Wizards of the Coast launched the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2014 with the adventure Tyranny of Dragons, where players must stop a cult from summoning the evil dragon goddess Tiamat into the Forgotten Realms. Doomed Forgotten Realms: Sword Coast Gazetteer, a new setting book from Quill & Cauldron, imagines what D&D’s primary campaign location would look like if players of that adventure failed. Then they went even further, imagining failure for every other major adventure Wizards has released since. The result? The darkest of all possible D&D timelines.
In Doomed Forgotten Realms: Sword Coast Gazetteer the city of Baldur’s Gate has been plunged into the Nine Hells thanks to the events of Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus. At the same time, the land has been ravaged by the powerful evil elementals released in Princes of the Apocalypse, while demon lords occupy the subterranean realm of the Underdark after emerging from portals opened in Out of the Abyss. But the greatest threat comes from Vecna, the evil god of secrets, who Doomed Forgotten Realms designer Matthew Whitby made the true mastermind behind the world’s downfall.
“I had the idea of all these events throughout all the hardcover books slowly going wrong, but it’s not until the final shoe drops that everyone can see that there has been someone pulling the strings from the background this entire time,” Whitby said. “Vecna’s such an iconic character. There’s not really any other evil character in the Realms who can quite reach that same pinnacle.”
Sword Coast Gazetteer is a companion to the Quill & Cauldron adventure Doomed Forgotten Realms: Rise of Vecna, which Whitby worked on alongside lead designer Scott McClintock. It imagines the god known as the Whispered One as a secret extra boss in 2017’s Tomb of Annihilation, summoned to the realms through the machinations of the lich Acererak and the necromantic artifact the Soulmonger, which drained the life of everyone who’d ever been raised from the dead. One of the victims of the death curse is Volothamp “Volo” Geddarm, the pretentious wizard who authored Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Now a ghost, he provides color commentary throughout the Doomed Forgotten Realms: Sword Coast Gazetteer.
“One of the first projects I ever did was Volo’s Guide to Getting Murdered, which is a murder mystery in which Volo is the one who gets murdered,” Whitby said. “I like writing in his voice because he’s so self-assured that nothing could go wrong, but something has gone wrong because he’s now dead.
“I kill Volo often,” he added. “I’ll do it every chance I get.”
Volo helps lighten the mood of the otherwise bleak book, which is filled with fallen cities ruled by devils, the undead, and humans merciless enough to pledge their loyalty to dark powers.
Vecna has managed to cut off other gods from Faerûn, plunging the world further into darkness and despair.
“It’s kind of solving the problem of all these good-aligned deities who probably would have a problem with Faerûn being controlled by Vecna or Tiamat,” Whitby said. “Vecna’s managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, and without the connection to the gods, faith is dwindling. It further proves how malicious and evil Vecna is, as if people needed more evidence.”
The setting also helps solve what Whitby dubs “the wizard problem,” a situation not unlike the Jedi problem in Star Wars video games. The fact is that Faerûn is overpopulated by extremely powerful spellcasters, like Elminster, whose world-shaping powers are for some reason never used to influence what the players are doing. Seeing the writing on the wall, Whitby imagines that many of the most powerful denizens of the Sword Coast have fled, leaving the players to fight for change with few allies.
“The smartest thing for these iconic heroes to do is just escape because they’re against overwhelming odds,” Whitby said. “Some of these heroes, even Elminster, are choosing to bide their time and hope that maybe there’s an adventuring party who can get strong enough to finally overthrow one of the two evil gods that now claim the world.”
Lucky for the players, the forces of evil are far from unified. Tiamat and Vecna have reached something of a stalemate since neither deity is sure who would win in a fight. The demons and devils remain locked in their endless war, while Tiamat battles the frost giants who have locked the northern region of Icewind Dale in eternal winter through the events of Storm King’s Thunder and Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. The dark wizard Manshoon has sworn loyalty to Vecna but dreams of controlling Faerûn himself.
“When the player characters enter the world, they can begin to tip the balance,” Whitby said. “There are factions that are opposed to Vecna, but they are being blackmailed or held ransom. The players can carry out quests and try to do small little acts of good and as they get powerful they have more agency to impact the world.”
Doomed Forgotten Realms: Sword Coast Gazetteer offers plot hooks for every level and for parties who want to side with any of the conflicting groups. Classic heroic factions like the Harpers and the Order of the Gauntlet have been devastated, but players can find their last remnants taking refuge on a fleet of ships led by the swashbuckler Jarlaxle. They may have their might tested in the notorious dungeon of Undermountain, which has been pulled into its own plane of existence by the Mad Mage Halaster Blackcloak, or fight fungus folk corrupted by Zuggtmoy, the demon lord of fungi, who has merged with a sentient fungus in the Underdark.
“In a world ruled by evil, there’s no end of conflict,” Whitby said. “The villains have won but they want more — there’s never enough. There will always be a chance for good to prevail.”