[Let's Read] 4e's Domains of Dread

VoidDrifter

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#41
Alright, here's our next portion of our next step along the journey; the treacherous tropical hell of Monadhan! Once again, I'll break this up into a couple of posts for ease of digestion by my readers.

Domains of Dread #3: Monadhan, The Traitor's Hold
Opening Thoughts
So, we went from the grand guignol of Sunderheart, which was more splatterpunky Dark Fantasy, to Graefmotte, which was more classically Gothic Horror, but kind of toothless. Let's see if the third time's the charm, shall we?


Draconic Damnation
Much like Sunderheart, Monadhan has its origins in the ancient war between Arkhosia and Bael Turath. Specifically, Monadhan has its roots in Arkhosia.

Arantor was a proud silver dragon, and quite a gloryhound, who joined the war effort against the devilry of Bael Turath to further enhance his reputation. During his service, Arantor and his daughter Imrissa were called upon to destroy a remote Turathi military outpost, almost hidden within thick tropical rainforest, whose isolation and surroundings made it virtually unreachable by ground-based forces.

Eager to make a name for themselves, the two dragons hurried to the coordinates, and swiftly found the valley. They struck at night, in the midst of a torrential downpaw, raking the camp with their freezing breath whilst smashing tents and crude buildings with tail, wing and claw. Surprisingly little resistance was offered, and the two butchered scores before they broke away to assess the situation.

They were horrified to learn that Arkhosian intelligence had been wrong; the valley wasn't a military camp, but a hidden escape point for Turathi civilian refugees. They hadn't been killing combat soldiers; they'd massacred families, the elderly, the infirm, and wounded soldiers.

Arantor and Imrissa immediately broke off their attack and retreated into the storm clouds above, to discuss what to do. Imrissa declared that the only righteous thing to do was to return to Arkhosia and report their mistake... but Arantor wouldn't hear of it; he was terrified of what news of this atrocity would do to his precious reputation, and demanded that they conceal the truth. The two dragons argued passionately, growing more and more heated, until irrevocable words were uttered. The disgusted Imrissa turned from her sire, planning to fly back to Arkhosia and report the truth, no matter the consequences - which was when the enraged Arantor attacked his own daughter. In the heat of his fury, he killed her, sending her broken body plummeting through the raging storm to be lost in the jungle below.

That was when Arantor sealed his own damnation. Consumed with rage, grief and self-loathing, he vowed to never let anyone bear witness to his shame - to tell the tale of his... mistake. Descending to the valley below, he methodically and mercilessly executed the entire population of refugees, hunting down and butchering them to the last. When he left the jungle, nearly two thousand silent corpses remained in his wake.

Too paranoid and/or ashamed to return to Arkhosia, Arantor went rogue. For the rest of the war, he hid in the wild places of the world, surfacing from time to time to launch ruthless attacks on Turathi targets, striking military and civilian alike in his bloodthirsty zeal. Each time, in a mirror of the first, the result was a complete slaughter, with no survivors. Arantor's reign of carnage continued until he was finally tracked down and slain by a team of Turathi dragonslayers.

But that was not the end. Arantor awoke, whole and seemingly healthy, but trapped within the Shadowfell. He had been noticed by whatever dark powers create the domains of dread, who had created a mist-veiled, twisted parody of that jungle valley where he had damned himself - complete with fortress and refugee camp. Mists enveloped the horizons, reaching up to form a permanent cloud layer over the sky, and to his horror Arantor found that he could not leave. After years of failed efforts to breach the boundaries of his prison, the tarnished silver dragon sullenly resigned himself to waiting out for the release of death, as he still seemed to be aging. Years turned into decades turned into centuries, and ultimately Arantor's heart ceased beating.

Yet... Arantor lived. Now the true scale of his punishment was revealed, for Arantor's consciousness remained trapped within his decaying form, animating it as a dracolich - a prison for all eternity. Worse, as his flesh sloughed off, he discovered, horribly, the skeleton of a young female silver dragon now lay inside of his body, curled up in a fetal position where his heart once was.

And then it stirred, beginning to ceaselessly whisper the names of the innocents Arantor had slain over the years, and Arantor finally realized the true scope of his damnation...
 
