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Hellwood Aldryami
A Discussion with Ken Rolston

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Nick Brooke: The elf refugees from the Moonburn on Rist would have finished up in Hellwood. I think they became twisted when they "set down roots" in the tainted ground of Dorastor. I don't think what happened in Hellwood can be entirely natural (i.e. the result of a lust for vengeance after Rist): I incline to blame the chaos of Dorastor. It's possible they were assimilated into an existing elf community or forest-psyche, if you prefer, with krjalki dominant over new settlers -- but this avoids the "corruptive" influence of Chaos, and seems to run counter to what's in Land of Doom p.52Rb (Aldryami Rune Masters in the Hellwood have to become illuminated and then Krjalki).

The population may be exclusively from Rist, but the corruption that has been worked upon them can be blamed on the ambience of Dorastor. Maybe they thought they could replant a "clean" forest in Hellwood and were sorely disappointed: like the ever-popular "failed colony gone native" theme from Science Fiction (Cherryh's 40,000 in Gehenna, et al.). Elves are long-lived, and some of them remember and could recount this tragic tale.

Maybe the mediating self-sacrifice of the Hellwood Krjalki to the forces of Abomination keeps the chaotic taint from all the (apparently) normal brown elves of the forest? Noble, eh?

Ken Rolston: Elves fear pollution and defection. External borders and internal dogmatism obsessively defended. Hellwood Krjalks are heroes who protect society from chaos threats of Dorastor. They do not go dormant in winter, but remain as krjalks to protect forest. Result of krjalki Heroquest magic. Most of year Hellwood elves are mostly standard Aldryami high in xenophobia. In winter Aldryami sleep while krjalk wander forests. Krjalks are barely sane berserks - but remain within borders. Only year-round sinister effect of krjalk worship involve worship ceremonies required by krjalk cult - feeding tree roots with blood, power, bound spirits - or something.

Hellwood elves venerate and fear krjalks.

[Maybe] Krjalk elves can manifest krjalk features as a divine magic in warm seasons. In winter they are involuntarily and constantly krjalk.

Reputations of krjalks among broos is fearsome. Even Ralzakark appears to respect their borders. (Is Ralzakark in some way a krjalk? Has he a quiet pact with them? Do they participate in waking Dorastor --wittingly or unwittingly?)

Nick Brooke: Count mine as a vote in favour of Krjalki taking chaotic form all winter long. It's neat. Holdstock had something similar in Lavondyss: friendly holly-jacks becoming cruel, non-sentient winter-wolves. It worked there, too.

Whether they could unwittingly have awoken Dorastor is a great philosophical question. Krjalki battle chaos monsters by becoming chaos monsters. The elves wouldn't have a phrase for "fighting fire with fire", now, would they, or maybe they'd be able to express what was going on. But the whole Nietzsche thing is inherent in Arkati and Illumination. Krjalki and other Illuminates would appreciate the irony.

Ken Rolston: Krjalk elves do not produce renegade elves. They seek out and slay any who would leave the society.

In preserving borders, Krjalks do not parlay unless force fails. They fear death greatly, and avoid melee where possible, preferring to use missiles, magic, and terror. Nightime ambush is a favorite. In winter krjalks are less timid, less rational, more berserk, and may melee recklessly rather than use the terrain and maneuver to advantage.

The krjalki gained their ascendancy over the community through their sacrifice in volunteering to safeguard the colonies on the march from Rist and through the long winters, regardless of the consequences to themselves. The acceptance of chaos taint that appears as apostacy to other elves is seen in the community as self-sacrificing commitment to the protection of the community at the cost of great personal suffering and isolation. Unlike the volunteer senior warriors, most krjalki are young and exceptional warriors in personal combat; the seniors are typically both mentally and physically feeble, and of doubtful value in a skirmish or pitched battle against intruders. The krjalki, on the other hand, often have chaos features that enhance their combat skills, and the resentful, violent, self-destructive impulses that would be pathological in a normal brown elf are actually heroic virtues in the fanatic Krjalk cult.

Any plan of alliance between the Hellwoods and Orlanthi seems to founder on Orlanth -- and especially Urox's -- intractable hatred for Chaos. Note, however, that only the Krjalki are chaotic. Note that the Krjalki do not appear chaotic. Note that the Krjalki might promise to remain behind in Hellwood to defend it against Ralzakark and the Poisonthorn.

Nick Brooke: I have some trouble in accepting this as a problem:

The Krjalki elves can't be Sensed or Detected as chaotic (as they're all Illuminated), and they only look chaotic when they cast their Become Krjalki runespells. Why should any negotiators, PC or NPC, Orlanth or Urox, imagine the Hellwood elves are at all chaotic? Especially if they clearly want to get out of Dorastor back to safe, non-chaotic Rist.

"Common Knowledge" about the Hellwood Elves (p.19Lc) doesn't mention any chaotic connection, meaning it isn't even suspected.

While a potential problem arises from Land of Doom (p.52Rb), "a group of Hellwood elves is usually accompanied by at least one krjalki," on the other hand, krjalki don't usually manifest their chaos features... met normally, they look like any other Wood Lord or elvish leader type.

