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Maldin's Greyhawk


by Denis Tetreault
 Version 1.4

On the Legend of Kyuss, with a commentary on the geographic disposition of his Sons

Many honorable sages and seekers have attempted to study the mysteries of the ancient past. A disproportionate number of them have concentrated their studies on the great Suel and Baklunish empires, both destroyed most spectacularly at the height of their civilizations in the Rain of Colorless Fire and Invoked Devastation, respectively. This singularly dark day in Flanaess history is often referred to as the Twin Cataclysms. Interest in these pinnacles of civilization is understandable. They achieved much in architecture, in the sciences, and in the arcane arts, yet despite their destruction at eachothers' hands a millenia ago, the many surviving tribes and houses insured the continuity of their memory in history. There is, however, another far more ancient civilization that rose and fell more then a millenia before the Twin Cataclysms. The great Flannish empire of Sulm.

Perhaps the oldest known higher civilization is Sulm. So far back in history was Sulm that almost nothing is known of it, hence the tendency of the less capable members of the Sages Guild to ignore it. Its end wrought by a great curse, brought on not by an enemy but by its own hand, predates the Invoked Devastation/Rain of Colorless Fire (which this sage would argue was the height of Suel and Baklunish civilizations) by more than a thousand years... and it was around for quite some time before that. Not only is the antiquity of Sulm is an important fact to keep in mind during this discourse, but the nature of its termination is also significant. While the Suel and the Baklunish were at war for some time, and large numbers of its populace survived the cataclysm by migrating out of the region in the years leading up to that moment, bringing with them memories and histories, the people of Sulm had no such chance. Sulm was extinguish like a candle, instantly and without any warning whatsoever. Overnight, its entire population succumbed to the evil power of the greater artifact (Class 1) known as the Scorpion Crown (see WGR3 Rary the Traitor page 32).

There is an ancient ruin from the Empire of Sulm that is still exists today within the Bright Desert, that wasteland that once was a thriving civilization. The Necropolis of Unaagh. The Necropolis was first described within WGR3 Rary the Traitor (page 27). Within the Necropolis, it is observed, are Sons of Kyuss! Their presence in one of the oldest ruins in the Flanaess surely cannot be co-incidental. It is my theory that around 3800 SD, the creator of the Sons, the Flannish high priest Kyuss, performed his vile experiments while serving at the Necropolis - a temple meant to celebrate the dead, and not corrupt them..
"But Maldin... you insane idiot-sage.... the Sons could have gotten there long after the destruction of Sulm..." 

No. A quote from WGR3 Rary the Traitor:
"The undead exist only in the region of the Necropolis. The undead that move or are carried even a few yards from its buildings immediately collapse into inanimate heaps of bone. Whether the undead exist to protect the riches hidden in the Necropolis or as a further ghoulish effect of Shattados's curse, no one knows."

The Scorpion Crown functions along a very specific theme, and has no connection to undeath or undead, so the Sons of Kyuss could not be a result of that artifact. Yet it is clearly obvious that the undead are magically tied to the site - a site that has existed since before the destruction of Sulm. They are not newcomers. Rather, they are original inhabitants! The only way for a Son to leave the area is for a new (non-Sulmish) individual (like an unfortunate adventurer) to become infected, and carry that infection off-site. Hence my arguement that Kyuss was indeed a priest working at the Necropolis when he created the first Sons. Kyuss must therefore have almost certainly been a Sulmish priest of great skill. Which evil, perhaps forgotten god was patron to the twisted Kyuss is not known. At the very least it can be assumed that, as his research explored dark secrets that should have never been explored, Kyuss turned from the teachings of the primary Sulmish deity of death and the afterlife worshiped at the Necropolis. He left Sons of Kyuss behind when he was banished from the Necropolis, and from the empire, as punishment for his forbidden research. When the empire was later destroyed by the Curse of Shattados, the "surviving" Sons did not get converted by the Scorpion Crown because they were not alive. Perhaps he escaped just before the destruction, but it is more likely that it was some time before. While the Necropolis has likely increased its numbers of Sons over the years by taking hapless victims that came to explore the ruins, the incredible age of the original Sons deep in the ruins, and the drying environment of the Bright Desert (not to mention its inherently magical nature) likely means that those original Sons are more powerful and more resistant to damage then the more commonly encountered specimens.

Where did Kyuss go after he was banished? Evidence seems to point to several locations based on the occurrence of primary infestations of Sons.

It would appear that after leaving Sulm, Kyuss travelled south and spent some time in exile hiding in the impenetrable Amedio Jungle. Well, in actually, Sean K. Reynolds, when writing The Scarlet Brotherhood sourcebook, placed them there because he thought they were cool. Can't blame him for that, but I don't believe he had a grand plan in mind at the time. In retrospect, though, if Kyuss thought he was going to be hunted down by his enemies, the wild expanse of the Amedio might have seemed like a very good place to hide out for a few years while interest died down. A second possibility is that a teleportation spell or gate transported a Son to that "random" location. Perhaps an explorer at the ruins of Unaagh used teleportation on an attacking Son to get rid of it and that's where he ended up. Note that it would have to be a secondarily infected Son, such as an explorer to the Necropolis, or the foul undead would disintegrate once away from the Necropolis. Because the Sons so easily infest humanoids, that displaced individual would have initiated a new point of infestation which has been spreading ever since.

