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I am running the Curse of Strahd and one thing seems inconsistent. In chapter one it says

Unwilling to go the way of his father, Strahd studied magic and forged a pact with the Dark Powers of the Shadowfell in return for the promise of immortality.

However, in the chapter thirteen the story is different:

He knows only that the Dark Powers that created Strahd's domain were born in the temple, and that these entities feed on the evil that Strahd represents.

How does one reconcile these two things?

Have the powers originate in the Amber Temple, but later moved to Shadowfell? Are Dark Powers different from what evil vestiges that the Amber Temple also mentions (and some point switches from evil vestiges to Dark Powers)?

Finally, how can it say that Dark Powers originated in the Amber Temple, if the evil vestigates are:

They needed a vault in which to contain the evil vestiges (rem­nants of dead, malevolent entities) they had captured and the hoard of forbidden knowledge they had amassed.

So the malevolent entities must have existed before the Amber Temple. Were these the Dark Powers?

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The Dark Powers have never been all that clearly defined.

There is no official documentation nor official statements I'm aware of that describe a whole lot about the nature and history of the Dark Powers. That makes this question difficult (if not impossible) to answer definitively.

I have a searchable copy of Domains of Dread from D&D's second edition which contains this section in Chapter 1 (the searchable copy seems to have some formatting differences from a print copy, so I can't give a page number citation). I'm not aware of any clearer or more definitive information from any later edition, so this is the best support I could find even for a question tagged for 5e:

Defining the Dark Powers

Is it possible, therefore, to learn the secrets of the dark powers through a careful study of the macabre place they have created? One would think so, but proving the validity of the conclusions produced by such a study would be difficult or even impossible.

The precise nature of the dark powers is debated by sages and scholars throughout the land. Sages have argued about it since the earliest days of Ravenloft's existence. Quite simply, no one seems to know the answer to this question. More importantly, it is impossible to say whether any given answer is right or wrong. The Demiplane's most educated residents have uncovered conflicting evidence, supporting any number of possible answers. Consider the following arguments:

The Dark Powers are Evil: Certainly, evidence exists to support this belief. After all, the dark powers have gone to a great deal of trouble to create a vast region in which to concentrate the evil of the multiverse. Could this be something of a recruiting center from which an incredible army of malevolence will one day be released? That possibility could be the most frightening conclusion one can reach.

The Dark Powers are Good: An equal number of scholars put forth the assumption that the dark powers are actually creatures of good, not evil. After all, they have imprisoned some of the most terrible beings in the multiverse. In fact, not only are these creatures imprisoned, they are endlessly tormented. Can any force that so punishes evildoers be considered anything but good?

The Dark Powers are Few: Some scholars believe it is incorrect to use the plural when referring to the masters of Ravenloft. It is their assertion that a single entity, whether good or evil, rules the entire Demiplane. This theory is especially popular among those who believe that Ravenloft was created for some special purpose. If this is the case, it is easier for them to believe that a single entity is working behind the scenes to coordinate these events.

The Dark Powers are Many: Equally or even more popular, however, is the belief that the dark powers are numerous. According to this theory, no single being could accomplish all that the dark powers have. Of course, exactly how numerous the dark powers are remains a subject of much debate. Some say that there are three, the number in a coven of hags, while others insist they are a legion. To date, however, no one has provided any evidence to support these claims.

The Dark Powers are Imaginary: At the root of all debates about the dark powers, of course, is the question of whether or not they even exist. Many say that they are nothing more than a manifestation of the darkest side of the imagination. To be sure, no physical proof of their existence has surfaced. While many people claim to have seen the dark powers, none of these reports are verifiable or even especially reliable.

The Dark Powers are Real: Of course, if the dark powers do not exist, it is difficult to explain the creation of the Demiplane of Dread. Most Ravenloft scholars agree that the dark powers, whoever or whatever they are, do exist.


The two statements listed in the question aren't hard to reconcile when we don't have many constraints on what the Dark Powers are, but the "correct" way to do so should be chosen to fit your campaign rather than to match a canonical explanation that doesn't exist. A few possibilities that sprang to my mind:

  • The Dark Powers could easily be a group that has accepted new members over time, with a specific subset being relevant to Curse of Strahd but not describing the Dark Powers as a whole.
  • They could be fundamentally a part of, or derived from, the Shadowfell, but have a specific manifestation on the Material Plane which coalesced in the Amber Temple at some point (regardless of anything else that may have been, or later come to be, trapped there).
  • The evil vestiges may or may not have been some or all of the Dark Powers, either originally or through some later development.
  • The Dark Powers may have a distinct manifestation among the Domains of Dread, and so have been "born" in the Amber Temple after Barovia was withdrawn from its original plane of existence.
  • And, of course, what Exethanter "knows" about the Dark Powers and the Amber Temple may simply be incorrect despite his confidence in the accuracy of the one thing he remembers.
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is so well said - should be chosen to fit your campaign rather than to match a canonical explanation that doesn't exist . I am sometimes puzzled at the Quest for the Holy Canon. Your very thorough answer arrives at a well reasoned conclusion. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 29 '19 at 2:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm hardly questing for the holy canon. Instead I am trying to prepare a consistent vision of the setting for my players. I am somewhat familiar of how Dark Powers operated before 5th edition CoS and I was fine that lore. However, the existence of the Amber Temple and the new lore contradicts the older lore, making it harder to reconcile. If the vestiges are different Strahd made a deal with them, then he didn't make a deal with the Dark Powers. If they are the same, then they don't originate from Shadowfell. Right now I leaning them being separate though. \$\endgroup\$ – gruszczy Dec 29 '19 at 3:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ In the novel I, Strahd, Strahd is approached by (what he calls/claims is) a manifestation Death itself. This obviously contradicts what is written in the campaign book and therefore underscores the need to "make them what you want." \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Dec 29 '19 at 6:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gruszczy The Dark Powers are meant to be somewhat inscrutable. They're deliberately loosely-defined out-of-character and deliberately deceptive in-world. Any statement or belief about them made by a character in-world could simply be wrong, even if all the "facts" point towards them being right. The Dark Powers only reveal what they wish to reveal. Sadly, the recent Shadowfell connections actually reduce the impact and mystery of the Dark Powers and their Dread Realms; players and DMs expect them to follow in-world metaphysical rules they were never written to be bound by. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Dec 30 '19 at 15:03

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