The journeys through the lands of the mists continue. I find myself lost after leaving the dark clutches of Inza. It wasn’t my place to fully stop her. While the Black Rose is distant and gone, maybe someone else will thwart the usurper. In the meantime, the strange powers that be seem to carry me, as if they too wish to see my quest for knowledge fulfilled. But, they have an ulterior motive, for they never help one for free. Perhaps I can be of use to help put Darklords in their place? Given how I haven’t done much of that before, this is likely not the case…. But, something to ponder about later. Something to deeply ponder about.
The meddlings of displaced Kargatane is most disconcerting. Tales tell of Azalin’s meddling in an attempt to escape. And yet, I have successfully escaped… all the more reason to use me in an experiment. I’m not sure if I’m at the agenda of the dread lich or the Dark Powers. Either way, it’s likely that little good will come from this, save for me documenting these awful places for posterity. With any luck, I will be granted the same courtesy as before. Every time though, it feels like escape was from sheer luck of nothing bad happening or just the smallest window of survival. We shall see what awaits me then. With any hope, I can evade these agents of the lich for as long as possible. If I benefit with learning along the way, that’s certainly a positive, no?
Author’s Note: Ravenloft had a tendency to make crossovers with other settings. So, let’s pull from their dip into Dark Sun as well as Spelljammer, even examining a possible domain from Eberron! In addition, I look at a cluster I very much enjoy. Also, what is Ramon seeking? Why does he hide from Azalin?
Tower Darkspace, Island of Terror
Cultural Level:Medieval (7) near the tower, Stone Age (1) in the human farms, Chivalric (8) or Renaissance (9) in the Spelljammer Colony
Darklord: T’laan. Once named Dorin of the Torilian nation of Aglorand, he rose on a path to greatness. Born of a human and elf settler, he helped raise the emerging colony into power, but not before Thay took attention. As he made preparations to leave the military to pursue a quiet life with his bride to be, roguish assassins brought upon by Thay besieged his palace. As it went up in flames, his wife perished. Overcome by rage and the pains of death, he cursed life itself and drank the blood of one of the slain assassins. After his embrace on undeath, he went on a crusade against life that stretched into Wildspace, culminating in a once lush and flourishing Crystal Sphere known now as Darkspace. Having grown in power, he had barely grown in control. Fueled by the rampage, he cleared most life in the entire sphere. Using the dead sphere as a base of operations, he took to harvesting other spheres for life forms to capture, breed and consume. After converting much of an unprepared world and shipping the populace to his “farm”, he was stopped by a group of noble heroes. Even Darkspace was doomed, from both other ravenous undead as well as his interlopers. Instead of simply being defeated, The Mists found him. As they parted, the land had changed. A cosmic ocean still cascaded through a dead world, but the boundless black wastes cut off after a point, leaving only that curious mist. The “livestock” humans he captured simply stopped putting up a fight. Over time, he learned that he could no longer access other worlds and other resources. He was stuck with his tower and nearby lands. Nothing offered a challenge or meaning, causing him to stew in the pointlessness. A man who wanted to take the life of everything was dealt the cold and bleak reality of a dead realm.
Tower Darkspace exists as an aberration by Mist Lands standards. There is no sky, but a vast murky void of darkness. The stars shine brighter, as if the land was not from a planet, but a drifting space rock. At one time atmosphere might have existed, but it lies mostly stale and absent. In fact, air seems to be a rare commodity within the domain. Most who enter quickly perish, becoming quick meals and trophies for the eternally bored vampire. The farms and a few other places share pockets of air, but that’s it. Despite his punishment of monotony, he has been looking into ways for his otherwise crude and dim created servants to bait outsiders to wander in. This has shifted his spirits from a dull leader to an enterprising game hunter. Still, he yearns for greater meaning than seeking out a few exotic meals. After all, he can never conquer, control and consume the very lands they come from.
