Mysteries of the Dead Gods

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 41: Mysteries of the Dead Gods




As with all of their campaign settings, following TSR’s revival/change in ownership Planescape went through a weird glut of material at the end of 1997. Somehow the employees kept writing new adventures and supplements even while what they produced wasn’t actually being published—I guess payroll still continued despite the company’s mounting debts? In this case, it meant that Monte Cook had two massive adventures (one fully by him and one co-authored) as well as their accompanying Dragon Magazine articles all released in just two months. Planescape was nearly at an end in terms of its existence, but at least it pushed out a crazy amount of excellent material during these last few months. 

Weirdly enough, “Mysteries of the Dead Gods” is the tie-in article for Dead Gods, the later of these two modules, while “Modron Magic: The Sorcery of Structure” came out a month later to accompany the already-released Great Modron March. It doesn’t really make sense, but I guess it helps to hint at the relationship between all of these four releases, which are to a large extent all parts of the same overarching story. More likely, I suspect things got shuffled around and confused during the scramble to get anything at all released again when Wizards of the Coast took over, but whatever the case the publication history of these remains odd. “Mysteries” in fact mentions that “the following information is useful in creating continuing adventures after playing through Dead Gods, a mammoth PLANESCAPE® adventure out this month,” which is pretty obviously not-quite-true considering that Dead Gods shows up in the same issue’s list of upcoming titles many pages later… but whatever. In 2022, all of this is mostly just of interest to folks like me who wish they had a look into the behind-the-scenes of the final days of independent TSR.


That being said, “Mysteries” is a perfect link between Cook’s previous release A Guide to the Astral Plane and Dead Gods, taking one of the more fascinating concepts from both the plane and the adventure and giving it more universally usable mechanics. The corpses of dead gods floating around the Astral Plane in an eerie graveyard of deities was one of the more evocative elements introduced by Planescape, but what exactly it meant was undefined until A Guide to the Astral Plane. That book did an excellent job of describing the theological guidelines for how a God dies in the D&D universe and what this means, but didn’t do much to describe the actual landscapes of these corpses. The ideas were there, but the reality of running something in a location this alien was missing. 

I have absolutely no idea what the illustrations that went with this essay had to do with anything, but I’ve included them nonetheless. Enjoy!

“Mysteries” does just the opposite. Few words are spent explaining how a God dies, just that they do, and when they do Anubis will guard them. Kind of. If he feels like it. But what does it feel like to land on a God, walking around on them like a weird Little Prince-esque moon, and what does a person find there? The simple answer is always, “Whatever the DM feels like,” but that’s not interesting as far as worldbuilding, and so we learn about the varying terrains of these corpses, as well as the possible rewards for exploring them. A lot of this comes in the form of tables, which to me at least are only marginally useful in terms of designing an adventure, but quite telling as far as the makeup of the multiverse and offering ideas. As noted in “A Handful of Keys,” your mileage with these things is going to vary. 


Most of the article is spent explaining the typical conditions of God Isles, i.e. who can be found exploring them and what can be found on them, which consists of mysterious energy fields, mysterious minerals, mysterious plants, mysterious liquids, and godquakes (which presumably are also quite mysterious). Each of these categories is given a table, which I appreciate simply because it offers up plenty of examples. Any good DM should be able to create a significantly more mysterious liquid/plant/whatever than what’s given here, but it’s nice to have a baseline to plan from. That’s why I actually quite appreciate the number of tables here and the thought put into them, especially since the chance of actually finding any of these treasures by sheer chance is exceedingly rare. 

Like, what is supposed to be happening here? No idea!

Of particular note are the concept of the “memory aura” that can be found on many God Isles, and which Cook would use in the Dead Gods adventure, as well as a new substance called Godsblood, which is a universal remedy easily made into the macguffin for an adventure. Both of these serve to give answers to the question as to why a person would want to visit these strange, dangerous locations. Like most parts of this article these would require more fleshing out, but it’s easy to put these concepts together and start your mind whirling with ideas.


And if these little tidbits weren’t enough, Cook ends the article with about a page worth of adventure ideas. There’s committing vandalism for the Athar, working with the githyanki to investigate a strange energy field, helping a “barmy old basher” settle on a God Isle because he’s weird like that, and working to help a priest pay last respects to his fallen deity. None of these are full-on module-worthy adventures, but they’re not supposed to be, rather they offer easy ways to insert dead gods into your campaign. I quite like the suggestions, and think that almost any of these would offer a nice excuse to introduce a Planescape campaign to the Astral and the dead gods.


In all, this is a pretty perfect Dragon Magazine article in that it expands on a concept from elsewhere in a way that wouldn’t have really worked in the original publication. This is too long and tonally inconsistent with A Guide to the Astral Plane, and would be pointless to include in Dead Gods, but is worthwhile information nonetheless. No one’s minds will be blown by this, but Cook’s article is a worthy addition to the setting and helps fill in the gaps he left elsewhere. 

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