DescriptionPain. Suffering. Bloodshed. This is what created the Bloodhaunt Forest. The ground is covered in grass and flowers, but below that, the soil is deep red. The trees resemble cherry trees, abloom throughout the year. But the blossoms are a bit darker, and there are never any fruits. The Bloodhaunt Trees are spawned by war. They never bring life, only death and suffering. As Ashandri was born from the fragments of the old world after the apocalypse, the two nations of Delvaroth and Larysh collided and fused. In the panic and confusion that followed, the new neighbours attacked each other. There wasn't really any reason for it, other than fear, confusion and overreaction. But once the bloodshed started, it took only hours before it turned into an outright war. In the history of the first days of Ashandri, the conflict between Delvaroth and Larysh, which people just called the Ember Wastelands afterwards, turned into the worst warzone in the entire world. Thousands upon thousands died on the battlefield, killing each other believing they defended their homelands. Many people hadn't realized by then that the new world was cut off from the afterlife in the first days. And those who died turned into Unbound Spirits, forever banished from heaven and hell. In the night following the second day of Ashandri, entire legions of ghosts came back to continue their war. A sight that terrified the survivors of both sides so much that most of them ceased fighting the very next day. In the Bloodhaunt Forest, the undead warriors keep coming back every night since then. Many of them continue fighting each other, bound in a pointless war that cannot be won. But there are those spirits that understood, sooner or later. These souls now either try escaping the neverending war, or try to convince the other spirits to cease the fighting. The other undead soldiers usually treat them as deserters. But since nothing can kill an Unbound Spirit forever, and they keep returning night after night, some of the so-called traitors stick to their former companions. Hoping that constant dripping wears the stone, they endure being treated as turncoats to save their comrades in the long run. But the grisly events on the border of the two regions didn't just affect the warriors that fought here. It changed the very landscape, turning the ground blood-red forever. As if tainted by the hate and anger, plants and animals developed exaggerated features of defense or aggression. Roses with dagger-like thorns, vampiric butterfly swarms that can quickly kill a human, and wolves or wild cats with fangs as big as swords are a common sight here. But the most striking feature are the Bloodhaunt Trees. On the third day after the creation of Ashandri, red seedlings sprouted from the ground. They grew about a foot every week, turning into large trees in just a few months. It didn't take long until the area was known as the Bloodhaunt Forest. Touching the red petals leaves a stinging feeling, even if it doesn't actually harm a person. Bloodhaunt Paste, which is made from these petals, has become an infamous torture device in some places, giving the victims excruciating pain while leaving the body unscathed. But it's the trees themselves that give people nightmares. Their crooked trunks look as if there are faces captured within. At night, when the undead soldiers appear, their blossoms give off a ghostly glow, and a distant wailing can be heard in their vicinity. Those who sleep or meditate near a Bloodhaunt Tree have unsettling visions of themselves going on murderous rampages. But these nightmarish delusions aren't just bloody. They always tell a story based on the individual's personal experiences, showing mostly true things with just a few subtle lies woven in. Lies, and sometimes even just exaggerations, that explain why the bloodshed is justified, and why certain people deserve to be killed. In these dreams and visions, the person is a hero, not a killer. Sages from the Arcanists that have studied the trees believe that they are somehow nourished by war and murder. According to their theories, the Bloodhaunt Trees actively keep the undead soldiers fighting, and there will be no chance for salvation as long as the forest exists. Despite the conditions in this area, many different people are drawn here. The twisted plants and animals offer many interesting ingredients to wizards and alchemists. The sap of Bloodhaunt trees is known as a highly effective poison, and the fangs of Harrowsnakes are often turned into daggers. And there are still many spoils of war: The possessions of fallen warriors, magical items used as weapons against the enemy, and the remnants of entire towns and cities that were wiped out in the battles. These razed settlements are also one of the few places where you can meet "civilian ghosts": The restless spirits of people who simply happened to live here, and who had the bad luck that their home town or city turned into a battlefield.
