WELCOME TO THE DARKNESS
This page introduces The Darkness as our campaign setting for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons within the world of the Forgotten Realms. The Darkness tells the story of the forces of Evil slowly coming to power and control within Faerûn. The playing characters must either bow down to the Darkness or rebel against it. It is their choice.
HISTORY OF THE DARKNESS
In 1998, TSR published a module written by Bruce R. Cordell called “A Darkness Gathering.” It was a story where the heroes become aware of an Illithid movement to blot out the sun and enslave the surface world. It is the first of an adventure trilogy (continuing with Masters of Eternal Night and concluding in Dawn of the Overmind) that pits brave adventurers against the brain-eating Mind Flayers. Dungeon Masters can run each individual adventure of the trilogy separately, or they can be linked together to form a seamless, epic-length adventure. I always liked the idea of the Mind Flayers trying to blot out the sun, and linked it to the Drow agenda to do the same. It wasn’t long before I started to design a campaign where the world was cast out of the light, allowing the Dark Powers to walk the Realms unhindered.
In 2010, Wizards of the Coast started a program called “D&D Encounters.” The program was an organized play initiative. Wizards of the Coast supplied GMs across the nation with adventures to run on Wednesday nights. Players could either use pre-generated characters or provide their own 1st-level characters. Each night’s adventuring contained just a single encounter. These sessions were billed as running 60-90 minutes in length.
Although not all of the D&D Encounters stories were based on Forgotten Realms, many of them were and Dungeon Masters were asked to report the outcomes of the adventures so that further storylines could portray the overall outcome from organized play.
By running Encounters simultaneously across the nation, Wizards hoped to take advantage of social media; they envisioned people talking about the games on Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, comparing their experiences with those of other players across the nation.
Overall, the Encounters program would prove extremely successful. Though neither it nor Essentials made D&D Fourth Edition into an unprecedented success story, the Encounters program was well-loved; it got attention on CNN and elsewhere and was successful at drawing players into game stores to play. Eleven Encounters seasons ran through late 2012, before the program took a short break and shifted over to a mixed 4e and D&D Next format in 2013.
I decided to run with this idea, and started to track the outcome of each storyline, recording the worst possible outcome that would promote the spread of Evil in Forgotten Realms. So as D&D Encounters progressed, I kept adding to the Darkness campaign setting as I waited for the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition in 2014.
As the Seasons rolled out and the organized play continued, I was able to investigate the stories and read about the overall outcomes from nationwide reports of games. I selected what seemed to be the worst possible outcome for each Season, and wrote that into my Darkness campaign.
- SEASON 1: Undermountain: Halaster’s Lost Apprentice left me with the idea that Waterdeep’s most famous dungeon could be infiltrated by Drow, allowing easy access to the city and its resources.
- SEASON 6: Lost Crown of Neverwinter Missing for decades, the Crown of Neverwinter, symbol of the former ruling family, has emerged at last. Yet not all are pleased with the crown’s reappearance. Beset by rebels and plaguechanged, Lord Dagult Neverember must hire a group of adventurers to track down the so-called Lost Heir and discover his intentions for the city. The stakes are no less than the lives of the citizens of Neverwinter, for if the heroes fail, Neverwinter seems doomed to descend into civil war. And so in my campaign, civil war erupts in the Northern section of the Sword Coast.
- SEASON 8: The Elder Elemental Eye is set in the western Heartlands of the Realms, with individual sessions occurring in the city of Iriaebor, the village of Easting, and the temple of the Sunset Shrine. It resulted in the the Elemental Eye rising to power within Western Faerûn in my campaign.
- SEASON 9: Web of the Spider Queen told the story of the Drow rising to power in Shadowdale. . It was a Forgotten Realms story that depicted Lolth driving the Drow to attack the surface in an attempt to fill Mystra’s vacant seat as the Goddess of Magic.
