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

JoeNotCharles

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I think it could work if you spin it as direlection of duty. Silverman was confused about what the humans were and dithered too long about whether to let them in, and lost its chance to stop them: a failing, but an honest mistake.

Then when they built a FIRE, of all things, it tried to cover for its mistake rather than do its duty. The first duty is to protect the woods, so stopping the fire was paramount. But instead it let the fire burn while it tried to kill off the humans to erase the witnesses of its mistake. A treant is supposed to nurture and protect the forest, with hurting enemies of the forest sometimes being an unfortunate part of protecting. But Silvermaw focused on "protecting" by destroying threats and completely failed at the more important part. As a result it's corrupted by violence.

In this version the archfey isn't overreacting at all. The fire's burning out of control and it's critical that it not be allowed to spread to other fey realms. Everything in the feywild is bigger, livelier, more intense, so as soon the forest shifts back the fire will grow to an inferno. Silvermaw's failure destroyed the land he's charged to protect and put his liege lord at risk.
 

Gilphon

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I mean, in my eyes, the fact that we're not looking at normal Darklord material here is part of the point- we're looking at a cosmic glitch here. The forest was shunted off to Shadowfell not because the Dark Powers decided they wanted it, but because it was abruptly barred from both the Feywild and the Material, but it maintained enough of a connection to everything that it ended up in Shadowfell instead of spiralling off into the void and becoming its own Demiplane.

Shadowfell's made the most of the material it has to work with here; driving the already somewhat unhinged Silvermaw to madness and making a decent Darklord out of him, but it's essentially just covering up the time that an archfey screwed up and broke reality a little. Possibly there will eventually be a price to pay for this service.
 

VoidDrifter

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Eye on Dark Sun: Kalidnay
Opening Thoughts
And now, with great sorrow, we come to the last of 4e's Domains of Dread, with Kalidnay.

Weirdly, having launched in Dungeon #190, this article actually comes in between The Endless Road (Dungeon #174) and Timbergorge (Dungeon #207). It's anyone's guess why they didn't give it the Domains of Dread title... maybe the author thought that its Dark Sun origins were more relevant.

I am not a master of Ravenloft lore. I admit this. So I don't really know the first thing about Kalidnay beyond the basic fact it was Ravenloft's only canonical Dark Sun domain, revolving around a templar who murdered their family in order to try and expedite the draconic ascension of their city's Sorcerer-King. Also, apparently there was a lore hiccup and the genders of those two noteworthies are different depending on whether you look at the Ravenloft lore or the Dark Sun lore.


Doom in the Desert:
As far as I can tell, Kalidnay's backstory is true to its original lore. Once, it was a great power in the Tyr Region, but one day its entire population simply vanished into thin air, including its Sorcerer-King, Kalid-Ma.

Kalid-Ma had attempted to not only undergo the draconic apotheosis, but also to expedite the process with spells of his own design. Naturally, when they learned of this, the other Sorcerer-Kings plotted to attack during the ritual's height and slay Kalid-Ma in his weakened state. His must trusted follower, a Templar named Thakok-An, learned of this ploy - and rather than warn him, she sought to be a hero. Secretly studying Kalid-Ma's great spells, she performed her own ritual during one of Kalid-Ma's nocturnal ascension rites; butchering her entire family as part of a vainglorious effort to further accelerate Kalid-Ma's transformation.

Of course, it went terribly wrong; as Thakok-An concluded her ceremony, a great fissure sundered the ziggurat at the heart of Kalidnay, causing powerful defiling magic to wash through the city, killing most of its population instantly and making the earth quake.

Thakok-An was knocked unconscious in the tremors, and awoken to find herself in a strange, twisted version of Kalidnay. Where once the city had sat on a dry plain, it now rested on an island in the midst of a sea of silt, its shores blotted out by a thick haze of dust, the skies dark as night yet hot as day. She found Kalid-Ma, inert but alive, in the remains of the ziggurat, and that a handful of citizens were still alive. She ultimately established that they'd all been trapped in the Gray - the Athasian name for the Shadowfell. Worse still, weird forces bound her and the survivors to their city, preventing them from leaving the island.

They have stayed there ever since.


Kalidnay's Ruins:
The ruins of Kalidnay stand west of Balic, northeast of Walis and near Fort Melidor, a trading post belonging to House Shom. Fearsome stories about its fall - alongside the practicalities of the city's poisoned water sources and the myriad monsters stalking the ruins, both the undead remnants of those killed in the planar transposition and beasts wandered in from the desert - keep the vast majority of people away. It's possible - even probable - that treasure still lies unclaimed in the ruins, which are slowly being reclaimed by the desert. But treasure hunting is a dangerous gambit.

