The Mists choke figuratively and literally, standing as an ever oppressive and overbearing force. But, what are they? This is a mystery that will continue for all time. What is known are the more tangible entities that haunt the endless realms of this demiplane space. Many of these are tragic figures who fell from grace, while others are condemned for absolute wickedness. As I have already uncovered, many places in the Prime Material have either fallen victim or been alleviated of their worst… This depends on your perspective. What is certain is that those removed have become the things of myth and legend in their home world. But here, they are forever trapped. The few who have escaped are anomalies, truly lucky. Of course, this could be just weavings of The Mists. After all, tales tell of Vecna’s paradoxical victory and failure. But, what could foil a demigod?As for me? Not certain. Beyond some vague words and promises, it would seem that I should seek out Darkon. However, it would appear that The Mists have other places to “distract” me with. Or at the very least, slow me down. Either way, I continue through the clouding vapors, until I see sites anew. I still mull over the fact that I wasn’t taken this time by some trap of the Powers. No, instead of going back to Gloomwrought, I found myself a prisoner of Azalin’s very contemplations. But, again, why would his own minions be found in the Prime or even the Planes beyond? It baffles the mind. What has stuck with me is the tarot card given to me prior to the ritual. It is a symbol of Death. But, why is that significant? I have heard of the pocket realm caused by Azalin known as “Necropolis”. Is “Death” somehow involved too? So many mysteries, so many questions. In time, I hope I will find some answer or be consumed trying to understand. Let us hope for the former, shall we? And with that, we venture onwards.
Author’s Note: One more trek into the demiplane of dread, at least for Halloween. Also, I wanted to think of a possible outcome for yet another mad plan of Azalin… Or rather, a plot made by outside help. In addition to a look at more core domains, I made two cluster contributions originating from Mystara (including the Hollow World). Plus, even a tribute to Planescape makes its way here. There is an homage to the “Set Wands to Warpdrive” game I played in, back before this blog made it over to WordPress. A heavily abridged version of that is noted in the darklord story, but that might appear in a future post instead. Also, enjoy a reveal that pays homage to the Gazetteer series. Of course, I might say that. Also, I realize the picture I used for Darkon is from Night of the Walking Dead. I couldn’t find proper art… oh well.
Ylar, Amber Wastes Cluster
Cultural Level: Early Medieval (6), Medieval (7) in the Bandit Gang or Kalzafred enclaves
Darklord: Ahmed Malefdeshar. A thief prince succumbed to the culture he hated within the lands of the Emirates. His origins are implied in the pocket’s name, the nation of Ylaruam in the world of Mystara. Within said land, he was a leader of bandits known for carrying out all means of horrid acts against victims. Usually, they’d threaten and extort valuable targets instead of doing foul deeds, but they weren’t afraid of making a point. However, their most ambitious project was taking over a town near Jaboor. Through one way or another, this struggling border territory town has been neglected, allowing for much conflict with wandering nomads. Ahmed’s gang stepped in, offering aid in return for allowing almost any kind of exploitation possible, going as far as posing as servants of Al’Kalim to further their cause. One of Ahmed’s greatest friends, Karim, became horrified by the gradual depravity unleashed by the wicked rulership. While he accepted older days of banditry, ransoming and then some; it was minor in comparison to the awful treatment constantly afflicted on the masses. In the middle of the night, he fled to Jaboor in seek of any aid to stop the usurper prince of thieves. His motivation wasn’t exactly kindness, as he felt his former friend had fallen to decadence and the very culture he wanted to avoid as a marauding thief. But, as his plans returned to Ahmed quickly, he personally embarked to hunt down and slay his former ally. Just miles from the settlement, a well placed arrow knocked Karim off his camel. Ahmed was disguised, allowing the would-be whistleblower to drop some guard. Ahmed proceeded to torture Karim for hours before someone took notice. The traveler from Jaboor was an innocent merchant, who was hunted down and slain for baring witness. The Mists found the thief prince and the barely alive “traitor”.
It seems that there is more beyond Pharazia, let alone the Amber Wastes, than I was initially aware of. It seems that a town about a day’s travel acts as a refuge away from Diamabel’s wrath. In truth, one must brave their way through a harsh road towards a small oasis. And from there, it’s maybe a day’s travel south and east. Only then does one see a lit up jewel of hope… and sin. Ylar is a den of vice that is controlled between Ahmed’s gang of thieves and a disgraced family chased from Pharazia as well. For years, leading up to the Grand Conjunction, Ahmed had full reign over the land. However, the reshuffling of the land connected the deserts beyond his realm into a new cluster of domains. Soon after, the “persecuted” family of nobles known as House Kalzafred (nicknamed “Alhazred”) found their way into influencing this wretched town. Before then, Ahmed’s worries lied within one seemingly unstoppable antagonist who resembled the traitor thief he put down during his time in Pharazia (in its Island of Terror days). The traitor-like homage would always find ways to mess with his plans and summon heroes to help nullify some corrupt act going on in the town. When the Kalzafred family emerged into the domain, the town found itself rapidly divided between the two sides, with the phantom traitor instigating and accelerating action between both.
