A health warning applies: this theory combines the worst habit of Dragonlance fandom (hyping up how totes kewl Raistlin is) with a cardinal sin of Ravenloft fandom (making a specific assertion about the identity of the Dark Powers). Then again, these are both sins that those who write for those settings have committed in their own right – “Raistlin is kewl” was the basic premise of the second Dragonlance trilogy, and the Ravenloft authors did occasionally slip into presenting theories about the identity of the Dark Powers, though in the latter case they seem to have had the good taste to retcon that away.
It is also a headcanon which, if made true, would have no real effect on either setting, and there’s no real way anyone could find it out or do anything useful with the information.
Oh, and spoilers for the second Dragonlance trilogy will follow.
So, my silly headcanon is that Raistlin is the Dark Powers – specifically, Raistlin the One God, which he becomes by using time travel and magic and trickery to defeat all the other Dragonlance gods.
Now, of course, the objection Dragonlance fans would make at this point is that the other heroes of that story go back in time again after they discover what Raistlin has done and stop him doing it, in turn rescuing from the inadvertent Hell he had created for himself. You see, in the Dragonlance cosmology evil cannot create, only corrupt and destroy, which meant that when Raistlin the One God had taken over the local universe he was left all alone in a depopulated cosmos with no ability to repopulate the place. By stopping him from becoming a god, Raistlin’s former comrades allowed him to find redemption and a much better ultimate destiny for his life and his soul.
However, the god Raistlin becomes/would have become is specifically a god of time, and one brought into existence in the first place by a time paradox; does it make sense that such an entity would then be vulnerable to such paradoxes? Wouldn’t a god of time have some innate capability to stand unaffected by such things?
Wouldn’t using a paradox to try and beat a god of paradoxes be kind of like trying to use the devices of evil to fight Evil in Time Bandits? Remember how well that worked?
There’s already scope in D&D cosmology, what with the various crystal spheres and Prime Material Planes, to imagine that parallel universes are a thing; thus, just as there is a universe where Raistlin was persuaded not to become a god, there remains a universe where he went ahead with his plan. Or, if you don’t like that notion, you could imagine that Raistlin the God ended up shunted out of Krynn’s plane and unable to re-enter it due to cosmic laws of time preventing a paradoxical entity from personally manifesting in a plane where it couldn’t exist. Either way, Raistlin the God would still be in a sorry and desperately lonely state, even as Raistlin the man embraced a different destiny. Perhaps he still considered himself Raistlin, or perhaps the paradox of Raistlin choosing not to become him left the One God in a vastly more depersonalised state, not wiped out of existence for reasons stated above but lacking the sense of self and identity and memories of Raistlin. These are all possible, but none of them changes anything.
What matters is that the God Raistlin would have had a choice. Either he could suffer the torment of being the only thing left alive in a cosmos he could never conjure life from, or he could leave. It isn’t clear why he didn’t just leave in the novels – other planes being part of the cosmology – but we can perhaps write it off as him having a strong sense of identification with the place. To the extent that he thought he was doing what was necessary, he justified it to himself by saying he would be making a better world; to the extent that he was a megalomaniac, ruling over some other world would not really feel the same as ruling over the Prime Material Plane of his origin. Either way, let’s say he eventually leaves. If you are going with the “shunted out due to the paradox” thing, he would not have had a choice; if you are going with “his personality got wiped by the paradox”, then of course all of a sudden he would no longer feel especially attached to Krynn anyway; if you don’t like either of those options perhaps he ended up waiting until Krynn’s plane disintegrated before finding himself elsewhere.
Either way, let’s say that Raistlin finds himself in the Border Ethereal/Shadowfell and in a bad way. He can’t go home – maybe due to paradox, maybe due to all of those gods he killed being alive again and collectively agreeing to keep him out. No other pantheon really has a place for him. And because of the rules of his cosmos of origin, he cannot create.
He can, however, steal.
He can’t make a universe of his own. He can, however, cobble one together from choice cuts from other people’s universes. And if he’s taking realms whose residents have committed some crime so foul that the local gods are tempted to nuke the place anyway, he can even carve out some niche for himself and a reason for his existence in the multiverse.
So, let’s say that this is the point where Raistlin becomes the Dark Powers – or, rather, Dark Power – of Ravenloft. Beginning with Strahd, he starts collecting people from across the Prime Material Planes, capturing lands with them as he goes, selecting candidates based mostly on alignment affinity (either because he sees a bit of himself in them, or because they personally offend him, or because of the way the magic of those hailing from Krynn is tied strongly to alignment and that gives him the connection he needs to do the job). If you go with the parallel universe idea, perhaps he cannibalises bits of his lifeless, empty version of Krynn to provide power and raw materials. The extremely impersonal nature of the Dark Powers may be down to him losing his identity as suggested earlier, or deliberately hiding it for his own reasons, or losing his sense of himself over the aeons, or a necessary step to be able to exert himself in universes where he does not otherwise belong.
Meanwhile, if the powers of Krynn are even aware of this (entirely possible – the High God seems to originate from and live outside Krynn, and at least one resident of Krynn has become a darklord), they turn a blind eye to it because it actually serves a useful purpose: since anyone evil enough could end up becoming a darklord and disappearing from Krynn, this obviates the need for any second Cataclysm to come about to save the balance. (If you think about it, only extremely evil characters are actually likely to disrupt the balance in a way which can’t be resolved just by pointing out the problem they are causing, since anyone who was genuinely good would not want to disrupt the entire cosmos by their actions but evil characters won’t care about the harm they do – rather by definition.) The evil gods of Krynn might consider the occasional sacrifice of some of their more supreme followers to be a more than fair price to pay to make it look like they are sticking to the rules of the balance and avoiding a situation where they are prevented from exerting influence on the world, as the gods were after the first Cataclysm.
So, there you have it. Possibly the dorkiest fan theory I have ever put forth in public. But even if it’s not something that would ever really affect gameplay, I think it’s a neat little way to tie together the two major campaign settings originating with the Hickmans in a manner that is reasonably respectful to the metaphysical underpinnings of both.