The Emerald Spire Superdungeon
An ancient and mysterious forest that marks the northwestern boundary of the River Kingdoms. This great woodland divides the treeless steppes of vast Numeria from the rolling plains and farmlands of Lambreth and Daggermark, and separates the rich vales of the West Sellen and Dagger rivers. The forest is rarely more than 30 miles wide; there is no point in the forest that is more than a long day’s march from its edges. Yet over the centuries countless travelers, explorers, work parties, and the occasional newly founded settlement have vanished into the Echo Wood’s silent green depths, whether their intent was to uncover long-forgotten treasure, explore perilous ruins, bring back trophies from deadly monsters, or win their own personal glory in this eldritch forest.
The terrain of the Echo Wood is rugged and broken. The gentle Juliver Hills marching along the eastern edge of the West Sellen’s valley grow steeper and less forgiving as one travels north toward the higher steppes of Numeria. The Echo Wood, one of the higher spots in the River Kingdoms, isn’t boggy like the forests elsewhere in the meandering Sellen flatlands. Many small streams trickle through deep, narrow ravines , winding their way westward to the West Sellen or eastward to the Dagger River. In fact, foresters familiar with the Echo Wood know the surest way to get one’s bearings is to find a stream and follow it.
The Echo Wood takes its name from the unusual clarity and confusing behavior of sounds trapped beneath the heavy canopy. Most locals suppose it has something to do with the hilly terrain or the types of trees and ground cover that prevail in the area. Things are just a little harder to find and a little more confusing within the forest’s shadows than they ought to be. Even the most wood-wise rangers sometimes find that a path they were seeking isn’t where they thought it was, or mistake the direction and distance of a companion’s cry for help.
The Echo Wood disorients and confuses creatures unused to the forest’s ways. Travelers and inexperienced loggers often report hazy mirages, strange thrumming noises, and winding paths that change from one visit to the next. Popular folklore tells that people who spend too long in the forest might even become a part of the haunted woods.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The Echo Wood is a temperate mixed forest. Most of its trees are deciduous hardwoods of various types, including ash, beech, black oak, cherry, holly, maple, poplar, red oak, and yew. A number of conifers, such as firs, red pines, and white pines, can be found there as well, especially on the northfacing slopes and in the drier, higher ridges. Groves of mighty, silver barked paueliels can be found scattered throughout the eastern reaches of the Echo Wood, which are generally wilder and less traveled than the western arm of the forest.
Because of the hilly landscape, the forest understory is quite thick in places. Dense thickets of laurel, rhododendron, witch hazel, and various briars and berries choke the steeper hillsides and ravines. Patches of nettleweed are common, as are thickets of goblinbramble, a nasty and tough briar that grows only in the Echo Wood. The goblinbramble sometimes seems actively malevolent, growing swiftly and strangling larger trees. More dangerous plants such as assassin vines and quickwoods can also be found, but are thankfully rare.
The forest’s wildlife is quite diverse as well. Ordinary animals such as deer, beavers, squirrels, hares, sables, otters, foxes, gray wolves, and black bears are all common; boars, elk, and panthers are somewhat rarer. Large birds such as owls, hawks, ravens, and woodpeckers are also found throughout the forest, but smaller songbirds seem to be scarce, lending an air of eerie silence to the entire place, interrupted only by the chittering of small critters or the sudden takeoff of a murder of crows. The Echo Wood is notorious for its population of spiders, ranging from miniscule bramble spiders (named for their thorny carapaces) to massive moon spiders, which are pallid, round-bellied horrors that can catch prey as big as elk-and the occasional woodcutter-in their sticky ground webs.
The more monstrous denizens of the forest include dire boars, dire wolves, ettercaps, owlbears, and, of course, the giant spiders. Travelers sometimes encounter the occasional forest drake or lamia in the darker recesses of the woodland, or even the green dragon Thelsterex, but such formidable monsters are thankfully rare. Nevertheless, the Echo Wood can be a very dangerous place for the unprepared to visit.
In addition to potentially dangerous game, the Echo Wood is home to numerous monsters, bandits, marauding barbarians, and tribes of evil humanoids. Kellid tribesfolk from the steppes of Numeria often pass through the Echo Wood on their way to raid the settlements of the River Kingdoms. Kobolds, ogres, and even a few trolls make their lairs in caves or ruins within the forest, and several prominent goblin tribes have attempted to restore their lost empire of Zog in the scattered temples and dilapidated forts throughout the woods. These goblin tribes are typically ruled by a powerful goblin cleric or warchief, but a few have fallen under the command of bugbears or barghests.
The Wolfmane tribes people take steps to protect their villages and sacred grounds, driving off any dangerous monsters or aggressive raiders who venture too close. Likewise, the Hunters’ Guild and the baron of Thornkeep’s guards make an effort to watch the forest within a mile or two of the town. However, the great majority of the Echo Wood is not patrolled or protected. Travelers and explorers heading into the depths of the forest take their lives in their own hands.