“House Alhazred” proves to be an equal match in both malice and competence, but also an opportunity unlike any other. Before the Conjunction, Ylar was a simple self-sustaining enterprise dedicated to feeding itself… but mostly its masters. The shake up brought with not only a rival, but prospects of trade. Now, this pleasure of the sands opened itself up as a refuge to Pharazian antagonism, which in turn lead to crusaders causing problems for the town. Enabled by Karim, Ahmed faces off against a ruthless trade opposition as well as religious zealots who both with nothing more than toppling the bandit lord’s efforts. Every day, his stress grows, as do the consequences of his degenerate and grim treatment of his “subjects”. Only a few nights ago, his second-in-command, Da’Nul, was assassinated after one of his personal slaves slit his throat during rest. And like Diamabel, he tries to ward off agents of the supernatural that disagree with him. Unbeknownst to him, the Kalzafred family are werejackals and are a leading cause of why travelers and wanderers have been picked off by “lurking beasts”. In the meantime, he wonders why his numbers aren’t enough to stop the outside family and their allies.
Other terrors cling to the corrupt town as well. The town has long since been cursed. It is a place where friends betray each other and their souls are damned, where phantoms arise to enact their final moments while slaying those who get in the way. The stench of death brought upon by treason has even attracted the foul ghuls to occupy parts of Ylar. True to the theme of the domain, they often create false spaces of security, especially when the two factions go head to head again. This way, innocents and the uninvolved can fall right into these traps. Other corruptions have made themselves known too. The worship of elements became an accepted alternative to Al’Kalim. But, no such beneficial elementals reside here now. Instead, ones of bone, mist, grave or pyre haunt those who keep their faith in raw forces of nature.
My own investment in this mess was sparked by a stranger. A frail and crippled man offered me a way out, if I could swap some ideas with him. It turns out, he deeply hates both ruling factions, especially Ahmed’s bandit gang. He wants them defeated or at least tarnished. His idea is using bits from each other to set up a skirmish in the streets to keep them engaged. From there, he seeks to rescue a slave held in Ahmed’s fortress, Eliria, a priestess who sought to help the battered man. And after that? Flee to safety with me as kind company. The man himself sounded far too vindictive to be considered kind, but help is help… Right? In the dead of night, I helped set off all means of noise, posing as a hired messenger to rile up the two sides. After they went, it came down to infiltrating the compound of a master thief, with much fighting involved. Several slaves were freed from shackles, as we made our way to the cell of a robed woman. Freeing her of bonds that suppressed prayers, she helped escape, as a bloodbath awaited outside. The two factions begin to wind down, slinking back to bandage wounds and prepare for the next conflict. The wounded man, escaping with the priestess, introduces himself as Karim as a sandy wind gust separates myself from the two. It seems I’ve fulfilled some kind of duty. And as it would seem, the Mists call me elsewhere.
Acotlaza, Fell Crafts Cluster
Cultural Level: Stone Age (1) within most settlements through Classical (4) in temples and the Obsidian Weaver’s lands, despite lack of formal government or religious order
Darklord: The Obsidian Weaver. This culture matches the ancient Azcan people of Mystara. When the Great Rain of Fire blasted the world, it was said that their culture was doomed. However, Immortals preserved their culture. I’ll detail their new home another day. In short, the Azcans were alive yet! However, a particularly corruptive Immortal found their way into their restored society, taking over all it had to offer. He founded a despotic theocracy, with heavily segregated roles abounding. To the darklord’s misfortune, women weren’t given many opportunities in such a society. When the priesthood noticed she was using warrior-like means to appease their Immortal, they intervened. Her motivation was solely to make her artwork known and feared. Her very textiles were dyed in the blood of her sacrifices in tribute. Her attempts at glory and recognition failed, in favor of infamy and hatred. The priests moved in to take her out. This lead to assassinations of a couple of them, leading to her being tracked like an animal. The Mists stopped her demise, in favor of a new one.
Very strange, I see the coastline leading to the Appleklein Mountains beyond me. And here I am, an island that feels far warmer than its mainland. It seems I missed on at least one site within this cluster of lands. But, my immediate attention is brought to a wounded explorer resting upon a beach dune. He warns me of a fierce and brutal woman in some kind of “ancient tribe garb”. His men were sent to document the “lost tribe” that tried to settle the island long ago. Tall tales tell of a vicious murderer who joined the expedition, so she could slay and use the victim’s blood in her work. This false-history would be clarified later, but it was all I had to go for, at least for now. The steamy forests deep within the island were unlike anything found in Glensburough proper, truly a marvel.