And worse, there are several foils who shall never know defeat by his mighty hand. First, he must relive his fate at some point. A group of adventurers will almost emerge into the domain, all sharing traits as the previous successful party. They always succeed in defeating the Darklord, before he awakens to a cycle anew. It is unknown how many times he has suffered in this way, but his journals claim that he has maintained some sanity. More grating than horrifying is a colony on the edge of his domain, composed of escaped food slaves who banded together with the help of a crashed artifact, a spelljammer well beyond repair. Technologies and cultural artifacts found within the known space and beyond have been recovered to an extent, as has some sort of identity related to these places. The colony is still a shanty town built on the ruins of a dead spelljammer though, with aesthetics to match. It has since been repurposed into a habitable settlement, complete with a bubble of breathable air. Curiously, the air in this colony is poisonous to any undead in T’laan’s service. However, undead who rebel against the Vampire Lord can enter and cause havoc without issue. The reluctant use of mortals has allowed some navigation of this, despite deeply wounding T’laan’s pride and anti-living sentiments.
Despite his acceptance of his nihilistic fate, T’laan remains a foe worthy of his infamy. Even before lifting into the stars, he became well adept at countless arcane secrets within Toril, especially magics stolen from the Red Wizards. His interest in expansion has slowly returned, after his minions have returned with not only fresh meat, but lands that they have dealt a heavy blow. While still suffering a deep depression and a growing sense of fatalism, his hopes have slowly begun to look up. Plus, his plans and strategies against the spelljammer colony have given him something else to do instead of simply toiling away. Of course, this could be the glimmer of hope needed for the Dark Powers to keep using T’laan as they need to.
How I left Sithicus and arrived here is anyone’s guess. In many ways, T’laan suffers from apathy like Lord Soren Soth once did. But, unlike him, he never regretted his mistakes. T’laan’s depression came from the meaninglessness of his actions, a vacant void from his victories. Both typically resigned themselves to a single area and pondered what could have been, creating enough of a link between domains. Though, this place truly rings true to the travels of Wildspace. In fact, my own knowhow of the planes kept me from a quick suffocation. The Dark Powers truly have a dark sense of humor, depositing the wayward soul in barren and black rock, in hopes that they choke to death. How fortunate for me, I came upon an incarnation of the heroes that will forever beat back the spacefaring Vampire Lord. His defeat was equal parts humiliation and resignation, as if he has dealt with this before. But looking at me, he sees something different in his failing moments. His look into just the usual apathy, but morbid fascination as he fades out.
The Snaking Trenches, Island of Terror (?)
Cultural Level: Renaissance (9)
Darklord: Seidyelik Feldromn. The roots of this domain are among the most unique, as it is the only known domain to hail from the world of Eberron. Scraps and records detail the final years of The Last War, a world scale conflict that almost spelled its end. But rather, it did spell doom for the land this domain sat on, Cyre. While the Day of Mourning was hardly the fault of Feldromn, his actions were no less contemptuous. The well armed units were composed of deluded supporters of Galifar, who saw Mishann as the rightful heir. His legions were less numerous than majority of the others, but tactically brilliant, capable of losing far less than adversarial nations. Ultimately, they took to the vicious slaughter of anyone who turned their back on the crown, resulting in their downfall. In the final days of the war, the army was pushed into the very dug out trenches they made for a tactical advantage. Hiding like rats, morale faded, but not before Feldromn utilized the chaos of The Mourning to try to turn the tides. While he destroyed many a foe, the mage was overwhelmed by his own powers coming to life. He sent these living spells into innocent lands, already fairing poorly with the destruction around them, before the animated horrors turned on him. Rather than dying, he saw a thick fog. He awoke to his battered and beaten men, stuck within the trenches. However, any battlefield beyond the tunnels was shrouded in the same Mists that took him.
Very little land actually exists beyond the dug out tunnels that bob and weave for what seems to be miles. But what is certain is that incredible weapons of war and powerful magics fire above the secure passages, locked in a state of eternal war. Much like the days leading to their doom, the once loyal devotees to the crown have lost all hope and motivation. Often, they are reactive rather than proactive. Few will actively fight anymore, save for when their own lives are put into danger. This hasn’t prevented plenty of in-fighting and ignoring orders from their esteemed and noble-appointed leader. In fact, some will risk the war barrage in an effort to defect. Those who aren’t quickly killed are lost to the Mists, only for another conscript to mysteriously appear in the tunnels. Whether or not these warriors are real is yet to be determined. Mad scholars from Morgrave University, driven to the depths from learning of The Mists, surmise that doomed souls from the Day of Mourning are plucked and given new purpose in this morbid parody. Sadly for those researchers, they are often discredited and ridiculed by their peers. Some have vanished, only to be found in the Lands of the Mists. I was fortunate enough to interview one such scholar stationed in these very trenches. His talents have been turned to researching makeshift gear to help “win the war”. A fool’s mission, but relaying this would further break an already broken soul.
