Ever wonder what happens to powerful heroes after their adventures legendary, and they have passed in to the realms beyond? Now you can find out with the D&D Immortals Set.
The Player's Guide to Immortals lays out the basic information needed to convert you mortal player characters to Immortal status. It also explains new game mechanics, as are many aspects of the character's new existence.
The DM's Guide to Immortals details the rules for playing in the realms of the Immortals. With descriptions of the Astral and Outer planes, details of creatures found therein, and other information and ideas for Immortal adventures!
The D&D Immortal Rules Set (1986), by Frank Mentzer, is the fifth and final volume in Mentzer's BECMI rules series. It was published in June 1986.
About the Cover. The previous four BECMI boxes showed a fighter wearing ever-increasing amounts of armor. At first he was fighting a dragon, then riding one. In the Immortal Rules (1986) something has clearly changed because the fighter has now stripped down to just a loin cloth, and a strange red and blue dragon just … looks on.
Origins (I): Finishing Up OD&D. The Basic D&D rules of the '70s and '80s were very much seen as a continuation of OD&D (1974). They built on the classic and unadorned rules that gave GMs more opportunity for fiat, though those basics were extensively expanded by a variety of designers. This continuity was recognized internally at TSR by staff who considered the BECMI games the "fourth edition" of D&D and legally by TSR through the inclusion of Dave Arneson's name on the Basic D&D credits — at least through the Companion Rules (1984). In fact, Frank Mentzer was asked to carefully maintain the separation between Basic D&D and AD&D when he was working on the BECMI rules.
Since it was officially based on OD&D, Basic D&D could draw from the original OD&D supplements (1975-1976). In fact one of Mentzer's earlier articles about the new game line said that he was planning to update Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976). It's not hard to imagine that the Immortal Rules was the result.
Origins (II) Finishing Up BECMI. Frank Mentzer describes the Immortal Rules as "the capstone, finale, logical conclusion, glimpse-behind-the-curtain, ultimate explanation of all that had come before." The idea of becoming an immortal dated back to the Companion Rules and had become an option in the Master Rules (1985). Now, players could see the results.
However, Mentzer also admits that Immortals is "not really D&D". Instead it's the "epilogue to the story", but "not an integral part of everygame play like the others".
Origins (III): A New Infinity. The Immortal Rules were written at a weird time, because Gary Gygax had left TSR at the end of 1985 to form his new company, New Infinities. Frank Mentzer was preparing to join him, but first was finishing up his final commitments, while also waiting for Gygax to get his new company funded and running.
Meanwhile, there were also weird expectations for the new Immortal Rules. TSR had hoped the new Basic Rules (1983) and the Expert Rules (1983) to do very well, while the Companion Rules and the Master Rules were a tier down. The expectations for the Immortal Rules though were "low".
The combination of these two facts resulted in Mentzer having a very free hand with producing the Immortal Rules. The result was one of the quirkiest supplements produced by TSR in the '80s, from its weird cosmology to its somewhat undefined style of play, which was only partially explained through the three Immortal adventures to follow (1986-1987).
The Immortal Rules are also notable because, for the first time ever, Frank Mentzer gets full authorship credit for his work. It's hard to imagine that Gary Gygax being stripped from the credits of a core D&D rulebook for the first time ever wasn't the result of his departure from the company.
Origins (IV): Classic Sources. Mentzer's conception of immortals is quite unique in fantasy RPGs because they're not deities. He traces this idea as far back as William Blake (1757-1827) and John Milton (1608-1674). However, he notes a few books that he read in the '70s as being other sources of non-godly immortals: the One Immortal Man stories by AE Van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951) and The Weapon Makers (1947); The Computer Connection (1975) by Alfred Bester; and Blake's Progress (1975), by Ray Nelson, which was later revised as Timequest (1985).
Based on these sources, Mentzer debuted immortals in his very early campaign games. A few of the mechanics that are published in the Immortal Rules even appeared in those primordial games … but it'd take until Mentzer was working on the rulebook itself for him to finalize all his work.
Origins (V): The Coming Storm. Mentzer's Immortal Rules are sufficiently wacky that he was also asked to write the first adventure for the line, IM1: "The Immortal Storm" (1986). It would give him one final opportunity to show how he intended these new rules to be run — and it would be his last project for TSR.
