“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

–H.P. Lovecraft 

Shadowsea Campaign Setting

* Environment
* Races
* Culture and Daily Life
* Magic and Technology
* Religion
* Allowed Resources and House Rules
* Influencing Authors


The kingdom of Yaneth’lei has never known the sun.

Nestled deep in rocky passages, buried beneath an infinite sea, Yaneth’lei claims a proud and timeless heritage–stretching back even to the dawn of time, some say. Their wisdoms are ancient and guarded, their technology mystic and coveted, and their underwater city a wonder that stretches for cavern upon cavern. Few (if any) have witnessed the entire breadth of the empire.

Or so they say. As a student of the prestigious University of Scales, you were born and raised in the “Cradle,” a secluded cavern where only the best are permitted to study. You wake each day in the Warrens, walk (or, more likely, swim) down the broad cobblestone streets to your classes, eat and socialize at the various establishments around town, and return to your beds at night. A dim lime-green light filters into the Cradle cavern from without; but apart from this, you have seen nothing of the world outside.

From far above the university, two large entrances into your cavern bring fresh water, fish and particles of food, and (most importantly) heat. The current glides high overhead, gifting its treasures in a slow shimmering rain. Fresh krill are easy enough to catch when the first morning tides begin seeping inside, and fish seeking the last traces of warmth are a tasty treat in the late evenings. Minerals are also deposited by the current, and the largest and brightest (and juiciest) of the underwater fungi can be found closest to the cavern’s entrance.

At the far end of the Cradle, the depleted currents travel over an increasingly-barren expanse, being finally absorbed into treacherous crevasses in the dark. You are strictly forbidden from ever approaching this area of the Cradle. No one who has entered the rifts has ever returned.


Life in Yaneth’lei is remarkably homogeneous, considering what extremes are present in other realms. All citizens are aquatic humanoids with similar beliefs, culture, and daily life. Physically, however, members of Yanethlien society can be broken down into three general categories. Genetic similarities suggest a common ancestor (or ancestors) some time in the distant past. Fortunately for all involved, there has been little to no discrimination based on appearance, and members of all three sub-species can find employment in most any profession (save, perhaps in the higher aristocracy).

Aventi [per Stormwrack]

• Medium: As Medium creatures, aventi have no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
• Aquatic: Aventi are aquatic humanoids, and have the aquatic and human subtypes.
• Amphibious (Ex): Aventi can breathe water or air equally well, without limitation.  The Yunethians have never had the opportunity to breathe above the water, and this ability has either atrophied or was never present.
Aventi base land speed is 30 feet. Aventi base swim speed is 30 feet. Aventi have a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. They can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. Aventi can use the run action while swimming, provided they swim in a straight line.
• Water Spell Power (Ex): …spellcasting aventi have enchanced ability with water magic. An aventi’s effective caster level is +1 for spells with the water descriptor.
• Human Blood: For all effects related to race, an aventi is considered a human. Aventi are just as vulnerable to special effects that affect humans as humans are, and they can use magic items that are only usable by humans.
• Automatic Languages: Common. Bonus Languages: Aquan, Elven, Sahuagin.
• Favored Class: Any.

Hu-nan [Human with Aquatic template, per Unearthed Arcana]

Hu-nan are regular human characters with the Aquatic template added, as per below:

Aquatic Subtype:
These creatures always have swim speeds and thus can move in water without making Swim checks. An aquatic creature can breathe underwater. It cannot also breathe air unless it has the amphibious special quality.

Standard Vision
• Low-Light Vision
• Have the (aquatic) subtype.
• Able to breath water. Able to survive out of water for 2 rounds per Constitution point before suffocation begins
• Swim speed of 20’ 30′ & can “run” when swimming in a straight line. +8 Racial bonus to Swim checks. Can always Take 10.

Kuo-Toa [per Monster Manual (1), Monster Manual V]

This humanoid is a little shorter than a human. Its rounded body is covered with fine scales, giving it the appearance of being pudgy or bloated. The arms and legs are slender, almost willowy, ending in broad hands and distended feet that look much like flippers. Its fishlike, bulletshaped head has bulging, silver-black eyes and a wide mouth full of sharp teeth.

An average kuo-toa stands roughly 5 feet tall and weighs about 160 pounds.  Although kuo-toas are generally a silver-gray color, their pigmentation changes with their mood. An angry kuo-toa is dark red, while a frightened one becomes pale gray or even white. The air around a kuo-toa carries a strong odor of rotting fish.

Kuo-toas know much about long-forgotten, ancient evils dwelling in the deepest parts of the ocean.

Aventi, Hu-nan, Kuo-Toa

Culture and Daily Life

Much like the fish upon which they prey, those of Yaneth’lei live very social, intermingled lives. Even those produced by single births still live in densely-populated grottos, preferring to share the same small buildings with as many as sixty or more others. Privacy is generally a foreign concept (save in the case of disease or death), and events are rejoiced or mourned by all.

“Buildings” are generally an amalgamation created from surrounding cavern walls and materials produced by secretion or basic alchemy. Habitations are as small and usually use narrow passageways with a minimum of exits, affording maximum security. This mindset of flight and concealment versus larger predators is pervasive in Yanethlien society, even in locations where it is clearly counterproductive.  Houses are stacked on and around each other like cubbyholes in a reef, and “roads” are generally just the empty waterways flowing above them.

