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

junglefowl26

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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
Interesting idea. Seems farily plausible - if they came to the Shadowfell, surely they could come back, and it would be the easier way to avoid that whole fading to the gloom thing. I like the concept of those from the material world to look more human in skin tone as well.

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.
:D

Course, a paladin in a land of sunshine and rainbows is kind of wasting his time, isn't he?

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.
Obviously the city is controlled by a SimCity player.

Course....while a little danger can spice things up, this does raise questions about how anyone lives here at all, much less why.

Poor and desperate inhabitants who are short the rent this month frequently turn to crime
Charging rent for buildings that spring up on their own? The cheek of it.

Dzhay said:
(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)
It is a place that does have its own eerie beauty.
 

Vagabundo

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Course, a paladin in a land of sunshine and rainbows is kind of wasting his time, isn't he?
The ultimate challenge; bring light to the darkness. The guy is either an idiot or tipping to the brim with hubris. Either would make a good NPC for PC to connect with, and he would be a reasonably safe guide to Gloomys streets.

Although I'd say those militant Raven Queeners might have a word or two if he started to proselytise about the place.

Course....while a little danger can spice things up, this does raise questions about how anyone lives here at all, much less why.
.
Its certainly a problem. Why aren't the "normal" inhabitants moving on mass to the material plane. Maybe it is easier to get into the Shadowfell that it is to find you way out. And once there, being in Gloomwrought is much better than being outside.

I'd guess then that exile might be a feared punishment for breaking whatever laws there are there. Although I cant imagine they would pass up a chance to horrible murder someone if it came to it. I wonder if there is even a criminal justice system here.
 
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Ferrus Animus

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One aspect I played up when I ran a few sessions in the Shadowfell was the dark mirroring. This is not official material but I found it work pretty well.
Every building in the normal Shadowfell (excluding domains of dread and such) is there because of a building in the material world is there. But the mirror isn't 1.1. it is distorted and dark and often empathizes those aspects of the original, being looming foreboding and promising a sinister purpose. Also the mirror is more often then not metaphorical. A building left without inhabitants in the material world will decay and collapse, and if new people move in it might reshape itself to the new inhabitants hopes. Of course that is deeply unpleasant to its shadowfell inhabitants. Also the mirror isn't exact in time and space so it's not really something one could reliably anticipate or control even if understood.
Also powerful beings or causes can buckle this trend which is why for example the temples stay as they are and why a strong-minded inhabitant may keep a building stable even against its nature as they give it a direct purpose it tries to maintain. At times this leads to the shadowfell being mirrored on the material plane to a degree with settlements and holy places springing up or individual buildings getting a very unfitting purpose.

It gave all shadowfell environments which the players knew the material version of a nice feeling of deja vu while being still outlandish.
 

Darren Richardson

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One aspect I played up when I ran a few sessions in the Shadowfell was the dark mirroring. This is not official material but I found it work pretty well.
Every building in the normal Shadowfell (excluding domains of dread and such) is there because of a building in the material world is there. But the mirror isn't 1.1. it is distorted and dark and often empathizes those aspects of the original, being looming foreboding and promising a sinister purpose. Also the mirror is more often then not metaphorical. A building left without inhabitants in the material world will decay and collapse, and if new people move in it might reshape itself to the new inhabitants hopes. Of course that is deeply unpleasant to its shadowfell inhabitants. Also the mirror isn't exact in time and space so it's not really something one could reliably anticipate or control even if understood.
Also powerful beings or causes can buckle this trend which is why for example the temples stay as they are and why a strong-minded inhabitant may keep a building stable even against its nature as they give it a direct purpose it tries to maintain. At times this leads to the shadowfell being mirrored on the material plane to a degree with settlements and holy places springing up or individual buildings getting a very unfitting purpose.

It gave all shadowfell environments which the players knew the material version of a nice feeling of deja vu while being still outlandish.
oh that is a very creepy and unsettling idea......
 

Dungeoneer

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Course....while a little danger can spice things up, this does raise questions about how anyone lives here at all, much less why.
ts certainly a problem. Why aren't the "normal" inhabitants moving on mass to the material plane. Maybe it is easier to get into the Shadowfell that it is to find you way out. And once there, being in Gloomwrought is much better than being outside.

