D&D General Abyssal breaches?

Quickleaf

Legend
My players will be venturing through a desert soon-ish (early this summer) which is plagued by Abyssal breaches.

What would an abyssal breach look like? And how would you model it in the game?




AFAIK, there is no "correct and official" answer here, so my question is coming from a spirit of creativity, and I'm wondering how you would imagine it. My rough draft take is a blend of borrowing Dragon Age: Inquisition's fade rifts (where once you start the closing process, it takes a minute and/or killing waves of demons) & a custom write up like the supernatural regions in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. But I'm excited to break outside the usual tropes my mind gravitates toward.




Surveying the Books: The 5e Monster Manual makes brief mention of a phenomenon called "abyssal breaches", but AFAICT there are no other mentions of such a thing in D&D 5e. The idea seems to be more than just demons controlling existing portals. It's evocative of a planar bleeding effect where one plane bleeds into another, like what the 3e Manual of the Planes describes as planar anomalies such as outpocketing, nested pockets, and minor/major planar bleed.

Relevant excerpts:

Abyssal Invasions. Wherever they wander across the Abyss, demons search for portals to the other planes. They crave the chance to slip free of their native realm and spread their dark influence across the multiverse, undoing the works of the gods, tearing down civilizations, and reducing the cosmos to despair and ruin. Some of the darkest legends of the mortal realm are built around the destruction wrought by demons set loose in the world. As such, even nations embroiled in bitter conflict will set their differences aside to help contain an outbreak of demons, or to seal off abyssal breaches before these fiends can break free.


Signs of Corruption. Demons carry the stain of abyssal corruption with them, and their mere presence changes the world for the worse. Plants wither and die in areas where abyssal breaches and demons appear. Animals shun the sites where a demon has made a kill. The site of a demonic infestation might be fouled by a stench that never abates, by areas of bitter cold or burning heat, or by permanent shadows that mark the places where these fiends lingered.





Campaign Context: The campaign is set in Fantasy Ancient Egypt, with the world under threat of being dragged into the 48th layer of the Abyss (alternately described as a hellish desert known as the Nerebdian Vast and as Skeliac the Ocean of Tears) by Graz'zt, Demon Lord of Indulgence. However, in the background of this growing chaos, other demon lords have a less significant presence including Baphomet, Yeenoghu, and Pazuzu.

The Abyssal breaches may be tied to specific quests or they may be encountered as a random encounter. The intent is that they can be sealed, albeit it won't be easy to do so, and otherwise interacted with. Demons can crawl through, but the breach probably cannot be used as a portal for those on the Material Plane side - they're more of a one-way deal at best.
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Have you pondered what the relevant layer of the Abyss is like? My own inclination would be to overlay elements of that onto the surrounding terrain. I'd also expect there to be demons (and/or other Abyssal creatures) emerging from the breach.

Also there's a demon in Mord's (I'm away from my books) that specifically is about turning doors and maybe windows into portals to the Abyss.

Also also, if you have Mord's, you might look at the Lair Effects for any of the relevant demon lords.

If you were looking for specifics, those aren't. Sorry.
 


jgsugden

Legend
My main campaign setting has a wasteland continent (the size of Eurasia) that has thousands of portals to the Abyss. The entire continent is plagued by fiends and their allies, and the terrain around each portal takes on the nature of the part of the Abyss connected to it (often for many , many miles). Even the laws of nature can be suspended in these areas, creating zones of reverse gravity, darkness, strange weather, etc....
As my Abyss was created from the Hells when the Far Realm first started to corrupt the Universe, Demons tend to be more creepy and horrific than your 'out of the box' monstrosities. They often overlap with Aberrations, which tend to have a flair inspired by Horror Movies like Hellraiser, Pan's Labrynth, etc... and are all a product of body horror in one fashion or another.

I obviously have not detailed all of the areas, but there are wide ranges of inspiration taken from D&D Lore, Movies, TV and Comics. The portals appeared a thousand years ago in the midst of the most powerful nation in a vast world (12 times the size of Earth, with an equally large 'Dyson Sphere' style underdark). Accordingly, many of these locations are centered around corrupted cities or feature locations (monasteries, churches, universities, etc...)

There is one last bastion of good that has been fighting a hopeless battle to reclaim the continent for a thousand years, but beyond that it is literally "Hell on Earth". Archfiends, Demon Lords, and all sorts of terror pass back and forth through these portals freely. Beyond the Good versus Evil fight, the Blood War spills onto that continent too, although the stakes are less than the Blood War in the Hells (My Abyss and 9 Hells are one plane, with the Blood War being fought by the Demons trying to reclaim the rift to the Far Realm at the center of Asmodeus' realm) because the losers just return to the Hells when they die on the Prime, rather than being recrafted into a Lemure/Nupperibo/Manes/Dretch as those that die in the Hells are.