Fresh food is the course of the day, and is most often eaten raw (or still living). When special events dictate prepared meals, food can be cooked inside special sealed pots, which let the food inside slowly broil while keeping the flavorful broth in and letting the dangerous steam out. Such contraptions are powered by magical “hotstones,” which can be charged by a magic user (such as a sorcerer or a wizard) for a hefty fee, or via the earth currents that run throughout the entire caverns. However, earth-charged stones have become increasingly rare as of late.

They say a Queen Mother rules over all the collective lands of Yaneth’lei. They say her vassal Lords and Ladies parade endlessly through a palace made from the rarest shining pearls. They say the capital center is a marvel of intertwining coral buildings, shimmering crystal formations, and towering shells from the fossils of mythical monsters.

They say many things, but you are not yet old enough to leave the Cradle. One day, when you are strong enough, wise enough, or clever enough, you too shall brave the buffeting currents like those before you and set out for a new life in a new world. Perhaps then too you shall see these wonders with your own eyes.

Magic and Technology

Technology in Yaneth’lei can be described in three basic ways: the natural, the biological, and the magical.

Natural technology would be any simple tool constructed from the environment around the user. This could take the form of flint knives, reed spears, a metal cooking pot, or even simple underwater alchemy that will react, given the right conditions. Natural technology in Yaneth’lei is understandably crude and limited, as most chemical reactions would require free atmospheric oxygen.

In response, the biological side of Yaneth’lei has grown to fill the void left by the natural, and it is easily the most rampant form of technology in the underwater kingdom. Slabs of stone are arranged to form a rough habitation, then giant slugs secrete a special mortar to affix them together. Glowing jellyfish are traded as floating lanterns for domestic use. There is even a species of kelp specifically bred for its broad, sturdy leaves. In a world devoid of paper or pen, any alternative to stone etchings is welcome and appreciated.

The final avenue of technology in Yaneth’lei would be the magical, but its use is strictly controlled. Underwater magic can be unreliable and extremely volatile, and many types are simply outlawed. Those who practice personal magic (by divine right or otherwise) do so by officiated license. Any who practice without permission face stern censure…or worse, exile. To help mandate the use of magic, both in form and quantity, artifacts and talismans are often created for general use. These might take the form of the hotstones mentioned above, a fishing spear that will return to its thrower, or specially-bred fungi and water berries that are later enchanted to cure disease and restore health.


In the olden days, the dread Father sought to destroy the world. Great was his power, such that no mortal could withstand him, and his minions the Deep Ones brought darkness to the face of the waters.

But there was One to oppose him–Tabor, He of the Everburning Orb. From deep within His thermal vents, Tabor looked up from His solace and saw the world above. He witnessed the desolation from the Father and the suffering it caused. This angered Him; and in His mercy, He sent forth His Templars and armed them with His divine Burning Light. With His power, His Templars were able to banish the Deep Ones back into their cold inky depths, and seal their Father far beyond the mortal realms.

Tabor still watches over us today, and with His blessing our world continues to flourish.

–inscription on the Temple of Tabor

There is only one patron diety of Yaneth’lei–Tabor, of the Everburning Orb. His followers are well-known and respected members of society. Clerics enjoy the domains of Health, Strength, and Burning Light, which they use to both mend wounds and keep the forces of destruction at bay.

The holy symbol of Tabor, illustrating the Everburning Orb and its steam fissures

Allowed Respources

System used: Dungeons and Dragons 3.5
Sourcebooks allowed:

  • Player’s Handbook 3.5
  • Dungeon Master’s Guide
  • Monster Manual (1)
  • Stormwrack (PDFs available on request)
  • Anything listed on http://d20srd.org, as this generally mirrors the above information.
  • Material from additional sourcebooks may be allowed for your character, if you can give a solid role-playing application. 

Character Creation Stipulations:

  • Level 1.
  • Character stats will be determined by the method described in the PHB 3.5 (roll 4d6, drop the lowest).
  • Any playable race and class from the above sourcebooks is legal.
  • SPECIAL: Your race must have the “aquatic” template, or in some way be able to exist indefinitely underwater, without the use of any special item or spell. I will be using the aquatic template found in Unearthed Arcana (currently the only bit of information used from that sourcebook).  See “Races” below.

House Rules

  1. The DM’s word is final. Although I frequently reward independent thought, there’s a fine line between an intellectual discussion and outright arguing/bickering. If I put my foot down, it’s final.
  2. I will never kill your characters, unless you want me to. RPGs are more fun when you’re allowed to become invested in your characters over a long time, instead of constantly wondering if they’ll die during the next encounter. That being said, I will punish stupidity, and I can make your characters so unplayable that you’ll wish they’d die. Play smart.
  3. Have an action prepared by the time initiative comes round to you. If your character doesn’t have at least a simple reaction ready, I’ll rule that he or she has become frozen with indecision and skip your turn.
  4. Spot/Listen/Knowledge/other mental skill checks can be done as a Move action while in combat.
  5. You cannot substitute a special action for an Attack-of-Opportunity, such as a Trip or a Disarm attempt.
  6. Any additional rules will be posted here.

Influencing Authors


H.P. Lovecraft

Single-handedly originating a genre, Lovecraft popularized the notion of “cosmic indifference”–that there is no benevolent higher power, and that the Truth will only claim your sanity…if not kill you outright.

William Hope Hodgson

Predating Lovecraft’s works, Hodgson was too the father of his own brand of fiction, the “Dying Earth” genre.  In his stories, humanity is alone in a horrific, malevolent universe; and extinction is no longer a question of if but when.

John Carpenter

Adapting to film a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr. (among other projects), this director expertly emphasized that the most terrifying things in the universe are to be found not from without, but within ourselves.

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