Life in the trenches is harrowing and grim. War is fought on all sides and moving too far out is certain death. Squalid and putrid conditions make health quickly fall apart. Disease, madness and general decline are all too common from the many stationed in dusty and muddy passages. The longer I stay, the more intensive my own reactions get. After mere hours, I’ve noticed a slight cough. The medical attendants and priests do their best to suppress it, but I still find myself fighting against some manner of ailment. Even my own magics are limited in application. But, one should be reluctant to use any magic in this dimension. There’s nothing to do besides rest in an infirmary, until some see fit to escort me to a safe station. Oddly, among their ranks is another outsider. The man, a vistani, is clearly not suitable for a life of warfare. Even then, he is clearly at odds with the rest of the Khorvairian majority found here. Pale and sickly, the strikingly garish man hacks and heaves before forming statements. He warns me that “the gate” is the beginning, but also the end. While I can try to escape, my doom is the conduit. Short of a card reading, this fits right in line with the Vistani stereotype; cryptic messages detailing prophecies or advanced divinations. One would think a Vistani could fight off whatever foul rot and fetter populates a dirty trench, but I’d rather not stay to test my own luck. But, leaving this mock sick bay is out of the question… at least until I rest.
With at least a day passing, or what constitutes one due to a lack of sun or moon, they considered me ready to defend the honor of the crown. While I am no fighter, an exposed piece of trench with several ramps was dubbed “safe enough” for someone of my “supportive skill” to show up. After all, scouts have appeared from the Mists and onto the ramps, to relay information on enemies that they’ve narrowly dodged. A bit of patching up and readying is the least they ask. Proper healing and safety, however, is all I ask. Even if it’s likely fake, they believe the courage of their suicide missions. Bolstering and healing within this eternal war, I found myself looking for any means away. After some hours, an exchange of the guard allowed me to stay within a safe quarters. It seems a small group of four would-be defectors want to make a break for it at next exchange, running through another ramp and try to evade their way to freedom. This might be it! And, as the next change up occurs, they begin to belt it. With some spells, I trail behind. Shooting spells, hurls debris and whizzing weaponry take one out, two out! The other two somehow evade as they risk treason from abandoning post. However, the battlefield mist soon meets them… and me. Hopefully, the next domain will clear my breathing, it still feels rather dreadful.
Kalidnay, Island of Terror
Cultural Level: Classical (4), despite metal scarcity
Darklord: High Priestess Thakok-An. The servant to Kalid-Ma, the Sorcerer-King of Kalidnay. Kalid-Ma was being prepared by the priestess for his transition into an all powerful Dragon-King. However, her process of accelerating this was sacrificing her entire family, despite warning against this. The ritual promptly failed, with nearly half of the city’s population dying in the process. The tragedy swiftly lead to The Mists intervening. The Sorcerer-King became locked in an eternal slumber. While seemingly all powerful and having the abilities to rival a full dragon-king, he is largely inert in a static frame in time. With Kalid-Ma’s favor never granted, Thakok-An became conflicted over continuing to serve her master and keeping the Sorcerer-King alone by her side. Her power as a Templar is drawn into question because of this. Meanwhile, she most cope with the ruined state of Kalidnay as it fends against the nightmares of mist-like sandstorms that awaken untold evils.
