The history of the Great Forest Tribes spans thousands of years, pre-dating all written records and stretching farther back than The Republic, The Minsheng Empire, and the earliest surviving stories across Indagar. It is a history shared by all who inhabit the Great Forest, and it revolves around Wild Magic, which permeates the Great Forest and everything within it. The culture and people of the Tribes have been completely shaped by Wild Magic, and their history is immersed in it.
The Great Forest, Wild Magic, and The Wild
To understand the Great Forest Tribes, one has to understand the relationship of Wild Magic to the Great Forest. The Great Forest stretches across approximately one-third of Indagar. It is comprised of thick, deciduous woodland, with steady, mild weather and consistent rains. The mountain range known as the Spine roughly encircles the forest in the center mass of Indagar. This region is teeming with wild life, and streams run down from the mountains into lakes which dot the landscape. This environment has sustained the people of the Great Forest Tribes since their time began. The forest's incredible vibrancy and bountiful life is not a naturally occurring phenomenon, but is driven by the Wild Magic permeating everything within the forest.
Wild Magic is latent energy of the Spirit, which seeped into reality in ages past. In a time before humans ever set foot on the world, the area of the Great Forest was a great volcano, so massive that the Great Forest is held within its ancient caldera. This volcano may actually have been one of major fonts where the Spirit entered the world in prehistoric times. There are still several wells within the Great Forest, known only to the Tribes, where Spirit still enters the world, but the magnitude of Spirit that it took to create the Great Forest is unfathomable to most, a mystery beyond modern understanding.
The effect of the trickle of Wild Magic from the wells, as well as the reserve that created the forest, provides the continued bounty of the wood to date. It is Wild Magic that sustains the forest, fills it with life, and allows it persist and grow as well as support such huge populations without ever being consumed. It is Wild Magic that keeps the weather mild and brings the rains. It is Wild Magic that causes the trees to grow so quickly and the animals within the forest to be so prolific. And yet, to the denizens of the forest, this incredible wonder seems commonplace, for they are surrounded by it, and have never seen anything but such abundance.
Yet, as much life as Wild Magic brings to this region, it, like all magics, has a darker side. Wild Magic is the manifestation of nature, uncontrolled or constrained by higher consciousness. It has a chaotic side, as powerful as a hurricane or volcano, and this chaos can be both a boon and a bane to those who must live with it. Nature includes death as well as life, and requires the survival of the fittest even in its most nurturing aspects. This unforgiving side of nature is what the people of the Tribes refer to as The Wild. By this name, the Tribes describe what they see as the conscious will of the forces around them, both as predator and as life-giver. Rarely, Wild Magic seeps into the plants and animals of the forest, gripping their minds with this chaos and sometimes transforming their bodies. Once overtaken by The Wild, a person may become savage and crazed. A person may began to mutate, growing features of animals such as through fangs, fur, or claws. These people most often lose the sense of themselves, becoming savage animals of the wilderness and running away from their Tribes. When The Wild overtakes someone, the results are often as unpredictable as nature itself.
The Life and Politics of the Tribes
The people of the Great Forest Tribes live among the woods in small, tight-knit villages which they refer to as Tribes. A Tribe is like an extended family, offering closeness and protection, but also the all the usual troubles of a large, extended family. The actual lineage of a Tribe is usually knit from a wider grouping of extended families, bonded together by some past need or design. The exact origin of a given tribe could be anything from several families from different Tribes breaking off to form their own village, or the joining of previously existing Tribes after the dangers of the forest thinned their ranks. Sometimes tribes are joined less peacefully, by the conquest of Chieftains. Ultimately, the circumstances of each Tribe are unique to them, providing a highly individualistic perspective.
Each Tribe is typically led by a Chieftain or a council of elders who provide leadership and wisdom to the families of the village. The personality of Chieftains varies as wildly as that of the Tribes themselves. Chieftains come to power over a village through a variety of means, which may be traditional to their tribe or spurred on by a sudden emergency. Chieftains commonly, but not always, hand pick their successors, which establishes the lineage of larger and long-lived Tribes, although means of succession from ritual trials to elections have been used across the Great Forest.
