Some mad scholars and greybeards speak of the Demiplane of Dread in hushed whispers. But, this is not the only accursed place to float within the Wheel. No. Other planes have been covered, including rather lightly from Ramon the Planes Chronicler. But, his information is too sparse to be helpful to many. I, a humble scribe assisting “The Narrator” shall regale you with wonders and horrors alike. Know that the planes isn’t just dangerous at times, it’s an unending nightmare. Prepare to never wake up again and let us continue our journey.
Author’s Note: Happy Halloween from The Planes! I figure it’s time to mix things up. So, RavenScape madness continues as I also look at nightmares of the Great Wheel both canonical and fanon.
Revisiting Known Terrors of the Wheel
Our first tale speaks of the City of Moil, a dastardly land whose hubris earned the wrath of Orcus the mighty Demon Lord of Death! Since the plots of Acererak the Demilich had begun, the sleeping city on the edge of reality had begun to awaken. Orcus has reformatted his traps around the city, ensuring countless curious searchers meet their doom… maybe even Acererak, should he still exist. The satchels of poison, cursed cabinets and the like are viable against adventurers. However, randomized void gateways have ruined chances of finishing the demilich’s fortress and risk overall danger. Among his oddest of traps is a teleporting rift into a positive energy pocket with a strange tethering ability that grabs all things related to a victim’s person, even a phylactery. As for the surviving grim towers of alien architecture, they hold many horrible secrets all their own. The Moilans were once an advanced people, before their hubris brought their fall. Many of their arcane works are still scattered about, requiring scholars far beyond what the Prime could offer. The reanimated residents still have some recollection of these artifacts and are likely to use them to their advantage against interlopers.
Gloomwrought has been examined a number of times, including by that bard. However, the politics of the city are more intricate than a few squabbling factions and heretical religions. The Fallen Mast is a unified syndicate of pirates and privateers has found their way to the watery borders and barriers of Gloomwrought. For a time, they were a scourge. However, rather than drawing the Prince’s ire, they turned towards “legitimate” business. This amounts to harrassing and extorting outsiders for funds in order to enter. Ultimately, much of these tolls help the greater state resulting in some clemency granted. The cults and hidden horrors in alliance with Azalin’s conspiracy maintain a shaky hold in the city. Following the debacle of the Mist Gates, information about them leaked and an uproar surged in the city. Ultimately, the rulers that be helped to calm it while tracking the entropic order. However, they have since returned to research means of weakening the misty barriers. Their new goal is binding the city itself and the demiplane together, allowing both easy entry into the mists and allowing horrors of the demiplane of dread to assault Gloomwrought as well.
However, Gloomwrought is not the shadowy shelter that many assume. Several exiles of the Darkness World in the World-Axisspheres have fled to the City of Midnight originally, only for those tracking and killing followers of the Raven Queen to show up. Now, the exiles have turned to the Demiplane of Shadows, specifically Balefire. The glowing metropolis in the twilit and grey realm is a true safe haven. And as long as they uphold the deep meanings of the lanterns, they are welcome. The Purple Lantern Tavern and City Watch have provided ample undercover lives for these bounties, as many hunters have passed through without question or answer alike. However, this strange turn against this faded deity has provided much in the way of worry. Even if she was slain, why target the last of her followers? The Raven Hunt is on and those who partake refuse to share why. Harboring prey will only make you join them, for the killers do not care.
The Medical Horrors of Huvert Harflar School
“The body is an endless study. There is so much to learn from it. There are so many experiences one can known from pushing boundaries and not being afraid of where you can take a patient. Ethics? Obstacles, I say. To truly know all there is to know about medicine is to pierce through barriers and truly learn. Oh, so much to learn.” – Huvert Harflar Jr. on the nature of his experiments.
