This revision of the domain of Keening in Ravenloft was inspired by the peculiar flavor of British folk horror-meets-science fiction from the 1970s that has come to be called hauntology. Media such as Children of the Stones, The Stone Tape, Quatermass and the Pit, the “Image of the Fendahl” Doctor Who serial, Scarfolk, Welcome to Night Vale, and Robin of Sherwood were my primary influences. The full write-up appears in issue nine of Strahd Loves, Man Kills.
Domain of Hauntology
Genres: Folk horror, ghost stories
Hallmarks: The uncanny, the pull of the past, pagan undercurrents, spectral repetitions
Mist Talismans: Broken pocket watch, druidic amulet
The domain of Keening is haunted by the possibilities of futures that will never arrive. Intractably tethered to the past, prior misdeeds, bygone traumas, and buried secrets continually return to trouble the present in Keening, but the weighty burdens of history can never be fully dealt with in the domain. Nothing is truly ever dead and buried or forgotten in Keening; the past echoes in the present as a series of uncanny reverberations—repetitions of painful moments of sorrow, anguish, and despair.
Those familiar with Keening know the following facts:
• The people of Anwrtyn, Keening’s largest settlement, purposefully deafen themselves so they do not hear the wails of the banshee who haunts the nearby Mount Lament.
• Every village within Keening is located near a physical reminder of the land’s connection to bygone eras of ancient history.
• The spectral undead are common in Keening, as the domain refuses to let the unquiet past lay dormant.
• The areas of wilderness between Keening’s villages are prowled by undead monstrosities such as wights, zombies, and bog mummies.
Characters from Keening tend to be regarded as quaint and often possess a pronounced interest in history, but those who spend time with them soon realize that Keenians are unhealthily obsessed with the past. They are generally unable to break away from the cyclical repetition of events that have already transpired; they often seem “stuck in the past.” When players create characters from Keening, consider asking them the following questions.
What remnant of the past stood near the village where you grew up? The villages that Keenians hail from each have their own local reminder of the ancient past close by. For some villages, this remnant is a circle of standing stones, but others might have been built in proximity to a cairn, a field of barrows, or an antediluvian stone keep.
What haunts you? Everyone from Keening is haunted by an event from their personal history—some painful or traumatic moment that plays out over and over again in their minds during quiet moments.
What dream of the future tempts you? Because Keening is so inextricably tied to the past, few Keenians hold much hope for a better or different future. And yet, perhaps you cherish a dream of a future that would be restorative or recuperative.
Settlements and Sites
The forbidding land of Keening hosts no settlements larger than a village. Each settlement is located near a primeval remnant of the past. These remnants take forms such as cairns, circles of standing stones, henges, eerie monoliths, primitive statues, barrow mounds, and crumbling fortresses.
Villages in Keening are notable for their strange local customs, ceremonies, and celebrations. These traditions are immutable and are often tied to the natural cycle of the seasons. Although their origins are lost to time, the people of the villages are fastidious about keeping their traditions alive.
Keening’s countryside is rough terrain, yet it is also breathtakingly beautiful. Dense pine forests, taiga, and perilous mountains dominate the highlands, while the lowlands are comprised of plains, murky bogs, and forested fens.
At the base of Mount Lament lies the village of Anwrtyn, where all the residents are deaf. This is no accident, for the locals purposefully deafen themselves so they won’t be subjected to the shrieking of the banshee who haunts Mount Lament.
Within the village of Eldkirk sits a hoary old church, decrepit and in a state of shameful disrepair, dedicated to the goddess Ezra. The people of Eldkirk still attend services at night within the church, even though it is sometimes assaulted by a monstrous barghest called Old Blood Eye. When Old Blood Eye attacks the church, he rends its door from its hinges and seizes upon one of the gathered congregants, dragging them off to what is presumed to be a gruesome end.
The village of Gristgale Tor is unremarkable, save for the uncanny Gristgale Tor Public Library. The library has no entrance, but the village’s residents report emerging within the library in their dreams, where they must wander the dusty stacks until they find the book they are fated to check out. Once it has been located and the faceless librarian has taken down their name, they awake in their beds—with the book from their dream beside them. The book always gives them nightmares when read.
Lynbury is a small village surrounded by a circle of eldritch standing stones inscribed with druidic runes and sigils. Once the circle has been entered, is is impossible to leave Lynbury until the mystery of the standing stones has been solved; any attempt to leave leads those seeking an exit into the Mists, which shunt them back out into Lynbury no matter which direction they attempt to travel away from the village.
The people of Lynbury are unfailingly polite, kind, and welcoming. They encourage newcomers to make themselves at home and to consider settling down permanently in Lynbury. Indeed, life in Lynbury is an attractive prospect—visitors will be offered gainful employment, comfortable abandoned homes to take as their own domiciles, and a fair share of the food harvested from local gardens. Amiable companionship is also used as a lure; those who enter the Lynbury Circle find that the populace of the village coax them to join in nights of drinking and singing at the village pub and offer to induct them into the village’s troupe of folk dancers. Any unattached visitors will discover that an attractive and attentive villager has set their eye on them as a romantic prospect.
