Ravenloft: The Shadow Fallen
Darkon is a huge and mighty nation, home to countless souls across a vast and varied land. To call Darkon an “island of terror” is to downplay its incredible size—easily the equal of many Clusters in terms of land area—and its diversity. Darkon is home to virtually every known race, religion, and creed, all of them working together for the greater glory of king and country.
Darkon is a lie.
The land called Darkon is a parasitic domain, capable of siphoning off people, resources, and even territory from other places, gradually converting them into more of itself. People brought to Darkon gradually lose their memories of other lands, becoming convinced that they have always been citizens of Darkon. When they find a home and take a job, they simply tell their neighbors that they moved there from another province, a tale the neighbors are all too happy to believe. After all, many of them originally came from other provinces too.
Darkon is a land of peace and stability, rigidly maintained by the vast aristocracy and bureaucracy of the wizard-king Azalin. The government does not permit crime, riots, or other major disruptions to the daily lives of the people—nor does it permit free expression, speech criticizing the government, or open cultural exchange with other lands. Darkon enforces its false cultural purity as a means of preventing citizens from being exposed to concepts that might jar them out of their complacency as “natives”—for once your true memories have been restored, the lie that is Darkon can never again hide the truth from you.
While most lands fear or hate magic and non-humans to one degree or another, Darkon is a land that embraces magic. Scholarly pursuit of the mystic arts is encouraged by the government, at the cost of any trained mage being required to work for the government in order to keep their chaotic powers under control. While religious freedom is permitted, only priests of the state-run Eternal Order are permitted to use their mystic powers; spellcasting priests of other religions are required to join the bureaucracy as agents or to convert to the Order.
Keeping the peace in Darkon is the secret police organization known as the Kargat. These agents can be nearly anyone, and they maintain extensive networks of information in order to keep an eye on the citizenry for any sign of seditious behavior. People who speak out against the government’s power or who disrupt the peaceful existence of their neighbors often simply disappear in the night, never to be seen again.
Darkon serves three purposes in the setting. First and foremost, it is a traditional “dungeon crawl fantasy” setting with a heaping helping of horror thrown in for spice. Darkon is a land of vast vistas, powerful nobles, strange monsters, and underground ruins just waiting to be plundered. While Ravenloft leans away from such adventures in general, Darkon is the place to let your players get it out of their system.
Perhaps more importantly, Darkon is a land where soul-crushing order has resulted in a place where people are safe but not happy. Like many Soviet-era nations, Darkon is a country where government stability has been placed above the individual lives of the people who dwell there. The country subsumes those that live in it, breaking down their will until they are little more than drones going through the daily motions of a flavorless, grey life.
Finally, Darkon is a classic Ravenloft domain that cannot be left out of the setting. Azalin is an iconic villain, if somewhat brought down in this depiction from his days of shattering the Core or being the central character of two editions’ worth of metaplot. Still, Darkon is a fascinating domain that any version of the setting cannot do without.
- Freedom for Safety: Darkon is a land where the people have sold away their freedoms a bit at a time, bartering them in exchange for the illusion of safety. Most people get to live orderly, peaceful lives—but that order and peace can be snatched away at any time by the fiat of a government that cares nothing for those lives.
- Realm of Magic: Sorcery is common in Darkon. While much of it is in the hands of the government, turning wizards into bureaucrats and agents of the king, not a small portion of it remains wild and free. Magic is the tool of government oppression—but it is a tool that writhes in the hand of its users. Magic is a force of chaos, not order, and those that use it undermine their own efforts at suppressing freedom.
- Dungeons and Darkon: “Traditional fantasy” means many things, but the most common elements of that genre come from Tolkien and his imitators—elves, dwarves, magic, and underground ruins. Darkon is a place filled with those tropes, where virtually every city has one or more monster-filled dungeons within a day’s walk and where “adventurer” is a legitimate occupation. The horror elements of the Land of Mists still pervade Darkon, turning dungeons into dank, fetid places from which only the lucky and the skilled return—but far more people are willing to risk it in Darkon than in other domains, for some unknown reason.