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The Return of the Eggby Giuliano Michelon from Threshold Magazine issue 12
THE RETURN OF THE EGG
by Giuliano Michelon
From my point of view, beyond its vastness, the Mystara setting relies on some big pillars, and makes it a unique setting compared to all the TSR/WotC products.
What I mean is that it is possible to leave out the tortles or even the whole Savage Coast and the setting would still survive. On the other hand you cannot absolutely leave out the Radiance with all the relations by which it has forged the setting’s identity, in the past and in the future.
Trying to give depth and coherence to my campaign, which revolves around the Wrath of the Immortals, I went deep on all the Radiance related themes, especially its alien origin.
Wrath of the Immortals
Of course in the main adventure, The Immortals’ Fury, you may find several references on how the Radiance got to the planet and, through several changes, how it has become what it is now. But for me the main sources are, without a speckle of a doubt, four adventure modules written by Dave Arneson connected to his Blackmoor setting (most of all DA2 – Temple of the Frog and DA3 – City of the Gods).
City of the Gods
I must confess that these were adventures hidden in my gaming chest for many many years and that I bought mostly for collection purposes without any actual intention to play them.
But one day, almost by chance, I found an intriguing image on the internet, that completely turned around any prejudice I could have on Arnesons’ modules. It was the cover of a module that I learned, there and then, does not exists! Such a shame!
Better, it would have been a whole series of adventures that could/would have been the natural sequel to the DA series.
Between all of them there was one with this strange creature, difficult to describe and quite weird, It was the Egg of Coot
Digging through the Blackmoor background, reading more or less all that is available (either official sources or otherwise), I could not find any satisfying answer to its real origin.
The more information I got and the more I tried to get through in this subject to get its secrets, the more I realized that the typical “something unsaid” was left there for the Dungeon Master, to give him the ability to create his own taste of the Egg of Coot.
Thinking about how Blackmoor was also the first setting created for Dungeons & Dragons® and the fact that the Egg was, in a manner of speaking, the first and greatest nemesis, it sure helps to imagine the role of the Number One Enemy for it.
So how is “my” Egg of Coot? What omelette or frittata will you make of it?
Sure it is something “BIG” and unique but before getting to an answer on this I must point out a second peculiar aspect in Mystara, essential to grasp the whole picture.
This world contains, inside itself, a whole hollow world created by the Immortals as an experiment to preserve some races at risk of extinction.
In this cradle of races and cultures we can find everything, from Neathar to Azcans, from Nithians to Milenians.
Everyone was given a second chance, or so it seems.
Everyone, Blackmoor excepted. Why?
There is no Blackmoor
That is the question, but the official sources do not help us at all. Whether this is intended or not by the authors, I do not care at all. Blackmoor does not exist anymore and did not save itself from annihilation. And if someone asks why is it so, as a Dungeon Master I have to answer to this.
The one I got myself is that Blackmoor civilization was not saved by Immortals’ will. They got the perfect timing, the Great Rain of Fire, the self inflicted cataclysm the Immortals used to get rid of the.Blackmoorians
Maybe the DA series unwritten modules (and perhaps only in Arneson’s mind) would have filled the void between the events narrated in the first four modules (the birth of the Realm and the quake that obliterated it). And so it happens that even for those five centuries in Mystara history (between the Beagle’s arrival and the holocaust) there is not much written in the sources.
All that we can imagine is that Blackmoor civilization has managed to quickly evolve, technologically speaking, thanks to aliens and their artifacts. This evolution brought Blackmoor to develop the ability to use an energy form that you could easily compare to nuclear energy.
How this kind of energy can be coherently used in an high-fantasy context like D&D and Mystara, it’s something that we Master have to understand. To me, for example, the technology developed by Blackmoor mixes and confuses itself with the magic the planet is permeated with. (My) Intention is to have something that brings to memory a story like the one of Star Wars saga, for example.
Laser swords and gun yes, robots and androids too, even flying ships but without losing sight of magic, the true strength of the fantasy genre. A magic that from a side strengthens the technology but on the other side makes it dangerous and unstable.
The first sign of the danger and the instability of the connection between magic and technology is found on the official sources: the Beagle spaceship coming down due to the Skyshield, a magical field that surrounds the planet, the Great Rain of Fire, and then the Blackmoor relics that even centuries after sparkle quakes and various dangers.
Techno-magic developed in Blackmoor has to be something pulsing, nearly alive, unique, like a common source where one is everything and everything is one.
Something that, if anything happens in the city of Blackmoor, instantly spreads in the rest of the planet, with no chance to escape its effects.
Who gains from this techno-magic?
Rise of Blackmoor
Well, in the beginning, perhaps, the Blackmoor civilization use it, and starting from a little province in the outskirt of the Thonian empire, it first gains its independence, then grows and finally comes to rule over the adjoining cultures.
