Demiplane of Dread

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The Demiplane of Dread is a unique Demiplane - or, perhaps more accurately, a series of interlinked demiplanes - within the Great Wheel cosmology of Dungeons & Dragons. This is the actual "world" in which the campaign setting of Ravenloft is based, and so the name is often used when trying to describe the "Ravenloft world".

The precise origins of the Demiplane of Dread are lost to history. Its creators are enigmatic beings known only as "The Dark Powers", who maintain and defend their creation with mighty magic and jealous zeal. It's believed they have some kind of mutual non-aggression pact with the various gods of the Great Wheel, but nothing canon is ever defined. It is believed to lie where the Ethereal Plane meets the Plane of Shadow, but is able to manifest portals absolutely everywhere, even in places normally restricted to planar portals, such as Athas or the Phlogiston. Such portals usually appear as banks of fog or mist, but will adapt themselves to other sight-obscuring phenomena - and are usually one-way. Getting in is easy, but getting out? That's a whole other story. The only known reliable two-way portal in and out of the Demiplane of Dread is a doorway leading into the World Serpent Inn, whose doorway on the Demiplane's side of things changes every night. If you can't find that, you won't be able to leave unless the Dark Powers will it.

Planar Traits[edit]

The Demiplane of Dread's creators have molded the reality of this world into a new fashion, forcibly imposing the rules of Gothic Horror on the setting. There are many ways that this manifests, but some of the more overt:

  • Necromancy spells are empowered and rendered more dangerous; spells like Animate Dead will call up more creatures than the caster may be able to control, whilst killing spells usually cause their victims to arise spontaneously as the undead - and often as ones quite pissed off at their killer.
  • Divination spells are pretty much worthless; spells that detect moral alignment invariably fail, spells aimed at detecting monstrous species either are unreliable (Detect Undead) or flatly won't work (using True Seeing to look for natural shapechangers), spells that revolve around mental contact risk driving you mad if you accidentally use them on certain inhuman creatures, and in general you can't trust the result of divination spells because the normal awareness of when such a spell has failed doesn't occur in the Demiplane of Dead. Oh, and Scrying type spells create a visible sensory apparatus that can be used to alert your target that you're scrying on them, and even serve as a conduit for things like gaze attacks.
  • Conjuration allows entities from other planes to be summoned, but they won't be able to return home when the spell expires. Obviously, quite a few of them will be very upset with their summoner because of this. Even before they figure this out, the binding aspects of conjuration spells are weaker in the Demiplane of Dread, giving summoned creatures a chance to escape its bonds the moment it arrives.
  • Spells that directly interfere with the fabric of a Domain, such as manipulating weather, can often attract the attention of the resident Darklord, and who might be able to subvert or negate these same spells if they have related powers.
  • Teleportation spells are restricted; you can't use magic to get past closed Domain Borders, and you certainly can't use it to get out of the Demiplane entirely.
  • Curses are empowered, and even non-spellcasters can potentially lay deadly or deforming curses on people if their rage or grief is intense enough to catch the notice of the Dark Powers.
  • Acts of evil can result in people slowly transforming into monsters, a process called Powers Checks. The worst of the worst can even become Darklords in turn.
  • Self-willed undead like vampires can tell if their minds are being read and can choose which thoughts they will project. Depending on the circumstances, this may be a false image passing them off as human- or an up-close look at the most evil parts of their minds meant to drive the would-be mind reader insane.

Mapping the Demiplane[edit]

Geo-physically, the Demiplane of Dread consists of various bubbles of reality, ranging in size from a single room to full-fledged countries, all floating in a sea of ephemeral mist; each of these reality bubbles (called "Domains") is typically centered around a Darklord, a villain whose evil caught the eyes of the Dark Powers and so they responded by imprisoning them within the Demiplane. 3rd edition's unpublished splatbook "Van Richten's Guide to the Mists" introduced the concept of Oubliettes, which are basically prototype or abandoned Domains that don't contain a Darklord. A Domain may exist on its own (an "Island of Terror") or be physically coterminous with one or more more other domains, forming what is called a "Cluster". The largest and oldest Cluster in the Demiplane is called "The Core", and this is basically Ground Zero for the setting. Normally, one can simply walk between Domains, but most Darklords have a power called "Raising the Borders", which causes the border of their Domain to become enveloped in a magical field unique to that Darklord that prevents escape in some fashion - some are non-lethal, most will kill you if you try. A rare few can be circumvented by the right esoteric circumstances (for example, undead or constructs can safely walk through poisonous borders like that of Barovia, because they're fundamentally immune to poison), but in general this is the ultimate Railroading tool the DM has to keep you from just saying "fuck this" and leaving the domain.

Precisely why the Dark Powers collect these Darklords is unknown, and theories abound; the Demiplane of Dread has been described as a prison, a gathering place for evil, a grand study into the nature of evil, a unique kind of Hell, or even a Purgatory by various fans.

