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

Alter_Boy

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I agree that revenants and shades are cool. Of course there are also races like vryloka and vistani. Of all these races, I believe that only Vistani get any mention at all in this book! That's a bit odd. I can see publishing schedules preventing the inclusion of vryloka, who came out in Heroes of Shadow, released immediately before this boxed set, but revenants had been around for a while so it is surprising that there is almost no mention of them (or if there is, I don't recall it - maybe we'll be surprised later).
A lot of the World Axis cosmology was written up before the Revenants, Shades, and Vyrolka were written up. The Shadar-kai were in the Monster Manual and the Vistani were written up fairly early in Dragon Magazine, so I imagine that those were the only "Shadow races" thought to be included in the Shadowfell.
 

Vagabundo

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I do hope there is some sort of grand occasions where all the scheming families must attend. Of course the party wouldn't be complete without a murder or two.

It might be something like the film Clue...
 
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Dungeoneer

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Let us continue with…

*Location 6: The Dark Lady*


Evocative image of the Dark Lady by John Stanko

”Set about with gargoyle statues, a fountain stands among the dusty stones, the liquid in it reflecting little light. Air near the fountain is bitterly cold, suggesting the liquid’s temperature. The fountain’s centerpiece is an onyx statue of a female humanoid in a flowing robe, her hands raised toward the sky.”
This fountain is located along the Avenue of Gleaming Gems, and the dark liquid in it is frigid and 'extremely salty'. This location is a popular meeting place for business contacts and young lovers, mostly thanks to a property known as 'The Dark Lady’s Miracle'.

The 'miracle' in question is that the statue’s expression changes depending on what is said in its presence. Specifically, it disapproves of lies and so its frowning expression will give liars away. The statue also reflects other emotions too.

The book states that the identity of the statue is unknown, and even its race is ambiguous. Some suggest she is somehow linked to that other ‘Dark Lady’, the Raven Queen. At any rate it is common for natives of the City of Midnight to 'swear by the Dark Lady'.

Hey! Does your party have one of those PCs who is inevitably going to try to poke at that mysterious dark liquid? Well hold onto your butt, we have some mechanics for you: ”Any creature that ends its turn carrying the liquid takes 5 cold damage (save ends), at which point the fluid turns to dark red dust that looks like dried blood.”

Honestly, since the PCs will almost certainly be paragon tier, 5 damage barely constitutes a slap on the wrist. If I were the DM, I’d get creative with my punishments.

Enough sightseeing. Now we make our way toward location #7 and the ebon spires of…

*THE DEATHLESS PALACE*

”A mighty fortress among a mass of twisted stone buildings, this palace is clearly one of the oldest and strongest edifices in the city. Stunted black trees line the avenue leading to its gate, on either side of which a statue of a sorrowsworn knight keeps eternal vigil. Rising from the citadel are gray towers that are curved at higher levels, so that they resemble claws of bone from which the flesh has withered. The stronghold has no grounds, but buts nearby buildings. An aura of ominous majesty radiates from the whole place.”
Yes, the Deathless Palace is a cheerful place, full of fun and frivolity! Well, maybe not, but at least it won’t collapse on you. You see, we are told that the palace is likely the oldest and definitely the most unchanging structure in Gloomwrought - thus the name.

The palace is the home of Prince Rolan who is also known as 'the Deathless'. It is kind of a weird coincidence that he and his palace share the same name, but neither is named after the other. Rolan, possibly on account of being practically immortal, is renowned for his ennui and jaded outlook on life, and puts the bare minimum effort necessary into running the city.

The palace has six wings or sections, all very dissimilar in style. They center around a vast central garden, where Rolan usually holds court with his consort, a deva named Feria. Rolan is a half-hearted weapon master, so he dwells in the wing known as the Hall of Blades. Feria lives in the Hall of Silver, which pays homage to the gods of the Astral Sea. Blackfire Hall is shadar-kai themed. Raven Hall pays homage to the Raven Queen. Midwinter Hall is also Raven Queen themed, but contains a portal to the Feywild and the realm of Lucretia Wynndollas - she currently has her side of the portal blocked (bad date?). The last wing, the Hall of Ancients, is unoccupied AND WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THAT ONE SO LET’S JUST MOVE ALONG OKAY??

*The People of the Deathless Palace*

Obviously the most important person in the palace is Prince Rolan. Despite his apparent disinterest in doing just about anything, he is still the most powerful person in the city and virtually no one is willing to question his judgment, at least not to his face. He is also the only person in the palace who ever enters the Hall of Ancients BUT YOU DON’T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT THAT SO MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

Rolan has ruled for three hundred years and had many different consorts in that time. Feria, his current companion, is ”notably more enthusiastic than her prince.” She is also more involved in the goings on of the city and so those who wish to petition the prince often start with her.

