Overview: Most in Worm’s Wood assume that the druids of Aurlarist are unconcerned with mundane affairs of the folk so long as Aurlarist is venerated through annual crop sacrifices, an occasional prayer, and by perpetuating the continuation of the species through sex acts. The presence of druidic houses in hamlets and towns in the northern most and southern most reaches of Worm’s Wood perpetuates this idea for the druids actively promote humen mating and interaction. However, although this attitude may be true of certain druidic factions, the druids as a whole worry about a great deal more than just the fertility rituals of Worm’s Wood. Not only must the druids work within the convoluted machinations of the Royal Houses and other groups (religious or secular), they must also defend the sanctity of the Wood. As a whole, the Aurlarin druids seek to maintain the untouched natural elements of Worm’s Wood like their peers elsewhere in Drm; however, they take an additional step by actively (in their own mind, anyway) supporting a balance between the darkness and the light that vies for dominion. As Worm’s Wood has historically been dominated by the darker aspects of Nature, the druids tend to appear as more supportive of sapien industry and longevity, but the truth is far more complex.

Organization: Among the other druidic orders in Drm, those of Worm’s Wood actively acknowledge the three faces of Aurlarist: the maiden, the mother, and the crone. The rationale for this is unclear as most people in Worm’s Wood are unaware of the distinction. To the folk, Aurlarist’s only face is that of the maiden. This development is unique to Worm’s Wood due to the historic struggle between darkness and light, structure and freedom. While other vast wildernesses, like the Eternal Forest or Agrabathor, have assumed an internal balance of sorts (although there are some who would say that one aspect of existence tends to dominate in such areas), Worm’s Wood has forever been a place of conflict. And, most would argue that Worm’s Wood’s axis tips slightly in favor of the darker side of the Cosmos with equal parts order and chaos. As a result, the druids that eventually came to call Worm’s Wood home abandoned the traditions of their peers elsewhere which offered very little in the way of cohesion other than a few universally recognized rites (the Equinoxes and Solstices). Thus, while the druids of Worm’s Wood continue to recognize Aurlarist as having three dominant aspects (weal, woe, and balance), they have taken an additional step by personifying and distinguishing between the aspects as the maiden, mother, and crone. No one knows when it became an official element of Aurlarist worship in Worm’s Wood, but this active acknowledgement has resulted in calls of heresy from other Aurlarins. This bitter repudiation, however, is not widespread and it has slowly proliferated across Drm, although it is by no means the dominant way of thinking for most druids.

In Worm’s Wood, the three faces of Aurlarist are known by certain characteristics. The best known druids are those of the maiden. They are the druids that are found in towns and hamlets, often working to the benefit of the folk and to ensure the continuity of fertility festivals. In larger towns and the cities, the druids of the maiden also actively promote the worship of Aurlarist through the flesh. In brothels built in a round, the druids of the maiden encourage visitors of all races and both genders to know Aurlarist through physical pleasure. As a result, some that disparage Aurlarist worship refer to the maiden as “the harlot.” For the same reason, there are an inordinate number of elven and half-elven druids of the maiden. By and large, the Aurlarin Orders of the Maiden are the closest to “goodly” in outlook, although they are no more likely to be good than their counterparts.

While the druids of the maiden are well known, those that worship the other two aspects are not only little known to most of the folk, but are often not regarded as worshippers of Aurlarist. The druids of the crone are the least known and most feared. Often regarded as cruel witches and sometimes mistaken for hags or, more rarely, stunted ogres, the druids of the crone defend the darker, more dangerous areas of the Wood. They often have strong ties with goblins, hill giants, trolls and other monstrous races and are rarely encountered in civilized areas. Almost to the last, the druids of the crone are women and they have special interests in magical beasts, particularly giant specimens of otherwise “normal” creatures. The few that live near other humen tend to live on the outskirts of remote hamlets and thorps, and are sometimes seen as possessing healing powers they will share for the proper price. While it is not a fair assessment, many perceive druids of the crone as evil; these druids have done little to disabuse the folk of their ignorance. Indeed, they tend to have little concern for humen life and believe that Worm’s Wood is dying as a result of humen stupidity. As they represent impending death, there have been druids of the crone capable of creating undead animals; still, they loathe other forms of undeath and will not hesitate to destroy undead creatures created by non-druids. This is ironic as the druids of the crone are sometimes mistaken for Ostensi, for whom they have little more than antipathy.