Another great mystery is the nature of its native population. Some Domains were physically taken from their homeworlds, but most are described as "copies" rather than direct abductions of land. This then leaves players wondering: are the locals actually "real", or are they merely soulless simulacra - props in the grand theater of Gothic Horror tales that the Dark Powers are conducting? Nothing concrete has ever been given.

The Core[edit]

As mentioned above, this is the "core" of Ravenloft, the sole normal-style continent where the bulk of the game focuses on. Think of it as something akin to the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms, or Ansalon in Dragonlance. The Core is made up of the following Domains.

Barovia

Cultural Level: Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Hills & Mountains
Motif: Blatant Dracula Knockoff
Darklord: Strahd von Zarovich

This is the oldest domain in Ravenloft, the literal heart of the Demiplane of Dread. It's ruled by Strahd, and is basically Dracula in D&D.

Borca

Cultural Level: Chivalric
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Hills & Mountains
Motif: Poisoners, Italy under the Borgia Family
Darklord: Ivana Boritsi

Originally, Borca was ruled by the Darklord Camille Boritsi, and was half its present size, sharing borders with the near-identical domain of Dorvini. Ivana poisoned her mother because her mom seduced her boyfriend, and during the Grand Conjunction, her domain and that of her cousin Ivan Dilisnya merged together due to their great similarities.

Darkon

Cultural Level: Dark Age to Chivalric
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Hills, Plains, Mountains & Swamps
Motif: Generic Dark Fantasy
Darklord: Azalin

Darkon is notable as the most overtly fantastical realm in the Demiplane of Dread, with a relatively huge population of demihumans that sees humans going from the usual 90+% population merit to only 75% as well as the greatest amount of local toleration for arcane magic.

Dementlieu

Cultural Level: Renaissance
Landscape: Temperate Forests & Plains
Motif: Renaissance France/Victorian England
Darklord: Dominic D'Honaire

Though not as overtly modeled on London as the domain of Paridon, Dementlieu definitely taps into the Gothic Urban Horror motif, as is made clear by the way it is home to myriad mystical mind-manipulators and the character Alanik Ray, who is basically Sherlock Holmes if he was an elf.

Falkovnia

Cultural Level: Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Forests & Plains
Motif: Military Horror, Fascism, Urban Squalor
Darklord: Vlad Drakov

Slap together Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, paint it up in the most shit-awful and miserable stereotypes of Dark Ages Europe, and have the place be run by a man who melds Hitler with Vlad the Impaler and is so bloodthirsty they'd both be disgusted by him. Falkovnia is outright called the biggest shithole in the Demiplane of Dread.

Forlorn

Cultural Level: Iron Age
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Hills & Plains
Motif: Dreary Scotland with a dash of Brak Man Morn
Darklord: Tristen ApBlanc

A vaguely Scottish Celtic themed domain that nobody gives a shit about because there's nothing in it but killer plants, giant bugs, and goblyns. 3e tried to fix this by adding a small population of native humans, but the overall domain is still a monster-infested backwoods, so nobody fucking cares.

Hazlan

Cultural Level: Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Hills, Mountains & Plains
Motif: Dark Fantasy meets Yellow Peril
Darklord: Hazlik

Essentially a tiny sliver of Thay transplanted into the Demiplane of Dread, where a tiny minutia (the Mulan ethnicity) rules over and brutally represses a far vaster majority (the Rashemani). One of only two places so absolutely shit that The Lawgiver is actually worshipped here.

Invidia

Cultural Level: Chivalric
Landscape: Temperate Forests & Hills
Motif: Lethally Impulsive Stupidity
Darklord: Gabrielle Aderre

A land of passionate, hot-blooded and constantly feuding individuals. The Vistani are executed on sight here.

Kartakass

Cultural Level: Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Forests & Hills
Motif: Wolves in Sheep's Clothing
Darklord: Meistersinger Harkon Lukas

A rural backwoods inhabited by proud, cocky, music-loving foresters who are quite happy with the way things are, thank you. They are totally oblivious to the population of wolfweres hiding amongst them.

Keening

Cultural Level: None (formerly Chivalric)
Landscape: Temperate Mountains (Bleached of Life)
Motif: Endless Grief
Darklord: Tristessa the Banshee

A cursed and forsaken realm, with a population consisting solely of its mad, grief-stricken banshee darklord, her court of half-insane undead fey, and a village of skeletons that constantly mime out the actions of their last day.

Lamordia

Cultural Level: Renaissance
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Hills & Plains
Motif: Mad Science ala Frankenstein
Darklord: Dr. Mordenheim & Adam

A stuffy, tempest-lashed domain that prides itself on its scientific acumen and its staunch rationalistic beliefs, totally denying the fantastical nature of the world around them.

Markovia

Cultural Level: Stone Age
Landscape: Warm Forests, Hills & Mountains
Motif: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Darklord: Dr. Markov

It's literally just the Island of Dr Moreau in D&D. That's it. They even moved it from being part of the core to out in the ocean, but it's still a lazy shitshow of a domain.

