The Demiplane of Dread, house of the Castle Ravenloft and the prison of countless conniving souls. It called to me once more. I find myself not in the known lands, but a different cluster set. Words and people tell of creatives whose processes lead to their own dooms. Tales of toy makers, playwrights, sculptors, painters and even bards… All of these haunt me more than they would the layman. But, what goes beyond this troubled region? Whose to say? With any luck, I’ll find my escape beyond the Lands of the Mists in due time.
Author’s Note: I wanted to bring things back to Ravenloft, as last post showed. Like before, I wanted to bring in a mix of my own content and the classic domains of the campaign setting. In time, I might supply more from my own, fleshing them out much like I did for Dawnsveil. In the meantime, take a look at a domain cluster dedicated to artists and other crafting geniuses gone horribly wrong. And on top of that, my summary of some other domains that I love. Also, another shout-out to Knott’s Berry Farm! 2020’s Scare might be cancelled, but you remain an amazing inspiration for me. Some day, I’ll actually be able to attend the Halloween seasonal attraction…
The Fell Crafts Cluster
As one could guess from him, the exhibition was a sham to help get his name out while discrediting his critics. As his emotions got the better of him amidst a presentation, his nightmares awakened once more. A clammy smoke caked the hall as a cloaked figure emerged. And his defining trait? The massive seemingly glowing smile, the tell tale side of the Cheerful Stalker. The Portward-Brendon Institute of the Arts, a prestigious hall of learning, sponsored an event at Havenstide Bed and Breakfast. A delightful gathering had become a trap overwhelmed by the ego of a mad failure and the bloodlust of a cunning killer. Several guests were overwhelmed by terror, including Governor of Greater Glensburough County, Alan Higgins. My own luck had it that I came to the exhibition to learn about him, which impressed the rather immature and unsavory personality.
In agreement for my escape, I would provide an interview on him first. Weir’s rage is one of repressed childish envy and inadequacy. I have learned this through interaction. Worse yet, lore seemed to leave out that he was once married. His marriage fell apart due to his obsessions getting the better of him. Plus, it would seem that many women who reject him carry passing resemblance to his ex-wife… one of the few people to look past his lack of success. As to her whereabouts? Unknown, it’s likely that The Dark Powers spared her. Little does he know, this will do little to help him and further his dooming to failure. Interestingly enough, he clarified some bits of history on the domain for me. Many believe that the residents fled Mordent to escape the noble families and start anew. He’s become aware of his fate in time, knowing that his town was ripped from the Mordent and forced into a strange new one, to which he blames “Dark Spirits” for punishing his “rightful act”. For now, he gains some catharsis. And, at least I can leave!
Bohemian, Pocket Domain
Cultural Level: Renaissance (9)
Darklord: Jasper Bernard Alabaster. Born to a Mordentish military family, his passion always lied within art; exceptionally strange art. He traveled and was rebuked from village to village, until a big enough following joined him in an outsider art enclave. Alabaster found his calling in sculpture, particularly people. After importing a bee colony from elsewhere in Mordent, he turned towards revolutionary wax sculptures. This drew the attention of the artist colony as well as a rather jealous sculptor who also aspired similar dreams, a James J. Fitzroy. At first, a healthy business partnership was formed. However, as Alabaster pushed for stranger forms that defied logic, Fitzroy protested in favor of more realistic art. Eventually, the anger resulted in Fitzroy burying Alabaster under sculptures while setting the studio on fire. While this should have grabbed the mists alone, the mists preferred saving Alabaster as their champion. He was a man who lived and died for sculpture. But death is rarely the end for the demiplane. In his case, sculpture brought him back to life. The scarred and burned man vowed revenge about the lands that scorned and ruined him. He sought to rebuild the world in wax. His attempts to rebuild himself into his old handsome figure failed, so he began to capture others to experiment on. He would perfect the flesh through wax! Artists became frightened, some leaving while others aiding in the search for the culprit. However, Alabaster got to him first. The following day, a badly charred corpse hap-hazardously covered in wax was propped in front of the wax studio of Bohemian. The remaining artists quickly fled. It was at this point, the Mists responded. The clammy fog soon departed to reveal slums surrounding the area, all in disrepair. It seems that Bohemian became part of a much larger city, in a derelict and decrepit section at that.