Rolan has been alive so long that most of his own staff is actually descended from him.

”Talrren, a human male, advises Rolan on matters of law in Gloomwrought, while Heida, a female half-elf, regulates trade. Boros, a particularly tall and sneaky tiefling, acts as Rolan’s spymaster.”
Apparently it is not always clear HOW Rolan’s servants are related to him, and so there is some competition to prove themselves the closest heir. Rolan sometimes complicates the process by claiming supposed orphans as his kin.

One of Rolan’s servants who is definitely NOT related to him is Bertrim, a shadowborn dwarf who is the Palace’s major domo. He commands the Prince’s Guard and is known as “Basher” on account of his disciplinary technique.

*The Prince’s Guard*
The Prince’s Guard is mostly made up of members of the Deathless Watch. They actually stay in the Hall of Blades with Rolan and spend a lot of time drinking with him and apparently living it up. Presumably when it comes time to do battle they are also elite and badass.

”Although it happens infrequently, especially under Bertrim’s stern gaze, poor behavior among the guards has offended more than a few visitors. Rolan enjoys the effect his bawdy soldiers have on stuffy or humorless guests.”
*The Hall of Ancients*

WHAT ARE YOU DOING? COME AWAY FROM HERE AT ONCE! IF YOU GET CAUGHT - WHAT WAS THAT?? DID YOU HEAR SOMETHING? IS THERE SOMETHING INSIDE? OH GOD, NO, PLEASE…

”Great doors, adorn with silver that has tarnished nearly to black over the ages, open wide to reveal a cavernous hall filled with dust and cobwebs. A sense of death rises from the black stones, thick as fetid breath.”
The Hall of the Ancients is the oldest part of the Deathless Palace, so apparently it is very old indeed. The servants don’t go into it and don’t speak of it. Only Prince Rolan dares venture within.

What’s it’s dark secret? DARE YOU ASK?!? Okay, fine, I’ll tell you. Orcus, man, they totally used to use this place to perform his unspeakable rites back in the day. Guess Gloomwrought wasn't always the Raven Queen-fearing city it is today. At any rate, it's still a real horror show in there, with gibbering, bleeding stones and restless ghosts and the whole nine yards. Oh, and there’s a dracolich chained up in the throne room! So watch out for that.

Rolan apparently enjoys hobnobbing with said dracolich which I guess is why he ventures into these dark halls (no mention is made of him worshipping Orcus himself). For its part, the Dracolich enjoys long walks on the beach and secretly plotting Gloomwrought’s ruin and destruction.

*Shadowheart*

The most interesting and secretive place at this location is not actually IN the Deathless Palace, but beneath it. There is a cave, a warm cave, called Shadowheart.

”This natural cavern’s black walls ripple with a hideous kind of life. The air is sticky and hot. At the cave’s center is a pool of inky liquid, as thick as congealed blood. The fluid constantly moves, as if creatures just beneath the surface are stirring it.”
The book says that,

”One legend holds that when the Keepers first carved Gloomwrought out of the shadows, they began their efforts in Shadowheart. Another tale says that the Keepers emerged from Shadowheart and then began to work on the city.



Some suggest that the cavern’s pool is full of the same primeval ooze from which Gloomwrought initially sprang, from which it still grows, and to which the Keepers can return. Like a literal heart, Shadowheart beats with a life of its own, powering the City of Midnight and staving off the gloom of the Shadowfell.”
Since Shadowheart seems intended to be a very secret and well-hidden place, it is not clear who is spinning all these legends about it. Especially given that the book states that the Keepers will fiercely attack anyone who approaches it, and can and do sculpt guardians and hazards to defend it. Who has been there and made it back alive?! Surely not your average Gloomwroughtian.

At any rate, this warm, creepy place seems strangely alive and immune to the Shadowfell's gloom. It is not clear what its purpose is, although clearly it has some significance to the inscrutable Keepers.

For some reason, the entire Deathless Palace setup puts me in mind of a JRPG boss fight. The Deathless Palace is the heavily defended final fortress, the Hall of the Ancients is what you THINK is the final section where the last revelations and confrontation will take place, and then once the dracolich is defeated a trapdoor swings open and look, and you go down into Shadowheart, where the final revelations and the enemy’s true shape will ultimately be revealed.

Just me?


There is a big and important sidebar here called *Keepers: Caretakers and False*

What do Gloomwrought’s leadership know about the Keepers? Not much. Even Prince Rolan probably really doesn’t know what they are up to, and he certainly doesn’t control them. The Keepers mostly ignore the city's inhabitants unless directly confronted, but then they are super strong and really hard to kill.

