The Nature of the Demiplane
Exactly what a demiplane is or how it comes into being is a matter of debate and controversy, even among those who travel the planes of existence routinely. In the most basic of terms, however, it is a self-contained pocket dimension that hangs suspended in the Ethereal Plane. Also, the Demiplane is divided into independent domains, which are each ruled by a domain lord.
Like all demiplanes, Ravenloft has its own natural laws and physics. Of course, these are subject to change at the whim of the dark powers that seem to control the Demiplane. For the most part, however, these laws are consistent and reliable.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Demiplane of Dread is that it is something of a closed universe. Much like a Venus’s-flytrap or the deadly pitcher plant, it allows the unwitting to enter while making escape almost impossible.
The ways into the Land of the Mists are many and varied. Relatively common magical spells and items, like the priest’s plane shift or an amulet of the planes, can allow someone to make his way into the Demiplane of Dread. Of course, exactly why someone would purposefully travel to this forlorn place is beyond comprehension.
It is also said that a few portals, both temporary and permanent, lead into the Land of the Mists. Sometimes, when the stars align or a certain series of events occur, temporary gates open into the Realms of Terror. Other places – ancient shrines to forgotten gods of evil and the like – are said to hold hidden portals that can instantly transport the unwary into Ravenloft. Whether true or not, both of these speculations seem plausible and merit caution on the part of adventurers.
Most travelers who end up in Ravenloft do not seek the Demiplane. They are drawn in by the clutching tendrils of the Mists. Exactly what the Mists are or how they function is unknown. It is for this reason that the folk of Ravenloft refer to the Mists in much the same way that children might speak of a bogeyman. In Ravenloft, anything unknown and threatening is generally ascribed to the Mists, whether any connection actually exists or not.
When most people think of the Mists, they envision swirling clouds of white vapor that roll out of the ground to consume evildoers. This belief certainly has a great deal of merit, for the Mists of Ravenloft do appear to be the agents of the dark powers.
On the other hand, the Mists often travel to various places without any apparent cause, and even randomly abduct individuals for no obvious reason. When they do this, the Mists are as likely to affect those who are good or neutral as those who are evil. Some feel that these are merely random events – unpredictable and unstoppable. Others say that a grim purpose lurks behind these apparently chaotic abductions. The truth will almost certainly remain unknown until such time as the true nature of the dark powers is revealed.
For some reason, the Mists never travel to the Inner or Outer Planes. Exactly why this is, none can say. While some insist that the powers of those planes are so awesome that they are able to hold the Mists back, this seems unlikely. If a gate spell can pierce the borders of these otherworldly realms, it seems impossible to accept that the Mists could not do so if they wished.
While there are many ways to reach the Demiplane of Dread, routes out of that mire of evil are far fewer. Indeed, many think true escape from Ravenloft is impossible. They say that those who manage to leave the Demiplane will be drawn back one day, since the Mists never forget anyone they have chosen to embrace. However, whether escape from Ravenloft is permanent or temporary matters little for the purposes of this discussion.
The Demiplane of Dread is made up of smaller, pocket domains each ruled by a “Darklord”.
Darklords are the seed of evil at the heart of every domain, but few of Ravenloft’s denizens are aware that they exist. Heroes have no infallible means of detecting who or what is the darklord of any given domain. Some darklords control their domains openly, acting as political rulers, while others skulk in the shadows, their very existence a secret. Indeed, the very concept of a “darklord” isn’t one that the average citizen of Ravenloft is aware of.