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[Let's Read] The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond (4e)

junglefowl26

Registered User
Validated User
Cool. I love your hamminess. Really spices things up.

I also wonder about the metaphysics of the place, especially if you see the souls of those who die here get out of their bodies.

Also where all the skulls for the skull tree came from. Do bones in the real world just disappear and reappear in the Shadowfell?
 

Dungeoneer

Vitruvian manticore
Validated User
Note: I am pushing forward so we can get to the good stuff quickly. Hopefully the pace isn't too rapid! I imagine we'll settle into a more regular rhythm as we move forward. Alright, where were we?

The sinister black squiggles writhe across the page, forming themselves into words your mind can comprehend. They read: *Powers in the Shadowfell*.

"Some people believe that the Shadowfell is as much a living place as the world or the Feywild, despite its sinister reputation and its association with death. The plane seems to have a mind of its own, dispensing grim and ironic circumstances that strike hero and villain alike.

Sages suggest that the subtle forces binding together the Shadowfell are vestiges of long-forgotten gods of good. The Shadowfell serves as a place for evil creatures to muster and also as a prison for some of the worst evils in the cosmos. The fact that the dark lords remain tightly contained in their domains of dread seems to support this claim. If the Shadowfell did not exist, souls would have nowhere to go and many more foul creatures would be free to wander the plains."
I like the idea that the Shadowfell is in fact the Plane of Irony. The suggestion that it is in fact a living place with a mind of its own is also intriguing, and will have implications much later on, as we will see.

Let’s talk about *Gods and Demons*.

I really hope you like the Raven Queen, because she is kind of a big deal around here.



The Raven Queen makes her home in the Shadowfell and you can’t toss a weird bird mask without hitting one of her worshippers. The city of Gloomwrought is the site of her main temple. She’s not the only game in town, though.

There are four other major factions vying for the grim affections of the inhabitants of the Shadowfell: the worshippers of Vecna and Zehir, the cult of Orcus, and the surprisingly persistent devotees of Nerull, the previous god of death. Of these cults, Orcus’s is described as “the least tolerated”. In the default fiction, a state of open war essentially exists between Orcus and the Raven Queen. The book states that ‘vast swaths’ of the Shadowfell, including cities and settlements, are under his sway.

Regardless, no love is lost between the Raven Queen and any of the other players, either, and the reader is encouraged to play up the threat of their choosing as a backdrop to any campaign set in the Shadowfell.

When 4e first came out it was widely criticized for a perception that it favored a simplistic, good-versus-evil approach to roleplaying with its emphasis on heroes doing heroic things. I think that this was always unfair, even in the beginning, but by the time Shadowfell came out it was especially laughable.

The assumption here is that players traveling in the Shadowfell will likely be making common cause with the Raven Queen and her followers against threats like Orcus and Vecna. But the Raven Queen, even if she isn’t precisely evil, is still the Goddess of Death, Winter, and Fate. Her main preoccupation is making sure that people die when they are supposed to and that they stay dead. Her domain isn’t exactly a nice place to visit. You get the impression she’s not a lot of fun at parties. Yet in the Plane of Shadow, she’s what passes for ‘the good guys’.

I just love the moral ambiguity inherent in the setting.


I just found this art, it's not in the book.

Anyway, enough gods, let’s talk about the *Shadar-Kai*.

As detailed here, the Shadar-Kai were originally a tribe of humans who were afraid of death. The Raven Queen decided that what they needed, I guess, was a bit of immersion therapy, so she brought them to live in the Shadowfell. They learned to embrace the inevitability of death, they began worshipping the RQ, and the best ones got picked to become Sorrowsworn, the Raven Queen’s personal servants.

There was one small problem, though. The malaise of the plane began to infect the Shadar-Kai and many of them began to fade out of existence. The book says that the Shadar-Kai

"sought to stimulate their bodies and minds, committing themselves to passion and excess to stave off the overbearing malaise."