Some think that the Keeper’s create the City of Midnight, others think that they hold it in check. Some say the Keepers are the city’s natural defenses against the dangers of the Shadowfell.

”Whatever the case, the Keepers engage mostly in observation. They inspect damaged or aged architecture, or press their pale faces against windows to briefly check on building occupants. When a structure collapses, changes significantly, or rises from the streets, the Keepers come to behold the result.”
Lately, people have been reporting 'discord' among the Keepers. There appears to be a new faction of Keepers who wear skulls and other ornaments.The citizenry have dubbed these new Keepers 'False Keepers'. Sometimes the False Keepers fight the regular caretaker Keepers. ”What this means only the Keepers can say. They don’t.”

[HR][/HR]

I am traveling for the next couple weeks, so updates will be sparse.

But in our next installment we will leave the Dust Quarter behind and head down to the waterfront to visit the Drowned Quarter. Get ready to see the City of Midnight’s economy in action! Plus, find out what dark secret House Carradh is keeping in a warehouse near their private dock...
 
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Glazius

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So my impression is that the actual Keepers are fighting off a bunch of Keeper lifestylers who think they can do the job better.
 

Gilphon

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Lot of the material here strikes me as...

Well, I get the sense that the Deathless Palace stuff mostly exists so that DM won't be forced to improvise if the plot puts the PCs in contact with Gloomwrought's leadership. Which, don't get me wrong, that's a perfectly good reason for this stuff to be here, and it does a competent enough job at that. It's just... other bits of this book are more about inspiring new plots rather than facilitating ones the DM already thought of. Or even doing both at once.

Shadowheart is similar- it's the kind of place you want to exist somewhere if you're really delving into figuring out what the deal is with the Keepers and the city's origins, but it's kept so vague that it doesn't actually help the DM beyond providing a dramatic backdrop for the revelations to happen against.

The secret Dracolich is cool enough, though. As is the bit about False Keepers- it's very nice starting point you could use to unravel their mystery, or just make them even more inscrutable.
 

Dungeoneer

Vitruvian manticore
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Shadowheart is similar- it's the kind of place you want to exist somewhere if you're really delving into figuring out what the deal is with the Keepers and the city's origins, but it's kept so vague that it doesn't actually help the DM beyond providing a dramatic backdrop for the revelations to happen against.

The secret Dracolich is cool enough, though. As is the bit about False Keepers- it's very nice starting point you could use to unravel their mystery, or just make them even more inscrutable.
The mystery of Shadowheart and the Keepers/False Keepers do have an answer in this very book. But the authors stashed it away with the monster stat blocks so it doesn't come until near the end of the book. So the vagueness is purposeful. Of course it also frees the DM to come up with their own answers, should they prefer that.
 

Vagabundo

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I like the Hall of Ancients, who knows what is stashed there. I can imagine a quest for some doo-hickey needed elsewere stuffed in a cupboard there, probably right behind were the Draco-lich (pretends to) sleep.

I bet that Draco-lich knows a secret or two, maybe Rolan tells him all the stuff that stresses him out when he visits, considers him a pet or buddy and the creature is just biding its time, waiting... Probably for the PCs to stupidly free it.

The keeper stuff isn't doing a whole lot for me. Maybe I missed a previous post on them.

This fountain is located along the Avenue of Gleaming Gems, and the dark liquid in it is frigid and 'extremely salty'. This location is a popular meeting place for business contacts and young lovers, mostly thanks to a property known as 'The Dark Lady’s Miracle'.
My mind is going to dark places here. It must be the effect of the shadowfell on my brain.
 
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Dungeoneer

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We are continuing our exploration of the districts of the city of Gloomwrought. Next up is the waterfront district, AKA

**THE DROWNED QUARTER**

Situated south of the Dust Quarter, this district is about as different from it as it could be. Where as the Dust Quarter is deathly still and sepulchral, the docks are a bustling hive of activity. Gloomwrought’s raison d'être is its port, which is so packed with ships that "someone agile and brave could stride from one end of the dockyard to the other, leaping from deck to deck."

"Overhead, sailors of every race scurry through masts. Below, harborfolk (page 32) and other laborers nimbly move smaller boats among the larger vessels."
There are two main sections to the docks - the public wharves and those belonging to the noble houses. Mooring at a public wharf typically costs 25 gp, which is cheap, so there are sometimes arguments over who gets to drop anchor at the good spots (So why don’t they raise the price?! Supply and demand, people!).

Even the wharves themselves aren’t immune from the City of Midnight’s instability… Piers and docks can and do collapse into the water. They also rise out of it. When they do, there is a fight over who will control the new dock and collect its mooring fees.

