The Hunting Grounds, also known as the Great Hunt, is a realm of Oblivion created and ruled over by Hircine, the Daedric Prince of the Hunt. It has been described as a realm of dense woodland and vast grasslands populated by werebears, wild cattle and unicorns. It is a savage land inhabited by vicious creatures such as bears, wolves, werecreatures, and Daedra. These creatures are generally much larger than their counterparts in the mortal realm. The spirits of animals from the mortal plane are a common sight within the Hunting Grounds, as Hircine brings them in to please his followers.[UOL 1] All whom die within the Hunting Grounds are doomed to remain within the realm after death.
Followers of Hircine are promised an afterlife within the Hunting Grounds, where they can indulge in spectacular hunts, as well as experience an endless cycle of violence as well as death and rebirth. Its inhabitants reside in the many hunting lodges dotting the landscape. The forests of the Hunting Grounds are teeming with powerful beasts, which allow Hircine's followers to engage in the most spectacular hunts. For the devoted, it is a paradise. The souls of lycanthropes are claimed by Hircine and spend eternity experiencing the thrill of the hunt in his Hunting Grounds. However, it is possible for a soul to transfer to the proper afterlife (such as Sovngarde) if their lycanthropy is cured posthumously, provided their soul is yet to have been taken to the Hunting Grounds. During the daylight hours, werebears and fierce Nords stalk the land in their continual Hunt. When the sun sinks below the horizon, Hircine announces himself with a pack of werewolves to take his turn in the cycle.
Though the term Great Hunt is an alternate name for the realm, it is primarily used as the name for the spectacular contests conducted by Hircine. In the Hunting Grounds, Great Hunts are a constant occurrence, but outside of his realm, they are rare and are rumored to happen once per era. Great Hunts are called upon in Nirn for Hircine's own amusement, or to punish those that defy him.
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Much of the Hunting Grounds consists of a vast wilderness, meadows, and mountains, making it familiar to mortals, but not fully. It is primarily an endless forest, though it contains other biomes. An example is a grassy savanna with a red sun overhead, whose rays painted the river bloody. Herds of antelopes with twisting horns inhabit this area,:243 as well large, six feet high cattle with an almost equal shoulder and horn span.:244 The savanna's river falls through a large precipice, and flows into a large canyon that narrows down the path.:246
The March of Sacrifices is a part of the Hunting Grounds made to resemble a Tamrielic marshland. It consists of three sections—the Bloodscent Pass, the Wispwood, and the Nightlands, and each tailored to resemble a different time of day. As a hunter passes through through the marsh, they will see a sudden transition from dusk to nighttime, and the flora will change in luminosity from a bright orange to blue to reflect. It is inhabited by Lurchers, Wispmothers, Indriks, and both hostile and docile spectral fauna.
The Hunter's Grotto is another section of the Huntsman's realm, which leaks into the Reach. It is a lava tube featuring a clash of lush vegetation and magma within its cavernous depths. The Reachmen of the Spiritblood Clan enter it go undergo its challenges as part of their initiation into adulthood.
The time period around 2E 582 saw much traffic through the Huntsmen's realm from Nirn. Hircine sought the Green Lady as a trophy for generations, for reasons that remain ambiguous. One theory as to why was that she represents the strongest of the Bosmer, who are said to be among the greatest hunters of Nirn. After the Bosmer Gwaering was chosen as the Green Lady, she was obligated to marry the new Silvenar, Indaenir, for the good of the Bosmeri people. Her former lover Ulthorn became bitter, and Hircine took advantage of his passion, forging him into a faithful servant within a "prison of the mind" in the Hunting Grounds. Ulthorn became a husk of his former self known as the Hound, and sought to usurp the Silvenar's role so he could be bonded to the Green Lady through the handfast. If Ulthorn were to sever the bond, the Bosmer would revert into their primordial nature, as the Green Lady by nature would influence the Bosmer people to grow feral, turning them into a bestial horde with an unquenchable thirst and hunger.
After becoming the Hound, Ulthorn returned to his home town of Wilding Run, and wiped the local populace as he hunted them for sport. The town was subsequently overseen by Gamekeeper Ozzai, a Harvester entrusted with utilizing the mortal trophies of Hircine's conquests, by hollowing them out into shells that will roam Nirn hunting indiscriminately. After reports that researchers of the Mages Guild started vanishing reached the Fists of Thalmor, they investigated the site and were almost wiped out by Ozzai's creations during an ambush, prompting them to resort to entrusting an adventurer with the investigation. After discovering a shade of what was left Ulthorn's humanity, it guided them into the Hunting Grounds, where the Harvester was located and slain in her lair, eliminating a potential army from aiding Ulthorn's forces.
