Excerpts Archive | 4/22/2011
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City of Midnight
Shadowfell Excerpts

If the Shadowfell is an echo of the world seen through a mirror darkly, then Gloomwrought is the reflection of a worldly city seen through that same mirror. But this mirror has been smashed into pieces, then rearranged according to the whims of a lunatic. The city scoffs at natural laws. Down every alley, a new and terrible secret waits to destroy the unsuspecting.

Although the City of Midnight is one of the few strongholds of civilization in the Shadowfell, it is neither a safe settlement nor a pleasant one. The citizens of Gloomwrought come to the city or stay in it for simple reasons, but rarely good ones. To those bold enough to seek power, wealth, and glory in the plane of shadow, Gloomwrought offers a place to do so.

Despite its negative aspects, the City of Midnight attracts immigrants and visitors. For some, the city has always been and always will be home. It is all they know. Such people raise families even in this dark place.

Chapter 2 of Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond includes the following sections:

  • Gloomwrought at a Glance: An overview of the features and the forces in this ever-changing city.
  • Factions: A look at some of the most influential power groups in Gloomwrought.
  • City Wall: The first part of the city that visitors see, whether they arrive by land or by sea.
  • Dust Quarter: The oldest of Gloomwrought’s districts, where most of the nobles make their homes.
  • Drowned Quarter: Incoming ships vie for dock space at the many wharfs that line the shore here.
  • Plaza District: Goods that arrive in the city find their way to the stores and marketplaces in this area.
  • Fettered Ward: This large district is a wild conglomeration of activity, ranging from the festive to the sinister and macabre.
  • Temple District: The Raven Queen is far from the only deity who boasts worshipers in the Shadowfell. This district has temples and shrines devoted to a wide range of faiths.
  • Shattered Isles: The scars of ruin and poverty mar these islands, once part of Gloomwrought proper until a cataclysm shook the city to its foundations.

Gloomwrought at a Glance

Standing alone on a long stretch of desolate shoreline, Gloomwrought is a dirty port with a huge swamp on one side and a sea on the other. Inside its high, encircling wall, the city is a cramped and dismal place. It is a maze of twisting lanes, narrow alleys, and chaotically placed buildings. Everywhere, statues with sinister faces leer out over the streets.

Strange citizens, stripped of color and verve, crowd these thoroughfares. Among them are the inscrutable Keepers, a bizarre race of caretakers found throughout the city. Although the Keepers exhibit no discernible reason for their work, they are thought to be responsible for the upkeep and continued existence of the City of Midnight.

The city is inherently mutable, which is a quality the Keepers seem to use for some advantage. This trait often catches visitors by surprise. Outer gates slide along the wall, and statues and carvings shift from one position to another. Buildings move and change without warning. In one part of the city, a high tower might suddenly crash down into rubble, while in a different district, a row of stone houses could unfurl from the cobbled street.

No one is certain, but the locals believe that a strong-minded inhabitant or group of inhabitants protects a given building from collapse. This belief holds some truth, but it’s hard to reckon who or what constitutes this kind of person. A number of injuries and fatalities occur every year due to cave-ins. Occupants who assume their building is safe are often proven wrong, with sometimes fatal results.

Everything about the City of Midnight gives off an ominous air, as if danger always lurks nearby. Most newcomers get the sense that the city is looming overhead like a giant monster ready to snatch up the unwary. If it is possible for a city to have the character of a skulking predator, then Gloomwrought is such a city.

Five Facts about Gloomwrought

All manner of visitors frequent the City of Midnight, but most people in the world never have occasion to visit it. Despite this situation, a few bits of information about the infamous city are widely known.

Lots of Lords: Prince Rolan the Deathless ostensibly rules, but the heads of various noble houses and other special interest groups have more influence on the day-to-day activities in the city. Whether religious, military, or mercantile, these leaders are caught up in a constant struggle for dominance. Visitors are wise to avoid this conflict.

Keepers Keeping: A group of mysterious creatures called Keepers tends to the city. Little is known about the creatures’ origins or intentions, or whom they serve. They have a powerful connection to Gloomwrought, and the locals treat them with fearful respect.

Changeable Cityscape: The city is like a living entity. Buildings rise, collapse, twist, reshape, and grow with alarming regularity. Most residents attribute these changes to the Keepers, although no one can explain what is actually happening.