After witnessing stone buildings that seemed to fade into the green of the damp tropical overgrowth, I saw other people! These colonists were similar to the description of the adventurer. At first, they seemed uneasy, but turned to cautious and hostile after realizing I was someone else. Taken hostage, I was to speak with a warrior general in an encampment. In exchange for my life, he was to give me a task, end the terror of The Obsidian Weaver. He spins a tale of this powerful woman capable of making his fiercest men run in horror, even the priests who oversee them are afraid. A priest enters soon after, warning that her cursed presence is near. No sooner is this said, everyone in the encampment vanishes! In fact, the haunted camp turned into a dilapidated ruin, as if I was visited by ghosts! As I’d learn, these were no ghosts, just the victims of the domain… ever doomed to vanish from a darklord who will never gain their respect.
A blood-drenched woman emerges from the foliage, with a bone sword pointed towards me. She demands I become a sacrifice, so her god will once again witness her tributes. Knowing the theme of nearby lands, I plead to bear witness to her glorious arts first. As if bewitched, her demeanor shifted. Once again taken hostage, I was dangled and dragged in one hand of the mighty warrior crafter. Within her isolated hut, I see all means of incredible woven fabrics, textiles, banner-like flags, decorations and more. Many of them proudly wear the red sheen of blood though, seemingly never fading either. Much like my interview with Weir, I kept her distracted with subjects that proved positive to my imprisoning host. She informs me that none in the land dare to take up her arts. They flee through the magics of the very immortal patron she seeks power from. And, unlike the explorers and other outsiders, I was kind enough to take a genuine interest in all she had to offer. However, one matter is made clear for my escape. The suffering soldier must be sacrificed by my hand in order for her to let me go… Sometimes, we must all commit sins, no? To clear my conscious, the poor lad was bound to bleed out soon anyway. Perhaps this was a mercy?
Richemulot, Core Domain
Cultural Level: Chivalric (8)
Darklord: Jacqueline Renier. A definition of corrupt aristocracy. From the corrupt wererat-infected Renier bloodline, her family hails from the same world as Mordent. Upon fleeing from attacks and into The Mists, they operated in Falkovnia for some years, until the Darklord waged a war campaign against them. The grandfather patriarch of the family, Claude, became the leader and darklord when the family fled into a new domain. While he suffered the cursed consequences of his domain, he still found a way to stay a leader by encouraging division and competition among the family. Jacqueline was pitted against her sister, yet never rewarded for her superiority. Ultimately, she recruited her sister to overthrow the patriarch. While her sister failed to aid, Jacqueline was successful and took over the domain as a consequence. Her veneer of empathy has played into an ironic fate for her. She will never truly receive it in return. When she desires companionship or even deep friendship, she loses control of her wererat abilities, often slaying the accidental victim. And even then, her scheming wererat nature works against her in other ways, often leading to said relationships ending in other ways. She has become more of a personality among others, but it means little to her, as it never becomes all the more personal. Well aware of her fragile state, she did her best to hide it through either cruel manipulation or her facade of kindness to the public. But, she has a long term plan. While her attempts to infect others have been limited, she desires to create a mass pandemic in order to create fanatical loyalists under her control.
Richemulot is a domain that favors merit and intelligence over olden values. It is a place where hard work often pays off and egalitarian ideals are relatively welcomed. Despite being a pretty calm and quiet city, it still contends with many problems. Tales of sickness and lurking shadows torment the populace, who are none the wiser of the real evil lurking beneath them. Either way, much of the population have found themselves succumbing and falling to all sorts of problems. Still, this hasn’t deterred the people yet. And even so, national pride stays pretty stable, especially against aggressor states like Falkovnia. This isn’t to say that people embrace Renier’s rule without criticism… in private. Her penitent for gossip and spreading rumor often makes these secret discussions much more open, making the most basic of criticism risky. Her rule is still harsh and prone to issue, especially when her whims demand it. Her attempts at diplomacy are often confusing and mysterious to the public as well, including her peace discussions with the infamous Vlad Drakov. With these being shaky, the Treaty of Four Towers was made with Borca, Dementlieu and Mordent to hold Falkovnia back. Details to the everyman are scarce and worthy of concern though. Despite this, information and knowledge are the truest commodity within the domain. In fact, it is this, and not so much wealth, that allow one to ascend the social ladder. However, obtaining secrets is often deadly here, as many are more than eager to kill to protect them. The biggest secret of all is that the secret societies and ruling class are not only infiltrated, but controlled by wererats. Some are even outside of Renier’s bloodline.
