Dark Shadows Crash Course
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
This article is aimed to you as a newcomer to the role-playing game Celenia: Dark Shadows and its world of Dunia. It is meant to bring you up to speed of the world, its inhabitants and its intricacies without requiring you to read hundreds of articles. Once you have grasped the basics, feel free to dig deeper.
This article is not an in-universe document nor does it attempt to be prose. It is just you and me, having a conversation and me telling you in broad strokes about the world.
If you are more interested in the ruleset and what kind of a game Celenia is, head over to Celenia D10 RPG System.
The world of Dunia is most similar to Europe in the middle age 1100-1400 with some magic, occultism and fairytale saga sprinkled on top of it. The genre is dark, low-fantasy with three major species forming a civilisation together. There are no humans.
Dunia (also known as Geislheim to the natives), like it's model, is a feudal world, ruled by a few rich and powerful standing on the shoulders of their vassals. In some regions of the world, powerful city states rule supreme and maintain some independence from lords. Technology is primitive and warfare is more a matter of resources, favors and numbers than that of technology. Force is the ultimate currency and the populace are at large subjugated and repressed, their will since long broken. In spite of the limited freedom people enjoy, they don't see themselves as repressed (for the most part). Life is hard, but rewarding and people have a positive outlook on the future.
The continent of Arjin is the heart of civilisation with several cultures spread across its staggering landmass. Each culture has multiple nations, city states and lords that squabble over who is the greatest and grandest, fight over arable lands, trade routes, rivers, forests and mineable mountains. These lords and ladies are locked in an almost endless power struggle where none of them is strong enough to rule supreme. Uneasy alliances lock them together in a web of promises, plots and lies.
Three species make up the civilisation of today; the adventurous Illim, the calm and calculating vindral and the jovial Kuna. Together one refer to these three species as the "Kykr". They are connected to one another by faith and culture, more so than species. They live together, intermingled among one another as if they were one people. Many hundreds of years ago the Trifolk Alliance was established to ensure that no species would be lesser than another and while they don't unite under a single flag, nor a single culture, the concept of racism almost unheard of between Kykr people. That is not to say that Arjin is without conflict, or racism, far from it. The Kykr are wildly xenophobic to anyone not Kykr.
In the west lies the Morvátian Peninsula, a place of endless forests and beautiful fields. It is the home the morvátian culture. While each nation is unique in its own way, they share a large amount of common values. It is a land where the strong rule the weak and where honor is the guiding precept for most. Tradition is important to these people and they hold their cultural values close to heart.
In the east lies the Gimroan Basin and the gimroan culture is dominant here. Free spirited, creative and poetic, the gimroans have spread across the fertile basin and hundreds of years of squabbling amongst themselves have given rise to a couple of lords strong enough to call themselves kings and empresses. The gimroans are outspoken, loyal and value their women highly.
Down south lies an enormous area of open land, starting with a plain in the north, gradually shifting to steppe and then a desert as it approaches the southern shores. Here live the kharamôrans, a people well adapted to the heat and drought of the arid lands in the Great Plains. These lands are largely made up of powerful city states. They survive on trade but they also fight over valuable oasises and control of the two massive rivers flowing through the Kimaran Desert. The kharamôran peoples are quite content with being left to their own devices, free from any influence of the lords in the basin. Their society is strictly stratified, with each societal caste filling one function or another and women are considered the property of her father or husband.
The Frigid North
But what about the far north? Most of it, like the rest of the world, is covered in thick forests. It is cold most of the year around, and completely frozen in winter. The Crimson Straits freeze solid during the winter, permitting passage by foot over to the large island of Ayera, or Winterweald as named by the Kykr. The forests of the Winterweald are inhabited by a plethora of dangerous creatures hostile to outsides and few ever come back alive from an excursion into its frigid depths. The Winterweald is the ancestral home of the Fay.
The Kykr are the three intelligent species that formed the Trifolk Alliance centuries ago. The term is used similarly to how "human" is used in our world. It's a descriptor to involve being "one of us", an intelligent, civilised individual. When not referring to yourself as an individual species, you refer to yourself as Kykr.
