Red Shoals of Dkar

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 141: Red Shoals of Dkar




After reclaiming the ownership and editorship of both Dragon and Dungeon magazines from Paizo, Wizards of the Coast decided to make more than a few changes to how the periodicals were run. One of the largest of these changes was to radically reapportion how content between them was organized. Since the founding of Dungeon, that magazine had always been focused almost entirely on adventure modules, whereas Dragon was a general purpose place for content about D&D (and originally other RPG’s, though this largely tapered off by the 90s). The new decree was that Dragon magazine would be for content to be consumed by players, whereas Dungeon would be for dungeon masters. I can see the sense of this decision, even though it meant altering the identities of these magazines in sometimes strange ways. For the first time ever, this meant that articles like “Red Shoals of Dkar” from issue #174, January 2010, would be found within the pages of Dungeon.

So no, although it’s published within Dungeon, “Red Shoals” isn’t an adventure, and for that matter what exactly it is beyond a “feature” isn’t really explained. It turns out that this is a profile of a location within the Elemental Chaos, though figuring that out is going to take a bit of reading and commitment to discover. The best way for me to describe this area as a whole would be to pull from the article’s lore section, so let’s do that:


The Red Shoals of Dkar are a series of sandy islands that lie in the watery eye of a colossal chaos storm that perpetually rages through the Elemental Chaos. Most of the islands within the eye are impermanent things; they swell and shrink according to random fluctuations of the surrounding storm. Though many of the shoals are inconstant, the elemental sea of water suffusing the eye seems a permanent fixture of the storm’s hollow center.

Some of the Red Shoals have been stabilized magically and serve as lairs to various groups of pirates, ne’er-do-wells, and other fearsome forces. These raiders have learned how to sail out of the eye at just the right time and in just the proper fashion so as to slip back into the world for a brief while—a period long enough to launch a raid and return before the tide turns and the passage closes.

Following an odd introduction, the article breaks down into descriptions of Abmelach Island, Farkus Island, Dragon Island, Ellasar Island, and the Jade Gyre pseudo-island. Each location’s primary pirates are profiled, and in addition there’s information included about the origins of the Shoals and the strange Maze of Dkar at its center. In all, it’s pretty much what you’d hope for from an interdimensional pirate nest, with plenty of details allowing for a complex but functional community structure. 

The sole piece of art for “Red Shoals,” besides the cover illustration, is of this pirate captain, Red Marjorie, a doppelganger who pretends to be a demon. Given that she sells slaves to the Abyss, the distinction is pretty irrelevant.

One thing that I don’t want to skip over here is that a lot of this community’s economy revolves around slavery. This shouldn’t be news to anyone who’s read a lot of Fourth Edition works, as slavery fills its pages. For instance, when writing  a paragraph about this subject for The Plane Below (since cut), I searched the book and found 49 instances of the phrase “slave.” Now if this is a topic that you’re rightfully squeamish about, then a lot of Fourth Edition’s lore is going to be off-putting, and this comes to the particular fore in this article, wherein one of these few islands is basically just a slave market:


The comforts of Farkus Island are bought on the backs of the slave trade that serves as the islands’ primary export. Farkus Island is administered by Maeryn the Whip, a hard-eyed dwarf female who can size up a slave’s value within seconds. Maeryn’s personal bodyguard and chief slave overseer is Stoneheart, an earth archon.

The slave market in the central (and only) city on Farkus is always brisk, even in the middle of darkest night. Permanent teleportation circles set in the slave market sometimes sparkle into life, providing access to a specific courtyard in the City of Brass where slaves are similarly bought and sold. In fact, Farkus Island might be one of the City of Brass’s largest suppliers of enforced labor

Slavery does go hand-in-hand with colonization and piracy, so this inclusion makes sense to me, but at the same time I completely understand not wanting to deal with this topic in a fantasy game played for fun. The non-judgmental tone of both this and other Fourth Edition books towards slavery is also at times off-putting, as treating this subject so matter-of-factly pretends that chattel slavery is no different from any other good. Wizards of the Coast today is afraid to broach, well, most subjects, but it’s still shocking to read some of this material now, especially if you came into the game with Fifth Edition. It’s nasty stuff, and in this particular world, and thus articles about it, slavery is practically everywhere. 


But I still like the Red Shoals. The concept of tattoos that allow residents to make their way to and from the island is an excellent method of making sense of this area, and I even like the backstory about a dead primordial—at least for once there’s no hint of Dkar ever reawakening. It is a well-developed and fun planar setting, and with its conflicting NPCs feels more like something Paizo would put out than Wizards of the Coast. And while as it stands the Red Shoals are very Fourth Edition-focused, moving these pirates to a demiplane would be simple enough for those wanting to use it in other settings. I doubt this is anyone’s favorite bit of planar lore, but it’s a good way of integrating swashbuckling into a setting that’s usually more about other means of travel and adventuring.


P.S. Why are there never any goddamn maps in this edition! Yes, I get it, Elemental Chaos is always supposed to be changing… but fuck that, give me a usable map so that I can better picture this area. Sure, the Delve format is a mess, the cosmology is trash, and the combat system overwhelms all roleplaying, but my least favorite part of Fourth Edition is quickly becoming the refusal to include maps outside of combat. 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest Exposition Break articles sent to your inbox.