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The Abyssal Plague
Design & Development
James Wyatt

In a dark dimension beyond the known planes of existence, the Chained God thirsts for freedom. Infusing his will into the residue of a long-dead universe—scarlet liquid shot through with veins of silver and flecks of gold—he sends this liquid crystal between worlds to prepare his way. But his will is not the only force that drives the Voidharrow.

Imbued with the power of the Voidharrow, the dragon Vestapalk creates a horde of demonic minions to spread the Abyssal Plague across the Nentir Vale. But the threat is not contained within a single world: Faerûn and Athas must contend with their own outbreaks of tainted demons and virulent plague. Will the Voidharrow consume the multiverse? Will the Chained God break free? Or will the heroes of the age put a stop to the Abyssal Plague?

The Abyssal Plague is an event that spans the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons. Seven novels and a five-part novella tell its story across three worlds, and its insidious reach extends into roleplaying products such as Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale and future seasons of D&D Encounters.

With this month’s release of Don Bassingthwaite’s novel, The Temple of Yellow Skulls, the Abyssal Plague really gets underway. Familiar characters introduced in Bill Slavicsek’s Mark of Nerath and featured in Heroes of the Fallen Lands and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms return in Yellow Skulls: the eladrin wizard Albanon, the human fighter Shara, and the halfling rogue Uldane. Also back on the scene are the mysterious demon of possession Nu Alin, and the green dragon Vestapalk: dual harbingers of the plague.

The Abyssal Plague is something of an experiment. We wanted to see if we could create an event that would bridge our disparate novel lines, encouraging readers loyal to just one of our worlds to try reading books set in other worlds. We also wanted to create an event that would be experienced in both novels and game products, creating some level of shared experience between novel readers and roleplaying gamers. The full fruition of that effort is yet to come, but it’s something we’ll be doing more of in future years.

Tharizdun: Origins

As we set about looking for a story that could span the worlds of D&D (without turning into one of those crazy comic book mash-ups that pits Spider-Man against Superman in an event that strains credulity), we ended up drawing on elements that stretch way back in the history of D&D to the Chained God, Tharizdun. Created by Gary Gygax in the 1982 adventure The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, the Chained God clearly hearkens back to the malign ancient deities created by such writers as H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Monte Cook’s Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil adventure (2001) drew on the Forgotten Temple’s mythology and made Tharizdun, also called the Elder Elemental Eye, a central figure.

In 4th Edition, we gave Tharizdun a key role in the early days of the universe. As described in the Monster Manual, Tharizdun created the Abyss by inserting a shard of pure evil into the swirling maelstrom of the Elemental Chaos. As punishment for his crime, the other gods locked him away in an extraplanar prison.

And that’s the starting point for the Abyssal Plague event. As we plotted out the story, we decided that Tharizdun’s prison was actually the remains of a dead universe, where the Abyss had grown to consume the entire cosmos. In sort of a divine act of poetic justice, the gods locked Tharizdun away in a universe that symbolized the threat of his own crime.

Tharizdun: Escape Attempt!

As described in The Gates of Madness (and if you haven’t read it yet, why not? It’s available for free right here!), Tharizdun cultists used a shard of the Living Gate to open the Vast Gate, thereby creating a window into Tharizdun’s prison just wide enough for him to send through the Voidharrow.

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Typing that sentence above gave me a delightful nerdly pleasure. The Vast Gate first appeared in Bruce Cordell’s adventure The Gates of Firestorm Peak (1996), where it was described as the portal through which the Far Realm exerted its influence on the adventure’s dungeon. The Living Gate was first described in Player’s Handbook 3 and The Plane Above (2010)—a strange Astral portal, also leading to the Far Realm, discovered by Pelor, Ioun, and Tharizdun near the beginning of time. The shattering of the Living Gate created the shardmind race and proved a pivotal event in the history of psionic power.

So the cultists used a part of the Living Gate in order to open the Vast Gate; as a result, they created a tiny window to Tharizdun’s prison.

Tharizdun then sent the Voidharrow through the window, with the idea that his cultists could use it to enhance the power of the Vast Gate—and, ultimately, widen the portal so Tharizdun could finally emerge from his prison.

But, as so often happens, a group of adventurers foiled that dastardly plan. Even as the Voidharrow transformed the unwitting cultists into demons, the adventurers came in and disrupted the Vast Gate.

In the ensuing chaos, demons and other fragments of the Voidharrow were scattered throughout the cosmos (Nu Alin was one of the cultists who opened the portal, transformed by the Voidharrow into a liquid creature inhabiting mortal bodies). A vial of the Voidharrow itself even came back to the world with the adventurers, ending up in the wizard Moorin’s tower in Fallcrest.

From There

The Temple of Yellow Skulls picks up more or less where Mark of Nerath left off, but it puts the adventurers’ focus firmly on the threat of the Voidharrow. As the novel begins, three adventurers—Shara, Albanon, and Uldane—find themselves in Fallcrest, quickly thrown into adventure, of course. Along the way, they visit one of the most evocatively named places on the map of the Nentir Vale, which gives the book its name. They also meet the aging cleric Kri Redshal, who claims to be the last surviving member of the Order of Vigilance, founded by the adventurers in the novella.

What happens next? Well, download the sample chapter of The Temple of Yellow Skulls, give it a read, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be hooked. Our heroes and the Order of Vigilance are in for a wild ride—and so are you!

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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