A culture truly alien to the Mists, from a world of life-draining magic and god-kings. Planes-Travelers tell of a world locked off from extensive reality. They call it simply “Athas”, its Crystal Sphere had been locked off from known Wildspace for countless ages. It’s unlikely they even managed to pierce the veil into that greater reality. The world was long since poisoned by corrupt power called “defiling magic”, energy that exploited the life of the land to build and sculpt. Whole empires were forged upon it and the old ways of life died from it. The world became a decaying dystopia of despots and dark magic. In a sense, Kalidnay is not so different at first. However, unlike the true domains of the Sorcerer-Kings, Kalidnay is in the same state of decline. Upon the world of Athas, stories between merchant houses are swapped over the ruined city. But, in Ravenloft, it survives in an endless struggle. It is frozen mere moments after absolute disaster, to remind Thakok-An the consequences of her decisions. But, to the surviving natives, it’s not overly different. The all-consuming sandstorms have since become the ghost stories of the land, given how it’s truly just the workings of The Dark Powers. Most of the time, the mostly ruined cityscape is a fight for scraps. The only remotely successful settlement still in operation is Artan-Ak. And even then, the amount of stress placed on it risks dooming it to failure as well.
My time was thankfully brief, mostly keeping to the shadows and evading the divine wrath of the High Priestess Templar. More than likely, her own stress kept her from even acknowledging my existence. The sweeping winds and sands meet me once again. For what it was worth, the air was mostly clear… save for the constantly blowing sand and burning debris. My nasal canals certainly were opened up by something intrusive, for what it’s worth. All I do know is that more desert sands await.
Amber Wastes Cluster
Indeed, I was right! Much like the last place, it’s more breathable than a warzone, but the oppressive heat with little salvation, it is truly treacherous. But, what of this cluster? Three domains fill this wasteland of grain and dried bone. Their names? Pharazia, Har’Akir and Sebua. Pharazian nomads who avoid religious persecution in their homeland tell of Sebua in their travels. They describe it as a defiled and fallen place, populated by wild madmen. While Har’Akir suffers for the madness of an ancient king seeking godhood, it still retains much of its culture. Please, take a trip with me into the scorching deserts while we avoid the wrath of nomads, observe twisted faith and find the tombs of kings.
Cultural Level: Bronze Age (2)
Darklord: Anhktepot. This ambitious pharaoh is the story of slavery to power. Ruling Ma’at and more wasn’t enough. The potential to be honored by The Gods wasn’t enough. He desired far greater. He desired immortality grabbed by his own hands. Even in worlds like Mystara, this is mostly unheard of. His ambitions lead to all means of dark experiments, in an attempt to spite the powers of Ra. Slave and citizen were sacrificed, all in the name of his goals. In time, the god he sought for help delivered a punishing curse to teach the greedy king a lesson. He would get his chance to live forever, at the cost of all around him. Those who got too close, including his beloved wife, would die. Instead of attempting to learn from his challenge against The Gods, he turned to twisted necromancies, amassing undead armies… many of which were victims of his curse. In time, an army of the living was amassed to combat him. It is said that many of his remaining living followers turned on him, bringing him death and mummification. Murder and dark sorcery destroyed the ways of his people, the Akiri, with meager fragments of their civilization surviving. The Mists came for him, pushing him into a new kingdom far smaller than his conquests in life, with the consequences of his ways littering the deserts. Stories of him didn’t end there. Tales from Muhar kept people away, until the “Night of Thoth”, when the mummy’s tomb opened once more. The Hexad Prophecy marked this as one of the many events leading to the Grand Conjunction as well, as a recent footnote.
Few genuine settlements can be found, at least in working condition, within the lands of the mad pharaoh’s gaze. Muhar is one of the few that are still in working order, much like the state of Kalidnay. Unlike several of the domains, slavery is an accepted part of life. Much of the labor comes from “obtained” or “confiscated” foreigners, repurposed for various day to day tasks. Even much of the construction is handled by this woe-ridden task force. The community, a hamlet in size, only numbers in a few hundreds. But, the community remains dedicated to enduring the brutish desert. Thanks to a nearby oasis, life is at least more tolerable. However, the oasis is a precious and protected resource, squandering or exploiting it is tantamount to high crime. Another city dwells in ruins, a ways from the oasis. Deir was once a city of much might and power, the center of Anhktepot’s reign. Through both the meddlings of the mad Pharaoh and his crooked advisor, a devotee of Set, corruption and depravity figuratively and literally sunk the populace of the realm. It is said that dark magics corrupted some who didn’t escape or perish early on, making them serpentmen devoted to Set’s cause deep within the grounds. One of the most notable sites is the Valley of the Pharaoh’s Rest. The mightiest crafters of Deir were responsible for the Pharaoh’s Rest being such a magnificent place, at least in the past. One need not travel too far either. As the name implies, this is where one can discover Anhktepot’s tomb. But, given the warnings and notoriety, the hubris or stupidity needed to plunder such a place would be high.