While the cities sprawl and house native and immigrant alike, there is still more to the domain. Past three vast cities, there is much in the way of rivers and swamp land. Land river based vessels are used as optimal means of travel and trade. While this space is wild and somewhat dangerous, civilization tries to remain well kept and clean. Few men even have facial hair, as it’s easily seen as unkempt and unbecoming. However, even among classes, comfort and practicality is emphasized over status based clothing and jewelry. This fits in with the philosophy of building and earning your own, but being humble about it. Because of this, there is the expectation that one can lift themselves out of their issues. Even the poor look down upon “begging” because of this. And despite the limited population in parts of cities, people tend to cluster close together like rats in a warren. This symbology and irony is not lost on the Reniers. Lately though, this push to avoid isolation and alienation has spread a recent outbreak. The Plague of Screaming Ichor has come to rip through Ste. Ronges, a city already more disorganized than the other two. This has caused more direct action to be taken in the form of the recently created Garde-Noble to take to the streets against suspected peoples and infected alike. These “noble guards” are nothing more than proven security, law enforcement and military personnel who are pardoned on cruel acts. A lock-down may be imminent. One potential perpetrator has a thick Falkovnian dialect, hinting at another major war. Some fear that this is a set up by more warmongering subsets of the Reniers and other families, eager to engage in a new era of violence. However, my own travels have lead me to Pont-a-Museau, by invitation from the leader of the nation herself. Her massive mansion, Chateau Delanuit, is truly an impressive site. While much of the home is closed off to prying and curious eyes, what is open to visitors is marvelous and beautiful. Rumors speak in hushed tones, they say that those areas blocked off from outsiders have fallen into a sad shape from either neglect or purposeful decay. If true, it’s only fitting of the clan’s dark secret. While my own performances were uneventful, the matriarch extends her invitation to remain well after others have left. Her desire is to speak with me, an “exotic chronicler”. By far, it’s not one of my worst titles granted. Her musings and declarations start with her take on the past. She believes she started a revolution for modernity by “staging a revolt” against her corrupt old-minded grandfather. Ultimately, she turned the tides and supposedly fight back when he wasn’t expecting, before removing the body from the land. Whether as a front or as a genuine delusion, she views herself as a hero of the people, a symbol of merit triumphing over just monetary power. However, things transitioned towards her tendency of the seductive. Her advance attempts are rebuffed through attempts at civility. And in no time, her servants barred means of escape, as she wasn’t done with me yet. The only way forward was to her private chambers. However, as she became more engaged in her uncultured behavior, she began to change more physically. In no time, the woman trying to court me was replaced by a horrible rat-thing that now looked upon me with rage and hunger. But, another shadow hovers in the room. As if a voyeur looking towards my grim fate, it just seems to enjoy the show. Renier pays it no mind, until an arm extends in my direction. The rat-thing leaps towards the form, who looks towards her as she then turns towards me.
But, as if whisked from time itself, an eerie gentleman grasps me by the arm and tears me from space ever so briefly. Out on a well lit street, I see the figure’s vague form. The figure’s features are blurred, but still showcase an attractive and masculine frame. His wardrobe is exceptional as it is striking and intimidating; a suit conveying attraction and power. The figure asks a simple question, “how did you escape the first time?” Following this, his voice bellows, “Answer now!” Despite my strong mind and bardic techniques, words were compelled to leave my lips. I brought up Terra’s villain of H. H. Holmes, the Cult of The Red Death and the City of Gloomwrought. None of these answers please him, as if he notices something else looming over me. He asks me of the Kargatane and their disappearance in The Mists, his grip now tightening upon my neck. Lifting me up, like some prize from a hunt, he gazes deep upon my eyes in some hypnotic manner. Once again, he weaves some magic that I’d normally resist. And as if compelled in fear and strange magical trust, I respond and he loosens his hold slightly. Tales tell of an Entropic Cabal seeded in the planes and even in the prime, including one very strange fact unrelated to the Dread Lich… Another patron has aided in their existence. The figure scoffs, pushing me aside. The force from the touch however felt like a collision against a massive creature. As I flew back, the figure simply strolled towards an alley and vanished. However, a letter was left in my pocket. It is here that he threatens plans for me, should I fail him. His wording is vague, but pushes me towards Darkon. It seems destiny calls. But first, one land stands in the way.
