Problems, we all have problems. Day to day life is riddled with them. This is nothing to say of toils beyond town walls, behind closed doors and just outside of the naked eye. There are things that bring deeper problems, rooted in our own deepest fears. Attempts to banish them are fool’s errands, adaptation and readiness is a more apt truth. So, do not fear the problems of what lies beyond, but prepare. The darkness always lingers and waits, so too must you.
Author’s Note: My continued take on Eberron meets Ravenloft, more Thief love, More BLOOD inspiration in the multiverse, ongoing agonies of new domains and more.
The Entropolis Cluster
The city of Metrol has been consumed by The Mists, with much of the land beyond it cloaked in mystical foggy shroud. In truth, it very much is linked by the domain of The Snaking Trenches. However, access between the two is unreliable at best. This is the cluster of Entropolis, formed in 758 of the Barovian calendar. Decay and collapse haunts the land just as much as warfare. Metrol, despite still remaining as beautiful and creative as before, has shown wear and strain. It takes longer to repair wondrous devices, many marvelous buildings have begun to show figurative and literal cracks. It has become a decadent society in decline, despite the Queen’s intentions to keep a nation strong. Worse yet, outside religious influences desire to spur the Entropy onward. Literal devotees of Entropy, hailing from the domain of Ylar, after they were banished from the thieves haven. Followers of the Immortal Thanatos, they seek to help bring the remnants of Cyre further down.
Metrol, now more than ever, remains on lockdown. While the “experiment” to bring the city away from the war worked for a while, soldiers loyal to Cyre have found their way to the city. They are exhausted, filthy, devastated and horrified. Many of them abandoned their posts, resulting in various charges including execution. And these are the lucky ones, combatants who weren’t ultimately lost to the mists instead. And worse, war has followed. Since the unveiling of a new cluster, war bands based on the various feuding factions have emerged. Undead of Karrnath, Knights Arcane of Aundair, Theocrats of Thrane and others materialize in the mist to do battle against the struggling city. Ultimately, the aggressors are pushed back and defeated. But, each time another army emerges, it costs the city dearly. These attacks are rare, but uncommon enough to keep the city on high alert and high paranoia. However, they are far from the frontlines that detail the horrors of war.
The Snaking Trenches remain as a testament to war’s innate evil. Soldiers either rot away in the unsanitary and dreadful tunnels or risk being blown to bits by rogue bolts of magic above. Sometimes, even soldiers from rival armies emerge from the mists to do direct combat. Such enemies have even tried to pounce upon ill prepared soldiers recovering in some pocket of the dug out passages. The darklord, Feldromm, continues to push for composure and maintained discipline. But, his army is far too broken from seemingly endless fighting and a looming fear of eventual death. Many have tried to defect, taking their chances against the mists beyond themselves. Curiously, this domain has two mistways upon it. The first one, The Lingering Demise, is found by leaving a particularly collapsed escape path. This mistway is somewhat reliable, allowing a tw0-way connection to the domain of Mourning Pyre with only a 50% chance of success. Another way, the Coward’s Retreat is found by using a ladder on the other side of a dug out captain’s quarters. Those who aren’t captured or killed for desertion find themselves possibly within the bounds of Metrol. But, using this path is unreliable, witih a 25% chance of success. Curiously, the Coward’s Retreat is a two-way connection and has a 100% chance of leading from Metrol to the Snaking Trenches.
Mourning Pyre is another domain at the other side of the cluster. It is also a source of undead that escape into the Snaking Trenches. Theoretically, it is located at the other side of The Snaking Trenches from Metrol. This is a realm where the dead walk and little else does. The Creeping Death is a sentient Living Spell of Animate Dead who became more powerful, the more it slew and reanimated corpses for its bidding. Something of a mad hivemind, it desires and endless supply of the undead. However, it is cursed to walk a tight rope where it must foster life in order to replenish gradually weakening dead and its general desire for a zombified army. More found here.
