One of the most powerful and most interesting legends of the World of Greyhawk is the story of how two mighty civilizations destroyed themselves utterly in events know as the Rain of Colorless Fire and the Invoked Devastation. According to official publications, very little is known of the details. The Suel and Baklunish Empires were locked in a long and bloody war, great migrations of refugees scattering across the Flanaess, and in a single day of cataclysm were wiped off the face of the map. A millenium later the scars of their doomsday still darken half a continent. We are told that this destruction was called down by the most powerful wizards of those empires, and that an arcane device known as the Bringer of Doom was at least partly involved. See MC5 Greyhawk Adventures Monstrous Compendium Appendix: Hordling entry, and the first Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix pg 55 for physical descriptions of the Bringer of Doom. Some unofficial information has been revealed on the various listservs. Len Lakofka, creator of the Suel legends and deities, has said that in his home campaign powerful magic items (artifacts) known as the Binders were involved somehow, though he has released no further details. Also Gary Gygax has stated that the Bringer of Doom was but a minor component of what happened, that the powerful hand of gods were directly involved, and that he had never bothered to work out the actual details of the event. So... in the absence of a direct official story, DM's are free to come up with their own legends. This is what Greyhawk is all about! ;-)
What follows is a description of what happened in my campaign. It not only includes what I've designed, but my players helped create a part of it by their actions in an adventure I ran which time-travelled back to the week before the famous events. Interspersed within this story are descriptions of the characters actions. I won't describe the details of that adventure, for there was much more to it than can be presented here (including interactions with several different groups not mentioned here, a rescue mission to a military fort, their attempts to alter the timeline in minor ways, and attempts to solve several mysteries from their own time, etc.), but I will describe the actions they took that directly effected the progression of the Twin Cataclysms event itself. DMs can use this as a basis for ideas for their own time-travelling adventure.... who knows what will happen in your own campaign. Can the players stop it in time? The answer should be no. You shouldn't allow them to because that would change all of history, but you'll have fun watching as they desperately try to stop it! ;-) In our case they failed of course (in a BIG way), but still to this day everyone unanimously agrees that it was the most memorable night of adventuring they've ever had in 18 years of playing AD&D. I'll argue with anyone who says that scripted or deterministic adventures are not fun. For those DMs looking for a 3rd Edition conversion of these magic items and the arcane spells involved in this ultimate catastrophe, please visit my webpage on the Mechanics of Destruction: Origins of the Twin Cataclysms.
In 5087 SD (-428 CY) Ilkben acquired the Codex (see my Codex
article for more information). With it he was able to not only
Baragu was a powerful gate complex (he had hunches all along, but
completely underestimated the scope of its true power), but the Codex
him to determine how to operate it! In 5092 Ilkben brought together a
of gifted mages to help both in his research and to assist in the
of a weapon that would end the hateful war with the Suel by its mere
- sort of a Mutually Assured Destruction deterence thing. He would
it mainly to see if it could be made, but hoped it would never
to be used. Using the Codex, he began work on a three part
(I know, but believe it or not I came up with this long before I ever
around to reading the Gord books!). Known simply as the Ashen Staff,
it was to be assembled but once, and functions as a key to "turn on"
control the gate complex, and shape the energy drawn through the gate
a desired spell effect.