Into one former haunting of Mordent and into another. Bohemian is mostly abandoned, save for its pocket domain lord. While technically part of Glensburough, no one ever goes there. The area is run down, much crime and despair occurs within the streets of neglected ghettos and fallen districts. This is done for good reason! The ruined arts ghost town has been picked apart by scavengers, save for the wax works building. Even in its new home, this remains true. Only a complete fool would even approach it, even when it sat isolated in Mordent. However, plenty of adventurous and curious souls find their way into the burned out warehouse, in hopes of treasure or stories to tell. In fact, the studio seems to be rebuilding, as if from wax itself. The Alabaster Wax Works has even decorated itself to look like an engaging attraction once more, much to the horror of others. But, while the facade is uncanny and disturbing, it is nothing compared to the interior of the sculpture dungeon.
The interior studio still shows signs of fiery destruction, with discarded chunks of foundation and display strewn about. The replacements seem to creep along the old like a crawling fungus. Transitions between the burned down ruin and the new structure are abrupt and jarring. Within the studio, new displays are beginning to emerge as well. Surviving old works have been slowly taken to the bad for “tinkering”, while ghoulish new creations shine. The Wax Creeps are Alabaster’s diabolical creations, wax covered living dead filled with anguish over their dreadful shape. To an extent, his works bring some of the wretched aspects of the wax golem and flesh golem with assortment of techniques used for making undead. They shamble and stagger, enraged over their imposed new purpose. In fact, they are the only long term company the darklord will ever have, as he is forever cursed to kill all partners or loved ones he comes across. He has since developed psychopathic behavior over this revelation, but has poorly tried to ward off anyone genuinely interested in helping him.
Cultural Level: Renaissance+ (9+), Age of Industry? (10?)
Darklord: Holy Emperor Merton, Storyteller Supreme. Once a mage, scholar and teller of tales with great skill, he has since become the holy symbol overseeing am empire. And yet, while he’s reluctant and deeply miserable, he continues to lead on while enjoying the privileges of power. Like all darklords, there is a tale. Merton was once a wise sage in a world of fantastical possibility, far more than The Lands of the Mists would ever be prepared for. Before becoming his current state, the youthful looking but mature man was a natural born leader, but preferred to simply create. He lived within a quiet commune, but his renown for magic and adventuring spread, as others wished to join his dominion. Too kind to turn others away, the land quickly grew. Guilds granted him more resources to work with, as various factions sought him out for counsel or aid. Matters sprawled beyond his control, but he kept face and went along with everything. In order to maintain some level of control, a hired assistant helped bind a Baatezu, an Erinyes, to his service. While a devout helper and steadfast executioner of his enemies, her goal was twisting him into a more “enjoyable” agenda. Others, as if hearing a calling from The Mists, helped to further a more extreme version of Merton’s presence, assuring that their order would ensure his vision prospered. A crypto-religious organization emerged and became the authorizing arm of Merton, but in reality control him while he passively obliges. His concerns and outcries to remain kind and civil were heard. But, the response was always false assurance and manipulative hidden truths. His true doom came from approving all suppression of resistance and pushing for a unified theocracy, in a grab for power that he wanted deep down. He told himself that his extreme extensions helped to spread his message and help others, when they caused suppression and gloom. The Mists got what they wanted, and so his land was taken.
