The World of Dragonsgate
The Deep Wood breaks upon the roots of the Stonespire Mountains like waves on a rocky shore. The alluvial foothills and slopes are still thickly forested. Tucked in the cleft between two ridges is Valleyoak, home to a large clan of warrior Sprites and the region’s best-known portal to the Feywild.
The Sprites of the Valleyoak clan have been the guardians of the portal for over a century after settling the grove and driving off the portal’s previous guardian, a displacer beast that had made the grove its lair and hunting spot. The sprites quickly recognized the vulnerability of the portal and established clanholds on both sides, living in the forest canopy where they could keep watch on the ground below.
Led by a council of elders, the Sprites have a meritocratic system of government that’s both informal and hidebound by any number of rules of courtesy and social expectations. Any member of the community may attempt to enact any policy or decision if they can gather the support, as long as they don’t insult others by doing so. The elders mediate disputes, but have no ability to enforce their decisions aside from social pressure – those who flout the edicts of the elders soon find the community turning against them.
Among the sprites, hunters, soldiers, and spellcasters have the most status and gain the most respect, and those three designations often intersect. Some Sprites draw on the power of the aloof Sidhe lords as Warlocks, while many others study wizardry or develop sorcerous abilities. Druids are surprisingly rare, but they are also deeply respected as the clan’s connection with the land itself, and often act as priests on the clan’s behalf. Alchemists are also surprisingly common, both as tinkerers and as poison-brewers. The Valleyoak clan brews mushroom brandy that has hallucinogenic properties and honeysuckle mead with a surprising kick.
Life in the Valleyoak community is quiet but busy. Sprites are not pixies, and are less chatty and socially-minded. Most of them work hard all day and take their shifts guarding the portal with honor and sobriety. Still, celebrations occur often enough to aid the otherwise-serious guardians in blowing off steam. The cycles of the moon and the seasons both provide occasions for yearly festivals, but feast times also occur spontaneously, because of a good hunt or on nights when the flowers have burst into bloom, exceptional gathering expeditions, or the reception of visitors.
The Valleyoak clan has a diversified appearance, with very few consistencies that would make them instantly recognizable to others. Skin colors tend toward the dark side of the human spectrum, and most of them have green or brown/black eyes, though there are exceptions. More fantastic skin and hair colors do show themselves, such as blue, lavender, and green, and often go hand-in-hand with magical ability of some sort. Though Sprites do not have a pixie’s obsession with fashion, painted acorn caps worn like beanies and plant-fiber ‘fringes’ hanging from the waistband are very ‘in’ at the moment, as are flowers and leaves worn on clothing and in the hair for both males and females. Scouts and hunters wear rain hats made of aspen leaves and leather armor of squirrel hide stiffened with plates of nut hull. Face paint is not in vogue with the Valleyoak clan, and jewelry is rare because they have few metals or precious stones, so they are often eager to trade for those things. However, they do have the ability to make brightly-colored paints from natural sources, and liberally use these to dye and decorate their clothing, armor, and equipment.
The Portal to the Feywild at Valleyoak is one of the most consistent, safest, and best-known crossings in the northeastern Deep Wood. ‘Best known’, however, is a qualified statement – Lord Caes of Dragonsgate is aware of the crossing, and so are most of the fey creatures who reside in that region of the Deep Wood, but other humanoids are largely ignorant to the Portal’s presence. The portal itself is a fairy ring of silver-white mushrooms in the shelter of an oak grove. Stepping into the ring is a step into Faery, and vice versa. On the mortal plane the portal activates only at dawn and at twilight, but since the Feywild is bathed in eternal twilight, the portal is always active on the Feywild side. As such, the Feywild side is much more heavily guarded to prevent fey beasts and creatures from passing through to the mortal plane.
The Sprites acknowledge that positioning themselves as guardians of the portal also makes them crossing-guards and guides for intelligent creatures that wish to use it. Using their ability to judge the hearts of others, they determine whether it is safe and worthwhile to allow passage. They can be traded and bartered with, but if a good-hearted creature requests passage in pursuit of a necessary quest, especially one that involves protecting the forest or its denizens, the sprites have been known to not only give that creature free passage, but also serve as guides and assist them in their travel through the Feywild, even outside of the Valleyoak Clan’s established territory.