Book Wyrms Archive | 4/10/2012
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The Abyssal Plague and Other Big Stories
James Wyatt

T his month marks the release of Don Bassingthwaite's The Eye of the Chained God, the final book in the Abyssal Plague trilogy and the last novel featuring the plague and its demons. Fans of D&D Encounters are also playing through The Elder Elemental Eye season, where they've already had their first taste of the Abyssal Plague and its effects on the local populace.

I've talked about the Abyssal Plague on this site before, and Bruce Cordell discussed the spread of the Abyssal Plague to Faerûn (the world of the Forgotten Realms) in his novel, Sword of the Gods. The end of the plague, as it were, seemed like a good opportunity to reflect back on what we did, why we did it, and what we're going to do next.

Goals of the Abyssal Plague

As I said last year, the Abyssal Plague was conceived as an event that would serve two purposes: to bridge our separate novel lines, and to create a shared experience among novel readers and RPG players.

The first was primarily a business objective, though it was also an interesting creative exercise: How do we create an event that ripples across the worlds of D&D while being true to the spirit of those worlds? We didn't want to create a story that had characters flitting from one world to another, let alone one that brought famous characters from our different worlds together (Drizzt meets Tanis Half-Elven! Elminster duels Raistlin!). Such crossovers, I think, dilute the identity of both worlds and start to ruin what's special and unique about them. That's how we ended up with a story that starts in a place beyond the worlds and sends out an infectious agent of sorts, rather than having characters passing through portals to cross the worlds.

The second was primarily a creative goal. There's a lot of overlap between folks who read our novels and folks who play our games, but that overlap is not complete. We wanted to give the people who aren't in the overlapping part of the Venn diagram—people who are fans of D&D in one of its expressions—something that they could discuss with other D&D fans regardless of which expression they like. In other words, we wanted to give novel fans and RPG fans something to talk about. So in addition to the seven novels featuring the Abyssal Plague, we've featured the plague and plague demons in Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale, in two Creature Incarnations articles (one featuring paragon-tier demons and one presenting epic threats, and of course in the current season of D&D Encounters.

So whether you're a fan of D&D novels, Forgotten Realms novels, or Dark Sun novels, or a player of D&D Encounters or your own home campaign, you've got plenty of resources for learning more about the Abyssal Plague.

Looking Back and Ahead

The Abyssal Plague was not our first stab at creating a "big story" that crosses both novels and game products. Ten years ago, we launched a novel series called R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen, which brought together six top-notch Forgotten Realms authors (Richard Lee Byers, Thomas M. Reid, Richard Baker, Lisa Smedman, Philip Athans, and Paul S. Kemp) to tell an epic story of Lolth's sudden silence and its effects on the drow of Menzoberranzan. At the same time, I wrote a D&D adventure, City of the Spider Queen, that used the same starting point but focused on the repercussions of Lolth's Silence on a different drow city. We also released a set of metal miniatures depicting characters from the adventure. The War of the Spider Queen was a huge success, and City of the Spider Queen was—judging from what people tell me at Gen Con every year—a very popular adventure, even among players whose characters died horribly. Over the next few months, we're collecting the six novels of the series into two huge trade paperback volumes as 10th anniversary collector's editions.

That story is the starting point for our next big effort, which fully kicks off in May at D&D Encounters: Web of the Spider Queen, followed by the June release of Sword of the Gods: Spinner of Lies. (Interestingly, this novel makes Demascus the only novel character, to my knowledge, who has ever participated in two big stories on this scale.) Over the course of the rest of the year, you'll see aspects of this story crop up in five novels, several convention gaming events (including one at last weekend's PAX East), three seasons of D&D Encounters, two D&D Lair Assault events, and beyond. The trick to pulling this off is making sure that the "big story" is more than just one story—it's an event of cosmic magnitude that plays out in lots of smaller stories all across the world. This is not too different from the event of Lolth's Silence, which launched the War of the Spider Queen in Menzoberranzan and a whole different train of events in Maerimydra.

You will certainly be hearing more about the Rise of the Underdark in the weeks and months ahead. For now, suffice it to say that Lolth is not finished with the transformation that began with her Silence, and her people are very busy trying to carry out her will. As usual, drow trying to carry out Lolth's will means a lot of infighting among the drow, and it means trouble for the surface world.

In novels, RPG products, and beyond, throughout the next nine months, you'll see plenty of both. In fact, you can see the storyline and its components right now at our Rise of the Underdark hub.

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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