What is the Shroud?
The Shroud is a thick, pale mist that rises up from the ground around the borders of the region. It is particularly strong on the roads and passes that lead south, to the rest of the former civilized world. Generally, the Shroud stays in the southern parts of the Deeping Mire and in the Seeker’s Forest, but there are arms of Shroud that stretch northwards, and sometimes patches appear farther north than that, hovering around graveyards, battlefields, old ruins, and other places with connections to the old kingdom. The old capitol is almost always covered with an impenetrable blanket of Shroud as well.
Thin shroud is indistinguishable from normal fog, except for the presence of the Whispers (see below). Visibility is reduced to 40 feet, and all characters more than five feet away benefit from partial concealment (-2 on attack rolls). Light sources, even magical ones, only illuminate one-half of the usual distance. When the people refer to things or beings as “in the shroud,” they mean within the Thin Shroud. All noises seem strange, as well – sometimes, everything is muffled so that people practically have to shout to be heard. Other times, the slightest sound seems to be magnified.
Rumors persist of strange, otherworldly beasts that live in the Thin Shroud, as well as evil spirits and other unnatural occurences. For this reason, even the Thin Shroud is usually avoided.
The deep shroud is visibly deeper and thicker than any natural fog, and seems to glow with an eerie, pale green light. Visibility is limited to roughly 5 feet. Anyone who goes into the deep shroud vanishes and is never heard from again. Monsters, unintelligent animals, and certain creatures seem to be resistant to the disappearing effects of the Shroud, but no one knows why. Deep Shroud stays perpetually over all of the roads and passes that lead south and east to the rest of the world. It is often found in the marshlands of the Deeping Mire, and sometimes can coalesce out of the Thin Shroud without warning, especially in the ruins of the old world. Tendrils can also creep north from the perpetual shroud, forcing travelers to go around and, in some extreme cases, wiping forts, settlements and villages completely clean of life. Those with particular magical sensitivity can sometimes sense the arrival of Deep Shroud by listening to the Whispers.
Whispers in the Fog
Some people, when they spend time in the vicinity of the Fog, start to hear “whispers” – sometimes actually whispers, sometimes speaking, sometimes snatches of music or song. Some few actually hear spells being cast, screams, or ominous chanting. Not every person hears the whispers, and of those that do, most do not hear it every time they are near the Shroud. Generally, people whose minds are unguarded – those in deep sleep, the wounded, the feverish, the mad – are more likely to hear the whispers, and more likely to make sense of what they hear.
Keeping the Shroud at Bay
Because of the very real dangers of the Shroud, keeping the Shroud away from their homes is a major pastime for everyone who isn’t mobile enough to simply flee when the Shroud advances. The most common method used has towns and villages burn small fires around their walls every night – open fires (at least, fires bigger than candles or torches) seem to keep the Shroud from creeping in most of the time. If the Shroud begins to encroach, great bonfires are sometimes lit.
If that is insufficient, most villages simply keep everyone inside their homes. All homes in the Shrouded lands can be shut against the outside – even the poorest of hovels has a door and shuttered windows and a chimney that can be sealed. Sometimes this works. Sometimes, people disappear.
The homeless and the wanderer seeks shelter in either a common building set aside for this purpose or within the walls of the village church. Some say that these are safer than homes, though there is little evidence one way or the other.
Though these are the most common methods of surviving the fog, they are not the only ones. Some of the larger towns actually have magical wards set up by the local temples, powered by priestly magic and the prayers of the populace. Others have darker superstitions – sometimes an outsider, or even an unpopular villager, might be driven out into the Shroud as a “sacrifice” to the malevolent spirit in the Shroud. Others might invoke a curse on a neighboring community, or bury ancient artifacts in a rival village’s graveyard, to try and divert the shroud there. All of these methods have had mixed results, and the only sure-fire method of surviving the Shroud is staying away from it. Not that this is always possible…
What Brings the Shroud?
No one is exactly sure what the Shroud is or where is comes from, but a number of superstitions have sprung up over who or what causes the Shroud to come to a location.
Everyone knows that the Shroud is thickest around the old ruins. Some say that the Shroud is a curse by the gods against the old High Kingdom, and anyone who explores the ruins or uses any of their artifacts bring the curse upon themselves. It is almost universally believed that arcane magic users are magnets for the Shroud. For this reason, almost all warlocks and mages live wandering lives – no town or village will allow a magic user to stay long.
Other superstitions about what brings the Shroud include: tieflings, thieves, the deformed, the insane, followers of a certain god or a certain philosophy – in short, anything that might be seen as different or dangerous. Naturally, the heroes make the list.