This collection of linked adventures takes characters from the Bandit Kingdoms to Furyondy to the Wild Coast, with stops in some of Greyhawks most exciting locales. But don't be fooled: This is more than just a travelogue.
A dread plague has struck the world of Greyhawk, and the adventurers must travel the length and breadth of the land seeking an explanation and a cure. This is no ordinary plague, but one that seems almost like a punishment - or a test - meted out by some greater power. Should the characters fail to uncover the secret of this quest, the world of Greyhawk will be forever changed.
This epic campaign provides hitherto unknown details about the cities of Greyhawk and tests each major character class in the AD&D game.
WG8: Fate of Istus (1989), coordinated by Bruce Heard and Karen S. Boomgarden, is the eighth-ish World of Greyhawk adventure, and a transitional adventure between AD&D 1e and AD&D 2e. It was published in February 1989.
Origins (I): Welcome to a New Edition. The transition from AD&D first edition (1977-1989) to second edition (1989-2000) was unprecedented. It marked a major revamp of a long-used game system, with notable changes for all of the character classes that players were playing. So the question was, how would TSR account for these mechanical changes within the settings of the game?
TSR came up with an innovative answer: epic storylines that fans could play through, and that would explain the changes to the world. The Forgotten Realms' Avatar event (1989) is the best-known transition between AD&D 1e and 2e, but Greyhawk's own event, WG8: Fate of Istus (1989) actually preceded it by a few months. For the most part it's just an epic story, as a plague falls across Oerth, but the last section of the adventure also explains one of the biggest changes in the new edition.
Fate of Istus is advertised as being compatible with both AD&D 1e and 2e, but that's not really true. It's largely written as an AD&D 1e adventure; for example, its skill system refers to Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986), not the newer 2e rules, while its non-lethal combat references Unearthed Arcana (1985).
Origins (II): Welcome to a New Greyhawk. Fate of Istus also marked the beginning of a major new push for the World of Greyhawk. The whole line had petered out after Gary Gygax's departure from TSR in 1985. What had once been TSR's main world was suddenly filled with reprints, supplemented only by the unappreciated (some say offensive) WG7: Castle Greyhawk (1988). Meanwhile the Known World and the Forgotten Realms had risen to positions of prominence.
The release of Greyhawk Adventures (1988) in late 1988 suggested TSR's oldest world might have some new life in it; that idea was supported by the publication of this major new Greyhawk adventure, simultaneous with the release of AD&D 2e. The new focus on Greyhawk would continue in the next year, as the setting saw its most prolific period of publication since back when it was TSR's default setting in the late '70s and early '80s. Four more Greyhawk supplements would appear over the course of the year. Though most of these adventures were quickly forgotten, The City of Greyhawk (1989) would be considered one of the setting's most important releases ever.
Forgotten Heroes: Assassin & Monk. One of the biggest changes in AD&D 2e was the removal of two classic character classes: the assassin and the monk. They were both characters that had originated in Dave Arneson's Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975) and were then incorporated into the main game through the AD&D line (1977-1979). Now, they were being simultaneously removed.
Fate of Istus's final adventure, "The Scarlet Masque", by Stephen Inniss, explain why, through a Test of Fate gone wrong. Afterward, monks are encouraged to move to "the world of" Kara-Tur where they are transformed into "Oriental" monks. Those who stay behind become fighters or thieves. Assassins, meanwhile, are all transformed into thieves.
Adventure Tropes. Fate of Istus is an anthology of adventures. It rather heavy-handily mixes D&D mechanics with the story: each of the adventures is a test for an individual character class.
Exploring Greyhawk: The Cities. Previously, the Greyhawk adventures had all been rather small affairs, each exploring a constrained part of the world. It was the epitome of world-building-via-adventure. Most of those adventures also focused on dungeon crawls, not the actual civilized world of Greyhawk. T1: "The Village of Hommlet" (1979), L1: "The Secret of Bone Hill" (1981), L2: "The Assassin's Knot" (1983), and N1: "Against the Cult of the Reptile God" (1982) were some of the few exceptions.
Fate of Istus blows those previous adventures out of the water with a world-spanning tour that even takes the time to give a few page description of each of the cities it visits. Even decades later it remains one of the best ground-level looks at Greyhawk. It visits Rookroost (in the Bandit Kingdoms), Rel Mord (in Nyrond), Jurnre (in Ulek), Elredd (on the Wild Coast), Wintershiven (in the Theocracy of the Pale), Leukish (in Urnst), Rauxes (in the Great Kingdom), Chendl (in Furyondy), Verbobonc (the heart of the small Viscounty of Veluna), and Hesuel Ilshar (In the Scarlet Brotherhood).
Of these, these Verbobonc description is unfortunately of questionable canonicity, as a different version appears in WGA4: Vecna Lives! (1990). However other city descriptions have clearly remained valid. Rel Mord returns, somewhat cleaned up, in WGR4: The Marklands (1993), while the map of Rauxes is helpful for the content of WGRX: "Ivid the Undying" (1995).
Exploring Greyhawk: The Events. The idea of a plague ravaging Greyhawk should have been a major event, changing the world. Instead it was largely ignored afterward. It would take until the 3e era (2000-2007) for Greyhawk histories to put the "Red Death" on their timelines in 581 CY, just before the Greyhawk Wars.
NPCs of Note. Istus, the eponymous god of this adventure is a powerful Baklunish deity, but not one who's been otherwise important in the Greyhawk line.
Instead, it's a few minor NPCs who stand out in this anthology, both in adventures by Robert Kuntz.
One of these is Iuz, who appears in "Iuz's Gambit". The Greyhawk demigod gets a whole temple to himself and even curses the Scarlet Brotherhood, possibly leading to the loss of monks and assassins! His role here is minor, but in the next few years he'd become one of Greyhawk's best-known baddies.
The other is Xaene, who can be found in "Down with the Wizard". Once the court wizard of Overking Ivid V of the Great Kingdom, he appears in this adventure as a two-headed lich! Xaene was a classic Kuntz character who had been introduced in Dragon #59 (March 1982) as "the accursed, cavorter with demons, arch-enemy of the Mages’ Guild at Rauxes (which he could not subvert nor stand to serve), dabbler into all the arcane arts of destruction and chaos, and last but not least court wizard to Irvid [sic]." He later appeared (alongside Ivid) in "The Maze of Xaene" (1983), Rob Kuntz's EastCon tournament. At the time, the plan was to release that adventure alongside the "Temple of Elemental Evil". Instead Kuntz left TSR and ended up publishing The Maze of Zayene (1987) as a four-part adventure from his own Creation Unlimited. When Xaene returned as a two-headed lich in "Down with the Wizard", it was because the character now served two masters: TSR and Creations Unlimited (which is to say his creator, Rob Kuntz).
About the Creators. Fate of Istus was the work of many hands: Bruce Heard and Karen S. Boomgarden coordinated it, while Kim Mohan edited it. There were four authors: Nigel Findley, Dan Salas, Stephen Inniss, and Rob Kuntz. Of those, Kuntz is perhaps the most notable, because he had a history with Greyhawk, working as Gygax's right-hand man on the setting in the early '80s. This is probably why his two adventures featured the most notable NPCs, and were perhaps the most true to the setting.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.