The Illim are a hardy people of humanoids with tough skin and crystalline growths on their bodies. Illim are strong, enduring and candid. They evolved on the shores of the Blood Coast and quickly mastered the seas. They love the open sea and open landscapes and even to this day, thousands of years from their origins, they are still connected to the sea and you'll find that Illim are quite common as seamen, moreso than the other species. Being fond of large, open spaces they have an innate dislike for small, cramped spaces and can become uncomfortable and agitated when trapped inside.
They're unique in the way that their appearance is dependant on where they grow up. They take on the colors of their surroundings when they grow and settle in permanently at the age of two to five years old. An Illim growing up near the sea might have skin the color of seawater and gray hair. Another growing up in the plains may have skin in green or gray tones, and hair that is yellow like wheat or plainsgrass.
The Kuna are a jovial species of humanoid canines. They are a collection of several phenotypes, each evolving in different parts of the Great Plains. The Natukep and Kunaupti are the dominant types, both having evolved in the great plains and quickly found one another. The more hyena-like Natukep and the more jackal-like Kunaupti intermingled and interbred early on in evolution and today they are called by a common name of Natukuna, though people commonly reduce this down to just Kuna. There are many other types of Kuna, but the Natukep and Kunaupti, together with the Nihitmaturu, are undoubtedly the most common.
The Kuna are perhaps fierce looking but are the most welcoming and friendly of the Kykr. They are kind, jovial and enjoy the company of others to such a degree that they can slip into depression if they are without social interaction or isolated for too long. This social ostracisation used to be a punishment among pre-civilisation Kuna societies.
The Vindral are a diminutive species of Fay that have broken their link to nature and sided with the other species against the Fay. Thousands of years ago they discovered the secret of metalsmithing and used their weapons against the other Fay to conquer them. Eventually defeated by the Fay and exiled from the Winterweald, the Vindral allied with the Illim and Kuna and formed modern civilisation.
The Vindral are small, slender and faylike. You'll see them stand 5 feet tall at most, averaging about 4-4,5 feet. Their most conspicuous traits are the long ears, the vibrant blue eyes and their colorful hairs. These creatures are cold, detached and logical as opposed to the more friendly and jovial Kuna and Illim. Their peculiar estrous cycle brings them into heat a couple of times a year and this, coupled with their limited emotional range, make them stand out from the other two by a large margin. Having been forced to adapt to living among more emotional species, the Vindral have developed a detailed body language to convey their meaning in conversation, making up for what they lack in vocal melody.
They are a short lived species, maturing at the age of 9 and living only 40 years on average. This makes them inquisitive and driven, yet reserved in their mannerisms. Their sharp minds make them well suited for administrative duties, and rarely as front line soldiers. They don't match up well to the larger species and their lack of reach in combat makes them poor on the battlefield. They are however great strategists and in individual combat they can be just as deadly as any of the other Kykr. They prefer longer weapons to make up for their personal lack of reach, so it's not unusual to see Vindrals carrying spears and other polearms.
Magical creatures, bound to nature, capable of wielding the nature's energies as magic. The fay are reliant on their magical connection and will wither and die without it. Their motivations and will is a mystery. But the Kykr know one thing; the Fay are dangerous. Fiercely opposed to the Kykr, the fay lurk in their fayhomes, hidden away in nature.
The animosity between fay and Kykr go back thousands of years, beginning with the vindral banishment in the Winterweald. The Kykr invade and destroy fayhomes to make room for farms, cities and they use the timber for building ships and houses. The fay will kill the Kykr wherever they find them, but will rarely come out of their fayhomes, even to wage war. They misdirect, hide, disrupt and avoid the Kykr. If a Kykr stumbles obliviously into a fayhome, they will be killed. But the fay do not seek the Kykr out in their villages, unless desperate, vengeful or hungry.
The Fay are not one united folk. There are a multitude of different Fay and they keep mostly to their own kind. The Silfr have little in common with the rock trolls of the mountains. Fay are not above terrorizing, attacking, killing and kidnapping Kykr who live close to their lands. They are cruel and inventive in their torment of their enemies. Some Fay, like the Rau and Silfr, even hunt the Kykr for food, being carnivorous predators.