Mordent

Cultural Level: Renaissance
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Plains & Swamps
Motif: Ghost-Haunted Rural Britain/Scotland
Darklord: Lord Wilfred Godefroy

It's basically the setting for every ghost-related Gothic Horror novel ever written.

Necropolis

Cultural Level: Iron Age
Landscape: Temperate Settled Area
Motif: City of the Dead
Darklord: Death

Once a bustling metropolis in Darkon called Il Aluk, the place was destroyed and turned into a city of sapient undead creatures protected behind a mystical veil that kills and reanimates any living humanoids that enter. This was caused by Azalin achieving an epic-level fuck up with his magic.

The Nocturnal Sea

Cultural Level: Varies between islands
Landscape: Temperate Aquatic (sea); Temperate Forests, Hills, Plains & Swamps (islands)
Motif: Savagery of the Sea
Darklord: See Below

The Western Sea of the Core is technically a cluster onto itself, with different islands being the lairs of different darklords.

Nova Vaasa

Cultural Level: Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Hills & Plains
Motif: Russia under Peter the Great
Darklord: Sir Tristen Hiregaard/Malken

A horse-filled steppeland dominated by sweeping grassy plains and crushing urban poverty and squalor, presided over by a mixture of corrupt aristocrats and Lawful Good types who view "law" as more important than "good". This is the other domain shitty enough to have The Lawgiver as the state religion, and is such a hellhole that Barovians look down on its people as backward hicks.

Richemulot

Cultural Level: Chivalric
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Hils & Plains
Motif: Wererat Land
Darklord: Jacqueline Renier

A pseudo-French domain distinguished mostly by being the largest breeding ground of wererats in the entire demiplane. The name is literally French for "Rich Mouse".

The Sea of Sorrows

Cultural Level: Varies between islands
Landscape: Temperate Aquatic (sea); Temperate Forests, Hills, & Plains (islands)
Motif: Savagery of the Sea
Darklord: See Below

This is the Eastern Sea of the Core, and thusly it's the same deal as its western counterpart; more of a cluster scattered across an ocean than one singular domain.

The Shadow Rift

Cultural Level: Unknowable
Landscape: Eternally Dark Mysical
Motif: Dark Faerie Tales
Darklord: Gwydion the Shadow Fiend

This is the homeland of the Shadow Fey, and as such no mortals know anything about the place.

Sithicus

Cultural Level: Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Forests & Hills
Motif: Declining Elf Kingdom
Darklord: Inza Kulchevitch

The only domain in the Core that has a demihuman majority population, this was formerly the domain of Lord Soth, and is thus loosely based on the Dragonlan ce setting.

Tepest

Cultural Level: Early Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Forests & Hills
Motif: Grim Faerie Tales Europe meets Salem Witch Trials
Darklord: The Sisters Mindefisk

Hands down one of the most primitive and worthless backwaters in the Core, Tepest's trio of hag darklords are practically non-entities in their own land, with the focus instead being on how the ignorant superstitious peasantry are falling increasingly under the sway of a self-righteous inquisition of self-proclaimed fey-hunters and witch-burners.

Valachan

Cultural Level: Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Forests & Hills
Motif: African Savages
Darklord: Baron Urik von Kharkov

A rugged wilderness inhabited by dusky-skinned foresters who take pride in their absolute ignorance when it comes to book-learning or anything not related to the practicalities of forest-work, to the point they even look down upon their own priests. Befittingly, this leaves them too ignorant to realize they are being eaten alive by a hidden population of nosferatu and werepanthers.

Vechor

Cultural Level: Classical
Landscape: Warm Forests, Hills & Swamps
Motif: Insanity Made Real
Darklord: Easan the Mad

A vaguely India-esque domain ruled over by an insane elf wizard who has the power to reshape the surroundings based on his current mad whim.

Verbrek

Cultural Level: Medieval
Landscape: Temperate Forests, Hills & Swamps
Motif: Werewolf Country
Darklord: Nathan Timothy

The obligatory werewolf domain, to contrast the Dracula and Frankenstein ones. Everybody here knows the wilderness (as embodied by the werewolves) is at their door, and lives accordingly.

The Clusters[edit]

The Amber Wastes

Motif: Dark Fantasy Egypt

It's Gothic Horror Egypt in D&D. What more is there to say? Its constituent domains are Har'Akir, Sebua and Pharazia.

The Frozen Reaches

Motif: Dark Fantasy Russia

It's basically the frozen wintery hell that everybody imagines that Russia is transplanted into D&D. Its constituent domains are Sanguinia and Vorostokov,

The Shadowlands

Motif: Medieval Dark Fantasy

Intimately tied to a single world, the Shadowlands are made up of three domains that all tie to one lon story of corruption; Avonleigh, Nidala and Shadowborn Manor.

The Islands of Terror[edit]

The Cosmology of Planescape
Inner Planes Ethereal Plane Prime Material Astral Plane Outer Planes
Elemental Planes Energy Planes Demiplane of Dread Plane of Shadow Plane of Mirrors
World Serpent Inn Tu'narath Sigil Demiplanes Ordial Plane?
Far Realm