Elder Evils

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 120: Elder Evils




The final book for Third Edition D&D, or to be more accurate edition 3.5, was Robert J. Schwalb’s Elder Evils, a companion of sorts to Exemplars of Evil from a few months earlier. While Second Edition AD&D concluded with a trio of apocalyptic adventures to end your party/campaign/world, this time out Exemplars is more of a guide for how to do this on your own. Following a relatively short introduction and first chapter detailing the book’s purpose and some ideas for signs of the apocalypse, the book quickly gets down to business: here’s nine big bads with the potential to destroy the world. Each one of them comes with a trio of setpiece encounters, two-ish NPCs, and a somewhat detailed outline for how to use them in a campaign—and that’s pretty much it. It’s up to players to make of this what they will, which really means the book is filled with great ideas that I’m not sure were ever really used by anyone in reality, given that in many cases they require a longterm campaign devoted to the big bad in order to function well, and by the time that was even possible Fourth Edition and Pathfinder had come along and taken away the audience. Nevertheless, the ideas here are frequently excellent, and some of them are also planar in nature, so let’s explore those who fit within our weird little niche of coverage. 

The book kicks off with perhaps its single best apocalyptic entity: Atropus, the World Born Dead. Clearly Schwalb reacted to the atropals from the Epic Level Handbook in a similar manner to my own, thinking that these are a cool concept, but they’re also pretty unusable given the source. Atropus isn’t quite the same as his near-namesakes, but takes inspiration from their idea of stillborn demigods. Atropus is more of a full-on anti-world, an undead moon crashing down upon the Prime in order to destroy the life force he inadvertently gave birth to untold millennia ago. In order to fight off this apocalypse, PCs need to travel to an imminently crashing undead moon in the sky and destroy his aspect. Admittedly, planar links with this first apocalypse are tenuous at best… but I don’t care. Atropus is a cool enough concept that I wanted to mention him regardless, as it allows you to do a Majora’s Mask-esque end of the world where you get to beat up the moon instead of just being humiliated a bunch by Skull Kid. I get the sense that Atropus is Schwalb’s favorite of these elder evils, and you know what, he’s my favorite too.

For being a Far Realm monstrosity, Father Llymic is weirdly basic.

More relevant to this series is Father Llymic, a powerful Far Realm entity trying to trick people into rescuing him from an ancient, solar-powered prison. In a way that reminds me a bit of Levistus, he’s still able to project illusions (“a shard of his dreaming mind”), and he chooses the form of a kindly old man to beckon explorers closer. In essence, Llymic is a slight twist on other Far Realm concepts, but because of the details offered here it feels quite possible to set an entire campaign around his attempted escape. I also appreciate his Glacial Tomb location as a Lovecraftian touch, essentially standing in for the Antarctic of At the Mountains of Madness. There’s also a few new Far Realm creatures, his “brood,” included here, but that’s mostly it—what if a Far Realm weirdo were unleashed on the Prime. Maybe not the most creative end of the world scenario, but still a good one.


The next planar entity is Pandorym, a being drawn from a “quasireality best described as ‘perpendicular’ to that of the Great Wheel.” Is that kind of stupid? Sure, but regardless, Pandorym has the power to slay gods by somehow ripping them from existence. None of this jives well with the game’s cosmology, but as a big bad for a world-ending campaign, there’s nothing wrong with that. His mind was split from his body, and his goal is to reunite them and then wreck the joint because he’s alien and all that sorta thing. Oddly, unlike so many of these entities Pandorym is even canonical(-ish?) to the multiverse, in that he apparently plays a role in Bruce R. Cordell’s Forgotten Realms novel Darkvision, which it sounds like most of the possible storyline for this entity is cribbed from, though I’m not going to read the book to find out just how much. My favorite thing about Pandorym isn’t his somewhat lame origin story, but what’s going on with one of the people trying to free him from his prison: Obligatum VII. 

