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Epic Isle of Dread variant AC 1018

by James Ruhland

Dread (Barony of)

Dominion of the Thyatian Empire
Location: Sea of Dread north of Davania in the middle of the Thanegioth Archipelago
Area: Unknown (a precise survey of the geography of the island and surrounding islets has not been done).
Population: 3,000 on the settled peninsula, unknown in the interior and atop the plateau.
Languages: Thyatian Common (official).
Coinage: Thyatian Standard: Emperor (pp), lucin (gp), Justiciar (ep), asterius (sp), denarius (cp).
Taxes: 25% income tax collected quarterly on the aristocracy, nobility, and wealthy; 20% income tax collected quarterly on everyone else (Va. 1, Ya. 1, Fy. 3, and Ei. 1). Thyatians abroad must still pay their taxes. Expensive and magical items are also taxed 25% of their worth. 10% Imperial Commercia sales tax on all goods except food, clothing, and fixed assets; levied on imports, rebated on exports
Government Type: Dominion under the jurisdiction of the Empire of Thyatis.
Industries: Sugar, cocoa (chocolate), tea, rum, spices, rare wood, pearls, exploration & research. Reputedly precious metals & gemstones in the interior but this is unconfirmed.
Important Figures: Valisarios Themopeles (Commodore of the naval base at Mora, Thyatian Male, F16), Vivianna Romanones (Lady Knight of Dread, Magestrix of Thyatis, Alphatian Female, Swashbuckler, rogue, duellist, eldritch knight and loremaster), Archemedes (unknown), Chrystonian (male adult gold dragon and eldritch knight), Ziporath (unknown, devoted defender), other members of The Fallen, names unknown and various Cohorts of Vivianna Romanones and members of the Order of the Scarlet Guard.

Description: By Demetius Vannopolis
The Barony of Dread is a medium-sized island in the middle of the Thanegioth Archipelago, host of a Thyatian naval base since the Twaelar War and incorporated into the Empire as a Barony under the rule of Vivianna Romanones in 1017 AC.

The Land

The Barony of Dread is divided into two distinct regions. The first and most accessible are the scattering of small isles around the main island and a peninsula that forms the southwestern tip of the isle of dread itself. This area is open to settlement and cultivation. It is relatively secure, stable, and governed by the rule of law. The Imperial naval facility at the port town of Mora on the peninsula is the hub of Thyatian activity and it is increasingly common to see merchant ships docking here since the end of the Twaelar War, selling goods to the inhabitants and shipping the island's products south to Ravenscarp or north to Thyatis the City in exchange. There are some dangers here and in the surrounding seas, especially out of the normal sailing lanes, but this is an increasingly civilised area and some are considering locating tranquil paradise escapes here. Some of the smaller islets are already coveted by wealthy families of the Davanian mainland looking for quiet, out of the way recreational retreats in imitation of those that members of the Thyatian aristocracy have on Carytion. So far nothing has developed, and it may be because the Lady-Knight who rules this island, while charming and social in her dealings elsewhere, seems interested in keeping the island from becoming too well settled.

That inclination is clear in the second and largest part of the dominion. The settled peninsula on the island's southwest comes to a narrow isthmus where it joins the rest of the island. Across this there was once a palisade wall. The wall remains, but the wood barrier has been replaced by a bulwark of colossal stones, studded with towers and with only one large gate leading to the rest of the island. Lady-Knight Romanones has decreed that this part of the island is "off limits" to all except those who are specifically authorised to venture into it, because of its "unique dangers". Some of the island's natives have permission to travel a path beyond the wall to a lake of tar, if they go as an armed expedition. Occasionally visitors are allowed to accompany the tar-gathering expedition. Many then slip away to explore the isle's interior on their own. Those that do so meet no resistance from the natives, who warn them against leaving the path and not returning with the expedition but do not try to prevent them from venturing further if they insist. They do, however, immediately report all such "explorers" to the Lady-Knight's agents.

Because the interior of the island has been legally declared "off limits" for "safety reasons" this is naturally where every curious person wants to go. The interior of the isle is a mixture of jungle, swampland, hill country, and mountainous terrain with a great plateau rising some three thousand feet at the centre of the island. This region is, if anything, even more dangerous than before. The Lady-Knight has made no effort to reduce the dangers here but seems to be cultivating them and introducing more monstrous creatures to protect the privacy of her demesne. In addition to dinosaurs there are behemoth gorillas in the island's jungles and mountains and even a nest of behemoth eagles atop the plateau, which often direct their hunting at intruders flying to it or trying to scale its heights.