The third aspect, the matron, boasts the highest number of druids in Worm’s Wood; just shy of 70% of all druids follow the way of the matron. To those familiar with druidic circles beyond Worm’s Wood, the druids of the matron best exemplify Aurlarin worship. While they appear largely unconcerned with the town and cities, the druids of the mother are deeply attached to the mood of the Wood. It would not be unfair to describe them as almost amoral with regard to civilization. The more dogmatic among them see nothing wrong with killing those that trespass upon their territory, with stealing crops, or leaving those not strong enough to survive on their own to die. In such acts, there is no animosity or spite, just a particularly strict interpretation of how Aurlarist expects humen to live with Nature. As they are much like the natural world they defend, they find themselves at odds with elves and gnomes who seek to manipulate and expand the softer side of Nature.

While it would be expected for these three apparently distinct groups to be at odds, the reverse is the case. While not organized in the same fashion as clerics of the Ministry, Celzar, or Dauth Alman, the druids of the Wood have a hierarchy that encourages different members to experience the different faces of Aurlarist before choosing which face to adopt. This requires that neophyte druids travel to and interact with different druids, which in turn requires that the different faces work with each other. Although the different faces do not have shared specific goals, they do have an overarching desire to defend Worm’s Wood from imbalance and this ensures that the three groups work well together. The Cradle of the Mother ensures this.

The Cradle of the Mother are the highest ranking druids of Worm’s Wood. Totaling 12 in number, the Cradle is composed of four druids from each face. Within each face, there is one druid that is raised above the others. While the highest ranking druids of the maiden and the crone are known as the High Druids, the highest ranking druid of the matron also serves as the Arch Druid, the greatest druid in Worm’s Wood to which all others defer. The Cradle of the Mother meets once a month among the Moaning Trees to discuss the events of the Wood, from political maneuvering to recent incursions to the activities of lower-ranked druids, all with the intent of ensuring balance and the sanctity of Nature.

How the Cradle selects its members is unknown, although older men and women dominate. While there aren’t any formal rules, traditionally the High Druids and the Arch Druid have been women and only rarely has there been a non-sapien among their number. Outsiders that have interacted directly with the Cradle say that although all members are allowed to speak, the Arch Druid has the final say in all matters as she is perceived as Aurlarist’s voice in the area. On occasion, however, it is said that the Arch Druid will leave the Wood to discuss concerns with other similarly ranked druids from other parts of Drm (possibly including the fabled Great Druid).

The current High Druids are Frannel Tiderunner of Overgold, druid of the maiden, and Dorlora the Covered Hag, druid of the crone. The Arch Druid is Daphna “Swiftstride” Twinsword.

Church Allies: It would be inaccurate to say that the druids of Worm’s Wood are composed entirely of classic druids. While the druids dominate Aurlarist worship, there are others that place the Goddess of Nature above all other gods, even to the point of denouncing other religions. These are not quite crusaders as they do not adhere to any formal structure; rather, they are driven entirely by their own convictions. These men and women attempt to practice the seasonal rites to the best of their ability and, if they are deemed worthy, are welcome to participate in druidic services with true druids. Such men and women are said to follow “the way of the wild” as opposed to those that just seek to practice the druidic doctrines.

Worthiness to join the way of the wild is determined in a case-by-case manner by the highest ranking druid in the area at a given time. One cannot explicitly ask to join the way but must be approached by a druid who has witnessed the individual’s dedication to nature. Once the invitation is extended, though, it is rare for a higher ranking druid to rescind the offer. As a result, very few are accorded such an honor. Walking the way of the wild requires at least 30 days of survival in Worm’s Wood no closer than 50 miles to civilization. Those that survive this ordeal will be found by their sponsor and typically brought to either a member of the Cradle or else a High Druid (the Arch Druid rarely gets involved).

Unsurprisingly, most that seek to practice druidic rites are those drawn to the comforts of the maiden. Very few of these supplicants will be invited to walk the way. Rare indeed is someone asked to walk the way by a druid of the crone since they are so distant from civilized environments.

The vast majority of those walking the way are rangers, although there are some barbarians and a few sorcerers (and these rarely learn much in the way of fire-based magic). Most others are not hardy enough to survive the ordeals of the passage rites.

