Lore-Win: The Shadow Over Icewind Dale
The Dark Alliance. A medley of varying races and organizations, from the skulking thieves of Baldur’s Gate to the forces of the lizardfolk, and even monstrous creatures and the undead, all serving beneath the Blackguard Eldrith the Betrayer.
Source: Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance
This makeshift army and its inheritors would terrorize Baldur’s Gate with their plots… who are absolutely not the Dark Alliance in the upcoming Dungeons and Dragons: Dark Alliance.
For that, we need to go north, far north. Up to the mountains that make up the Spine of the World. Where the icy wind will cut your face like a blade should you venture out unprepared and unprotected.
Where heroes are born, and where adventurers die in the snowy dunes.
It is here that we will soon do battle with another Dark Alliance. But this is not the first time an array of villains has threatened the icy north. There was a time before, a time when a crystal tower stood over Icewind Dale and its shadow threatened to consume Faerun itself.
Welcome back to Lore-Win, the Dungeons and Dragons lore series. I, as always, am your humble Loremaster, Sokar. Today we’ll be braving the snow and the cold of the Sword Coast’s north and coming face to face with one of Faerun’s most famous adventurers.
The Frigid North
But before we begin delving into the events that precede this new Dark Alliance, let us first look at the land itself.
To say Icewind Dale is a harsh land would be something of an understatement. It is true that it is the northernmost explored region of the Sword Coast, but do not take that to mean that it is truly inhabitable. The Dale, as it is known, is an arctic tundra that has been named for the harsh winds that scour the region. At their strongest, the winds are capable of blowing down buildings, and the realm sees little sunlight and the temperature often sits below freezing.
Life is hard here. Which may not be that much of a surprise given that Icewind Dale sits in a region known as the “Frozenfar”. To demonstrate how cold it gets, Icewind Dale is situated near the “Sea of Moving Ice”. The river “Iceflow” runs to its south, from the Spine of the World into the sea below, with the “Cold Run” tundra inhabiting the space between the river and Icewind Dale proper.
So, needless to say, Icewind Dale gets cold..
It gets very, very cold.
Just in case the giant spears of ice weren't obvious enough.
Source: Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden
But it is not always so. Kinder warmer months can bring temperatures as high as 21 degrees celsius, though they can also be as cold as -12. The winters are harsh, however and the temperature can plunge as low as -40.
Perhaps the most notable features of the Dale are its trio of mineral-rich lakes. Maer Dualdon, the largest of the three lakes, is home to knucklehead trout and otters. On its shores sit four towns, the most of any of the three lakes.
Smaller than Maer Dualdon is Lac Dinneshire, smaller and shallower with a shoreline consisting of rocky bluffs and tundra. Three towns sit upon these shores, but if you were hoping for a dip, a word of advice: Don’t. Even when the weather runs warm, the water is cold enough to kill a man.
And that leaves the smallest of the siblings: Redwaters. The smallest, and shallowest of the three, few travel to the lake but the fishers from local settlements. It earned its name from the blood spilled over battles fought between the two towns on its shores.
And speaking of towns, there are ten in Icewind Dale. Specifically, the Ten-Towns. Original name, I know.
These ten settlements are the most “civilization” a traveler to Icewind Dale will likely find. Ten of these towns sit on the shores of its three lakes, while the last and largest, the regional capital of Bryn Shander, sat atop a hill further inland. This bustling town of less than 2,000 is the lifeline between the Ten-Towns and the South, and serves as a center of trade.
Of Course It’s Luskan
To the South of the Ten-Towns, the city of Luskan sits upon the Sword Coast. There stands the infamous Hosttower of the Arcane, both a school for training those in the arts of magic, and the real centre of power within Luskan.
No small amount of evil has come from the wizards of the Hosttower, so it should be no surprise that more would come in the year 1351 DR and take root in Icewind Dale. For it was in that year that the oldest apprentice of the Hosttower, Akar Kessell, had killed his master.
His master's rivals manipulated the untalented Kessell. He had been promised power if he would only kill Morkai the Red. He struck while the wizards were travelling through Bryn Shander, seeking rare spell components.
Kessell mused on how easy it had been to kill the powerful mage. For all his arcane mastery, he was killed with a single stab. Though Kessell could barely stutter out a spell, he had been promised power as a reward.
This, of course, was a lie.
As Kessell travelled with the two conspirators through the Spine of the World, they had knocked him from his horse and left him to freeze. In their eyes, he was pathetic. Kessel had never managed to summon fire, let alone a spell to actually fight off the wild life. He had no hope of freeing himself from a paper bag, let alone surviving the harsh cold of the mountains.
It's a bad place to be lost.
