If you've seen one ancient hoary forest, you've seen them all. Mountains are mountains, deserts are deserts, and one rolling green hill is the same as every other rolling green hill in the seven lands. But there are things that make them different, and it is these differences that set them apart. The Spinnewald, that one is full of big ass spiders. The Tuefelgrune? the demense of the green devil of the woods. The Kriegsherrenwald has a massively powerful and dangerous defender, the Iron Knight.
As mentioned, the Kreigsherrenwald is a by the books spooky old forest, and should have the prerequisite spooky old forest encounters with the following exceptions: there are no elves in the wood, there are no druid or ranger orders devoted to the wood, and there are no high/fae magical creatures in the wood. The wood is a place of spiritual and magical darkness, and the forest has grown through/around this 'abscess' and made it part of itself.
It appeared one our second day scouting the wood. We had marked trees for several hours, rich pickings for the woodcutters, good timber. Big timber, good for ships, or castles. No elves, no barking mad locals with birds for hats. We had set up camp, just started setting out the camp fires when it tore up out of the ground. It looked like a man in old Imperial plate armor, but he was the size of a giant, a solid ten feet tall. The visor had a boiling noxious light pouring from it, and a great blood red plume festooned the helmet, like a permanent spray of blood. We fell back in fright, not believing what we saw. Then it drew a seven foot long Imperial greatsword, one handed. Grabbed one of the pathfinders and threw him into the fire, and ran one of the treeclimbers through. Picked him up with that big sword and slung him, blood goin everywhere, into the darkness. I wont lie, I ran. Two others got out, but neither will go back into the wood, and one, Parson, he's a beggar now, what with losing his fighting arm at the shoulder and all.
What the hume call the Warlord's Wood is a cursed and evil place, and it is their own evil that poisons it. We scouted the northern reach of the wood, and sought out the ley lines, sought to find the keeper of the wood. The ley lines, they pulsed with dark magic, hume magic. We found no forestal, no forest spirits that would speak to us. We found the shades of the dead, dark spirits, vengeful spirits. Our magics are ancient and green, and these things were part of the green, and were dark. We left before they called their guardians.
Nine centuries ago there was no Kreigsherrenwald. There were scattered copses of trees, and orchards. More notably, there was a great castle, a thriving kingdom. This kingdom was laid low. Take your pick, the histories are scattered. Cataclysm? Maybe, the records are fragmentary. War? Why not. A terrible curse, a dragon, doesn't matter. The kingdom is gone, but their shades remain. There were strong magics surrounding them, surrounding their castle, and most importantly, their king. It is my personal theory that the so called Iron Knight who appears in the forest is a remnant of their magical defenses and is still protecting a castle and king who are long since gone.
Irda, Royal Archivist.
What is the Iron Knight?
The Iron Knight is a spiritual manifestation/summoning event. It appears as a very high level monster wearing very high armor class platemail, and is armed with both tremendous strength and an oversized sword. The entire creature functions as a magic weapon, and can deal hand to hand damage with incorporeal beings, ghosts, divine entities, the invisible, and block magic with it's armor and sword.
Game Use - the Iron Knight should be a scale-able encounter. At low level it is just a big summoned monster with skill and abilities that a specialized fighter should have. It is never and a hack and slasher. At moderate level it should be a dangerous and canny opponent. At high level it is a veritable god, deflecting magic attacks with it's armor, and attacking with titan strength. The power of the Iron Knight and it's control is based on what has control and is summoning it. In the given case, the summoner and controller is the forest itself, so the power level should be suitably high, but lacking a central intelligence, it's appearance is random, it has no objectives, and it is basically a feral summon.
What is the Iron Knight, Part II?
The Iron Knight is literally the King of that destroyed kingdom, bound by powerful magics gone awry, to his magical sword. The sword is lost somewhere in the forest, and if the PCs find the sword, they can disenchant the Kriegsherrenwald and allow the elves, or humans to occupy/exploit the wood, and put the ghosts there to rest. Once the sword is recovered it can be cleaned and repaired. It is an Imperial style greatsword (two-hander). Once this is done, and someone bonds with the sword (carries sword and levels up with it, maybe some XP given) they have full access to the powers of a masterwork Greatsword (in the +3/+5 range) that has the potential to randomly summon the Iron Knight into battle.
There is a standing 25% chance to summon the Knight (this is non-cumulative, and the check can only be made once per scene/encounter). When the swordbearer decides to allow the Knight to appear, it will manifest as a magic/dark warrior with attributes equal to a combat specialist of equal level to the summoner. It will stay for a number of rounds equal to the charisma modifier of the summoner UNLESS the summoner is disabled or knocked unconscious. In this instance, it will remain until it's summoner has been rescued from danger, but this will be it's only motivation and nothing else. If the summoner is SLAIN while the Iron Knight is present, it will remain active for a number of turns equal to it's level, but it's combat abilities will move to maximum, level 20, and it will remain until those X number of turns pass, the individual who slew its summoner is killed, or it is destroyed itself.
Defending the Kriegsherren
The Kriegsherren has grown over the former home of the Iron Knight, and the creators of the magic sword. This sword was crafted for the Champion of the Kingdom, the Defender of the Queen, and the Knight-Marshall of the King's Armies. When the Kingdom was laid low, terrible magics were unleashed, and the defender's spirit was fused to the sword, and then the sword was lost. Since then, the forest, being a living thing, has had something akin to control over the blade. When the spirits of the forest feel 'threatend' it can summon the Knight, and it will continue to defend it's master, it's King.
Plot Hooks and Usage
The Big Bad in the Wood - The Kriehsherrenwald is a barrier placed for the PCs, they either have to go around it, or brave going through it. Around it takes a long time, but there are roads and communities that make the trip a little easier since it is way longer, and can be used as color exposure, building up the Iron Knight mythos. Going through the wood invites ghost stories, being chased through the dark, and having color encounters with the dead and the damned. If they cut down trees, start a fire, or do anything more than keep to game paths, the Iron Knight will come for them, once per night, until they are slain to the last, or they get out of the forest. One transgression is enough to keep the knight coming after them.
Redeeming the Iron Knight - The PCs are given background information and are sent into the Kriegsherren with the task of finding the lost keep, and looting it for whatever treasures they can find. This can prove a treasure trove for the PCs, or be a fools errand. Either way, they will encounter the dread Iron Knight and the closer they get to the actual keep, they can start encountering lost souls and eventually magic bound guards, basically zombies in Imperial armor defending a keep long since rotted away. Combat should intense and challenging. Also, plenty of opportunity for magic traps and other monstrous magic defenses.
The Prophecy - the PCs are caught up in a by the books prophecy, and the Iron Knight is a major piece in it, and the PCs get a magic item allowing them to placate the Knight so that they can parlay with it. This can be a good follow-up to the Big Bad in the Wood, with the PCs having already encountered the Iron Knight and it's mythos.