Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Deities & Demi-Gods of Greyhawk

Art by Mike Mignola

I'm back and it's time for Greyhawk! That's right. Aside from playing some more OD&D-style games or my weird wargame stuff, I have recently been dabbling more in AD&D just for the hell of it (both 1e and 2e) and have found myself running an Advanced campaign set in Greyhawk. I'll probably be adding some notes, ideas, and much more related to AD&D and Greyhawk here. I must confess this is the first time I've tried to really run an existing TSR setting without drastically remaking or tearing it up. I'm interested to see what happens.

Beings of Power

The people of Oerth worship many beings called Powers. In general the greater powers are too far removed from the world to have much to do with humanity, and while they are worshipped, few hold them as patrons. 

These powers have been known to intercede directly in the affairs of mortals, but only if these affairs have direct and crucial bearing upon the concerns of the power. Even so, the annals of history list only a few such instances in the Flanaess.

Powers have weighty affairs to attend to, and in general they can not be bothered with the trivial needs of a party of lowly mortals. However, under certain circumstances, intermediate, lesser, and demi-powers might well become embroiled in mortal affairs. The demi-god Iuz, various demons, and evil elementals all plot and scheme which may yet result in direct divine confrontation.

In 2nd Edition, deities became much more powerful similar to the treatment given to fiends, dragons, and giants. Rather than very potent beings with divine abilities that could yet be slain permanently on their home plane, they became beings that could only really be slain by other deities and dealt with all other beings via powerful manifestations called avatars (with stats similar to the level seen prior). Ward and Denning in Legend & Lore 2e (1990) claim the following:

This manifestation is not nearly as powerful as the god himself, and is merely a projection of the god's power to the Prime Material Plane. Always remember, there is great difference between the god and the avatar. The avatar embodies just a small portion of the god's power. (p. 6) [emphasis mine]

In addition, it explicitly mentions that:

… gods … cannot be killed by anything save another god of greater stature, or by a god of any stature using an artifact. This means that no mortal may ever kill any god. (p. 6)

But is this entirely true? Take for example the iconic demigod of evil, Iuz, of Greyhawk fame. This demi-power has his home plane as the Prime Material and as a result, can be explicitly slain. Sargent (1992) in the From the Ashes boxed set details as such:

Iuz can be slain while on the Prime Material plane. If this happens, he is banished to the Abyss where he has hidden a soul gem (other Powers cannot be slain on the Prime Material since they appear only in avatar form) (p. 94) [emphasis mine].

If this is merely pointing out that a deity could slay Iuz on the Prime Material it seems rather redundant. Interesting to note that this implies that other Powers can be slain on their home planes where they appear in their non-avatar form. The whole point of the Old One's soul gem is so can go abroad in the Flanaess without any worry. It seems strange that he would require such a thing if only gods could slay him.

The boxed set then goes on to detail the stats and capabilities of Iuz (not an Avatar of Iuz) in a manner largely identical to his 1e incarnation and, what's more, in a way identical to that of the other avatars presented in the book (although omitting that he should be a 16-level assassin in addition to his 16th-level clerical abilities).

There are a couple of things we can conclude from this:

  • The specific Greyhawk material seems to take precedence over the more general L&L clause when it comes to stating Iuz (L&L states that stats for non-avatar deities is not possible but Iuz is given stats).
  • Effectively, the true form of a deity is not dissimilar from their avatar form (Iuz's true form is very much in line with his fellow avatars).
  • If a deity is ineffectively slain, i.e. not permanently killed, they are merely dispersed for a time (perhaps 1d100 days).

Therefore, DMs in an AD&D 2e Greyhawk campaign really have two options:

  • Option 1: Only deities can slay deities. Iuz has his soul object as insurance to survive in the case where a deity like St. Cuthbert manages to defeat him. No mortal can hope to slay him and the best they can hope to do is disperse him for a time (or perhaps work towards enabling a deity to best the fiend).
  • Option 2: Deities are uniquely vulnerable in their home plane where, being in their non-avatar form, they can be permanently slain. Iuz could potentially be slain by mortal foes on the Prime Material plane, which is why he has his soul object to instead be merely banished to the Abyss in such a case.

Given the classic expectation of perhaps dealing with Iuz someday and capstone modules such as D3 and Q1 with penultimate confrontations against Lolth, option 2 here is much more fitting. This is not a setting where such beings are above and beyond mortal affairs. They are meddling and not above being humbled.

Art by Mike Mignola

A Divine Hierarchy

As noted above, I vastly prefer the view of the Powers as meddling and active deities rather than beings who, aside from Cuthbert and Iuz, never actually visit the mortal world. The greater deities should be removed and distant as they have ascended beyond such matters, but their lesser counterparts tend to get very invested in mortal affairs. So while the worship of greater deities may have higher ceilings of power (e.g., they are able to grant 7th-level spells!), they are very difficult to please or petition. In contrast, notable servants of other lesser powers are far more likely to receive direct attention, rewards, and other boons from their patrons.

Although I was not initially fond of it, I will be trying out the specifications of hierarchy in terms of power and spells granted to priests. I think the attention and support aspect will make it an interesting choice. Your demi-power may not be able to grant the highest-level spells, but you will actively receive more aid and boons. And after all, "quasi-deity" is such a fun term.

