Welcome back, welcome back! Come, take a seat. No, leave the shutters closed. “Dark for dark business”, they say. And you couldn’t possibly find something darker than what we’ll be discussing today.
In the past months, we talked quite a bit about the heroes, what motivates them, about their adventures and the creatures they may face. But we never talked about the dark shadow that looms above all this. The greatest of enemies. The One they will be fighting Against: the Darkmaster himself.
So who – or what is the Darkmaster?
Well, we could say that the Darkmaster is an immensely powerful being of pure Evil, banished in the formless Void beyond the creation when the Stars were still young, and still plotting His return.
But that would be just part of the truth, just one of the many possible answers.
Like in any good old fashioned Epic Fantasy saga, during their adventures your heroes will come face to face with Evil. And we’re not talking about the evil of petty local barons, greedy thugs or savage marauders, though their world is surely not short of those, too.
We’re talking about capital “E” Evil. An absolute and unrelenting forces of cosmic proportions, that threatens the game world since its creation.
The Darkmaster is the personification of these forces and, as such, His name, true nature and even number (yes, there can be more than a single Darkmaster!) will vary from one setting to another.
Giving an epithet, personality, motivations and agenda and defining the powers of the Darkmaster is one of the things that really help shape the setting and mood of the game. It is an involved process, that requires all the players brainstorm along with the GM. The identity of the Darkmaster can be decided immediately, before starting the campaign or even before creating the PCs; or could take shape and be revealed as the game progress and the world is explored.
In both cases, the heroes will soon learn to recognize the signs of the Darkmaster’s presence, His favorite minions, the symbols of the forces of Darkness, and the horrible Taint left by His touch on the land and the very soul of those who accept His dark gifts.
So where to start from? By defining some fundamental aspects of the Darkmaster and His influence in the game world, perhaps.
Here are some suggestions.
The Witch Queen, the Dark Sorcerer, the Horned King, the Gods of Entropy, the Weaver of Lies, the Elder Dragon, the Lord of Unlife… The Darkmaster could have as many names as the many faces He wears, and those faces and forms can vary and change over time, as in strange aeons even Death may die, y’know…
Generally however, there’s a single main embodiment of the Darkmaster at any given time in the game world. This Avatar is often given a name, or better an Epithet – since His True Name is seldom revealed to the mortal Men – that represents His transient state in that particular time and space.
Try to make this Epithet suggestive and eerie, without having it reveal too much about the true nature of the Darkmaster.
The Genesis of the Darkmaster can be suggested – as well as concealed, for He can be the master of disguise, by His Epithet.
The Outer Void, The Annwn, The Elder Chaos, The Ancient Egg, The Primal Weave. These could be the place (or non-place) from where the Darkmaster originated at the dawn of times. There, a spark of Elder Evil lit the Darkness and from the Shadow a first formless spawn was born. Ages later, the Son of Outer Darkness walks the lands of mortals: he’s now Evil embodied – The Darkmaster!
Surely the Darkmaster is a being of immense power and strength; but what are His Dark Powers exactly?
Is He the most powerful Dark Warlock, weaving eldritch enchantments stretching whole continents and lasting for ages? Or is He a fierce Warlord, leading armies of dark minions into battle, waging war to raze the Free Kingdoms, He himself capable of besting any champion of the Light in a fight? Or perhaps He is the Master of Disguise, plotting dark schemes and using soothing lies to seep through the cracks of mortal minds, infect their society from the inside, until making their empires crumble. Or maybe She is a dark and beautiful Queen, the Great Seductress, Priestess-Lover of the Dark Gods, bound to rule eternally – and all shall love Her and despair. Or even, it could well be all of the above, and lots more. Deciding the nature, stretch and strength of the powers of the Darkmaster will help the players envision vividly the fantastic world they’re about to explore and set the mood of the game.
Who are then the Darkmaster’s servants? From His most powerful heralds to His fearful minions? From the lieges and chieftains of the His elite troops to the lackeys, knaves and slaves?
His lieutenants may be Demons, powerful spirits from a hellish dimension. They may be Dragons, ancient serpents bringers of destruction. They may be undead Wraiths or Liches, as well as powerful Dark Mages. Could them maybe be zealot Priests of His cult, receiving His dark blessing in the form of powerful chants? Maybe they actually are Unseelie, dark feys from the Annwn.
And what about his minions – making up for the bulk of His armies? They could be undead thralls, shambling their rotting corpses through the dark of night. Or they could be of the Dark Kins: orcs, trolls and goblins, forming a fierce army sworn to pillage and sunder. Even, they could be of the same Kins of the free people: Men, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings who embraced Shadow.
Likewise, His spies and informers can be anything from murders of black-feathered Gorcrows to sneaky Redcaps or lurking Spiders.
Finally: where does the Darkmaster’s hideout lies, and what it is?
Maybe it is a huge fortress, impregnable black ramparts raising up to the churning clouds. Or it can be a fire-topped mountain, spitting ashes and flames all around a barren, scorched land. Either, it can be an ice-covered island in the utmost North, bathed in perpetual twilight, surrounded by treacherous seas. And what if was an entire underground realm, a labyrinthine complex of tunnels, caves, and underground seas?
Generally, the Dark Place is located somewhere to the farthest edges of the known world – or even beyond. Barely reaching such an impervious place, traveling through the Dark Lands, is a deed worth being sung in the epics.
And so, what’s next? We learnt how to determine who the Darkmaster is and what His powers, servants and den are.
In the next installment, we’ll get to know how each different Darkmaster get to influence and shape with His sheer presence the game world, and inspire the different types of adventures and epic quests that the heroes will get to face!