This zone has featured in the culmination of many of my campaigns. It might be recovering a lost artifact, venturing into the hells via a specific gate, closing a particular gate, etc... One feature of the area is that teleportation magic and planar magic, outside of the gates, does not work there. That causes PCs a lot of problems.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I would focus on altered landscapes, and on elemental forces in bizarre, malevolent combinations. Rivers of burning ice. Oozing, poisonous light. Obelisks that crackle with black lightning. Glass shards that raise a cacophony of deadly chimes at the slightest touch. The terrain hazards near a breach can kill you before you even see a demon.

(My approach to coming up with these was to take two damage types, mash them up, and try and imagine what the resulting terrain hazard looks like. Fire/cold, radiant/poison, necrotic/lightning, slashing/thunder, etc.)
 

MarkB

Legend
Well, it may or may not be thematic to D&D's version of the plane, but when I hear "Abyss" I immediately picture infinite unfathomable depths. So how about a way to create that feeling around a breach?

The breach itself is relatively small, maybe an angry swirly vortex a dozen feet across - but it comes with its own gravity, which overwhelms that within the plane it intrudes into across a wide area.

You can feel it even from half a mile away, an odd tilting that throws things slightly off the horizontal. The closer you get, the stronger the effect, until any ground within a hundred feet of the breach is fully turned from horizontal to vertical, with everything falling towards the breach.

The demons that come through the breach all tend to be ones with Fly or Climb speeds, and many of them don't bother to venture far - they just wait at the aperture, ready to intercept anyone who gets too close and topples in towards it.
 

Quartz

Hero
What would an abyssal breach look like? And how would you model it in the game?

In the 3E book on the Bright Desert (Rary the Traitor?) there are a couple of places - one an oasis - that are intermittent abyssal breaches. IIRC they look perfectly normal; they just 'feel wrong' and you definitely don't want to stay around after dark.

In Iron Crown's Shadow World, breaches are often tied to celestial objects and events and the flows of magic across the land.
 

Weird Dave

Explorer
Publisher
My adventure Blight of the Demongate contains a table for a Fiendish Blight modeled after the Supernatural Regions presented in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. My Codex of the Infinite Planes article for the Abyss also includes tables for randomly generating threats and hazards across the Infinite Layers. Either could be useful for you!
 



toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
I'm a fan of hardcore darkness when it comes to the demon lords. A couple dead plants and your dog barks at shadows is cliché and not liable to scare players.

An abyssal breach could be a sphere, perhaps miles in size where, in the outer area, all color has faded from all life therein, representing the pseudo-reality of blended realms. Within a certain radius, the minds of sentient creatures are plagued with the influence of a demon lord. One begins to question their sanity and ethics as their mind runs free into the most depraved thoughts, whether the being wants to see them or not. And, sickly, some part of them wants this to happen. Mechanically, you could use the madness tables from Out of the Abyss, when one sees a demon lord, for suggestions on how to fine tune this to the individual character. If you don't have the book, simply take the nature of the demon lord and make up stuff that fits. At this point, no saves, just flavor.

This type of environment is ambrosia to demons. They drink this up, revel in it. They take greater satisfaction in breaking mortals than they do in simply killing them. Further in demons soak up the despair and confusion of mortals, fueling and feeding it. Promises are made that will never be kept, both auditory and in the mind. Deals are offered with horrific cost, but somehow they make sense. Hallucinations blur the line between real and not real. At this point, you may want to bring in the DMG's madness save tables.

At the breach itself lies the essence of the level of the Abyss to which the tear ties. At this juncture, some shade of the demon lord is present to tear apart sanity itself. At this point, a DMG long-term madness save might be appropriate, and you'll want some feature of the level of the Abyss to which it ties to blend into this realm (could be nearly anything, but it should warp reality in a major way to provide a terrain or environmental challenge...I wouldn't take away life support as the Prime Material is still supreme here but most anything else goes).

This is also the vulnerable point where those with proper lore might know a ritual to seal the breach. The deals are offered again, but now with force. A player can easily affirm, as they sit at a game table snacking on Doritos, that "my character refuses anything offered to him. Die foul beasts!" But, you may toss another layer of madness at them in the form of a save. It's not simply about brave words. Only the most resolute even have a chance here. And once the demons sense that the mortal will no longer feed their appetites, they act in the other way they know best, and that's with violence. Because these demons are being forced to guard a breach instead of their normal fare (such as enticing mortals, fighting in the Blood War for status, etc.), they're likely compelled by a greater general demon. Stop the general, the lesser demons might lose their taste for guard duty.
 


pemerton

Legend
@Quickleaf, here is how I statted Abyssal Breaches for 4e, very low Epic tier:

Abyssal Breach (Level 21 elite lurker hazard, XP 6400)
A shimmering cloud of raw energy (no Perception required; Arcana DC 25 to recognise it as an Abyssal Breach; DC 34 to learn its powers)
It rolls initiative when a living creature within 20 sq is bloodied (Initiative +12)

Standard Actions
Energy tendril (ranged 20 vs 1 bloodied creature; ignores blocking terrain but not concealment): +25 vs Ref for 3d6+7 necrotic, removed from play until start of hazard’s next turn, and 1d6 Abyssal Horde Ghouls (level 18 minions) appear; when target reappears (in same square) takes OG 10 necrotic
Miss: half damage, no other effects​

When the Demonskin Adept was removed from play, we didn't strictly follow the rules and had some events around that related to the character's connection to the Queen of Chaos and to Chan, Queen of Good Air Elementals.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
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steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
If you want to step outside of a "sulfurous smelling ball/field/arch of fiery energy" box, one could look at what the Abyss is.

The Abyss is the realms/planes of Chaos and Evil. They are infinite numbers of planes, because Chaos and Evil are infinite. "The Abyss" is something of a misnomer because it is no singular place. It is unpredictable. It is destructive and dangerous, sure. Destruction, as incarnate, really. A constant source of breaking down and destroying -that produces something different, that can then, also be destroyed, endlessly, forever, infinite.

If this is to be a series of adventures, an ongoing thing(s) that is(are) encountered multiple times...I would make each one completely random and different...each one entirely unpredictable.

Maybe one IS a flaming portal of sulfuric fumes...The next one?

What a majestic perfect mountain lake. Pristine. Untouched. Perfectly reflective in the moonlight. Like mirrored glass...that is shattering into a million milliion shards of white starlight as the Type 6 demon casually steps "up" out of the lake's surface into midair before looking around to correct its orientation to the ground/gravity.

Look at these delicate small lavendar flowers all over. Aren't they lovely? Should we be concerned a swarm of demonic beetles just burst out of that one over there?

Here's the ruin of some ancient wizard. The demons harrassing the area have led us back here. There's, well, some of a tower still standing...but it's crumbled. Completely empty. Has no "top"/roof. Just a few stone steps that lead to nowhere. Where's the breach? How do we access/open it? IF you demolish the stairs, the breach is revealed -momentarily- before the staircase simply reforms, solid as can be.

Lookit this cute kitty [puppy, bear cub, insert favorite cuddly animal here]. So cute. So friendly. Purring. Soft. Who's a handsome boy? What a precious love...Why's a tentacled horror coming out of its mouth? [thank you, Marvel]

Ooooo fresh apple pie! Smells wonderful. Can't wait. It's beautiful. Perfectly baked. My mouth is watering...wait, does anyone else smell charcoal? Something is burning? Uh...Why is green smoke coming out of the pie?

Get my drift?
 

Quickleaf

Legend
An Abyssal Incursion is described on pp. 24-25 of Ghosts of Saltmarsh... not sure if an Abyssal Incursion is synonymous with an Abyssal breach?
Thanks! That's an interesting read. The Drowned Forest is basically an Abyssal Incursion of Zuggtmoy, so it's tied to a specific demon lord. The effects – reduced healing, violet fungi sprouting during combat, hidden shriekers, and a region-specific "oddities/discoveries" table – are extremely well-tailored to that demon lord's themes.

Have you pondered what the relevant layer of the Abyss is like? My own inclination would be to overlay elements of that onto the surrounding terrain. I'd also expect there to be demons (and/or other Abyssal creatures) emerging from the breach.

Also there's a demon in Mord's (I'm away from my books) that specifically is about turning doors and maybe windows into portals to the Abyss.

Also also, if you have Mord's, you might look at the Lair Effects for any of the relevant demon lords.

If you were looking for specifics, those aren't. Sorry.
Absolutely. The Nerebdian Vast is an incalculably large desert of endless thirst and endless ruins. Though a sun and moon shine in the sky, it is always through a diffuse haze causing their light to take on a violet or burgundy hue. At odd times, a second silhouetted black sun is visible lurking behind the true sun. Every month a full lunar eclipse shrouds the sun, causing all colors to be inverted for several hours; during this time terrifying creatures burrow out of the sands and mind-warping radiation bombards the surface. At the far reaches the desert gives way to the Ocean of Tears (known as “Skeiqualc” in Abyssal), which is exactly as it sounds. The layer is slowly being absorbed into Graz'zt's realm, and the breaches appearing on the Material Plane are symptoms of that world beginning to be dragged into the Nerebdian Vast (worst case: it merges with the layer, becoming a new layer within Graz'zt's realm).