While doing research in Zeif and Ekbir, they were asked to perform a
service for the Church of Al'Akbar, and successfully completed I9 Day
Al'Akbar (which I had placed in a desert valley located at J6-125
I6-124) just before the winter solstice. On their way to returning the
artifacts to the high priests, they detoured back to Tovag. The
image of the city was visible again. The rare "views" of distant or
places sometimes seen between the pillars (as described in the Greyhawk
Adventures hardcover) are meta-stable gates that can only be viewed at
certain astronomically special times (such as the equinox, eclipse
etc.) when Tovag accidentally activates. At this time, if the Talisman
of Al'Akbar is placed over the center hole (a perfect fit!) the
active gate will stabilize and allow passage thru it. Using the Talisman
of Al'Akbar at the moment of winter solstice, the party caused the
image of the city to become a functioning gate (one way as they were
to find out). They decided against bringing the artifacts through the
(I may have had something to do with that!), so one of their temporary
(for just the I9 adventure) stayed behind. The rest entered the gate,
down to the city, and found that they were in Udrukankar, the Baklunish
capital, just 5 days before the infamous event. They had not moved in
but in time. Were they worried? YOU BET!!! ;-)
After wandering around the city a bit, and making friends with a priest of Al'Akbar (one of the few familiar sights in the city), they decided to visit Tovag, just outside the city limits. As they approached the edge they noticed a group of people in the distance, gathered in the center (remember, Tovag is huge). One of the characters decided to approach the group while the others waited. As the PC neared the group of wizards performing observations of some sort, their leader was watching carefully. The inate powers granted by the Codex enabled Ilkben to immediately know that there was something seriously alien about the character. Before the PC could even speak and before the rest of the party could react, Ilkben teleported the PC and his wizard assistants to his laboratory at the top of one of the huge towers in the Emperor's Palace. The PC was questioned, and after some intimidation he told Ilkben that the Suel were planning to unleash some sort of cataclysm in a matter of days. Ilkben was aghast at this news, even though he was privy to all the most secret intelligence gathered by the Baklun military, yet his detection abilities told him that this stranger was telling the truth. No one had even suspected. In reality, at this point in time, the Suel were not planning anything. Ilkben asked the PC to join in the circle of assistants, and assist in his research (how could a player turn down that kind of offer, nor was the player willing to say no to such a powerful wizard), and they hurriedly completed the final piece of the Ashen Staff. Without the warning, and the PCs help, the Staff would not have been completed for some time. The PC didn't understand the principles behind the arcane actions he was asked to perform, and never knew the nature of that huge book Ilkben was using as he led the arcane fabrication process. ;-)
Meanwhile, things were not going so well for the rest of the party. Another group was also watching the wizards from the edge of Tovag. They watched the lone PC approach, and disappear with, the wizards. They followed the remaining PCs back to the city, and a group of fighters, assassins and wizards ambushed the party, easily overpowering them, and magically transported them back to the Citadel in the Suel capital city. A frightening evening was spent in bowels of the dungeons, screams echoing through the dank halls, as time ticked towards what the PCs were sure would be their ultimate destruction in the Rain. The Council's divinitory magic quickly determined that the PCs were from another time. They were then personally interrogated by the Suel Council of Mages. The sense of power permeated every stone, the very air, of the huge Council Chamber. The PCs caved almost immediately. Not knowing anything that had been transpiring between Ilkben and their lost comrade, they quickly told the Council that the Baklunish were about to launch some sort of massive magical attack upon the Suel, the Council's divinitory magic immediately confirming that their story was truthful. This was information that appeared to come as a total shock to the Council. A hurried discussion of this turn of events ensued, temporarily throwing the Council into chaos as the PCs watched. For a moment the PCs were forgotten as suggestions were tossed about between the archmages. Off handedly, the PCs were waved away with the phrase "the Council grants you your freedom as reward for your valuable information", and the discussions continued. As the confused PCs were led away by the guards, the final fragment of conversation they heard was the mention of a name.... "As loath as I am to suggest this, the powers of the Device of Xodast must be unleashed. We have no choice. Time is against us. His Tome of Research must be retrieved from the vaults and consulted".
It was at that point that my players finally realized what was truly happening. Not only had the Suel not been planning any attack, but it was the PCs who had been the CATALYST that actually precipitated the final destruction of half a continent, of millions of lives. I've never seen anyone go as white-as-a-sheet and get monster goosebumps as my players when they realized what they had done! All they could mutter was "Oh my god!" A night they'll never forget. ;-)
Still in shock, and much to their surprise (they had expect nothing
less then death), the PCs were tossed out into the main square of the
Two days until doomsday. As they began to wander about trying to
a plan, they noticed the Imperial Assassin squad following them. They
realized that they knew too much to live. Thus began a chase through
city by high level assassins, and a narrow escape. The next several
involved a series of events and mini-adventures unrelated to the topic
1) The decaying nature of the Gray Wastes caused the decomposition of matter in the overlap zone... man-made constructions were particularly susceptible and quickly crumbled to dust.
2) Terrible diseases were inflicted upon all life, both plant and animal, killing most everything in a myriad of the most horrible deaths ever witnessed on the Prime. A nightmare of unimaginable proportions.
3) Anything that was on the original region of the Gray Wastes also temporarily existed on the Prime Material overlap zone. Unfortunately tens of thousands of hordlings just happened to be on maneuvers there at the time. Once they realized they had been somehow dragged onto the Prime they decided to PARTY!!!! Much to the horror of the Baklunish people. This is how the horde of hordlings got around the summoning restrictions on their number... they weren't actually summoned. Technically they were still on the Gray Wastes... and on the Prime.... When the overlap ended they were all sent back "home".
