gvdammerung writes "Kyuss, as in the Spawn of Kyuss undead type, was little more than a name until the Age of Worms Adventure Path in Dungeon Magazine transformed him into an epic villain. Then, they had to go ahead and kill him. Kill Kyuss? No way. Simply put, Kyuss is too cool to kill!
How Cool is Kyuss? Too Cool To Kill!
by Glenn Vincent Dammerung aka GVDammerung@yahoo.com
Kyuss. Undead Monstrousity. Worm God. Alien Menace. Harbringer of End Times. And cool. Way too cool to kill.
The Life and Death of Kyuss
Kyuss was a Flan, former cleric of Nerull, who lived in the
ancient Flan nation of Sulm, where the Bight Desert is now, some 2000 years ago. Exiled from Sulm, he fled to the
Amedio Jungle, where he founded the city of Kuluth-Mar. There he discovered metallic plates that
contained knowledge of “alien gods” in the language of the six-armed
Spellweavers, themselves distinctly alien.
With the aid of a Spellweaver lich and a “tiny green worm” from a “distant
reality,” Kyuss ascended to demi-godhood; his patron in ascending to the divine
was, naturally enough, Nerull.
As a deity, however, Kyuss found himself bound within a
monolith he had raised as part of his ascension rite. This monolith was later transported to the
Bandit Kingdoms in the Flanaess by the ancient red dragon Dragotha, then the
living consort of Tiamat. The Age of
Worms Adventure Path in Dungeon Nos. 124-135 tell the tale of what happened
thereafter. The Adventure Path ends with
the PCs ostensibly slaying Kyuss but as Kyuss dies it is noted that Kyuss’ “remaining
taint” takes “root” in a new dungeon complex in the Bandit Kingdom of Redhand
called “The Pit of Worms.” Of note, this
is Kyuss’ second recorded defeat as 1500 years prior to the Age of Worms
Adventure Path, Kyuss’ first attempted to escape the monolith but was defeated.
During the course of the Adventure Path, the PCs also
ostensibly slay Dragotha, as well. Of course,
Dragotha is famed as the first draco-lich.
Killed by Tiamat for betrayal, Dragotha was raised as a draco-lich by
Kyuss. Dragotha thereafter served Kyuss
as his chiefmost agent. When he is slain
as a draco-lich, his phylactery already destroyed, it is noted that Dragotha’s
skeletal form turns to dust and that the ghostly shape of the dragon arises
from the dust cloud before disappearing.
With this preamble, the question is – are Kyuss and Dragotha
now “dead” within canon. Certainly,
there is more than enough evidence to reach this conclusion. There is also, as noted above, a solid basis
to un-kill or reprise Kyuss, and Dragotha, as villains within the World of
Greyhawk fantasy setting.
Something of Kyuss survived his demise in the Age of Worms
Adventure Path – his “taint” remains and has taken “root” with a dungeon
complex – the Pit of Worms. Of note, the
Pit of Worms is created as Kyuss’ monolith “melts away” in a wash of green worms that,
burrowing into the earth, create the Pit of Worms. Kyuss’ cult also survives. When Kyuss was previously defeated 1500 years
before, his cult also survived and continued to serve their god. Here then are two survivals that can form the
basis for returning Kyuss to the setting as an active villain. Instead of his essence bound within his, now
destroyed, monolith, Kyuss’ essence or taint, however much diminished, may
reside within the Pit of Worms in the city of Alhaster, the capital of Redhand
in the Bandit Kingdoms. His cult, also
diminished, remains to work for Kyuss’ return.
The same may be said for Dragotha. The ghostly shape that arose from the
destruction of Dragotha’s lich-form may be just that – a ghost. Dragotha the draco-lich may have been
transformed into Dragotha the ghost dragon or, worse, the ghost-lich. It could be that simple. Ghost dragons are an established monster type
within D&D, so there is little difficulty there. That Dragotha survived his destruction as a
lich, to include his phylactery, to rise as a ghost is a bit more problematic
but not an insurmountable problem.
Dragotha was no ordinary dragon.
He was a consort of Tiamat, late a god.
He was raised to undead status by a god.