- SEASON 10: Council of Spiders – Lolth’s avatar has come to Menzoberranzan, declaring the god’s intent to spin a Demon Weave and gain control of arcane magic. Within my campaign history, Lolth is successful in rallying the Drow to the surface world from the Underdark.
- SEASON 11: War of Everlasting Darkness seemed to link right into my idea of a Overdark campaign. Darkness spreads across Faerûn. Under this pall of shadow, the Drow fight with impunity, protected from the harsh daylight. My campaign history shows Lolth ascending to fill the role of the Goddess of Magic at the end of this Season.
- Season 13: Storm Over Neverwinter was a Season I was lucky enough to participate in myself during the short stay of a local gaming store within the DuBois Mall. This story had to do with the Ashmadai, worshipers of Asmodeus, growing in power and Helm’s Hold, a cathedral once dedicated to Helm, being taken over by evil-doers. The impact within my campaign was that Neverwinter was plunged into political chaos while dealing with the civil war at its gates.
- Vault of the Dracolich – Deep in the forest of Cormanthor lies the hoard of the dracolich Dretchroyaster, the prize of which is a diamond staff rumored to unlock the secrets of an ancient Elven kingdom. In my campaign, the outcome was that the Cult of the Dragon gained possession of the Crystal Staff. Also Dretchroyaster, became the overlord of Cormanthor Forest and Myth Drannor.
- SEASON 14: Search for the Diamond Staff concluded with the Cult of the Dragon growing again in power as they used the Cystal Staff to open the Vault of Song and gained vast amounts of Uvaeran magic.
- SEASON 15: Murder in Baldur’s Gate told the story of Bhaal’s return to the world of Forgotten Realms. In my campaign, Bhaal is successful and takes control of the now ruined city of Baldur’s Gate.
- SEASON 16: Legacy of the Crystal Shard involved Icewind Dale. The outcome of this story was interesting for my campaign. First, it made the Ice Witch and the dracolich White Dragon once known as Icingdeath into powerful overlords of the Dale. Also, The Cult of Auril rose to great power and expanded the Black Ice in the North thanks to the sinister influence of the Crystal Shard, Crenshinibon.
- Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle Ghosts chronicled the efforts of the Red Wizards to unlock the power of elemental nodes located in an abandoned temple dedicated to the Princes of Elemental Evil within the town of Daggerford. A gate to the Nine Hells lay open for some time, spewing devils and smoke. In my campaign world, the temple remains in control of the Red Wizards and they maintain the Gateway to the Nine Hells as a way to gain more influence and power by brokering deals with the Dukes of Hell.
- SEASON 17: Scourge of the Sword Coast continued to tell the tale of the Red Wizards and their power grabs within the Sword Coast. In my campaign, Thay is now a nightmare land inhabited by devils and undead, thanks to the outcome of Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle. Within this story, Szass Tam, the lich lord of Thay, and his Red Wizards take control of The Bloodgate, an elemental node of power. They also gain control of Phylactery Vault giving them the ability to create several dracolichs to add to the Thayian armies.
- SEASON 18: Dead In Thay told the story of the Red Wizards taking control of Bloodgate Keep, a fortress guarding a powerful portal with elemental nodes and ritual humanoid sacrifice fueling its magic. The Bloodgate could allow Thayans to transport forces to the heart of the Sword Coast near Daggerford, giving the Red Wizards an army with which to overthrow and control the North. In my campaign, Bloodgate Keep stayed in the hands of the Red Wizards and they were able to summon forth a mighty devil named Baazka who took control of the Thay armies and would eventually lead a nearly successful campaign against the city of Neverwinter during one of our sessions.
And so my Faerûn: The Darkening campaign started with the storyline presented in Darkness Gathering, and continued through the entire Tyranny of Dragons adventure path. Most recently, the campaign has expanded with the completion of the Rise of Tiamat where the heroes chose to abandon their quest, leaving one of their friends to die while fighting the Queen of Darkness one-on-one resulting in Tiamat’s successful return to the Prime Material Plane.