Falkovnia, Core Domain
Cultural Level: Medieval (7)
Darklord: Vlad Drakov. Ashamed of his lowly status by birth, Drakov aspired for so much higher. From the land of Taladas, in the world of Krynn, he quickly rose in influence as an unforgiving mercenary. His company, the Talons of the Hawk, were feared in their ruthless efficiency. Even as the central figure, called The Hawk, he still desired so much more. As a sellsword, he was keen on accepting the highest and finest bidder. The better the pay and the more quality the company, the more the Hawk and his Talons would be invested. In time, The Mists came for the company as he found himself in Darkon. There, his terror plagued nearby villages in an attempt to claim this new mysteriously land as his own. In short notice, Azalin took notice and used the undead to drive the marauders out. Falkovnia was revealed by the Mists to Drakov, his new prison home. From there, his war campaigns have been progressively fought and repelled by other nations; Lamordia, Darkon, Dementlieu, Borca, Richemulot, Mordent and somehow even Barovia. While any sane man would be deterred, Vlad Drakov was convinced that greatness awaited him if he could succeed in overthrowing and conquering an enemy. And with enemies on all sides, his chances would prove quite challenging.
Limping and coughing, I find myself beyond the mist border once more. It would seem that the mysterious gentleman’s interference has distracted Renier enough for me to escape from her vision. But, as I cross the borders, the mischief of corrupt blood fades from the landscape. Instead, grotesque use of power, military machines and oppressive war now hangs over my head. Surely, this is Falkovnia, a realm of overbearing authority and rampant brutality. Instead of shrines to temples, the lands are dotted with state-based worship of military. Meanwhile, non-humans are demonized in the name of a racial purity ideal. In terms of humanoids and demihumans, the best they can often hope for within these lands is enslavement, as many settlements, camps and enclaves have unveiled. Those who dare to mingle or even mix with these populations are treated in mockery at best and suffer similar fates at worst. To the people of Falkovnia, they risk sacrificing their blessed humanity. If this wasn’t enough, Falkovnia is a state constantly at war with the world. But with this, the nation is crippled by the anxiety and paranoia this produces, especially at border points. This has caused the civilians especially to suffer dearly, from issues of hunger and disease, as their frail mental state affects their physical being. This is to say nothing of the squalid conditions that favor the military over the common people. This suffering has even lead to their uncaring despot considering them to be weak, barely fit to serve his proud land… or at least his vision of it. Soul breaking work and fear inducing patrols are seen as acts of patriotism, even at the expense of the population’s well being. In the case of the latter, it isn’t uncommon for the shaping nature of the mists to set up enemy ambushes to attack patrol units and garrisons. These are far from the only atrocities attributed to the vicious oberfuhrer of the domain. His crimes against humanity make him as awful as any monster to be found in The Mists. Those he holds in contempt or views unpatriotic are first dealt crushing beatings within their very homes, before dragged through the streets in demeaning shame. If they are lucky, they face execution soon after. Some subjects have been chained and dragged to the Crumbling Hills, where they are shucked into the dark chasm known as The Shadow Rift. Those who survive the great fall face a far grimmer fate than what Drakov could imagine. The irony of this all is that The Mists remind Drakov that he only succeeds in taking away good things from the land, rather than bringing anything positive from his warmongering ways. One of the best ways to represent this is in the literal nature in the domain itself. Fields are fertile and slopes could have been gentle and relaxing. However, the bountiful harvests almost always service Drakov’s forces first and the bumpy hills are tactical station points for troops. But, there is no hope for a pleasant looking land truly being as such. Being the Lands of the Mists, it all acts as a dark metaphor.
These lands aren’t the only ones that the fuhrer of Falkovnia torments. A strange phenomenon reveals the ways to other domains for the bloodthirsty armies of the nation state. Drakov has used this conjunctions and pathways to keep his soldiers active in their duties. Instead of merely torturing peasants, they are able to do their duties and attack elsewhere. The end results also have their bounty of war spoils, all means of supplies from attacked foreign powers. However, these passages are rarely open long enough for Falkovnian armies to fully invade and conquer. Thus, Drakov’s long term plans for conquest will likely never be realized. While the alliance of the Four Towers provides much frustration for him, he still views these states as much weaker. As to little surprise, he cares little for the leadership of olden nobility (or “fops” as he would refer) or the rulership of women. After all, Vlad Drakov views himself as a strong man among the average and only the strong are worthy of absolute command. Even that falls short in many spots. The town of Aerie has had an underground of crime rise and fall almost constantly, which seems to coincide with trade caravans embarking on the Old Svalich River. Given their roots in Falkovnia, merchants who use the trade ways are met with a hard time with outsiders. For good reason, they are suspected of being scouts or the set up for an ambush of Drakov’s design. And in all fairness, reports of this have happened. Despite being a former mercenary and a corrupt warlord, Vlad Drakov is still a genius in the realms of tactical maneuvering and warfare. While he views himself as all powerful, he has had to compromise his image several times, much to his chagrin. One example is Mallochio Aderre’s employment of Falkovnian troops to help hunt down Vistani near Drakov’s space and beyond. Time Anomalies, such as the temporary reveal of Arak, have also afflicted Falkovnia in rare occasions. By far the worst was a connected path to Gundarak, where a giddy Duke Gundar seized the confusion to lead an assault against Drakov and his legions. The pathway lasted for as long as the fighting did. In a few days, both sides faced great loss with none able to gain any ground. Soon after, the pathways closed and time stabilized. Or rather, time as The Dark Powers properly see fit did. Despite these anomalies, the people of Falkovnia try to apply a more practical outlook on things, rather than a superstitious one. To feel the latter is viewed as weakness, after all. Save for beating back the armies of a dead empire, there have been little in the ways of decisive victories and little in expansion. The conglomerate allegiance of the Four Towers, Darkon’s empire and the Barovian Ravenloft county have ultimately deterred most plans for Drakov. But, even now, he readies his next big campaign which will one day lead to his success.