I'd guess then that exile might be a feared punishment for breaking whatever laws there are there. Although I cant imagine they would pass up a chance to horrible murder someone if it came to it. I wonder if there is even a criminal justice system here.
The book hasn't really addressed this outright so far and I can't remember if it does later, but I would guess that the answer to "why stick around?" is indeed the "Hotel California Effect": that it is much easier to get into the Shadowfell then to get out. I think that this is at least strongly implied at some point.

That said, I'd probably go one step further in any campaign and have Gloomwrought be the source for some economically valuable resource or make it more strategically important. I think the nature of this would really depend on the campaign you were running, but a few ideas spring to mind:

  • There's a new, potent, and highly addictive drug corrupting the cities of the material plane which gives visions of the future. It turns out the source is Gloomwrought.
  • Gloomwrought is sitting on top of an important portal to somewhere, or perhaps even a nexus of portals.
  • An extraordinarily rare and delicate fruit, craved and desired by the wealthy, is grown only in the orchards of the noble houses of Gloomwrought.
  • Hey, it's the Plane of Shadow, right? Maybe Gloomwrought is a useful place to get tame zombies to fight in your army.
  • Or maybe all those souls on their way to the RQ pass through its gates. People who dip into that river of souls have the most marvelous dreams...
  • Of course the RQ's chief temple is here. Perhaps it is sitting on some sort of power source that is critical to the RQ.

Oh, on the subject of criminal courts, theoretically Gloomwrought has the Deathless Watch. If your murdering is noisy and disruptive enough to be absolutely un-ignorable they are likely to take you in, ignore due process, and string you up at their leisure (I imagine). A more pressing problem for a would-be murderer is that you might murder the WRONG person, in which case the Watch will be the least of your worries, as whatever factions you have offended ruthlessly hunt you down.
 
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Dungeoneer

Vitruvian manticore
Validated User
One aspect I played up when I ran a few sessions in the Shadowfell was the dark mirroring. This is not official material but I found it work pretty well.
Every building in the normal Shadowfell (excluding domains of dread and such) is there because of a building in the material world is there. But the mirror isn't 1.1. it is distorted and dark and often empathizes those aspects of the original, being looming foreboding and promising a sinister purpose. Also the mirror is more often then not metaphorical. A building left without inhabitants in the material world will decay and collapse, and if new people move in it might reshape itself to the new inhabitants hopes. Of course that is deeply unpleasant to its shadowfell inhabitants. Also the mirror isn't exact in time and space so it's not really something one could reliably anticipate or control even if understood.
Also powerful beings or causes can buckle this trend which is why for example the temples stay as they are and why a strong-minded inhabitant may keep a building stable even against its nature as they give it a direct purpose it tries to maintain. At times this leads to the shadowfell being mirrored on the material plane to a degree with settlements and holy places springing up or individual buildings getting a very unfitting purpose.

It gave all shadowfell environments which the players knew the material version of a nice feeling of deja vu while being still outlandish.
That's a pretty awesome take!

Incidentally, the book DOES give its own answer to the question of why some buildings change and others do not, much later. I don't want to spoil it. :D
 
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Ferrus Animus

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That's a pretty awesome take!

Incidentally, the book DOES give its own answer to the question of why some buildings change and others do not, much later. I don't want to spoil it. :D
Thanks. It does predate the book though, so at the time I came up with it there were a bit less details about the Shadowfell.
Also I am kind of a fan of these things not becoming less dangerous if you understand how they work, just maybe a bit more controllable. Especially if players look for a way to exploit it these these tend to work well for the story.
 
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Dungeoneer

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Let us continue our survey of this dread city, O Quaking Guest! Beneath its darks spires and the crumbling maws of its gargoyles ‘tis said that Gloomwrought is a seething brood of poisonous vipers, plotting in the darkness. So let’s grab ‘em by the tail and have a look at their fangs, shall we?



*Crimson Sashes*
The Crimson Sashes started of as a group of five adventurers lead by an enterprising tiefling named Balaren. After gaining notoriety by defending Gloomwrought from an invasion (Balaren landed the killing blow on their giant champion, Bonesplitter) they decided to rebrand themselves as an elite mercenary force. They recruited more soldiers and started hiring themselves out as bodyguards and soldiers to whoever could afford their services. The Crimson Sashes are the best of the best, and few nobles can afford to have more than one or two on their payroll. Except Prince Roland the Deathless, that is, who keeps all five original members on retainer.

Sometimes, to ‘encourage’ newcomers to the city to partake of their services, Balaren and the Sashes may or may not stage fights for their benefit. Members of this organization wear crimson sashes, thus the name.