"The Fay" is a collective term used only by the civilised people to describe any creature that is not an animal, but lives in nature, away from the cities and towns. Sapient or sentient is irrelevant, the Fay walk the fine line between animal and Kykr.
Among the Kykr people's there are those who are the result of a union between a Kykr and a Fay, usually a Vindral and a Silfa, due to their biological similarity. These unfortunate Fay-Blooded souls carry signs of their Fay heritage and become perspecuted, feared and hated by those who would be their kin. With their Fay ancestry comes a connection to nature and its ley lines, allowing them to use Fay magic. For this they are feared and hated by the Kykr.
Magic is not something that is common in the world of Dunia. There is magic, but it is greatly feared by the Kykr, for they are not capable of using it, unlike the fay. Magic is something that is used against them to curse, lure and harm them. Among the Kykr, magic is something to be feared and destroyed.
The fay access the energies of nature through a powerful network of "ley lines", conduits through which the power of the world flows. Invisible, undetectable and utterly useless to the Kykr, this network of the world binds the fay together in a giant, world-spanning web of life.
The only "magic" that the Kykr know of is something they don't even consider magic, but more a law of nature. There are blessed individuals among them that through faithful devotion to a god is given divine knowledge of the Runes of Power. This makes them runesmiths who devote their life to inscribe runes on buildings, items, weapons and armor in service of the people and in service of their god. Through loyal service these individuals can glean additional knowledge and learn more rare and forgotten runes.
Finally, there is a newly discovered, dark and evil magic. But more on that later.
The continent of Celenia is the focus of the Dark Shadows setting and a major point of contention among the nations of the world. It is a continent that was discovered only around 40 years ago and proved to be a land full of resources, which threw most of the major nations in the world into a mad rush for expansion on the new continent. Old conflicts were left to fester as the nations turned their eyes across the seas and in some cases, the conflicts followed to the new continent. As far as the Kykr knows there are no Fay on Celenia and if there are any, they are likely as corrupted as everything else on the continent.
Celenia once held a great civilisation of winged creatures known as the Ithonair, but some great calamity threw their entire civilisation and most of the continent into ruin. What is left are myriads of ruined cities and towns as well as great swathes of land that are tainted by some dark corruption that turns both the land itself and any creatures within it hostile and evil. These corrupted areas are called shadow scars because of their dark tint and perpetual cloud covers. The creatures that inhabit them are more dangerous than the Fay. Inside these scars the Veil is thin and creatures from the other side can manifest inside them, and perhaps worse, one can pass through the Veil and find oneself in the Shadow Realm.
The Shadow Realm and the Corruption
The Shadow Realm is a sort of parallel universe to Dunia. It's a place you cannot normally inhabit and passing into the Shadow Realm is something few really know how to do dependably. It's a horrible and hostile place where creatures from Dunia cannot exist without protection against the harsh environment. Even such a simple thing as breathing is difficult as the atmosphere of the Shadow Realm is dry and toxic. Any creature of Dunia that stays too long in this environment will eventually succumb to shadow sickness and die if not treated.
The creatures that inhabit the Shadow Realm are hostile, violent and wholly terrifying. Their alien appearance is enough to bring the bravest warrior to their knees. These creatures can appear in Dunia in and near the shadow scars and it would appear that some of the scars are slowly growing, corrupting the world around them. Worse yet, some people seem to have the ability to use the energies from beyond the Veil and use it to terrifying results.
Among the settlers on Celenia, a new organization has started taking hold. Mystics, they call themselves, that wield the shade of the Shadow Realm like a weapon. They have gathered a following, promising untold power to their followers. They seek the power of the Shadow Realm and to bend it to their will. Mystics of the Shadow Order, just like the witches who wield the Fay's power of nature, these occultists are seen as heretics against the gods. In spite of fierce persecution the influence of the Shadow Order is spreading. There are rumors of secret meetings and powerful nobles joining their ranks. The cultists are everywhere, hiding among the populace of both Celenia and Arjin.
Some organisations have taken it upon themselves to stop these occultists in order to prevent the corruption, that appear to have destroyed the celenan civilisation thousands of years ago, from spreading to Arjin.
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