Or, that might have been the case without my arrival. My need to cross into Darkon unfortunately lead me through here. As “fate” would have it, a subordinate by the name of Tobias the Infallible had fled ranks in attempt to dessert Drakov for Azalin’s lands. He has not been found yet. The worst part of that is he looks like me. And so, following capture and retrieval to Lekar, a city where the oppression is more directly felt. A secure bunker provided me with the security worthy of a top ranking prisoner. After high ranking officials drilled me with all means of questions, they came to the conclusion that I have been hexed and erased of memories. After trying to explain my case, they were further convinced that someone within the seedy underbelly of the city was tampering with me. After a “storming” of soldiers and guards occurred throughout the city, I was attended to once more, only a mere day later. This time, Drakov attended with accompaniment of one of his beloved hawks, a national symbol of pride. The large bird called and screeched at me in disdain, as the warlord sneered, barking the name of Tobias. My look of confusion lead him to ponder before chastising his men for grabbing the wrong man. Before they were dismissed, he approached me with a deeply analytical stare. His bird, perched on shoulder began to frantically cry out, causing him to move back. His scowl turned into a look of seething hate, declaring me a creature resembling Tobias in physical form only. And furthermore, he sensed the taint of Darkon upon me. Impossible, this is a place I have never been too, but have heard all too much! After I am left alone once more, news rings through the cell-like area. A new path to glory has opened, once more to Darkon. With bag over head and ropes around all limbs, I’m carried before seemingly fastened to… something. With the bag unveiled, it would seem I am on the front of some clockworks enhanced chariot. One of the men addresses it as the “Glistening Chrome”. My guess is that Falkovnia addressed some kind of Trade Pact with Lamordia. The Darklord looks upon me, wishing me luck as a fake now turned into a trophy of war. And should I survive, I’ll be mounted on a pike like many before me. But now I ride off upon Glistening Chrome. What a lovely day.
Darkon, Core Domain
Cultural Level: Dark Ages (5) to Chivalric (8)
Darklord: Azalin Rex. His story begins in ancient Oerth, but not that ancient. None the less, in the year of 231 of the Common Year calendar, Azalin was born a mortal named Firan Zal’honan within the Earldom of Knurl. Born of Lord Turalitan, the would be wizard king was put on a destined course in political influence. He greatly respected his father’s sheer force of personality and hard approach to order. Likewise, he looked down upon “lowly” folk as well as his own shortcomings. His own knack for knowledge and intellect did clash with his father’s superstitions and anti-magic sentiments. This clash lead him to learning magic in defiance. Due to a lawful ban, this was kept in secret. Magic was his means of obtaining control, allowing a true rise to power. This put him at odds with his too kindly brother, Irik, through most of his life. Firan’s hubris caused his magics to lose control, killing his brother and risking the death of his mentor. He chose to join him in exile instead, where his arcane prowess surpassed most mortals. In time, he reclaimed the throne from decadent and fallen family, as Azal’Lan or “The Wizard King”. Knurl, under his reign, returned to glory and an allowance of magic gave him more sway as well. Other lands flourished for Knurl to grow, but this success would lead to Firan’s undoing. A failed marriage resulted in a son, named after Irik, in hopes of carrying the name. Azalin at this point had begun to age, even with his life-extending magic. As his son grew, he shared the kindness of Azalin’s lost brother, up until the son’s kindness lead to treason in the Wizard-King’s eyes. Handling the execution himself, he was filled with both guilt and the desire to become immortal. Embracing lichdom, he used his new found abilities to expand Knurl into a feared and hated house of power. Armies and assassins failed, but in the end Azalin was slowly being consumed by his guilt. When rumor came to him of a spell capable of restoring lost dead, he went on an expedition for it. Of course, this was a trick of The Mists. Sent to Barovia, he found himself desperately collaborating with Strahd von Zarovich, Count of Ravenloft, for his own purposes. This tenuous alliance grew worse over time, exploding when the early form of Mordent became a test site for Strahd’s experiment. This attempt to free Strahd from Ravenloft failed, as the doomed lich fled into the Mists and found Darkon. It is here where he is reminded of his execution by the ghost of his son. And, it is here where his quest for lichdom was made a farce, for he can no longer learn new magical secrets… At least, not without overly complicated workarounds.
