Unearthed Mundana: The Reset Button
This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Forty-two on 18th November 2020.
Ostron: All right, I’m calling it; there’s just too much damage.
Lennon: I don’t know, a lot of things still seem to be working…
Ostron: Mikey has, like, two functional crystal balls to do audio alchemy, the scrying pool is still leaking water from Umberlee knows where, and ROSTRO keeps randomly turning itself on.
Ryu (mumbling to herself): That might be because you keep working in places where there are a lot of falling objects.
Ryu: Never mind, so what’s the alternative? Hire an army of dwarves and wizards to fix the place up?
Ostron: No, I rework the teleportation runes into transmutation runes and it resets the guild house and almost everything in it to the state it was in before the Tarrasque attack.
Lennon: And we’ve been trying to glue and tape this place back together for two weeks why?
Ryu: Hang on, I’m sensing a catch here. When you said “everything in the guild house” resets…
Ostron: Yeah, that includes the people in it. Everyone would forget the past two weeks.
Ryu: Wait, wait, you can’t actually do that, can you? I mean, that sort of thing doesn’t happen!
Ostron: Sure it does. Haven’t you heard of the spellplague?
Ryu: No. Was that something everyone was made to forget too?
Lennon: Well…sort of.
In 2008, Wizards of the Coast had a problem of sorts. They were about to release their brand new 4th edition of the nearly 30 year old game, and this version was going to be very different from everything that had come before it. Classes were being reworked, certain player races were becoming more common, magic and magic items were getting a complete overhaul, and even the pantheon of gods and the planes were being shifted around.
The changes were so comprehensive that they interfered with a lot of established lore for the D&D universe, particularly in Faerun. The collected works of R.A. Salvatore and Ed Greenwood, among others, were all prepared and written with the rulesets of D&D as a backdrop. While things had shifted from first through 3rd editions, there had never been quite as much change as what was coming with fourth.
Anyone that’s followed traditional comic books will be familiar with the concept of a universal paradigm shift. Marvel aficionados will immediately key into the headings “Infinity War,” “Secret Wars,” and “House of M” while those with DC familiarity will have their ears perk up at terms like “Zero Hour”, “Infinite Crisis,” and “Flashpoint.” Each time there was a major event that changed the fundamental realities of everything within the comics. Wizards decided to go the same route to explain the major changes of 4th edition.
The event in question was called the spellplague. The major catalyst of the whole thing seemed to be the murder of Mystra, the god of magic, by Cyric the god of murder and Shar the goddess of darkness. However, magical and divine scholars pointed out that Mystra had died twice before without the weave of magic collapsing the way it did in the spellplague. They think it has something to do with Shar trying to take over control of the weave after Mystra’s death. If it sounds a bit vague, it’s because, you know, gods and stuff.
It didn’t work, obviously. What happened instead was a wave of blue fire that erupted from every magical portal in the multiverse. In addition to a lot of people dying, a bunch of minor catastrophes resulted, such as the water level in the Underdark dropping by a lot and the Walking Statues of Waterdeep deciding to go for a stroll without anyone telling them to or being able to stop them, but the major thing that happened was the merging of Toril (the planet Faerun is on) with it’s so-called sister planet Abeir. Oh, and Neverwinter got annihilated by a volcanic eruption caused by the stirring of the fiery Archomental bound in the lost dwarf city of Gauntlgrym, causing the southeastern quadrant of the city to collapse into a yawning pit, known as the Chasm, that continually spawned plaguechanged horrors.
All of that occurred because of a larger shift in the structure of the planes in D&D. The unraveling of the weave caused a couple of planar domains to simply stop existing, and others got shifted around. Apart from the merging of the two sister-planets, the Feywild aligned with Toril so passage between those planes was easier. The Shadowfell was put in a similar position, but a sort of power spike from the spellplague caused any humans closely associated with the Shadowfell to be transformed into a new race. Hello Shadar-kai.
Also, due to one of the divine domains disappearing, one of the gods, Azuth, accidentally fell into the Nine Hells. Asmodeus wasted no time in capturing and consuming Azuth’s essence, turning him into a divine being. He immediately used his power to fling the Abyss into the newly colocated Primordial Chaos, effectively putting the Blood War on hold for a little bit.
Other than Azuth, there were a few other gods and goddesses that died or ceased to exist for a variety of reasons, which obviously caused a number of clerics and paladins to have what some might consider to be a “bad day”.