Not least of which because, every night, strange mist flows through the streets of Kalidnay's ruins, transporting anyone caught within them to the city's shadow in the Gray.


The Domain of Kalidnay:
The Shadowfell version of Kalidnay is detailed to an exhaustive extent, so much so that I hardly know where to begin! In the interests of brevity, I've tried to boil things down to the most core material, but I highly recommend reading the article to get the full scope.

The Domain of Kalidnay is effectively cut off from Athas; travel to it is virtually impossible, due to the limited knowledge of planar travel magic in Athas (and even less desire to go to the realm of devils and the restless dead), and escape is even worse. Roughly 2,000 people live here - mostly humans, with a smattering half-giants, elves and dwarves, and many of them are shadow-corrupted (use the Shade and Shadar-Kai races) - as the city was home to nearly 15,000 in its heyday, much of the city is abandoned and succumbing to decay. Such is the Shadowfell - sorry, the Gray's entropic influence that even in those areas where people live, things crumble faster than they can be restored, giving the entire city a decrepit look.

Leaving the island is not a real option; as a formerly landlocked city, Kalidnay isn't exactly brimming in silt-ships, and the silt is haunted by terrible monsters ranging from shadowy versions of silt horrors or other silt-dwelling Athasian beasts to the undead and devils, which seem to deliberately target would-be escapees.

Even compared to Athasian cities, life is harsh; only the relatively small satellite village of Artan-Ak has fertile soil, and the water, whilst relatively plentiful, is bitter to the taste. Kalidnay depends on a brutal tax of food from Artan-Ak, supplementing it as much as possible with the recovery of hidden supplies from the empty majority of the city and the hunting of beasts from the Gray.

Strangers are not welcome here. The Kalid-to, the military of Kalidnay, has been preserved at its original size despite the diminished population. Thakok-An uses it to brutally enforce order and protect the city, and standing orders are to seize all newcomers to the city.

The most prominent locations of note within the city are Kalid-Ma's Ziggurat and the Arena.

The central ziggurat is held in general wisdom as having been intended to be Kalid-Ma's tomb (in fact, it was the focus for his draconic ascension rituals). Fittingly, his comatose body now lies concealed in its center, hidden behind a labyrinthine and heavily damaged interior, traps, wards and strange creatures. Unbeknownst to the denizens of Kalidnay, alongside monsters that have simply chosen to nest in the mostly empty structure, many of these creatures are devils with whom Thakok-An has made unholy bargains to recruit them as warriors and guardians.

The arena is heavily decrepit, like everything else in Kalidnay, but is still used to hold periodic gladiatorial bouts. Officially, these are for the entertainment of the people... although they have attracted some criticism, since the city's sparse population diminishes with each grand melee; high-minded Kalidnayans refer to these profligate clashes as "decimations", suggesting that the games claim about ten percent of Kalidnay's population each time they are held. In truth, Thakok-An has a darker reason for holding the bouts, as we'll cover in our next session.


Thakok-An, Kalid-Ma, and the Orbs:
Thakok-An rules over Kalidnay in Kalid-Ma's stead, which is accepted as only natural since she was the leader of his templars before the city's destruction. She is obsessed with Kalid-Ma, imagining him as her greatest love, and this fact is well known. But... it doesn't quite tell the whole story.

Officially, Thakok-An is trying to revive her master, and the truth is she does experiment with the matter - as much as she can, given her relatively primitive grasp of arcane magic. But, she has developed a taste for power, and is aware that she can't be certain how Kalid-Ma will treat her should he be restored. So, she's managed to convince herself, even through her obsession, that it is best if Kalid-Ma sleeps forever.

The Queen of Kalidnay is desperate, and at least a little mad (not helped by the way that at least some of her murdered family has returned as undead creatures to torment and berate her for slaying them). Her position is incredibly tenuous; she maintains power entirely through the idea that she reverently serves Kalid-Ma and intends to restore him, and the surviving elders of the Kalidnayan templars are all eyeing her suspiciously. This is very dangerous to her, because her power depends almost entirely on her control over the templars and the Kalid-to. Though, in a obvious homage to her Ravenloft origins, she has the envelop the island's radius in a barrier of shimmering heat, forcing those who would flee to turn back or be burned to ashes - though this is an extremely taxing effort for her, so she only uses it when the situation is dire.

