While avidly listening to Candlemass’ album King of the Grey Islands (which I love a lot, for some reason: seriously it’s one of my favourite works by this group) I couldn’t help but get inspired by this as an adventure setting.
Feel free to use this to inspire a game session for your favorite D&D or OSR-compatible RPG.
Who is the King of the Ashen Throne?
- A troubled mortal ruler who worshipped forbidden pagan deities. His rivals used this against him and had his entire family line murdered by the church’s Holy Assassins. Instead of being killed, he was cursed with imprisonment within his halls forever.
- A ego-maniacal Lich who self-appointed himself as a monarch. He generally keeps to himself, pouring over ancient tomes of blasphemous secrets.
- The anguished ghost of a man who died of a broken heart. His three daughters were each murdered by their cruel husbands. He weeps eternally at the harshness of life and regret over arranging these marriages.
- A clever vampire (skull-like face) who rules over his seemingly lifeless realm, relishing in feeding off of his would-be hunters.
- A sardonic Wight who dons a black iron crown; he guards not only his castle-sized tomb but the houses of his three daughters.
- Nothing but a figurehead: while a lifeless skeleton does indeed sit in the Ashen Throne, it is his three daughters who rule in secret (animating their father’s remains through Necromancy).
Who are the Daughters of Dust?
The King has three daughters: Euthania, Necrotia and Quietrice– each living in her own island palace. Euthania wishes to overthrow their father and take his place, Necrotia wants to impress him and earn an inheritance and Quetrice desires to break free of her Bonds to the Grey Islands (thanks to Zak S’s A Red and Pleasant Land for this idea).
- A coven of witches
While each keeps a private home on a separate island, the sisters meet regularly to converse and to perform rituals. Use Hag statistics and Coven rules: while the three are within a certain proximity of each other, their powers grow (e.g.: +2 spell caster level and +2 HD). The combined magical powers of the coven is legendary: kings and queens have paid great prices to win wars, ruin their rivals or save the lives of loved ones. For a great, sober cost, the coven can perform a Greater Wish spell.
While they are are officially allied, they strive to outdo each other with their Necromantic Experiments. Each one has a speciality: summoning undead hordes, blasting foes with curses and divination (each sister counts as a spell caster of 2 levels higher when casting spells of their favoured speciality). Each sister knows a great, world-changing secret relevant to your campaign. Through trickery, bribery or through a serious bargain, characters could coax out this information.
Some vengeful god or wronged sorcerous rival to the King transformed the sisters into winged creatures who terrorize sailors with their haunting songs and razor sharp claws. They are not “true” harpies, however: they are a strangely beautiful merge of human and black swan. Their voices are incredibly enchanting and their claws are wicked: the sisters can cast Charm as a spell-like ability as much as they want and their claws cause painful wounds that bleed profusely (d4 HP per round after a successful hit unless healed with first aid or magic).
Unjustly and unfairly slain for the sins of their father, the sisters eternally haunt the isles seeking vengeance against those who wronged them. Each sister loathes a different type of being: 1-men, 2-women, 3-spellcasters, 4-warriors, 5-non-human races (elves, dwarves etc…) or 6-clerics. Conversely, each is extremely kind and helpful to another group (roll again: if the same group comes up twice then the wraith is just crazed and her mood will change with the tide and mists).
They are monstrous in appearance: bald, long bat-like ears and huge rat-like teeth. But they are tormented by their vanity: reluctantly sharing a magical mask amongst themselves which grants them their former beauty while it is worn. The mask is a legendary magical item that has a secondary purpose of great importance to your campaign (up to the GM to decide). It is the key to solving a great mystery or conflict, but the sisters cherish it above all else in the world and will not give it up lightly.
- Dark Fey
The sisters are the product of an unnatural affair between the King of the Grey Islands and the Queen of Air and Darkness. Each daughter is imbued with the fickle and otherworldly powers of the Unseelie Court.
How does one travel from one island castle to another?
One must descend a perilous stair carved into the cliff face and embark upon an old wooden boat helmed by a cloaked spirit. The spirit only accepts memories, fingers or magic items as payment. Attacking the spirit in any way will make the boat sink immediately: anyone entering the water will eventually be drowned by strong, pale hands reaching out from the depths (unless they make a suitable Save to get out).
- Misty Portal
Each castle contains an empty, free standing Gothic archway in a frost-covered courtyard filled with blackened flowers and thorny bushes. When someone walks through they are enveloped by frigidly cold mist and reappear in the courtyard of the nearest neighboring island. Each portal may only be used once per day by each person.
- Through the Gates of Sleep
The only way to enter another castle is through the dream world: whenever a mortal sleeps inside of a castle, they will have a doom-filled dreary dream during which they will come across a room with four white doors marked with a black, burnt symbol. The sparrow leads to the King’s castle, the swan to Euthania’s, the raven to Necrotia’s and the owl to Quietrice’s. Walking through a door and the dreamer will awaken inside the respective castle.
- Wine of Blood and Honey
To travel to another castle, the visitor must win the hospitality of a lord or lady. Even just befriending a servant is enough. One must be offered a glass of special wine made from a mixture of dove’s blood and honey made exclusively from the pollen of deadly nightshade. Once imbibed, the visitor may transform into a sparrow and fly to the castle of their choice. Once they set foot again, no matter where, they transform back into their original form.
- Through the Dark Mirror
Hidden inside of each castle is a shrouded mirror. Its surface reflects a dim, shadowy version of the world. One may speak aloud the name of another castle lord or lady and then step through the mirror into an exact copy of it located inside the other castle. After each journey this way, there is a 1 in 20 (5%) chance that a shadow doppleganger is created and stalks its duplicate with the intent of: 1-killing and replacing them, 2-merging with them (the PC’s alignment becomes Evil), 3-kissing them (save vs. Death or… die), 4-keeping them trapped within the castle at all costs.
- Crossing the Twilight Bridge
Each island is connected by a covered wooden bridge. The interior is pitch black and no light, even magical, can illuminate it. Once someone crosses a bridge and emerges from the other side, they are changed: 1-they age 1d10 years, 2-they become 1d10 years younger, 3-they become resistant to fire but vulnerable to cold, 4-they no longer need sleep but lose a point of Charisma, 5-they no longer need to eat but lose a point of Constitution, 6-they no longer fear undead but become afraid of holy places.
After a visit to the Grey Isles…
Each time a mortal returns from a visit to this grim place, they are marked:
- Their hair becomes white, black or grey (whichever is the most appropriate)
- Their eyes become pale grey, pitch black or white like a drowned fish
- At night they lose 2 points of Charisma because of their ghostly appearance
- They lose a cherished memory or their closest loved one is positive that the PC has died (and has a hard time being convinced otherwise)
- A weapon or piece of armour darkens and becomes permanently cold to the touch. Will also affect magic items.
- They get +2 Charisma when interacting with people who have been affected or marked by death