Domain of the Month
Third edition info: RL3E / RLPH
Second edition: Black Box (Realm of Terror), Red Box (RL Campaign
Setting), Domains of Dread
Other selected interesting sources: QtR # 5 (many articles); Qtr 1 ‘Shuraz’tun Kir’ (pocket domain in Pharazia)
Har'Akir Created in 551 Darklord: Pharaoh Ankhtepot
Pharazia Created in 590 Darklord: Diamabel
Sebua Created in 564 Darklord: Tiyet
And the Amber Wastes Cluster was formed in 746
JakobBetween Hazlan and Pharazia, on the Road of a Thousand Secrets, walks a strange Vistani tribe. They are all of the Kamii tasque, but their faces are scorched by the sun, and are always covered by a blue cloth they call burnus. They are a strange tribe, because their is a lifestyle inspired by the nomads who travel the desert of Pharazia... They do not even have vardos, but travel on strange animals called kamil.
This tribe acts as guide through the Road of a Thousand Secrets, never asking for a reward, and accepting anyone within their numbers. This is not done out of love for humanity or altruism. In Pharazia, Vistani are always in danger, since Diamabel stated, in one of his first edicts, that Vistani are treacherous thieves who must be apprehended and killed in the public square of Phiraz. The desert-bound Vistani, to save themselves, must always have ready something to give to Diamabel's soldiers, to appease their greed, and the most valuable trading good in the land of Pharazia are people to be sold as slaves... If they are exotic people from the Core, all the better.
alhoonA raiding party from Pharazia closes in the PCs... then suddenly when they are in short distance they start shouting and retreat, even though they could overwhelm the PCs (or they would guess they would). Things go on normally (i.e other enemies attack if they are supposed to etc). Then a few days later a desert monstrosity (sand zombies, they ancient the PCs are after, a sand elemental etc) appears to menace the PCs... when it closes to them it retreats too. Some encounters later the motto of "hostile approach-sudden/unexpected retreat" repeat itself.
This would give PCs a pause.
Joël of the FoS : Interesting, but why? alhoon : Why? Because it unexpected of course and they cannot explain it (propably). About the time the Players grit their teeth for a tough combat... the unbelievable happens and the enemies flee. Even enemies that cannot feel fear, like obedients or constructs.
cureThe Red Oasis in Sebua, infamous for its ravenous mosquitoes, is home to an ascetic fellow who claims to enjoy the solitude and natural beauty of life in the desert. He tries to play the gracious host, but neither has, nor thinks to offer the party, food. He lacks even for a cup with which to drink. He explains, if obliged, that he eats dates from the trees and hunts desert rabbits, though there is no fire pit to cook them. He will claim, in extremes, to be an adept of sorts, well able to meet the challenges of such a desolate existence. In truth he has no need to eat being a mummy (2nd rank) as well as a cleric of Set (9th level.) In his swarm-shifter shape, that of a cloud of mosquitoes thick with the smell of dried blood, he will happily drink all he can.
When speaking he breathes automatically, otherwise he has to do so deliberately (if he fails a DC 12 wisdom check he does not for 1d10 minutes), and he is prone to forgetting when listening to any account or story that interests him (-2 penalty to check), the more so if the teller is a bard (add charisma bonus to the penalty). It is easy for characters who ask to observe the fact expressly to notice that he is not breathing (DC 5 spot check) but difficult to catch him not breathing if they are just keeping a general eye on him (either spot, intelligence or wisdom check DC 25).
He enjoys company and is genuinely interested in the story of the adventurers, their news of the world beyond Har’Akir, and especially its religions. He can be forthcoming about the Amber Wastes, but never broaches the topics of the undead, the ancient dead and Set. If pressed, he is a source of misinformation on all three.
He is under orders from the domain lord (his hated creator) to direct travellers towards her and does so by speaking of oasises and of a Mist Way to the south. He is especially wary of spell casters and (as a readied action) shifts to his swarm shape if threatened by them, taking his Continual Flame torch with him and croaking out the word attack in his own language. This calls from beneath the sands 16 skeletal hyenas and 2 wights.