ResidentsThere are no real settlements in the Bloodhaunt Forest anymore. A few corrupted druid circles tend to mystic dark groves, and some travellers set up a camp as base of operation for longer missions. Aside from those, there are few mortal inhabitants in the area. At night, the undead armies appear. It begins with a strange shimmer in the air, which turns into ghostly figures within seconds. The Unbound Soldiers act as if no time has passed since the last sunrise, continuing whatever mission or battle they are headed towards. They usually treat mortals either as enemies or allies, or as civilians that really shouldn't be here.
Important charactersGeneral Varizay, a half-elf, was one of the great leaders of the Delvaratian armies. Her birthplace, the city of Shalucan, was burned to the ground by a legion of Ember Orcs, and she has sworn to wipe out the entire species of orcs. She controls three legions with about three thousand soldiers each, known today as the Varizay Warriors. With that, she has the biggest army of ghosts in the Bloodhaunt Forest. Her goal is to not only fight against the spirit armies of Larysh, but one day invade the neighboring country and slaughter everyone who lives there. To Varizay, there can be no peace as long as a single enemy still breathes. Sarukka Golgrun, an Ember Orc, leads the Blazing Forces, a self-organized militia from Larysh that once tried to defend a group of villages from the invading Delvaratian armies. The group consisted of only about seven hundred people, but they included experienced adventurers, wizards and engineers. Sarukka knew how to utilize the abilities of her soldiers, and they alone killed about five thousand warriors from Delvaroth. In the end, they faced the remaining forces of the Varizay Warriors. Depleted of many of their ressources, tired and exhausted, they were no match for the soldiers anymore. Although they still killed about half of their enemies, the Blazing Forces were entirely butchered by Varizay's legions. After they fell, Varizay ordered the massacre of all residents of the local villages. As ghosts, Sarukka and her companions still defend the villages, killing and dying night after night - sometimes successful, sometimes failing again. Myorush Vagati is an Ember Orc druid that came to the Bloodhaunt Forest as a healer, hoping to repair the damage that was done to this place. Unfortunately, he stumbled upon the Sorrowvale, a valley overgrown with Weeping Rosebushes. These haunted plants smell like the most beautiful of flowers, but the branches slightly move or even crawl over the floor, hunting for living flesh. For some reason, they didn't see Myorush as food. And instead of bringing healing, the druid himself was corrupted by the whispering voices he heard in his head. By now, he has turned Sorrowvale into an unholy grove, and gathered about a dozen other corrupted druids around him. Mebabb arobo Ovlor is a Dreevith sage who travelled the newborn world of Ashandri for three years before arriving at the Bloodhaunt Forest. He is both fascinated and deeply woeful about what happened here. For months, he has been travelling through the forest, studying the ghosts as well as the twisted and changed flora and fauna. Whenever the opportunity arises, he talks with the ghostly soldiers, trying to heal their spiritual wounds while learning more about them. Djirox the Seeker is a ragtag tiefling who lived his first years in Ashandri as a pirate travelling the Ocean Heart. About a year ago, he felt the desire to feel solid ground under his feet, and travelled the world. Conning or robbing people to get whatever he wanted, Djirox is a wanted man in many places. He arrived in the Bloodhaunt Forest to escape a bounty hunter, and upon learning the details of the place, decided he wanted to stay. The tiefling travels from one location to the next in his wagon, searching only for the most valuable treasures and powerful magical items. Whenever meeting someone, he acts as a merchant, usually introducing himself with a fake name. He is actually willing to trade or sell, but he makes sure he always has the better end of a deal. Sometimes he even steals back an item he sold if he didn't manage to outwit his customers right away.