She desperately keeps control over both the ritual that allows her to ordain new templars and over Kalid-Ma's stockpile of arcane knowledge, to prevent it becoming known of her own involvement in the disaster - and to keep the secret of her diabolic alliances. The aforementioned gladiatorial bouts? Are actually used to feed Kalid-Ma with life energy to preserve his body - if she doesn't do so often enough, then Kalid-Ma will begin draining the life from the city itself, causing a wasting plague to sweep over its inhabitants.

As for Kalid-Ma himself? He's not dead. Not really. When the ritual went awry, Kalid-Ma's mind and soul were ripped from his body, transformed into a monstrous shadowy version of an Athasian Dragon. This insane creature rampaged across Athas, but was ultimately slain by an alliance between Kalak, Hamanu, and Borys. When this happened, Kalid-Ma's mind was splintered into five obsidian orbs, which had been used as part of the ritual. These five orbs have become powerful artifacts - but if all five are brought together, then Kalid-Ma will be restored in body and mind, once again assuming the form of the Athasian Shadow Dragon, ready to take his revenge on the Sorcerer-Kings and challenge the Dragon of Tyr for mastery of the world.

Stats are, of course, provided for the Orbs of Kalid-Ma. As they are for both Thakok-An and Kalid-Ma the Shadow Dragon.


Closing Thoughts
And that's Eye on Kalidnay. As I mentioned at the beginning, I can't speak for how faithful this article is to its original. But in its own rights? It's a very solid article, that exhaustively details the city it's talking about as much as it can in the 10 pages it's been given to do so. I'm honestly probably not doing it justice, since to do that, I'd basically have to write up my own version of the article.

And with that, we have reached the end of 4e's dabbling with the Demiplane of Dread. It's been a rollercoaster of a ride, and I'm grateful to you all for sticking with me. We had a bumpy start, but things really picked up steam along the way, now didn't they? I know many people will disagree, but I loved this series, as it stayed true to my general impression of 4e taking things I liked from older D&D editions and making them better. I enjoyed looking through these and sharing them with you all, and I hope that you enjoyed it too.

This Let's Read has reached its end... but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to say goodbye. There were a fair few articles in Dragon (and to a lesser extent Dungeon) that fleshed out the world and peoples of the Nentir Vale world. Would anyone be interested in a Let's Read exploring the Legends of Nerath, Guilds & Groups, and the assorted once-offs that built up a picture of the World of the Nentir Vale? Because I am intending to start that soon... I just need an idea for a title.
 
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Zeea

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I kinda missed this thread first time around and am catching up, but I just want to thank you for writing it. It's honestly more enjoyable than actually reading through all this stuff directly. I've only read up through the first domain, but I'll give my thoughts on that. Not fond of rape as a plot device and I think they could have been more vague, but overall it sounds cool. The living and dead meeting up is really interesting and worth stealing. And I found that it was hard to stick to the gothic horror formula that Ravenloft originally suggested, enough that most adventures failed it, and some of the most interesting stuff was always the less gothic and more weird horror. So, dark fantasy is fine for me. And yes, I agree that this domain isn't really worse than Falkovnia, and the darklords are more gothic than "Meredoth the 20th-level necromancer, who is scary because he's 20th-level."
 

VoidDrifter

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Thank you for the comments, Zeea! I look forward to seeing further commentary from you on the other five domains as well.
 

VoidDrifter

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So, I'm technically necroing this, but what did folks think of the Eye on Kalidnay? How well does it match up to its AD&D lore?
 

Kakita Kojiro

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So, I'm technically necroing this
Seems appropriate. I like that they equate the Gray = Shadowfell. Previously the Gray seemed like a featureless void for Athas, resulting in the perennial D&D planar problem of not knowing what to do with it because there was nothing there; it was basically someplace to pass through so you know you're someplace else. Making it the Shadowfell at least gives an idea of what can be found there.

But... Kalidnay just seems so detached and abstract. Athas already has a theme of being cut off from everything, so doubling down for Kalidnay being so isolated takes it too far. At least in Ravenloft it was theoretically connected to other Realms, but here it seems there's no place else to go, and it doesn't make sense with how Kalidnay is portrayed. There's one fertile village feeding everything, they have a tiny population yet still hold gladiatorial fights, supports a full-size military somehow, and lacks any apparent means to support any of this. With 2000 people it doesn't make any sense to support multiple Templars, let alone a military.

Some indication that Kalidnay interacted with other places in the Gray/Shadowfell would have made more sense. And maybe some details on how to escape the Domain or how to resolve Thakok-An's curse. It's like it's unfinished.
 

RobertEdwards

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Are any of the other domains as life-challenged? I would think a piece of Tyr brought to Ravenloft would interact like antimatter or at least poison to the surrounding domains. The fogs on the borders would be right out.
 
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