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


Vitruvian manticore
Validated User
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.
Here's another pic of an SK with a bit of a more 'punk' look.

One possibility is that the pale SKs are Shadowborn SK's, eg those born in the Shadowfell. The 'punk' guys might be from a splinter group born on the material plane. Although, it's not clear how the SK's are different from humans, other than being INCREDIBLY angst-ridden and born in the Shadowfell. So an SK from our world might just be a human with a weird haircut. :D


Vitruvian manticore
Validated User
I have to confess, I love a good urban locale for my D&D games: the murkier and grittier, the better. And they don’t get much murkier and grittier than Gloomwrought, a decaying, decadent port-side city set amidst the swamps of the Shadowfell.

So it goes without saying that I’m very excited as we turn to *Chapter the Second: The City of Midnight!*

This piece by Ben Wootten opens the chapter. It looks like we have a paladin, possibly dedicated to Pelor, running like a bat outta hell. At first glance one is likely to think he’s being chased by those gargoyles but as we shall see in a moment it is just as likely that he is attempting to escape collapsing architecture, a surprisingly common hazard in this city.

You have to wonder what a paladin of the Sun God is doing in the major city of the Plane of Shadow. Poor life decisions, is my guess.


"If the Shadowfell is an echo of the world seen through a mirror darkly, then Gloomwrought is the reflection of a worldly city seen through the same mirror. But that mirror has been smashed into pieces, then rearranged according to the whims of a lunatic. The city scoffs at natural laws. Down every alley, a new and terrible secret waits to destroy the unsuspecting."

The first section of this chapter is *Gloomwrought at a Glance*. We learn that Gloomwrought is

"a dirty port with a huge swamp on one side and a sea on the other. Inside its high, encircling wall, the city is a cramped and dismal place. It is a maze of twisting lanes, narrow alleys, and chaotically placed buildings. Everywhere, statues with sinister faces leer out over the streets."
The citizenry are what you would expect, for the most part, pale and strange. What you might not expect are the Keepers, "a bizarre race of caretakers found throughout the city." We are told that although the Keepers are inscrutable and their actions obscure, they are generally credited with somehow maintaining the city.

And the city of Gloomwrought does require maintenance.

It seems like every slightly exotic locale in 4e is described as being malleable and changing: the Underdark, the Shadowfell, the Primal Chaos, yada yada. But this is quite literally true of Gloomwrought, as the city apparently has the ability to rearrange its own architecture on a whim. Sometimes this means a gate sliding along a wall or a statue moving from over here to over there. More alarmingly, it sometimes means an entire structure collapsing in on itself, or a row of stone houses unfurling from a cobblestone street.


"...the locals believe that a strong-minded inhabitant or group of inhabitants protects a given building from collapse. This belief holds some truth, but it’s hard to reckon who or what constitutes this kind of person… Occupants who assume their building is safe are often proven wrong, with sometimes fatal results."
The general idea is that the city's architecture is not the work of a bunch of guys with hammers and shovels. No, buildings spring up or crumble into dust apparently of their own accord - or maybe guided by the mysterious Keepers? At any rate, the gods help you if the city suddenly decides that the tower you are occupying is surplus to requirements.

Of course, this being the Shadowfell, everything is danger-danger-danger. One more quote for extra flavor:

"If it is possible for a city to have the character of a skulking predator, then Gloomwrought is such a city."
Let us learn now the *Five Facts Your Players Need To Know About Gloomwrought*!
  1. Lord of Lords: Prince Rolan the Deathless is the most powerful lord of a cluster of noble houses and powerful factions that influence day-to-day activities in the city. Backstabbing and intrigue are par for the course.
  2. Keepers Keeping: A group of mysterious creatures called Keepers tends to the city. What do they want? Whom do they serve? No one knows, but PCs are advised to steer clear.
  3. Changeable Cityscape: "The city is like a living entity." Most of the locals attribute these frequent, er, 'architectural updates' to the influence of the Keepers, although no one can really explain how or why they occur.
  4. Coin Is King: If you imagined that the Gloomwrought black market was pretty bangin’, well, it is.
  5. Death’s Sway: "Have you heard the good news about the Raven Queen?" For starters, she has a freaking enormous temple in the city called Raven’s Eyrie. Her worship dominates in the city, and a militant group of her followers called the Ebony Guard work to keep it that way.

The next section describes Gloomwrought’s *Grim Citizens*.

Unsurprisingly, they aren’t a barrel of laughs. Most of them are Shadowborn, predominantly Shadar-Kai. There are also revenants. All living citizens suffer from the Shadowfell’s gloom. You can tell a newcomer by their air of vitality, whereas long termers seem "somehow faded, washed out like a weathered cloak… Most who live in the city behave as if they can barely go on."

Don’t be fooled though, these folks are still alive - and hungry! Poor and desperate inhabitants who are short the rent this month frequently turn to crime, and there are roving, murderous gangs in all districts. Hiring personal protection from groups such as the Crimson Sashes is the norm.

*Changeable Districts*

As the city of Gloomwrought has grown (literally!) it has expanded and broken up into several districts. The Dust Quarter is all ostentatious mansions with ornate columns, statues, and balconies. Houses of worship, cloisters, and mausoleums make up the Temple District.