Part of the challenge in my case is that the destination "layer" is desert, and the terrain these breaches are most likely to be encountered in (though not exclusively) is desert.

Yeah, the alkilith. Good call. Thanks!

@Quickleaf you are looking for pages 24-25 of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. It goes into details on the four stages of Abyssal incursions (the actual portal appears at stage 2).
Awesome, that was an informative read. Thanks Sword of Spirit!

That helped me pin down some things...

First, that I'm trying to model incursions which are between Stage 2 (A Growing Menace – where simply killing the demons seals the portal) and Stage 3 (A Stain on Reality – where there is no way to seal the portal). Looking to make it possible for the PCs to seal/close/interact with these breaches, but not so easy as just killing the demonic defender.

Second, the examples of how an Abyssal incursion looks – extreme heat/cold, storms, warped vegetation, tainted water, animals avoiding the area, etc – felt lackluster (as @toucanbuzz mentioned). Those could describe a million forms of hauntings or regional effects of various monsters. Which maybe dovetails back to what MToF says about the incursion ultimately being tied to a demon lord, and what others mentioned about drilling down to specifics of the layer the portal leads to, as that helps ground the "anything goes chaos" of the Abyss into something concrete and usable at the table.

toucanbuzz said:
I'm a fan of hardcore darkness when it comes to the demon lords. A couple dead plants and your dog barks at shadows is cliché and not liable to scare players.
That was also my impression after reading the demon section of MToF. It offers a useful loose framework, and interesting how they tie the ultimate evolution of an Abyssal breach to a specific demon lord, but sparse on a real demonic feel. The Drowned Forest in GoS was a great example which evoked a strong feel, while adhering to the family friendly aspect of the game.

Thanks for suggesting the madness effects! I do have Out of the Abyss, and I'll see how I can work those in.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Part of the challenge in my case is that the destination "layer" is desert, and the terrain these breaches are most likely to be encountered in (though not exclusively) is desert.
Just a thought, in this case: Not all deserts are a like; to take three examples, the Atacama and the Gobi and the Sahara are very different from each other.

With that in mind, maybe the natural desert is all blowing and moving sand dunes, and the Abyssal desert is like a salt flat--which might play nicely with having the Sea of Tears on its border. Imagine, say, a nomad in the Gobi cresting a hill/dune and coming upon Bonneville.
 

Awesome, that was an informative read. Thanks Sword of Spirit!
No problem.

That helped me pin down some things...


First, that I'm trying to model incursions which are between Stage 2 (A Growing Menace – where simply killing the demons seals the portal) and Stage 3 (A Stain on Reality – where there is no way to seal the portal). Looking to make it possible for the PCs to seal/close/interact with these breaches, but not so easy as just killing the demonic defender.

Second, the examples of how an Abyssal incursion looks – extreme heat/cold, storms, warped vegetation, tainted water, animals avoiding the area, etc – felt lackluster (as @toucanbuzz mentioned). Those could describe a million forms of hauntings or regional effects of various monsters. Which maybe dovetails back to what MToF says about the incursion ultimately being tied to a demon lord, and what others mentioned about drilling down to specifics of the layer the portal leads to, as that helps ground the "anything goes chaos" of the Abyss into something concrete and usable at the table.

After re-reading the section, I think that's a really good point on the sealing the portal issue. I'd personally probably make sealing the portal always theoretically possible up until the point where the world actually shifts to the Abyss, even if a Stage 4 incursion is repelled. It probably just gets harder as it progresses. So at the start of Stage 2, just kill the demons and the portal closes. Further in, you might have to kill them and then cast a high-level dispel magic, wish, hallow, or other appropriate spell. Once you're into Stage 3 it might move into needing to perform some special action regarding the portal (Oblivion was fun!) instead of or even along with the spell. Eventually you would need to not only do all of that, but also clear out the demons from the Abyss side of the portal. That sounds like a good example of the end of Stage 3, where permanently getting rid of the portal would be possible, but difficult enough that without a party of adventurers of sufficient level, the idea that it's much easier and more likely to have people guarding the site to keep it from opening again makes sense. And to totally sever the link of a Stage 4, it might be so merged with the Material Plane that you need to not only do all of that, but go drop some sort of nuke on the Abyss side that disrupts the Abyssal energy itself, effectively destroying part of that layer of the Abyss (so there isn't anything for it to connect to).

I definitely like to think in terms of what makes sense with the rest of the game, and what sets up interesting opportunities for adventure. I've never been a fan of the whole "there is no way to reverse this, even with divine intervention" thing that very rarely pops up in D&D. For me, part of the fun of D&D is that theoretically anything can be changed/fixed, and any foe with stats can be killed (and if you try to kill it I will give it stats, yes even dreadlords or the Lady of Pain).
 

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