The medical school of Sigil has provided many services, in fact better than the infirmary of The Hive. But, in other ways? It is a series of hallways backed with unrelenting horrors. It is here where moral quandaries in regards to arcane art and scientific discovery are pushed beyond sanity, where the mind is a play thing and the body is just kneaded dough. Despite a dominance of Sensates, it’s no wonder that Chaosmen and Anarchists have taken part in the barmy experiments. Why? Few can say. But anyone who wants to turn peoples’ eyes into gel-like infinite dispensers of blue milky-like fluid are probably beyond mental saving anyway. In fairness, the goo is rather addictive. But, they find themselves far more ethical than the Weary Spirit Infirmary, at least in their ability to require a distorted consent before practicing their evil. Though, such manipulation travels the fine line of actual consent. In their defense, they don’t kidnap people, if allegations against the Infirmary are to be believed.
Many of the creations are extreme reactions to comparatively smaller problems. Or at least, they are problems that could have been handled rationally. A patient from the Lower Ward with a breathing problem may be filled with air-funneling tubes, as the poor sod’s neck and mouth are stretched to uncanny levels. One who ate a bad magical meal may be turned inside-out, looking like something of a living baked potato with crammed machinery in the center with their stomach converted into a battery for potent acids to use around the hospital and sometimes for weapons. The latest depraved work of the school is the Spider of Arms, a quasi-living monstrosity composed of hacked off arms of numerous patients, kept alive by magic and melded into a disgusting spider-like creature. The reason for this is currently unknown, but the atrocity does not take kindly to the presence of any other living being. It will go as far as violently thrashing about when it can sense a creature within a room’s distance of it.
Other sins against nature wander the deeper halls, waiting to break free and extract revenge against the hired team. Many are other bodily compilations, mash ups of flesh and bone twisted into a unified abomination. Others have many minds and compete for dominance as they hope to gain enough power to control psionics. Their creation goes beyond a physician or surgeon’s tools, dark magics of unknown origin have begun to infest the establishment like a blight. These strange spells have advanced Harflar’s vision to new lengths. However, the torture has become all the more excruciating. But, for the unhinged gnome in charge, such sounds mean that everything is operating as it should be. And worse, in exchange for knowledge, many of the berks have conspired with wicked fiends called Patholoths, the Daemons of Plague. A strange cult has likewise surfaced within the halls, Nocturne Metamorphica embraces the hidden mission of the health center. The cabal of vampires have a far less empathetic or scholarly motivation, as they see the living as cattle and toys at most. It’s not uncommon for drastically warped and mutilated corpses to be found in the incinerator room, all devoid of blood. Another friend of the site is Old Lewis, a bloated corpse infused with essence of Negative Energy and Elemental Ooze. Old Lewis willfully stays in one of the basement chambers, actively fed corpses of failed patients through various shoots and dumbwaiters. Few know what this undead monster looks like, save for that he was “rescued” from Weary Spirit Infirmary.
Harflar Jr. is by no means a man clean of conscious. While far lost to the darkest depths of the barmy, he knows that there is consequence to all of this. At night, he dreams of strange mists that beckon him closer. He often awakens in cold sweat, knowing that something ominous desires him. Likewise, he knows that enough information will leave the compound and start a revolt against his institute. His staff may wield some arcana, but are ill fit to hold off rioters for extended periods of time. He knows that his time is ultimately limited. But in the end, what does it matter to him? He’ll use it for perverse attempts at discovery. Any knowledge and experience he can learn is good. And for him, that is equally good.
Memento – City of Collected Memories
A patchwork land of old buildings and locations, stitched together to keep them sustained. Streets abruptly transition to segments of graveyards and right into other buildings. Most denizens don’t wish to deal with the living, but some aspire to make a quick sale off of them. Others seek to drag the living and their respective homes into this chaotic quilt of a realm. There seems to be a strong desire to not only inflict their suffering, but actively share it with all who will witness. Most of these undead are not actively evil, many have just lost their empathy. Likewise, they have become a physical embodiment of misery, which seeks to spread to others involuntarily. Many are indifferent to their own plights, while others recognize their problems as a true curse that they cannot shake. But, at some point within the “day”, these undead will be hit with recollections of what has come before. “The Time of Weeping” is what such an event is called, as melancholy strikes them and overwhelms them with anguish and despair. It’s a reason why random screams and cries are commonplace for such a miserable hive.