His abode is a space hollowed back into the face of a rock outcropping, 20-ft deep, with a 20-ft wide boulder strewn mouth that constitutes difficult terrain (x1/2 movement). An unhallow spell reaches out 40 feet from the shelter forming a sphere.
On windy nights he can be approached in considerable safety as he is disinclined to hostilities when his swarm form is vulnerable.
The appearance/discovery of the the Nocturnal Sea and in particular the Jackel's Way has yielded a refreshing trickle of visiters to his previously near dead calm existence. He and his oasis are well known to the rare natives who travel the sands and they studiously avoid both. News of potential guests is usually provided to him in advance by a zombie giant vulture that spirals high above and out to a considerable distance during the day and much lower and more narrowly at night.
NeoTiamatHmm. I actually had an Amber Wastes campaign planned last year, but it fell through. Disastrously even. So let's see, notes or thoughts? Excuse me if I ramble on a bit, it's been a while.
The Amber Wastes are a land of tombs, of ancient artifacts, of old things and of dead things.
Archeology: During the Victorian Era, Europe and America, particularly England, went through a phase usually called Egyptomania, when they were utterly fascinated with the ideas of all things ancient egyptian, and utter hordes of archeologists descended on Egypt to plunder tombs and desecrate graves and carry off trophies.
Why not in Ravenloft? Say the rich and elegant nobles of Dementlieu or Darkon want to try for ancient Har'Akiri artifacts in their own homes? Voila: Instant Adventure Hook.
Have the PCs be contacted by someone in the antiquities business, and hired to safeguard a group of archeologists from Dementlieu to Har'Akir and back. It might be some large and respectable organization such as the Museum of Dementlieu, or an exceedingly shady Darkonian noble who doesn't get out in the sun much, depending on the needs of your campaign.
Of course, this being Ravenloft, theres no reason the Museum curator can't be an Obedient. Or worse.
This was actually how the campaign was supposed to start. All of the PC's, who were experts in their fields, received word from a mysterious and rather dubious Borcan noble who wanted them as escorts to retrieve the The Pharoah's Eye. (Cue music). The Eye was an enormous gem, an emerald the size of a man's fist, with a flaw down the center. The Borcan wanted it.
Don Fernando : Great Idea! I was thinking about something similar too, but I planned Paridon as the location to place the museum. It's more like Victorian Era England in my opinion.Artifacts: The above assumes that Har'Akiri artifacts are essentially harmless. But what if they aren't? Egyptian lore is absolutely *rife* with curses of all sorts. And I doubt I need to explain the possibilities inherent in bringing a mummy back home.
Less obvious are those artifacts that fall in the "Powers not meant to be used" category. Say the ancient jeweled scarab necklace that is brought back to the Museum of Dementlieu is actually an ancient weapon, allowing the user to transform into a swarm of undead black scarabs. Now say the janitor, in the middle of the night, decides to try it on, before it's put on display. And lo and behold! He turns into a swarm of scarabs. Incredible power... And perhaps this janitor has a grudge against all the irritating and superior nobles who pay him? Thus are the Blood Scarab Slayings born.
Of course, you can make things even more interesting when the janitor starts to change shape uncontrollably, an infected Lycanthrope that transforms into a scarab swarm. Or for even more villainous fun, what happens when the necklace's owner comes calling?
Then there are my personal favorites, the "Powers really, really, really not meant to be known and locked away for everyone's own good. And that aren't happy about it." What if some of the artifacts are sentient, and want out of the two-bit tomb prison they've been in for ages.
This was actually the focus of my campaign. Remember that Eye of the Pharaohs? Well, in this case, it was the phylactery and also the prison of a fiend, an Arcanaloth that managed to get sent into Har'Akir in ages past, and stuck there. And he wanted out, very, very, badly, but he's physical body is trapped in the gem.
