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Ravenloft Gazetteer V

Author's Notes

Ryan Naylor

And so we come to the last book before the Great Falling Out. Will we ever find out what happens to Our Hero?

Anyone who has looked at my work will probably have noticed that I love fairy stories. Love them. I also like using tyrants and sadists, and creating a big web of references to past RL work. In this book, we’ve got Loht and Gwydion as tyrants, but I think we’ve avoided sadists for the moment. We’ve also got solid fairy tales. I loved writing this chapter if only for that reason.

As is often the case, I started off writing the NPC descriptions before moving backwards to the gazetteer. I find them to be more interesting, and so easier to write. I had intended to provide stats for Gwydion both trapped and free, but had to leave out the free stats for space. Which is probably just as well, because he’d kill everything if he was free.

As I began my research for the Shadow Rift gazetteer (research is very important) I discovered that Steve Miller had originally intended the Shadow Rift to be like Dante’s Inferno, but that didn’t make it into the final book. So I decided to revive it. I read Inferno, noted down all the bits I liked, and shoehorned them in wherever I could.

Another point was that I somehow had to make the Shadow Rift a nasty place to be for both the Arak and mortal visitors, which basically meant finding a way around TSR’s adventure endings. That wasn’t too hard. What was hard was trying to keep my dates straight with the temporal fugue, and trying to ensure what I wrote meshed with VRGttSF (which was being written at the same time) and TSR, and the past descriptions of Arak in other sources. For example, VRGttSF had Arak killing each other not infrequently, whereas SotDR, TSR and Gaz V all had Tristessa as the only time the Law of Arak was broken. So I talked to Rucht and decided Shunning could punish treason as well as murder, and hopefully everything comes out happily.

Still another problem—Our Hero wasn’t allowed to go into the Rift at all. So I had to think of a way for her to get the information she needed without doing so. I invented the Keeper of Secrets (based on Planescape’s darkweaver) and had her capture a powrie. Sadly, Our Hero resorts to torture again, which, along with vivisection, seems to be her favourite tools (which implies a lack of creativity on my part, as well as hers). For all those people who think she is amoral rather than evil because she only vivisects evil people, I snub you. She’s blatantly evil. She sacrificed her daughter for the sake of knowledge.

We increased the number of Fractures to ensure the Shadow Rift was a bit more playable, as well as explaining how the Arak got to Falkovnia. All of these are from folklore or Inferno, except the one about “going down” which I stole from Doctor Who. The Black Marsh is obviously inspired by the most horrific memory of my childhood, the bit in the Neverending Story where Artax the horse drown in the swamp. I still feel awful thinking about that scene. The other great influences of my childhood, the Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal are both referenced as well.

Designing a language for the Arak was a lot of fun and surprisingly easy. I took every example I could find of the language, tried to work out what it would mean, and then worked out which syllable meant what. So Gwydion (gwy-dion) means “sorcerer-fiend”, and gwy (sorcerer) was reused in gwytune, the sorcerer fey. I challenge everyone to try to work out what means what.

I would also like to make clear to everyone that the Spider Queen is not Lloth/Lolth; she just looks similar. Anyone found saying the Arak worship Lolth will be slapped. I don’t care if VRGttSF says different. RL has it’s own pantheon, and is its own world. The zelldrow prestige class is there because the developers asked us to ensure there were enough goodies for players in the gazetteers. A past Book of S— had one article on minor Arak races which included the hulldrow, so for weeks I racked my brain trying to think of a name for the class that wasn’t a rip off. “Hulldrow” was the only word that would pop into my head.

In conclusion, I would like to point out my favourite bits: I like Loht’s crusade against Gwydion (I think it’s a natural path for his character to take), and the planar mechanics of Gwydion’s escape attempts, appealing as it does to my love of philosophy and high-level physics (which are almost the same thing). How often do you get to deal with a darklord who can take on the Dark Powers and win? I love Our Hero’s constant slander of the twins and VRGttSF. In particular, I love her final note to Azalin about the “drooling public”.

Andrew Cermak

Normally, I’d spend Author’s Notes talking about the time leading up to the project and the experiences I had writing for it, but this particular project calls for a different approach. I wrote the Nova Vaasa section of Gaz V and the associated Attached Notes, and, as many inferred, a lot of stuff was cut from the final draft I sent the developers. What’s more, there’s a lot more stuff I had prepared or nearly prepared that I didn’t bother to send to the developers, because the chapter was too long as it was. So I’m going to spend most of these notes talking about that missing material.