*The Hooded Lantern*
Okay, so remember how I was talking smack about that idiotic Paladin of Pelor who had apparently wandered into the City of Midnight? Well, the joke is on me. I had forgotten all about those do-gooders from the Hooded Lantern. Those of you who had thought it was actually a great plot hook, you were right! The Hooded Lantern is indeed a very single-minded sect who seek to bring Pelor’s light even into the Shadowfell. Their stated goal is that Pelor should be worshipped in Gloomwrought to as great a degree as the Raven Queen. They claim that the fact that the sun shines even in the Shadowfell (pale and wan as it is) is a sign that Pelor is everywhere.

Hooded Lantern members hang iron lanterns above the doors to their homes and will open their doors to any who are willing to listen to Pelor’s message (which is, I’m guessing, get more Vitamin D?). The cult’s unusual kindness makes it attractive to the city’s poor and desperate.

The cult does, of course, have enemies. Gloomwrought’s, er, non-living citizens, tend to be less than enthusiastic about Pelor and his groupies. The Ebony Guard wants to drive the worshippers of all other gods besides the Raven Queen from Gloomwrought, and that even includes the Hooded Lantern. Vecna Worshippers and the House of the Eye work secretly against the Lantern as well.

While outwardly they seem like a pretty open group, the Hooded Lantern keep one of their beliefs secret from all but their most devoted members. They believe that the Raven Queen and Pelor are two halves of a pair, light and dark, and they seek ”to bind the two gods in an eternal union of life and death.”

I don’t know how that would work, but it’s hard to imagine that Pelor, the RQ, or any of their normal followers would dig it.



*House Harskel*
Of course any good port city needs a ruthless trading house, and Gloomwrought’s is House Harskel. An upstart house, it has risen to power only in the last few generations and is widely resented by the older, more established houses, who refuse to trade with it. The book notes that part of House Harskel’s ‘secret sauce’ is that it adopts new members from among non-humans to swell its ranks. The original family is human, however. House Harskel rules from Harskel Acropolis and is currently lead by Dedrek Harskel. It has a secret relationship with House Treyvan and they work together to undermine the other houses. The book notes that public revelation of this relationship would be bad for both Harskel and Treyvan.

House Harskel is so powerful that it is widely considered by Gloomwrought’s teeming masses to be a rival to Prince Roland’s rule, but in fact the two are allies and frequently work and fight together. The younger members of the house even enroll in the Prince’s Guard as a sign of their fealty to him.

House Harskel is most visible in the city in places like Harskel’s Emporium, but they are everywhere because they also work through many intermediaries. It is quite possible to be working for House Harskel and not know it, and many do.

”From the brightest public plazas to the darkest black-market stalls, House Harskel has its fingers on every thread of the city’s economy.”
*House of the Eye*
Embedded within the upper echelons of Gloomwrought society are a group of powerful nobles and merchants secretly in thrall to Vecna. This shadowy cabal manipulates the other factions, pulling strings to increase Vecna’s sway over the City of Midnight.

”These cultists are unafraid of bloodying their hands to increase their influence. When they face someone who refuses to bend to their will, they hire assassins or use foul magic to deal with the problem. Such attacks are public and showy, a dissident’s torturous death serving as a warning to any who dare to oppose Vecna or think to escape the deity’s reach.”
The cultists identify each other through intricately carved onyx rings with inscriptions on the inside, worn on their thumbs. They can also communicate using an obscure and ancient form of sign language. They only gather together occasionally, and always in different (and very secret) locations. Their leader never comes to these meetings in person - an agent of the Veiled League delivers his or her edicts. No one knows who the leader actually is, including, probably, the Veiled League.



*Veiled League*
The Veiled League are information brokers with a side-line in running the city’s houses of ill-repute (including the House of Sterling, which we will learn more about in our exploration of the neighborhoods). If a drunken merchant in a brothel’s tongue starts wagging about some important trade secret, you can be sure that the League will not only hear about it, but take care to sell it to the highest bidder.

The existence of the Veiled League is not a secret. Members of the League frequently act as useful go-betweens for people throughout the city.

