The Dragonlance Nexus

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Using the Cataclysm

D&D 3e (3.0/3.5) Rules

by John Grubber


Most of the Dragonlance game material focuses on the period long after the First Cataclysm. While these are interesting times to be sure, the period during and after the Cataclysm can present interesting and exciting situations for roleplaying. The meteor shower that occurred during the Cataclysm had devastating effects, but little detail is given as to the actual events that transpired within it and as a result of it. This short piece presents possible events that would occur shortly before, during, and after such a catastrophe. Dungeon Masters and Narrators can easily use these suggestions to help develop their own campaigns.

Chronology of Events

Before the Cataclysm: The Thirteen Signs of Warning

  • Disappearance of true priests throughout the land
  • Green skies and the cyclone in Istar
  • Fear and panic among the kender
  • Moonless nights (only Nuitari present)
  • Black flame of Thoradin
  • Fires will not burn throughout the land of Solamnia
  • Storms and wildfires across the plains of Abanasinia
  • People turning on each other throughout the land (including Lord Soth's actions)
  • Unnatural fog in Palanthas
  • Trees bleeding in Silvanesti
  • Animals rampaging in Qualinesti
  • Tides and floods of blood in the North
  • Eruption of the Lords of Doom and other mountains

Immediate Effects

(1–2 hours before impact up to 7–10 days after impact)

  • Thunder and fire in the heavens (meteors passing through atmosphere)
  • Stampedes and animal agitation
  • Impact occurs, causing water and rock vaporization
  • Shockwave, with a rain of molten rock
  • Earthquakes, avalanches, mudslides, and volcanoes
  • Firestorms, winds, and tidal waves, stampedes
  • Dust cloud or rain of ash and blood (Istar region)
  • Perpetual darkness

Long Term Effects

(From impact time to years after the event)

  • Death of sea life
  • Drought and forest fires
  • Temperature drop
  • Crop failure
  • Animal starvation
  • Epidemics
  • Wars and raiding mercenaries
  • Increase in undead
  • Encroachment of animal life

Impact and Aftermath Timeline

  • 0–10AC: struggle for survival, governmental collapse on all but local (village) scale, epidemics, famine, crop failures
  • 10–20AC: recovery begins (crop failures, famine end), wars, purges, civil disorder, epidemics
  • 20–50AC: minor recovery continues on a localized scale
  • 50–100AC: low prosperity, population stabilizes (deaths = births)
  • 100–200AC: recovery begins on a regional scale
  • 200AC and beyond: Cataclysm relegated to history, its immediate physical effects no longer affect commoners

Geographic Effects

The initial impacts, since the asteroids struck earth and water, had two effects. The white-hot asteroid vaporized the water, creating a cloud of scalding steam, while the heat and force generated from the impact threw pieces of the planet's crust and the asteroid into the atmosphere. This lead to a rain of molten rock, which started fires of various types. The ground shockwave from the various impacts fractured the planet along any fault lines, causing volcanoes and earthquakes. The volcanoes caused fires as lava crept across the land, as did the burning ash thrown into the skies. Earthquakes turned soil slopes into mudslides as rains and aftershocks liquefy them. In the high mountains, avalanches resulted due to increased heat. All of these destroyed many towns or cities that survived the initial impact.

Weather Effects

As the shockwave moved outward from the points of impact, a wall of air was pushed before it. Within this wall of air, storms of hurricane force occurred, and the superheated air ignited whatever it touched that was combustible for a range of several hundred miles out from the impact point. In some locations, precipitation did not occur, while in others monsoon force rains became commonplace. The ash, dust, and water vapor thrown into the atmosphere blocked out the sun for months, and as the water mixed with ash, a black rain fell. This rain coated plants, and buildings, causing further devastation as plants died and buildings collapsed. The friction from the impact, as well as the ash in the air, caused an initial rise in temperature, melting glaciers, causing extensive lowland flooding, and destroying crops and arable lands. A sudden drop followed this rise in temperature as sunlight could not penetrate the blocked atmosphere. When the temperature dropped, glaciers at the poles and in the mountains expanded, further lowering water levels. Cooler temperatures and a lack of sunlight destroyed remaining plant life.