The plateau is a sanctuary, in particular the crater lake nestled within a long-dormant volcano. The top of the plateau is temperate grassland with scattered forests where Phaneton live and watch with alert eyes. It was once reached by a rope bridge leading up from the surrounding mountains, but this has been replaced by a path some 20' across carved into the side of the plateau's escarpment. After rising about a thousand feet, one reaches a fortified spire that guards the path, which can be removed here. Intruders taking the path cannot avoid the guards here. The path rises another thousand feet where, instead of continuing the rest of the way to the top, it reaches a gate into the plateau itself. One then goes through underground tunnels, reportedly trapped, till emerging at the top of the plateau itself. Flying to the top would seem more convenient, but has other dangers.

There is one other feature worth noting. A perpetual storm cloud, roughly an oval in shape, several miles across, circles the island. Occasionally it will hover near regions of crops in need of watering, though rarely directly over the crops. The storm also pursues intruders as part of the island's defensive system, and seems to be controlled by an agency loyal to Vivianna Romanones. Atop the storm cloud is a massive fortress from which members of the Order of the Scarlet Guard, mounted on half-celestial Dragonnels, sortie to intercept flying intruders. Sometimes they are accompanied by Chrystonian or a Great Wyrm Gold Dragon as well, and other dracoforms have also reportedly been seen among the defenders here, as well as summoned celestials.

The People

The island's native population seems related to that of Ierendi or the Pearl Islands. They are divided into seven tribal villages of agriculturalists and fishermen. There is a growing community of Thyatian settlers, Thyatianized Thratians from Davania, and Alphatian exiles loyal to Thyatis. They are mostly merchants, craftsmen, and artisans and are concentrated in Mora, the isle's main port ever since the Imperial Navy expanded its facilities during the Twaelar War. Slavery and slave taking are outlawed within the Barony of Dread. By working with the tribal leaders rather than against them and using her epic persuasive abilities to establish herself as the authority they all turned to, the Magestrix managed to cement her authority over them without resorting to force. They see her as the island's primary protector against outside dangers rather than as an outside invader. It helped that she did not try to alter their way of life or means of governance - at least not in obvious ways. But she has slowly insinuated changes by making it seem like options and choices the tribal elders were offered rather than things forced upon them. Living standards actually have improved under her rule. This is likely due not only to increased trade brought upon by efforts to encourage cultivation of goods that can be sold elsewhere but also because, while the citizens are taxed, the Lady-Knight clearly spends far more in developing the settled part of the island than she receives in taxes. Indeed, she doesn't seem to care about making the island profitable for herself so long as her other interests are secured, and these interests do not interfere with the general population of the island. At least not so far as anyone knows. The island's population has grown since it was annexed by Thyatis, mostly with selected individuals that are considered desirable. But there does not seem to be much interest in expanding the population significantly through large-scale colonisation as the Thyatians are engaging in with the Hinterlands or the Isle of Dawn. Indeed, the Baronial government has "discouraged" some from settling here, apparently having some kind of hidden selection process.

The Barony of Dread has rapidly become a significant Thyatian domain, sending large sums to the Imperial treasury and reputedly a centre of power rivalling that of older and more populous dominions. If so, this is due to one woman and the organisation she has created. The island is ruled by its most prominent and notorious individual, the swashbuckling enchantress Vivianna Romanones, the Lady Knight of Dread and Magestrix of Thyatis. She is a wealthy explorer who served the Empire throughout the Final War with Alphatia in both overt and covert roles, even during a harrowing period of captivity in Alphatian hands following the Fall of Redstone. She was compelled to surrender to General Martigan outside Port Donaghadee in the aftermath of the fall of the Castle. Faced with the choice of either submitting or the Alphatians would execute the Thyatians they captured, she chose to submit and was in bondage until compatriots in Thyatis managed to free her shortly after the fall of Helskir. She then fought the Alphatians with an unmatched fury at the head of a force she recruited, organised, and financed, the renowned Knights of the Silver Shield, in the sea battles and all the way to the gates of Thyatis. She serves the Empire yet, though on her own terms and in her own way, and as a Lady Knight leads an officially recognised Order, the Order of the Scarlet Guard, built around the surviving members of the Knights of the Silver Shield but with additional members she has personally recruited since, many from worlds and planes beyond our own.