The TrenchAt the southern edge of the newborn world, close to the border between Delvaroth and the Ember Wastelands, is a natural rift of about two miles in length. This fissure, located on the Delvaratian side of the border, was a place of suffering even before the war erupted. The Trench lies about a hundred yards away from where Ashandri ends and the purple void begins. At its southern edge is a now-abandoned fortress that had been a magic academy before the apocalypse. But it wasn't just some academy: It was built by the Arizai, an organization of humanoids serving evil dragons. The Arizai were known for kidnapping promising children no older than six years, and shaping them into willing servants: The next generation of ruthless vassals, each one under the direct control of a single dragon. In their young ages, they were kept in the caves deep in the Trench. As soon as they were obedient, they were allowed to go upside. This meant the academy, where they learned to master magic, including spells that were forbidden elsewhere. The students were shown in practical examples what magic was capable of when it wasn't limited by ethical boundaries. And they were taught what would happen to them if they didn't comply to the will of the dragons. When Ashandri was born, a group of Ember Orcs from the now-nearby village of Vabrac came to explore the new environment. Had they found any other place, things might have turned out peaceful. Instead, they met the Arizai - and the evil wizards and sorcerers were hellbent on killing anyone who found their secret academy. Only a single orcish girl escaped the attack, finding her way back to Vabrac and telling everyone what happened. The locals quickly organized a retaliation, and accompanied by giants and fire elementals, they gave the spellcasters quite the fight. In the end, the Arizai were forced to hide in the Trench. What they didn't know was that the collision between Delvaroth and the Ember Wastelands had opened up tunnels to ancient gas chambers. And as the dragon servants hid in the trench, they suddenly became dizzy, poisoned by the gases, and eventually all suffocated. Their Unbound Spirits now haunt this place, still believing they have to protect their secrets from everyone else. The Arizai ghosts even research new ways of magic, while waiting for their dragon masters to return (most of which didn't even survive the end of the old world). Only a few of them have realized they are finally free, and abandoned the Arizai. They now roam the Bloodhaunt Forest, most of them as ruthless (or broken) as they were in life, seeking little else but personal power. As the Arizai academy is protected by the Unbound Spirits, there are still many treasures and secrets to be found here. The occasional treasure hunters follow the promise of wealth and power, but few of them ever return.
SorrowvaleA beautiful valley, filled with the most alluring smell of roses, lies close to the edge of the Bloodhaunt Forest, about thirty miles away from Sharloc's Trade. The picturesque landscape looks like it was taken right out of a romantic painter's dream. The valley is about a mile wide, and surrounded by large Bloodhaunt Trees - that, for some reason, don't grow at all in the vale itself. Unfortunately, the hauntingly beautiful scenery conceals the true nature of this place. The roses of Sorrowvale are a semi-sentient evil that existed here even before the creation of Ashandri. As so many things in the Bloodhaunt Forest, the flesh-consuming plants were not only changed by the magic that brought forth the new world, but also by the tainting effects of the bloodshed and war. This made them not only more evil, but also more powerful. The Weeping Rosebushes, as these plants are called, can adjust and move their branches, even make them crawl over the floor. They aren't much faster than a small crawling bug, but that's enough to trap and catch some animals - and occasionally, sentient beings. They are called weeping because, after they have eaten, the blossoms drip out the blood of their victims like red tears. But Sorrowvale is not just the domain of the Weeping Rosebushes, but also of a circle of corrupted druids. Led by the Ember Orc Myorush Vagati, the druids consider the valley their holy grove. The roses, in return, tell them dark secrets in whispering voices only their humanoid servants can hear. The Sorrowvale druids seek to spread the Weeping Rosebushes, but the plants need very specific conditions to flourish. As such, the Sorrowvalers sometimes travel for days or even weeks to find a good place to plant new seedlings.
