Book of Exalted Deeds

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 89: Book of Exalted Deeds




2003’s Book of Exalted Deeds is an answer to a question that no one asked. While playing a villainous D&D party remains rare, heroics and general acts of goodliness are for the most part what the whole thing is about. That isn’t to say that every PC is a saint, but on the whole adventuring parties tend towards solving problems and helping folks out. But apparently the Book of Vile Darkness did well enough to warrant interest in a follow-up, which meant we were given a book focused on its opposite, and as is typical for this type of splatbook that also meant new spells, new feats, and like with its predecessor a massive heap of new prestige classes. 

More important as far as this series is concerned is that there’s more new planar content here than in the BoVD. While that work largely reiterated content from elsewhere while updating everything to third edition, there’s simply never been as much written about the upper planes as the lower planes (and frankly, following this release, almost nothing at all), which means there’s more opportunities available for adding material. It also happens to have been co-written and developed by Warriors of Heaven‘s Christopher Perkins, and as such really feels like it builds from second edition’s lore rather than tossing all of the planar content from before into the trash bin. Exalted doesn’t push things far, but in its attempt for parity with the BoVD it ended up growing the multiverse in a handful ways, both interesting and less so. 

I’ll take any excuse to have leopards for friends, so for once there’s a prestige class I wouldn’t be able to pass up. This drawings of them is also surprisingly good (if you don’t look at the elf in the center).

In the less so category would be the addition of “Deathless” as a new creature type, which unlike most of the other lame attempts at copying the BoVD actually has a planar component; copying poisons and diseases but changing their names to ravages and afflictions is an example of how bad this would get elsewhere in the book. Anyhow, deathless are like the undead except, uhh, good instead of evil. Yes, that’s really the main distinction, though oddly there needed to be some weird workarounds to make this have any logic to it. For instance, the Crypt Warden doesn’t hang around in eternal misery like guardian skeletons do, but rather:


Unlike animated undead that stand eternal guard over their haunts, crypt wardens lie inanimate until their tombs are disturbed. When intruders enter, the crypt warden’s spirit returns from its enjoyment of the Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia, animating its corpse in deathless form to protect the holy ground it guards. When the threat is over, its soul returns to its rest.

It’s all a bit contorted as you can see, and this is typical of the book as a whole.

Aside from these legally-distinct-from-undead monsters no one cares about, there are actually some worthwhile additions here, as Exalted fills in the handful of angelic beings from second edition that hadn’t been previously updated, as well as adding slightly to their ranks. Asuras return to the game, as do quesars, plus the remaining archons, eladrins, and guardinals we know and love from Planescape. More oddly, as with third edition’s love for adding new demons and devils to the game, each of these last three major celestial races receives a new addition. Owl archons have petrifying eye beams, but are otherwise just giant owls that fit in poorly with the rest of the archons and their vaguely Christian theming. Eladrins gain the shiradi, a race both buffer and more angelic than their kin and likewise not a great fit for their species. Finally, guardinals gain the weasel-like mustevals, who yet again don’t fit in great with the originals as they don’t even have a paragon representative. I believe that the shiradi were actually reused a tiny bit in later books, but the owl archons and mustevals weren’t seen again after this, and in fact the entire archon and guardinal races seemed to disappear after this edition ended. 

Also on the subject of cool cats, I’m a big fan of leskylors, who as far as I’ve been able to tell aren’t derived from any real world mythology, just an author’s desire to make flying white tigers a thing. I approve!

Other returning creatures includee the aleax, which came as a hell of a surprise as they’re pretty weird; bariaurs, who don’t fit in great with the book’s theming since they’re often neutral and from the Outlands, though who doesn’t enjoy seeing them get featured more; hollyphants, who gain a new mastodon form that I pretend doesn’t exist; and moon dogs. Aside from these repeats, there are two quite good additions to the planar ranks. Leskylors are white tigers with wings and a breath weapon hailing from the second layer of Elysium (no picture of the normal ones is given, just an altered three-headed beast who looks mighty fierce). Do I want to ride one? Oh yes, yes I do. Of more interest to Planescape fans would be the rhek, rhino-like humanoids who ended up on the planes due to the Harmonium’s meddling:


Although they reside on Arcadia, rheks are not native to that plane. They originally hail from somewhere on the Material Plane and were brought willingly to Arcadia by powerful members of a planar faction called the Harmonium. The rheks first appeared on Arcadia shortly after Menausus, formerly the third layer of Arcadia, dissolved and became one with the plane of Mechanus. The rheks were helped to restore order in the wake of this cataclysmic event.

