Neverwinter: The History of Icewind Dale

In a few days, Neverwinter is launching its new expansion: Module 3: Curse of Icewind Dale.

But Icewind Dale isn’t just a new area to explore: actually, it’s an iconic place for generations of fantasy readers and role-players, that dates back to more than 25 years ago.

The Icewind Dale trilogy is a series of novels by R.A. Salvatore where the famous drow ranger Drizzt Do’Urden was introduced. An outcast from his native dark elf city of Menzoberranzan, in the Underdark, Drizzt cast aside the evil ways of his fellow drows and went to the surface, where he struggled to be accepted by the people, who viewed all of his kind as ruthless raiders and killers. The Crystal Shard, first novel of the trilogy, is set in Icewind Dale, the place where Drizzt got the chance to show that he meant good: he befriended the dwarves living in the area (notably their leader Bruenor) and helped the people of Ten-Towns to face the barbarian threat.

The original cover of "The Crystal Shard" by R.A.Salvatore

The original cover of “The Crystal Shard” by R.A.Salvatore

Some time later, another menace rose to threaten the land, far more powerful than the previous one. Crenshinibon, a living artifact in the form of a Crystal Shard, was hurled through the planes of existence and came to rest in a bowl-shaped valley in Icewind Dale. There it found a puny wizard apprentice called Akar Kessel, about to freeze to death in those unforgiving lands, and used him as a vessel. The former apprentice became able to wield such a power he had never experienced before: he created a tower made of crystal, Cryshal-Tirith, which became his residence and base of operations. Then he easily subjugated the simple minds of orcs, goblins and trolls, amassing a vast army of minions. Other creatures joined in, like ice giants, a demon and even a white dragon, and soon Akar Kessel was ready to move against the people of Ten-Towns. Fortunately for them, Drizzt and his friends killed a tribe of verbeeg (smaller giants) led by the frost giant Biggrin, then the drow managed to slay the white dragon Icingdeath. In its treasure hoard, Drizzt found a scimitar that he named after the dragon itself, and soon became of his favoured weapons.

Then it was the turn of Akar Kessel himself; aided by a subtle scheme where his friend Wulfgar took the lead of the barbarian tribes, Drizzt challenged the wizard; during the combat, the massive power of Crenshinibon overheated the crystal and this caused an avalanche on the area of Kelvin’s Cairn, that covered both the wizard and the artifact.

This was the first appearance for both Drizzt and the living artifact.

Author R.A. Salvatore of course expanded the story, and their paths crossed again in many an occasion. But Drizzt also became one of the most appreciated and well-known characters in the Forgotten Realms thanks to other novels that told the tale of his past, from his youth to his eventual exile from the Underdark city of Menzoberranzan.

But a complex and interesting setting like Icewind Dale could not remain unused. After the success of the computer RPG Baldur’s Gate (it’s become such a milestone that recently an enhanced edition for both the original game and the sequel Baldur’s Gate II has been released), the software company Black Isle Studios decided that it was the perfect place for another similar CRPG, which in fact was named Icewind Dale.

 Icewind_dale_1_box_shot  250px-Icewind_dale_II_box_shot_211

The gameplay was very similar to Baldur’s Gate’s, with the only difference that you could manage the party in any way you wanted from the start (as opposed to Baldur’s Gate, where you had to find your companions along the way… and they could also leave your party in response to certain actions). But in the game there are no iconic characters like Drizzt, Bruenor and Wulfgar, since it’s set thirty year before the events narrated in The Crystal Shard. One thing remains though… guess what? Yes, Crenshinibon, the living artifact, is the looming presence and real villain in this game too. What starts like a simple threat to a magical tree that radiates heat and life, soon is revealed to be a convoluted plan by Poquelin (the current bearer of the artifact) to open a portal to a demon dimension and conquer all the North with an army of devils. And of course the final confrontation happens in a crystal tower that enveloped the temple of the town of Easthaven.

Two years later, the success of Icewind Dale brought forth a sequel, Icewind Dale II, that used the Dungeons&Dragons Third Edition ruleset (as opposed to the AD&D Second Edition rules of the previous chapter and both Baldur’s Gate games). This time the threat to the people living in the North was represented by the twins Isair and Madae, two Cambions (breedings of a devil with a mortal female: they were, in fact, half-elf and half-demon). They raised an organization known as the Legion of Chimera, with the ultimate purpose of running a campaign that would sweep all over Faerûn, to build a society that would accept half-breeds like them. After sacking two of the Ten-Towns, they are confronted (and eventually slain) by the party of the player.

Legacy-of-the-crystal-shard

Recently, in 2013, Wizards of the Coast (current publisher of D&D) released an adventure module for the pen&paper RPG, called “Legacy of the Crystal Shard” (co-written by R.A. Salvatore himself). In this adventure, Hedrun Arsnfirth, a powerful spellcaster known as the Ice Witch, seeks to plunge the lands of the North in a perennial winter. She finds Akar Kessel buried in a cold prison and turned into a wight. With his help, the witch builds a tower made of “black ice”, an unbreakable material created when the dust of the destroyed Cryshal-Tirith settled around and fused with the ice. Eventually this second tower was destroyed, but its pieces scattered around.

And so we come to the present days (in the Faerûn) and to the expansion of the Neverwinter MMO. The wight Akar Kessel gathered an expedition of dwarven miners to harvest the black ice and noticed that they became greedy and frenzied as soon as they touched it; they started to fight for it, until only one survived: Baerick of the Hammerstone clan, who took the black ice to Caer-Konig. There he mastered the art of crafting the material to make weapons and armour. But rumours of this new material and of its powers spread around and attracted adventurers, scholars and all kinds of fortune-seekers to Icewind Dale. And Akar Kessel himself has taken residence in a dwarven fortress of the Battlehammer clan, encased with black ice. Again, he gathered an army and seeks to become the Tyrant of Icewind Dale. It will be up to the players to use the power of black ice to their own advantage and turn it against the newly-risen evil.

Kessel Retreat

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