First, though, I can’t resist talking a bit about the goals I had in mind when I started to write this chapter. My primary goals were four-fold:

  1. Fixing the fractured continuity. My God, 2nd Edition Nova Vaasa was a mess. Only, what, three major non-corebook sources for the domain, and not one manages to agree with any of the others in any detail? And, to make matters worse, Domains of Dread makes it quite explicit that Tristen Hiregaard came from Vaasa on Toril, and none of the versions of Nova Vaasa look anything like it, either. What a nightmare. Obviously, some sensible, coherent sense of the domain was going to have to be sifted out of this wreckage.
  2. Reconciling the domain and the lord. Where most lords are intertwined with their domains in ways subtle and ways blatant, Malken and Nova Vaasa seemed rather thrown together. Knowing everything there is to know about one wouldn’t necessarily tell you a damn thing about the other. Since domains are supposed to be a result of the sins and psyche of the lord, this just wouldn’t do. Nova Vaasa had to be made to reflect Malken in some significant fashion.
  3. Making Nova Vaasa playable. Nova Vaasa is a large domain, both in area and population. It has one of the demiplane’s largest cities. It has a large coastline. It doesn’t reek of the supernatural. All of these factors combine to make Nova Vaasa a natural choice both as a place for characters to be from and for adventurers to be based out of. I wanted the Gazetteer to enhance and facilitate that as much as possible.
  4. Detailing the Church of the Lawgiver. It was past due for a proper, detailed treatment, and the Nova Vaasa Gazetteer was the most sensible place to do it.

How well I succeeded in these goals isn’t for me to say; I’m happy to hear feedback on that score. Okay, on to the nitty-gritty. I’m going to divide the stuff that didn’t get into Nova Vaasa into three categories:

Ideas That I Abandoned

These are ideas that I never started to write, because it became clear thechapter was going to be too large to make it feasible to include them.

  • My original outline called for S to be abducted and taken to Darkhaaven, giving her opportunity to describe both the lord and his lair for the audience. Unfortunately, it became clear very early that such an encounter was going to consume many more pages than I could afford (abduction plus description plus conversation plus escape), and Malken was forced to stay behind the scenes.
  • I gave some thought to making Malken more powerful. Ideas that I considered included giving him all the abilities The Enemy Within ascribed to him (teleporting, charming others, animating the dead, controlling cats), but forcing him to make Will saves to access them, thanks to Hiregaard’s stubborn resistance, or giving him the power to see into the dark, secret sides of others and bring them to the fore. In the end, I decided that this wasn’t necessary for a behind-the-scenes villain like Malken, and I could better use the space available elsewhere.
  • Chris Nichols’ had a very cool suggestion for the town of Arbora and how it came by its name, but it came too late in the writing process for me to include it. Since it’s Chris’ idea, I’ll let him share it if and when he has the inclination.

Ideas That I Cut

These are things I actually had written out in at least a rough form, but had to remove because there just wasn’t room for them in the chapter. Since I never sent any of this in to the developers, I still own all this material, and I might be convinced to share it in a more detailed format somewhere down the line.

  • A Flora sidebar describing the catspaw in game terms
  • A Fauna sidebar giving game differences for the various Vaasi horse breeds.
  • A Dread Possibilities Sidebar describing the Centaur. In brief, he is a particularly nasty refugee of relocated Markovia.
  • A Dread Possibilities Sidebar revealing the hestdrikker to be a strain of diseased, outcast jermlaine, driven feral and blood-thirsty by the sickness in their veins. Worse yet, the sickness can be transferred to the horses the jermlaine feed from, making them mad and dangerous. The same sidebar had a second section, discussing the doedriders in greater detail, and discussing how to stat them using VRGttWD.
  • A Secret Society Sidebar describing the Gorkynites, a sect within the Church of the Lawgiver that seeks to lead a holy war across the Core, much as Prince Gorkyn did in ages and worlds past. Councilman Mathias Bolshnik is one of the sect’s leaders, and he whispers many words into Othmar’s ears…
  • A Secret Society Sidebar describing Malken’s criminal network in more detail.
  • A Dread Possibilities Sidebar describing the Orphanage in Kantora, haunted by the ghosts of Ivaar Hiregaard, Sister Rozalia and numerous half-eaten children. These ghosts re-enact Ivaar’s brutal murder every night. What steps might Tristen Hiregaard take to end this endless torture of his first-born son’s spirit, and how might Malken interfere?
  • A Dread Possibilities Sidebar revealing the healing properties said to be inherent to relics of the former Vaasi Princes interred in the Mausoleum of the Elect. Most significantly, the hands of Hojplads himself are said to rest in the Mausoleum. What incredible powers of healing might such a relic have, and can the ghostly Princes be convinced to stand aside and let the needy make use of them?
  • A Secret Society Sidebar describing the Duremkites, a small group of heretics in Arbora that dare to preach of a ruler’s responsibility to the ruled. They have kept a low profile thus far, but the leader, Lukas Duremke, feels a calling to spread his message to the masses.
  • An Iron Father Prestige Class, for priests that rise high in the Lawgiver hierarchy. Abilities focused on commanding others and diminishing or revoking the powers of other Lawgiver clerics.
  • A Proclaimer of the Law Prestige Class, representing a sect of flagellant Lawgiver priests who claim to be direct messengers of the Lawgiver’s will, and demonstrate special abilities that support that claim. They have no official position in the Church, which isn’t quite sure what to make of them but has suffered for every past effort to suppress them.
  • Also, one cut by me was accidental. Somehow, I left the Law Enforcement Sidebar out of the final draft I sent in, despite having it typed up and ready to go. My fault on that one, though I can’t guarantee it wouldn’t have been cut even if I had left it in.