Coin Is King: Gloomwrought’s markets are vast, full of mysterious and wondrous treasures from afar. Rare, powerful items are bought and sold on a daily basis. A strong black market also thrives here. If an item exists and is for sale, it can probably be found somewhere in the City of Midnight.

Death’s Sway: Most citizens tolerate other religions (small shrines to various faiths exist throughout the city), but the Raven Queen is the dominant deity of the Shadowfell and of Gloomwrought. The Raven Queen’s main temple is Raven’s Eyrie. The Ebony Guard of the Eyrie works against all other religions.

Gloomwrought’s Districts

Over the centuries of its existence, Gloomwrought has, without the aid of its citizens, expanded and broken up into several major districts. Although these areas are indisputably part of the same city, each district has a distinct character. A district’s qualities coincide with the people and purpose of that locality. Mansions of the Dust Quarter are ostentatious structures that have ornate columns, statues, and balconies decorating them. Houses of worship, cloisters, and mausoleums line streets in the Temple District.

Six major districts make up Gloomwrought. They share traits with the larger city, but each one also has distinct characteristics. Brief descriptions of the districts follow, along with a few key concepts to have in mind when describing them.

Dust Quarter: Home to Prince Rolan and Gloomwrought’s wealthiest noble houses, the Dust Quarter is a stagnant, cheerless place. Houses are extravagant, but the opulence feels soulless or mournful. It’s as if the buildings are little better than glorified crypts. Those who live here are certainly cold-blooded enough to dwell in tombs.

Drowned Quarter: This teeming waterfront district has an undercurrent of nastiness that is less obvious than the slime on the harbor walls. Life in the Drowned Quarter is desperate and cutthroat. It turns occupants into coiled springs, ready to attack at the slightest provocation.

Plaza District: Gloomwrought’s center of trade and home to its main marketplace, the Plaza District contains people possessed of an animal greed that colors their actions. They initially give an open and inviting impression to newcomers, but strained friendliness and overly flattering speech barely mask their avarice and corruption.

Temple District: Raven’s Eyrie dominates the Temple District like a brooding dragon. Despite the spirituality here, the quarter has an air of hollowness and menace. It’s as if the rituals have no heart, and everyone here is looking for a reason to be offended.

Fettered Ward: The Fettered Ward is the entertainment district of the City of Midnight, and it contains a larger number of aggressive citizens than even the Drowned Quarter. The pursuit of sensation is performed with a fervor and a callousness that can take kindhearted newcomers aback.

Shattered Isles: These island slums of Gloomwrought’s harbor, also called the Ghost Quarter, are plagued with hopelessness. A pervasive feeling of inevitable decay and unavoidable failure weighs on those living here.

Fettered Ward

The Fettered Ward, Gloomwrought’s entertainment district, spans the north end of the city. Spectacles arise on every corner, and intense sensations lurk down every street, captivating the mind and the senses. Bizarre sights are common, and dark thoughts are brought into the dim light and made real. Many experiences that can be had in the Fettered Ward might be frowned upon in other communities or, at least, shamefully hidden away. In the City of Midnight, however, people openly come into the quarter and openly take part. Concentrated diversion is life itself in the Shadowfell, chasing away the bitter grayness that soaks into the soul.

Buildings in the Fettered Ward reflect the passion of life in the district. They are more changeable here than almost anywhere else in the city, and their mutability more obviously mirrors the sentiments of the people. Storefronts take on an angry aspect, for instance, when vicious crowds storm into the quarter during the weekly hangings or the monthly gladiatorial games. Spiky horns sprout over doorways, and windows resemble clenched teeth. The environment feeds the citizens’ frenzy, so that they reach their destinations howling for blood.

Permanent residents in the Fettered Ward, other than entertainers and other workers, are those who have sunk into the Shadowfell’s dismal grasp. Steady exposure to the district’s offerings has numbed these poor souls to stimulating effects. Such wretches must chase experiences that are more and more extreme just to fend off the decay of mind, body, and soul. Addicts beholden to acute sensations to keep them going, they can no longer live in a way that passes for normal in Gloomwrought. They are trapped. Bound in such a downward spiral, few recover.

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Excerpt Schedule

Its appearance can be deceiving, for the Shadowfell’s differences are woven into the fabric of the plane.
The Gloomwrought is the reflection of a worldly city seen through a mirror darkly.
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