Source: Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
He was a loose end. One soon to be tied up.
Or, so they thought.
What no one was expecting was that in the snow, Kessell would find a glowing warmth that drew him in. A crystal shard that glowed with a light of its own. An artifact that had been waiting for a weak minded fool to control. A fool that would do anything to get what they wanted, a fool that would rely on it once found.
A fool just like Kessell.
The Crystal Tower
What Kessell had found was more than just a shard of crystal. Its name was Crenshinibon, and it was a construct of great power.
Crenshinibon was created by a cabal of seven lich-kings who sought conquest. And as an insult to the living creatures they sought to conquer, they constructed the crystal to draw its energy from the sun.
You know, the source of all life and all that.
The liches succeeded at their task. But as with many things, they should have been careful what they wished for. But creating an item of great power requires great power. To create an item of the greatest power, well, some may find the work draining in a more literal sense than usual.
Their magic joined, the liches were consumed by their work. Literally. Their consciousnesses were destroyed, while their shattered spirits were absorbed by the artifact. Errtu, a powerful demon who served the liches, was cast into the Abyss in the wake of the power unleashed in Crenshinibon’s creation.
The crystal found its way to the Spine of the World following a battle between Errtu and a solar - or “angel” as they may be known elsewhere - named Al Dimeneira. Errtu had sought the crystal out for its power, and found a crystal tower that had an exact duplicate of Crennshinibon at its heart. Its name: Cryshal-Tirith.
But before he could claim it, Al Dimeneira arrived and with a word sent Errtu back to the abyss. A servant of Errtu tried to stop the solar, but failed and Al Dimeneira grabbed the artifact with the intent to destroy it.
But Crenshinibon’s power proved too great, too dark, and it burned the hands of the angelic being. Refusing to let it fall back into the hands of Errtu, Al Dimeneira threw it across the realms and it landed in the Prime Material Plane, in the Spine of the World.
There it was found by a devil named Belhifet, who you may have heard of before.
This charming fellow.
Source: Icewind Dale
After being banished to the Material Plane, Belhifet was stranded in the cold north of Faerun. In 1281 DR something called to him. Something old, something evil, something that could give him the means that he needed to conquer the north and, eventually, return to Avernus.
Belhifet himself took on a human disguise as Brother Poquelin, a servant of the god Ilmater. Luring followers to him from a monastery in Ilmater’s service, he twisted those he tricked into undead servants. Meanwhile, he used Crenshinibon to gather an army of goblins, orcs, and giants.
When his rival, the demon Yxunomei, tracked him to Icewind Dale and raised an army of Yuan-ti, Belhifet used Crenshinibon to freeze the roads leading to the Ten-Towns. He also set his Frost Giants to kill any adventurers who might look into local events, but of course, adventurers have a tendency to ruin plots such as these.
A band of adventurers came to the Ten-Towns and soon fought their way to Yxunomei’s stronghold within the Spine of the World. There, they cut down her army of Yuan-ti and defeated the demon herself, casting her back to Avernus. Then they turned their eye to the other events happening within Icewind Dale.
The adventurers tracked Belhifet to his lair within the abandoned Dwarven stronghold of Dorn’s Deep and confronted him in his human guise. Belhifet retreated to the town of Easthaven and used Crenshinibon to construct the Crystal Tower around the town’s temple of Tempus, beneath which sat a sealed portal to Baator through which he sought to march his army.
But as they often do, the adventurers managed to breach his defenses and, as with his rival before, defeated Belhifet before he could open his portal. He was banished back to Baator, without his army.
The Crystal Tower crumbled, and Crenshinibon was lost. Forgotten in the snow until a bumbling apprentice found it…
A Shadow Over Icewind Dale
Crenshininibon reached out to Kessell and promised him what he’d always wanted. Power,. Luxury, and on top of everything else:
The crystal put words of power into Kessell’s head and the apprentice soon found them forming from his lips. Previously unable to summon flame, now the spells Kessell weaved gave form to Kessell’s new home.
And once more the shadow of Cryshal-Tirith, the Crystal Tower loomed over Icewind Dale.
Cryshal-Tirith as seen in Easthaven.
Source: Icewind Dale.
Kessell spent five years building his power, and in that time he found a life of luxury. And while he lounged, others suffered. The Ten-Towns were besieged by the Reghedmen, the barbarians of the north. There, with some trickery by the halfling councillor Regis, they formed a military alliance. An alliance which managed to ambush the barbarian tribes and, with the help of drow outcast Drizzt Do’Urden, and the Dwarf ruler Bruenor Battlehammer, defeat them decisively.