Ideas That Others Cut

These were all included in the Final Draft I sent to the developers, but they were cut for space. My draft suggested that the History section would be the best place to make cuts, since that’s the section that has the least direct impact on adventures in Nova Vaasa, but it looks like the developers chose Sidebars instead since they’re a quicker and more seamless excision. The fact that I submitted this stuff makes it work-for-hire, which means I can’t provide you with the text of these Sidebars, since I don’t own them anymore. I’d be happy to answer questions that don’t call for too much detail, though.

  • A Dread Possibilities Sidebar describing the Tomb of Sachmet, locked within the Koshka Bluffs, and the possibility that the ancient Sachmet might reawaken to trouble Nova Vaasa once more.
  • A Dread Possibilities Sidebar describing the ghost of Prince Jokum, who awakens in the Vistin family crypts whenever the rightful period of Vistin reign in Nova Vaasa resumes, only to fall into slumber once more five years later. Jokum is very upset to know that his family’s power has been usurped, and he seeks powerful pawns to help him get rid of Othmar permanently.
  • A Secret Society Sidebar describing the revived Claws of Sehkmaa. These disillusioned former followers of Malken, angered at having been duped and used to exploit the very poor they had intended to champion, now engage in vigilante strikes against the corrupt and criminal in Nova Vaasa’s cities.
  • A Dread Possibilities Sidebar revealing that the rumors of lycanthropy among the Straffers are quite true; Othmar eagerly seeks out werebeasts to press into his service. A little more detail on the insidious Nikko Hetch was also provided.
  • A Dread Possibilities Sidebar revealing the Mudman of Bergovitsa to actually be Desmond LaRouche, an alchemist and physician formerly in the service of Tristen Hiregaard. Desmond’s research focused on the alteration and purification of the soul, a branch of research that Hiregaard took a very personal interest in. Unfortunately, an “accident” with the chemicals in his laboratory has left him in a pitiable state, and with a grudge against his former employer.
  • A Secret Society Sidebar describing the Brotherhood of the Whip, remnants of the cult that served the Iron Duke. Their founder believed the Duke to be an avatar of the Lawgiver, and they research conjuration and demonology in hopes of calling their Lord back to them.
  • A Secret Society Sidebar describing the Lights of Liberty, a group of young firebrands and aging philosophers dedicated to overthrowing the rigid, ruthless aristocracy and replacing it with a more flexible, merciful aristocracy.

As I look it over, I realize that it’s an even heftier list than I had thought. I wish I could have included all these ideas in the final chapter; the domain lost a lot of flavorful bits with their absence. Feel free to ask me any questions about any of these ideas, or anything else relating to the chapter, by e-mail (acermak@earthlink.net) or on the FoS forums; I check them semi-regularly and I’ll get to your questions as soon as I can.

John W Mangrum

(Who wrote the preliminary notes for Tepest, before Steve Miller was given the Tepest assignment)

Like many domains in Ravenloft, Tepest isn't really based on any specific country or culture in particular. It's a mix between witch trial-era Salem, a generic, fairy-tale Ireland, and the Brothers Grimm, taking what elements we want and discarding the rest. Had Servants of Darkness and The Shadow Rift not established a Gaelic language base for the country, I wouldn't have used it. (For one thing, it makes names like Kellee and Viktal stand out like sore thumbs.)

Really, Tepest's as much Salem as anything, and it's not much Salem. The general idea I always kept in mind for it was a setting going through an out-of-control, Salem-style witch mania -- but where satanic witches are present and plotting.

Also, I’ve been tired of the "evil 'Black Myth' Inquisitors" stereotype for years. Like the Nevuchar Springs sect of the Church of Ezra, I wanted Wyan's inquisition to be dangerous and flawed -- but possibly, ultimately, right. Thus the emphasis on showing that Wyan's a good man, just misguided. He's made far fewer mistakes than most adventurers, I'd wager.