And who else was there? The region of the Gray Wastes that was
the overlap zone was part of Incabulos' realm. He was accidentally
onto the Prime along with everything else. Much to his joy. During the
overlap period he romped through the Baklunish capital on his nightmare
mount, reaping souls with his great scythe. The climax of the Baklunish
nightmare. In my campaign, there is no record of Incabulos whatsoever
the Rain of Colorless Fire/Invoked Devastation. Once he was so kindly
onto Oerth, he decided (was able) to maintain a presence, and has been
slowly building a following ever since. The reason why he doesn't seem
to really belong to any normal Greyhawk pantheon is because of the
nature by which he came to Oerth.
The assembled staff functioned as a key and opened a massive gate to the positive material plane producing what appeared to be an intensely bright straw-yellow beam emanating from the center of Tovag up into the sky. Ilkben and his team perished at that point as the beam expanded to include the entire mile diameter structure. The "material" spewing from this beam reached a thousand miles into the sky (so it appeared to disappear into space from the point of view at the Baklunish capital and fell back onto Oerth over the Suel empire... the effects of which are recorded by history. The beam was so bright that early Flan mythology from the eastern Flanaess speak of the night when the moon in the sky briefly brightened three fold as light from the beam reflected off its surface. Because it was not properly shut down, energy "leakage" from Tovag helps maintain the Sea of Dust's present condition. Only assembling the staff again can shut Tovag down..... or re-open the energy gate if not done properly!!! ;-)
"Oh, sorry sir... was that your 'Great Kingdom' there, Sir
I would like to point out one thing, however....
Because his research began a chain of events that resulted in this continental disaster involving the death of millions, destruction of the two greatest empires on Oerth, and the 1000 years of terror wrought by Incabulos and his followers since then, one could argue that the relatively unknown and unremembered "Brooding Mage" is probably responsible for more suffering on Oerth than any other single being, mortal or not. Iuz has a long way to go yet. ;-)
And then there's the guilt the PCs now carry with them... ;-)
The Ashen Staff is a 3-part artifact created by Ilkben and
his team of wizards using the Codex. It has only been assembled
once, on the day that Ilkben called down the Rain of Colorless Fire on
the Suel Empire. Except for an obscure reference in the Scroll of Dust, there is very
information recorded about this ancient item.
The main shaft (the only portion that is normally referred to as the
Ashen Staff) resembles a white, unglazed ceramic staff
approximately 5 feet long and 2 inches in diameter, with no markings or
decorations. In the top of the staff is a small hole approximately a
half inch in diameter. The staff is much lighter then a solid
ceramic staff would be, about the same weight as a similarly-sized
wooden staff. The unglazed ceramic has an almost gritty feel, and the
few references to this magic item attribute that feature as the reason
for its name. There is no record of this item ever being used for
anything special, nor is there a record of its maker. If wielded while
casting a spell, the spell effect is amplified by a factor of 10 in all
of its characters (range, area of affect, duration, damage, etc.). In
its true purpose, the staff functions much as a wand of spell focusing,
except any spell effect can be focused and amplified if a properly
enchanted template is used. While appearing to be a minor artifact
(indestructibility, immunity to divination and detection, etc.), it
doesn't seem to be particularly special. As is the case with all
artifacts, it must certainly have inherent dangers - the most common
being the possibility of a spell backfiring on the caster, however
little else is known about those dangers. The Ashen Staff just
hasn't been used enough times through history for information to have
been passed down. After reading accounts of former apprentices, a sage
in Melkot believes that Marchanter Melkotia once possessed the Ashen
Staff. No one else believes that those sketchy accounts of a white
staff refer to this particular item.
The second part of the staff is a 6 inch diameter crystal sphere, perfectly transparent with a slight lavender tint, and is known as the Great Crystal. The crystal has a 2 inch diameter circular depression in it approximately an inch deep. In the center of that depression is another depression a half inch in diameter and a half inch deep. The crystal has artifact-like properties (indestructibility, immunity to divination and detection, etc.), and is believed to function as a master gate-key (see the Planescape campaign setting for descriptions of gate keys). When attuned to both the user and an existing planar gate, the user can force the gate to open on a desired plane. How this attunement is achieved, history has not recorded. What is known is that the item has both arcane and psionic properties. What is not known is that the crystal can also control the flow of energy through that activated gate, and has indeed only been used once in that function. Spending most of its history inert and undetectable, it is believed that Quaal once possessed the crystal. It is unknown what he learned about it, if anything, and the crystal has been lost since. After stumbling onto several writings of Quaal during his Vesve campaigns, Iuz has come to believe the crystal could be of great use to him for controlling gates, and currently has several teams searching the Flanaess for it. Unbeknownst to anyone, including Iuz, the crystal still contains the psionic "mental" signature of one of Ilkben's special assistants - the assistant that imbued it with psionic energy. Since 545 CY (6060 SD), the crystal is no longer inert, and it began "leaking" energy in 584 CY. In a relatively short time, the Defiled Glades (WGR4 The Marklands, pg 51) within the Vesve Forest began to form, and continues to grow. The artifact's immunity to detection and divination has thus far prevented anyone from discovering exactly what is forming the Defiled Glades.