Ceremonies, Rites, and Traditions: As befitting their triune nature, each sect of Druids of the face maintains their own set of ceremonies, rituals, and traditions although there are certain common ceremonies which they share. Among them are the following:

Relations With Towns, Cities, and the Royal Houses: Most druids keep out of the affairs of civilization, and generally scoff at the weakness of city-dwellers. The exception to this attitude would be among the druids of the maiden who believe that their presence in the cities is all that is keeping the folk from slipping into imbalance with Nature. As a whole, the druids are opposed to more expansion in Worm’s Wood. While those who revere the maiden and the matron are not especially concerned about the use of the Wood to support life, they are very suspicious of those who hunt to excess or seek to tear down entire patches of forest. The crones want no part of the Wood touched beyond its current state and they have been known to curse those they believe threaten the sanctity of the Wood. The druids of the crone have even taken it upon themselves to support giants and goblins in efforts to destroy new hamlets and towns, and have made it very clear that certain areas in Worm’s Wood are completely off-limits to further development (like Chariel’s Snarl or Ridgeback’s Pass).

A relatively recent schism has developed among the druids as they relate to humen settlements. The druids of the maiden and the druids of the matron have opposing attitudes regarding the use of contraception within the cities. The druids of the maiden frown upon contraception, believing that it strips humenity from their Natural state. Those that practice the way of the matron fear that the proliferation of humen, particularly sapiens, will create more need to down trees, plant crops, and build more towns and cities. The crones suspect that the matrons have the right of it and, unlike their more traditional brethren, are prepared to kill the children of those that would threaten the balance. So far, this disagreement has not grown into a significant problem, but it has been discussed for at least two centuries.

Only the druids of the maiden involve themselves with the Royal Houses and other humen powers in Worm’s Wood. Most of the Royal Houses and various lords do what they can to gain support from the druids, vocally supporting their festivals and visiting (and sometimes using the services of) the brothels. However, the Royal Houses are also often closely tied to one church or another and sometimes fear that this strain on their political interactions damages their relationships with the maiden. For their part, the druids of the maiden are not easily swayed by the Royal Houses and only get involved in their conflicts if they fear for the populace or for the surrounding Wood. Their interest in the population is not based upon altruism but upon their desire to see humens remain prosperous and fertile.

Of the other two faces, only the Arch Druid bothers to get actively involved with the Royal Houses. She meets with each new House Lord or town ruler as they ascend to power, making her expectations as they relate to the Woods known. Most of the House Lords resent what they perceive as threats and demands, but most have been wary of openly offending the Arch Druid. Simply put, most of the Royal Houses have no idea how many druids exist and do not know if they could withstand the wrath of Nature’s servants. Furthermore, each Royal House worries that a rival may get on the Arch Druid’s “good side,” resulting in a serious threat to the delicate political situation between the Houses. The Arch Druid is content to allow the Royal Houses to dwell on what she knows to be generally empty concerns as she wants nothing to do with their machinations.

Relations with other Churches and Organizations: The druids are in an odd position in Worm’s Wood. Some suspect that if they were more aggressive, they would be the most powerful group in the region. During the few occasions during which they asserted themselves their impact had significant repercussions for the rest of Worm’s Wood (like the death of Jaeggertooth). However, for a variety of reasons, the druids have remained in the background, content with allowing the folk to do what they will so long as their behavior does not adversely affect the Woods.

Part of this stance can be attributed to the motivations and movements of not just of the Royal House, but other organizations and powers in the area. Chief among these are other religious sects. The only group with which the druids can be said to have a sympathetic relationship are with the worshippers of Ganlarid. Historically, the church of Ganlarid has been one of the smaller groups, content to promote their god’s will without drawing undue attention to themselves. As defenders of wayfarers, the Brothers and Sisters of the Den limited their attentions to summer festivals, offering services as guides, and subtle manipulation of the hamlet and towns located closest to the Wynding River. Their desire to see the folk live in harmony with the Wood found symmetry with the druids who were not averse to lending aid on occasion and even participating in the few holy quests Ganlarites have undertaken. Still, the druids have little patience for the frivolity exhibited by many Ganlarites and are wary of the Brothers and Sisters’ clear interest in righteousness; as a result, the druids remain somewhat aloof to overt overtures from Ganlarites. Recent develops with the western Ganlarites and the Ministry have recently put the druids into an uncomfortable position. On the one hand, the druids have little interest in political maneuvering; however, a fair number fear that if the Ministry (whether through Quasii or Valdeze) continues to take more land that the sanctity of the Woods would be in jeopardy. There appears to be a steady, if slow, galvanizing of the druids of the maiden and the matron to support the Brothers and Sisters in their work against Ministry interests. Unsurprisingly, the Ministry despises the druids and seeks to rout them at every opportunity.