At first glance, you have escaped! This is a land of metropolitan hubs and boundless inspiration, where strange creatures can mingle amidst humans and demihumans. Some innovations are only seeing their beginnings elsewhere in The Mists. Governance, market, technical, societal and other innovations flourish. One would assume such a place is actually a utopia for the intellectual and progressive mind. However, it is all a lie! In truth, these wondrous beings are manifestations of the darklord’s memories. They are mere constructs of thought that vanish should they try to escape for whatever reason. In truth, everything in the domain conforms to his tastes. The very construction of Ne’ur-Maise and its surroundings are artificial and too good to be true, the longer one examines things. The diversity and progress only exists at his say so. Or rather, the misconstrued words utilized by his ruling council. From a golden throne, he sits transformed into a form befitting a religious idol. Rarely does he leave, as he duels between accepting the power and not caring anymore. Like the Black Rose of Sithicus, he stews and murmurs in depressive vacancy when not actively engaged in his role. In the end, he is motivated by his guilt, something for The Mists to constantly exploit. The empire exists as both a reflection of the glories he helped achieve and a mockery ruined by his own ambitions getting the best of him.
And for those who visit? Be prepared to accept the Absolute Rule of the Emperor Sage. Despite looking like a place of open expression, nothing is further from the truth. Expect to maintain rigid conformity, even if that conformity radically goes against the rest of The Mists and looks to go against the norm. And as said before, don’t like the whimsical and impossible creatures fool you. They exist as a punishment for Merton and help maintain the facade of idealistic utopia in biting spite of its leader. However, they denizens mostly go about their business, living according to the principles they know and understand. Only once in a while does someone break programming and face deep consequences; whether through re-education or swift eradication. And should you “join”, don’t think of escape. The tortured mind of the “Holy Emperor” will only cause you to loop back into a main city or right into a council-driven trap. I found myself reciting hours of scripture before I was allowed to explore acceptable areas within the mega city. My escape only came from convincing guards I would spread the good word.
Cultural Level: Medieval (7), Chivalric (8) by forts and outposts
Darklord: The Strings Player. Hear the music of the sinister Strings Player, a song that rivals the haunting melodies of Harkon Lukas. all tales speak of a musician who sold his soul to protect the land, causing greedy outsiders and government figures to mysteriously vanish. In truth, the darklord is no hero. He was a paranoid musician who feared the outside world, using the encroaching salesmen and bureaucrats as an excuse to let loose. Using the familiar territory, he stalked and murdered any officials he felt too scared of. He often used his mandolin skills to lure them into various traps. This culminated in the accidental death of his own daughter, who fell in love with a mine contractor interested in expansive trade. While luring the contractor into a death trap, the daughter followed. Both tumbled into a spike trap, death being instantaneous. Overcome with grief and horror, the Strings Player threw himself from a tall mountain cliff and into a jagged ravine below. While his body was destroyed by water flow and craggy rock, his soul was taken and twisted by The Mists. He became an angry phantom, out to continue his mad crusade.
Within jutting alpine spires lives a dark secret, a ghost story. This story is passed down between every village in the region, despite them having no other formal connection. Even without the tale to guide them, said villages still remain close knit enough, despite a harrowing journey between each. But, the Strings Player terrifies young and old, acting as a force of morality. When the phantom learns of someone who dares to continue old meddling ways, he stalks and hunts them. The last thing the victim will hear is a lovely mandolin meddling before he strikes. It is for this reason that locals rarely go out at night, conducting whatever business they need to during the day. While they pride themselves in their work, no one will take more than they need from the mountain; lest they fear retribution from the Strings Player. While the region is impoverished and lacking education, they aren’t without values. A culture of strong work ethics, an appreciation of personal liberty and an at times contradictory righteous morality are ever present. Those who are impure, overly authoritative or unjust are ousted to contend with the shadowy musician who haunts these parts. To many, they are a backwards rural culture; but they view such people as decadent and corrupt colonists and meddlers.
