Chronicles of the Demon Lord
Edited by James Lowder and Robert J. Schwalb
The Demon Lord’s shadow has fallen upon many worlds in many different universes beyond the one containing Urth. Chronicles of the Demon Lord presents a collection of short stories, each describing the kinds of horrors the shadow creates across the span of the multiverse. Penned by Elizabeth Bear, Richard Lee Byers, Erik Scott de Bie, William King, and Erin M. Evans, these writers interpret the tabletop roleplaying game in sinister ways, telling chilling tales of desperation, violence, fear, and, of course, death. Read on for the first collection of fiction inspired by the wildly popular Shadow of the Demon Lord!
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Introduction to Chronicles of the Demon Lord
For much of the last century, J. R. R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings provided the default template for the fantasy adventure tale: An unlikely group of heroes takes up an epic quest involving some heretofore presumed lost artifact of incredible power. The plucky band treks across a landscape dotted with feudal kingdoms, one step ahead of an evil power’s minions. (You can tell they’re evil minions by their fangs and warty hides and the general bad sportsmanship they display.) Against all odds and despite the requisite clashes of personality within the troupe itself, the heroes succeed in righting the cosmic balance— or at least in rescuing the princess and putting the proper king back on his throne.
In these sorts of fantasy stories, the message is consolatory. That is, they offer comfort. Beneath all the fighting and the fleeting chaos, there’s an order to things and that order can be restored. Good can triumph in the end so long as the heroes embody the correct virtues. The important answers to everything have been discovered; they all rest in the past, if you know what arcane tome to consult or obscure ruins to explore. In the end, everything will be made right again.
Readers looking for that sort of reassuring message from their fantasy fiction won’t find it here.
A very different strain of fantasy storytelling inspired Rob Schwalb in the creation of the marvelous Shadow of the Demon Lord roleplaying game. The dark fantasy tradition that includes Shadow hearkens back to writers such as Mervyn Peake, Clark Ashton Smith, and Michael Moorcock, rather than C. S. Lewis or Tolkien. You can see it on display in the Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones HBO series. Here, the heroes and the villains are much more difficult to tell apart, and the moral challenges they confront are made all but impossible by a complicated universe. Returning a monarch to his throne won’t banish the doom hanging over the world. In Shadow, that doom is all but certain, leaving the protagonists to decide how to face it: stand tall in futile, but noble defiance or join in the mayhem and madness before the void swallows everyone and everything?
For the tales collected in the Chronicles anthology, Rob reached out to a half-dozen authors known for their work with epic fantasy. He threw open the RPG’s setting, the world of Urth, for exploration. Richard Lee Byers took him up on that aspect of the challenge and set his story in Caecras. (Given the setting’s richness, there are more stories or even a novel or two to be developed using Urth as a backdrop, perhaps by Mr. Schwalb himself.) Rob was also interested in doing the unpredictable, so he gave the authors the option of borrowing more limited aspects of the setting, like the Underworld details utilized by Erin M. Evans in “Shadows in the Void,” or of writing about the cosmic menace’s impact on a fantasy world entirely of their own devising. Those stories honor the theme of Shadow of the Demon Lord and offer glimpses into other corners of the multiverse threatened by the Destroyer of Worlds.
Look up. No, you aren’t mistaken. The dark is spreading, and the stars overhead are going out one by one. They won’t be coming back.
Welcome to the end.
What do you do now?