Much of my time was within the settlement and oasis. Heeding caution, it was for the best to let ancient kings lie. The people weren’t too inclined to share too much of their past, save for the eternal leader ruining most of it. To them, this is the last bastion of their people. However, should Anhktepot be stopped by a righteous hero, they might have hope to rebuild… If only things were so kind here. But no matter, these people are not without visions of hope. While their use of “foreign imprisoned-based labor” was uncomfortable and unsettling, they assured me that I have little to worry about, as long as I have respect for their ways. A tavern made of sand and stone provided much of my stay, with stories swapped over the past and the present. However, the crux of my interest is with The Green Hand. Hushed whispers are made in the presence of an outsider myself, but my own disdain for the undead made me at least somewhat trustworthy. This is as far as I know, they are a society of Osiris worshipers that seek to protect the graves of the dead, while preventing undeath from awakening and causing terror. And should I remain respectful of the small village and continue in taking down living dead, I may one day be welcome. Of course, my past experiences with priesthood weren’t that successful, so that’s very much in question. At least they respect my tales of honoring the dearly departed, so I leave them on friendly terms.
Cultural Level: Stone Age (1) among the Wild Children, Bronze Age (2) within Tiyet’s ruins
Darklord: Tiyet. Hailing from an ancient past within The Black Land, an empire predating Anhkepot’s, Tiyet lived as the second wife of Khamose, son of the Pharaoh of the Black Land. The first wife was the focus of this emerging royalty, until Tiyet set her up in an adultery scandal. A high priest discovered this, blackmailing Tiyet into an affair of her own. She later learned of the priest’s dark allegiances, leading to the knowledge of a profane ritual which would release Tiyet of her sins… supposedly, of course. In time, Khamose used his slaves to spy on his suspicious wife, uncovering this conspiracy. In a panic, Tiyet and the priest enacted a foul ritual followed by suicide, becoming corrupted mummies. Her curse only started, as she heard the heart of all living creatures. But her prize was on her husband who learned too much, leading her to take and consume his heart. After returning to her hiding place, she soon found herself ripped from her lands and into the ruins of a new one. There were no more citizens, no more lecherous dark priests or the like. There were only cursed “wild children” who run rampant near the ruins. While she does not like the living, she yearns for her tainted love, as her palace continues to remind her of the life she once had. Memories flicker and drift in the wind, always seeming from far away and long ago.
Save for the palace that Tiyet is condemned to dwell in, there is little going on within this realm. Feral people, seemingly child like forever, wander without much aim. They have no formal structure or even faith. They see the desert as a cruel mistress, but also a teaching mother. The mostly decrepit city of Anhalla is where these wild children live, who have proceeded to build new dwellings of mud bricks. The crops of old continue to grow, but have run rampant and unruly like the current inhabitants. Beyond these settlers, aggressive apes and jackals are just as common. Pharazian nomads not afraid of this cursed land may be inclined to stop by briefly. If it is helped, Tiyet tries to avoid this city or any other dwelling, distancing herself from life and humanity as much as possible. However, she is eventually compelled to find a living being and consume their heart in the same ritual that doomed her in the first place. Even if she hates this as a grim reminder, fate will always demand it. Tiyet isn’t the only horror upon this realm. Moosha is a unique vampire-like creature that haunts the wastes in his gaunt and scabby state. In fact, Scabby is what the wild children refer to him as. His sins were conspiracies against Khamose too, so long ago. Somehow, he too has found his way here. Upon the Valley of Death, one can find the dark temple where this sad creature met his current fate. As for my own fate, Anhalla proved to be a curious place, filled with immature feral child-like people. They were disturbing and hard to relate to. However, their simple tools and traps kept extremely territorial monkeys and baboons away. My salvation came at the hands of nomads moving back towards Pharazia. But, do not mistake their routes as some transportation service. And, do not mistake their methods and laws for hospitality.