The public face of the Magestrix's influence is the Villa Romanones in Thyatis the City. It is a compound she acquired and expanded overlooking a park-covered cistern in the Estates, a complex of palatial buildings grander than the palaces of Kings or Sultans of nearby countries, built around a large courtyard peristyle. Balls, banquets, theatrical productions, and the teaching of the arcane arts occur here and the Villa is a centre of Thyatian society where Vivianna creates a web of influence with similarly-minded (mostly reformist) elements in Thyatis. It is a serene calm at the centre of the storm that is Thyatis the City. But if that is the public face of the Lady Knight's influence, the crater lake at the top of the Great Escarpment is the hidden face of her power. It is fairly obvious that she has had a presence here since well before the island was annexed by the Empire, as the facilities here could not have been constructed in the brief time since it became a dominion of Thyatis.

The ramparts of the volcano effectively form an epic wall around the crater lake region. As one descends the wall, there is a fringe of tropical paradise rimming the lake, roughly a mile or more in width all the way around. The lake itself is a shimmering mirror of clear water, swimming with fish. In the midst of the lake is a verdant isle of green grass and flowering trees, sprinkled with the scenic ruins of a bygone civilisation. Some of these have been restored and are used by Vivianna's cohorts. There is a pleasant, airy palace built atop a cliff overlooking the lake, with a spectacular view of the entire crater rim. There is a dock for sailing yachts used for pleasure cruises on the lake. The island's only residents are the Lady Knight's staff, servants, and retinue. Select guests are invited to visit by Vivianna Romanones, and it is from their loose tongues that most of this description comes. There is direct access between the island estate and Villa Romanones in Thyatis itself, through a keyed Gate which is guarded by abominable clockwork constructs of extraplanar origin. The gate itself is a "guard", being intelligent, and only functions for those it recognises as authorised. It is in constant telepathic contact with the Magestrix and/or one of her subalterns. There is a warren of tunnels under the crater lake isle, some parts of which have been explored and are now in use by the Magestrix and the Order of the Scarlet Guard. But the caverns go well beyond what is known, and there are extensive passageways that have yet to be mapped. Some may lead out into the rest of the Isle of Dread, but if so no one has yet found their way through this monster-infested maze into the Crater Lake "Crystal Palace" - or at least none have lived.

Those travelling beyond the wall into the "forbidden" part of the island to try and explore this region can expect frequent monster attacks and will receive no aid from either Thyatian forces or those of the Lady-Knight. Indeed, because the island's interior is legally off-limits, uninvited intruders are automatically treated as invaders. The defenders seem to have an uncanny ability to detect even the most stealthy intruders, indicating major use of divinatory and scrying magics, as well as the use of flora and fauna of all types as "lookouts". Aerial defences have already been noted, but access to the protected parts of the island through extraplanar means, such as the ethereal or astral, are equally well guarded. Intruders can expect frequent monster attacks. Powerful intruders will face strafing attacks by guardians who will emerge from gates, make a few attacks, and withdraw quickly. Such attacks seem to be geared to wear down enemies through attrition before mopping them up. Attacks occur with sufficient frequency as to prevent intruders from resting and recovering. Meanwhile, the alert is sent out to summon the Magestrix herself from wherever she might be. By the time the Magestrix and her fellows arrive, intruders are usually depleted and under strength, making for an unfair fight.

Invaders may then be faced by the adventuring band lead by Vivianna, "The Fallen". Usually herself, her dragon mount and companion, Chrystonian, She is known to have a Rod of the Golden Wyrm that generates another Gold Dragon ("Goldenrod"), and two powerful warrior-priests, Archemedes who supports her with spells and acts as a reserve and Ziporath, a devoted defender. Flying intruders who have survived claim that these two, and Lady-Knight Romanones, came in the form of winged angels. Powerful transformation magic was likely involved if this is the case, though, for while the origins of Archemedes and Ziporath are unknown, the Magestrix is, as they say "merely human". In addition to The Fallen, the Magestrix has at least six powerful agents, cohorts, in her service that are assembled against various threats. Their names and origins are unknown, as they seem to have been recruited from distant worlds and planes, with no political ties to Mystara except for their relationship with Vivianna Romanones.