I take this from official sources, Wrath of the Immortals above all, and this goes on until Ogdoban Treel wakes up from his induced torpor and choose to do what forced Benekander to act towards the Beagle annihilation.
Was it the end of techno-magic? No, not at all, I should add.
The sources are pretty clear and above all coherent between themselves, but following the stories in the four module adventures from the DA series and in the aforementioned Wrath of the Immortals, I think that the more likely chain of events is something like this.
The ship falls down and from that point on (DA2 and DA3) there are contacts between the Blackmoor Realm and the ship’s inhabitants (the so called Gods).
There are few meetings and exchanging of gifts and alien items. Said items diffusion is very limited. Perhaps the King’s Companions (Uther Andahar, his cohorts and the Blackmoor University) got their hands on them, and by logic a few of them fell into the hands of some adventurers.
What magic-scientific developments may have taken place in those years (the King Uther era, to be clear)?
From my point of view, that is nothing worth truly subvert a campaign with a definite fantasy connotation. Maybe some lightsabers, some exotic weapons, grenades, some high-tech gizmo (a chronometer, a transmitter, a flying suit, or a jumping suit or a diving one) but still nothing able to stray the setting to the sci-fi genre.
Years goes by, maybe centuries, during which it’s possible that Blackmoor University starts manufacturing in large scale one or more of said item, to make them becoming more common and easy to obtain, especially for their own armies. These are the years during which the Realm’s wizards learn to conjoin the tech they inherited with the magic they already know.
It’s possible that the main event of this period is connected with Treel, the alien’s awakening, and with an unlimited access to the Beagle’s treasures by the Blackmoor scientists (a more apt title for this new kind of tech-wizards).
When the alien ship actually implodes it’s clearly too late. A big part of her treasures has found its way in the various research centers scattered in the Blackmoor Empire.
How much time from this point to the Great Rain of Fire? In Wrath of the Immortals it says a millennium, but I for myself tend not to believe it. Reading other official source materials, it seems more than plausible that the time span, from the Beagle’s arrival to the holocaust, is five centuries long.
One, maybe two are the centuries during which Blackmoor accomplishes its technological development at its fullest, reaching the top of its scientific evolution, conquering the whole planet and then …. puff…. disappears.
The Egg of Coot
While this all happens, what is the Egg of Coot doing?
We know that throughout the whole reign of Uther Andahar, also known as Uther the Black, the Egg has tried multiple times to invade and overtake Blackmoor. As the situation evolves it becomes way too difficult for the Egg to overcome an enemy getting stronger by the day, thanks to magic and scientific progress, and this becomes even truer because the Egg uses more and more humanoid armies and ordinary weapons too.
So it starts for the Egg a period of apparent inactivity and non belligerency.
While Blackmoor consolidates its own independence and then grows its controlled territories (mostly towards the south into the heart of the Thonian Empire), the unexplored and harsh Egg’s Land goes more and more out of focus until becoming of little to no importance for the rulers of what will be the newborn Blackmoor Empire.
Truth to be told, the Egg has always worked on a parallel course, since its first appearance, using secrets services and scheming, and in this time starts the second stage of a really large plot that will eventually bring it to obtain the control of the whole empire.
Thanks to a variety of creatures, human and not, fully subjugated to its mental control (the so called Egg’s Progeny), it gains access in a subtle way to Blackmoor society putting its pawns in command’s positions.
This mental control will, eventually, put it in contact with the alien technology and its techno-magic evolution. And it can mess with it, modify it, make its evolution further complex.
And this will be the beginning of the end of the known world.
But before going on with my reasoning, let me make another step forward, the last, I promise.
I have to turn back to the Egg’s origin and its true nature in (my) Mystara.
Nature of the Multiverse
What do we know about the planet genesis, and above all the Multiverse genesis? We know that in the beginning were the Old Ones. We know that they made the world as we all know it today and they push it from their world, the Sixth Dimension, through a barrier, The Dimensional Vortex. Then they went away but not before creating the first immortals.
The huge and infinite multiverse is a, so to speak, benchmark for new immortals creation and ascension to the Old One’s status.
Try to imagine this.
A windowless room with just one exit. Inside it are people dressed in some hazmat suit like the ones we see on the crime scenes in some popular TV shows. These people have arranged the room, furniture and all, even some little animals, some pets. Then they go away, closing forever the only exit, so that they are certain nothing and no one will leave the room. All has been arranged in a way that whoever is inside the closed room, will retain no memory of their presence. But let’s imagine that a tiny hair or an even tinier speck of skin had fallen from one of these people. The crime scene is compromised for as tiny as this pollutant may be.