Roughly 900 years ago, the first Obligatum kolyarut became aware of the verbal agreement struck—and subsequently broken—thousands of years earlier with a powerful creature not of this reality. Innately dedicated to the principles of law, it paid no heed to the danger of the being’s release. The inevitable set forth to enforce the contract struck by a now-dead civilization. It had only one goal: to release the indescribable thing known as Pandorym. It knew only that this entity was imprisoned within the ruins of the lost kingdom.

It failed. So did five successors also assigned to rectifying the breach. Obligatum VII is the latest to take on this mission.

If using Schwalb’s proposed storyline, the climax of this Pandorym-focused campaign involves keeping Obligatum VII from smashing open Pandorym’s prison, though this won’t be enough to stop the lawful efforts to see this contract through. “Even if the PCs are victorious, the crèche-forges of Mechanus churn out Obligatum VIII in 2d4 months. That kolyarut exceeds its predecessor in ability and bears an even more powerful weapon. Preventing further incarnations of the kolyarut might require a planar journey to destroy their place origin.” It’s a wonderful concept and does something quite interesting with one of inevitables for the first time I can think of in D&D

Now we’re talking about a true weirdo. Ragnorra wins the “most hideous monster” award for this book.

Ragnorra, Mother of Monsters, is a gigantic primeval source of life traveling through the planes and smashing places up because, umm… because that’s what she does. Outsider cultists try to seed her trail through the multiverse in order get her to consume specific Prime Material worlds, which kinda makes sense, though when you read more of what’s here it begins implying that the Astral Plane has a physical relationship with the Prime, which isn’t the case: 


Ragnorra’s path is extraplanar, a twisted loop with one end anchored in the Positive Energy Plane. It curves through the Astral Plane and intersects with the Ethereal Plane, the Material Plane, or the Plane of Shadow before returning to its starting point. Each loop takes approximately 500 years. Ragnorra was exiled long before the deities created the mortal races, so the elder evil has been a potential threat for as long as the campaign setting has existed. Her current path is taking her toward the PCs’ world as the result of the Malshapers’ actions to lead her there. This process can take anywhere from a few months to many years of game time, depending on the needs of the campaign.

Ultimately, you can fly forever in any of these planes and not reach another plane because that’s what being a whole universe, i.e. a plane of reality, means. No mention of Ragnorra causing portals or something similar comes about, instead she’s traveling as if through distance, which is where I take issue. I do rather like that she’s a force for positive energy gone awry, bringing with her uncontrollable life, but the whole “path between the planes” thing seems kind of meaningless to me, as unlike with something like the Planebreaker (from Path of the Planebreaker) nothing here implies she’s planeshifting, and if she is then why doesn’t she move instantly? Essentially, she feels like she should be a Spelljammer big bad roaming wildspace and destroying Prime Material worlds like a hostile meteor, and instead she’s made planar and so no longer quite works. Whatever, it’s fine, you can easily futz around that sort of thing as a DM or ignore it if you’re not nitpicky, I just wish this was a tad more coherent considering that it’s a similar concept to Atropus, just with more planar stuff involved but without really making any sense of how that is supposed to work.

Sertrous is a new obyrith demon lord, making him peripherally planar, and likewise his chief lackey is a fallen solar, but the most interesting thing about him is how he tosses away many of the assumptions made by the game’s cosmology. His goal is to teach that gods are unnecessary for gaining divine power, making him a demonic, Prime Material Athar of sorts. That being said, while this is a worthwhile concept for a campaign, his actual goal is much less grand:


Sertrous’s true reasons for waging war on the Material Plane are more than mere jealousy. He wishes to return to the Abyss and reclaim his realm now that the time of the Queen of Chaos is past. … With each war, the souls of those who die in the Vanguard’s service are drawn into the Abyss to await their master’s return, while at the same time the armies and resources of his Material Plane enemies are depleted. When his army of slithering petitioners in the Abyss is great enough, he shall return to life and reclaim his throne as a demon lord. 