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Davies

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#42
This is actually a pretty impressive way to get a dracolich-ruled domain in there, something I don't think any incarnation of Ravenloft ever managed ...
 

Talisman

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#43
Worse, as his flesh sloughed off, he discovered, horribly, the skeleton of a young female silver dragon now lay inside of his body, curled up in a fetal position where his heart.

And then it stirred, beginning to ceaselessly whisper the names of the innocents Arantor had slain over the years, and Arantor finally realized the true scope of his damnation...
Hey Graefmotte? Take notes. This is how you do a Darklord.
 

LizardBite

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#44
I think the "skeleton where the heart should be" bit is kind of goofy (I think it would be a better image if it was just her skull instead of her whole skeleton), but overall this is a really solid and cool concept for a Dark lord.
 

Talisman

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#45
I think the "skeleton where the heart should be" bit is kind of goofy (I think it would be a better image if it was just her skull instead of her whole skeleton), but overall this is a really solid and cool concept for a Dark lord.
I saw it more as a tiny skeletal fetus. He's murdered his daughter, and now he's forever pregnant with her accusing, undead form.
 

VoidDrifter

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#46
Domains of Dread #3: Monadhan, The Traitor's Hold
The Traitor's Hold
Monadhan takes its name from the jungle outpost that Arantor and Imrissa destroyed. The ruins have long been forgotten, covered over by the trackless jungle. Even in its twisted Shadowfell reflection, few know of the name; most refer to it by all manner of creative and often expletive-ridden nicknames instead.

As mentioned above, Monadhan exists within a deep valley amidst tropical rainforest, bordered in all directions by mysterious mists - the dense cloud cover above is an extension of these mists, rendering the sun a hazy, hateful blot without doing anything to blunt its heat. Those who enter the mists - or even draw near enough - will simply wander back into Monadhan, if they're lucky, but more frequently they vanish to an unknown fate. As such, the domain's denizens avoid the mists at all costs, especially given they sometimes heave forth monsters or humanoid travelers - usually bewildered and/or terrified.

Not that the mists need much help in keeping the locals in; the jungle certainly sees to that. Dense canopies combined with the dim light of the Shadowfell make this environment treacherous, and the native fauna is without exception larger, more cunning, and more dangerous than any mortal equivalent. Tigers the size of horses, venom-fanged constrictors big enough to swallow a man, monstrous insects and arachnids, lethally toxic plants and aggressively predatory flora are just some of the natural horrors waiting here. If it weren't their primary source of raw materials, the humanoid inhabitants would leave well enough alone; as is, they scrabble for wood, edible plants and smaller animals on the edges of the jungle, heading deeper only when driven by dire need, suicidal courage, or the false courage that comes from strength in numbers.

The precise shape is hard to judge; the map in the article has a compass with the usual N/S/E/W rose... but the North point is facing towards the bottom left corner of the map and the East point is facing towards the top left corner of the map. So, I'm going to presume the map is presented from a south-southeast facing and write accordingly.

The clifs that hem in the valley are known as the Warden Cliffs; their only way out lies to the western end of the valley. Climbing is rarely attempted; it's certainly possible, but the mists tend to sweep forth - or spew out a monster - at the least opportune times when people try. Those who have made it to the top and back report that more jungle awaits, but so do mysterious bounties of food and strange treasure.

The valley begins at the southeastern point, where the Turnun River runs down from the highlands above. The point where the water enters Monadhan valley is known as the Ternun Falls; a spectacular sight little appreciated by the locals, who fear the possibility of the spray hiding encroaching mists. After it splashes down, it forms the Ternun River as known to the denizens of Monadhan; it runs slow and deep, forming a meandering, loosely S-shaped squiggle that cuts through the jungle to roughly a third of the way into the valley, where it splits into two branches; one branch continues west, whilst the other north. Peaceful as it looks, it's not safe; it abounds in all manner of aquatic predators, such as massive crocodiles, making fishing fraught with danger and wading reserved for the suicidal.

