Domain of the Month
The land of the righteous chevaliers ... the Shadowlands Cluster!
Second edition: Black Box (Realm of Terror), Red Box (RL Campaign Setting), Domains of Dread; Islands of Terror, Darklords (Shdowborn Manor)
Third ed. info: RL3E / RLPH
Adventure: Light in the Belfry; Dungeon #31 (Bane of the Shadowborn)
Other selected interesting source: Book of Shadows (Nidala)
Shadowborn Manor (created in 611)
Nidala (created in 615)
Avonleigh (created in 646)
The Shadowlands Cluster was created in 747
Darklords: Morgoroth (Avonleigh), Elena Faith-hold (Nidala), Ebonbane (Shadowborn Manor)
Beliefs have a tendency to become true in Ravenloft. Believing that a dragon is really burning villages in Nidala, a group of people all downtrodden from Elena that have suffered in her hands one way or another, decide to break away from community and form a cult to worship that dragon. They either escape leaving no trace or even feign their deaths. At first they are few, just a 7 or 8. Then some stealthy chars among them start whispering in the shadows to other people that are suffering from Elena's prohibition and have nothing more to lose and start slowly growing.
They take residence in a cave, forage and hunt for food and hide most of the day. Through the 3-4 years of their operation, they manage to create a large wooden replica of the dragon they are worshipping... and one night, their desperate prayers are answered and the dragon they worship comes to them in a way. It speaks from the shadows to their leader, a middle age man that has seen both his children and his wife executed and wants nothing more than to see Elena fall, and tells him to bring a sacrifice to the statue, bathing it in blood of a worthy servant of Elena. After that is done, the statue takes a red hue that doesn't fade with time.
The whispers in shadows continue and the sacrifices increase. The cult becomes bolder. Agents of Elena learn of that "diabolic cult" and try to attack. Then the statue comes to "life" as an adult red dragon and consumes the guards in flames. The cult celebrates in ecstasy... except the leader. Somehow he feels... less. Even while it is guarded, the statue is found missing the next day, and none knows how or when it left. Still, the leader knows where it went and the cult follows him to find it in another, larger cave. One that nobody knew it existed. The rocks have a reddish hue too and the place seems far more sinister. Still the cult celebrates their new hideout.
A week after the triumph with the guards the whispers ask for more blood. This time it asks for the blood of someone a servant of Elena feel important and love, even an innocent. Also the leader feels worse, as if the statue is draining him. He can feel the hate in the statue and it is not only towards Elena and her agents. It is directed at the whole Creation in general. Still, it is a powerful weapon and he is willing to sacrifice Creation itself if that means bringing her down.
Note that: The cult is evil, but not wholly corrupted. While it has men and women that would do anything to see Elena Faithold suffer and fall, including sacrificing inocents, they have seen their households burned, their loved ones executed or tortured, they have been tortured themselves etc. That also means they have nothing more to lose and very little to be afraid of.
The Statue is a kind of dread golem, spawned from mad faith and hate. The creator starts realizing that he sacrificed more than servants and innocents to that thing in the shadows in order to bring the dragon's wrath on Elena. He starts realizing that he sacrificed part of himself... and he says "so be it!" The cult is composed by rogues, rangers and the occasional warrior or fighter. The leader is actually a rogue/cleric with access to the domains of fire and destruction. Elena and her agents just now start to realize they have to deal with more than a small band of grieving rebels that have nothing more to lose. They start to feel less invincible.
Here are the few ideas I have so far, but my campaign is headed there and I'll need more.
- Islands of Terror mentions that Elena spent some time wandering the Core before being granted her own domain. She would enter a village and, each time, find something "sinful" going on and pass judgement, burning the village to the ground. This is a great way to hint about Nidala without going there. The ruins of these towns are no doubt haunted now. I had a whole adventure in one, involving putting the town's spirits to rest while appeasing the tribe of bahkna rahknas that had moved in once the humans were dead. I also had her try to start her shennanigans in Vallaki, but Strahd would have none of it. He thrashed her so badly that the Mists came and rescued their new toy. A garbled version of this legend has led to an Inn named "Belena's folly" on the spot of the fight. (the locals confused the name of her god that she shouted, Belenus, thinking it to be her own name)
- I've seen a few different spins on the idea: what if the fake dragon was real, in some way. (mist-spawn, bogeyman, dragon, or alhoon's golem) They are all great ideas, but I like the idea of a fake dragon so much that I'm reluctanct to make it real in any way. I have an NPC in my campaign, a priestess of Belenus, who fled the Shadowlands because she found out the dragon wasn't real. She knew that the knowledge put her in danger from Elena and her loyal underlings. (trouble is, when her son comes back to Nidala looking for answers, I don't know where to go with this.) Making the dragon come to life somehow would seem to undermine her sacrifice to me.