”For a fee, they deliver information, packages, and correspondence, taken from the Roost of the Monger (page 44) to anywhere in the city. They also act as intermediaries, performing services such as passing terms between warring factions, conducting hostage transfers, and holding money or goods in escrow for high-value exchanges. Gloomwrought’s most paranoid patrons can remain safely hidden away by hiring Veiled League representatives to deliver their orders to hirelings. In this capacity, league members might interact with adventurers on behalf of a mysterious employer.”
Members of the Veiled League who wear a raven-and-scroll emblem act as couriers, and are allowed to pass freely through the city without being questioned by guards. The League holds itself to be strictly neutral in all disputes. It also aggressively defends its members and its reputation. Those that draw its ire are often the target of smear campaigns.

The League is governed by the Veiled Council, which is said to be headed up by a mysterious figure known as the Monger. Rumor has it that the Monger is not a real person, or that it is actually a title given to whoever is currently leading the Veiled League.

Nope.

The Monger is actually a fire-breathing femme fatale named Ushawabti, an elder black dragon who can assume humanoid form. Did you think I was kidding in that last post? We are all about truth in advertising in the Shadowfell Let’s Read.



[HR][/HR]

Well friends, that sums up the independent factions. I really like them - they make Gloomwrought seem like a living, breathing city, and they also offer some excellent plot hooks you can incorporate right into your campaign. That offer of employment for the PCs from a mysterious benefactor? It could be delivered by Veiled League courier. Maybe their target has hired a Crimson Sash to guard themselves. Maybe their employer is actually House Harskel. Maybe their employer is actually actually the House of the Eye and their target is an enemy of Vecna. The Hooded Lantern perhaps? Wheels within wheels!

I really dig that they’ve taken care to give each faction a ‘dark secret’ and that in most cases it is something pretty meaty.

Of course there are other powers as well in Gloomwrought, such as the noble houses and the temples, and we will learn about these in due course. But in our next installment, we’ll start exploring the crooked, cobblestoned streets of Gloomwrought, starting with two of its creepiest locations: the Dust Quarter, and the City Wall!

Stay tuned.
 

junglefowl26

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I also like them. Nothing spices up a setting quite like a variety of factions with their own agendas that could just as easily be friends as foes.
 

Dungeoneer

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Time to hit the pavement and explore the city up close. Lots of flavorful text in these sections so I'm going to quote some big, meaty chunks. Let's dive on in!

*The City Wall*
”A black outer wall closes Gloomwrought off from a foul marsh. The barrier has the look of skin stretched tight over rocklike flesh decorated with carvings of limbs and faces. Unlike normal carvings, the limbs twitch and the faces cackle and howl.”
That’s right, Gloomwrought doesn’t have so much of a wall as a living black fleshy barrier, complete with faces that press against it and leer at you. And in case that isn’t metal enough for you, each of it gates is ”an enormous sculpture that resembles a skull with jaws agape.” Lanterns that give off a ”somber green glow” are hung along the wall.

If you’re playing the ‘Shadowfell Let’s Read Drinking Game: That’s So Metal Edition’ I think this is where you drain the bottle.

Like the rest of the city, the wall also changes - the gates can move along it and it can expand as the city expands. The book doesn’t SAY you should portray the wall as pulsing gently as though breathing, but in my game? Hell yes I am!

Outside the wall on the land side is a noxious marsh known as The Skins. The wall projects out into the dark waters of the Stormy Sea as well. The book has already referenced a couple of assaults on the city in recent history so the wall isn’t just there to give visitors the heebie-jeebies. Bad things lurk in the dark.

The gates are guarded by members of the Deathless Watch. Travelers entering the city are asked to sign their names in a ledger. Coded descriptions of those who refuse are jotted down in the guards’ notebooks. The captains of the watch are Shadar-Kai twins Anri and Zera. The watch maintain a station house in each district except the Shattered Isles.

*The Dust Quarter*

The Dust Quarter lies at the center of Gloomwrought, and it’s almost as cheerful a place as it sounds. The mansions and keeps of the city’s wealthy nobility stand here, vast, ornate, ancient, and silent. And because ‘subtle symbolism’ doesn’t exist on the Shadowfell, the entire district is covered in a layer of dust.

”The dust can be stirred up and cleared away, but it always returns. It is as though the area attracts the powder, or the particles emerge from the stones when no one is looking.”
Expect a frosty welcome.

”Inhabitants of the Dust Quarter tend to be set in their ways. Most nobles here have lost a significant portion of the wealth and land that gave them their status. They constantly look for ways to establish good fortune again, without compromising their dignity or their honor. Appearances and traditions are important here, in a moribund way. Innovation is met with suspicion or outright disdain.

