Demiplane of Dread
|Demiplane of Dread|
|Native Inhabitants||Humans, vampires, werewolves, etc.|
|Greyhawk Powers||None (formerly Vecna)|
The Demiplane of Dread, the setting of the Ravenloft campaign, is a plane of existence with a number of connections to the World of Greyhawk.
The Demiplane of Dread, a demiplane in the Deep Ethereal Plane, consists of a collection of land pieces called "domains" brought together by a mysterious force known only as "The Dark Powers". Each domain is mystically ruled by a being called a "darklord", which is a person or monster who has committed an act or acts of evil so foul as to attract special attention from the Dark Powers. The darklords are taken from their home worlds (some of them are from Oerth) by mysterious Mists and imprisoned within the borders of their domains and cannot escape by any means, although most can seal their domain borders with a thought. Within their domains, the darklords are forever tormented by the objects of their desire (often the objects they committed their crimes to achieve), which the Dark Powers dangle before them like the fruits of Tantalus. Each darklord's desires and motivations differ; some desire love, others hunger for glorious victory, or one might envy the defeat and humiliation of their enemies like another rival darklord.
The Mists sometimes take innocent characters from other worlds as well. It can be very difficult or impossible for them to find their ways back home. This plot device allows for short excursions to Ravenloft or entire campaigns involving non-native characters. Spells that permit travel between planes of existence normally do not suffice to allow escape from the Demiplane of Dread.
Domains with Greyhawk connections
- Cavitius was the domain of the demigod Vecna, who has now escaped from the demiplane. Sir Loran also serves there. Cavitius is a realm of deserts, volcanic ash, and eternal twilight that drains the life from those who enter. It is separated from the neighboring realm of Tovag by the Burning Peaks mountain range. Cavitius is named after Citadel Cavitius.
- Darkon is a feudal nation ruled over by the lich-king Azalin Rex, Darkon is the largest domain in Ravenloft. Physically, it takes up the northern third of the main continent, the Core, and its population easily exceeds that of any other single domain. Politically, Darkon is stable but not very influential, with its various nobles kept in check by Azalin's machinations.
- The people of the domain of Gundarak once held a distorted version of Nerull (who they call Erlin) as their primary deity, though since that domain was conquered by Strahd of Barovia, they have begun to embrace the faith of a benevolent deity called the Morninglord instead.
- Monadhan is a Domain of Dread that has become the abode of traitors of all sorts, the Mists pulling them in from across the worlds, ruled by an ancient undead dragon. Dragon #378 and Dungeon #170 place Kas in this domain.
- Souragne is a domain based around stereotypical Louisiana voodoo, and as such consists primarily of a vast swamp. The two most important individuals in Souragne are the darklord (a Zombie Lord) and Chicken Bone, the most powerful houngan (practitioner of voodoo) in the swamp. The Ravenloft domain of Souragne apparently originated in the Amedio Jungle near Sasserine, according to Dragon #349.
- Tovag was the domain ruled by Kas the Destroyer, as part of the Burning Peaks cluster with Vecna's domain of Cavitius. It is thickly forested, but any stake fashioned from this wood will not harm the vampiric darklord; only a stake of wood from his homeland (Oerth) can do this. Kas waged a war of attrition with Vecna's forces across the Burning Peaks, though since Vecna's escape he has been cast out of the cosmos, becoming a vestige. In 4th edition he seems to have ended up in Monadhan instead.
- Vechor is an island domain in the Nocturnal Sea, the home of the mad wizard Easan and his eternal foe, the ranger Ahmi Vanjuko. Both once dwelled on Oerth; Easan is from a small elven kingdom on the borders of the Empire of Iuz (probably Highfolk), while Ahmi Vanjuko was born in the Free City of Greyhawk, but is now imprisoned in the body of a mechanical golem.
The Dark Powers
The Dark Powers control the Demiplane of Dread. Their exact nature and number are purposely kept vague, allowing for plot development in accordance with the Gothic tradition of storytelling, where the heroes are frequently outclassed and outnumbered by unknowable forces beyond their control.