He was the first draco-lich. That
he might not die as straightforwardly as other lich-types, should not come as
Too Cool To Kill
The question would then be, if Kyuss and Dragotha can be
more or less reasonably returned to the active ranks of Greyhawk villains –
should this be the case? The answer is
obvious. Of course, they should be
The case for Dragotha is easier to make than that for Kyuss,
at least on first inspection. Since he “appeared”
in the classic S2 module, White Plume Mountain, Dragotha has been a presence in
Greyhawk and a not inconsiderable one, considering he has been mostly a rumor. Dragotha’s story is a compelling one,
involving as it does Tiamat, S2 and finally Kyuss. That Dragotha is a “first,” the first
draco-lich, only makes him the more intriguing.
It seems a shame to permanently loose an interesting and historic
character after, really, only one substantive appearance – that in the Age of
Worms Adventure Path. Having now come
memorably on-stage after a long wait, Dragotha has more utility than to be
Dragotha is Greyhawk’s only draconic villain of any real
stature; in fact, no other dragon in the World of Greyhawk comes close to
Dragotha’s notoriety within the setting.
In this sense, Dragotha keeps dragons part of Greyhawk. If there is no Dragotha in Greyhawk, dragons
as part of Greyhawk are, as a whole, diminished – reduced to entries in a
monster manual and not much else – certainly no history, legend or personality,
except what might be made up on the spot.
If The World of Greyhawk wants or needs dragons to be other than a
footnote or “trophy monster” in the setting, Greyhawk needs Dragotha.
As a ghost dragon, Dragotha’s history will only be bettered,
his legend enhanced. His menace as a
ghost dragon would be obvious, and unusual as the ghost dragon monster type has
never seen wide use within D&D.
Dragotha would not be “just another villain” nor “just another dragon.” Dragotha, in sum, is too cool to kill. So is Kyuss.
Kyuss was most famous, prior to the Age of Worms Adventure
Path, as the creator of the Sons of Kyuss undead-type first appearing in the 1st
Edition Fiend Folio. The Sons of Kyuss,
of course, were basically skeletons but had the notably distinguishing feature
of being infested with a nasty sort of necromantic worm . As such, Kyuss was little more than a
name. This situation only really changed
– to the point where Kyuss becomes too cool to kill – with the advent of the
Age of Worms Adventure Path.
To begin, Kyuss has Dragotha as his chief agent. Not too shabby.
In the second rank, Kyuss also created and is served by the avolakia
from the 3rd Edition Monster Manual II. Avolakia are 10ft beings likened to a cross
between an octopus, a worm and an insect, perhaps a praying mantis. They have polymorph abilities and are experts
at disguising themselves to infiltrate other societies.
In the third rank, Kyuss is served by the undead Knights of
Kyuss. Paladin-like and comparable to
the Death Knights or Knights of Doom, the Knights of Kyuss are created from his
elite human followers and are always few in number.
In the fourth rank are found the undead Swords of
Kyuss. Created from among the ranks of
his human generals, the Swords of Kyuss are formidable fighter types.
In the fifth rank, the Wormcallers are undead cleric-types. Like normal clerics, they serve in both
support and leadership roles.
In the sixth rank are Worm Nagas, undead naga-like
creations. Worm Nagas tend to be few in
number and are formed from Kyuss’ magicuser followers.
In the seventh rank, of course, there are the Sons or Spawn
of Kyuss. These undead serve as undead legionnaires
or foot soldiers.
Although unintelligent, it is probably best to mention here
Kyuss Spawnlings. As their name
suggests, these are early stage undead, little better than worms but not to be
reckoned with overly lightly all the same.
Looking at just the above hierarchy of servitors, Kyuss’
organization compares favorably with the Boneheart of Iuz or the monks,
assassins and thieves of the Scarlet Brotherhood. A good organization can make a good villain
better, as in the case of Iuz, or can itself substitute for a single,
personified villain, as in the case of the Scarlet Brotherhood. Kyuss is also served by a variety of purely
monster types, all unique.
In order of power, the Overworms – 80ft long and 40,000 lbs
at the least – are the greatest of Kyuss’ creations. They are said to embody some portion of the
power of the god himself.
Almost as powerful are the Ulgurstasta, which first appeared
the 3rd Edition Fiend Folio.
Creations of Kyuss the Ulgurstasta are formidable, worm-like opponents
who are the more dangerous for their ability to spawn other undead.
Wormdrakes, an unholy cross between dragons and worms, are
also among Kyuss’ monstrous minions. They
are, however, less common than other of his creations.