So yeah, while Sertrous at first sounds like an interesting foe, in essence it’s another demon lord plotline. At least he’s an obyrith, I guess. Plus, his detailed final location is the Serpent Reliquary, “Built around an extradimensional cube trapped between the planes.” This is pretty much gibberish, as is this other bit of explanation, “This complex is constructed around a tesseract, a structure whose sides connect in ways that are unfathomable in a three-dimensional world … Each of the complex’s sections is located on its own demiplane, separate from but contained wholly by the complex itself.” This all makes the place sound a lot more interesting than it really is, but essentially it means that the Reliquary’s chambers can connect in unintuitive ways. Really, I end up asking what planes this place is trapped between (aside from the Abyss), and how did Sertrous manage to rig up such a neat location given that he barely even exists anymore? 

My favorite thing about Sertrous is actually that his entry adds another obyrith to the game, the rather cool golothomas. Although they’ve never been mentioned since, they did at least receive a Fourth Edition update along with the rest of the book, making them more easily usable than most obyriths.

The final elder evil from this book is one I truly didn’t expect to see: Zargon, i.e. the big bad from BESM D&D‘s module The Lost City. He is retconned into an ancient baatorian, in fact the father of the ancient baatorians. When Asmodeus and his kin took over his plane, they tried and failed to kill Zargon, who was tossed into the Prime but eventually reformed. Zargon is another god-killer elder evil, though hilariously he takes this appellation literally and so is able to dispatch deities but not Asmodeus, who apparently is here confirmed to not be a full Power. Zargon is also now teaming up with Juiblex, because they’re both into being weirdo forces of destruction. However, that’s pretty much everything of interest about him (except for the Easter Egg that he’s now on the far shares of “Lake Moldvay”), which struck me as slightly unfortunate because he didn’t seem all that distinctive as a fiend lord despite his heritage. 

Elder Evils is a book with a lot of ideas, it’s just that they tend to be posited as possibilities and were rarely fleshed out. Giving every single big bad two henchmen and a dungeon helps a bit in making them meaningfully different, but very little of this would ever be built upon in the future. Schwalb probably knew that this was the case, too, which allowed him to have some real fun with the subject, but for all its creativity the book isn’t quite fulfilling because in most cases these possible campaigns were the only times these elder evils would ever be mentioned.


The only real exceptions are with the first and last of these evils. Atropus would reappear in Fourth Edition’s Heroes of Elemental Chaos as perhaps an undead primordial, though you’d never get to actually see a full adventure that takes you to his moon. Zargon, because he didn’t originate here, has popped up occasionally, but still hasn’t really come to prominence in the game. Otherwise, for the most part I think the only time some of these entities ever received another reference was in a sidebar about Elder Evils in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

As a particularly odd surprise, Wizards also published a few tie-in articles for Elder Evils in Dragon and Dungeon, and also on the Wizards of the Coast website. The most important of these is actually the web article, “Elder Evils: Shothragot,” which details the entity himself. Shothragot is the chief minion of Tharizdun, and as such his goal is pretty much just to unleash his boss on the multiverse, along the way reuniting with him in order to expand both of their powers. This article also introduces black cysts, a rather neat new planar creature spawned from Tharizdun’s mind and living primarily in the Ethereal Plane. This ties in with “Shadow of Shothragot,” published in Dragon #361 (December 2007), and details a few henchmen to use with this elder evil. Finally there’s “Essence of Evil” in Dungeon #152 (October 2007… though this article didn’t come out until December), which was never in fact a real magazine, just a series of articles that Wizards called Dungeon, and as such can be difficult to find today. For those in search of it, here’s a link, though it’s just a dungeon crawl that uses the end-of-Third Edition encounter format and so is kinda crappy despite a good premise and probably some worthwhile material buried within that horrendous formatting—it’s an absurdly high level adventure, and just skimming it led to some hilarious sentences like “Place the blackstone gigants where indicated and the elder evil at the bottom of the pit” in the midst of a CL 26 encounter.  Oh, and it weirdly includes instructions for how to tie this adventure in with not just the Forgotten Realms and Eberron, but also with Dragonlance, “Demiplane of Dread” (presumably because the Ravenloft name was at that point licensed out?), Mystara, Dark Sun, and even Birthright. Though not Planescape, which I suppose isn’t really much of a loss. 

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