This brings things back to the war-band readying for the moment of glory against their disliked neighbor. The forces of Falkovnia, ever confident, met their end as they had time and again by Darkonian retaliation. The arcane powers of Azalin prevail over the warring fury of Vlad, through not only well trained battalions and stationed war-bands, but plenty of things magical as well. It would seem my presence didn’t intimidate them like fair leader thought it would. But, no time to settle down, lest I consider Darkon to be my one true home. But, for many reasons, Darkon stands as an imposing and impressive potential home. As far as domains are concerned, it is likely the largest domain of dread. At the very least, it is the largest of the core, taking up around one third of the core cluster’s space. On top of that, the registered population easily exceeds 100,000, likely many more. While it’s possible to travel the cobblestone roadways and witness nothing unusual, Darkon is perhaps the most magical of all realms. In many ways, it resembles a fair bit of Azalin’s home world of Oerth. Indeed, even demihumans are far more welcome here than in other realms. However, a certain degree of assimilation is pushed by the political agendas of the domain. But, don’t let the whimsical and fantastical aspects of the domain fool you, much of these magical things are twisted by the Darklord’s malice. Even classic monsters of the prime material have been changed to reflect Darkon’s grim shadow. But, for those looking to learn more through the realms of academia, might I suggest the university formerly located in Il Aluk? While the old location fell to a tragedy, it was preserved to continue its mission. Alone, the sages, professors and general scholars have provided much.
Six regions divine Darkon, each pertaining to a certain type of land or feature: Jagged Coast, Forest of Shadow, Boglands, Mountains of Misery, Vale of Tears and The Mistlands. The last one gets this name for how cloaked in fog the lands tend to be, often upon misty borders. Within its blankets of vapors, the elves are most commonly found here. The dwarves can be found within the Mountains of Misery, which curiously grabbed some land from the blasted remains of Arak. One sighting that sticks out is the former capital city, Il Aluk, The Necropolis. Such a place is viewed as a blight upon the land. For the time being, it has not been stopped, but many would wish it would go away in some fashion. From these lands, Azalin rules through strict law. Appointed barons and lords help extend Azalin’s influence in the public eye, as the secretive order of Kargat do so from a safe distance. (The fact that I’m aware of the latter should be of concern.) Despite this, the general society of Darkon is quite diverse and welcoming of immigrants willing to pledge themselves to Darkonian values and rule. In the case of diversity, most of this resides in the humans. Demihumans tend to be far more uniform, as it’s less likely to see as much immigration from their races. In fact, those who do settle down often find that they have some ancestral claim to the land itself. It is quite the coincidence, I would say… This doesn’t stop a rather effective social structure from being maintained; from peasantry to merchants and artisans to the social elite. Likewise, Darkon is a domain where one can study the arcane arts in open. Unlike other domains, there is no major strike against magic… at least in public. (They do say that those who garner much in power find themselves speaking to an officer or even the darklord in due time.) The fears of magic are far more rational, as the population is more aware of what it can actually do. The mages themselves feverishly guard their secrets, as magic in indeed a way towards power. And should that knowledge escape? It’s undesirable competition and conflict waiting to happen. And despite this seeming progressive approach to “outsiders”, this society favors a patriarchal structure and often rejects non-traditional women. Despite this crippling bias, this hasn’t stopped particularly determined women from overcoming such hurdles.
But, how is the land conditioned to accept so much death and necromancy? Cultural beliefs and faiths, like with many lands. The Darkonians believe that life itself is borrowed from a realm of death, The Grey Realm. One day, all things will slide into it and the new dead must find a way to cope in this strange new realm. This reasoning even slips into a rationalization for The Necropolis, in which the population believes that the Grey Realm desired a home on the living world. However, a deep reverence and respect for the dead will keep this inevitable dimension at bay. Should one dig deep enough, it would be safe to say that this is propaganda to cover up not only the dealings of Azalin, but his very undead nature. Of course, to openly believe or say such things is a good way to be abducted by the Secret Police of the Kargatane rather quickly. Prior to the cataclysm known as The Requiem, The Eternal Order was an all powerful force of religion acting as an extension of Azalin. Their claim to the community gave them much power, which they still mostly hold after the destructive event occurred. Religious belief and an awareness of magic hasn’t prepared them for the consequences of time ripples though. The “irreparably mad” have claimed to see Il Aluk in proper working order again, a momentary and lapsing image caused by these strange waves of time power. Academics who have since found refuge in the city of Karg are especially quick to debunk this. However, many secretly wish to research time anomalies, especially at the request of Azalin or other figures of power.