- The Phantasmal forest is a haven for those looking to hide from Elena, or anyone else for that matter. One such refugee is a powerful diviner, who has made many enemies, determined to live out his (magically extended) later years in peace. His true name and origin are a mystery, but he is known to the locals as "The Seer of the Phantasmal Forest" or sometimes the more heretical "Prophet of the Phantasmal Forest." He tolerates those who seek him out for answers to their small problems and glimpses of their future, and has even begun to take a protective attitude over the locals. (Though he knows he cannot help them to overthrow Elena, nor would he want to risk it.)
Two unusual events have happened to the Seer since he settled in the forest. The first was almost sixty years ago, when a young woman whose family had fallen victim to "Banemaw" came to him seeking guidance. He revealed to her that she was a lost Scion of the Shadowborn family and that the source of Nidala's trouble lay in the Mists. For Elena could be deposed only if the spirits of all her victims were laid to rest (including those in the Core). This would come to pass when a "chosen one" arose to make it so. Alanna Shadowborn studied with the Seer for four years before leaving on her quest to the Core. But sadly she was not the chosen one, and she died in the attempt.
The second event was nearly thirty years ago. A Canjar vistani woman, gifted with both the Sight and ghostsight, among other spirit-based powers, left her tribe without explanation and sought out the Seer. She had foreseen that a crisis was coming, that a dukkar would soon rise, and that he would be only partially of The People. To combat this menace, a powerful champion would be needed, an anti-dukkar, who also combined the powers of the vistani with those of the giorgios. Her Sight led her to the most powerful giorgio seer in the world, and she offered herself to him. But the Seer had foreseen her arrival, and her plan, and was not swayed by her seduction. Instead, he offered her a deal. He had seen that if they were to mate, the result would be twins. He would agree to be her breeding stock, and give her her anti-dukkar, if he could have the other to raise.
(The twin she kept is one of my PC's, a half-vistani Spiritualist. The other twin will make an appearance soon, and will probably end up replacing The Thinker when I run Bleak House. Whether either or both of them are the anti-dukkar, or the chosen one of Nidala remains to be seen).
It's a shame that everyone's discounting Ebonbane and the Ahltrian.
Had we made it to Gazetteer X, give or take, here's the bare-bones rundown of how I would have slightly clarified/reshaped my take on the Shadowlands.
- The Phantasmal Forest doesn't have a fixed shape. Shadowborn Manor, Avonleigh, and numerous tiny little domains all float around in it, sort of like pocket domains. The best way to think of it is to consider the Phantasmal Forest an amoeba, with Shadowborn Manor its nucleus. The PF exists because Ebonbane's evil is so pervasive and powerful that it seeps through the planar membranes of his domain, so to speak. Since first appearing, it's slowly spread around Nidala, like an ooze absorbing its prey, to the point that "today," there's only one shrinking stretch of border that leads directly to the Mists. In all other directions, one must pass through the PF to reach any other domain.
- After it was trapped in Ravenloft, Ebonbane spent decades corrupting every aspect of the late Kateri Shadowborn's life. It wiped out her family, corrupted her allies, and so on. Each time it successfully turned one of Lady Shadowborn's former friends or ties to evil, it drew them into the Phantasmal Forest, and thus Ravenloft. They're all still out there, pseudodarklords of pathetic little pseudodomains. Morgoroth and Elena Faith-hold stand apart because they damned themselves, with minimal involvement from Ebonbane. Thus, although their corruption delights Ebonbane and ultimately feeds into its evil, they do not serve Ebonbane, unlike the other pearls in its collection.
- Pseduodomains -- pearls in the oil, I think I called them in the RL DMG -- include Kateri's unicorn mount Addar, now driven mad and equally lost in overweening pride and self-loathing. His 'domain' is a small glade that travels with him. He can act as a guide for those who play to his vanity. Another is Forenoon Abbey, a monastery significant to Lady Shadowborn that's now the home of the Ahltrian. This was the first pearl in Ebonbane's collection -- the first thing beloved of Kateri that it destroyed after returning to the world.
- Ebonbane can animate anyone who dies in Shadowborn Manor or the Phantasmal Forest as an intelligent ghoul. If a humanoid corpse is left lying in the mire of the Forest, then after a few minutes it sinks into the swampy earth and, a few days later, digs out of the mud at Forenoon Abbey, now one of the Altrian and utterly subservient to Ebonbane.