The fusing of the two worlds, as mentioned, was a way for Wizards to justify the changes to common racial and mechanical options in 4th edition, particularly the addition of dragonborn as an introductory player race, where in previous editions it had been a sort of optional add-on. The sister-planet Abeir was envisioned as a sort of “alternate universe” Toril where the major races to achieve dominance were dragonborn, genasi, and dwarves. Gods were less common, but primordials and dragons filled in the gaps.
The effect there is that several settlements on Toril that had previously been strongholds for other races were replaced by large societies, already fully formed. Most of them were dragonborn cities, but a few were settlements of genasi. There were also a lot of cities and lands that either sunk into the sea or were burned away by the blue fire. Additionally, Abeir featured a large number of Earthmotes, or floating islands, and most of them started appearing over lands in Toril.
The merging of the worlds also made psionics easier to come by, because of course it did.
Now as most people know, one of the things people like about 5th edition is that it got rid of a lot of things that 4th edition did. Wizards essentially did the same thing with all of the lore changes, but over a longer period of time. There were multiple different resources that came into play, including sourcebooks, adventure modules, and connected novels.
There are three major things that were the factors in resetting the land. First, through a series of events in the lands of the gods, the so-called Overgod Ao re-forged artifacts called the Tablets of Fate that established the structure of the multiverse. Re-forging those tablets gently but firmly re-separated the worlds of Abeir and Toril, so all the transplanted people and settlements were returned to where they should be. Also, something called the “Great Rain” persisted for roughly a year, which served to re-fill all the various oceans and lakes and such that had been drained. And then any lands that had sunken into the sea were replaced when the floating Earthmotes settled to the surface.
The rest of what had changed was fixed due to individuals known as Chosen. Essentially, the gods wanted everything back the way it had been before and entered into a sort of super warlock/paladin bond with certain people. These Chosen adventured around imbued with a significant portion of the gods’ powers and fixed one or more specific problems the spellplague had caused, which included resurrection or “waking up” all of the gods that had been declared dead, some of whom were apparently just having a lie down.
Some people think that was a backhanded critique of high-level characters from 4th edition who had access to powers and abilities that essentially made them demigods.
For better or worse, if someone knows of a specific event that occurred because of the spellplague and they want to find out how it was rectified, they have to look up what specific novel or adventure dealt with fixing that problem.
Oh, and that gaping Chasm of eternal plaguechanged in Neverwinter? Apparently they just filled that in and called it a day.
The process of resetting everything is collectively known as the “Second Sundering,” referring to the splitting of Toril and Abeir. Officially the events took place between 1482 and 1487, meaning everything wrapped up about 5 years before anything officially occurring in 5th edition. The practical result is that, in-lore, almost everything that was true about the multiverse, Faerun, and the various figures in it as of edition 3.5 was once again true going forward. Unless you’re going to use a character that was directly involved in things going on, like Drizzt or Elminster, there’s no reason to worry about anything that happened in 4th edition and/or the spellplague.
Ryu: Okay, so you do your magic thing and reset everything, but nobody will remember it?
Ostron: Almost nobody. Here, hold this for a second, Ryu?
Lennon: Wait, I know magic isn’t really my thing but I’ve never heard of a magic spell resetting everything without actually sending us back in time.
Ostron: No, you’re right. I’m actually going to use an enormous amount of psionic energy to warp reality based on my direct will.
Lennon: Hang on. Psionic energy? Do you mean to tell me you started using psionics?
Killer DM: He always was, dear.
(kills Lennon, who screams)
Ostron: Was that really necessary? Better him than me, I guess…
Killer DM: I need a warm-up and where normally you’d be dead on the floor you’re kind of the lynch pin in this whole thing, aren’t you? Now do you want my help or not?
Ostron: I don’t want your help, no, I just need access to the energy from whatever plane of existence that hat is connected to, so we need to…cooperate. You are the reason for this mess, if you remember.
Killer DM: I’d much rather be doing this with ROSTRO. Fine, I suppose you and I are the only ones that remember this then?
Ostron: Unless you want me to-
Killer DM: Not on your pathetic existence. Fine, a little handholding, some psionic mumbo-jumbo, everyone wakes up in the scrying pool. Good luck explaining where two weeks went.
Ostron: That’ll be easy. We’ll just blame it on Lennon’s cooking again…