Now back to our idea: the Multiverse is the room, the Old Ones are the people in the hazmat suits, the Immortals the little pets, the Egg of Coot is the polluting element.
You may say that a tiny hair is still a tiny hair. An organic inanimate object, doomed to become impoverished, dry and in the end dissolve. With no doubt this is sound reasoning for mortal beings and perhaps for Immortal ones too. For me, this may be not true for beings (Entities? Powers?) as mysterious and powerful as the Old Ones.
During millennia, the tiny speck evolves, get a body and finally sentience. It is a progressive and enormously slow process.
When the Egg of Coot rises from the waters in front of the Blackmoor Kingdom, it puts the humanoid tribes of the North under its command and starts its journey to the world domination, it is still in the starting phase of its evolution.
The Egg, just to maintain the theme, has just hatched.
But the advent of techno-magic is a steep turning point and a big steer toward the evolutionary development for the Old One embryo.
We all know, always from official sources like Wrath of the Immortals, that the alien technology, through a lot of tinkering, first by one of the Old Ones then by the Immortals themselves, will become the energy form called Radiance.
Through the Radiance use (or influence) we know for sure that at least three Immortals are born: Rafiel, Benekander and then Rad.
With the Radiance then it is possible to create new Immortals!
Machinations of the Egg
All the ruckus between Immortal factions in Wrath of the Immortals rotates around this concept. The Egg understood the techno-magic enormous potential and so it started to bend it to its own purposes.
Its objective? It strives to create an immortal race at its command to fight, destroy and take the place of the “legitimate” Immortals.
Luckily for Mystara and the Immortals themselves, the Egg never reaches its goal because, as we’ll see later, its work is crushed under the Great Rain of Fire that destroyed the entire Blackmoor civilization and every memory of it.
But during these years, both Blackmoor scientists (in part slaves to the Egg) and the Egg of Coot itself start a series of experimentations bound to the creation of new races. With advanced genetic studies in Blackmoor, the empire creates some of them: the goliath, for war purposes, the deep gnomes and the triclops. Manipulating the four elements, races like the aarakocra and the genasi are born.
The Egg itself conducts its experiments concocting the aboleths and the first elder brains: creatures born by osmosis with itself and with its aspect. To these creatures it delivers part of its enormous psychical powers so that they can be considered its true progeny. From them, as we all know, the illithid race is born and evolves.
The Egg of Coot’s plans are harshly interrupted by the Great Rain of Fire, by an autodestruction process of all the techno-magic artifacts chain reaction of the connected alien technology and Blackmoorian magic that escalates to global size.
This autodestruction process triggered by accident by Rafiel’s experiments even if, a cool idea I want to develope in the future, includes the involvement of heroes coming from the future of Mystara, passing through a space-time traveling artifact known as the Comeback Inn. An idea that came from another MockCover, this: http://blackmoor.mystara.net/img/DA15MockCover.jpg
Until that point, the Immortals had not been able to present a common front against the Egg, but they took the chance given by the global annihilation to erase every remembrance and every legacy of the Blackmoor civilization from history, because they thought it was too corrupt and too influenced by the Egg to even consider a milder solution.
For Mystara Immortals, the Egg is completely vanished, annihilated by the holocaust. Returning even a tiny part of Blackmoor society in the Hollow World is, for them, too big a danger to even think about.
It is simply fear that prompts the Immortals to leave Blackmoor to its fate and let millions of innocents die.
Is the Egg dead for real? Hell, no. But the Holocaust has a huge knock out effect on it.
For centuries the Egg loses conscience, in some ways it dies, if we compare it to a human being. Planet rotation then, with the polar shift, brings an hell of ice and snow upon Blackmoor and the Egg of Coot territories, condemning it to a sort of lethargic state.
Combined with its position, miles under the sea level, in an icy grave, this helps the Egg to not be detected even by the Immortals themselves that, by mistake, consider it dead and gone.
Four thousand years after the Great Rain of Fire and the Blackmoor civilization’s annihilation, the Egg’s conscience awakens and it is ready again to lay the foundation for a new quest to conquer Mystara.
What are the first steps? First of all, with the aim of restoring its physical form and ability to act directly, it needs some followers to do its will.
Minds open to its calling are summoned by dreams and visions, with a promise of power, knowledge and treasures. The usual, so to speak!
Warlock and Psions can be easily introduced in this way in classical setting campaigns. Following tastes and choices this is also true for all the other aforementioned creatures that could have escaped in little havens, somehow sheltered from the holocaust.
The return of the Egg of Coot gives me the chance, with some little adjustments, to introduce in Mystara the Elemental Evil concept that was developed in some classic adventures (T1-4 – The Temple of Elemental Evil) and in the last campaign published by WotC by the title of Princes of the Apocalypse.