The Great Cataclysm

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Almost 1000 years ago, something horrible happened. You’ll see it referenced in history books. You’ll hear it talked about in bard’s tales. You’ll remember it from your schooling. But you won’t know the truth of it… because pretty much nobody knows what really happened. Here are some of the predominant theories and ideas around the Great Cataclysm. Take with appropriate grains of salt.

Dragonborn Records

In the years leading up to the Great Cataclysm, four ill omens struck the Arkhosian Empire. Since Bael Turoth had four Sorcerer-Kings at that time, it is often theorized that this is no coincidence.

First, the mighty Arnd, greatest among the Arkhosian heroes, disappeared. Many believed that Bael Turoth had kidnapped or assassinated him, though no one knows for sure… just that he and his famous Invincible Coat were lost to time.

Second, the 10 Rings of the Dragon Emperor, originally worn by Borysnikov Tyriskova, first emperor of Arkhosia, were scattered across the globe. Some say demons stole them, others say Bahamut’s Canaries took them to safeguard them from the coming Cataclysm, but their power left Arkhosia at that time. Though several have been found since that time, each one is a great treasure of incredible rarity. It is believed that if all 10 rings could be found and worn by dragonborn arcanists casting a ritual of memory, they would enable the Knowledge of what happened in the Great Cataclysm to be revealed.

Third, a force of Arkhosian scouts who had been observing in Bael Turoth returned with stories of seeing Demon Lords like Demogorgon and Orcus actually walking the land in physical form on Turathi soil. After giving their initial reports, however, each of these scouts suffered a horrid death from a sort of hellfire rotting disease that burned them from the inside out.

Fourth and finally, the Arkhosian Empress of the time, Anath-Yahu, went down to meet with one of Bael Turoth’s sorcerer kings in an effort to reduce tensions between the two nations, and she was murdered by the devious tieflings. When news of this got out, every Arkhosian that could move took up arms to eliminate the tiefling threat from the world.

Tiefling Records

Tiefling records from that time differ more than a little from the Arkhosian ones. First off, they discuss the repeated use of summoned dragons by Arkhosians in their attacks on Turathi cities. They also mention that Arkhosians were summoning draconic powers that were tied to the Primordials (known to dracologists as “cataclysmic dragons”) to try and fell the empire of Bael Turoth.

The Annals of the Final Four Sorcerer Kings tell of a meeting that Buzhanga, the only Sorcerer-Queen of the four, had with the Arkhosian empress to try and lessen hostilities between the two great empires. The treacherous Arkhosians assassinated the tiefling ruler, feeding her body to dragons (she had been known as “The Virgin Queen”, fueling speculation that she was a delicacy to the dragons the Arkhosians fed her body to).

The Demonomicon tells of the day when untold demonic hordes were summoned to the Prime Material plane not by tieflings, but by dragonborn warlocks, which has lead many tieflings to believe that the stories of demonic threats from Bael Turoth were artificially created by the evil Arkhosians.

Other Theories

  • God of Magic’s Death. There are those who believe that there once was a god of magic itself, and that the death of that god is what caused the Great Cataclysm. So great was the force of the death of this god that all records and memory of his/her existence were wiped out by the force of the death, which also horribly altered the Weave of Magic, creating wild magic, the spellplague, and all sort of other anomalies.
  • Primordial’s Release. Given the scale of the destruction, some scholars believe that a primordial was released upon the earth from some prison, by either Turathi or Arkhosian forces, and its presence in the world caused that destruction before the Primal Ban (or perhaps the combined forces of both nations’ armies) defeated it.
  • The Rods of Dragons. There were rumors (there always are) of magic items that could each control all of a given species or type of dragon. One particular ideology says that a powerful Arkhosian had one such rod, and a powerful Turathi had another… and whichever one fired first doesn’t really matter, because the resulting dragon apocalypse caused the Great Cataclysm.
  • Outside Powers. The Great Cataclysm may have been caused (or exacerbated by) the appearance of one or more Outsider Gods from beyond reality. These’d be the same ones that Tharizdun HE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED was trying to summon to defeat all gods & primordials and end the Dawn War. This theory is unlikely, though, mainly because so much of the rest of the world survived.
  • A Smokescreen? The craziest of conspiracy theorists will say that the Cataclysm itself was merely a distraction set by some unknown power to keep everyone’s attention focused there, and not elsewhere. Of course, the mysterious “They” who were behind it has never been revealed… but that might make perfect sense to someone crazy enough to go that far down the rabbit hole of conspiracy ideology.
  • Spider Queen. The Dark Elves who bother to think about the Cataclysm will, more often than not, attribute it to the Spider Queen Lolth. They will talk about how she had been laying the strands for eons, and how the one perfect moment to strike finally came, allowing her to cripple the two most powerful nations on the planet in one fierce, two-fanged strike from below.
  • Gnomes. Oh, those zany gnomes. Since, among other things, the Cataclysm changed the magics surrounding airships and other mechanical wonders, there are many gnomish scholars who believe it might have been some kind of super airship tragedy, or perhaps a plot by the dwarves, who were jealous of the superior gnomish airship technology. There’s another group of gnomish Scholars of Ioun who believe that the Great Cataclysm was a singularity… a moment when the entire world had a simultaneous idea, and that idea became manifest in reality (with lots of destruction, but brainstorms can be violent). Others say that it was the Wonderbringer Gond’s vengeance upon the two nations, neither of whom could be clever enough to come up with an idea other than war.
  • Goliaths. It is rumored that since Goliath tribes keep oral histories, their tales of the Great Cataclysm may be truer than any other. However, the rumors say that only the elder of a given tribe knows this story, and will not reveal it to outsiders. So maybe it’s not all that important anyway. Many “civilized” Ioun worshippers feel that if it’s worth Knowing, it should be in a book somewhere, so these tribal rumors haven’t really lead to any serious research attempts.