But he's a canny 'Loth, so he instead starts sending out visions and dreams, events that the involved party *thinks* are really but happen only in their minds. He works on the Borcan for a while, then searchs for the most suitable minds, where he finds the PCs and sends them prophetic visions (great fun roleplaying these actually. I used an encounter and duel with a Muryan Fey for one, an encounter with an old Akiri prophet with the Dikesha for another, and a dream sequence with Ezra for a third). And he tells them to accept the Borcan's letter.
And when they finally arrive, you get a case of 'Gold Fever' where everyone wants the Eye of the Pearl, and whoever gets away with it and brings it past the Tomb's wards, gets to be Transposed with the fiend.
My Campaign: Any long campaign involving the Amber Wastes has a kind of natural progression based on how the Mistways work.
You start in the Western Core usually, Borca or Richemulot or Dementlieu, and are hired there and given the job and orders and what not. This is kind of the "Set the Stage" areas, where the PCs are introduced to the wonderfully dubious and shady characters they get to travel with. I started in Borca, and introduced them to their co-travelers, Count Samael Maleagant, their patron, his wife, the Lady Lily Maleagant, (I'm a sucker for significant names, in this case, Samael and Lilith), the gnomish Professor Arcturus Aberdeen of the Brautslava institute, their archeologist, and their guide and Samael's servant, the Pharazian, Fassahd (Facade).
Of course, nothing is ever as it seems, and in this case, the Maleagants are retired rogues and con artists who eventually conned their way into nobility, Prof. Aberdeen is a member of the Kargat and a necromancer, and Fassahd happens to be a 'naturalized' (Moonchild PrC) Dire Werejackal. (Dire Jackals are from Sandstorm, and are considerably nastier).
You then move on through more wilderness-y areas, Barovia, Kartakass, until you arrive in exotic, Turkish/Oriental Hazlan, the Gateway to the Wastes. This will be the first place the PCs truly understand the differences between the European Core and the Middle Eastern wastes. A good place for some intrigues or revolutionary politics involving the Rashemani, or perhaps something with black market antiquities. I panned to use this part of the trip to introduce the PCs to Ravenloft-regular before moving on, and I even had an adventure taken from the CotN: Ghosts for when they stopped in a town in Barovia (I think it was Krezk, but I forget which one)
Then come's Pharazia, where the PCs should be embroiled in the crazyness of Diamabel. I took the simple expedient of having him arrest Fassahd as a former tomb robber (well, yes), and give the PCs hints by having him accuse Fassahd of being an 'abomination'. Anyway, the goal in Pharazia is to get the PCs busy there. Eventually, they would have to stage a daring escape to get away with their guide in one piece, and beat a hasty exit, with low supplies, for the oasis at the Sebua/Pharazia border, which just so happens to have an Efreet (from CotN: Demons) there. Whoops.
After that, they should head out into Sebua, where you get to throw the desert at the PCs. The Sandstorm accessory has a lot of very interesting things for the Amber Wastes. If I recall, Moosha from CotN: Vampires was to make an appearance, as well as a tomb with a trapped Ghirash (the shadow creature that looks like a four armed bipedal cat from the Miniatures Handbook), and a village of werejackals from I forget where. And of course, what is a desert trek without being lost and nearly killed by heat at least once.
Then, Har'Akir, where they have to break into the Tomb of the Eye, where the game becomes more of a dungeon crawl, and utilizes lots of the 'Encounter Traps' from Dungeonscape. This was to be followed by lots of backstabbing, possible fight to the death between a Dire Werejackal and an Ancient Dead, and the PCs forced to stop Prof. Aberdeen before he escapes with the Eye of the Pharaoh.
