Marasmos, Lord of Suppuration
The Planescape setting was ambitious, leveraging itself up as a meta-campaign that encapsulated all the other Advanced Dungeons & Dragons settings into a coherent narrative. That was no easy task, when some settings like Dark Sun and Spelljammer worked very hard at being isolationist. Even Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms tried to withdraw from the framework set in place by the Planescape setting. That reluctance was not reciprocated, as the writers of the Planescape setting made herculean efforts to fold not just the rules of the other settings, but their characters, plots, and history. However, some campaign worlds where exceedingly difficult to work with, especially the Ravenloft setting.
Ravenloft was a cluster of demi-planes located in the Ethereal, each overseen by a Dark Lord. These “countries” were both the Dark Lord’s realm and a curse they forever sought to escape, tailor-made to torment and trap the Dark Lord in question. The Dark Lords of the setting were richly detailed, their torments and aspirations an extremely exquisite example of gothic horror. The most famous of these Dark Lords is Strahd, but other characters that performed atrocities in their native settings inherited realms, like Lord Soth (Dragonlance), Azalin (World of Greyhawk), and even the demigod Vecna. But nothing for Planescape.
The very nature of the two settings made a connection with Ravenloft difficult. Escape from Ravenloft was nearly impossible; yet Planescape has portals to everywhere, making travel ubiquitous. Ravenloft was the depository of the truly wicked and cruel, yet Planescape’s lower planes were the very definition of evil more than a million times more malevolent that any act of man. I was always unhappy with this, and wanted desperately to change the unfortunate schism.
Flash forward to 2000. The website Secrets of the Kargatane (http://www.kargatane.com) was in its heyday, supporting the Ravenloft setting not just through the efforts of fans, but by actual writers of the setting as well. They produced a number of netbooks with material for the Domain of Dread, but this year they set their sights a bit higher. The decided to produce a Ravenloft book in the vein of the Children of the Night series that WotC published. Each Children product centered on a specific type of creature: Vampire, Lich, Created, etc. The subject the Kargatane picked was Demons, and a call was put out for submissions, of which thirteen would be selected for inclusion into the book. When I found out, something clicked, and I started scribbling madly…
My submission was accepted, and John W. Magnum became my editor. He immediately chided me to “reign it in a bit”, he gave me some very valid concerns that my idea may be breaking the Ravenloft setting, but that the idea was interesting and to pursue it.
My creation was called “Marasmos, Lord of Suppuration”, and my approach to the story was a bit… thorough. I wanted to make, if not a planar Dark Lord, then a planar evil that was so intricately woven into the Ravenloft setting that it could never be extracted. I took the alkilith, a variety of tanar’ri recently introduced to the Planescape setting through the Planescape Appendix II. They were described as “slithering blobs of green corruption, with a cracked skin that oozed and dark, swollen eyeballs dotting its surface”. The imagery was so sickening, dripping in puss and contamination, that I seized on that idea and took it further — Marasmos was did not just look like disease, but was disease!
As an infection, Marasmos became an insidious invader, claiming souls through corruption both physical as well as spiritual. Controlling those tainted by him, he spread across the Domains of Dread, seeking a method of escape from the Ethereal and back to the Abyss. To accomplish his escape, he needed power, raw puissance of the sort that Dark Lords possessed. The quest for power was detailed in the rules of the Ravenloft setting, so I set about the path Marasmos took, performing dark rituals in domain after domain, gaining strength, ability, and numbers.
The drawback of performing dark rituals was the more you performed, essentially giving yourself to the darkness, the more tied you became to the Domain of Dread. To many and you were trapped forever in the Mists. Marasmos was on the edge of that precipice, ready to either succeed in the last ritual and become unstoppable, or teeter over and plunge into eternal imprisonment of his own making.
This is where the players came in, on the eve of Marasmos’ final dark ritual. Could the stop him and keep him from becoming an unstoppable force of decay, or would they fail and watch helplessly as he consumed all of Ravenloft from the inside?
Release of all the submissions was not as successful as hoped. They were published one-by-one, over the course of weeks. Marasmos was the third released, and garnered some very favorable feedback, especially in the form of art. Four pieces were inspired by the adventure — more than any other submission. Yet only eleven of the original thirteen submission were collected in the final product, with great portions of my submission edited out (though, to be fair, I knew I overwrote it and gave John carte blanche to cut out whatever he deemed unnecessary) . The collected project can be downloaded from the Kargatane’s website here.
What happened next was expected. As WotC shut down most of its campaign settings to just a meager three and ramped up for the imminent release of Third Edition/D20, fan sites slowly began to wane. The Kargatane ceased operation in 2003, and all that is left to attest to the ambitious project is a lonely book on a dusty bookshelf in the mythical bookshop.