As for the spectral thing himself? He is cursed to feel frightened of the very people he sought to protect, in shame of murdering his own family. Never will he witness their praise. Only one person has seen him in full, Peter Blankenship, a prospector turned insane after the encounter. He mostly stays in his house with a “pet” possum he found as a baby. And even then, his crusade will never fully succeed. Mercenary companies and Mordentish colonists (from Glensburough) have successfully built establishments along the area, some closer to villages. Try as he may, it will take a long time to defeat all of those outlanders. But, given gradually negative reactions from the native villagers, he might be able to spark change in his favor. And should you catch his sights, you better stay on his good side. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself running across slopes and hurdles, all while the Strings Player’s haunting melody gets ever closer.
Should one find the right mistway, they could escape into the core through Lamordia, whose culture is eerily similar, if more progressive than Appleklein. Likewise, following the valleys at the bottom can lead the way to Souragne. All very curious. But, for our purposes, let us take a trail from Glensburough and find our way into another place within the Core. The insular and fearful nature of these mountains kept my hat well covering my face and my head generally laid low. But, sometimes being an outsider is enough to send locals calling for their drifting hero. And their calls were heard, as his song rang in a valley settlement. I’ve found my means out, but first there’s getting past the aggressive protector of the land.
Mordent, Core Domain
Cultural Level: Renaissance (9)
Darklord: Lord Wilfred Godefroy. An absolutely corrupt nobleman in life, his own dark path came from the murder of his own family. Godefroy was promptly haunted until he attempted to take his own life, with the Mists preventing his final rest. Now he is stuck within the very manor where the murder occurred, the House on Gryphon Hill. For ages, he kept a hands off approach on the nearby territory until a major shakeup that nearly destroyed him. He has since become more active, attempting to trap dead souls within his mansion in a greater effort to keep control and tabs on the land. Through blackmail and cruel trickery, his reach has extended to a network of mortal agents and spies. While his act and dark rituals pulled him into the Mists, he was not a true Darklord until the machinations of Strahd and Azalin doomed him. Both attempted escape through the Apparatus of The Alchemist, a creation of a Strahd splinter personality. But, surely this Alchemist cannot be the real Strahd? Yes and no, merely bait created by The Mists to torture the two new Darklords and bring sorrow to the ghostly Lord of the Estate. Even with his passing, much of the land has moved on. His ghost is very much a representation of the noble families in the land. I see a symbol of an old dead or dying relic that still tries to hold sway and influence. The populace simply wants to move past it all, shackled to the remains of an old era.
The home of two domains in the Fell Crafts. But, what of Mordent? While the hauntings truly rule the lands, landowners and hereditary bloodlines handle the politics of the living. In the years before Godefroy became more active in his observations, the Weathermay family carried much in influence over Mordent. But, by marriage into his clan, that family bares the worst of his curse. In fact, life beyond the mansion was far from dreadful. Stories told of grim and ghostly tales on Gryphon Hill, but the miseries were more uncommon beyond that. The Mordentish countryside is dotted with various villages that have tried to keep their distance from Godefroy’s eerie estate. Even the influential families have tried to minimize contact with it, if they can help. More recent years have made matters more trying, with even the acting mayor, whose family name is associated with the Weathermays through marriage, being tortured by the darklord. Spirits arise to ensure none trifle or turn against the House of Godefroy, even pondering the thought. Should he feel more petty, his bound and abused spirit forces could simply bully the living into whatever suits his fancy at the time. This doesn’t take into account Godefroy’s attempt at influencing other domains. Trade has made its way along makeshift roads and the Arden River, but even the souls of the dead have managed to meddle in these affairs. This coincides with reports of “Mist Ferryman” cruising along the river as well. Traders of Richemulot and Valachan have become either fearful or impatient from these issues.