"Locals usually can’t recall whether they found a district that suited them or whether the city reshaped itself to include them. The city remains mutable and unpredictable. The only real constant in Gloomwrought is the people living there."
*Trade Ties*

Since it is relatively easy to get to the Shadowfell and since Gloomwrought’s markets are legendary for their exotic merchandise, the city is a pretty major trade hub. Gloomwrought doesn’t have much in the way of - what are they called? - 'laws' so there aren’t many items that you can’t buy or sell right out in the open. Power brokers from every plane come to trade. Occasionally things get rowdy. Should things get really out of hand, the Deathless Watch, the local corrupt cops, will show up.

*Faction Struggles*

Gloomwrought is a maze of factions competing for power and influence and it is easy for newcomers to get caught up in these extremely dangerous games. Visitors might find themselves enjoying the favors of powerful new allies, but that always means that they have also made enemies. Accepting the wrong gift or invitation can sometimes be fatal.

A sidebar here called "The Sever" details one of the oldest and most famous faction throwdowns in Gloomwrought’s history. A group of noble houses rose up against Prince Roland’s rule and attempted to overthrow him, but one of the houses switched sides and betrayed them. When he learned of the insurrection, the Prince took action: a “cataclysmic upheaval” caused the southern section of the city to sink into the bay. Today the parts of those districts that remain above water are known as the Shattered Isles.

Citizens call this event The Sever. No one knows how the cataclysm was accomplished except for Roland, and he has so far refused to spill the beans.

*Gloomwrought’s Districts*

There are six major districts:
  • The Dust Quarter: Home to Prince Roland and the wealthiest noble houses. The buildings are extravagant, but the place feels like a tomb.
  • Drowned Quarter: This is the waterfront. Watch your back.
  • Plaza District: The center of trade. Watch your back.
  • Temple District: Raven’s Eyrie dominates, but there are other temples here as well, all guarded by militant worshippers. Watch your back.
  • Fettered Ward: This is more or less Gloomwrought’s red light district. You should probably watch your back.
  • Shattered Isles: Also known as the Ghost Quarter, these are in many ways the slums of the city. You should, well, you get the idea.

What, you want me to draw you a map? Okay!

*People of the City*

Gloomwrought is not an empty city - it is teeming with people. Most of them, of course, are infected with the gloom. They’re pale, drained, dreary shadows of themselves. And that’s just what they LOOK like! They are also moody, paranoid, and mistrustful of outsiders. This section notes that for some Shadowfell inhabitants, instead of instilling a weary sense of depression, the plane magnifies negative personality traits. Gravy!

Of course, like the Shadar-Kai, most long-term inhabitants are thrill-seekers, pleasure fiends, and adrenaline junkies as they fight off the encroaching soul-numbing effects of the Shadowfell.

But the best part is, that most of the citizens of the city are just so jaded that, should a scorned beggar decide to shank you to death on the street, they won’t even bat an eye. They’ll just keep on walking.

You might at this point decide that in a place like this it would be a good idea to have some allies. In our next installment, we’ll talk about Who’s Who In Gloomwrought, what the various factions are up to, and which ones are secretly worshiping Vecna. PLUS - find out who’s secretly a black dragon in disguise!!! Stay tuned!
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Trust a flumph.
Validated User
So, what's stopping anyone from building a nice, mundane, non-living city a couple of miles along the coast?

(and wow, are they ever laying it on thick here. I think part of the problem is that they keep having to remind you that there's some magic sadness-field here and everything wants to kill you; because, judging from the art alone, the shadowfell is so pretty, all stone buildings, interesting plants, bright moonlit nights and colourful glowing things)


New member
Validated User
Another setting i missed out during my time in Pathfinder. Wow, this looks amazing, and i'm enjoying this thread very much. Thanks for doing this Dungeoneer.


Vitruvian manticore
Validated User
So, what's stopping anyone from building a nice, mundane, non-living city a couple of miles along the coast?
The book implies that there ARE other cities in the Shadowfell, although we are never given any details about them. My guess would be that they are not as, ahem, hospitable as Gloomwrought. Perhaps they are strongholds of Orcus worship or somesuch. But 4e is all about 'points of light' and since we are getting details on this city, presumably it is the local point of light, or the closest thing to it.

Anyway, as far as building a new city goes, I think the inhabitants of Gloomwrought are too economically and psychologically invested in the city to attempt such an endeavor. There's also no guarantee the builders wouldn't fall foul of the terrors of the Shadowfell, or maybe just the plane's twisted sense of irony.

Or maybe it is perfectly feasible! Who knows? Could be a fun quest for the party!


Vitruvian manticore
Validated User
Another setting i missed out during my time in Pathfinder. Wow, this looks amazing, and i'm enjoying this thread very much. Thanks for doing this Dungeoneer.
Thanks! And there's no reason why this wouldn't port perfectly well to any other D20 setting.

Scrivener of Doom

New member
The book implies that there ARE other cities in the Shadowfell, although we are never given any details about them. (snip)
There was a really interesting city for the Plane of Shadow in one of the 3.xE-era Dragon magazines. IIRC, it was called Balefire. I'll try and dig out that issue later and post some tidbits.


Registered User
Validated User
Ohhhh i missed this thread.

I didn't see Open Grave mentioned. It gives a very good background to undead/death in 4e. It talkes about animus, spirit etc, and the difference between intelligent and unintelligent undead.

I think it could be an excellent companion to this setting boxed set.
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