13th Sage: Two Literary Takes on the Queen’s Wood

Elf Queen SketchThe 13th Age core book tells us little about the Queen’s Wood, where the Elf Queen rules: it’s a sprawling elven wood, largely empty now, whose trees have leaves that are “a riot of silver and gold and green and indigo.” In the lengthy description of the elven Court of Stars in 13 True Ways, we learn a bit more:

The Queen’s Wood redounds with the magic of nature, to which the elves of all mortal races remain most bound. The Court of Stars moves in harmony with the other, inaccessible natural worlds hanging high in the heavens. It moves across the magical forest as the constellations proceed through the night sky above. As such it comprises the central vortex of the ever-growing, ever-breathing collection of living things that is the Queen’s Wood. Just as the plants of the forest floor can grow from seed to maturity in a few short hours, the forest transforms itself as the Court approaches. To try to map it is fruitless. It’s not that you can’t perceive it properly—all the details of the physical environment exist in literal reality. But by the time you’ve drawn up your map, the details have faded into obsolescence.

So, here we have a fairy wood, ever-changing under the Queen’s influence. This is more than enough to spark the imagination when it comes to adventures inside the Queen’s Wood: this place is magic, but of a vastly different kind than the Archmage’s in Horizon. Time and space behave differently here, not because someone harnessed the power of wizardry and, through force of will, made it that way. There’s no “because” here; things simply are, the way they simply are in a fairy tale.

How do you represent this in your game, should you decide to send your heroes on a quest within in the Queen’s Wood? Here’s how two of my favorite fantasy authors handled the matter of the deep, magical forest, and those who dwell within.

Little, Big: The Further In You Go, The Bigger It Gets

John Crowley’s novel Little, Big chronicles the lives of the Drinkwater family, whose destiny is mysteriously bound up with the fairies. In a flashback to the Victorian era, we hear an ancestor, Dr. Bramble, explain why he believes descriptions of the little folk vary so wildly—from tiny people with “spears of locust-thorns and their chariots made of nutshells” to fully-formed men and women three feet tall, all the way up to “fairy warriors on great steeds, banshees and pookahs and ogres who are huge, larger by far than men.”

His theory is that the universe consists of worlds or layers of reality in concentric circles. Our world is the outermost, largest ring; but paradoxically, the further in you go, the bigger those innermost worlds are. Passing through a “door” into the next circle brings one into contact with the smallest of the fey. Entering the next circle, you meet larger fey. At the center is the infinite realm of Faery.

Using this approach in an adventure within the Queen’s Wood makes the journey a multidimensional one that plays with the idea of perception vs. reality. The characters may perceive themselves to be traveling through a forest, but they’re actually transitioning between parallel worlds. Each world, zone, circle—however you want to frame it—is home to different types of fey creatures found in 13th Age. But perhaps in the Queen’s Wood, elves, pixies, sprites,  and so on only appear to be different types of creatures because the PCs encounter them in different places. Maybe the next time they glance over at the pixie NPC who agreed to be their guide, that tiny, winged creature has become a faun, or a tall elven warrior with a shining spear. (See the fey entry in the 13th Age Bestiary 2, particularly the power of a name mechanic which gives fey different powers depending on which name they’ve taken.)

Lavondyss: Old Forbidden Place

In Robert Holdstock’s book Lavondyss, Ryhope Wood is England’s last primeval forest, and the way into the Otherworld, or “Old Forbidden Place” as the book’s hero Tallis calls it. Here, “mythagos”—hero-forms from myth, legend, and folklore—take material form from the power of the forest and the often dark, violent subconscious of humanity. You could meet Guinevere, or Robin Hood, or olderheroes from humanity’s prehistoric past here. But the Robin Hood you meet might not be the version you’re familiar with, or want: a winking rogue in Lincoln Green, or a strange, silent predator. Arthur might look like Malory’s noble Once and Future King, or might be Artorius, a Latin-speaking military commander covered in mud and blood.

If you like the idea of ancient heroes and legends (or their phantoms) dwelling in the Queen’s Wood, here’s where you open your copy of The Book of Ages and dive in—because past icons make great mythagos. This version of your players’ journey through the forest has a dreamlike feeling where past and present are mingled, and turning a corner might lead them to the scene of the Barbarian King’s last battle, a tangled path where the Huntsman has laid his snares, or to the foot of the Hermit’s tower. These shadow forms of the icons might be friends, foes, or both. It’s likely that the elves will warn you away from them, but maybe there’s a piece of vital information you need, and only the Spelljack (or his memory) has it.

For this approach, I recommend checking out the chapter on Heroquesting in 13th Age Glorantha. The PCs might perform a ritual in the Queen’s Wood, where the barriers of time and space are flexible, to enter a timeless realm of heroes and participate in the significant events of past ages as they exist in myth and dream. Success there could provide mythic insights or special magic items, or even alter the world in the present day by setting right an ancient wrong.

About 13th Age

13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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