The terrors don’t end with the haunting of strange phantasms, no! Beyond the seemingly small villages in the countryside, other frights lurk. Mordent, as mentioned, was the birthplace of two crafters gone made. While the domain has a habit of stifling ambition, it was still the true homes of Glensburough and Bohemian. The Moors of the Great Moor section of the domain also offer much wickedness in their dense marshlands. The Moor Hounds, ghoulish dogs of death, that prowl the swamps, stalk anyone too far away from safety; readying the moment to jump. The Vale of Twilight, filled to capacity with cemeteries, is rarely visited past sundown… for good reason. Likewise, the Lightless Wood is rarely traversed too far, lest the darkness take you. However, two hamlets peak out of the less “dangerous” areas. My time in this domain was far from lengthy, mostly stays at various villages that would have me. Swapping tales with others helped pass the time, as it seems Mordent’s troubles extend into the seas beyond. As long as the elderly Weathermay patriach holds influence over the lands, I may have reason to return… lest Godefroy’s spiritual wrath takeover fully.
Valachan, Core Domain
Cultural Level: Medieval (7)
Darklord: Baron Urik Von Kharkov. An imposing and large man watches like a cat staring down prey. Like all men in his ruling lineage, his skin tone is far darker than majority of the residence. Likewise, he shares distinctly yellow-tinted eyes alongside his secret circle. In truth, he is not a successor to the throne, but a unique vampire that can create werepanther minions. His journey began as a mundane beast manipulated by a Red Wizard of Thay, upon the world of Abeir-Toril. A plot against a rival mage nearly failed when Von Kharkov, now a man, fell in love with the rival. The Wizard twisted his spell, reverting him to a confused and aggressive panther. Horrified by the murder, he swore an oath to slay the Red Wizard as the Mists took new prey to play with. Harnessed by the Kargat of Darkon, the confused panther-turned-man gained a unique form of vampirism, but his humanoid form became tainted by his panther traits. His shape changing power only allowed him access to his original animal. After the Thayan himself was brought to test the strange vampire, Von Kharkov had his indulgent revenge and found himself trapped in a new land, Valachan.
A dense forest carries the lingering growl of a devious panther. Its piercing yellow eyes gaze frightfully upon native and outsider alike. Some say that these incredible big cats cooperate with the supreme baron of the lands, who observes his subjects from the appropriately named “Castle Pantera.” His subjects contend with a brutal authoritarian regime, but most still give him undeserved respect. Valachan itself is a domain considerably unusual for the core, considering its humid rain forest like environment and diverse blend of culture. According to the lore of the land, the natives of Valachan were protected by Yutow, a deity upon the moon. Colonists, who share culture with other domains such as Kartakass, brutalized the native people before Yutov delivered an ultimatum. He sacrificed himself to forcefully blend the two groups into a harmonious fusion.
The influence of the Darklord’s harsh discipline and traditions within this unique culture have created an anti-intellectual sentiment. Studying within Valachan is not respected, direct experience and ancestral practice is greatly preferred. Some say this is to prevent the sins of the past, most of which cost Yutov great power. It may be for these reasons that most of the culture still admires him, despite his wrathful methods of rulership. Despite a tight order, all means of horrible incidents manage to break out, such as deadly fevers that are known to plague the villages now and again. Despite the efforts of Von Kharkov and his allies, these ailments continuously resurface. Travelers who don’t mind their business suspect the overlord of being the cause. Those who confront him learn that he fears little and is more than happy to turn these hunters into the hunted! But tales tell of sacred artifacts that do strike fear into his dead heart, artifacts of powerful rivals capable of his undoing. The whereabouts are these are known to him or are well lost to the forests beyond.
As for myself? I can’t help but have a feeling of discomfort in these lands. My talents and knowledge are majorly unwanted. Disdain ranges from being ignored to actively disparaged. A police-like order known as the Black Leopards. Much like a cat, the darklord is often aloof when matters don’t interest him. He entrusts his militia orders to enforce his despotic rule. Even to an extent, victims of the plague seem more suspectible to his influence too, furthering conspiracy theories.