Bloodfeast InnDuring the day, this place is nothing but a ruin. In the old world, the Tumblecup Inn was located at an important junction right at the border of Delvaroth. Dozens of travellers stayed here every night, and the gnomish innkeeper Yandel Buckball ran a profitable business. But during the war of the dragon gods, the ancient red dragon Vazzron came here searching for clues about a draconic artifact. She knew it was buried here somewhere, and figured that someone here had to have some helpful clues. In the last week before the apocalypse, everyone in the Tumblecup Inn was held hostage by Vazzron. She interrogated them mercilessly, killing and feeding on those she was certain didn't know anything. Simply to mock and humiliate him, the dragon forced Yandel to paint a new name on the inn's sign: The Bloodfeast Inn. When the final day came, Vazzron stopped caring about the artifact, and simply kept toying with the surviving humanoids. Only about a mile away from the Tumblecup Inn, the dragon god Zathruax landed and sank his claws into the ground. In his madness, he ripped the entire land of Delvaroth out of the world. Vazzron knew her soul would soon be with him, and as she waited for her death, she released her own final fury and burned down the inn. Only, this wasn't the end. Ashandri was created, and the Ember Wastelands crashed and fused with Delvaroth. The impact created earthquakes and hurled giant rocks through the air - one of which hit Vazzron. And as Ashandri shifted to Braythe, the red dragon slowly died from her wounds... to return as an Unbound Spirit, kept forever from the afterlife she believed she deserved so much. Yandel, on the other side, had managed to crawl out of the burning inn. But his wounds were already so severe that he knew he, too, would die. He found the now helpless dragon outside, took all the chains and ropes he could find, and bound Vazzron to the ground. Then, sitting in front of her massive head, the two watched each other dying. And the night after, they returned. But while Unbound Spirits usually carry a projection of what they had with them when they died, Yandel was somehow granted extraordinary powers. When the two reappear at night, Yandels old inn as well as all the chains and ropes that keep Vazzron bound materialise as well. But not just that, the entire place appears absolutely real. Every night, the ghost of the gnome stabs the dragon to death, before opening his inn to everyone who seeks a place for the night - whether mortal or ghost. Curiously, the food and drink he serves nourish mortals, and he never seems to run out of stock. But those who come here at night, thinking they found a regular inn, are up for a painful surprise: At dawn, the entire inn - including the rooms and beds of those who slept here - simply vanishes.
Local rumours and news
- Khar Nadrath from Felmor's Nest is organizing a research party into the Bloodhaunt Forest. He is working together with a member of the Arcanists to better understand the nature of these spirit beings. Word is he is still looking for adventurers and mercenaries willing to offer protection to the sages.
- Magoa, an elven druid from the Spirit Fields, has travelled here to fight the corruption of Sorrowvale. She believes the corrupted druids can still be saved, but only if the Weeping Rosebushes can be destroyed first.
- Malacraz is a bounty hunter from Blackbed looking for Djirox the Seeker. He is aware of the dangers in the Bloodhaunt Forest, and actively looks for trustworthy companions. As he gets his payment from one of the council members of Blackbed, there'll be enough for everyone to get their equal share.
- An organization of assassins from Hollow Market is currently working to build a secret lair at the border of the Bloodhaunt Forest. Their goal is to harvest enough sap from the Bloodhaunt trees to establish a constant production of deadly poison. The Arcanists are trying to sabotage their efforts, but so far, they haven't found the hideout.
- A large black dragon has been seen flying over the forest for weeks now. Rumours are he (or she) is looking for a secret academy or an abandoned fortress, and it could turn out really badly if the dragon is successful.
- After a case where a council member from the Tower of Memories was kidnapped and tortured with Bloodhaunt Paste, the council has officially banned the substance. Unfortunately, making the entire case public has only created more interest in the paste. Black market vendors from all over Delvaroth now try acquiring the material, or the knowledge to produce it. The Towrys grant a generous reward for everyone giving solid proof that someone tried to buy or produce Bloodhaunt Paste.
The Unbound Soldier spirits that exist in the Bloodhaunt Forest never leave the area - but within the forest, they move wherever their next mission takes them. Every night, the undead legions appear. Wherever you are in this haunted land, there are almost always some ghosts nearby, and you're lucky when there's no entire army manifesting around you. Aside from the humanoid ghosts, there are also animal spirits here that died within the first five days. They often don't realize they have died, and the bigger predators among them are a real danger to travellers - of course, only at night.
Before the apocalypse, the area that is the Bloodhaunt Forest today was once part Delvaroth, part the queendom of Larysh, now known as the Ember Wastelands. For Delvaroth, this area was a border region, with only a few bigger cities here - but many smaller towns and villages. Invasions or smaller forays from other countries happened again and again, and the locals were used to defending themselves. This part of Larysh, the queendom that became the Ember Wastelands, was less populated. There were smaller towns, usually in the area of an oasis, and a few big cities. But most of this area was just open desert, with many wild and dangerous creatures as well as nomadic tribes. In times of need, those nomads were known to attack smaller towns or caravans trying to cross the desert. In other words, people in both regions were used to defending themselves. After the old world ended, the survivors were on high alert. This is most probably part of the reason why the apperance of new neighbours escalated so quickly.