As for myself, a lower profile wasn’t exactly needed, at least among the commonfolk. After all, I was someone who knows magical talents. So long as you portray yourself as responsible, people won’t turn many eyes toward you. However, those with connections to various institutions… It would seem they were far more willing to cast a proper gaze. After a few days of gathering research, that was when esteemed and honorable officers were dispatched and addressed me by name. By demand, I was to be invited to hold an exposition summit within the Veteran Arms Inn of the Old District in Nartok. Invitation by demand, such a paradox. For the most part, the summit involved the research I gathered from my travels in the lands of the mists. Many important and well-dressed personnel asked me all there was, even private gatherings. Upon me addressing my own discomfort, they asserted that they had lawful blessing to ask that information out of me. From a gathering to what felt like an interrogation, it looked like a trap was set. I played along till the end, where one of the regal officers who accosted me declared that there was to be no more further questions. As a valued guest, I was to be escorted to an undisclosed location for my safety and privacy, at least they claimed. Following the rather excessive men-at-arms, I arrived at the manse of some mage, who welcomed me. However, his welcome was followed by cold assurance that wasn’t my final stop. A mirror turned into a black hallway, as he ushered me to walk to the other side. His final words of advice were to make sure The King is well entertained. A private audience with a leader in this wretched dimension, I haven’t seen this before, right?
Instead of some lavish throne room, I am greeted by a rather comfortable inner-sanctum. The voice of an elderly man lines up the sight of a pointed crown. Azalin, the Wizard-King. Without hesitation, I lowered myself in humble bow, but the overseer of Darkon simply asked me to sit at my leisure and rest from my long journey. His expression was not like the other fell powers of the domains. It was one of contentment, but also a conniving desire. The kingly mage moves behind a screen, exchanging the more intimidating crown for a more rounded one. His body language remains as uncanny, with a faint threat beneath a false welcome. His honey-tipped words are likely an alternative to more brutal methods of information gathering. His questions evolve further, including from domains I haven’t visited at all, such as Invidia. Curiously, I begin to relay information of the Aderres, both the former and current Darklords. My knowledge of Lamordia even extends to an incredible machine I’ve only heard rumors about, components for the arcane device used by the Entropic Gloom for certain. As he notices my cause for worry, his falsely warm expression twists into something far more sadistic. He calls me “the one”, explaining that my role as a battery proved successful for the “outside branch” of his operation. But, more tests must be made. He inquires what I know of him, to which I acknowledge the truth about him, “Lich”. He wonders how I managed to collect that “without his permission”, as I ready myself to take on the darklord. He cackles in amusement, signaling for his guards to leave. His cockiness shows, as his posture becomes more casual, as if inviting me to strike. The Lich King opens by asking why a lowly bard would challenge an almighty lich by his own, a foolish move. He beckons a first blow, as he enchants a rapier by my side. Upon reaching for the weapon to strike the Lich, I found myself backing down… as if by instinct. How was this possible? With the simple request, “would you kindly stop this violence?”, all tension was gone. But, this wasn’t from a spell of his, just simple words. While any bard knows the power of words, this was done through everyday gesture. But, how? The undead leader signals to a couple of corpse-like lackeys, demanding I be shackled for my actions. He then simply invites me further into his lair, his tone carrying little malice but holding ominous welcoming. Chained with no hope of escape, I followed the lich, who was eager to unveil something to me. Before I am cloaked by the darkness of the halls beyond, he simply remarks that I am far more rambunctious than “S” or any other agent in his service. He taunts that the Doomsday Gazetteers provided better information, but he’s thankful for knowledge of new island domains and a new cluster too. He softly chuckles to himself, on oddity for a stern man, proclaiming that if all goes well I can be used to power an attack that will surely erase Necropolis. And with that, we press forward. A dark reveal surely awaits.
IMAGE CREDITS: NWN Modding Team – Prisoners of the Mist; Talon Dunning – Death; Richard Anderson – Guild Wars 2 Concept Art; Unreal Marketplace – Sharur’s The God of Art; Historical Archive – French Revolution art; Twilight’s Children – Vlad Drakov;Stephen Fabian – Night of the Walking Dead; Talon Dunning – Azalin in Disguise