"Over time, the Shadar-Kai became a people of extreme emotions and incredible appetites. Some revel in pleasure and pain. They torture themselves, pierce skin and bone with cruel objects, abrade their flesh with jagged barbs, and cover themselves in scars and tattoos."
Nothing is written here about whether they also attend wicked raves, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

The point is that the Shadar-Kai’s propensity for looking like they’ve just escaped from Madame Paine’s S&M Donjon is not simply due to a warped sense of style, but is actually a defensive mechanism intended to preserve their corporeal existence.


Also not in the book.

The Shadar-Kai aren’t the only beings dealing with the nefarious influences of this plane. The next section talks about the *Shadowborn*.

The Shadowborn are not actually a race. Any creature born in the Shadowfell is considered Shadowborn. Typically a Shadowborn creature will look like its counterparts from the material plane, but it may be paler or have hollow eyes. Shadowborn often suffer from melancholy, anxiety, and paranoia, and can eventually degenerate into insanity. Basically, they’re a real barrel of laughs!

The *Undead*.

Unsurprisingly, there are freaking oodles of undead in the Shadowfell. There’s nothing particularly special about them, however.

The *Vistani*.

Vistani clans roam freely across the uninhabited gulfs of the Shadowfell and even the barriers between worlds. Why? you may ask. Apparently, they just like it there. From the text: "They favor the dark, unforgiving world of the Shadowfell because of the moral ambiguity of its inhabitants and because it makes their own celebrations feel brighter and more lively." Okay, then.

Well, these are the people in your neighborhood. They’re the people that you meet when ghouls are prowling your street. They're the people that you meet each day!

The *Shadowfell Adventures* section offers DMs some hooks for why PCs might want to come to this awful plane in the first place. Maybe they are retrieving an NPC, breaking a curse, destroying a cult, or just visiting grandma. There isn’t much in the way of new information here so I’m glossing over it.

The next section will explain the rules for the *Despair Deck*. I've decided an examination of the deck and the rules governing it deserves its own dedicated post, so we will do that next. Stay tuned!
 
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Dungeoneer

Vitruvian manticore
Validated User
Cool. I love your hamminess. Really spices things up.
I'm glad you appreciate it! 'Cause I'm enjoying doing it. Heh

I also wonder about the metaphysics of the place, especially if you see the souls of those who die here get out of their bodies.
Personally, I would houserule this in. It just makes sense to me. Of course, then you have to determine how much the PCs can physically interact with souls...

Also where all the skulls for the skull tree came from. Do bones in the real world just disappear and reappear in the Shadowfell?
I don't think that is stated anywhere. My guess is that it is just the Shadowfell being freaky for the sake of it, which as we will see is not at all out of character for the place.
 

Armchair Gamer

New member
I own and have read this boxed set, but not closely enough for the quoted passage on Powers of the Shadowfell to register with me. It should have, because the quoted bit is a very close paraphrase of some passages from the section on the Dark Powers from Domains of Dread (the 2nd Edition Ravenloft core book). The Land of Mists has been described as alive and responsive since the Black Box. All this, combined with the misty crossings and Domains of Dread, reinforces that the Shadowfell is essentially Ravenloft for 4E (and 5E).

Personally, I love classic Ravenloft beyond reason, but these days, my preference would be to use Savage Worlds for it. For 4E or 13th Age, the Shadowfell makes a better alternative.
 

junglefowl26

Registered User
Validated User
Vistani? That is unexpected. I mean, I saw them get a 4e write up in a magazine (I liked that they were a multi-species group rather than only being one human ethnicity) but the magazine at that time covered many settings.

I guess the Shadowfell really is supposed to fill a Ravenloft like role, similar to how the Astral Sea is sort of a pseudo-Spelljammer setting.

About the shadar-kai. Everyone describes them as emo, but I see them more as punks. This image probably helped with that:
 
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Dungeoneer

Vitruvian manticore
Validated User
Vistani? That is unexpected. I mean, I saw them get a 4e write up in a magazine (I liked that they were a multi-species group rather than only being one human ethnicity) but the magazine at that time covered many settings.