- The Phantasmal Forest is trackless and directionless; getting lost is the norm. It used to lead back to the Great Kingdom on Kateri Shadowborn's homeworld, but those planar pathways closed as Ebonbane wiped out the last remnants of her legacy.
- The general thrust of adventuring in the domain is the conflict between the human evil of Elena Faith-hold and the monstrous, all-consuming evil of Ebonbane, and the prospects of Elena's once again being offered a true evil to fight. What would her reaction be? Meanwhile, Ebonbane is monomaniacally fixated on destroying and/or desecrating everything th
- Ebonbane can't leave its tiny domain, but the Ahltrian can. They regularly steal into Nidala to wreak havoc. Their ultimate goal, beyond simple destruction, is to pull Elena into their ranks, and thus add the whole of Nidala to Ebonbane's holdings. (This would, presumably, let Ebonbane extend its senses into the land, and possibly mean that any corpses left on the soil, anywhere, would be sucked down into the Ahltrian.) Essentially, the whole domain would become just another part of the amorphous, sunless Phantasmal Forest.
- And, of course, the knights of the Circle must make an annual pilgrimage to first Avonleigh and then Shadowborn Manor to maintain the magic that keeps Alexi Shadowborn, Ebonbane's current prison, in stasis.
JoŽl of the Fraternity: Interesting shape for the cluster. So the Shadowborn Cluster has a very large size for a cluster, since it contains all of Nidala and still has room to get lost around it.
Mangrum: It's not necessarily the size that makes it easy to get lost in -- it's that the Phantasmal Forest is a manifestation of the Misty Border, and like the Mists, it's directionless. Nothing leaves tracks, and there are no trails to follow. (The BoS story discusses this.)
JoŽl of the Fraternity: And the domain is a war / conflict between Ebonbane (the lord of the PF) and Elena's own evil. Where do you so Morgoroth in this, as one of the isolated pocket domain? I guess his influence outside it isn't as important as the first two.
Mangrum: He's the third player in a two-sided battle, falling somewhere in between Elena and Ebonbane, but too wrapped up in his own concerns to be an active participant. If the inherent struggle of the Shadowlands is human evil vs. monstrous evil, he falls somewhere in between. He is a monster, but he holds no allegiance to Ebonbane and in fact has a strong motivation to keep the fiend in check. This makes him a potential ally -- not of Elena, but of the Circle, who have to deal with him every year. However, unless you play to his single "redeeming quality" -- his desire to keep his innocent captive alive indefinitely -- he's as treacherous and malevolent as they come.
I would put Davion into the Shadowlands, definitely, as well as the House of Lament, and maybe a very enhanced version of the Lady of the Lake.
For completeness, I'll post my previous comments from Ron's TC Campaign thread here before adding some more:
- Captive!: Elena closed the borders while the PC's were traveling through, and one of their traveling companions pressed through the borders and wound up in the dungeon. Now the PC's must stage a dangerous rescue operation, and the quickest way into the dungeon is to follow their freind into the border....
- Captive! II: A trusted friend (perhaps the same as the previous hook) has inexplicably started serving Elena. The PC's discover their friend is under a spell, and now face a more complex rescue of someone who doesn't want to be rescued.
- Duck Test: A trio of Halan witches has dared to start a hospice in Elena's territory, and the PC's are called in to help the fledgeling hospice destroy an ancient hag. In fact, the hag is a good-aligned brujah mentioned in VRGtW (reputed to be in the Shadowlands). Gondegal has come to the aid of the Halans as he has done in the past, but he and the witches are being duped into killing a good creature. One of the Halans knows the truth of the hag's nature, but would rather see it destroyed in order to keep future hag-hunts uncompromised by moralizing. Perhaps as an added complication, the good hag is being framed by an evil creature--perhaps a spectral hag?
- What Dragon?: Banemaw is a lie...or is he? A fugued draconic creature (wyvern, firedrake, perhaps a real dragon) has appeared out of the Mists to the East of the Theospines and started attacking villages under Elena's protection. The Red Wolf and his men have ventured into a physically and morally dangerous ground: they have researched the creature's origins and weaknesses, and rather than try to kill it, they would prefer to keep it around! The creature has allergens and/or zeitgebers that they can use to protect whole villages (see the Dragon ecology of the wyvern for an example), and Elena's lies become more and more transparent the longer the false Banemaw is around. The PC's can help spread the secret of protection to endangered villages, or go against the Red Wolf's wishes and try to slay the 'dragon' for good. Note that slaying 'Banemaw' might loosen Elena's grip on the villages, if the corpse stays around long enough to show people.