The third part of the Ashen Staff is a small ceramic wand a half inch in diameter and 10 inches long. A device of what seemingly appears to be fairly limited power, it has ironically been blamed for the destruction of the Suel Empire by lesser sages of dubious intellect and dismissed by expert sages as merely a weak imitator of the Rain of Colorless Fire's spell effect as a kind of "memorial" to the event. This device is often called the Fire Wand of the Suloise (see Greyhawk Adventures hardcover pg 75 for details on its use and effects, I've also included the text of that entry at the bottom of this webpage) and, unlike the other two parts of the Ashen Staff, has been passed from wizard to wizard for centuries, leaving quite a long history. While its spell effect is undeniably deadly, it is of quite limited range and effect, and experts all agree that this could not possibly have any relation to the actual historic event. The wand is in actuality the spell effect "template" Ilkben created for the Ashen Staff. As a seemingly minor artifact of limited ability, most never realize that it is indeed an artifact (indestructible, etc.). The last known owner of the wand was a mid-level member of the City of Greyhawk Wizard's Guild. Experimenting on an unknown magic wand he happened upon, he accidentally precipitated an effect now referred to at the Guild as the "Drizzle of Colorless Fire". The remains of his home on the outskirts of the city are pictured here, once a rectangular one-story stone and wood structure with an attached three-story circular tower. A large tree next to his house is now a deep circular pit. The present location of the wand is unknown.
To assemble the Ashen Staff, the template is
inserted into the hole in the top of the staff. Approximately a
half inch will still protrude from the top. Although Ilkben only
the single template, it is theoretically possible that a
sufficiently knowledgeable and skilled archmage might have since
created another. Then the crystal is place on top and
automatically locks into place. Once assembled, the staff has
the power of a major artifact. What additional abilities (or curses) it
will acquire is unknown. It is likely that spells cast and 'focused'
with the assembled staff would generate effects of regional
importance. The presence of any nearby planar gates, hidden or not (see
the Planescape campaign set for details on naturally occurring keyed
gates), would likely result in rather spectacular effects. The crystal's
planar "setting" can be changed by attuning to it, otherwise it will
remain set to the last plane it was set to, and that may have been the
one set the one and only time the staff was last assembled. It
is possible that Quaal managed to change the setting on the crystal,
if the nature of
the Defiled Glades is any clue. Inserting the assembled Ashen Staff
into Tovag Boragu, the most powerful gate system on the planet
(and an artifact in its own right), without fully understanding how to
would likely be a truly unwise action of epic (and continental)
> -Wasn't the Codex also linked to the destruction of the Isles of Woe?
Yes. That event is recorded by the sages (canon of course). The actual cause of the Isle's destruction (non-canon, my campaign) was an unwanted side effect of Yagrax's use of the Codex producing massive earthquakes in the vicinity of his capital.
> Have you linked the destruction of the three greater pre-Oeridian civilizations together? [meaning the Suel and Baklunish Empires and Yagrax's empire]
The earliest recorded civilization is of course Sulm and the Scorpion Crown caused it's destruction over 2000 years ago. But yes... the Baklunish and the Suel were destroyed 1000 years ago by indirect result of the Codex (by items made with the Codex) and Yagrax's more modest empire was toasted 160 years later (my date) by direct result from use of the Codex.
But this is small potatoes. The Codex has also been used directly to destroy two planets (Borka and Greela) and a sun (Anti-Liga)! In my campaign, of course. ;-)
> -How much of this history is known to sages in the Flanaess?
Very little. Much of it is "DM fun" on my part (so I can create my internally consistent "Big Picture") and a bit is known to some of my players who participated in a couple of interesting adventures I mentioned above, but...
Some bits of info are known in obscure books that PCs could
1. Xodast somehow created the Bringer of Doom which was
used in the ID (but no references to the Codex, not even his
knew he had it)
2. Yagrax had the Codex, and part of its curse destroyed his island
3. Tzunk had it, and used it to seize the City of Brass (efreeti capital) temporarily.
4. The Wizards of the Final Retribution were responsible for the
and their leader was a powerful wizard named Ilkben. They used Tovag
Baragu and another item (artifact) to create the Rain (again, no
to the Codex, even Ilkben's assistants weren't aware of
5. That the dwarves of Kirahk were attacked and destroyed by Yagrax just before he obtained the power to expand his empire.
