 'supercharge' an item to more than its total charge capacity, but in doing so the item is altered in a way that prevents it from ever again being recharged by that particular pool. At the end of the ten hours in which an item becomes 'supercharged,' the pool expels the item (Dusk Pools never expel items under any other circumstances).
Once venerated by a Borderer cult in ancient times, this magic remains a dark horror in many fireside tales and warriors' legends.
Seemingly lost to wizardry today, the Vauntagar is a permanent spell binding that links monsters of the caster's choice in a symbiotic cycle. Only one monster prowls Faerûn at a time, but it is replaced by the next in the cycle whenever the first is slain, sorely wounded, or desires to escape its current situation. The first beast vanishes, and the second fades into view in the same spot.
Up to a dozen creatures of widely differing abilities, natures, and alignments can be linked without apparent harm or instability (most Vauntagars have six to nine member beasts). Combat damage dealt by any monster in the cycle heals an equal number of hit points, evenly distributed, among any of its fellow monsters that are wounded at the time (the unseen, 'elsewhere' beasts are healed offstage, beyond the reach of even the most potent magical attacks). The onstage beast can't heal itself through the damage it inflicts. This repair extends to regeneration of completely destroyed body parts and elements so long as actual death hasn't occurred.
The Vauntagar magic prevents aging and inhibits disease and poisoning. The beasts in a cycle can only die violently and can't voluntarily leave the binding.
The death of a cycle creature doesn't shatter a Vauntagar binding but shuffles the order in which the remaining beasts appear. (Some cycles are reported to include the slumped forms of decomposing or skeletal beasts, but the only account of a Vauntagar entirely composed of various undead has been dismissed as a drunken minstrel's fabrication.) The adventurer Aerun Loryngyl of Baldur's Gate escaped a Vauntagar in which he faced (in order) a gorgon, a displacer beast, a sinister bat [Mon], a wemic [Mon], a chimera, a stinger [Mon], a leopard, an ogre, and a grell.
At least one Vauntagar guards each Deep Duskwood magical pool. Some sages speculate these beasts bathe in the waters to prolong the bindings. At least one binding (that includes an ogre mage) wanders the Duskwood freely, another (perhaps several) may be encountered in the depths of Undermountain, and they may also lurk in various ancient Netherese ruins.
Just what other secrets lie hidden in the depths of the Duskwood, beyond the perils of the Vauntagars, are the subject of many legends, all or none of which may be true. One speaks of a vein of emerald ore so rich that human-torso-sized lumps can be hewn away from the rock and carried off, and another whispers of an invisible tower where a wizard dwells. A third speaks of a sunken dell where a lich wanders the roofless, overgrown rooms of his once-grand mansion, compelling adventurers who reach his abode to go back into Faerûn under the goad of geas magics and perform tasks at his bidding -- tasks intended to change who wears this crown or what road that realm pursues in the years ahead.
Whatever the truth of these tales, there is one cold truth about the Duskwood -- it has claimed the lives of thousands of adventurers down the years and is still doing so today.
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 . . .