Hounds of Kyuss, or eviscerater beetles, obey the commands
of Kyuss’ intelligent servitors. In
this, they serve much as a hound. Earth
cancer (undead) centipedes and mindkiller (undead) scorpions may also be
classed as Hounds of Kyuss as the term may be used specifically or generally.
Finally, there is the Boneyard of Kyuss and the Worm
Swarm. Both of these creature types are
composed on myriad individuals. In this,
they resemble certain types of oozes or less known elemental types.
Kyuss’ organization and minions, described above in brief,
give Kyuss a power and flexibility as a villain easily equal to that and
arguably superior to that associated with Iuz or the Scarlet Brotherhood and
all together more atmospheric. Kyuss is
undead, but his affiliation with worms adds an entirely unique air of “otherness,”
“alienness” or just plain creepiness. In
this, Kyuss “feels” unlike any other Greyhawk villain; he is singularly
atmospheric in a unique way. At the same
time, while like Iuz, Kyuss is a demi-god born of Oerth, his origin includes a
unique alien aspect in the role of the Spellweavers. In short, Kyuss is the total, villainous
package plus more. There is every reason
to think that Kyuss offers more to Greyhawk games returned to villainous action
rather than dead after the Age of Worms Adventure Path.
Utilizing a revivified Kyuss should prove no problem for any
DM. Kyuss’ person, cult and servitors,
as outlined above, comprise a DM’s
toybox. A DM has a plethora of options
from which to choose. One may, however, ask
how a revived Kyuss functions within a campaign that adheres more or less to
Isn’t Kyuss’ base of operations in the Bandit Kingdoms
uncomfortably close to that of Iuz, virtually next door to the west? Aren’t Kyuss the demi-god and Iuz the
demi-god, allowing for their very different natures, still too much taken
together and side-by-side? Well. Yes.
But there is a very obvious and natural solution to this
difficulty. As Kyuss is moved on-stage,
Iuz should be moved off-stage.
Iuz is an iconic figure in Greyhawk. He has, however, been over-exposed and, in
the process, he has been depicted as a villain who can accomplish little other
than finding himself tricked and imprisoned.
Iuz, then, is both over-exposed and ineffectual – hardly the stuff epic
villainy or even petty villainy. Iuz
needs a break, to vanish for a time and in that time reacquire some of his lost
mystique – absence making the heart grow fonder, so to speak. Into the breach can step Kyuss most neatly, filling
the same imaginative space but with an entirely fresh and unique brand of
It is beyond the scope of this article to fully chronicle
how Iuz has become a clownish, omnipresent caricature of a villain more than
the epic threat he once was but it is instructive to note that 1) Iuz has twice
been shown to be ineffectual in confrontations with Vecna, 2) Iuz has twice been
proven gullible enough to be physically imprisoned, 3) Iuz has twice set in
motion plots to destabilize his nearest enemy Furyondy only to see his plans
unravel around him, and 4) Iuz has briefly conquered an “empire” only to ineptly
and unaccountably lose almost all of it shortly thereafter. Iuz has been on Greyhawk’s stage for a long
time and in that time he has spent himself as a villain and as an NPC until he
has little credibility and no cachet left.
Kyuss and his villainy are fresh and unsullied in any
comparison. Kyuss also has a cachet with
current players Iuz lacks. Thanks to the
Age of Worms Adventure Path, Kyuss is familiar to a huge number of present day
gamers, who have seen just how formidable a villain Kyuss is. By comparison, Iuz is known as an “old”
villain who, in his most recent appearance in Expedition to the Ruins of
Greyhawk, managed only to get himself imprisoned (again) by nothing more
formidable than a _simulacrum_ of his _mother_.
Iuz was used in Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk not as an epic
villain but as a convenient excuse to set up the real villain and then as a red
herring, gullible enough to get imprisoned in Castle Greyhawk just as he had
previously been imprisoned in the very
_same_ Castle! Just how dumb is Iuz? That one can legitimately ask that question
is demonstration enough of how degraded Iuz has become as a villain and NPC,
except perhaps to the oldest of old time Greyhawkers who can’t let go of their lost gaming youth. Iuz is passť.
Kyuss can more than easily and very effectively become the
new villain threatening the northern portions of the Flanaess, and beyond. His person, cult and monstrous minions have
been used _once_ and then in epic
fashion, sufficient to intrigue a new generation of Greyhawkers. Kyuss can move any Greyhawk campaign forward,
usefully and effectively. How cool is
Kyuss? Simply put, Kyuss is too cool to