Krjalki are only monstrous all the time in Winter, when they can't be met in the company of normal brown elves (who are asleep). As a glib-tongued speaker for the Hellwood, I'd point out that in waking times the woods are kept safe from chaos monstrosities by the vigilance of the brown elves; these can only roam around freely in Winter. Isn't Hellwood's opposition to all the native life of Dorastor well-known (and, indeed, Common Knowledge)?

The occasional brown elf manifesting a chaos feature (only one of the seven shown on pp.52f) could be movingly described as a victim of his environment and another reason why the Hellwood wants to move back to Rist: "You want us to stay here until the Corruption claims us all?"

The existence of some warped Aldryami doesn't prove the Hellwoods are all tainted -- unless you'd say the existence of Greyskins shows all humans to be chaos monsters at heart...

I think your laborious defence of the idea of an alliance between Orlanthi and elves from Hellwood presupposes that those Orlanthi have discovered the biggest secret of the Hellwood Elves: that the chaotic monsters encountered in the winter woods are the same as the homicidal (but normal) Wood Lords who defend them in summer. The difficulty of making this connection (short of evil players picking up a copy of "Land of Doom") should be stressed in this product. It's a Big Gloranthan Secret (or should be one). You know: emphasise how nasty normal elves can be, with the sting in the tail being that they have other resources too...

I'd be careful about this. GM assumptions aren't PC assumptions. This also plays to the kind of scenario encounters you run between PCs and Hellwood elves: if you use blatant chaos as part of the social defences of the wood, the cat is out of the bag. I'd suggest not doing so: the Krjalki can take on that burden in Winter, and enjoy doing it, and not implicate/incriminate their fellow Aldryami at all.

A nasty thought: are the Hellwood Dryads to blame for the corruption of their culture? As worshipped entities, they would have a lot of influence when the original refugees arrived and found them already in place: chaos tainted Dryads luring pristine Brown Elves into deviance and decline...

This would change the migration story. The Rist elves would lose many of their Dryads in the Moonburn, and (of course) be unable to bring any of the survivors with them -- Dryads don't travel. But on arriving at the future Hellwood location, their Gardener shamans could summon nature spirits into existing propitious trees: the way disembodied Dryads seem to work in RQ. These, however, would be chaos-tainted Dorastan dryad-spirits, and would set about the subversion of normal Aldryami society as soon as they became established. (Seduction followed by betrayal is, as you noted earlier, a common Dryad motif; doing it to your own people is the twist in this tale).

Ken Rolston: The Hellwood Elves maintain the heresy that Chaos is, in itself, not an enemy of the plant world, but a neutral agent. The Hellwood Elves have made common cause with Chaos against all meat races and cults.

In the Moonburn, the entire Rist elf Council of Elders were slain defending the forest. The ranking survivors -- a group of young Wood Lords -- swore a Great Oath of Vengeance against all Creatures of Flesh, and promised to serve any god who would promise to aid them in their vengeance. One Rootless Elf among the refugees stepped forward, and said that his Lord would guarantee them a safe refuge and revenge against their tormentors, if only they would swear allegience to the Lord Krjalk. Many devout Aldrya cultists opposed this bargain, but the majority, bitter in hatred and conscious of the failure of Aldrya to protect them, swore to serve the Krjalk-worshiping lords if they could promise sanctuary and bloody revenge.

In Hellwood the Krjalki rule over and protect the Adryami as a lord might rule over a subject people. The relationship is honorable on both sides, for the krjalki do not abuse their power, and the Aldryami gladly sacrifice the orthodoxy of the cult for the protection of the forest land and its plant hosts. To avoid offending the Aldryami worshippers, krjalki do not manifest chaos features in public, but only in private worship, except when in defense of Hellwood, when such manifestations are understood as avatars of wrath and vengeance.

The Great Temple of Krjalk in Hellwood is a secret cult worship center. In this temple are shrines to Primal Chaos and Pocharngo. Wood Warriors tapped for candidacy in Krjalk make a half-season vigil in this temple. Those elected for Krjalk receive chaos features which enhance their ability to serve the forest. Those judged unworthy become distorted and misshapen; those who survive may become wild horrors in Hellwood.

Nick Brooke: This section would be the most heavily-revised if you chose to accept any of my suggestions above. The "Rootless krjalki-elf" from your story would be a hero-figure appearing after the elves settled in Dorastor, not an influence at the start of the migration. My Dryad suggestion changes things, too.

The Hellwood elves' acceptance of Chaos becomes like more normal societies' acceptance of war. We hate it. It is harmful, and damaging, and can really mess you up. But you need specialists to deal with it: warriors or krjalki. They have been exposed to the dangerous, unwelcome situation, and are now considered to be masters of it. Though this in some ways unfits them for civilian life, they get a lot of respect for their socially-necessary skill and dedication.

Perhaps, given the elvish emphasis on Community, concentrating the chaos taint in selected, strong individuals is a way of protecting the mass of elves from receiving any taint at all. To the body politic, the "amount" of chaos in the Hellwood is constant. Krjalki use their unnatural magics to concentrate it in themselves, and so protect their brethren. Aldrya's purity is protected by their heroic sacrifice... or so the Dryads said.

(Note: this was written before the gloriously unsubtle Hellwood encounter from "Lords of Terror" saw print...)

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