While I had a much better time reading about the monsters here than I did in the BoVD, the Celestial Paragons tend to be much less interesting than their archfiend counterparts, which is probably why they’re so obscure. That being said, at least the information here is largely new, which makes it more relevant for Planescape fans. For instance, one big surprise for me came from making the tome archons who rule the seven layers of Mt. Celestia into paragons, and with this unique beings rather than a generalized race. This is a pretty cool development, and I’m a fan of this change, even if the actual archons themselves are still incredibly boring. Also interesting to learn is that while the leader of the Celestial Hebdomad is an “ancient ruler shrouded in mystery” a la Asmodeus, the rest of his gang have all been replaced at least once. This is even derived from an extremely obscure piece of lore in The Throne of Bloodstone that featured a different tome archon, so I give extra props for tying in that weird planar footnote. 

And of course I also love Talisid, and am happy he’s hanging around with housecats. What a good dude. And if you can’t tell by now, I’m a bit of a cat guy myself…

Talisid and the Five Companions return as their race’s paragons, but while they remained consistent throughout second edition, all except for Talisid have been replaced (I’m not going to make a chart for this like I do with the archdevils, though, as I believe they’ve yet to even make another appearance in the game). Again, this is explained with lore about how this is a normal occurrence, which makes this work quite well and gives the appearance that the planes are moving forward in time. This group is also much more interesting than the archons, with the addition that their champions are also worth reading about, consisting of individuals like a half-celestial treant druid and a precognitive cleric. 


Finally, there’s the leaders of the eladrin, the Court of Stars, i.e. the group of fey-ish celestials who are totally not just Titania and her fairy kingdom but with different names, we swear. I’ve long found the eladrin’s existence pretty unnecessary considering that Titania and co. are also part of the multiverse, but whatever. Morwel is back, and she brings with her two consorts, neither of whom are Vaeros from second edition. Even more notably, one of them is a woman. That’s right, as far as I’m aware this means Morwel is not just the first openly bisexual D&D character, she’s also in a throuple. I’m even a fan of her champion, a half-celestial androsphinx who “thinks the world of Morwel and can’t stop talking about her.” So yes, Morwel fits weirdly into D&D, and I find it hilarious that the bottom of her page on the Forgotten Realms wiki says “See also: Titania,” but I’m still glad the authors had some fun with her. 

I should also mention that for anyone looking to find even more champions for the celestial paragons, a web supplement by Penny Williams added a handful who are more fleshed-out than the originals. Most of these are planar, but they’re still largely just statblocks for obscure one-off individuals, so if that’s not your thing then maybe give the article a miss (oh, and now that I think of it, I never mentioned the addition of a couple more archfiend write-ups by Monte Cook for the BoVD‘s web supplement, did I? Anyhow, uhh, they exist, so go wild with them, I guess). 

Sometimes I choose images to match the text, sometimes because I simply like the images, and in cases like this it’s because the images utterly horrified me so I wanted to share that horror with the world. Yikes.

Really, the only main additions to planar lore came from these creatures and paragons, though there’s one more short section worth reading for planar aficionados, which is a half-page devoted to “Special Materials,” all of which derive from the Upper Planes. Nothing here is too interesting, but if you want to add Serren weapons made from wood in Arvandor or Solarian Truesteel from the fourth layer of Mt. Celestia to your campaign then good for you. This can add some flavor to the game, though I suspect that tucked away into the back of a section like this it mostly went forgotten. 


The Book of Exalted Deeds isn’t necessary reading, but for running any sort of third edition planar campaign it’s worth picking up for all of the re-stated creatures and individuals. The book’s changes to the celestial hierarchy were small but surprisingly enjoyable, and it’s a pity that very little of this would end up used again by other authors in the future. In a sense, this is the most developed the celestials would ever get, so for anyone looking for a few last bits of information about the Upper Planes’ inhabitants this is pretty much it.

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