The branch that goes straight west forms a huge body of deep, still water, known to the locals as "Blackfish Lake", due to the primary species of fish here - which begin as foot-long hatchlings and then grow into monsters bigger than an ogre. Fishing these waters is profitable, but treacherous; the water abounds in aquatic life... but most of it is a deadly predator in its own right. Even the namesake blackfish easily pull human-sized meals beneath the surface. Still, blackfish and shrimp are major parts of the local diet; land-based fishers go after the smaller specimens, which haunt the banks, whilst those willing to go after bigger quarry will venture offshore... but not too far, though, and never will they stay out at night.

The aforementioned western end of the valley is an enormous, gloomy, predator-infested swamp known to the locals as "Tangledeep". Fed by the Blackfish Lake, it is even more dangerous than its mother river; parasitic fish and bloodsucking flies are the least of the killers here, which include primordial hydras and chuul juggernauts. Many monsters will emerge from the swamp to hunt along river or even into the jungle, hence the aforementioned refusal of the locals to fish at night, and the added proximity of the mists keeps the locals well at bay. There's easier ways to commit suicide.

The northerly branch of the Ternun river winds its way to terminate at what the locals call, simply, "The Pit". A massive yawning hole that descends into such deep blackness that it seems nearly bottomless. Few have ever returned from the pit, so the vast majority avoid it, but rumors circulate about what might lie at the bottom of the Pit.

There is only one settlement in Monadhan; a place known variously as "Shantytown", "Campton", "The town", and all manner of curse-ridden monikers and profanity-strewn designations. Nearly three thousand people live, work, fight and, frequently, die here.

So, who lives here? Well, as the moniker given in the title suggests, traitors. Oh, the population is rounded out by a scattering of unfortunates vomited forth from the mists, or unfortunate enough to be born here, but the vast bulk of the population are people who committed acts of base treachery. The greater the betrayal, and the more pathetic the reason, the more likely the perpetrator is to find a place within Monadhan - whether by being swallowed by the Mists, or by awakening there alive and whole after dying for their misdeeds. As such, it has become a gathering point for traitors gathered from across a widely disparate array of times and locations.

In fact, Moadhan is home to one of the most legendary of all traitors; Kas, the vampire who once served as Vecna's lieutenant, only to try and betray Vecna when the lich was on the cusp of ascending to divinity. Unlike the other denizens of the domain, Kas has learned the secret to freely traveling from it by walking through the mists - but something continues to draw him back here, and has caused him to found a small, hidden lair in the jungles to the east of Shanytown, where a cadre of his minions waits in response to whatever strange plans Kas has in mind. Weirdly, the location of Kas' lair is not marked on the map.

Shantytown is a densely packed maze of ragged tents, crude lean-tos, and shoddy huts cobbled together from rubbish and detritus. The dangers of the jungle force the population together, resulting in crushing overcrowding problem that gets even worse as one enters the central area of the camp - here, the inhabitants build adjacent to, on, and over preexisting sites in their desperation to huddle away in some semblance of safety.

Life in Shantytown is hard and dangerous. The combination of the tiny twisting paths here, the overabundance of openings, and the concealing piles of filth and refuse, make deadly ambushes from greedy, desperate denizens a fact of life - worse, monsters and beasts from the jungle and the river regularly creep up into the outermost portions of Shantytown, to prey on humanoid meat. The air hangs thick with foul odors in Shantytown, the staggering stench of offal, refuse, sweat and death adding to the oppressive, crushing press of bodies - in a city where everyone knows that everyone around them is a traitor, by nature or by training.

Understandably, most inhabitants gain a constant sense of paranoia, and never let their guard down.

Names are unimportant in Shantytown; the layout is constantly in flux as neighbors kill each other, people occupy or abandon shelters, and gangs war for territory. The closest thing to landmarks are the central pathway and the sturdiest huts, and the names of buildings or even entire sections of the settlement change constantly as throats are slit and triumphant gangs christen their newfound territory. The only real divide is "downtown" - where the crush of buildings and bodies makes the monsters of the wild less of a threat, but the fighting is more frequent and vicious, and "edgetown" - the external areas, where the gangs are weaker but the beasts are more prevalent.

