D&D Worldbuilding: Domains of Dreadful Delight

Storytelling comes in many forms, and one of my favorite storytelling media is the tabletop role-playing game. I’ve played a lot of TTRPGs throughout my life, and I still play them today. Normally, I’m a “Forever DM,” as I enjoy both setting up stories and worldbuilding (and most people don’t want to run games). So I thought I would take a break from talking about writing fiction and everything to talk about some worldbuilding I’m doing in my D&D game.

Over the past year, Wizards of the Coast has given us several fun products. Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft revamped my favorite gothic game setting and helped set up structures for us to create our own Domains of Dread, places in the Shadowfell that serve as ironic prisons for a Dark Lord, mirroring their suffering and sin. Wild Beyond the Witchlight is a campaign adventure that introduces the Feywild’s Domains of Delight, realms of faerie that change based upon the powerful moods of those within.

So, one afternoon while I was brainstorming something for my home game, I asked the question: What would happen either if the Feywild intruded in a pocket in the Shadowfell or if the Shadowfell intruded in a pocket of the Feywild? How would those energies interact? I then came up with two terms: Domains of Dreadful Delight (where the Shadowfell penetrates the Feywild) and Domains of Delightful Dread (where the Feywild penetrates the Shadowfell). What would these look like? How would these energies impact those living therein?

Honestly, my next thought was, “This would probably create a situation like the Celtic Otherworld.” And a wicked grin curled on my face. Now, I haven’t fully fleshed out mechanics for all possibilities, and since my players might read this, I’m not going to discuss the specifics of the realm they’re starting to interact with. So consider this a “Part I,” and I will provide a “Part II” when my players leave this domain in, hopefully, no more than 2 more sessions.

So let’s talk about what I’ve developed so far: a Domain of Dreadful Delight. Some energy from the Shadowfell has penetrated a portion of the Feywild in a meaningful way. I developed this idea by first deciding on what the Domain of Delight originally looked like. I chose a forest of giant, ancient trees bordered by mountains to the North and West and by a great sea on the South and East. Dragonhawks (Large chromatic serpents with massive wings) roamed the forest. In this forest were a handful of groves with a massive tree in the center where the faeries had set up their settlements. The domain’s king and queen ruled from a settlement in the forest’s center, atop the tallest tree in the woods. In the foothills of the north, a large pond sat where White Stags, Rainbow Foxes, and Glitterflies (butterflies with wings of glittering air) frequented. Near a lake in the south sat the Siren Flowers who sang to lure the unwary to the water’s edge, where the carnivorous mouth of the Siren Flowers would open from the ground and devour them.

So that’s the landscape. How would the negative energies of the Shadowfell change this place? First, the forest floor became covered in a mix of crematory ash and bone bits. The trees took on an ashy gray color; their leaves existed in a perpetual state of rotting. The same thing happened to any tree-like fey folk, such as Dryads. Of course, all this rotting organic matter would alter the forest’s scent. Animals became gaunt with sunken eyes. Certain natural traits like fear or hunger become more pronounced. The water acquired a subtle (and in some places not-so-subtle) crimson tint. Though often depicted as bright and colorful, Faerie is a dangerous place, and so the influence of the Shadowfell amplifies that danger, making the darkness hidden manifest.

Now how would this affect the sentient beings in non-physical ways? Well, we learn from official material that strong emotion can alter the landscape and its weather. That holds true still, but only certain emotions can change the weather: sorrow, fear, grief, and anger. Sorrow and grief cause bloody, possibly stinging rain (that does minor necrotic and/or poison damage, say 1d6 per minute) to fall. Grief causes fog to fill the area, and this fog can both distract travelers and suffocate them (see drowning rules). Anger can cause crematory fires to erupt. All of these emotions possess the ability to call into being elementals drawn from the infusing of dark natural elements with emotional energy.

So is this a permanent condition? No. Since the Shadowfell and Feywild do not normally intersect, this alteration can be halted and possibly reversed if the source of the intrusion is removed. Perhaps a mote of pure negative energy has been deposited in the Fey. Perhaps a powerful undead creature has moved into Faerie to hide, gain resources, corrupt, kill, or stake it claim. Perhaps the presence is benign or neutral, but its presence changes the landscape (due to how the Feywild responds to powerful creatures and their emotions), thus causing problems for the land and its inhabitants.

So that’s the internal conflict, but how do we get the players, whose characters live in the Prime Material Plane, involved? Let’s say the problem in the domain became severe, and so the fey started reaching out, but they didn’t do so in ways mortals would expect. Perhaps they sent a tale teller to spin rumors of a ritual game children could play to gain great treasures. Maybe something goes wrong, something gets lost in translation, or something is incomplete, and, as a result one of the children goes missing. Perhaps the children fall into a wakeless slumber, and while the players investigate, one of the transformed fey comes to continue the “game.” Perhaps children have been replaced with changelings with greater frequency than usual in an area as the fey seek new blood to try and fix the changes.

Again, this is general and vague, because I don’t want my players getting spoilers. I will talk more about this after they finish this little storyline. Thoughts? Ideas?

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