Cultural Level: Early Medieval (6)
Darklord: Diamabel. He saw the world around him as unclean and impure. As a man with holy vision, he had much work to be done in order to right such wrongs. Even as a youth, he readied himself for rule under moral guidelines. His rivalries and victories over desert nomads earned him a viable reputation, even though he quested for much more. He made his ultimatum to his followers, follow his creed for salvation or be vanquished. For those who followed him, they had earned their chance within the heavens above. And for those who prove themselves? Salvation shall make them beings of pure light, purity incarnate. And those unworthy? They were the victims of genocide campaigns. As his power and belief grew, he gained the power to manifest an almost divine looking form to those who joined his crusade. Amidst a campaign against a rival city, he fell at the hands of a hidden archer. Instead of dying, his dream of an angelic appearance came true. But, there was a catch, this happened only during the day. His dark side truly took over at night, in which he became a decayed looking angel of death. This horrified revelations grew worse, as not only was his dream shattered, his connection to his divine faith was too. His cries to his deity were met with nothing, save for the musings and mockery brought upon by The Dark Powers.
The wide swaths of desert lands are as unforgiving and excruciating as the previously encountered lands. However, a gem of salvation shines to those who accept its master’s “divine truths”. This is the city of Phiraz, ruled under the guidance of Diamabel. It is a rigid theocracy-like dictatorship that operates under the dogmatic laws of Diamabel. A religious reasoning defines the words and oaths of the land, with even the lightest discrepancies treated as not only crime, but a great heresy. This moral code promotes a life of absolute purity, lest one fall to corruption. Denizens are continuously expected to repent and admit to their sins and flaws, as lawmen confessors exact harsh judgements to make all comply. The terror of the Black Herald, an aspect of the Darklord, haunts those who cannot be truly clean. While there are church-like orders, the only accepted faith is venerating the supreme god-emperor of the land. Anything else is considered a risk towards impurity in the eyes of the overbearing and fanatical tyrant. This isn’t to say the city is ugly, as incredible open walkways built through stonework line the streets. Designs are inspired by the ideals of staying pure and seeking to touch the heavens, as a constant reminder that Diamabel’s watchful eye is ever present. The cities mirror the Darklord’s ambitions and ideals, but also showcase the dream he’ll endlessly work towards never achieving.
Most who oppose this lifestyle are met with death. Those who aren’t are the nomads. Does this mean that their way of life is any more tolerant? No. As I have discovered, they are an almost equally grim group of people. While they do not accept crime and treason among their own, their view of outsiders is less than approachable. Being enemies of Phiraz, they are inherently hostile to anyone who would take up Diamabel’s obsessive morality. When speaking of leadership among the nomads, many will tell of charismatic sheiks and tribal hierarchs, but the name Sheik Rashaan comes up often. Is this man a literal supreme uniting force of the nomads? Is he symbolic? It’s uncertain, but to insult his name is to forfeit your life. Likewise, turn against their methods of destroying Diamabel and you become a mutual enemy. And while they say that the Darklord is nothing but a fraudulent monster lacking true divinity, it is not known if the nomads themselves are widely religious. It’s likely that they carry some wider faith, but smaller folk faiths are still common. But, if you stay within their methods and means, you may have a temporary tenuous ally. They have taken a vested interest in Har’Akir, at least in terms of trade. Likewise, Anhalla in Sebua is of interest to them. But, it seems on their stop to a southern oasis, I have overstayed my welcome. The nomadic caravans have abandoned me to the harsh deserts. And as the night approaches, howling winds blow sands about while sending chills down my spine. Mirages paint fading glints of light and hope in the distance, but such things are merely the toying ways of the Powers. A voice seems to beckon though, telling me of prophecy and purpose. Much like the vistani man in the trenches, I hear once more, “conduit.” The coherent words drift away in the winds, as something replaces them, the cries of jackals. Something within the encroaching night hungers.
IMAGE SOURCES: Robert Lussier – Kenilworth Castle; TSR – Crystal Spheres; Historical Photo Archive – WWI Trenches; Lorraine Schleter – Kalidnay; totmoartstudio2 – mummy