cureFrom The Wreck of the Albatross by the Darkonese adventurer Juno Lutuem describing his time in the Amber Wastes:
Out of the darkness loomed a ship, wrecked as improbably as our own, a sand dune claiming its stern. With the fiery heat of the day not far off, we were glad of the shelter. It had been stripped, not only of supplies and materials that might have assisted its crew in escaping the blasted wastes, but pretty much of everything of value. We slept in the relative coolness of the cargo hold and were all visited by the same dream, that of a mound of gold with which we might overfill our pockets. The second watch, and Annabel with it, snuck off in search of the captain’s quarters where the prize supposedly lay. Sand had burst through the portholes and had half filled the cabin. A small skeleton with a twisted neck and perfectly clean bones, in life probably a cabin boy, was the only obvious inhabitant. Just beyond his feet, lying thickly upon the sand, twinkled more gold coins than any of the sailors had ever seen. As in the dream, one threw himself upon the pile. His joy was not long lived. The treasure stirred to life and before the poor fellow could escape it, he was covered by burnished golden beetles that devoured him alive. And between his choked, stifled screams, could be heard the laughter of a child.
The sand exploded upward, forcing us to protect our eyes, even as we struggled to draw our weapons. The scorpion, easily the size of a horse, had caught a sailor between its claws and, with a flick of its tail, drove its poisoned stinger clean through the poor fellow. As the thing wheeled in search of its next victim, Raoul called a swarm of bats down upon it. I doubt that they harmed it much, but they surely caused it near infinite irritation, its claws and stinger striking futilely at its tormentors. To escape the besieging plague, as well as the rain of our missiles, the thing raced off into the desert, at such speed that it broke free of the pursuing hoard.
Thirst. Avarice. Lust for power. They were the whip that our impromptu guide wielded dexterously in driving us to a destination of his choosing. We reached the Tomb of Ankhtepot at sunset and the disturbing baying which had punctuated our approach fell silent, pleasing greatly the fellow, as though confirming some secret calculation. Awe alone - inspired by the magnificent structure and its soaring statues - slowed our passage from the world above to that below. A great temple emerged from the darkness, then a greater one still, dominated by a colossal statue, that of the deceased pharaoh himself. There thirst and good sense were trumphed by avarice, for rather than pausing to locate the rumoured well, we rushed onward, our company scrambling up a wide, steep staircase. Whereupon the first of six horrors befell us. Countless snakes, hooded and black as night, materialized in our midst, seemingly from the very shadows. Four crewmen and our guide did not quit that staircase, at least not alive, they being poisoned and trampled to death. And the second horror was already upon us. As we stumbled back to safety, our skin, beginning at the point or points where we had been bitten, was turning the inky black of night. The surviving crewmen wailed that it was the mark of death and indeed we all thought as much, but it was not so, for a majority of us lived and for the rest it was worse. Some collapsed utterly, their bodies dissipating into mere shadow. Others, and this was the third horror, joined their fallen brothers from the staircase as living, or rather unliving, shadows bent upon our perdition.
Elaenor, with those sharp eyes of hers, spotted the secret door. We opened it and mounted the staircase beyond with the greatest caution, fearing in equal measure traps and snakes. After many minutes and our terror at finding another sarcophagus, we were overjoyed to again feel upon our flesh the fiery sun. But it was barely mid-morning and as mad as it was to spend another moment in the tomb, it was madder still to brave the coming mid-day heat. A watch was set and we rested as best we could. As the hours crawled by, our courage returned, as did the lure of the realm below where treasure, a well and Raoul might still be found. Elaenor and Theben led the way, unwisely taking for granted the steps which we had previously trod. A loud crack announced the sixth and final horror, as the pair plunged from sight. The initial shriek of Elaenor was followed not by a sickening thud but rather a terrible scream choked off quickly. At the bottom of the pit we could distinguish her prone form engulfed by insects. Theben had been luckier, having managed to catch himself. But the beetles swarmed up the side of the pit and were upon him even as we put a rope into his hands. In the mere seconds that it took for us to haul him up, the ravenous horde had eaten through to bone.