As a note, the original opening quote for the Tepest gazetteer -- removed after the chapter left my hands -- was the following, which puts it in context:

"It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in [Satanic] witches; there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there."

--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


cure shared the following with us : The following are a pair of Dread Possibilities that didn't survive the cutting room floor that Ryan was kind enough to share with me a few years back:

Cut Dread Possibility: The Keeper of Secrets

The Keeper of Secrets is a strange entity native to the Plane of Shadow. It entered Ravenloft seven years ago, when Loht opened the Obsidian Gate, and has taken a lair near the Barovian-Nova Vaasan border overlooking the Shadow Rift.

The Keeper is a NE aberration that captures the secrets brought to it on the wind. It occassionally passes on some of this information in exchange for a secret of greater rarity.

Blindspot (Ex): The Keeper is unable to be seen by any magical divination, including scrying and fortune telling. This has protected it from Count Strahd and his Vistani minions.

Creature of Darkness (Ex): The Keeper is composed of shadowstuff. When in complete darkness, it is solid—visitors can hear its clicking footsteps and feel the occasional brush of a feathery antennae or slimy tendril. In any kind of light, however, it is invisible and incorporeal, although its whispery voice can still be heard. In direct sunlight, the Keeper takes 1d4 points of damage per round.

Maddening Whispers (Su): The Keeper’s lair is filled with the quiet susurrus of its trapped secrets, all of which are desperate to be told. The constant, quiet whispering can drive visitors mad; they must make a Madness save (DC 14) for every ten minutes spent in the Keeper’s lair.

Secrets (Ex): The Keeper has captured many secrets in its lair and sometimes shares them, but if it particularly prizes a secret, it will lie to ensure that it is the only creature that possesses that knowledge. It also takes pleasure in revealing secrets that humiliate or cause harm.

To determine the chance the Keeper knows a particular piece of information, the DM must decide how widely known the secret is, and then roll to see if the Keeper lies. If it doesn’t, the DM must roll again to determine if the Keeper knows the information. If the petitioner exchanges a secret of greater rarity for the knowledge, reduce the % Lie by 10. The content of the secret is unimportant compared to the rarity; the Keeper prizes a unique magical spell as much as knowing who stole a peasant’s goose. Because the secrets are brought to the Keeper on the wind, the information must have once been spoken aloud for the Keeper to know it.

Rarity% Lie% Known
Very Rare4080
Unique50 95

True Seeing (Su): The Keeper of Secrets has permanent true seeing. If dispelled, it can recast the spell as a free action.

Cut Dread Possibility: Fractures

The Shadow Rift is an imperfection in the planar fabric of the Demiplane of Dread, caused by Gwydion’s attempt to escape the Obsidian Gate during the Grand Conjunction. In trying to pull himself free, the sorcerer-fiend uprooted the entire domain and dragged it with him, shattering the Dark Power’s carefully organized handiwork. Like a piece of glass smashed with a hammer, the Rift is a gaping hole in the Core, and Fractures radiate like cracks into the more complete domains around it. All these pathways exist outside, or perhaps between, time and space and allow the fey to enter other domains. Most lead to the Rift’s neighbors, but they can potentially open into any domain. Traversing any of the Fractures is a disturbing experience of bizarre, half-remembered impossibilities. The Fracture leading from Mordent to the Darkenheights, for example, is lined with invisible people who demand passers by surrender their equipment, their clothes and finally their bodies before they can ‘go down’. Those who do emerge as incorporeal spirits; those who don’t never emerge.

Transient Fractures: Several Fractures only intersect the material world on particular occasions, such as a solstice or equinox. Because of the temporal fugue, these Fractures only open once every 26 years for those inside the Shadow Rift. Others vary in their destination depending on arcane but clearly defined conditions. The Fracture at the bottom of Loch Lenore, for example, opens into Saragoss when the Seelie Court is in power but into Lake Amenta in Nidala when the Unseelie Court is. Another only opens when its opening on the surface is in shadow.

Keyed Fractures: Keyed Fractures only open if a particular action is performed or condition fulfilled by the person trying to pass through. Examples include walking 13 times anticlockwise around a particular barrow mound, or a Fracture that only opens if an Innocent touches the inside of a cleft tree.

Guarded Fractures: Many are protected by strange and fearsome guardians. This can be a good excuse to use creatures that may not otherwise fit into a Ravenloft campaign. As a rule, they should have a CR of at least 12. For example, one Fracture is watched by the Hound, an immensely strong half-dog, half-giant, who must be fought for the journey to be completed. Another leads from a goblin lair in the Mountains of Misery and is guarded by a balor (with no reality wrinkle)."


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