Collecting bits from existing things; a lost chunk of Outlander Ward in Sigil (cast off by the Lady of Pain) prior to break into Lower and Hive Wards, a piece of Moil, a passage to the Vaporized Soul Temple, a cabin in the woods containing an evil tome. All in all, this multiversal necropolis is incredibly confusing and seemingly lacks any cohesion. Many added spots are connected with little forethought. Some don’t properly connect between streets correctly. Pieces of the patchwork that have a lighter tone to them often carry faint nostalgic qualities. While these safe havens of positivity and joy are few and far between, they are beacons of hope for those who haven’t succumbed to the undying nature of the demiplane like space. In fact, those who perish within any part of this city quickly rise up as the sorrow filled undead who populate the jagged streets and uneven buildings.
Not everything is an inconsistent mess though. Some areas were wholly lifted blocks and acres. Old Fortuna Square was a market square from some unknown Prime world. According to denizens, a great holy flame seared the world as those around them screamed in burning agony. Divine retribution did not take them, as the undead clutches of Memento struck first. Ever since, they have maintained a central point of commerce for the city. Likewise, Dry Bark Green wasn’t always a park. Rather, it was a part of a forest protected by a druidic circle. However, their own conflict with nearby territories lead to a brutal and costly war. In a prayer for aid from spirits beyond, the demiplane preserved the dying forest as a grim preserve. Now, an undead twisting of nature greets the city around it. The druids are crestfallen and the plants and animals within are soulless shadows of themselves.
The Secrets of the Pathodaemon
Diseases do more than erode the body, they twist the mind in fear and worry. Few should strike as much terror as the Oinoloth’s vaults of ailments. Whenever something new is discovered in the multiverse, a copy always manifests there. Only ‘loths aligned with this wretched creature can attain access… and that’s most of them. However, the Plague Daemon or Patholoth are among those closest tied to the dark master, at least in regards to foul plagues. Their plague doctor inspired facade gives them leeway into the mortal realm, as they further corrupt all around them. However, their primary duty is to the vault. It is here where the nature of illness is studied, cultivated and perfected. The ideal solution to this vault is to create the perfect ailment, unfathomably deadly and impossible to stop. So far, a few experiments are being engineered through a mix of physician’s knowledge, alchemy and fiendish magic.
More interestingly their disguise, possibly their own formation, is far more recent than many realize. Plague-based daemons have existed to some degree for countless ages, as long as fear of death from disease has persisted. However, their strength and power owes itself to Terra, following a great plague that washed across Asia into Europe. Daemons accessed weakened points in reality to study and observe, as some took to enhancing and spreading this outbreak. Their most curious observation was in amateur physicians adorning terrifying costumes to help in their endeavors. These so-called plague doctors were only mildly effective against the effects of this “black plague”. However, their strange appearance and association with the epidemic inspired these daemons. They ultimately consulted the Oinoloth, who blessed them with new power and enabled them to become a “greater ‘loth” known as the Pathodaemon. These malicious monsters take the disguise of the plague doctor before unveiling their true nature later on.