While nobody knows exactly what happened, the results are pretty clear…

  • The Weave. Something about the nature of magic itself changed. Airships required a lot more energy to keep afloat. Summoned creatures didn’t stick around as long. Lesser magics became more common while stronger magics became harder to access. Also, a phenomenon known as “Wild Magic Zones” came into existence, where in certain areas magic worked differently, more powerfully, or not at all, with no rhyme or reason to it.
  • The Great Sea of Cataclysm. Where the majority of Arkhosia and Bael Turoth were is now a massive sea. Strange creatures are said to have come from these waters, unnatural creatures, perhaps proving that the energy at the center of the Cataclysm is still affecting things today.
  • The Maze. To the west of the Great Sea, there are a number of islands and earth motes that follow no natural rules. Lots of Wild Magic here, but also occasional portals to places that ought not exist, variances in gravity, physics, and reality, etc. Monsters of any sort, from any climate, have also been found in this region… sometimes alive, sometimes as remains that appear to be eons old. Occasionally long lost artifacts from elsewhere in the world will also show up here, though few have the skill/luck to survive a trip to this region.
  • The Feywild? Some believe that the echoes of the Great Cataclysm continue to have an ongoing effect on the Feywild, though the non-static nature of that realm makes it hard to know for sure. The evil giants of the Feywild known as Fomorians have been increasingly aggressive since the Cataclysm, though that may just be them taking advantage of the weakened Eladrin kingdoms… which have also been in decline since the Cataclysm… though that might be due more to initial damage when the event happened, and not from ongoing after-effects.
  • The Shadowfell. Most nethermancers will accept that the Shadowfell appears to have gained some kind of personality after the Great Cataclysm. Or maybe personalities is a better word. There appear to be entities that are sort of gods of the Shadowfell, though they have no names and no discernable agenda. Somehow they keep different realms of the Shadowfell separate from one another. Some say that the distant Shadowfell lands known to be surrounded by the Gray Mists… the Raven Lost Lands (so-called because even the Raven Queen’s forces do not appear to be able to reach souls there) came into existence as a result of the Great Cataclysm, too.
  • Dragons. Dracologists have collected stories from dragons who have shared them about the effects many dragons of the time suffered. Given dragons’ intense racial memories, many experience the actual memories their ancestors experienced when it happened, as well. Most of the tales have come from good dragons, or evil dragons who’ve been bribed, so their truth may be up for debate. But in general, it is thought that dragon birth rates went down after the Great Cataclysm. It is also thought that dragons’ attempts to contact their gods, be they Bahamut or Tiamat, became more difficult as a result of the Cataclysm. At the moment it happened, it is said that every dragon in the world roared out an involuntary primal scream/roar. Some also claim that dragons’ racial memories became less clear when the Great Cataclysm happened.
  • Bards. Whatever the actual effects, rumors about the Great Cataclysm have meant that no bard has ever lacked for material since then. One bard, a comedic centaur named William the Larger, even had a popular tale he told explaining the entire Great Cataclysm as a plot implemented by a conspiracy of Bards looking for material.

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The Great Cataclysm

Heroes of the New Day joelastowski joelastowski