The Noble Wharves, as usual, seem to escape these whimsical architectural rearrangements largely unscathed.

A sidebar called *First Impressions* notes that the Drowned Quarter is likely to be many players’ first glimpse of Gloomwrought, should they arrive by sea, and that it offers a good chance to highlight many of the city’s salient features, such as its factions and its mutability.

One thing not discussed here, or anywhere as far as I can tell, is where all these sailors and merchants are coming from. The Shadowfell doesn’t seem like it would be chock-a-block with friendly ports of call. Perhaps the sea offers passage to other planes? That seems intriguing and is even implied here, but you think they would have mentioned it earlier in the "How To Get To The Shadowfell" section.

Once you get past the docks, the Drowned Quarter offers a mix of inns, taverns, pleasure houses, warehouses and other seedy establishments. We’ll go through ‘em one-by-one and yeah, it is gonna take a couple of installments. Here are the main locations:



  1. Public Docks
  2. Noble Docks
  3. Carradh Landing
  4. Execution Dock
  5. Dunnage Row
  6. Cracked Keel
  7. House of Sterling

*Location 1: Public Docks*

"This series of piers takes up about half of Gloomwrought’s waterfront. The docks stand on pilings that eerily suggest headless torsos, entwined tentacles, and tangled humanoid limbs. Hanging on an iron gibbet at the end of each pier is an iron cage, used to display the bodies of criminals hanged for violating one or more of the city’s few laws."
It really would be nice to know what those laws are, wouldn't it? Unfortunately I think we are left to use our imaginations... as I recall, Gloomwrought's legal system is not elsewhere expounded upon.

Each dock is controlled by a wharfmaster, some of whom are independent and others who represent lesser merchant houses. They collect mooring fees, supervise the workers who load and unload the ships, and pay them. The docks are a reliable source of employment for Gloomwrought’s poorer citizens, so these folks are exactly the cream of the crop. The work itself is fast, brutish, and dangerous.

Hook: Dock of the Dead - A half-elf wharfmaster named Kumourn has hit upon the ultimate money-saving scheme: employ undead dockworkers. He combs the waterfront for laborers that have been killed, gets his pet necromancer Relos to resurrect them, and then puts them to work. Unsurprisingly, the families of those that Kumourn 'employs' aren’t okay with this and want to pay someone to have his operation shut down. PERMANENTLY.

*80’s guitar riff*

Hook: Pier Pressure - Okay writers, we see what you did there! Anyway, this hook is designed for PCs arriving to the city via boat. They get approached by a shadar-kai named Worhan, who offers them a great price on moorage. His sister Seada temporarily has control over a newly-risen wharf and is trying to hang onto it long enough to convince the merchant houses to honor her claim. Greedy rivals are plotting against her. If the PCs will help, Seada and Worhan will reward them. "Thwarted contenders might want to repay the characters too, in a different way."

Encounter: We Were Here First - The idea here is that while mooring at a new dock the characters are swept up in battle for control. Savvy PCs might be able to defuse the situation with a skill challenge. No stat blocks or map, and light on specifics.

*Harborfolk*

Shadowborn Dark Ones known as Harborfolk live beneath the public docks and tool about on little flat-bottomed punts. For a fee they will convey passengers around the harbor. They have sort of a symbiotic relationship with the wharfmasters, as they will often direct captains to specific wharfs in exchange for a cut of the mooring fees. They also seem to be able to predict the collapse of wharves, although they warn only those they like. Crossing the Harborfolk (or attempting to charge them rent) invites ill fortune and may even hasten the collapse of a dock.

Of course, if you’re connected and you’d like a quieter docking experience, you might prefer to dock at one of the Noble Docks… next installment we will visit those, Carradh’s Landing, and the Execution Dock.
 
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Uqbarian

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One thing not discussed here, or anywhere as far as I can tell, is where all these sailors and merchants are coming from. The Shadowfell doesn’t seem like it would be chock-a-block with friendly ports of call. Perhaps the sea offers passage to other planes? That seems intriguing and is even implied here, but you think they would have mentioned it earlier in the "How To Get To The Shadowfell" section.
Yeah, that was something I would have liked more information on. (That and where's Gloomwrought getting its food from?) It's one of the downsides of the 4e approach to setting generally.
 

Vagabundo

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Planar Dromonds allow you to travel from one large body of water to another in a different plane if you cast the Plane Shift ritual. That costs 1k in gold and is 18th level. So it isn't cheap and you'd need a high paragon character to do the ritual. So it would need to be worth your while to sail from other planes if you were a merchant.

There may of course be other large permanent portals dotted around the place. I can imagine a map something like in Time Bandits with all their celestial positions and connections.
 
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