The Dark Powers most frequently serve as a plot device for Ravenloft, especially concerning the darklords, the de facto visible rulers of the Ravenloft demiplane. While the players are often tormented and opposed by the darklords, the darklords are themselves tormented and opposed by the Dark Powers. Of course, the difference lies in order of power; while many D&D adventures focus on allowing a band of heroes to prevail over a darklord (much as in the spirit of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula), no such victory over the Dark Powers is conceivable.
Most frequently, the Dark Powers make their wishes and intents known through subtle manipulations of fate. Thus, Barovia's vampire lord Strahd von Zarovich's many attempts to win back his love, Tatyana, are doomed to failure, but the Dark Powers arrange such that he never truly loses hope. Each time, for example, Strahd's own actions may be partially culpable for his failure, and as such he may go through crippling self-recrimination, rather than cursing the gods solely and giving up. Most other darklords have similar tales of frustration, kept all the more unbearable because the flicker of the possibility of success is never truly extinguished.
Not all darklords acknowledge the Dark Powers directly, however. Strahd, for example, in his own memoirs, speaks only of a force known as "Death," who mocks him with the voices of his family and former colleagues throughout his life. Vlad Drakov, the Dark Lord of Falkovnia whose military expeditions are doomed to constant failure, seems even to be totally oblivious of any non-mortal factors in his repeated defeats.
The Dark Powers also seem capable of non-evil manipulations. Although their machinations are often directly responsible for the misery of many of Ravenloft's inhabitants, they also appear to play a role as dispenser of justice. Some tales of innocents, who have escaped Ravenloft for happier environs, are attributed to the Dark Powers, who have judged a being worthy of reward and release from their misty domain.
The precise nature of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft is never explicitly described in the game material, with the exception of a few of the novels based on the setting, and even those are considered non-canon. In a sense, the Dark Powers are intended to be eternal unknowns, an array of capricious, unforeseeable wills whose motives and actions the player characters cannot hope to understand.
Ravenloft debuted as a stand-alone module written by Tracy and Laura Hickman featuring the vampire Strahd as the main villain. The lich Azalin originated in the sequel, The House on Gryphon Hill. The modules became the basis for an entire campaign setting in 1990 with the publication of the Realm of Terror boxed set. The setting has since seen several other incarnations in various editions of the game.
The Shadowfell in 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons includes mist-shrouded, darklord ruled Domains of Dread identical to those associated with the Demiplane of Dread in previous editions, the concepts of domains, darklords, and the Mist having migrated there in that edition of the game.
- Richard Baker, Rob Heinsoo, and James Wyatt. Manual of the Planes. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2008.
- Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum, Chris Nichols, Andrew Wyatt. Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume I. Clarkson, GA: White Wolf, 2002.
- Cermak, Andrew, John Mangrum, and Andrew Wyatt. Ravenloft Campaign Setting (3rd Edition). Clarkson, GA: White Wolf, 2001.
- Connors, William, and Steve Miller. Domains of Dread. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 1997.
- Hickman, Tracy, and Laura Hickman. Ravenloft. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1983.
- Hickman, Tracy, et al. Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1986. Available online: 
- Mangrum, John, Ryan Naylor, Chris Nichols, and Andrew Wyatt. Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume II. Clarkson, GA: White Wolf, 2002.
- Marthaler, David. "Domain of Dread: Monadhan, the Traitor's Hold." Dragon #378. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2009.
- Mobley, Blake, and Timothy B Brown. Greyhawk Ruins. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1990.
- Nesmith, Bruce, and Andria Hayday. Realm of Terror. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1990.
- Nesmith, Bruce, Andria Hayday, and William Connors. Ravenloft Campaign Setting. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, 1994.
- Schneider, F. Wesley, and James Sutter. "Savage Tidings: Beyond Sasserine." Dragon #349. Bellevue, WA: Paizo Publishing, 2006.
- Ravenloft on Wikipedia: .