Social Effects

The social effects of an event like the Cataclysm cannot be understated. Large portions of the population, especially in the Istarian region of Ansalon, died in the impact or its immediate effects. Those that survived faced food shortages, wars, raids by animals, insects and monsters, marauding undead, plagues, fires, shortages of fresh water, hoarding, rationing, and shortages of common items. Those that survived came to wish they had not. The first few years following the Cataclysm also saw mass migrations, ships full of dead bodies drifting at sea, fields of shipwrecks lying in open plains, and religious zealotry. Witch burnings and crusades were the most common exhibition of this phenomenon. Large-scale society ceased to exist for the most part, as the infrastructure was in ruins. Few, if any bridges survived the initial event, making travel across rivers difficult or impossible. Society was reduced to village level in most cases, as communication with outsiders was difficult, pointless, and discouraged. The mass migrations left many abandoned towns, forts and keeps, while in other places, the hopeful gathered, causing further shortages, riots, and social unrest. The economy collapsed, leaving money worthless, and in other cases, prices were beyond affordability. Within cities, walls or buildings may collapse, streets cave in onto catacombs or sinkholes, giving characters new areas to explore or rescue survivors. As protection of what meager supplies became of paramount importance, it is obvious why steel became the most valuable coinage.

Floral and Faunal Effects

The initial impact generated so much heat through friction that the oceans over a large area boiled, killing much of the existing sea life. As these organisms decayed and wash up on shores, waters would be poisoned, killing further life. The drop in temperature retarded crop growth, as did the lack of sunlight. As plants die, animals were forced further into civilized lands to search for food. Those living things that drowned in the floods decomposed, poisoning water, eventually causing epidemics of diseases as insect and scavenger populations exploded. Forest fires drove herds of animals into stampedes, causing further devastation and plant depletion. Large burned or flooded forests dotted the landscape, as did sea floor area that had been thrust above the surface. Exploration of this alien world presents many unique opportunities to characters.

Character Effects

Characters in this time face many challenges, but they also have many opportunities. Supplies are costly, and money is worthless. Bartering is the most effective form of commerce, and some items are not available at any price. Weapons and tools are especially valuable, as skilled craftsmen are few and far between. Characters may find themselves forced to use crude iron or bronze weapons if steel is not available. Magic-users face difficulty in obtaining their fabricated spell components, and until vegetation rebounds, herbal components as well. Any minor magical ability displays could be seen either as a sign of a savior or as the mark of a witch. Both situations have interesting possibilities. Priests have no abilities, though, as with mages, herbalism skills could be useful. Legend says that no true clerics walk the land after the Cataclysm, but this need not be true. If a campaign begins before the Cataclysm, a character could refuse the call of their god and be stripped of their powers. This presents a challenge as a character could still try to follow the teachings and spread his or her god's message, to varying effects, without the aid of his or her deity. Warrior characters face little difference, unless they were a Knight before the Cataclysm. Knights of Solamnia, as is widely known, were blamed for not averting the event, thus a character may be forced to go into hiding or disguise themselves. This all presumes that the characters survive the initial earthquakes and floods. Characters may also be conscripted into civil militias to aid in city defense or to look for survivors in ruins.

Adventuring Hooks

There are numerous possibilities for adventuring after the Cataclysm. Accumulation of monetary wealth is relatively useless, except in the least damaged areas. Retrieval of a magical item, clearing a path for refugees, mapping an area, protecting a village, and carrying messages to distant cities are all possibilities for adventures in this new, dark age. As mentioned, the Cataclysm resulted in many new unique areas for characters to explore. Examples of these include undersea cities and landscapes thrust above the surface, shipwrecks of all types, from before or during the Cataclysm, and many abandoned cities, forts, keeps or cave complexes. There are also Bakali and High Ogre cities, abandoned for ages, that the Cataclysm may expose. There is no limit to the possibilities in this new world. It truly is a time in need of heroes.

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