Around this time, some individuals who were infected with lycanthropy and sought to become one of Hircine's creatures were found by those kin to Hircine's own Packmaster. These lucky few were invited into the Hunting Grounds to participate in an ancient ritual the Packmaster. They presented a tribute to Hircine and his pack, and after a successful hunt, they were inducted into Hircine's own pack of werewolves, and were given greater mastery over their form than the average lycanthrope.
Later that year, Hircine hosted the Great Hunt in his plane, inviting mortals from Tamriel to participate. During this time, one of the first turned, the werewolf lord Vykosa, amassed the largest werewolf pack that Tamriel had ever seen. She plotted to use her pack to take over Nirn and exact revenge on Hircine, for she and other werewolves felt they were tricked into playing the part of prey instead of the role of a predator. Vykosa sent her lieutenant Balorgh along with a reconnaissance squad to infiltrate the Hunting Grounds, though he and his pack would instead opt to participate in the Hunt and seek Hircine's Boon. Unfortunately for Balorgh, Hircine would ultimately grant his boon to the true winners of the Great Hunt, the Undaunted.
During the Umbriel Crisis, Hircine impeded the journey of Attrebus Mede and his companions as they were passing through his Hunting Grounds to reach their destination. As eternal hunts are the norm within the realm, Mede and his companions became unwilling prey. They were slowly being bottled in by drivers until nighttime, where Hircine would arrive with his pack of werewolves. Nighttime came, two horns blared, and a deep and primal voice was heard upstream that was capable of leading one to a mindless terror. At a glance, they saw an enormous silhouette of a man with the horns of a stag and they knew Hircine had arrived. To ward off Hircine and his pack, the members of the Khajiiti F’aashe clan that accompanied Mede stayed behind to stall them, allowing Mede and his companions to escape the Hunting Grounds.
Following Harbinger Kyrnil Long-Nose's founding of the Circle in the late Second Era, the upper ranks of the Companions became infected with lycanthropy after Harbinger Terrfyg made a bargain with the witches of the Glenmoril Coven. The terms were that if the Companions were to hunt in the name of Hircine, they would be granted great power, but the Circle was deceived into believing it would not be a permanent affliction. Circa 4E 201, some members of the Circle, led by Harbinger Kodlak Whitemane, would eventually conclude it was not a gift, but a curse with serious spiritual implications that would threaten their souls' opportunity to reach Sovngarde, and worked to eliminate it from the Companions. After his death, the order managed to cure Kodlak of his affliction, allowing him to join his ancestors in Sovngarde. However, he hoped that someday, he and other honored warriors could invade the Hunting Grounds and rescue the souls of the Companions who did not have the chance to free themselves from Hircine's grasp before death. He called this imagined battle "The Harrowing of the Hunting Grounds", but whether or not it is possible to posthumously wrench a werewolf's soul free from the realm through battle is unclear.
- Kodlak Whitemane's dialogue in Skyrim
- Korst Wind-Eye's dialogue in Bloodmoon
- Thoreki's dialogue during the quest Hircine's Gift
- The Infernal City — Gregory Keyes
- Hanu's dialogue in ESO: Wolfhunter
- The Huntsman Prince — Hanu of the Zainab Tribe
- Events of Glory of the Dead in Skyrim
- Events of Hircine's Hunt in Bloodmoon
- Hircine Loading Screen description in Skyrim
- Events of Ill Met By Moonlight in Skyrim
- March of Sacrifices loading screen description in ESO
- Various The Hunting Grounds loading screen descriptions in ESO
- March of Sacrifices appearance in ESO: Wolfhunter
- Events of Vateshran's Rites of ESO: Markarth
- Tamrielic Lore — Yagrum Bagarn
- Shade of Ulthorn's dialogue in ESO
- Gwaering's dialogue during Restore the Silvenar in ESO
- Spinner Indraseth's dialogue in ESO
- One Wilding Night
- Events of the The Ties that Bind quest in ESO
- Thoreki, Songamdir, and Hircine's dialogue during the quest Hircine's Gift
- Rolea's Journal — Rolea
- The Hungry Cat's Curse — Vykosa the Ascendant
- Letter to Mylenne — Vykosa
- Letter to Balorgh — Vykosa
- Balorgh's Plan — Ronela
- The Great Hunt questline in ESO
- Great Harbingers — Swyk the Long-Sighted
- Kodlak's Journal — Kodlak Whitemane
- Kodlak Whitemane's dialogue during Blood's Honor in Skyrim
- Kodlak Whitemane's dialogue after killing his Wolf Spirit during Glory of the Dead in Skyrim
Note: The following references are considered to be unofficial sources. They are included to round off this article and may not be authoritative or conclusive.
- Twitch Stream of The Elder Scrolls Online: Wolfhunter First Look, time stamp 30:16-30:36