A Walk Through the Planes – Part 6.5: Legends & Lore/Monster Mythology




The outer planes are sometimes called the Planes of Power, as this is not only where individuals go after they die for their spiritual reward/punishment, it’s also quite literally where the powers dwell. You know, the gods. Despite this, during the setting’s first couple of years the powers and the role that they play within interplanar conflicts were one of the more undeveloped parts of this multiverse. They’re out there, of course, but interaction between players and gods is intentionally limited. I suspect that part of this came from how disastrous their appearances were in Tales of the Outer Planes, and with this came the desire to not have that sort of ridiculous nonsense happen again. The gods should be ineffable and, well, godly, which means that any interaction with them should be extraordinary. Yet since its inception, D&D always gave its deities statistics, which is quite a problem as it means that players can, ultimately, just go out there and murder those gods the same way they can anything else that has a hit point total. In fact, this is precisely what they were supposed to be out there doing, first in Queen of the Demonweb Pits and later in Throne of Bloodstone. It’s a good reminder that while D&D was the original roleplaying game, up until the late-80s or so actual roleplaying was usually an afterthought in its desire to kick down all the doors and murder anyone players came across. 

Despite this, one of AD&D‘s original core books was Deities & Demigods (heck, if we go even further back, there’s Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes way back in 1976), which aside from stating out all of those deities and demigods as if they were run-of-the-mill monsters, also implied to players that interacting with these deities was a big part of the game—after all, there only were four core books for quite a while. In the middle of the 80s, in one of the company’s many misguided attempts to placate parents in the midst of a Satanic panic, they renamed this book Legends & Lore, while otherwise keeping its contents essentially the same. This, combined with the equally important goal of making adventures featuring gods suck less, gave us 1990’s edition of Legends & Lore, the second edition version that weirdly focused entirely on human deities, despite this being the least original part of the entirety of Dungeons & Dragons


For the most part, I’d be perfectly happy skipping Legends & Lore entirely in this column. When it comes to real-world pantheons, the brief write-ups here are worse than Wikipedia entries, and the only planar point of interest is the extremely occasional and haphazard mention of which plane(s) these deities reside in. This is sketchy information that frequently went ignored in the future, and for good reason. But there is one important addition in this book: avatars. 

Hell if I know what’s going on here. I gotta admit, all of the art for these two books was pretty uninspiring so it was picked largely at random.

So yes, the original Deities & Demigods was almost just an aspirational monster manual, telling players that if they reached a high enough level they’d have the privilege of kicking the butts of not just goblins and dragons, but perhaps even Thor and Zeus. Instead, Legends & Lore (which is what I’ll call the second edition release, given that its predecessor’s name change largely just serves to confuse the already confusing history of this game) for the most part retcons all of the previous edition’s version of Gods and says that they are too powerful for any mortals, period. “Where the old Legends & Lore [i.e. the renamed version of Deities & Demigods] placed its emphasis on game mechanics and weapons, the new book is concerned with role-playing and using the gods in a fantasy campaign.” In stark contrast to how gods appeared previously, we’re told that “neither are the gods super-powerful monsters. Most of them are capable of destroying a mortal at the merest whim … no mortal may ever kill any god.” They are completely beyond the abilities of mortals to harm in any manner whatsoever, so giving them statistics is beside the point. At the same time, though, a new restriction is placed upon them in that “it is impossible for any deity, no matter how powerful, to enter [The Prime Material Plane].”

To circumvent this issue, deities can now create avatars of themselves to go about their bidding. These avatars are “a manifestation of the god upon the Prime Material Plane.” They embody a tiny portion of a god’s power, featuring stats more or less in-line with what we saw for the gods themselves in previous versions, but, and the book cannot stress this enough, they are not the gods. They’re still incredibly powerful, but they can be destroyed, and are not the all-knowing, all-seeing powerhouses that we think of when we consider deities. These really are high-level, butts-for-the-kicking monsters that players can murder without massively upsetting the balance of the multiverse—feel free to go hog wild with them1.

Like, what is even happening here, and what does it have to do with deities?

Aside from this massive change, the other noteworthy addition to the volume is its attempt at classifying godly powers in concrete terms. There’s a certain irony to this decision, as it means in many respects ignoring the previous proviso that gods are powerful beyond mortal understanding, in favor of answering the question, “Yeah, sure… but if Thor were to fight Poseidon, who’d win?” Gods are now greater, intermediate, lesser, or demigods, and regardless of their pantheon all gods of these levels are roughly equivalent. In Third Edition this classification system would get even more granular and, accordingly, sillier, but that’s a way’s off. 


The far more interesting and relevant book concerning deities arrived two years later. Monster Mythology uses the same format as its predecessor, and in fact much of the original language from Legends & Lore‘s introduction, but its 130 pages are entirely devoted to the game’s nonhuman deities, which is another way of saying the ones unique to Dungeons & Dragons. Its title is also a complete misnomer, unless you consider elves and dwarves particularly monstrous. Essentially, this is the book where TSR gave us its own mythology. 

