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What is a darklord?

Ravenloft is ruled by the darklords, also known as domain lords, people or creatures so tragic and evil that the Dark Powers of Ravenloft have granted them power and domain over a region. Typically, there is but one darklord in each land; they do not share power well. These individuals posses great power in their own domain but the Dark Powers also torment them and burden each darklord with a terrible price for their power. Each endures a curse designed to frustrate their most basic desires. Strahd, the lord of Barovia, suffers an endless search for his lost love Tatyana; this is the classic and most famous example of the Dark Powers’ touch.

Darklords are powerful forces of darkness in the Land of Mists; they have great power and influence and most have large numbers of minions and servants. However, darklords are not always an obvious political ruler. Many prefer to act from behind the scenes, enacting their plans with guile and cunning. In Second Edition, Domains of Dread divided domain lords into several categories: demilords rule pocket domains, lords rule islands of terror, overlords rule within clusters and darklords rule the domains of the Core. This breakdown has been dropped in Ravenloft Third Edition – all are simply “darklords”. With very limited exceptions, denizens of Ravenloft do not use the word “darklord.”

What is the Core?

The Core is the main group of nations that makes up the major continent in Ravenloft. It is considered the “heart” of the setting. Lands that fit the traditional European style of gothic horror were designed to be part of the Core, while the other more exotic lands are generally Islands or part of a Cluster. Large bodies of water are located on the Core’s East and West coasts. In each of these seas many islands are found, most of them being small domains, each with their own darklords.

What are Islands and Clusters?

An Island domain (also known as an Island of Terror) is a single land, completely surrounded by the Mists (note that the islands located in the two seas surrounding the Core are not usually considered Islands of Terror as they are not isolated and surrounded by Mists). They are not bordered by any other lands and are isolated from the rest of the world. Clusters are small groups of domains that have joined together, Islands that border other islands instead of simply being separated. The lands within Clusters usually share a cultural, climate or thematic link. Clusters can be thought of as much smaller versions of the Core.

What are Pocket domains?

Pocket domains are small domains that are completely contained within another larger domain but are able to move around, changing their position. This may be shifting around a region or radically moving across the entire continent without warning. True Pocket domains should be differentiated from smaller enclave domains such as Castle Island, which is entirely contained within another land (see Ravenloft Gazetteer V). Castle Island and the like are rooted in place and have never moved from their position; they are as much a part of the land as Barovia. Pockets, however, can move from land to land, temporarily displacing part of another domain, (even if they very seldom do so, such as the House of Lament). Pocket domains are diverse and come in many shapes, from a small theatre to a land contained entirely within a dagger to a place that exists only within a sleeper’s mind.

How many domains are there?

Many! About Fifty. 

Where is Ravenloft?

In Manual of the Planes terms, Ravenloft is a demiplane on the Deep Ethereal (as presented as an option on pg. 55 of MotP). The Deep Ethereal is a transitive plane connecting the Ethereal Planes of the multiverse. Essentially it is tucked away in a dark and unremarkable corner of the universe where no one can see it. What the Manual of the Planes calls the Ethereal Plane, Ravenloft names the Near Ethereal, to differentiate it from the Deep Ethereal. The Near Ethereal is the part of the Ethereal Plane that is coexistent with other planes. In Second Edition, Domains of Dread offered that the Ravenloft pocket-plane is “a self contained pocket dimension that hangs suspended in the ethereal plane”.

In 4th and 5th Edition, it is unclear where the Ravenloft setting proper fits in the new cosmology. The 4E Manual of the Planes presents Domains of Dread as pockets in the Shadowfell, but since each world has its own, unconnected Shadowfell, walking from a Taladas-Shadowfell Falkovnia to an Oerth-Shadowfell Darkon would be impossible. The only classic Ravenloft domain to get a full 4th edition update has been Kalidnay in Dungeon #190, and it mentioned no links to any other domains.

What are the Mists?

At the edge of any land not directly bordered by another land, the Mists rise up in a Misty Border, a pale whiteness so thick it is almost impossible to see through. The Misty Borders of domains are nebulous boundaries stretching back and forth, sometimes moving inward by miles and other times pulling back, revealing previously obscured features. The Mists have also been known to spontaneously rise within domains as well.

Legends speak of people who have walked into Mists only to find themselves moved elsewhere, emerging dozens miles from where they entered or even in a different time. Rarer still are the rumours of people being moved out of the Dread Realms, but this is so rare it is almost unheard of.

The Mists of Ravenloft, like the Dark Powers, are a Dungeon Master tool and complete subject to their whims. They can be as mysterious or real as the story dictates. In some distant and faraway lands the Mists take on other appearances appearing as thick blizzards, blistering sandstorms or flickering waves of heat.

How do you leave a domain?

You walk across the border. As long as two domains touch each other there is nothing preventing someone from walking from one to the other. This can be done on the Core and on Clusters. On Islands one must simply step into the bank of the Misty Border and eventually it will lead to another land. Eventually. It should be noted that some darklords have the power to magically close the borders of their realm and prevent anyone from leaving (or sometimes even entering).

Can you become a darklord without doing something evil?

No. All darklords are all but beyond redemption. They have done horrible and hideous deeds to earn their power and the powers that grant it do not reward nor punish those of light hearts with such power. Even if one becomes a darklord by killing the previous lord that individual must still be evil.

What are Outlanders?

Outlanders are anyone who enters Ravenloft from the outside. The Mists can snatch them up at random or they could have been too close to a person of great darkness when they are drawn in. Newcomers could also have accidentally entered via magical spells gone awry, stepping through a one-way portal, or sometimes even entered on purpose. Outlanders are not always believed by the locals and often spend most of their time looking for a way back home. Earlier RAVENLOFT adventures presumed the party was composed entirely of Outlanders who were brought in for a single session of horror. This was known as a “weekend-in-hell” adventure. In later products, such as Domains of Dread and most Third Edition products, the emphasis was shifted to native characters.

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