We can largely group these beings into the following categories:

  • Greater Powers: Distant powers, far removed from most mortal affairs. 
    • They can grant spells of any level. 
    • Examples include Beory, Boccob, and Nerull.
  • Intermediate Powers: Powerful beings that hold major sway.
    • They can grant spells of any level. 
    • Examples include Hextor, Lolth, and St. Cuthbert.
  • Lesser Powers: Powers that may serve greater ones, maybe cast-out or solitary, or only concerned with a various narrow portfolio. Some are declining from exalted status or ascending to greater potency.
    • Can grant up to 6th levels spells, and 7th-level spells (including Quest) if on the same plane. 
    • Examples include gods like Xan-Ye as well as monstrous beings such as Demogorgon, Orcus, and Tiamat.
  • Demipowers: The least powerful deities similar to Lesser Powers in many ways. Some are mortals that have undergone divine ascension. Some may be referred to as Hero-Deities or Hero-Powers.
    • Can grant up to 5th-level spells, and 6th-level spells if on the same plane. 
    • Examples include Iuz, Vecna, and Zagyg, or the Hero-Deity Kelanen, the Prince of Swords. 
  • Near-Powers: Not true powers, but only one step removed. They have vastly different levels of strength and not all want to become full-fledged gods. Some may be referred to as "Quasi-Deities" or "Quasi-Powers".
    • Can grant up to 3rd-level spells, and 4th-level spells if on the same plane. But some lack priesthoods and grant no spells at all.
    • Includes most demon lords, archdevils, elemental princes, and other outer planar entities. Other examples include personages such as Murlynd, Heward, and Vlaakith.
  • Imprisoned Deities: Powers sealed away and separated from the planes and their worshippers.
    • Their clerics can only utilize spells of 1st and 2nd levels.
    • The archetypal example is Tharizdun.
Art by Mike Mignola

A Sampling of Gods

The following serves as a good sample of the common powers in my opinion for some classic Greyhawk action listing type, name, and alignment.

  • Greater Powers
    • Asmodeus, Overlord of the Hells (LE)
    • Beory, Oerth Mother (N)
    • Boccob, The Uncaring (N)
    • Corellon Larethian (CG)
    • Incabulos (NE)
    • Istus, Lady of Our Fate (N)
    • Garl Glittergold (LG)
    • Gruumsh (LE)
    • Moradin (LG)
    • Nerull, The Reaper (NE)
    • Pelor (NG)
    • Rao (LG)
    • Yondalla (LG)

  • Intermediate Powers
    • Celestian the Far Wanderer (N)
    • Eglonna of the Forests (NG)
    • Eryhtnul the Many (CE)
    • Fharlanghn, Dweller on the Horizon (N)
    • Heironeous, The Invincible (LG)
    • Hextor (LE)
    • Kord (CG)
    • Lendor (LN)
    • Lolth, Demon-Queen of Spiders (CE)
    • Obad-Hai, the Shalm (N)
    • Olidammara (CN)
    • Pholtus of the Blinding Light (LG)
    • Procan (CN)
    • Ralishaz, The Unlooked For (CN)
    • Sehanine the Moonbow (CG)
    • St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel (LG)
    • Tharizdun (CE) - Imprisoned
    • Trithereon, The Summoner (CG)
    • Ulaa (LG)
    • Wee Jas (LN)
    • Zilchus (LN)
  • Lesser Powers
    • Allitur (LG)
    • Atroa (NG)
    • Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon (LG)
    • Baphomet, Demon Prince of Minotaurs (CE)
    • Beltar (CE)
    • Berei (N)
    • Bralm (N)
    • Delleb (LG)
    • Demogorgon, Prince of Demons (CE)
    • Fortubo (LG)
    • Ghestai (N)
    • Joramy (N)
    • Juiblex the Faceless Lord (CE)
    • Kurell (CN)
    • Lirr (CG)
    • Llerg (CN)
    • Lydia (NG)
    • Myhriss (NG)
    • Norebo (CN)
    • Orcus, Demon Prince of Undead (CE)
    • Phyton (CG)
    • Pyremius (NE)
    • Raxivort (CE)
    • Sotillion (CG)
    • Syrul (NE)
    • Telchur (CN)
    • Tiamat, the Chromatic Dragon (LE)
    • Velnius (N)
    • Wenta (CG)
    • Xan Ye (N)
    • Xerbo (N)
    • Yeenoghu, Demon Prince of Gnolls (CE)
    • Zodal (NG)
                                                                                                                        • Demipowers
                                                                                                                          • Iuz the Old (CE)
                                                                                                                          • Kelanen, Prince of Swords (N)
                                                                                                                          • Kyuss, Worm that Walks (CE)
                                                                                                                          • Vecna (NE)
                                                                                                                          • Wastri, the Hopping Prophet (LN)
                                                                                                                          • Zagyg the Mad (CN)
                                                                                                                          • Zuoken (N)


                                                                                                                        • Ward, J. M., & Denning, T. (1990). Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - Legends & Lore.
                                                                                                                        • Sargent, C. (1992). Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - From the Ashes.

                                                                                                                        No comments:

                                                                                                                        Post a Comment