Of course, Crenshinibon was not content to merely let its wielder live a life of luxury. The crystal demanded conquest, and so to that end Kessell started to build an alliance of his own. With the mind bending powers of the crystal at his disposal, Kessell brought tribes of orcs and goblins and giants to serve him, like Belhifet before him.
But even with the power of Crenshinibon at his disposal, it was a time consuming and arduous process. Time consuming enough that while the wizard pursued his goals, Errtu managed to return to the Material plane.
Following an improper summoning that left Errtu free to harm the foolish wizard responsible, the demon sought out the power of the crystal artifact. When he arrived, Errtu discovered that Kessell was under the crystal's protection - much to his frustraion.
Which meant that he could not simply kill Kessler and take the artifact for himself.
But, Crenshininibon and Kessler made an offer to Errtu. The demon would serve as the commander of their armies, and would get to revel in their conquest. Yet, Kessell did not always heed the advice of his new Commander.
The War for Icewind Dale
So haughty was the mage that even when advised against it, he sent his frost giants out first to prepare for war with the order not to kill. Not yet, anyways. But orders often go unheeded by the rank and file, and soon they killed young dwarves on watch from Battlehammer’s clan.
Of course, such things draw the eye of adventurers, and where Belhifet’s foes were tenacious, Kessell’s were legends.
Drizzt and his human barbarian ally Wulfgar came across the bodies and rallied Battlehammer’s clan. They fell upon the Frost Giants’ camp and the war party each, killing them all and learning of Kessell’s plan from a survivor. Still, the alliance of the Ten-Towns had long since dissolved, and only three towns agreed to band together this time.
At his home, Kessell argued strategy with Errtu. The demon pressed the need to attack, but Kessell floundered, concerned that his forces had not yet fully mustered. Still, he conceded and began the attack. Soon, two of the towns would soon burn beneath the might of his forces.
Yet, Kessell would soon find himself robbed of one of his allies as Wulfgar returned to his people, the Reghedmen and challenged their leader for control of the clan. Killing the barbarian king, Wulfgar took the throne and chose to side with the people of Icewind Dale.
By the time he did, Kessell’s forces had already laid siege to Bryn Shander, Errtu at their head. As a show of force, he summoned Cryshal-Tirith and Kessell took to the stage, proclaiming himself Tyrant of Icewind Dale and demanding an unconditional surrender before bombarding the town with his magic.
However, Drizzt was familiar with Errtu and summoned the demon, trying to trick him into believing the drow was on an errand to steal Crenshininibon away in order to milk information from him. The demon saw through his lies, though, and the two fought with Drizzt banishing Errtu back to hell once more.
Without realizing it, Kessell had lost his commander. He would soon lose more than that.
Bryn Shander sent an envoy to Kessell to negotiate a surrender, the halfling councillor Regis. Equipped with an enchanted necklace, Regis sought to control Kessell’s mind, but was unable to compete with the protection that the crystal offered him. Yet, when Kessell tried to control Regis’ mind in response, the halfling managed to resist the spell and spin a tale on the fly.
Regis claimed that the town was buying time, waiting to escape with allies in the Orcs of the Severed Tongue. It was a lie, to be sure. These were the most ferocious of Kessell’s forces, yet in his rage the wizard was blind to it. So he slaughtered the Orcs of the Severed Tongue, and robbed himself of another advantage.
Then came the dwarves. Bruenor Battlehammer had been expecting, no, anticipating the attack on his clan. Yet they faced only a single scout. He felt insulted. So insulted that his clan tunnelled beneath Kessell’s camp and struck in the night to slay as many of the gathered army as they could.
The army eventually discovered the dwarves and attacked. Which was when Drizzt struck.
Using the distraction, the ranger fought his way into Cryshal-Tirith into Kessell’s throne room. He battled the wizard there, only for Regis to reveal the heart of the tower, which Drizzt destroyed.
Kessell’s army was crushed, sandwiched between clan Battlehammer, Wulfgar’s barbarians, and the defenders of Bryn Shander who rushed into the battle from behind their walls.
Without its heart the tower collapsed, Drizzt and Kessell vanishing into a teleportation spell. The two reappeared on a mountainside. There, they fought. In his tantrums Kessell caused an avalanche with his spells and disappeared beneath the snow.
And with him went Crenshininibon.
Soon we will see a new shadow cast over Icewind Dale, and a new alliance threaten the Ten Towns. Yet, there’s is much room for adventurers to partake in the previous battles over the realm, and much opportunity for exciting encounters battling the forces of the devil Belhifet, or the mage Akar Kessell.
And if you’d like to have more adventures in the frigid north, be sure to pick up your copy of Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frost Maiden at the Wizard’s Tower.
Until we meet again, may fortune favour you.