- THAT Dragon!!: Fear of Banemaw has actually created a draconic bogeyman (DT&DL). Elena has actually killed the creature multiple times, and she's growing more and more certain that it cannot stay dead because it is her own lie given flesh--which is sort of correct. She calls on the PC's and confides in them that the dragon keeps returning from the dead, and charges them with researching how to slay the dragon for good. Of course, she gives them "research assistants" who are loyal to her, and if they discover any of her dirty secrets in the course of their research, she'll do her best to have them killed.
- The Secret Escape: The Red Wolf's closely guarded secret is not a secret passage out of the dungeons, but the truth about one of Elena's most trusted servants. Once a prisoner himself, the man has been stricken with permanent madness by Elena's ministrations and afflicted with multiple personalities. Only the dominant personality--a torturer and jailor--is affected by Elena's charm effect, and some of the others are quite helpful. The Red Wolf took great pains to guard the man's secret, not only in the hopes that others might escape the same way, but in the hopes that someday he might be able to use this "blind spot" against Elena. The PC's are called in to help protect the man's secret, or perhaps to finally exploit it against Elena.
- Baba Yagina: While traveling the Shadowlands, a party including a female nearing her forties is stalked by a creature that appears by turns to be both a benefactor and an annoyance. It is, in fact, a brujah, testing the group's mettle and their hearts in preparation for a harrowing revelation: the woman PC is a budding hag, and the brujah has been summoned as her hag-mentor. If the woman is willing, the brujah will tutor her in the ways of their kind, and help her avoid the temptation towards evil. If the PC refuses or succumbs to temptation during their time together, the brujah will try to kill her rather than pollute the world with another foul hag. (The Shadowlands are reputedly the home domain of the first brujah, which means these lands may hold special significance to the creatures. Then again, this might happen in any other populated domain as well.)
- Addar: I like John's idea that Addar was once ridden by Kateri, but I also like the writeup on him in the BoSac. A simple solution is to say that the elven princess he slew was his second rider, after Kateri, and that Ebonbane assisted in his hubristic fall. This allows him to still be the progenitor of the shadow unicorns, which is a setup for many adventure hooks. IMC Addar demanded fealty from goblinoid tribes in his lands, and they made yearly sacrifices to him of his own diabolical children--his way of preventing the birth of the prophesied true unicorn that would overthrow him. Addar might demand that they PC's bring him the carcass of one of his grandchildren in exchange for crossing his lands, or in exchange for a prisoner. OTOH, they may be called upon to protect the true unicorn from its kin until the paragon child of the Red Wolf is old enough to ride it.
- Theokos: Elena's fiendish seneschal often stays in the background, but if the DM gives him an agenda--especially one that goes at cross purposes with Elena--he could open up a huge can of worms. IMC I had one of Elena's prisoners give birth to a half-fiend to signal a change in his chosen level of involvement, and much later when Elena was done in by Gondegal, Theokos raised her as a death knight.
- Elena's Lightning-Engines: This was discussed in the main forum for a while, and I came up with my own take on what the "engines" referred to. One of the engines of Elena's devising was a gateway that was supposed to lead into hell, so that she could wage war upon the source of Evil itself. The gateway opens instead into random domains, due to tweaking by the DP's. Elena uses this gateway to abduct people from domains and learn about the world around her. The second was the altar to Belenus in the chapel tower, which made permanent Elena's charm effect when a charmed minion prayed at it.
I'm afraid I still couldn't read this thread below Mangrum's post, but this raised several question in me. I read the novel Shadowbron and the adventure Bane of the Shadowborn, so all I know or once knew about this cluster comes from there. So, could anyone tell me what are the Ahltrian and where are they detailed; if Morgoroth is the DL of the PF, how come Ebonbane has power over there; where can I read about this banemaw that seems to be a dragon myth?
Rotipher: The "Ahltrian" were originally the elite minions of the BBEG-type from the Shadowborn homeworld, whom Kateri initially battled against, and it's the last three survivors from their group who crafted Ebonbane-the-sword to destroy her in revenge. The references above imply that they still serve Ebonbane-the-fiend, albeit in an undead state.
The impression I get is that the Shadowlands cluster as a whole works more like an oubliette, or perhaps Darkon during the Shrouded Years: the three biggies -- Ebonbane, Elena, Morgoroth -- tightly control portions of the Cluster as their personal domains, but there's also a chunk of oubliette-style "no man's land" in between (i.e. the Phantasmal Forest), where different lords' influence could predominate at different times. Kind of like what I imagine the Nightmare Lands would be like, if the Nightmare Man got killed and the others couldn't agree who should be their new leader.
It's weird even for Ravenloft, but then again, it would sure explain why the Shadowlands are separated from the Core, despite being medieval-European: it's got an underlying metaphysical "twist" that sets it apart.
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