Is this supposed to be an avatar? Seriously, I just don’t know what these illustrations are supposed to be about.

As such, while frequently this book forgets to tell us which plane deities reside in (or in a few cases even says the author is unaware), it still feels like a proto-Planescape work and is relevant for anyone looking to fill out the planes with interesting deities rather than Zeus etc. Many of these gods were derived from previous D&D books, from popular mainstays Bahamut, Tiamat, and Lolth, to somewhat more obscure but still-established deities like Bilbdoolpoolp and Yeenoghu. To people paying attention to every game release a lot of these individuals would’ve been familiar, but at the same time plenty of them weren’t. Here’s Shannon Appelcline’s likely-pretty-accurate rundown of the book’s overall composition.


The first major source of nonhuman deities for AD&D was Deities & Demigods [first edition], in which Lawrence Schick presented stats for over 20 deities. Bugbears, centaurs, dwarves, elves, giants, gnomes, goblins, halflings, hobgoblins, kobolds, kuo-toa, lizard men, locantah, mermen, ogres, orcs, sahuagin, and troglodytes all receive some divine love in that volume. The dwarvish Moradin, the elvish Corellon Larethian, the ogrish Vaprak, and the orcish Gruumsh are probably the most important deities to appear in that tome.

The second major source of nonhuman deities was a series of articles written by Roger E. Moore for Dragon #58-63 (Feb – July 1982). In the first five articles, Moore wrote about the demihumans—dwarves, halflings, elves, gnomes, and orcs—each of whom received four or five new deities. Then in issue #63 he broadly covered the humanoids, adding a deity each to the kobold, goblin, hobgoblin, and gnoll pantheons. Together with the gods from Deities & Demigods, this brought the total nonhuman deity count up to about 50; it was the last big source of nonhuman deities prior to the release of Monster Mythology.

After those books, Monster Mythology more than doubled the count of humanoid, demihuman, and monstrous deities. In particular it detailed new gods for underdark races like beholders, illithids, myconids, and svirfnebli, new undersea gods, new draconic gods, and new faerie gods (including Shakespearian favorites Titania and Oberon).

Many of these newly added gods will probably be more familiar to Planescape players than to anyone else. The realms of Chronepsis and Maanzecorian, for instance, both receive detailed write-ups in A Player’s Primer to the Outlands. When it came to figuring out how to actually populate the multiverse, this book is where Planescape’s many authors referred, and while some parts of it were immediately retconned, for example moving the plane of the goblinoid deities from Hell to Acheron, for the most part this book laid the ground for the planes’ more interesting powers.

At least this one is recognizably drow priestesses doing drow priestess stuff.

Still, I must admit that for how foundational the book is, it also contains a lot of dreck, and its 130 pages were a slog to read through. Monster Mythology kept the same formatting as Legends & Lore, which means that while the write-ups of pantheons as a whole are interesting, most of each deity’s actual entry is devoted to the statistics of their avatar. Only greater deities receive a whole page in the book, while lesser members of pantheons receive just half a page, only a couple short paragraphs of which are devoted to information about the gods themselves. In the case of later chapters, it can be a struggle to figure out what species a god even represents. For every page detailing the relationship between the dragon gods or why several tanar’ri lords have tricked their way into deific status, there’s another page of statistics saying why an avatar has a +4 sword and an immunity to cold damage. This emphasis on play mechanics is what makes the book feel so unlike Planescape despite writing about such related material. 


Even so, it’s easy to skip all of these parts, and by doing so you don’t lose much if anything. As for the actual content, your mileage will probably vary. It’s not a book to be read all-at-once, to the point that I’d really limit yourself to one pantheon at a time. The gods’ backstories are often  genuinely thoughtful and creative, it’s just that hundreds of descriptions of anything so similar (i.e., they’re all gods) gets repetitive quickly. I get the sense that the author, Carl Sargent, fought against this as best he could by creating frictional relationships between the deities and giving them as much oddity as they could stand, but it’s still a book of lists, so there’s only so much he can do. 

Ultimately, Planescape would revise this pair of books with its own deity-focused tome, On Hallowed Ground, a much more definitive work focused on how these deities fit into the planes, but that doesn’t take anything away from what a massive achievement Monster Mythology really is. Like MC8: Outer Planes Appendix, the book offhandedly reshapes the D&D universe and sets a strong foundation for everything that came afterward. As of today it’s only a curiosity, with its deities rewritten, revised, and retconned time and time again over the decades, but I still find it an impressive accomplishment in just how much it brings to the multiverse. I don’t know how many players really sat down and thought, “I really need to include a god of weretigers in my campaign,” but for some reason I’m still happy Carl Sargent decided that this sort of thing was not just worth inclusion, but worth giving a creative backstory. 

1. Please note, this is a joke. I shouldn’t have to say this, but sometimes, on the internet, you just want to be sure. 

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