Many who find their way upon other planes and parts of the prime initially take a passive role. The study the effectiveness of an outbreak and try to obtain any sample they can. From there, they return to the vault to augment it before returning. Once unleashed, they do all they can to make sure their efforts are widespread. All the while, they give a false hope to victims while manipulating them to their own ends. Among favorite activities for the Patholoth is melding a current illness with a zombie plague, causing sickened dead to rise up and attack the living soon after. Many have also stirred controversy from a philosophy of entropy and stagnation within Hades the Grey Wastes they call “Nurgle”. This esoteric order believes that this evil can ultimately create a true love and unity under this stagnant collapse. Many find them truly barmy, a comedic insult to evil… albeit an effective one. This philosophy may have at one time inspired the False Oinoloth, now a Darklord in the Demiplane of Dread. Rumors have circulated in the domain of Richemulot that the Ichor Plague of Ste. Ronges has its roots in a strange colony of fiend cultists in some foreign land. Should this be true, motivations for such a deed would be lunatic at best. Though, strange cults within the domain itself seem to share ties, including rumors circulating estranged members of the Renier clan.
Thought Shatter Theatre
A deranged invention of the Unseelie, particularly the Noble Unseelie Lady known as Stingquill Bloodink. She is the proprietor of this establishment. And all of those who visit? Merely actors for her to toy with. Should you desire escape, you’ll cooperate. After all, should you desire to spend time in the Unseelie Court, what’s a little entertainment to rest your tired soul? After all, Bloodink is more than happy to put on a show, and you’re the main attraction! She isn’t alone, her shapeshifter companion “Humphrey” plays an active part in her wicked plays. Most of the time, Humphrey takes to roles that involve inflicting pain while avoiding intentional violence. The victim role is usually tied to a visitor. But, let’s catch a show before we’re part of the act next.
The theatre building itself is shockingly comfortable. Velvet and violent dance and cascade around walls and floors, coating plush-like fabrics that make traversing the theatre feel soft. But, do not fall for such deceptions. This is to help lull one into false security. As the curtains arise, strained actors imply that they aren’t meant to be there. No, they are puppets of the unseelie now… just toys to toss around, tear apart and torture. It’s rare when a production doesn’t incorporate some means of macabre or menacing things. While the fey often don’t understand mortals, Bloodink loves pushing them beyond breaking points. These limits usually kill her subjects, but she doesn’t hold attachment and actively seeks more.
As for the agent of these dark fey powers, what is there to her? She is seemingly always clad in what can be described as two dresses mashed together. The first part of the conjoined wear looks like a fine and silvery gown seen at some gala or other expensive gathering. The second is what can be summed as a series of black shingles and tiles mended into something wearable. The dress randomly starts and ends between the two, as if both try to fight for existence in reality. Beyond her tacky fashion sense, she is indeed quite the power. But, like all major unseelie, she touts a weakness and that is vocally finding her projects to be dull or boring. Unlike other fey, she won’t try to murder you. But rather, she’ll spiral into a panic and find herself locked in deep self-doubt.
Chamber of Dreamed Reality
An artifact created by the Antediluvian Courts of Dream, but ultimately locked by sylvan archivists. It can twist the images of the slumbering mind into reality, and often works in dark and strange ways without the proto-fey tampering with it. Within the past 2000 years, it has only seen a few uses. These uses were not only frowned upon, but looked upon with horror. Such power is beyond much of the Courts and has been rightfully sealed away in a containment vault. Those who have used the relic have done so by breaking in, surpassing waves of security and destroying other protections on it. Those who have broken one of the few sylvan pacts and agreements is to meet Final Death. Any outsider who dares to violate such a grievous sin is purged, sometimes shoved into the deathly realm of Erasure, so their own plots and plans are erased from history.
As for the power of the artifact itself? It is cylindrical in nature, an almost vase like shape. It has a clasp that can lodge to a target’s head. From there, as a target rests, it samples the dreamy images that transpire and flutter through the target’s mind. And from there, it brings aspects of said dream to life, even going as far as shaping reality around the subject to fit the dream itself. This can morph entire landscapes and creatures, in effort to better fit the strange pseudo-reality. Should the victim slip into a nightmare, the realm around them will turn particularly horrifying and grim. Few are sure how such a contraption maintains its power, but it would seem to run off of the minds of those it latches onto. Should it stay on too long, it has something of a draining effect that leaves little more than a lobotomized shell of a former self..
