Friday, April 26, 2019

Arbor Day Deforestation Special.

Everyone knows that druids and forests go together like peanut butter and jelly, trial and tribulation, death and taxes, or college and regret. Forget their deep and murky history as elite members of Insular and Continental Celtic societies at odds with the imperialistic writers of early history- trees are where it's at! That's been their thing for well over forty years of tabletop-related fantasy, and for almost four centuries of suspect Romantic scholarship.

But what about when they're not?

What about when we delve into the realm of 3rd edition splatbooks or Pathfinder class archetypes, and search for an overarching logic behind the diverse yet isolated and independent groups of druids operating in different climes and biomes? You'd probably get a wealth of different arguments and answers from actual research, but for the purposes of this post we're going to pretend there's only one answer.

Nature and its method of selection tend to promote competition between organisms and species who occupy similar or adjacent niches. No living thing is exempt from this. Environments, able to shrink or grow, possessing good or poor health, and adapting by way of the sum of all of their evolving parts, are also living things in this grand competition.  Just as "classic" druids are advocates for and protectors of the forest and all its denizens, other ecosystems can (or even must) have their own sapient defenders to ensure that they grow in strength and size and are not encroached upon by other upstart habitats.

Which brings us to peat bogs.

Swamps and other wetlands tend to get a bad rap in fiction. They are nasty and unpleasant, if not depicted as actively evil and dangerous to all outside life. Monsters, witches, and worse things abode in them, and they are the ideal place to find an ancient, sunken temple which would have been pretty difficult to build on that site to begin with. There is some logic to this, since stories tend to be told by humans who in pre-modern times were fearful of or struggled to deal with the weather, diseases, and pests found in many wetlands.

More recently we've been able to realize that they are all tremendously important to the health and diversity of our planet. Peat bogs in particular are havens for unique species of plant and animal life, and the properties of all that ancient layered dead plant matter allow a bog to eat up massive amounts of harmful free carbon in the atmosphere. They are valued to the point that, in some circumstances, it is good for the environment to cut down a forest and then flood it.

Of course the magical wardens of the bogs wouldn't be thinking about the big picture when they cut down the eves of forests or wet the edges of prairies. Just like the forest druids planting saplings or murdering farmers and loggers, and the desert druids promoting rapid aridification of grasslands, they are another force of nature given thought and reason with which to be even more wholly committed to their cause- a moving part in a great big natural machine, kept in check by the other forces opposed to it. Out of this chaotic equilibrium, we get Bog Druids.

Bog druids are believed to be the most isolationist, misanthropic druids in the world because they live so far away from other humanoids in such inhospitable places. Bog druids would counter that they are isolated because other folk are too afraid or can't be bothered to adapt to life in a more neighborly area.The misanthropic part is a little harder to argue against, given their generally sullen demeanor. You'd have one too, if you woke up before dawn every day to chant over a stagnant pool and then spent the next sixteen hours wrangling serpents, chopping up felled wood, and walking around on stilts.

Their style of dress often sets them apart from other denizens or wanderers of bogs because of how specialized it is. Besides a fondness for bronze accessories given heavily to patina, bog druids are noted for their unorthodox skill in waterproofing. Generally, the more waterproofed their clothing is, the more outlandish it looks. Overcoats of near-transparent intestine glued together with rendered bone, rigid cloth painted in tree rubber, grass or leaves woven together and thickly oiled, or plain old animal furs tend to dominate their choices in fashion, with little uniformity between groups of bog druids, or even individual members.

The potent smell of all of that aforementioned clothing tends to be the second distinction to smack outsiders in the face.

Bog druids don't generally have a strict hierarchy. More experienced members have some measure of seniority, but because each commune tends to be so small, every member is expected to be able to make and carry out decisions on their own. Group decisions tend to regard large threats to the bog, interactions with outsiders, or grand discoveries and portents gleaned from the peat. Outsiders can come to them for a variety of reasons. Most often they come to lodge a complaint about some blight or plague of insects that they think was unleashed from the bog, but other times they come to trade, pay for flood information or access to water reservoirs, or to drop off one of their own who has gotten the peculiarly wild hair up their person to study and join the commune. Most don't last very long, but those who stick around long enough are eventually considered to be new peatkeepers.

Most of the druids don't know magic, and those few who keep animal companions or perform divination generally rely upon more mundane means for both. They do have access to such a tremendous wealth of rare reagents and ingredients that their chemistry often looks like magic, however. More than a few potion-makers have risked everything in order to gain access to such reserves, even going so far as to gamble away their precious apothecary alligators.

Every bog druid is handy with a hatchet, saw, and shovel. They use them to shore up or expand the edges of their homeland, as well as to defend themselves from anyone who might have a problem with that. Bloody skirmishes between rival ecosystems are commonplace, with the dead often left feeding new growth or moldering beneath the turf for ages.

The druids of the peat are above all enigmatic, keeping much lore to themselves in their sodden lands. Why would we name them something as geopolitically inappropriate as "druid", if we knew what they prefer to be called?

Some rumors about them may be true, or nonsense, or a bit of both.

20 Things That Might Be True About Bog Druids
They are lobbying to either outlaw or control the construction of turf houses in the entire region.
Most of them are actually symbiotic hosts to a sentient fungus.
The latest logging campaign is the escalation of a disagreement with the nearby forest druid grove over leaving written accounts and doctrines.
The group is a front for a highly erotic and comically phallic snake cult.
Peat can be necromantically raised to create miles-wide Turf Golems.
The druids occasionally hire their members out to oversee sacrifices or judicial procedure.
A high-ranking member of the order is actually just a very lost botanist.
The druids have a very strong tradition of poetry and music. Just don't mistake one for a bard or filĂ­.
They have no idea where that myth about scimitars and wooden armor came from.
Will-o'-the-wisps are a bog druid conspiracy.
They hate being confused with the Pyromancers of the Great Swamp.
The order was formed by a mystic with severe wood allergies.
Each bog druid cuts off a finger upon initiation and wears it with a necklace of woven hair.
... There is no official rule that the finger and hair have to belong to the druid.
The self-styled environmentalists are actually just trying to corner the market on bog butter production.
... They've already done so with the extraction and forging of bog iron.
They are the original Soggy Bottom Boys.
Topographic peat hags formed by soil erosion regularly come to life as literal hags and witches.
Layers of peat are meticulously cut out and studied by peat archivists to offer a rich history of the area's vegetation, pollen, spores, and animals.
The druids are guided by a reanimated peat mummy, strangled and sacrificed to the bog in the name of a long-forgotten god centuries ago.