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A Public (Dis)Service Message From The Fraternity Of Shadows:by Sharon Dornhoff
What is Ravenloft?
Like Mystara, Ravenloft is a D&D campaign setting originally published by TSR. Designed as a venue for Gothic fantasy and horror scenarios, it incorporates variant rules such as saving throws versus horror or madness, as well as its own unique metaphysics. At first, Ravenloft was presented as a place to which PCs from other campaign worlds could be transported, via the mysterious Mists, for so-called “weekend in hell” horror adventures. Over time, with the release of new materials from TSR and, later, Arthaus – a division of White Wolf, which produced 3E/3.5 Ravenloft products under license from Wizards of the Coast – it evolved into a complete setting, capable of supporting campaigns in its own right.
Like the Hollow World, Ravenloft is an artificially-crafted composite of nations (domains), each with its own cultural motif and false “history”. Unlike the Hollow World, the domains of Ravenloft are designed, not as refuges for whole cultures, but as prisons for uniquely-memorable NPC villains called “darklords”. Some domains have no inhabitants but their darklords; others harbor thriving native populations, with cultures, languages and histories of their own. Populated or not, each domain is custom-built for its lord by the enigmatic Dark Powers – unseen entities whose nature and intentions are left to each DM to decide upon – to both sustain and torment these powerful, malignant captives.
What is the Fraternity of Shadows?
In a world surrounded by unbreachable Mists and molded by mysterious Dark Powers, it is only natural that intellectuals would grow curious about the supernatural forces surrounding them. While most natives of the Land of Mists (as the people of Ravenloft call the world) have no idea their world is different from the norm, a secret brotherhood of powerful arcane casters is striving to peer beneath that veil of mystery. They have deduced the existence of the Dark Powers, whom they call “Watchers”, and strive to learn their motives and nature … and to use that knowledge to seize control of their world from its makers. Ambitious and elitist, the evil arcanists of the Fraternity of Shadows play the role of inoffensive scholars, but are relentless in their covert schemes to acquire secrets Man Was Not Meant To Know. Led by their inner circle, the Umbra, they scheme to usurp the Watchers’ dominion over reality.
In a world closer to home, the Fraternity of Shadows (FoS) is a team of website moderators who write online material for the Ravenloft setting, and promote the Land of Mists to gamers everywhere. Named after the in-game secret society, we of the Fraternity of Shadows have taken up the torch as the Web’s top fan site for Ravenloft, in the wake of the prior Kargatane site’s discontinuation. Our real-world Fraternity bears no resemblance to the in-game arcane organization of that name, being dedicated to revealing new information about the Land of Mists to all comers, rather than hoarding it for ourselves.
Well, except for the bits about being evil and plotting to seize control of the world. That’s true about the real-world Fraternity, too. ;-)
What is the Nocturnal Sea Survey?
The Nocturnal Sea Survey is an original netbook produced by the Fraternity of Shadows. Picking up where the Arthaus product series left off, it describes the islands and waters of Ravenloft’s eastern sea … a new sea, added to the Land of Mists’ largest land mass, the Core, just 10 years ago in-game. Like many fan netbooks for Mystara, the FoS Surveys are designed to expand upon regions that were inadequately detailed in the published game products from TSR and Arthaus.
In-character, the Nocturnal Sea Survey is a report produced by two members of the arcane secret society, the Fraternity of Shadows. It relates their experiences, discoveries, and difficulties encountered en route, while investigating the area … some of them quite nasty, for Ravenloft is not the kindest of worlds.
Who is Viktor Hazan?
A prominent professor at the University of Richemulot, Viktor Hazan is also a ranking member of the Fraternity of Shadows. Late last year – 759 BC, by the Barovian calendar – Hazan and the Fraternity were betrayed by a former colleague and Brother, Erik van Rijn: an aging transmuter, who broke the laws of the brotherhood to seek lichdom. Stealing the plans for a terrible superweapon from the Fraternity’s archives, Van Rijn has gone into hiding somewhere in the Land of Mists, and Hazan (once his closest friend) now leads the search for the renegade lich, to recapture the brotherhood’s secrets and prove his own loyalty to the Umbra.
In this, his latest effort to track down his former friend, Viktor will be assisted by Paul Dirac, a younger Fraternity member with past experience in the Nocturnal Sea region. Both men will also document their discoveries and observations, even as they scour the islands for Van Rijn: the Fraternity is a society of scholars, and won’t waste the opportunity to learn about this latest addition to the Core.
What does all this have to do with Mystara?
While many Ravenloft NPCs, including its signature villain Strahd von Zarovich, are original concepts not tied to other game-worlds, many more darklords were carried off to their domains by the eerie Mists from other TSR settings. Among these imported “outlander” darklords is the necromancer Meredoth, a misanthropic crafter of exotic undead. First introduced to Ravenloft as a generic villain in the module Ship of Horrors, Meredoth was retrofitted as an Alphatian in the campaign book Domains of Dread. His background and ties to Alphatia have been a subject of discussion for many years, among fans of both worlds; at long last, this displaced Mystaran villain’s full history may now be revealed!
Moreover, as Ravenloft’s domains reflect the personalities and past experiences of their darklords, many aspects of Meredoth’s realm of Nebligtode reflect elements of the Mystara setting. Fans of the Known World are invited to peruse the Nocturnal Sea Survey, to see which Mystaran elements the Dark Powers saw fit to incorporate into the Alphatian’s domain … and how they’ve altered some of those elements, in order to mock and harass the necromancer.
Enjoy the in-jokes and references, folks!
Why doesn’t Meredoth’s domain and/or history match the Known World more closely?
While the Dark Powers have replicated many aspects of Mystara in Meredoth’s realm, the Nocturnal Sea Survey was written for Ravenloft’s fans first and foremost, and Nebligtode reflects that purpose. Some elements of Mystaran flavor – monsters, especially – had to be modified, either to fit with the 3.5 D&D rules (the favored system for FoS netbooks) or to suit the general Gothic creepiness of Ravenloft. Fans of Mystara are welcome to change these things back in their own games, of course, if they wish to.
Note that exact dates and locations in Nebligtode’s “false history” – indeed, even the word Alphatia – are omitted from the netbook’s text. This was done primarily to emulate Arthaus’s Ravenloft Gazetteers – yep, that’s what their setting-books were called, too! – in which explicit references to other TSR/WotC campaign settings were avoided for licensing reasons. It also reflects the usual vagueness of the “false histories” known to Ravenloft’s inhabitants, and frees fans of the Mystara setting to date Meredoth back to whatever phase of Norwold’s history they choose.
Where can I learn more about this?
Information on Ravenloft as a setting is available at www.fraternityofshadows.com/FAQs.htm .
The Nocturnal Sea Survey may be discussed with Ravenloft fans at the same website, at the Piazza, or at the WotC site. Newcomers to our FoS forum (www.fraternityofshadows.com/forum) are more than welcome!
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