The Durham Forest is a place of ancient magic and mystery, where many dangers await the unwary who venture beyond its borders. Vicious predators and man-eating monsters lurk in the perpetual dusk that shrouds Durham, ruthless Dark Elves prey on travellers, and vile Undead abominations make their dens in the twisted thickets. But there is a clearing at the very heart of the forest where a single old hut stands. Neither beast nor elf dares stray close to it, for they know the master of that place has little patience for unbidden guests and powerful enough to make sure their transgressions are punished in full.
No one, not even the elder sovereigns of the Dark Elves, knows when and how Gurptuk the Moss-Beard came to be in Durham. He simply was for as long as anyone could remember, making a living in the depths of the woods. Dozens of wild tales and myths surround his figure; some claim Gurptuk is, in fact, a fay, a guardian of nature and the true master of Durham; others believe he is a mad old shaman who made a pact with dark forces to grant him immortality in exchange for terrible sacrifices he must perform. Whatever the case might be, Moss-Beard holds the distinct appearance of an ogryn, albeit the bizarre wooden armour and amulets he carries may explain why he is mistaken for a forest spirit.
His behaviour does not fit a single pattern, and while some speak of the Moss-Beard helping lost travellers find their way back to the true and beaten paths, others recount blood-chilling stories of people butchered and used for unknown dark purposes. But there are those bold or foolish enough to seek Gurptuk out, for he is said to be a witch-doctor of immense power and his knowledge of poisons is almost without equal.
Once, an ambitious group of Dark Elf assassins sought to rid their kin of such a troublesome neighbour – and win glory for themselves along the way. They observed the Moss-Beard from afar, scheming and plotting to waylay him. When they struck, they did so with ruthless cunning and swiftness, firing poisoned arrows at the old druid in hopes of weakening him. But something went wrong.
Although Gurptuk suffered many wounds, he did not fall as his would-be assassins expected, nor even stumble. Instead, he laughed. And while the attackers watched in horror, he stood tall and proud, a cloud of noxious spores rising from the mushroom growths that covered his body. Despite the poison coursing through his veins, despite the arrows in his limbs and back, Gurptuk the Moss-Beard strode forth and chanted in a tongue unheard, his staff sending bolts of arcane energy that burned through armour and flesh alike.
The assassins turned to flee, but there was nowhere to run or hide from Gurptuk’s vengeance. One by one they fell, and exactly what painful fate had befallen them is unknown.
After that night, a row of fresh skulls could be seen decorating the fence that surrounded his hut. With no survivors to tell the tale, rumours and assumptions spread like wildfire, and Moss-Beard’s fearsome reputation grew. Now, even the most ambitious Dark Elf warrior knows to leave the druid well alone.