In part, the aristocrats of the Dust Quarter are the reason Prince Rolan has kept power for so long, since none but the eldest among them have known another ruler.”
No doubt you are wondering how many nobles get killed each year when the city decides the tower they are living in would look better underground. So very thoughtful of you, but you needn’t have troubled yourself! The Dust Quarter changes less than any other district.

”As long as it is occupied (whether the occupant is living or undead), a building in this part of the city might remain much the same for decades… Some families end up wasting away in their great halls until every member dies or fades into glom. The only sign that this fate has befallen a particular household might be the deterioration of the mansion from without, or its sudden collapse as it finally succumbs to the city’s reshaping.”
So that’s the thousand foot view. Within the Dust Quarter we will be visiting seven grand-yet-decrepit locations, shown on the map below. They are as follows:

  1. Harskel Acropolis
  2. The Avenue of Gleaming Gems
  3. Carradh Keep
  4. Fellwroth Ruin
  5. Treyvan Palace
  6. The Dark Lady
  7. The Deathless Palace




This is a really long section so we won’t cover it all in one go. Let’s start with *Harskel Acropolis*

You’ll remember House Harskel from the previous post about factions. This young upstart house is currently Gloomwrought’s chief mercantile power.

”Harskel Acropolis is a testament to the power of the Harskel family. The harskels have inhabited the City of Midnight for far fewer years than families such as the Treyvans and the Carradhs, but in many ways, House Harskel is the prevailing noble house in Gloomwrought. Forced to stake out territory on the edge of the Dust Quarter in the house’s early days, the Harskels built their sprawling estate closer to Gloomwrought’s docks than those of their peers. Because of this location the Harksels have their pick of incoming cargo and a freedom of movement that few other noble families enjoy.”
This section describes Harskel Acropolis as a small city, containing dozens of large buildings. ”The walls are fashioned from black marble topped with wrought iron accents, and statues support the barrier at every corner.” The whole place is designed to be easily defensible and it is crawling with mercenary guards. Visitors must be accompanied by Harskel family members and even Veiled League agents are searched.

”Seven major buildings stand within the acropolis, each a masterful structure crawling with black ivy. The most important is the Iron Hearth, the family head’s sprawling seven-story mansion built from black marble chased in iron. At the manor’s heart is the council chamber of the Harskel family, an open audiotrium with a giant iron brazier at its center. When the family meets, the brazier is lit, and its flame illuminates the interior of the entire mansion.”
In addition to interior heat and lighting, the Iron Hearth boasts a massive iron bell. When this bell is rung, all Harskel employees everywhere are summoned, which means hundreds of people will come from every direction to defend the acropolis.

A second building described here is the Hall of Ledgers, which is where the Harskel’s keep their record books, which ”allow the family to pursue unpaid debts for generations”. The records are kept and defended by a family of Shadowborn dwarves called the Vunnars, and the dwarves know a ritual that will erase all records in case of a successful attack. There is, naturally, a backup copy of everything in a secret vault somewhere in the city. Wheels within wheels.

All the structures in the Acropolis feature scrying devices that allow Dedrek Harskel to spy on them without leaving the Iron Hearth.

The Harksel Acropolis section ends with three story hooks, a setup which will be standard for most of the entries in the Dust Quarter section. The first is called “Cooking the Books.” The scenario is that Rorgan Vunnar, head of the family of dwarf accountants, has discovered that someone has been embezzling funds for years and covering it up. He hires the PCs to track that person down and offers a considerable reward if they do. But what will he do when they find out that it is Astryd, his own daughter, and that she is a member of the House of the Eye?

Dun dun duuuuuun!

The second hook is called “Extraction.” The setup is simply that someone hires the PCs, via the Veiled League, to infiltrate Harskel Acropolis and retrieve someone from another faction being held prisoner there. Of course it could all be a double cross, or even Dedrek Harskel trying to test the capabilities of potential employees.

The third hook is “Under the Acropolis.” A secret door has been found beneath the Iron Hearth leading to a previously unexplored section of the Acropolis. Dedrek Harskel hires the PCs to explore the dungeon.

[HR][/HR]

Next time, we’ll walk the lustrous Avenue of Gleaming Gems, brave the looming towers of Carradh Keep, and learn the sinister secrets of Fellwroth Ruin!

Also, ya know, if there’s anything here you want to know more about, feel free to fire away with questions.
 
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