For all its offered comforts, Lynbury is a snare for the unwary and weak of will. Lord Glaston, Lynbury’s country squire and unofficial magistrate, taps into the magic of the standing stones to siphon away his fellow villagers’ emotions and feelings to feed Nihal, the Serpent Star. The villagers of Lynbury are happy, but only because all other sentiments and emotional responses have been drained from them by horrid sorcery.
When an outsider probes too deeply into the nature of the standing stones or the villagers’ unnatural happiness, Lord Glaston invites them to give up the burden of unpleasant feelings by participating in the ritual that activates Lynbury’s standing stones. If they refuse to lose themselves to the standing stones of Lynbury, Lord Glaston hunts them through the village with monstrous snakes gifted to him by the Serpent Star.
The only way to escape Lynbury is to slay Lord Glaston and offer his blood to the standing stones. Although this will allow visitors to escape the confines of the Lynbury Circle, it does not banish evil from the village; once the current Lord Glaston is dead, a villager will be elevated to his position and begin his malign work anew. The village will wait for new victims, and the stones will continue to hunger for the negative emotions that nourish Nihal.
Sladestone Keep is a dilapidated fortress currently being investigated by a team of researchers into the paranormal from Ludendorf University. A particular chamber in the keep has long been rumored to be haunted; this room has become the focal point of the investigators’ work. The researchers have discovered that playing musical instruments within the room causes the spectral scene of a ghastly murder to manifest. The scene plays out the same way every time: a man is violently attacked by a manic woman wielding a dagger made of black stone.
Close examination of the chamber’s walls reveals that it is etched all round with curious grooves, not unlike a modern record. The room is not so much haunted as it is an architectural recording of a horrible deed committed long ago. The room’s details suggest that the invention of a “stylus” able to play the recording fully could provide a method of ending the haunting permanently. However, using such a device on the chamber’s grooves will not result in the spectral scene playing out further or being dispelled—it will cause everyone in the room to be thrown into the past, mere days before the murder took place.
Anyone drawn into the keep’s past will be faced with deciding whether the murder should be prevented and determining how they might attempt to return to their native era.
In life, Tristessa was a dark elf dwelling under Mount Arak in Tepest, but she was exiled for crimes against her people. Formerly a priestess of Lolth, Tristessa earned the ire of her cruel goddess. She refused to sacrifice her male consort, and was punished for an obstinacy that sprang from true love: their child was born a drider. Although the culture of the Unseelie fey living beneath Mount Arak demanded it, Tristessa refused to abandon her child as an abomination or abject outcast. In light of her refusal, Tristessa, her consort, and their child were dragged to the mountain’s surface. Stakes were driven through their bodies; they were left to die of exposure and hunger upon the mountainside of Arak.
Tristessa could only howl with grief as she watched both her child and her beloved consort slowly expire. As she began to slip into the arms of death, her thoughts turned to joining her family in the world to come. Death, however, would not hold her. The Mists surrounded her as her spirit departed her body, capturing and transporting it to a new mountainous prison in the newly formed domain of Keening.
Tristessa’s spirit wanders Mount Lament, bereft and wailing for the family that was taken from her. The few who have survived an encounter with her claim that in between cries of sorrow, she whispers, “Tell me—where is my child? Where is my beloved?”
Tristessa’s Powers and Dominion
Tristessa has the stats of a banshee. Tristessa is tall, thin, and graceful. She appears to be wearing the tattered remains of a once-fine gown. Her face, however, is distorted by grief and torment. When she wails, tears stream down her face.
Undead Hordes. Tristessa has control over the undead who haunt Keening’s wilderness. She sometimes uses these minions to funnel victims toward her mountainous abode. Her favorites among her undead servitors are: a troop of unliving soldiers whose faces are frozen in silent screams; a beggar woman with a raspy voice, a milky eye, and a face half-disfigured by rot and decay; and a beekeeper whose body has become the hollowed hive of his poisonous buzzing companions.
Closing the Borders. When Tristessa wishes to close the borders of her domain, the Mists echo with an unbearable cacophony of lamentations. Anyone who ventures into the Mists will find themselves unable to withstand the onslaught; they will lose consciousness and awaken somewhere within Keening.
Tristessa is tortured by painful reminders of the loved ones she has lost and her inability to reach them beyond the veil of death. The Dark Powers taunt her in the following ways:
• Tristessa longs for her pain to be recognized and soothed, but since the people of Anwrtyn deafen themselves to her deadly cries they provide no true witness to her suffering. She wishes to be heard and understood, but the villagers deny her that comfort.
• The people of Anwrtyn are compelled by the Dark Powers to offer a yearly sacrifice of a young man and a child to Tristessa in hopes that their companionship will quiet her. Since Tristessa has no way to provide for this proxy family, she must watch as the replacements for her lost loved ones also die of starvation and exposure upon Mount Lament.
• Tristessa’s pain and loneliness is mocked by shadowy, half-real visions of the fey she formerly lived among under Mount Arak.
Tristessa has been consumed by sorrow and pushed past the point of madness. She cannot stop herself from fixating upon the loss of her lover and child, nor can she control her need to wail and scream—though doing so does nothing to expend the desolation that eats away at her.
Personality Trait. “I vent my pain upon an uncaring world.”
Ideal. “One day I will be reunited with those I love. There must be a way to end this torment.”
Bond. “My fondest memories of my beloved and my child turn to rot and ash in my mind.”
Flaw. “The ache of loneliness has made me cruel. I have no sympathy for others.”