We fled into a narrow valley of red sand and towering cliffs, running the risk of ambush to escape the teeth of the storm. A lone edifice stood among the ruins. By every evidence it was a temple long abandoned. None of us hesitated upon its threshold. But the nerve of the surviving crewmen quickly frayed. Our torches seemed feeble indeed, overawed by the vastness of the place, barely able to hold back its suffocating darkness and its enervating chill. The captain, defiant as ever, sought to fortify his men by declaring that it was the will of the Lawgiver that this place of pagan worship be sacked and that each man would be rewarded in proportion to his effort. No sooner had he finished, than the shadows, which had been playing cruelly upon our imagination, gathered themselves up and swallowed him whole. The nightmare had begun and with it, I believe, Raoul's descent into madness.
Raoul returned from the windy night shrouded in blue flames, a spell upon his lips. Eldritch bands of force whirled forth. Under my very eyes our gracious host, with whom I had been pleasantly engaged in conversation, came apart. And I found before me, retaining for a heartbeat the shape of a man, a cloud of thousands upon thousands of mosquitos buzzing angrily and reeking terribly. Annabel and Salvador, with whom Raoul had been in secret communication, sliced through the mass with their blades. Futilely. In the next heartbeat we were engulfed. My flesh crawled, arms, neck, scalp, ears, cheeks, nose, lips, eyelids, all violated repeatedly, unceasingly, my lifeblood pounding out of me. I vomited. And in the moment that I concluded that I had to run for my life, I also realised to my acute terror that I was caught in a perfect darkness that deprived me of the possibility. I actually prayed that Raoul would unleash a cleansing fireball. Instead he dispelled the darkness and called a swarm of ugly white bats to feast upon our foe. And for a brief instant it seemed as if we would escape the Red Oasis only a little less sanguine.
The bats tore like a whirlwind into the angry mass of mosquitoes. Raoul commanded our foe, on pain of being blasted from existence, to remain in its swarm shape. But the mosquitos drew back together and a moment later the bats were blanketing a humanoid form. Seemingly unbothered by their writhing, ravenous presence, it began an incantation. Raoul, however, was quicker, unleashing a fireball. It singed our eyebrows and reduced the bats to fine dust. This covered and hung about our enemy who, no worse for wear but very much unalive, completed his own dire casting.
It was impossible to say what the ruins had once been. Only thick walls of stone, much eroded, remained. Then we saw it, a gurgling fountain. We exchanged incredulous glances, save for Annabel, seemingly lost in her thoughts. A moment later Salvador, guarding our rear, yawned loudly and collapsed. And in the next heartbeat a feminine voice called out: “Drink of the water; it will cool you; it will drive off the exhaustion that has layed low your friend.” But it was our fallen comrade who commanded our attention. And so we failed to notice that Annabel had obeyed and entered the ruins. No sooner had we aroused Salvador, than we heard her cry. We found her beset by a large quadrupedal shadow, mirrored many times over, that would dart forth from one wall to attack her and vanish into another, only to race out again from a different point. We fared poorly against it, our weapons growing heavier and our judgement cloudier with each numbing touch. But Raoul, grinning like a fiend, turned the tide, shackling it with bands of eldritch force.
What fools we were to let hope cloud judgement. Clearly Raoul’s mind had been unhinged by our time in the Amber Wastes. Our personable, unassuming, ever practical friend had become haughty, domineering, grandiose, and not just a little delusional. After he roasted alive a flock of sheep, insisting that they were assassins sent against his august person, we at last broached with him the question of institutionalisation. He seemed saner afterwards, persuading us that he only needed bed rest and accepting that Annabel accompany him home. Two months later the enormity of our error came loping down his lane way. There to greet us was his beloved wolf hound Luthia or rather an abomination of the loyal old gal. For between those creaking bones and within that drum tight skin there was no life.
