Ravenloft: The Shadow Fallen
Verbrek is not a nation at all, but rather the name given by outsiders to a large swath of land in the western part of the region with no central government or civilization to speak of. Verbrek is shrouded in a patchwork of towering forests, misty hollows, and overgrown wetlands. Here the wilderness is primeval and untamed, the dense and thorny vegetation making travel an arduous experience.
Travelers must learn to be wary of Verbrek’s wolves—hulking, silver-furred beasts that stalk their prey with human cunning. Those who brave the domain’s trackless wilds are constantly harried by a terrifying sensation of being hunted. Snapping twigs and rustling leaves are enough to send travelers into panicked flight, like frightened deer. There are no wide, well-traveled roads in Verbrek, only the most rugged and poorly maintained trails.
The scattered villages and lone farmsteads that dot the domain are wholly without comfort in the surrounding gloom of the wilderness. The squat buildings are constructed of massive, rough-cut logs and thatched, gabled roofs with chimneys of smooth river stones. Muddy trenches five or more feet deep surround the domain’s humble livestock pens, an often futile strategy to keep the wolves at bay.
Verbrekers are a sturdy breed, short in stature but muscular. Their skin ranges from very fair and freckled to light tan in color, though it is typically weathered and toughened with callouses. A Verbreker’s eyes are usually blue or green, and hair color runs from honey blond to medium brown, but auburn is not uncommon. Both men and women keep their straight hair long and unstyled, with men preferring to maintain a length just above the shoulder. Men often grow mustaches and beards, always together.
Verbreker clothing is simplistic, loose fitting, and functional. Men wear trousers and tunics, while women dress in blouses and long skirts slit up the thigh. Many Verbrekers, male and female alike, wear hooded cloaks when outdoors. Shades of green and neutral colors such as white, beige, and brown predominate local garb. Folk from all walks of life carry a hatchet or knife at all times if possible.
Verbrekers are at home in the wilderness, though their relationship with the natural world could best be described as an uneasy truce. Verbrekers have a healthy respect for nature, but that respect is tempered with a fear of nature’s savagery. They stoically strive to carve out a life along the banks of Verbrek’s many rivers, recognizing all the while that in the battle between humanity and nature, nature is likely to emerge the victor. In the meantime, they endure by learning the ways of their wilderness, thereby avoiding a senseless and early death. They value basic survival skills and are easily angered by urban folk who risk everyone’s lives through their recklessness or ignorance.
The Verbrekers are not the true masters of their domain, a fact that they acknowledge with grim fatalism. Verbrek belongs to the wolves—both the four-legged ones and the ones that can pretend to be men. Virtually every Verbreker believes in werewolves, the shapechanging beasts who have kinship with both wolves and humans. Some even think they have their own society, but no human has ever learned about that society and returned to tell the tale.
Verbrek is regarded as something of a treacherous, backwater realm. Tales of rampaging wolf packs discourage outsiders from venturing into the domain with any frequency. The only regular visitors are river merchants, who ply the domain’s waterways in search of the furs, timber, foodstuffs, and other commodities that the Verbrekers produce. In turn, they bring scarce crafted items, particularly iron tools, on which the Verbrekers depend. In recent years, Verbrekers have been forced to just such merchants warily; many of them have turned out to be slavers from Arkandale.
Verbrek is the trackless wilderness, the savage forest that tests humanity against nature. In Verbrek, however, nature usually wins—and it is only at the end that those who contested with nature realize that the game was rigged against them the entire time. In many ways, Verbrek is the archetypical domain of werewolves and beast spirits, a place where humans are the minority and what few bastions of civilization exist do so at the sufferance of the wolves.
Virtually any werewolf movie would be a good inspiration for Verbrek, but especially The Howling with its society of werewolves who live mostly separate from humans, going among them only to hunt, and The Brotherhood of the Wolf, which depicts a non-supernatural enemy that could easily be reskinned as a coven of real werewolves.
- The Forest Primeval: Everything in Verbrek has a feeling of being both ancient and dangerous. The trees are enormous, the wolves can be the size of horses, and ruins abound. The wilderness is deep and dark, full of dangers. More than that, the wilderness is almost aware; it resists attempts to civilize it with a will of its own. New fields are overgrown in days, attempts to clear-cut trees draw the ire of monsters, and trying to build a road just results in the loss of workers as they’re picked off one by one.
- Man versus the Wilderness: In some domains, monsters or other people are the worst threat. In Verbrek, the horror comes from nature and its callous indifference to the lives of men. That callous indifference can turn into true malice when dealing with intelligent representations of nature, like the werewolves. The worst things in Verbrek come from the wild; this can be bad weather, natural predators, supernatural beasts, or so on, but the real dangers are all wilderness dangers.
- Rules of Nature: An old saying goes, “Whether you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun comes up you better start running.” Verbrek is the domain where it’s hunt or be hunted, kill or be killed. Shades of grey and moral nuance are for civilized places. Stories set in Verbrek should be about survival, plain and simple, whether that means outrunning, outfighting, outthinking, or outlasting.