Kyuss is a major antagonist from the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. He is a demigod of worms, undeath, and corruption, and also one of the many Elder Evils that are considered a threat comparable to the gods, demon-lords and devil-lords.
While once a human being, Kyuss now bears only the vaguest resemblance to human form. He is a titanic humanoid giant, some 30 feet tall, composed solely of writhing green Kyuss worms of various sizes. He has two glowing eyespots where his eyes should be, but has no other facial features. He wears a hooded black robe, said in Elder Evils to be made from flayed human skin.
Kyuss carries an executioner's mace, a weapon common in the long-ago time of his mortal life. It resembles a mace with an axe blade on one side, and is scaled up to Kyuss' massive size.
Kyuss is known as the Worm That Walks and the Worm God. He is an entity of immense power who seeks to ruin the worlds of the living via spreading undeath through and alongside his monstrous creations, most of which take worm-like forms.
Various origin stories have been written for Kyuss. The common element of these stories is that Kyuss was once mortal but became determined to gain a state of godhood via dark necromantic magic. He ultimately achieved this goal, but was imprisoned as a side effect of his ascension. From his prison, he plots to overrun the world with his monstrous spawn and usher in the so-called Age of Worms.
Kyuss does not appear directly in 1st Edition, and is mentioned only in conjunction with his undead minions, the sons of Kyuss. Here, Kyuss is simply described as an evil high priest who created the sons.
Kyuss still does not appear directly, but his story is more thoroughly fleshed out. He is implied to have once been a high priest in the land of Sulm and to have cursed a city there. Later 2nd Edition sources call him a demigod, setting the stage for his inhuman nature in later works.
In 3rd Edition, Kyuss' full character, story, and appearance are finalized. He is consistently shown as an inhuman demigod who attained his divinity through the mass sacrifice of his worshipers.
Age of Worms
In Age of Worms, set in the Greyhawk campaign setting, Kyuss was once a wicked human cult leader who lived around 2,000 years before the campaign. Exiled from his homeland, Kyuss led his followers to the jungle city of Kuluth-Mar. Here, Kyuss learned of the spell weavers and their prophecy of the Age of Worms. Introduced to the strange green worms that would later bear his name, Kyuss came to believe that he was the Age of Worms' harbinger. While his people already worshiped him as a god, Kyuss sought to become the real thing. In a mighty ritual, he consumed the souls and faith of his people, killing them all to propel himself to godhood and his closest minions to undeath. While Kyuss succeeded to becoming a god, his ritual had a side effect - he was trapped in the monolith he had used as a ritual focus.
Kyuss and his monsters remained trapped for 500 years until the arrival of the red wyrm Dragotha, who was fleeing the wrath of his mistress Tiamat. Dragotha uprooted the monolith and took it to his lair in the Rift Canyon. Kyuss was able to communicate with Dragotha, and he promised the dragon immortality in exchange for freeing him. Dragotha was able to free Kyuss, but Tiamat found and killed him not long afterward. Kyuss fulfilled his end of the bargain, resurrecting Dragotha as a dracolich bound to his will.
Kyuss then embarked on a campaign of conquest, using Dragotha as his general. Kyuss' undead armies ravaged the region before the druidic Order of the Storm confronted them. During the war, Kyuss and Dragotha captured the silver dragon Lashonna and turned her into a vampiric dragon under Kyuss' control. Eventually, though, Kyuss and Dragotha were defeated, and Kyuss was forced back into his monolith.
Kyuss remained largely inactive for the next 1,500 years. He had a profound effect on his surroundings, corrupting his part of the Rift Canyon into the Wormcrawl Canyon, but otherwise could only act through his closest agents. Kyuss apparently inspired Lashonna to create the Ebon Triad cult to help engineer his release, but otherwise not much is known about what commands he may have given - his cult mostly acted on its own initiative.
Kyuss remained sealed and inactive until only a few weeks before the Age of Worms began. Lashonna teleported his monolith to the city of Alhaster, where it sat until the appointed time. The mere emergence of Kyuss devastated the city, weakening the powers of good while empowering the monsters that Kyuss and Lashonna had sent to slaughter its people. At the conclusion of the campaign, Kyuss faced the PCs in a battle at the base of his monolith.
This version of Kyuss' backstory is essentially the same as in Age of Worms, except that it is much less specific in order to fit better into a generic campaign world. In this version, however, Kyuss only attained godhood for a moment, losing it almost immediately and being transformed into a monstrous elder evil as he was sealed into the monolith. Here, he was imprisoned on Wormcrawl Island rather than Wormcrawl Fissure. This story is apparently canon in the Forgotten Realms setting, where Kyuss is thought to have previously been a cleric of the demon prince Orcus.
Kyuss had some ability to act on the outside world while imprisoned. He transformed the archmage Edwin Tolstoff into a lesser version of himself, and Edwin would become his most loyal servant, eventually securing his release from Wormcrawl Island.
This version of Kyuss is less associated with undead. Instead, his worm theme is played up, and his approaching freedom causes worms and related monsters to appear seemingly out of nowhere.
In 4th Edition, Kyuss is not a god, but instead a unique "larva undead" of near-divine power. He began life as an abused child in an evil city-state that made heavy use of necromancy. As an adult, he infiltrated the church of the Raven Queen, using it to build up a following for himself. He then sacrificed this following in order to transform himself into a mighty larva mage.
In 4th Edition, Kyuss is not imprisoned, but instead lives deep in the Underdark. His relationship with Dragotha is also much more hostile. They once collaborated in an effort to elevate Kyuss to true godhood, but Dragotha was only pretending to serve Kyuss, as he secretly hated the Worm that Walks for transforming him into a dracolich.
Powers and Abilities
Kyuss is an elder evil and has powers comparable to a demigod - within the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse a demigod is considered a fully-fledged deity but of a lower rank than the higher deities : as such Kyuss is a literal god, albeit a low-ranking one. This still puts Kyuss well above the ranking of most other monsters in the Dungeons and Dragons lore.
True to his name of the Worm God, Kyuss tends to manifest his powers via necromancy and the creation of all manner of worm-based atrocities. He can infect victims with his worms, transforming them into undead spawn of Kyuss under his control.
Kyuss' official statistics have varied between and even within editions. In the Age of Worms campaign, Kyuss is a true deity whose statistics follow the special rules presented in Deities and Demigods. He has a divine rank of 1, granting him (relatively) weak deity-exclusive powers themed around worms, death, and corruption. He also has a combined 30 character levels as a cleric, sorcerer, and necromancer, granting him devastating magical powers.
In Elder Evils, Kyuss is somewhat weaker. He is "only" a very powerful unique monster with no godly powers. He still has powerful arcane magic, as well as elder evil powers such as a "sign" that causes worms to appear across the world.
- Kyuss has his own special breed of monstrous followers known as the Children of Kyuss, who are a kind of enhanced zombie. These creatures have also been called "Sons of Kyuss" and "Spawn of Kyuss". They were introduced to Dungeons & Dragons prior to Kyuss himself.
- The rock band Kyuss is named after this character.