Strange Heists and Conspiracies around Iron City
Garret is a doomed man, forced to be the thief he wishes to break away from. His desire is to get just enough, retire and attempt to reinvent himself as an ordinary man. Time and again, tragedy strikes back. A heist goes wrong, a cohort or client dies, he ultimately gets wrapped in some greater plot, the list continues on. However, this has resulted in many odd stories. Many imitators are inclined to agree on oddness too. The shifting nature of the domain often means it finds itself interacting with other ones, either directly or indirectly. This often leads to brief interactions of trade or more likely thieves sneaking all sorts of exotic riches into their hidden dens. These can be magnificent riches from decadent kings, works of technology barely understood by city inhabitants or accursed artifacts best left in safe storage. But, there is more than a good heist or a tactful plot.
The Bay Quarter sees traffic across a river, now destined to and from nowhere. Curiously, traffic from beyond the mists still occurs. It is also the setting of the Skylin Family Memorial Home is connected to a scandal at the Bay Quarter Morgue, another establishment connected to them. The Skylins have been involved with smuggling of illicit and dangerous goods, utilizing their coffins and sometimes the bodies of the dead. While most of the time, this desecration risks running afoul with countless laws, recent attempts have resulted in the accidental creation of alchemical zombies. Notes from Garret detail his attempts to salvage any of the substances and vials, while avoiding the mutated and mutilated corpses. This incident marred relations with a rogue alchemist from Lamordia, seeking to perfect a serum that will negate the need of lightning or necromancy to revive the dead. However, transportation wasn’t handled by the Skylins, but by intercepting interlopers who wanted the reagent for their own ends. The rival band of thieves ultimately unleashed it, before other defenses arrived and helped to contain the contagion. As for the Skylin family, they escaped accusations by weaving the ordeal into being targeted by terror groups.
Several cults and conspiracy groups from the Broken Clog have hidden themselves in this strange and shifting city. The Paragons of Confusion withheld a powerful artifact from the unworthy, The Crystal Orb of Distortion. With it, facts warp and logic contorts, all sense is gone from the afflicted space. Ultimately, madness rules the day. These cultists have weaved themselves into the Monastery of the Watchful Gaze just a short distance from the city proper, and near the domain’s edge. Despite the monastery dedicating themselves to surveillance and observation, they are oblivious to the insane cultists. However, they seemed more aware of a thief stealing a “reliquary” that was donated by a “sister religion” a few days prior. While not slain, numerous knocked out slaves revealed interesting legislature belonging to the Councilman of Finances within the city. His connection to the Monastery of the Watchful Gaze and the Paragons of Confusion is unknown, but it leads into a deeper conspiracy web. Given the monks’ ability to avoid taxation through constant service to the land, its not hard to imagine the councilman’s ire.
The Hallenberch Cradle is the place of Garret’s nightmares, but a place where copycats make or break their careers, usually the latter resulting in death. Over the many hands it has exchanged, suffering and pain only followed. Even in its earlier years, it was said to be haunted. This is without a doubt a certainty in the current age. The place exudes supernatural malice, a true sinkhole of evil. Any enterprising thief caught within the compound at night will find themselves stuck until the next dawn, often never seen again. The tortured souls will do all in their power to seek out and destroy outside interference and trespassers. While they are not content with their situation, they are less far content with anyone seeing their agony, let alone the presence of the living. The ghosts range from tortured asylum patients to abandoned orphans to former thieves who met their end in the haunted halls and much more from there. Ghosts often emerge at random, usually not far from the place of their own death. Even previously noble souls are bent by the Cradle to enact the property’s wrath. Most are reluctant and do not wish to cause harm, but they are not in control.