Sithicus, Core Domain
Cultural Level: Early Medieval (6)/Medieval (7), Stone Age (1) in many Elven settlements
Darklord: Inza Kulchevich. This former Vistani woman was not meant to lead this land originally. But, considering the domain means “The Land of Specters” in the Elfish tongue, her presence might very well be appropriate. And given how elves make up the majority, she is still very much a stranger within the domain. Inza was born to Magda Ilyanova Kulchevich, a powerful tribe leader built up from strife and turmoil with the former Darklord of the land. Guarded by an ancestral spirit hound and cudgel, the wise woman was destined to lead her clan out of despair. However, Inza sabotaged said survivor with drawing the ire of Malocchio Aderre, the Dukkar ruler of Invidia. The enemy forces spelled doom for the clan, but Inza was not satisfied. Her quest for power took her to the Black Rose’s Seneschal, Azrael Dak, who she corrupted into helping with a destructive ritual. Below a salt mine, there were relics and forces of untold dark power. However, as Inza tricked the death knight darklord and the ritual was being enacted, something went horribly wrong. Realizing the trickery, the darklord stormed back to slay Inza, but it was all too late. The Hour of Screaming Shadows took place, ripping the literal shadows of its many victims into a horrible mass of dark and fiery energy. As all fell around them, the vile Vistana was plunged into darkness. As the death knight was no longer fit to lead, she took his place. Her form was tainted, into that of a shadow being. Only with great strain and care could she mimic her old form.
This is the tomb of the Black Rose, Inza’s mad shadow simply took over. It is a land of emotions run wild, love and betrayal. While Merton still took a somewhat active role in reluctant leadership, the Knight of the Black Rose simply ceased all caring, save for his passionate outbursts at the hands of backstabbers and manipulators. The banished spectre, replaced by the corrupted Vistana, had a name. He was once Lord Soren Soth, a glorious Knight of the Black Rose, a crusader of Solamnia. His travels lead him to break from duty in favor of seducing and marrying an elven woman he had previously rescued. In order for this to be complete, his first seneschal was ordered to kill his original wife. Soth was soon captured on grounds of failing his oaths, adultery and conspiracy of murder. Even after escaping their clutches, life with his 13 loyal knights and his wife was miserable. He was offered one chance of redemption, as other factions of knights joined in their assault against him. However, his attempts of redemption by the deity Paladine failed as The Cataclysm broke out. He ignored the dying plights of his pregnant wife, after learning from her companions of supposed infidelity. As the fires of the cataclysm tore at Soth, he became a Death Knight. Those around him were also cursed. Before he could use the power of a Priestess of Tiamat, his old seneschal betrayed him, pulling him into the Mists. After a failed aid by the Vistani, he slew much of Clan Kulchevich before kidnapping a young Magda. Only when he struck back at the traitorous soul and failed his final test at redemption, the Mists revealed Sithicus. The elves of the land judge him, much like the elf maiden he took, exploited and left to die.
The domain registers as a dark reflection on pieces of Krynn. The elves of Krynn have been known to display various colors and personalities. These Sithican elves are sullen and somber, many of which remembering a time before their sadness was all consuming. The Kender dragged into The Mists were corrupted by Soth, made into vampire puppets. Their joyous and free lifestyle was warped into a sickly hunger for the living. Even the constellations of the night’s sky match those found on Krynn, however they too have been changed by The Mists. The many horrors witnessed and survived by the Sithican Elves have made them far more hardened and bitter. Especially against non-elves, they dislike interactions with outsiders. My encounters with the Sithican Elves have ranged from being stalked to being outright attacked. Their relations with humans are particularly poor. Truly, they are distant from their Krynnish counterparts. However, few things were as bad as the wails of the banshee elf women, the psychic-like guilt weighing down all in its path and the lurking shadow of Inza. I only find myself looking to escape, before the vindictive Shade notices too much of my presence.
IMAGE SOURCES: Konami – Castlevania II; Knott’s Scary Farm – Dr. Augustus Scratch promotional picture; Fra Carnevale (attributed) – The Ideal City; Jacksaysrelax (flickr) – Abandoned Virginia Renaissance Faire; Alamy Stock Photo – English Countryside; Craig J. Spearing – Solitary Hunter; Kevin McCann – Specter of the Black Rose