In the absence of solid information about what she is doing atop the plateau, rumours abound. These range from the scandalous - that extremely decadent behaviour is engaged in to indulge her carnal pleasures - to the conspiratorial. It is known that after the Final War and the sinking of Alphatia, Vivianna Romanones dedicated herself to building up a base of power, personal, arcane, and political, to prevent anything like that from befalling the Empire or herself again. Some say there is a hidden force of "deathless" revenant fire giants in the hundreds, over a dozen revenant red dragons and other powerful foes that she has slain and revived in deathless form under her control. No one claims to have seen any such "army" however. Some whisper that they exist on a demiplane of her creation, but few give such outlandish theories any credence. More plausible but still somewhat absurd are claims by people to have seen a large flying ship, but of implausible design - appearing as a wedge of mirrored silver over two hundred feet in length and almost as wide at the base, with a large fin and clam-doors at the rear from which a dragon flew. But those claiming to spot this ship flying over the island said it vanished before they could approach it. Others say clockwork abominations are constructed or summoned here for her service. Many claim that in the warrens under the Crystal Palace in Crater Lake Isle there are mines where gemstones, gold, and other precious metals are dug up. But none have seen mining activity nearby and all the wealth she pays in taxes are in the form of cut gemstones and pure metal, either in bar form or coin, not in raw materials. It is more likely that the wealth generated from this source is simply what she and her compatriots gain in her "explorations". Never the less, every quarter the Magestrix pays a tidy sum to the Empire in taxes, more than many domains generate in Imperial tribute. More plausible tales that she has a large stockpile of magic items, wealth, and a huge research library located on the island. The later very may well be true, as it is known that the Magestrix donated copies of books containing vast stores of knowledge, worth untold gold pieces, to the Imperial Government, the Great Library, and the Collegium Arcanum in exchange for copies of each work being inscribed for herself as well, to insure she had duplicates if one set was lost. A set of this library is said to be housed within the Villa Romanones as well. Where the originals are kept is anyone's guess. What is absolutely certain is that the Magestrix plots on a grand, even epic, scale to gather resources from beyond the ends of this world and others. It is clear that even if the more implausible speculation is untrue, she is busy recruiting a small but elite aerial strike force, and also a covert operations force at least as effective.

DM's Note: This is in part intended to demonstrate that just because a wild place becomes absorbed by a civilised realm, that doesn't mean it becomes less dangerous. The Isle of Dread depicted here is suitable for adventures up into Epic levels. There remain all sorts of reasons to explore the island, including the old one but also new ones with "civilised" intrigues. Enemies of Thyatis would love to know more about what goes on here. So too would be the Emperor, for just because the ruler here is loyal to Thyatis and on friendly terms with the Emperor (at least on the surface), she keeps her own council and Eusebius would be a fool to be unconcerned about the growth of a power base not directly under his control. So too would other factions in Thyatis. The description here indicates the presence of a powerful Thyatian and her subordinates, and may therefore give a false impression of someone who dominates the Empire itself. But while she pulls strings behind the scenes, Vivianna Romanones is far from the only such powerful person in an Empire of such people, all with strings and all pulling in various directions - she is only one of 250 Sclaras Wizards for example, and Thyatis contains powerful people who are not wizards but are fighters, priests, rogues, and even dragons. She has many allies within the Empire, but many rivals as well and numerous enemies outside it - Thyatis might be the Known World's "Great Power" but it is not Mystara's only Power. Indeed, that is why the "Lady Knight of Dread" is so driven to increase the power under her control and works to revive the Empire's. All of the rival individuals compete in a "cold war" - preparing for the next "hot" one between their interests. Right now, the conflict between these various competing forces is primarily political and diplomatic rather than (overtly) violent and no one is interested in another war like the Wrath War but everyone wants to preserve their interests in case of one and insure they come out on top if it happens. In these intrigues, knowledge is one form of power. Vivianna seeks it, among the other things she seeks, and can thus be a patron of adventurers - including those who start out hired by her rivals but which she subverts. Her rivals also seek knowledge and separating truth from fiction would advance their interests. Adventurers whose main tactic if the frontal attack probably shouldn't get far here but others will. Of the rumours, which are true and which are not? Actually, most of them. But in the end there's really nothing "there" on the isle to discover. At least nothing that, if push came to shoved, wouldn't simply be moved elsewhere save for the research & magical library and labs; but the bulk that makes it hard for her to move this on short notice also makes it hard to steal it. Sure, there is some artwork and other valuables that would be missed if stolen - they are also magically marked to be "traced" if stolen. But the isle is something of a decoy, one of many depositories and everything of interest - save the library, as noted - can be swiftly moved elsewhere, and neither the Magestrix nor her lackeys will fight to the death here. Note that stats and details are not provided; this "mini Gazetteer" is intended to provide adventure hooks, both against the ruler and potentially in her service - she can be quite persuasive, especially with virtuous PCs who consider themselves principled people. But it is not a fully-fleshed out adventure.

Consider it an "Epic-Level Geographic Entry" - but PCs don't have to be epic level to find challenges here. As long as they know their limitations and don't press beyond their capabilities there is a lot for them to do on the island.