The sealed off chamber speaks to a far darker reality than just dream magic run amok. The chamber itself is more than a secretive storage, it’s a bunker for quarantine. While the fey do not quite understand the ways of the mortal living, they are aware of forces that could undo reality. This bunker was created for such a purpose. Another truth is that they fear the Ancient Ones getting their hands on such an incredible relic, lost to current sylvan realms aeons ago… in a time before their precursors fell into their own torpor. Devout researchers of their past and twisted occultists alike count down the days till the Antediluvians awaken to reclaim their realm, perhaps twisting Seelie, Unseelie and Free alike into something they can use. Should this come to pass and they reclaim their sacred artifacts, no creature can sleep soundly again, lest they doom all of those around them. This doom is likely assured when a Waking Nightmare finds new life upon the planes.
The Cult of the Hag Countess
Malagarde arose and brought shame to the Baatezu. And worse, Glasya, the Daughter of Asmodeus, has suffered dearly. Her realm has changed from a carved mockery of the hag to a prison designed to mock Glasya back. Worse yet, she isn’t truly in control. Despite being an archdevil, Malbolge is very much Malagard’s divine realm. Only a sliver is directly controlled by the diabolic daughter. Most of her old form was destroyed by tricked interlopers, in an effort to return power to her. Kalabon, fiends made of her remnants, were also slain and harvested. In the end, the plane has returned to something of its original form, with aspects of post-explosion Malbolge as well. With very little under the Archdevil’s control, Asmodeus is forced to make a choice; capitulate with the fallen archdevil-turned-deity or watch his foolish daughter fall for her hubris. As it is, the Hag Countess has spread her influence. Across the Lower Planes, many see her as either a revolutionary or a force of evil truth. Within Sigil, a gang of corvids secretly profess their dedication to her. But, deeper in the City of Doors, a more active gathering conspires.
The Cult of the Hag Countess has an unsurprising location, Sigil. Particularly, the Below has proved a far more valid host. Within the buried mess below Rag Picker Square, a shrine has been forged from the ruins of one of Ravel’s shards. The cultists gather in droves, all wearing similar scraps and rags to the denizens of the hovels. Likewise, a sewage catacombs has provided the perfect grounds for covens and circles to meet. Typical activity involves diabolic sacrifices, profane arcane rituals and general praise to the Hag Countess herself. The entryway to the secret cult chamber is warden by a circle of explosive skulls aligned around the doorway. Should one survive that, there’s a false alcove where a number of pieces of fake treasure and artifacts are stashed. These booby prizes are a means of fending off would be snoops. In fact, the hidden chamber is filled with the bodies of sacrifices, converted into macabre totems and icons of grim worship.
But, what speaks as a mystery is Malagard’s end game. Why did she want to be a Power, when she was already an Archdevil? Instead of commanding raw power and rigid domination, she prefers to reorganize all things around her into a strange playground of sorts. Perhaps it’ll lead to a grand battle that may even change the Blood War itself. No doubt, several powerful fiends have caught onto the dread machinations of the Hag Countess. But, how much are they willing to do, when her plans will damage their enemies? Her mad heretical cult has provided subversion throughout the lower planes, something that can be well utilized and co-opted by the right sources. No matter the case, there is little doubt that she enjoys toying with Asmodeus the supreme overlord of Baatezu and The Nine Hells.
IMAGE CREDIT: Jason Alexander Behnke – Dungeon Shade; Daniel C. Chiriac – The knife thrower of my bloody heart; Kiselev Andrey Valerevich – Medieval Alchemist Laboratory; Dave Kendall – Crumbling Necropolis; Roman Loft/Shutterstock – Plague Doctor; rk post – Faerie Macabre; ianllanas – Nightmare; TSR – Malagard; Earnest Fraiman – Foggy Graveyard