The life of Tribe-folk, as they refer to themselves, is a busy life spent hunting, fishing, farming, otherwise managing the needs of the village. As Tribes must defend themselves, the people of the Tribes also train martially to both protect the Tribe from outsiders and the creatures of the forest alike. It is this hard way of life which creates the individualistic and proud nature of the people of the Tribes. They believe in the power of the individual and of self only things to be relied upon for survival in the forest.
The politics of the Tribes and their interactions vary tremendously. Some Tribes and their Chieftains maintain strong relationships, trading and helping each other in times of need. Other Tribes are entirely hostile to each other, with grievances fueled by long-running feuds or ancient disputes. Some Chieftains are ambitious enough to wage war and conquer their neighboring Tribes, often settling into a sort of feudal system where lesser Chieftains report to a central authority. Other, more passive Chieftains avoid conflict by moving their people across migratory paths deeper and deeper into the forest. Ultimately, it is rare that any Tribe ever grows so large or powerful as to encompass more than a few nearby villages, so most specific customs do not have much chance to spread far. Only the oldest and most successful traditions of the Great Forest tribes can be found far from their place of origin.
Druids and Bear Shamans
Druids are both the spiritual leaders of a Tribe as well as practitioners of Wild Magic. Each Tribe maintains its own Druid, and Druids are often held in higher esteem than a tribe's Chieftain. The arts of a Druid are a matter of life and death, and as such Druids command respect from not only within their own Tribes, but also among their neighbors. Potential Druids are typically selected young, when a senior Druid finds a candidate with an affinity for Wild Magic and placed in an apprenticeship that lasts throughout their childhood. In this time, they learn how to sense and command Wild Magic. Able to feel the Wild Magic in the atmosphere, Druids can not only attempt to control it but also to spread or dissipate it, protecting their Tribes from The Wild.
Further, Druids are spiritual leaders, learned in the lore and practices of their people. Druids maintain the history of a clan, keep its stories, and guard its culture. They also study the life of the forest around them, and develop herbal remedies they can use to treat the ailments of their village, preserving lives and spirits alike. A Tribe without a Druid is vulnerable, and such groups often merge with other Tribes simply to gain the protection of a Druid. The members of a Tribe will sacrifice much to protect their Druids, so that the Druid can continue to protect the Tribe.
In contrast, Bear Shamans are not members of any Tribe and are instead seen as neutral figures outside of the Tribes. Bear Shamans take up their role after they have been overtaken by The Wild. They disappear into the wilderness, just as many others who suffer that fate, but either through force of will, strength of body, or a great mastery of magic, they are able to overcome The Wild instead of succumbing to it. When they return from the Forest, they are no longer the same as when they left. They are gifted with enhanced senses, magical powers, and a preternatural awareness of the world around them. As conquerors of The Wild, Bear Shamans are greatly respected, but also feared and shunned for fear of what The Wild may have done to them that mere Tribes-folk could not understand.
Once an individual has become a Bear Shaman, they leave their Tribe, family, and friends, moving into the Forest to seek out other Bear Shamans. As if drawn to each other as a pack, Bear Shamans wander the Great Forest, visiting Tribes, interacting with Druids, and acting as messengers and wanderers. They can sense a kindred presence from miles away, connected invisibly by the power of The Wild. Bear Shamans seem to be immune from the hostile forces of the Forest, unafraid of the creatures of the woods and able to traverse the forest with near impunity. None know why some of the greater horrors of the Great Forest do not attack the Bear Shamans, although many Bear Shamans believe that the creatures recognize powers greater than their own. The Tribes rely upon Bear Shamans as ambassadors, messengers, and leaders. It was Bear Shamans who left the Great Forest to establish relations with the other peoples on Indagar, and it is often Bear Shamans who work to end hostilities between Tribes, and negotatie deals and compromises between them.