I guess the Shadowfell really is supposed to fill a Ravenloft like role, similar to how the Astral Sea is sort of a pseudo-Spelljammer setting.
At any rate, it certainly did beat Ravenloft up and steal its stuff! :p

About the shadar-kai. Everyone describes them as emo, but I see them more as punks. This image probably helped with that:
Wow, I hadn't seen that before. That is certainly an unusual take on the Shadar-kai. Every other image I've seen of them shows them with pale complexions and usually dressed in some sort of black leather armor festooned with spikes. Do a Google Image Search and see what I mean.
 
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Dungeoneer

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Validated User
Behold, Children, the Despair Deck! Gaze upon it and, uh... DESPAIR!!!!



"The Despair Deck represents the unnatural behaviors and neuroses that can come over those who visit the Shadowfell. People from beyond the plane who travel through its dusky landscape finds that cheer turns to gloom, friendship becomes enmity, and reason transforms into madness."
As a DM, it's not every day that you get to inflict an emotional state on your players, but the Despair Deck allows you to do exactly that. It's a deck of thirty cards that comes in the boxed set. Each card represents some sort of mental derangement brought along about by prolonged exposure to the malign influence of the Shadowfell. This mental gloom comes in several flavors: Apathy, Fear, Madness and Lemon-Lime. The conditions inflicted by these cards aren't outright crippling - they are more like handicaps, challenges to be overcome.

APATHY


FEAR


MADNESS


"A character usually becomes beset with despair when he or she takes an extended rest after having encounters in the Shadowfell."
The book notes that DMs can also hand out despair cards when some particularly unsettling event has occurred, but warns that having too many cards to keep track of at once can be distracting.

Fortunately, the cards can be disposed of. Whenever a character reaches a milestone (two encounters, in case you skipped Fourth Edition 101) a player can roll a save to see if they can overcome the effect. Most of the despair cards offer a 'key skill'. If a PC is trained in that skill, they can take a +2 on their save roll.

On a successful save, the player can flip the despair card upside down and take advantage of the boon written there. This effect lasts until the next extended rest. During an extended rest, all despair cards are discarded.

A sidebar here notes a handful of optional rules. One is that the system assumes that a group will be spending several adventuring days in the Shadowfell. For short jaunts into the Plane of Shadow, players can instead draw cards after the first encounter. A second rule suggests that players keep their cards secret from each other and convey their effects through roleplaying. I like this rule very much.

The last optional rule states that DMs might choose to use the Despair Deck outside the Shadowfell. Yeah, you think??

In my mind, the question is not "When is it appropriate for the DM to use the Despair Deck?" The question is, "When is it NOT appropriate??" :cool:



I had completely forgotten, until I was going through my deck to snap the above pics, that the Despair Deck includes three 'wild' cards. They are pictured below.



That's it for the Despair Deck, my pretties. But WE are just getting warmed up! Next time, we pass the gates of that dark jewel of the Shadowfell: GLOOMWROUGHT, THE CITY OF MIDNIGHT!!!!

*shredding guitars*
 
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junglefowl26

Registered User
Validated User
At any rate, it certainly did beat Ravenloft up and steal its stuff! :p
:D

Wow, I hadn't seen that before. That is certainly an unusual take on the Shadar-kai. Every other image I've seen of them shows them with pale complexions and usually dressed in some sort of black leather armor festooned with spikes. Do a Google Image Search and see what I mean.
I do understand. I remember being surprised that this guy was a shadar-kai at first. Still, it is a take I kind of like, especially since fluff wize they are all about extreme sensations to keep from fading.


Dungeoneer said:
As a DM, it's not every day that you get to inflict an emotional state on your players, but the Despair Deck allows you to do exactly that.
Interesting. The 4e Underdark book mentioned a lot of similar kinds of mental conditions that the region could inflict on those trapped in its gloom, but didn't really have any mechanics for it.
 
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