The only defensible and structurally sound building in Monadhan is the outpost, the Shadowfell reflection of the original fort that guarded it. For this reason, it's the source of constant fighting, as gangs struggle to seize control over it; general wisdom is that the gang which controls the outpost runs Shantytown... of course, in a town full of traitors, inevitably, that gang tears itself apart with backstabbing and infighting, and some other gang comes along and takes it, until the cycle repeats itself.

Unbeknownst to the denizens of Shantytown, the area beneath their outpost of "civilization" (and I use the term loosely) is riddled with caves, serving as the lair of the darklord, Arantor, and his personal servants; a troop of death giants. The main entrance to the cave system actually lies in the jungle not far removed from the outpost, but the presence of the giants and assorted slave fodder keeps the denizens ignorant.
 

Gilphon

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#48
Huh. A Jungle is really not the environment one usually picture when you think about Shadowfell. But really, why not? A dark, thick forest full of unknown whatsits and whatnots is a on brand scenario, and it's also basically just 'the amazon at night'.
 

JoeNotCharles

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Wait...one of the most dangerous vampires (and former darklord) in the multiverse is in this domain and it just gets shrugged over?
FWIW, Monadhan was the setting of an important Dungeon magazine adventure around this time (it was the first or second Epic Tier adventure in the Scales of War adventure path) and Kas was an important part of that adventure.
 

VoidDrifter

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Wait...one of the most dangerous vampires (and former darklord) in the multiverse is in this domain and it just gets shrugged over?
I think they wanted to avoid it being overshadowed by Kas, who did after all get an extensive writeup in Open Grave (has anyone done a Let's Read of that, or the Demonomicon, or the Draconomicons? Should I consider it once my other 4e Let's Reads are done?) - plus, as JoeNotCharles said, he is more prominent in the Scales of War module that visits the domain.

Anyway, here's another segment for Monadhan - just one more post to go after this! That said, can I get some love for my Let's Read of the Ravenloft Gazetteers? It's been ages, and no posts there yet to break up the segment; the whole point of doing this is to make it easier for folks to read.

Domains of Dread #3: Monadhan, The Traitor's Hold
Daily Life
Monadhan "culture", such as it is, boils down to a few simple rules: Life is Cheap, The Strong Prey on the Weak, Trust No One. The law of the jungle prevails, and cooperation is minimal; the opportunistic flock to serve the powerful, always with an eye towards advancing themselves. Shantytown is little more than an endless succession of fractious gangs warring with each other, demanding tribute from weaker inhabitants of their territory in return for their (dubious) protection. Gangs constantly come and go, with allegiance switching and murdering of rivals or superiors being ubiquitous.

If Shantytown has any kind of industry of note, it's espionage and assassination. Business in these fields is brisk and lucrative, keeping things moving constantly. Most goods are fairly shoddy in quality; those few artisans who can produce quality work and goods are fiercely coveted by the gang leaders, forcing them to either throw their lot in with one gang or tread a knife-edged path of neutrality.

The twin national past-times of Monadhan are accurately described as "scheming to advance yourself" and "fighting off the plots of others". In between those, they spend their time scratching a living from their harsh environment. Though they try to supplement their rations by growing small vegetable gardens in edgetown, the results are meager at best, and exist only to supplement whatever goods they scrape from the jungle and the river. For safety from potential treachery, most Monadhanians fish, hunt and forage in the relative safety of the forest and shoreline closest to Shantytown; only the gangs manage to muster enough manpower to risk heading further out into the dangerous wilderness in pursuit of larger prey or rare resources, and even then a certain amount of infighting and backstabbing in the midst of hostile territory is expected.

The constant danger from wild beasts and treacherous neighbors, combined with the never-ending struggle to scrape a living from the harshness of Monadhan, results in a distinctive character to its denizens. Monadhanians are not only treacherous, but also gaunt and hard, with little regard for the lives and deaths of others.

It's telling that few places have as little respect for the dead as in Monadhan. There are no funerals here, nor monuments to those who have fallen to flashing knives, poison, or hungry jaws. The only ritual to the fallen is the mad scramble to grab whatever things of value that they were carrying before someone else does.
 
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