The eldritch entity known as Tchernobog exists as a mockery for the Slavic Power and so much more. While his devotees can be found across the planes and some prime worlds, he is in truth trapped within The Nightmare Lands and stripped of much power. After doing battle with a high ranking acolyte betrayed by the cabal, this eldritch being has found himself confined at the mercy of the Nightmare Court. This hasn’t stopped him from unleashing revenge upon the planes as a whole. However, other domains have felt his grim touch. Even cults of Tenebris have been reached for a unity pact. Likewise, new cultists of Tchernbog gather in the Demiplane of Dread; some are taken into the mists while others fall under the sway of the dark entity. The domains of Darkon, Falkovnia, Nova Vaasa and Barovia have the most members of this new “cabal”. This new cabal has rebuilt itself, with the hopes that Tchernobog can regain full power to bind dimensions, utilizing the Demiplane of Dread itself as a weapon against the multiverse. Of course, the so-called Dark God may only find himself a true prisoner of the mists instead. Only recently has Azalin Rex caught wind of this, who feels the cultists might be useful in his experiments in a Mist Gate. But, with the Time of Unparalleled Darkness on the rise, a return to ascension may be at hand for The Dark God.
The story of Tchernobog dates back across countless aeons, a being spawned in early ages of Human Civilization, born of cosmic energies that Great Old Ones materialized from. However, this creature was new, a pretender to the throne by comparison. It isn’t certain if he was always malignant and malicious, but he carried a horrible power to bind doorways between realities, something that lead his cultists to Sigil in due time. However, despite ancient wisdom dating back to the first steps of man, he betrayed the wrong gunslinger of Gothic Earth. The devout follower returned as a revenant through sheer hatred, rage and love for another disgraced exile. Even with the Red Death slowing reawakening after World War 1, the resurrected revenant ultimately conquered and banished the “Dark God” in the year 1928 AD. However, this dark soul was not erased, by merely transposed into the Demiplane of Dread in 756 BC. Likewise, many loyal cultists were pulled as well. And with them, horrors of 20th Century technologies from Gothic Earth, which are not too alien at least within the Broken Cog cluster.
The Lonesome Trek to Vasfar, The Journey Ahead
Nils’ journey between his lowly hermit state took far longer than most are aware. Much of it could be false history, to instill a narrative for the darklord. But, he holds it true. After the Mists gathered around the fallen viking, he awoke in a cold meadow surrounded by mists. Not far away was some means of farmstead, recently abandoned. He took to it as shelter, as the mists immediately swelled around. Try as he may, he was left to nothing but his own devices. The supplies around the farmstead allowed for him to remain self-sufficient, but he was struck by boredom. He could never bring himself to attack the cattle that remained on the property, save for resources or lapses into mania. But, he did what he could to maintain his strength. If anything, he got stronger. But, years began to pass by at a rapid rate. He felt himself getting older, even if he maintained his physique and skills. However, he could not keep his sanity completely in tact. Isolation in a remote and cold realm ate away at him. His attempts to claim his own life ultimately failed, as he received visions from beyond. They all said the same thing, be bested in combat by someone mightier than you. He both admired and feared that he didn’t think that to be possible.
In the year 740 of the Barovian Calendar, the mists finally break way and parted to reveal settlements around him. Excited to finally show his worth and honor, he embarked outward. However, the further from the homestead he got, the weaker and more akin to an eccentric old man he got. As he reached Jongersborg, he began little more than a hobbling hermit who babbled absurd gab. Many of the locals attempted to provide help, but he did what he could to reject it. He did beckon mighty warriors into a challenge, to follow him back to his home and face his champion, to prove that they truly are as great as they did say. As he returned with his victims, he felt vitality and clarity return to him. Upon entering the property, he was restored to that of a mythic hero. Many of the wandering heroes were shocked to see the old man from the town was not only a capable fighter, but a truly epic one at that. However, anyone who could have told the tale is doomed to die by his hands or from another. Nils’ tale is forever doomed to be obscured or warped into non-significance. Even those who escape his wrath find their memories twisted. Should they face peril, they’ll remember that a monster attacked them by the hermit’s stead rather than the man himself. While tales of the hermit are muted and few, those numbers have gradually increased as of 757 BC, when Vasfar emerged into the Frozen Reaches cluster. A slow influence from Sanguinia and Vorostokov has begun, mostly in adventurers seeking fame by investigating tales of a fallen hero.