The following facts are "lost knowledge", and are unrecorded anywhere in history. Legend Lore will not even reveal this information. The only way to find this out is to actually acquire the Codex:
1. The fact that Xodast or Ilkben even HAD the Codex, never
used it to create the artifacts they actually used to destroy half a
Not even their assistants at the time were aware of the Codex.
2. That Zagig also once possessed it, and used it to trap the nine powers and to chip pieces off of the Obelisk.
Ilkben was "the greatest wizard that lived".
The Ashen Staff was bastardized into "Askaf" over the centuries, and the "Great Crystal" is but one of the three parts.
Tovag Baragu is the "Eye That Watches", and the central-most region (with the hole into which the Staff was inserted) is the "Lock of the Ancients"
The collapse of the Baklunish Imperial Palace (Ilkben's lab was the top of one of the towers) is the "Towers did fall" part.
And finally... a few bits of information that no divinitory magic could ever reveal, both because artifacts resist all such magic, and for other reasons I will not reveal here. The only way characters could find out the following is to participate in the actual events.
1. In my campaign, a small group of worshippers of Al'Akbar escaped during the Invoked Devastation, with a high priest, through a gate. The high priest had a staff of curing that was capped by the symbol of Al'Akbar... that staff (and the cup) was transformed into an artifact by Al'Akbar himself when his avatar appeared to the escapees, and the Talisman of Al'Akbar is actually only this capping symbol piece. The rest of the staff has been lost. (Hmmm... could be an adventure in there!) The Cup was originally the cup used at the main temple during ceremonies and carried to safety by the high priest..
2. Who wrote the Scroll of Dust? The Chief Scribe/Recorder (who was
also a low-level priest) from the
the High Temple of Istus in Udrukankar. How ironic (yet typical for
that it became the most holy document of another religion. How could he
write it? He was with the group that escaped. How did he come to be
them? Divine inspiration instructed him to remain near the high priest
all that day. Why did he write the Scroll of Dust? Because he knew he
to. It was his destiny.
I hope you enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Fire Wand of Suloise (M): This wand may have been the device that
caused the destruction of the Suel Empire, or it may have been created
to reproduce the event. No scholar doubts that its creator was a wizard
of great power and violent tendencies. The wand is rarely bought or
sold, since few magic-users dare to use it. Often it merely falls into
the hands of an unsuspecting spellcaster who never realizes its full
powers and dangers until too late.
The wand can summon a deadly "fire" to rain down in a 60' cube from
a range of up to 80 yards. The "fire" inflicts 5 points of damage per
round to all creatures, regardless of protections, resistances, or
immunities to normal or magical flame. Such damage cannot be cured by
any spell less powerful than a heal spell. Furthermore, the
fire will destroy buildings of less than stone construction, and will
evaporate free-standing liquid to a depth of 1 foot per round. Note,
however, that matter is burned to dust and ashes, not vaporized. Though
the wand itself is never affected by the fire, the wand has a 5% chance
of malfunction, in which case the effect is centered upon the wand user.
The fire requires 3 charges to operate and has a minimum duration of
6 rounds. After this the caster can end the rain by concentrating for a
round and making a saving throw versus spells. Each round the wand
continues to operate will drain 1 more charge. If the wand is emptied,
then the fiery rain vanishes and the wand explodes, engulfing the
magic-user and everything within 10' in a blast that inflicts 3d10
points of damage.
The wand can be recharged, but only in the Quasi-Elemental Plane of
Ash, which lies between the Elemental Plane of Fire and the Negative
X.P. value: 4,000 x.p. G.P.
value: 18,000 g.p.
Side notes and Additions: The longer the wand operates, the
more difficult it becomes to control. During each addition round (after
the minimum duration of 6 rounds) there is a cumulative -1 modifier to
the operator's saving throw versus spells. As an artifact (as described
in this webpage), the wand does not actually explode. The burst is an
uncontrolled release of its energy caused when the wand automatically
contacts the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Ash to recharge itself. The wand
then has a 50% chance of being dimensionally "thrown" to a random
location within 1000 miles via a form of teleportation, and will have
2d10 charges replenished.
For those DMs looking for a 3rd Edition version of these magic items
and the arcane spells involved in this ultimate catastrophe, please
visit my webpage on the Mechanics of
Destruction: Origins of the Twin Cataclysms.