It appears that after spending some time in the Amedio, Kyuss felt it was safe enough to travel again, and eventually settled in the Wormcrawl Fissure (WGR5 Iuz the Evil, pg 54-55), an isolated extension of the great Rift Canyon, in the region now known as the Bandit Kingdoms. Whatever his reasons for relocating, it appears that his research had continued beyond what he had accomplished at the Necropolis. Experiments on giant insectoids produced the vile Hounds of Kyuss (Dragon 270, pg 75). What other dark secrets lie in the Fissure are unknown, but the ulgurstasta (Dragon 276, pg. 88-89) appears to represent the pinnacle of Kyuss' research. This colossal horror may have indeed been too much for Kyuss to handle, and may have had some responsibility for his ultimate disappearance.

In addition to the undead presence, the Wormcrawl Fissure is also known to contain an unusual number of very bizarre, almost alien, species of life as well. Whether Kyuss collected these organisms from elsewhere and brought them here as part of his research, whether they were here already, or whether they arrived after Kyuss' time is unknown. What is known is that the Sons of Kyuss wandering the Fissure, known as "Favored Sons", are exceptionally powerful. While these individuals may represent an advancement in Kyuss' research, a few sages believe there are other underlying reasons. Some have postulated the presence of an unknown artifact that may be affecting the undead and attracting other strange organisms. Yet others believe there is some ancient, buried arcane force in the area, something that not only is affecting the area, but may have been the reason why Kyuss called the location home in the first place. This mysterious force may be responsible for many of the unusual features of the Canyon, including the arcane substance known as Rift flowstone. The more daring suggest that Kyuss may still be there, himself affected by his own twisted research, and the presence of their "father" strengthens the "children".

Whether Kyuss has achieved some level of immortality, either as undead or as some form of deification (Living Greyhawk Journal #03), what is certain is that the memory of Kyuss has begun attracting sick and demented cultists. As these cults begin to grow and spread, they will no doubt cause more and more trouble across the Flanaess. Unlike any other undead, the incredibly virulent nature of the Sons allows them to spread like a plague through populations, with the potential to destroy entire cities. These cults must be watched very closely and crushed without mercy whenever encountered.

For details on the infamous Sons of Kyuss, they were first described in the original (1981) Fiend Folio pg. 83, reprinted in the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium Greyhawk Appendix (1990), and updated to 3rd Edition in the Living Greyhawk Journal #01 (2000) and Dragon Magazine Issue 336 pg. 60 (2005).

If I may step outside my role as sage, allow me to comment on a trend I do not agree with. Various authors over the past decade or so have taken virtually every Greyhawk historical figure and deified them without rhyme or reason. Are there any figures of history that have not achieved godhood? It is my personal opinion that, in any world, magic or not, there should be far more normal historical figures then individuals who make it into godhood. As for the Greyhawk: A Player's Guide reference naming Kyuss a Hero-deity... it was done without any thought or logic, just for the sake of creating yet another deity, and for no real useful purpose at all. Why do we need a deity for the creation of undead?? There are loads of dead, undead and death deities in Greyhawk already! In my jaded opinion, Kyuss should have remained a normal historical figure...  with rather unhealthy ideas concerning the selection of research projects. And that's how he has remained in my own campaign thus far. For those insisting on following Roger's deification, then he ascended after his research reached its pinnacle at the Wormcrawl Fissure, perhaps after discovering Wormcrawl's great secret. If you consider him to be a normal historical figure, yet encounter priests of Kyuss in products or wish to utilize cults of Kyuss, his priests are unknowingly (or knowingly) being granted their spells by none other then Nerull himself as reward for spreading undeath.

After hearing my unique theories on Kyuss' mortal history at GenCon1999, and finding them both sound and believable, the Greyhawk sages Erik (Iquander) Mona and Sean Reynolds agreed to canonize my history (first in Living Greyhawk Journal #03 in 2001). For that, I thank them.

Much of what is "canon" as defined by the many TSR/WotC authors over the years is in direct conflict with itself, often for immediate effect, rather then looking for any Big Picture(tm). This particular case (Kyuss) cuts across products such as Rary the Traitor (which has precedence as far as I'm concerned) vs. The Player's Guide vs. the Scarlet Brotherhood. While Carl Sargent (in WGR5 Iuz the Evil) put a little thought into the history of the Sons in Wormcrawl Fissure, Anthony Pryor (in WGR3 Rary the Traitor) and Sean Reynolds (in The Scarlet Brotherhood) both placed Sons of Kyuss in their supplements (in the Bright Desert and the Amedio Jungle, respectively) because they thought they were a neat monster, without any real thought or reason. While it is great when "accidents" of unplanned history can be officially given retroactive explanations that make sense (such as the adoption of my own history of Kyuss), this rarely happens. More often then not, Greyhawkian history (and the history of other worlds also) remains filled with a growing number of inconsistencies, particularly if one begins looking at the deluge of Living Campaign materials. This leaves plenty of room for interpretation by individual DMs. The story I use in my campaign, as presented above, satisfies canon as I see it. Your mileage may vary. As Erik "Iquander" Mona continues to spin the Age of Worms adventure path, we will all see how it plays out (look for Maldin to appear in Dragon 337's "Wormfood") and I may, in the end, modify my story of Kyuss as presented here. Check back here periodically!

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This page last modified on September 17, 2005