What a Difference An Edition Makes: The Controversy. Frank Mentzer himself admits that the Immortal Rules set "isn't for everyone". In fact he says that it's "damned weird in spots", that it may be "too mathemagical and is certainly eschatologically bureaucratic". Over the years, some players have agreed that the Immortal Rules aren't what they expect. So, of all the BECMI boxes, this one was themmost controversial.
Expanding D&D: Immortals. Part of the reason for the controversy over the Immortal Rules is that it isn't really D&D. It's really a totally different game that can be played after D&D character ascend to immortality.
The Immortal Rules start with a character converting his XP into Power Points (PP) at a 10,000:1 ratio. His characteristics convert to talent scores and he picks up new powers. Overall, the Immortal Rules offer a nice, clearn translation but the play is still very different.
Oh, and there's another 36 levels of play to advance through, just like the 36 that made up mortal-level play in Basic D&D!
Adventure Tropes. What's the main adventuring trope of Immortal-level play? It's apparently fighting against the followers of the sphere of entropy. For more details, GMs would need to read the three "IM" adventures (1986-1987).
Exploring the Known World. A short description of the Known World admits that it is Pangea: "The land masses diagrammed in the Companion set are a rough depiction of the ancient world of Pangea. The continents have only begun to drift from their early unified position, following the modern theories of the shifting tectonic plates." However, Mentzer goes further, saying that this planet known as "Urt" has "been designed as if it were an actual predecessor to our real [world]". As a real earth, the Known World is then set in a real solar system — something which M4: "Five Coins for a Kingdom" (1987) would take advantage of.
Exploring the Spheres. After the Companion Rules introduced Basic D&D's inner planes, the Immortal Rules go the rest of the way with the outer planes … and it's not a Great Wheel at all. Instead, the outer planes of the Basic D&D multiverse are very reminiscent of the D&D 4e (2008) cosmology that would follow decades later. The astral plane is actually described as an "astral ocean", and an infinite number of outer planes are scattered about it … as islands. Unlike AD&D's Great Wheel, there isn't a specific listing of outer planes (or even a listing of important ones) — though there are rules for generating outer planes of many sorts.
The Immortal Rules also focus a lot of attention on dimensions, each of which is "a real direction perpendicular to every other". Immortals can see into the fourth direction (convergence), while the fifth direction (divergence) leads to the dimension of nightmares. There are even more dimensions, but they've been blocked off from immortals by those who came before them. Overall, this idea of dimensions may be the most curious element of Basic D&D's unique cosmology.
The other thing that's notable about the cosmology of the Immortal Rules is that it retcons several things that had been detailed just a year earlier in the Master Rules. The Prime Plane is less special, the Sphere of Entropy is less evil, and the immortals are a little different.
It also contradicts some of the older Basic D&D adventures, particularly CM2: "Death's Ride" (1984), which imagined a Sphere of Death that can't be found anywhere in this more developed cosmology. In general the ideas of dimensions, planes, gods, and immortals were used inconsistently in the Basic D&D line — both before and after the publication of this rule set.
NPCs of Note. The immortals are of course the heart of the Immortal Rules. They're not gods (though some gods appear as immortals). They're also not allowed to "endanger the Prime Plane" — though later adventures would increase this stricture.
And the immortals aren't the biggest powers in tbe Basic D&D cosmology. That would be the Old Ones, who hide in the higher dimensions, and who don't really show up in any other Basic D&D sources.
Monsters of Note. Demons finally appear in the Basic D&D game. They seem to be of the standard types from Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976), though the've been renamed to be the screaming, croaking, howling, groaning, hissing, roaring, and whispering demons. Orcus and Demogorgon also make appearances.
Future History. Parts of Immortals were apparently too outré, so it was rebooted as Wrath of the Immortals (1992).
About the Creators. Frank Mentzer was one of the star creators at TSR in the early to mid '80s, working closely with Francois Marcela-Froideval and Gary Gygax on the most important rulebooks for D&D. Mentzer took total control of Basic D&D around 1982 when Gygax approved the BECMI project, and would remain in that position through his work on the Immortals Set (1986).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.