Foreboding fired by silence had brought us to his door. But not one of us had come prepared for the horror of having to hammer to dust the dried and withered shell of his wolf hound, a creature that in life was loved by all. Each of us knew a grimmer task, indeed grimmer tasks, lay within. It would probably not be the life but rather the soul of Annabel that we would have to save, or rather put to rest. And as for Raoul, in life or in death, he and the secret knowledge he had acquired during our damnable visit to the great tomb of Anhktepot had to be purged from existence. We did not, however, proceed rashly. We had not forgotten the terrible strength of those accursed bones and the rotting touch of that leathery skin. We would confirm the fate of Annabel and, having laboured hard so that all was in readiness, burn the place to the ground.
Joël of the FoS
JDCorleyAllow me to state, favored traveller, that people of great import but little understanding, call these lands "Wastes". I respectfully disagree. In the desert nothing can be wasted or else all will collapse. If there were truly nothing of consequence here, I could never be as prosperous or as fat as I am, ha ha!
It is water which is the lifeblood of the desert, water which everything that walks on two or four legs, or flies with feathers, needs. And those who control the oases control the lifeblood of this land.
Naturally there are many who wish to possess oases and demand unfair tribute from travellers. These cowardly dogs are despised, brother, by all virtuous folk. Indeed, some are so unscrupulous as to sabotage a caravan's water supply - silently loosening the staves of barrels and slitting waterskins in the night, leaving only a few hours of water quickly consumed by men and beasts, only enough to reach their oasis, and then the travellers must pay dear for what is dearest to them: life itself, life itself. As with all other manner of extortions, robberies and treachery, this practice has reached its most exalted methods among the Vistani, those demon-worshipping mongrels who are as foreign to virtue and fair dealing as they are to decent society.
So I am not surprised that you level these terrible accusations against me, it is true that there are many in this land who would do the very thing you accuse me of: forcing your party to change its course to come to this oasis by the means of banditry and sabotage. But that accusation is unfounded and my honor is wounded by your careless slander, brother. It saddens me to have to place an honored guest such as yourself in chains, but you will agree, I had no choice, you and your associates attacked my humble settlement here by this oasis. Now, if you will withdraw your remark and consent to negotiate a fair price for the water I can provide you to replace that which has been wrongfully denied you by the machinations of the Vistani, may their entrails be spitted and roasted after their painful death, we can again associate as equals, comrades under the blazing sun. Nothing can be wasted here, not even another word between us.
Do you assent?
"Civilized" extortion expert Husani Naeemala operates a sabotage racket that is too isolated for any authorities, such as they are in the Amber Wastes, s to do anything about - he and his seven cruelly beautiful daughters (Acenath, Akila, Amunet, Anat, Anippe, Astarte, and Auset) control eight oases and, as a result, hundreds of miles of sand. Many travellers and caravans who do not plan to pay for passage find themselves trapped and unable to proceed without risking dehydration and worse fates. Will the PCs be able to escape the trap of the criminal mastermind? And how to put him out of business for good?
Don FernandoThe secrets of the Sha'hir (wizards that can control genies) have long been forgotten by the people of the Amber Wastes. They are stories told to children about times long past, where Genies and men lived together in harmony. Now, the bonds that joined these two races together are severed, and men learned to live without these servant spirits.
Not long ago, a woman had a dream, revealing a black stone carved from stone taken from the very heart of the City of Brass. In that stone lay an ancient ritual to summon the genies back to the land.
Now, the chiefs of the seven caravans, have gathered and agreed to lend his men in order to obtain this treasure, for in it lies the power to destroy the devil Diambel. Desert riders where sent all across the wastes, and beyond in hopes to find this treasure.
However, the stone has landed in the Paridonian Museum for Ancient History. The scholars are working day and night to translate the symbols carved in the black stone, and they are making progress. They are hoping to find in this stone, the location of an ancient tomb, filled with treasure.
Diambel has heard of the stone too, and sent his henchmen to recover it for him, so he can destroy it.
No one knows for sure what the stone does, but it is a race against time before the secrets of the stone are revealed. In the meantime, the woman has another dream. A vast city surrounded by a lake of molten lava, and in it, the efreet that waits for the door to be opened...
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