The other religions in Worm’s Wood are regarded by the druids in a fashion similar to that of the Ministry. The druids’ relationship with the Glidian religions is one of mutual contempt. The holy servants and the dawnbringers frown upon the most obvious expression of druidic faith, that of the maiden, and actively attempt to subvert the various festivals and sex rites. While the dawnbringers are usually content to preaching and leading through example, the holy servants of Celzar are far more direct and, in towns like Broadbend, have passed laws forbidding druidic practices or rites that are considered overtly carnal. In response, the druids have been known to entice the boycott of Celzarian or Nemarian business owners; over the years, a few hamlets have experienced significant turmoil in such struggles, often to the detriment of all parties. Fortunately for both groups, there is no central guide that defines the sides. The Arch Druid and the two High Druids remain removed from the conflict and there is no concept of a high priest of either Celzar or Nemaria in Worm’s Wood.

Of growing concern to the druids are the return of draconic cults to Worm’s Wood. The mutual animosity between the druids and dragon cults of Worm’s Wood is unique to the area. In other parts of Drm, the two rarely cross paths and, if they do, draconic cults tend to be more politically motivated that interested in land for the sake of land. Such has not been the case in Worm’s Wood’s history in which the dragon cults saw control and, to one degree or another, manipulation of the land as central to their interests. Thus, the druids of Worm’s Wood have opposed them at every turn. In the past, there were numerous and conflicting dragon cults, although the most prominent were those dedicated to green dragons, black dragons, Tiamat, or the Dracon. Not all green dragon cultists followed Jaeggertooth Redspine and his family nor did all worshippers of the various black dragons see eye-to-eye. This conflict helped the druids eventually push the cultists and, in some cases, the dragons out of Worm’s Wood (Jaeggertooth Redspine’s family being the notable exception). The dearth of metallic dragon cults also made it simpler for the druids as they did not need to make distinctions between worshippers. Recent developments have made the situation more challenging for the druids. The dragons that have returned to Worm’s Wood, well aware of the druids animosity, have adopted subtle means to create and promote their cults. The three greatest dragons, Noxiven, Ridgeback, and Chariel have taken on mortal form and require that their servants work underground and with purely political aims until such time as they have consolidated their power. Even more challenging for the druids is that the divisiveness of the past seems to have disappeared for, rather than dozens of dragon cults, there are no more than three. The first are the green dragon cults, which may well be one unified cult. This one proves the most difficult as the druids actually are unaware of its existence. The only hint they have is that they know that there is a large green dragon that occasionally flies from the area of the Moaning Trees into Jaegger’s Spine Mountains once a quarter. They have no idea of the dragon’s age, although they suspect it’s an ancient dragon. The Arch-Druid is furious with the knowledge that there is a green dragon possibly lairing in the midst of druid power in Worm’s Wood and is wondering if the Raiders have any knowledge of the creature. Then there are the Dracon in Eselix, Jaeggertooth, and Wyrmwood; and there are the various dragon/Tiamat cults scattered among the monstrous humanoid groups and remote hamlets. The Dracon are considered a simmering threat as their very nature is antithetical to the simple life and alignment with Nature the druids encourage. Unfortunately, the Dracon are firmly entrenched in the cities and only the druids of the maiden have any real influence therein. The druids are ever watchful of the spread of dragon worship among the monstrous humanoids and humen settlements. While the druids of the matron have taken it upon themselves to strongly discourage such worship in remote humen hamlets and have even destroyed shrines and temples, the druids of the crone have been known to pit giant and goblin tribes against those that practice dragon worship. Despite all this, the druids remain somewhat limited in their options. The Arch Druid is currently considering meeting with various cult leaders to discuss their interests in the Woods. Although she fears the answer, she hopes her expectations are wrong.