What has transpired since the Darklord found himself “home”? As has been mentioned before, he has been confined to the status of a tall tale. And even then, not a prominent one. More often than not, he will accidentally sabotage attempts to spread it. Other times, the stories of him get twisted against his favor. Those who do survive to tell the tale are usually mauled by one of the many other horrors that lurk in the reaches. In fact, many portray “the lone mad hermit” as a victim in need of rescue. It comes to the shock of many when those aren’t only false but deadly. Nils takes no joy in slaying the ill-prepared, as he is still a warrior who wants to reclaim his lost honor. However, his curse further robs him of that. His countless victims cannot rest, as they become draugr who haunt the countryside and slay any warrior who aims to get to the hermit. Despite his ability to create these undead, he is not one himself.
The tales of the mad hermit have also been subverted and damaged by his own madness in other ways. As has been said, he gets weaker and more akin to a frail and confused old man the more he travels from his homestead. He is always ashamed when others feel the need to escort him back to his home, always trying to venture forth on his own. Often, he’ll hide that his strength and power return to him, the closer to home he gets. Sometimes, should he feel ambitious, he’ll challenge any worthy warrior of his travel group to a heroic dual to the death. Most balk at this, thinking the poor old man has lost his mind. Should the challenger agree and succeed, the old man will be revived the next day without wounds. But, should he succeed, his victim will become one of the undead. And worse, other undead monstrosities will be drawn near to claim the lives of others who foolishly fell into Nils’ games.
Ever since the Mists claimed this domain in the year 748 of the Barovian calendar, alongside Alleigosto as the start of a Cluster, Ichthyos has an exceptionally cursed place. Even beyond the misdoings of its Darklord, horrible things occurred here long before. Industry has heavily polluted the waters, choking out much of the fishing and sponge diving industry that allowed the lands to prosper. And worse, the so-called Sea Demons that sometimes kidnap locals are all but immune to the spilled oils and other dumps along the surface. Obed himself discovered a new curse. While he looks like a human, he is actually one of the foul spawn. However, he is magically prevented from entering the water. Due to the adaptive gills on his body, he can endure air for an extended time. However, most creatures like him would eventually perish without water. In his case, he lives in constant pain. While he does not need to breath, he suffers a choking like sensation anyway. His speak is gravely and garbled accordingly. This is attributed by the townsfolk as inhaling of too much “choking shale” from the closed mine, as well as fumes from the oil spilled about.
According to False History, Ichthyos was once an emerging city by the sea whose trade began to flourish through sponge diving. Already a heavily mercantile economy based on naval trade, this helped to further revolutionize the land. This lead to more consistently innovative measures of sail and deep diving, including a pressure safe suit. This ultimately allowed divers to go even deeper, unearthing a rather haunting sight. The false history record of time indicates that on 714 BC, the sunken city was discovered. And from it, Obed began to make his move on the ancient secrets within. At first, divers went missing in the so-called “Reefs of Death”, but Old Obed continued to push people to continue exploring. Strange artifacts surfaced and with them, new revenue for sales and tourism. However, the dark forces from the ancient ruins demanded sacrifice, Obed refused. The large city experienced a massive earthquake, as much of it slid into the water and the glowing ruined devoured it. This is why Ichthyos remains so small by comparison. Something dreadful was kicked up in the earthquake, some tainted mineral dust was unearthed. As such, a coughing plague began to infect and spread among citizens, and old Obed. They began to wheeze and have breathing troubles. Worse, they began to hallucinate that there were terrible fish monsters around them. Spills of oil from several operations only worsened this in locals, as vapors furthered mental illness. Despite mostly false history, concerns over the oil and rock proved rather true.