For all their wisdom, magical knowledge, and political clout, most agree that the greatest power of any Bear Shaman is that of transformation. All Bear Shamans can change their shape into the form of a variety of woodland creatures, from deer and rabbits to bears and wolves. The name of their station comes from the great were-bear transformation they undergo when called to battle, a hybrid mantle more terrible than any other than can assume.
When The Wild overtakes a person, it can have many different effects on the mind and body. Some master these changes and become Bear Shamans. others are completely consumed by it, becoming nothing more than monsters. Those so transformed are a danger to others, and must be hunted by the Rangers. And, then there is are those in-between, still in a state where mind and body have become touched by The Wild but not completely consumed. These people are known as Wilders.
Those consumed by The Wild leave their village, never to return. This is not simply because of social custom or pressure, but due to a subliminal call that seizes the afflicted and pulls them into the Great Forest. For those that can maintain some link to their humanity, they often find their way into the packs of Wilders, which roam the forest, surviving off of the land and the hunt. Some Wilders have undergone a transformation that brings animal-like features such as fangs, fur, claws, eye shine, or any number of other features. Others can transform themselves fully or partially into woodland beasts, although only the Bear Shamans can control such a state. These packs of Wilders are dangerous if provoked, but they do not rampage wildly or generally conflict with the villages of the Tribes. In this, they remain apart from the monsters of the forest, having kept control of their humanity, no matter how in touch with The Wild they have become. Wilders may catch and eat raw meat from the bone, run on all fours, or react with the fearful caution of wild animals. Yet they also still speak, laugh, and act as much as any other person, despite their strange affliction and calling. In many ways they are as wild, ferocious, and vibrantly alive as the forest around them.
Wilders are not without reason, and have been known to join the Tribes for larger causes, from wars to great monster hunts, always appearing in communal packs. Different packs of Wilders often share certain changes in common. Some Wilders, called Howlers, bay like wolves at night and while on the chase, and the cacophony of sound they can produce as a group is ear-shattering, with a force born of magic. Other Wilders are known for their raw ferocity and strength, carrying over-sized mauls and axes, or festooned with throwing weapons. Great survivors and truly touched by The Wild, Wilders remain aprt from the Tribes, both out of fear and respect. All among the tribes know that perhaps one day, they too may find themselves wandering into the forest to become a Wilder.
Life among the Tribes isn't for everyone, but few can survive along in the Great Forest. Among those Tribes who are close to the Highway, some younger members travel away and into the rest of Indagar. For those to whom this does not appeal, or who do not have this option, there is the life of the Ranger. This life may also forced upon an individual, through exile or as the last survivor of a disaster. The Rangers of the Great Forest are a mix of wanderers, outcasts, and loners who suffer loose organization into martial bands for mutual support.
The most organized Rangers serve as the martial law of the Great Forest, and act in two roles which keep them respected by the Tribes around them. Rangers who serve their people are accorded respect and given whatever supplies they need, even if they got their start as exiles from the Tribes around them. In their first, more common role, Rangers are called upon to act as wardens or enforcers, catching runaway criminals and punishing transgression. this may mean hunting down a fleeing kinslayer, or it could mean taking in new Rangers as the Chieftain's deposed rivals are exiled. If two Tribes are at odds, the Rangers may also be called by other nearby Tribes to keep the violence from spreading too far, protecting the borders of neutral territories from both of the warring sides.
In addition to their role as peace-keepers, Rangers also serve as hunters and executioners for those who have fully sccumbed The Wild. Such individuals become dangerous, warped in mind and body, and often grasped by predatory urges. They stalk through the forest, attacking human and beast alike. In rare but horrific occasions, entire Tribes can succumb to The Wild at once, an entire people gone mad. To protect against such threats, alone or in numbers, is the more important, although less frequent, task of a Ranger. It is one for which they are given great honor as well as a wide berth by their village-bound brethren. Typically, the Tribes do what they can to supply what the Rangers cannot provide for themselves, but do not welcome them to stay within their village for long. Similarly the Wilder packs are also uneasy around Rangers, who live in the depths of the forest as they do, but remain more apart from it. For their own part, Rangers often prefer their lives alone, and find the solitude their role place upon them to be no great burden.