The redeemers of Dauth Alman are a relatively new concern for the druids, despite the fact that there have been worshippers of the Dark Sovereign in the Woods for centuries. In years past, the redeemers seemed content to concentrate their efforts individually while avoiding the attentions of the relatively powerful Celzarians of Bainland and Valdeze in the past. With the church having grown over the years and taken (largely unknown) control of Eselix and possibly Jaeggertooth and Wyrmwood, the redeemers’ goal is clear: complete domination of Worm’s Wood. The challenge the druids face is that they have only recently become aware of the pervasiveness of Dauth Alman worship in Worm’s Wood and have no idea who is behind it. Furthermore, as far as the druids can tell, the redeemers do not seem particularly interested in affecting the land; still, the Cradle knows well how dangerous an entrenched Church of the Dark Sovereign could be and know that they would not suffer competition for power with the druids.

While worshippers of Dauth Alman are a new threat, the presence of the Ostensi is not. In the distant past, the druids were threatened from within by heretics that were subverted into worshipping Ostensis (and, in the south, Terranolyn). Unsurprisingly, a great deal of blood was spilled over these conflicts and the far more aggressive Ostensi often dealt far more damage than they suffered in return. To make matters worse for the druids, the Ostensi have superficial similarities to the druids of the crone, making it difficult for the folk to differentiate between the two. Despite the occasional combined attempts by the druids, Ostensi continue to promote the spread of cursed lands, undead, and lycanthropes across the Wood, actively seek to despoil the Woods, and there are at least two strong families, one a full fledged Royal House, that openly worship Ostensis. The druids fear that the only things keeping the Ostensi from becoming the new face of “nature” in the Woods are the internecine struggles of the different bloodletter groups in addition to their conflicts with other religious entities. Should the Ostensi ever unite under one power, the druids doubt they would win the war certain to come. For the time being, the druids do what they can to curtail Ostensi predations. The Cradle has considered approaching the various Celzarian and Nemarian groups to help with this endeavor, but so far have always reconsidered before opening lines of communication.

Although they constitute races as well as religions, the gnomes and elves have strange relationships with the druids. It can certainly be said that the elves, and to a lesser extent, the gnomes are dedicated to the sanctity of the Woods and, in this, are of kindred mind with the druids. However, both races are given to manipulating the Woods with magic to suit their own needs, which are largely firmly rooted in their ideals of holiness. The gnomes in particular, with their enchanted Glades, are a frustration to the druids. Thus, the druids do not consider either race as allies, but also don’t go out of their way to challenge their ways (particularly the gnomes). The Guuptaud, while not feared by the druids, is treated with utmost care largely because the druids are never certain if a member of the enigmatic group is attempting to spy upon them. The druids have historically been welcome to travel elven lands and individual druids often have fairly good relationships with elves. Recent developments among the A’Grabath elves have strained these individual relationships, an irony considering that the A’Grabath have moved into a philosophic direction closer to that of the druids. Surprisingly, there are very few elven druids in Worm’s Wood, although there are a fair number of half-elves (including the Arch Druid).

While the druids have trouble dealing with the elves and gnomes, such has not been the case with the Raiders of Worm’s Wood, the largest group of bandits in the area. For the most part, the druids do not condone the actions of the Raiders, who are highway robbers at best and vicious murderers at worse. However, the Raiders – by and large – are generally sincerely respectful of the Wood and of the tenants of the druids (ironic, considering the personal disposition of Ridgeback Redspine). This attitude has prompted the druids to occasionally offer solace to Raiders, particularly those being pursued by Ministry, Quasii, or Valdeze bounty hunters. While it is rare to encounter clerics of any of the dominant religions in a Raiders’ party, druids are not uncommon, particularly those of the maiden or those who are concerned with the growth of the Ministry.

In stark contrast to their relationship with the Raiders, the druids despise the Merchants of Kharsis. The Merchants are so clearly foreign in every way that the druids find it difficult to accept them in the Woods. The fact that the Merchants have no problem cutting down trees, razing land, or burning crops to achieve their ends has made them hated enemies. Past attempts on the part of the druids to rectify the Merchants’ behavior were violently (and sometimes fatally) rebuffed. While the Merchant presence continues to grow, the druids have determined that they will do all they can to slow and preferably stop it and, if this means allying with the Raiders of Worm’s Wood and those Royal Houses that disapprove of the Merchants, so be it.

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