Ravenloft: The Shadow Fallen
Gundarak lies southwest of Barovia, between that land and Invidia. Like both of its neighbors, Gundarak is richly forested, as well as being less mountainous than Barovia. Still, the majority of the terrain is steep foothills, making the topography a wrinkled maze of cliffs, crags, and sharp drops. The southeastern corner of Gundarak is home to the most spectacular gorge in the region, with walls that drop nearly a thousand feet in some places.
The nation is less organized and advanced than its northern neighbor, largely due to the anarchic and chaotic state in which the country finds itself. While ostensibly ruled by a hereditary duke, the current ruler is a weak-willed and self-indulgent man with a penchant for violence and terror. Many of his vassals have fallen into tacit rebellion, though none of them have the forces necessary to overthrow their tyrant—and most of them hate each other enough that they fight one another as often as they fight their common enemy.
Gundarakites struggle daily to survive in their own land. They never know when a “tax collector” will show up to steal their hard-earned grain, lumber, or goods, or to demand that their taxes be paid in slaves taken from among their sons and daughters. Since the central government has collapsed, a single village caught between warring factions might have to pay their “taxes” several times in a year—or several times in a month.
Many villages have become havens for one or more rebel forces, though this is a dangerous game. Duke Gundar is a lax but vicious man; when he hears rumors of peasants aiding his enemies, he is liable to raze the entire village rather than take the time to determine the truth or falsity of the rumors.
Peasant homes tend to be rough-hewn affairs made of pitch-sealed logs and roofed in thatch. The majority of buildings in every village have been rebuilt several times, and the people no longer have the resources or the spirit to build anything better. Streets are muddy and ridden with potholes, and roads between villages are poorly maintained. Bandits are everywhere, and many of them call themselves government officials.
If Barovia is the sleepy Balkan village of Gothic film and literature, then Gundarak is the Balkans as they have existed since World War I—a place of near-constant strife and struggle, where peace can turn to bloody battle in the blink of an eye. Most people have long since forgotten why the fighting is happening, if there was ever a reason at all. Now, the fighting is its own reason and purpose, and it’s unlikely that it will stop until no one has strength left to raise a weapon.
- Internal Strife: The people of Gundarak are their own worst enemies. Villages that share blood ties, marriages, and old friendships can swiftly turn into bloody enemies if they wind up on opposite sides of an arbitrary line drawn by others. Brother fights brother, with no end in sight. The ultimate cause of this strife is pride—a stubborn pride that makes people prefer bloodshed to admitting they were wrong.
- Desperation: The domain breeds desperate people. Villages are perpetually on the edge of starvation due to burdensome taxes; militias are perpetually underfunded and poorly armed; the nobles that command armies are harried on all sides. Gundarak is a pressure cooker that frequently explodes. The general air of desperation means that people often make bad decisions based on perceived need. This can include a village deciding to waylay foreigners for their valuables, a commander making an ill-conceived attack based on unfounded fears, or a platoon deserting their unit before an “inevitable loss” to become bandits.
- Factionalism: The center cannot hold, and anarchy is loosed upon the world. Every attempt to consolidate power inevitably goes wrong in some fashion, leaving the power base splintered and chaotic. Large bandit gangs split into smaller bandit gangs; successful armies find their commanders falling out and turning upon one another. Betrayal leads to schisms, even when people seem to be reaching for the same goal. The factions change constantly, if usually openly; subtle political machinations are beyond most of the warring nobles.