I’ve been digging into Waterdeep: Dragon Heist like a whole lot of 5e fans right now. I think this book acknowledges and incorporates the Spellplague more than any other adventure we’ve seen so far, which is to say any – but I haven’t read every adventure and may have missed things. There’s even less attention given to 4e’s conjunction of Abeir and Toril, which I thought was a really interesting idea. As explained in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, very little of Abeir has stayed behind. In this post, I’m offering story hooks and elements pointing to Abeir and the continent of Returned Abeir. My primary sources, then, are SCAG and the 4e Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide.
Now, SCAG doesn’t mention Returned Abeir at all, to the point that I’m not completely sure it’s still regarded as canon, or if it was retconned fully into never having existed. (The canon around Evermeet is deeply contradictory, so…) Anyway, if we’re imagining a setting where we want to include it as having existed, even if it’s gone now, there were around 100 years of contact, but they were always way over there. There was trade contact, but things were in so much turmoil that I doubt any great amount of goods were imported to the Sword Coast.
Since its re-departure (?), those goods become rarer, and prized for that rarity. A whole market of high-end collectors would have developed over the last century, and this just increases the price of everything. Depending on how brisk of a trade you think happened in the last century, collectors might further specialize: weapons, furniture, animals of unfamiliar species, the works of a particular painter from six centuries ago in the city of Lylorn. The very most casual reading of W:DH makes it clear that plenty of Waterdhavian nobles have money coming out their ears and want ways to turn it into one-upsmanship.
I can see House Rosznar particularly getting involved in collecting and displaying Abeiran art or décor. They’re not new money, but they do have a lot to prove to the other houses; I figure entertaining in a particularly lavish and exotic style would be a good step for them. What any of this actually looks like for the scene narration is a bit of an open question, but emphasize dragons warring with titans and you’re most of the way there, I think.
Beyond that, this is classic Maltese Falcon plot. Someone has a unique collectible, a lot of people want it, and devil take the hindmost.
It’s only been a very few years since the re-separation – ten years at the absolute most. (4e FRCG starts play in 1479; SCAG starts play, somewhat ambiguously, in 1489.) Who’s to say that the cosmic forces driving the worlds into and out of conjunction accounted for every individual along the way, rather than following geographic boundaries? Even if you decide that the cosmic forces did account for individuals, there’s room to test the edges of those rules. What if the target was under imprisonment at the time of separation, or shifted to another plane of existence? What if they were in a dimensionally-locked location, or bound to an artifact that did not want to let them go? Are they now stuck in that dimensionally-locked area, knowing that they’ll snap back to Abeir if they leave (which would separate them from their Torilian spouse and children)? Which reality do the children of an Abeiran and a Torilian belong to?
My point is, this is a fun piece of pseudo-speculative fiction within your high fantasy. If you’re okay developing new wrinkles in your campaign’s cosmic laws on the fly, there’s a bottomless number of stories to tell here. Maybe it’s such a problem that the gods appoint the PCs as divine agents to decide who belongs where. Or you flip it, and the PCs meet the angels or marut or whatever that are responsible – when they show up to take away someone the PCs care about, or have been paid handsomely to care about.
Most of all, I think that the natural drive of humans (and presumably all PC-playable humanoids) to form relationships means that sudden separation can’t help but create emotional stories. What would you do, what could you even try, if your beloved was torn away across realities?
The Planar Question
Now, I am well aware that the 4e cosmology had no truck with the Great Wheel cosmology, any more than the 3.x FR cosmology did. For ease of use, though, let’s assume your 5e FR campaign uses 5e Great Wheel cosmology, which means that the Outlands and the city of Sigil exist. Torilian adventurers and high rollers go there. What is the nature of a putative 5e Abeiran cosmology, if Torilians haven’t been running into Abeirans in Sigil for centuries? Is Abeir out-of-phase with not only Prime but also the Inner and Outer Planes? Or is Abeir cosmically isolated, the way that Athas and Eberron are? Could it be that some Torilians have met Abeirans in Sigil, started asking the Wrong Questions, and oops shit you just got Mazed? Was there some kind of cosmic gag order? (Kind of a strange solution, but is it really out-of-character for Lord Ao to do something like that? Especially when we’re talking about a place used to imprison primordials who fought the gods.)
Is it possible to use Sigil to go to Abeir now? I’d suggest that yes is a much more interesting answer than no, but maybe-it’s-complicated is more interesting than either. Maybe all of the outgoing portals in Sigil that lead to Toril also have an endpoint on Abeir, and you just have to do something unusual with your portal key to make it work. Kill the marut that were assigned to stop you from doing this, for starters.
The Eminence of Araunt
The 4e campaign book does a great job of calling out major villain groups the PCs could fight and talking about their means and motives. Most of them come from 3.x or earlier FR setting books, but there are several new ones as well. Heck, in 4e, the Zhentarim are still bad guys! (I am totally not at peace with the Zhentarim as a PC faction.)
By contrast, SCAG has a sidebar explaining why there are basically no villains in the whole book, on the upper left corner of p. 44. I don’t want to be unkind here, but this is the single most wrongheaded approach to presenting a setting for fantasy adventure gaming that I have ever seen. As presented in this book, the Realms are basically fine, no major problems or threats or visible need for heroes, to make sure the DM can make the Realms their own. Why present anything of the setting, if you’re going to completely skip the part that the players interact with most? Cynically, I might imagine that this is a ploy to increase the relative value of published adventures and lore-books like VGTM and MTOF, but that’s probably not the case. In any case, it makes SCAG a disappointing setting book.
Anyway, the Eminence of Araunt is the kind of Abeiran villain group that could plausibly be part of the setting even when the worlds have separated. The quick version of their concept is “intelligent undead that can teleport between crypts.” They don’t tend toward traditional major undead leader types, such as vampires or liches. They work with death knights and have their own new forms of undead, called direhelms (floating empty suits of plate armor) and doomsepts (seven spectral undead forged into one creature).
Since the Eminence of Araunt is an imperial ideology constructing a decentralized but expansionist empire among intelligent undead, the departure of Returned Abeir might have crippled them, but their ideas and methods could have been picked up by native Torilian undead. In addition to being dangerous in their own right, especially in Waterdeep’s City of the Dead, they’re also in competition with other undead cults and empires, such as the Cult of the Dragon and Thay. Oh hey, those sure are the major parts of 5e’s official adventures! (I am a huge fan of stories where two groups of bad guys fight and the PCs sucked into their conflict by collateral damage.)
What has come together once could come together again, without warning. This might be because of incomprehensible cosmic forces, Great Old Ones, Abeiran primordials finally waking all the way back up, or mortal spellcasters deciding to do something rash. Lord knows the Realms have enough mad wizards, Chosen, and so on to justify anything at all.
When you see the morning sky not blue but roiling green and copper (not cloudy, actually metallic), you’re seeing Abeiran steelsky, the touch of a long-dead primordial upon that world. It means that the separation is thinning – or it’s a vision sent to warn you of dire schemes afoot. It becomes the Faerunian equivalent of seeing the twin suns rise over Lake Hali.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of rapid-fire ideas. 4e FR had some really interesting ideas, though their presentation stays very high-level, rather than the more grounded presentation we see in 5e content. I’ve tried to point out ways that those ideas generate compelling friction when treated as canon. The five items and many questions of this post scarcely scratch the surface. Let me know if this content is enjoyable and useful to you, because I could keep going back to this well for a long, long time. I generally like Realmslore, and could spend ages talking about ways to make it more useful in sparking plots.