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REF5 Lords of Darkness (1e)

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The Undead. Denied the eternal rest of Death, cursed to wander the many planes and worlds forever, their very existence a mockery of life they constantly crave yet cannot have. Created by the foulest of magics, they have only one thought, on burning goal: revenge against the living. Or do they?

Lords of Darkness is an anthology of short adventures set in various locations in the Forgotten Realms, though you don't need the Forgotten Realms campaign supplement to use them.

Some of gaming's best designers have contributed adventures to this collection, which feature undead of all types and descriptions in all sorts of situations-from skeletons to vampires and worse, from graveyards to haunted houses, and even a few places you may never have expected to find the undead.

These adventures can be used one at a time, inserted into an existing campaign as a change of pace, or they can be a basis for an entirely new campaign. Either way, Lords of Darkness will be sure to give AD&D game players plenty of chills and excitement.

Product History

REF5: Lords of Darkness (1988) is the fifth of the AD&D REFerence books. It was published in December 1988.

Origins (I): More REFs. Much like the "AC" accessories for Basic D&D, the "REF" references for AD&D were a motley collection. Early releases focused on the game's ubiquitous GM screens and player character sheets, but with REF3: The Book of Lairs (1986) and REF4: The Book of Lairs II (1987), the line moved over to short adventures.

REF5: Lords of Darkness (1988) is practically a third Book of Lairs. It uses a very similar format, focusing each of its short adventures on a specific monster in a specific terrain — except the adventures are somewhat longer that Lairs, and the monsters are all undead.

Lords of Darkness was nearly the last "REF" book. REF1: Dungeon Master's Screen (1989) and REF2: Player Character Record Sheets (1989) were revised the next year, but then there was a three-year gap before TSR decided to use the module code one more time, for the line's only AD&D 2e product: REF6: Rogues' Gallery (1992).

Origins (II): More Realms. Conversely, Lords of Darkness was a fairly early Forgotten Realms supplement. The Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (1987) was about a year and a half old, and there had been a half-dozen "FR" sourcebooks, but actual adventures for the Realms were still pretty scarce. Discounting the ongoing "H", "I", and "OA" series, the only totally original Realms adventures were N5: "Under Illefarn" (1987), I14: Swords of the Iron Legion (1988), and FRC1: Ruins of Adventure (1988).

Whether the piecemeal lairs of Lords of Darkness met the need for Realms adventures is a wholly different question …

Origins (III): The History of the Undead. A year and a half before the publication of Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990), Lords of Darkness was D&D's first general focus on the undead.

The monsters had been there as antagonists for clerics from the start. OD&D (1974) features skeletons, zombies, ghouls, wights, wraiths, mummies, spectres, and vampires. Of the missing monsters, ghosts appeared in Strategic Review #3 (Autumn 1975), shadows and liches in Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975), and the tricky ghasts in the Monster Manual (1977).

By the time that the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979) was published, the undead had been organized into a careful table for cleric turning: skeleton, zombie, ghoul, shadow, wight, ghast, wraith, mummy, spectre, vampire, ghost, and lich. That's pretty much a table of contents for this book (minus the wraith).

Expanding D&D. Lords of Darkness contains D&D's first horror check: if a character fails to roll Wisdom + level when faced with something sufficiently horrific he takes a -4 penalty and might even face insanity. It was a clear nod to the mental attributes of games such as Call of Cthulhu (1981). Though a one-off rule for AD&D 1e, it would foreshadow the fear and horror checks of Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990) and the various mental conditions of D&D 3e (2000).

A variety of new spells for necromancers also appear — an obvious addition given Ed Greenwood's general like of new spells, as most recently seen in FR4: "The Magister" (1988).

Exploring the Realms. The adventures in Lords of Darkness run the gamut from being pretty generic to having nice connections to Ed Greenwood's primordial Forgotten Realms, but most simply namedrop Realms' gods and civilizations. Ravens Bluff was a particularly popular namedrop, appearing in both the "ghost" and "vampires" adventures, probably thanks to its regular appearance in Polyhedron magazine (1981-2004) at the time.

A few adventures include stronger connections:

  • The "zombie" adventure, by Mike Stackpole, touches upon not only the Zhentarim, but also Aumvor the Undying, a lich first mentioned by Greenwood in "Pages from the Mages IV" in Dragon #97 (May 1985); at the time, Greenwood's Dragon articles were a major source for other designers seeking out tidbits of Realmslore.
  • The "mummy" scenario, by Jennell Jaquays, is set in the area of FR5: "The Savage Frontier" (1988), which she'd recently authored. It's also one of the few appearances of a creator race in a Realms adventure as well as the debut of the infamous Nether Scrolls.
  • The "lich" adventure, by Ed Greenwood himself, is set in Shadowdale, which would soon become one of the setting's prime locales for adventure. (Where else would a powerful lich hang out?) The adventure also makes some of the few known references to the lost kingdom of Hlontar.

Monsters of Note. Lords of Darkness contains short ecologies of ten major undead monsters from AD&D 1e: skeletons, zombies, ghouls (and ghasts), wights, shadows, mummies, vampires, ghosts, spectres, and liches.

The shadows here are interesting, because they're fairly unique in fantasy RPGs, but don't receive much attention elsewhere. They originated as the shadows from Abraham Merritt's Creep Shadow (1934) novel and were part of Gary Gygax's fascination with a "plane of insubstantial stuff". They weren't even undead when they appeared in "Greyhawk", as Don Turnbull noted when he wrote about them in White Dwarf #8 (August/September 1978), saying that he "used to enjoy seeing clerics vainly trying to turn what wouldn't turn". Gygax had planned a weird new origin for them when he wrote the "D" adventures (1978). They were to be the minions of Lolth, created by "her draining humans of positive life energy as a spider sucks the fluids from its prey". But, Gygax never got to finish the GDQ series, so that origin faded away and by the time AD&D 2e (1989) appeared, they were just cursed humans and demihumans who were largely transferred to the negative material plane.

Future History. Wizards of the Coast published another Forgotten Realms Lords of Darkness (2001) many years later, but it's about organizations, not undead.

About the Creators. Ed Greenwood, the creator of the Forgotten Realms, gets front cover credit and did write one of the adventures and most of the additional material found in the book. However the rest of the adventures are written by a variety of other authors: Deborah Christian, Michael Stackpole, Jennell Jaquays, Steve Perrin, Vince Garcia, and Jean Rabe.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to

We (Wizards) recognize that some of the legacy content available on this website does not reflect the values of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise today. Some older content may reflect ethnic, racial, and gender prejudice that were commonplace in American society at that time. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. This content is presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. Dungeons & Dragons teaches that diversity is a strength, and we strive to make our D&D products as welcoming and inclusive as possible. This part of our work will never end.

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Heath P December 18, 2021 1:44 pm UTC
Please make this available for POD.
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Don R July 15, 2019 7:33 pm UTC
Always one of my favorite covers on any AD&D book.
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This title was added to our catalog on September 06, 2016.