The complete truth behind the history is mostly different however. Ichthyos was but one of many trade operations and colonies built for the sake of revenue to a larger empire, built on a small fishing town under the kigndom. This settlement was only a mere 3 hours travel by modern steam boat. And given its lucrative trade in oceanic foods, sponges, crafts and more; it became an iconic station among the greater lands. It is said that Ichthyos served the greater kingdom of Thriamveftikós, a nation in need of new innovations and revitalization. A great upheaval came in the form of new scientific advancements. Previously locked off islands and territories were more under the thumb of merchant guilds and nobility, where doing so was much harder. Semi-autonomous lands were now more rigidly under policy, further overextending a frustrating ruling class. Only the merchants truly prospered, resulting in them being recruited by the royal rule. It was from here that scouts found the territory that would become Ichthyos in the year 734 of the Barovian calendar. Initially, mining was attempted after rumors of expensive minerals being located. But instead, frail and brittle rubbish was discovered. The rocky-like substance often broke down into a dust that clouded the lungs, something that became an interest on the black market after the mines were quickly closed and written off as a loss. The Elos family patented a new technology for diving, heavily expanding deep sea exploration and related trades. The Metal Diver Suit was unlike anything seen before, capable of allowing safer exploration into depths not previously chronicled. The family was also responsible for the purchase and utilization of their new land. The grip on the land was far more stern and overbearing than any other merchant order or royal family, but both were appreciative of how orderly and efficient everything operated.
But, what of Ichthyan culture itself and its people? Traditional culture of Ichthyos and greater Thriamveftikós is one of deep history and lore. Religion of the land tended to reflect an entire pantheon of gods. While the mighty planar realm of Olympus felt very far away, the more aquatic gods were more common. Often, locals would pray to assure them luck on the seas, finding expensive treasures or general safety. In times of strife, protection through prayer was always paramount. Devotions to the Gods was lighter in the days before Elos’ tampering forever marked the land. Often, outside of times of need, the public simply acknowledged the Gods as a fact and part of life, often little else. It is safe to say that few would dare to transgress against these deities though, especially outside of rare accidents. But, tales of great Gods give way to tales of daily life. Dark hair and lightly tanned skin is common among the population, with loose, lightly colored and comfortable clothing being popular. It isn’t uncommon for men to wear well trimmed beards, with mustaches being less common. Women often wear flowing dresses, especially during lighter season weather. Also, not all of the population is cursed by the dark god of the depths. Remnants of the Representatives of Ichthyos try to maintain order alongside the elderly mad oligarch. For the most part, they are nothing more than bought out figureheads, acting as puppets to Elos himself. None the less, culture has stagnated to a crawl thanks to the Darklord. Beforehand, it was vibrant and full of life. Despite problems on both land and sea, the people adapted and much carried on; including an equally vibrant oceanic trade.
The Forbidden Ruins in the deep murk changed all of that. New Gods were at first incorporated into worship. These were strange and alien beings, cold and distant from the ways of the settlement and its people. They spoke of incomprehensible geometries, wretched sea demons, eons passed since an age of horrors and a return to something that would spell extinction for the modern human. The current ruins that dot the sea are quite a bit different. Many of them reflect the culture of Ichthyos’ ancient past. And unlike the accursed Reef of Death and other tainted sites like it, these submerged cities are in various stages of collapse. One exception is the Temple of Zeus, many naughts southeast of the domain’s current city. Said temple is in impeccable shape, somehow immune to the attacks of the “sea demons”.
IMAGE CREDIT: Nexus Mods – Shelved Tristram in Skyrim mod; New Line/Mystery Clock – Dark City production still; Mospineq – Shalebridge Cradle; Figurerealm – Blood Cabal custom figure; Milivoj Ćeran – Draugr; Worth1000 – Atlantis