Some bands of Rangers are also known as Elk-Riders, as they tame the Elk of the forest and use them as enormous mounts for both battle and for travel. All Rangers also train in the ways of stealth and tracking, the better to serve the roles the Tribes may require of them. Although most Rangers operate in groups, some Rangers, known as Stalkers, also train to hunt alone, using their stealth and uncanny survival instincts to miraculously survive for weeks within the Great Forest, avoiding predators and exposure, before reporting back to their groups.
Life Inside a Village
Life within a village would be considered simple one by the standards of those elsewhere in Indagar, who might dismiss it as simple barbarism. However, the Forest Tribes dismiss such narrow-minded views of culture, believing that their connection to the Great Forest is far more magnificent than any great structures built by Arkland or the Old Republic. As such, although outsiders may view village life as something beneath them, the people of the Tribes see it as quite the opposite.
Most members of the Tribes are farmers, hunters, or artisans. Farmers within the Tribes maintain generally small fields either inside the boundaries of a village or just outside of it. Few would dare tend a field outside of earshot of their fellows for fear of natural predators, but the bounty of the forest allows them to survive on the output of a small patch of land. On these plots, they plant vegetables, herbs, berries, and other varieties of edible or medicinal plants. Farmers make up the largest group of villagers, often around half of the village. However, the danger of the forest is such that no tribe can afford to have so many of its population fully devoted to peaceful pursuits, and the farmers of every tribe are practiced in battle enough to aid in the defense of their village. Many who help provide for the village are hunters instead, traveling into the nearby Great Forest to hunt for meat. Together, hunters and farmers provide for their people, allowing them to reap the bounty of the forest for all.
Villages are also full of artisans who provide for the village's needs in various crafts. Many villagers learn some trade or another, but true masters of a craft are rare, as the time and opportunity for such specialization is not common. Particularly skilled artisans are rare, and when they become well-known, Chieftains of other tribes might try to claim their allegiance or hire away their services with promises of status and honor.
Most Tribe villages are constructed among the trees, after clearing an area of the forest and constructing homes of thatch, rock, or mud. If a village is not near a stream or river, acommunal well is also common. Most villages are centered around a larger structure, often built of wood and used as a meeting area for the village for either religious or political purposes. One feature common to other socieities of Indagar that is notably absent from the villages of the Tribes is a marketplace of any kind, as the people of the Tribes operate on a system of communal sharing and reciprocity instead of trade or barter.
Although villages do not maintain a formal warrior class, a warrior culture pervades the tribes. Villagers are trained for martial combat from an early age, and continue to train until they are too old to march to battle. As a result, almost everyone in a village is ready to go to battle when needed. Amidst the dangers of the Great Forest, such martial preparedness is an absolute necessity.
This warrior culture is all-encompassing. Even farmers are proud to bear their battle scars. Weapons, armor, and shields are passed down through generations and are considered family heirlooms. Skilled craftsmen or armorers are valued members of any village than can recruit or train them. As a result, if a villager has with finer weapons that hide shields or tooth daggers, these weapons are greatly prized, and are passed down to their children.
Martial training within the Tribes focuses on individual prowess, rather than group or formation tactics. Each warrior trains to wield a variety of weapons, although they focus on those weapons they are possess themselves as a practical matter. As a result, any given villager is a unique, individual warrior and fights best in that manner.
Stories of the Forest Tribes
The stories and legends told around the communal fires about the Tribes are innumerable, covering thousands of years of history unrecorded in any written book. The age of many of their stories is greater than the written history of Indagar, or that of any other surviving culture.
Learn More About: Stories of the Forest Tribes
--Jgoldfarb (talk) 02:59, 19 October 2016 (AST)