Silently, ponderously, they float through the Astral Plane, mammoth isles of rock adrift in an endless sea of silver. Once they were gods. Now they're little more than debris, petrified husks of fading belief and forgotten prayer. Yet for many, their memories linger, their dreams live on - and for some, those dreams are terrifying nightmares of vengeance, and conquest, and death.
Dead Gods is a 176 page adventure book featuring two scenarios that can be played separately or linked together.
In the first, the heroes are drawn into an epic quest to uncover the secrest behind the retuns of an infamous AD&D villain long thought dead. In the second, the city of Sigil threatens to explode in a faction war for control of an old church and a mysterious force lurking within it.
Dead Gods also features a Monstrous Compendium entry for a brand new fiend, full color illustrations to bring scenes alive for players, and a poster sheet of maps for the Dungeon Master.
Dead Gods builds on story elements first explored in the Planescape adventure anthology The Great Modron March, though that product is not required to use this one.
For 4 to 6 Characters of 6th to 9th levels.
Dead Gods (1997), by Monte Cook, is a Deluxe Adventure for Planescape. It was published in November 1997.
Origins (I): Onward with Planescape. Hellbound: The Blood War (1996) presented something new for Planescape: a "Deluxe Adventure", which meant a mega-sized adventure for extended play — pretty much a new take on the "super modules" of the '80s. But Dead Gods (1997) is more than that; it's not only another Deluxe Adventure, but also a major bit of metaplot, continuing directly on from the events of The Great Modron March (1997), an anthology adventure published just a month earlier.
(Actually, Dead Gods consists of two adventures, "Out of the Darkness" and "Into the Light", but it's the former that's the highlight of the book and what most people are referring to when they talk about the Dead Gods adventure, so this history follows on that trend, talking about exclusively about "Out of the Darkness".)
Origins (II): Farewell to Hysteria. In Planescape Campaign Setting (1994), TSR downplayed the word "gods", preferring "powers". This was part of TSR's general move away from words like "demons", "devils", and "hell" that was a reaction to the fearful D&D hysteria of the '80s. So, it was somewhat surprising to see the word "gods" right in the title of this new adventure, Dead Gods!.
But TSR was reversing its concessions to the "moral" minority in its last days. They became more willing to use words like "god" and "demon" again, such as in this book. In fact, Wizards would shortly publish another of TSR's final books, "A Paladin in Hell" (1998), which used another of the forbidden words that had been avoided in the later '90s.
Adventure Tropes: Episodic Campaigns. The concept of episodic campaigns is rarely used in published adventures. The basic idea is that adventures that are part of a larger campaign can be separated by other stories — creating a more organic whole, rather than a slow trudge through obligatory plot points.
Not only does the "Out of the Darkness" adventure in Dead Gods offer the possibility of episodic play, where other adventuring happen in between the major plot points, but it one-ups that: the book's other adventure, "Into the Light" is designed to be interwoven with "Out of the Darkness". A complex chart shows how to position the "parts" of the second adventure between the "chapters" of the first. It's a clever bit of alternative adventure plotting that isn't found anywhere else in the D&D corpus.
Adventure Tropes: Many Styles of Play. As with most adventures of the '90s, "Out of the Darkness" is built around event-driven play, where players must react to a variety of set events, chapter after chapter. With that said, there's a lot of variety within the adventure, including sandboxes in Crux (chapter II) and the Vault of the Drow (chapter VI), a murder investigation (chapter III), and a fortress crawl (chapter V). This offers players a lot more agency than most of the event-driven adventures of the time period.
Adventure Tropes: Mysterious Motivations. NPCs working in the background, plotting and manipulating the events that underlie an adventure, was another trope of the '90s. In "Out of the Darkness" it's Orcus working to retrieve his Wand … and the players may never understand many of his actions. In fact the GM only understands them through a trope repeated from The Great Modron March: interludes reveal what Orcus is doing throughout the campaign.
Adventure Tropes: Flashback! In chapter VII of "Out of the Darkness", players are given the opportunity to "vicariously experience" past events. This means that the players get to roll up new characters to temporarily take part in a historic adventure. The ideas of a flashback where the players play alternate characters was a real rarity in D&D play.
Metaplotting Along. The Great Modron March ended with the revelation that Primus, the leader of the modrons was dead. A story epilogue revealed the rest of the story: that a powerful entity had returned for the dead for vengeance and was seeking a certain object that he'd located in the Lower Planes. He'd killed Prime solely to gain information on the object's location. It was all a big setup for Dead Gods.
Dead Gods reveals the rest of the story: the killer was Tenebrous, a new incarnation of Orcus, whose death had first been hinted at back in Planes of Chaos (1994). Now Orcus might finally be resurrected — but probably not, unless the characters really mess up.
Almost the entire metaplot story of Orcus' death and possible return is found in this single book, with Planes of Chaos and The Great Modron March just hinting at what's found here.
As with any good metaplot, this one has results. Well, mainly it has dead gods: Bwimb (Baron of Ooze), Xamaxtli (god of fate), Maanzecorian (illithiad god of secrets), Primus (ruler of the modrons), and Tomeri (goddess of wisdom and love). But, there wouldn't be much time to dwell on these changes, as the closure of the Planescape line would soon end this metaplot in its metatracks.
Exploring the Great Wheel. Sigil is the heart of most Planescape adventures: it's the center of "Into the Light", which includes some nice details on the Lower Ward and its Ubiquitous Wayfarer inn, and the home base for "Out of the Dark", which returns to it a few times. The nearby Outlands also get a little attention in "Out of the Dark", which touches upon The Rotting Oracle, the mine of Chariamur, the burg of Ironridge, and the Realm of the Norns (and includes a nice map of these locales).
Like many Planescape adventures, "Out of the Dark" quickly goes further afield. The best-detailed and most central locale is certainly Yggdrasil, especially the city of Crux (which gets its own chapter). Characters then make a rare visit to the negative energy plane and journey to Pelion (the third layer of Arborea) before visiting Agathion (the fourth layer of Pandemonium). The adventure finally ends in the Astral Plane. There are a few brief stops in other planes (and alternate prime material planes and demiplanes!) making this a very wide-ranging adventure, but they're not as important (or as detailed) as these locales.
Exploring Greyhawk. Rather surprisingly, the Vault of the Drow from D3: "Vault of the Drow" (1978) makes a return in chapter VI of "Out of the Darkness". There's a nice history of the events of the GDQ series (1978-1980) that even clarifies some things, followed by a run-down of what's happened since.
NPCs of Note. Orcus is of course the most important NPC of "Out of the Darkness". His fate and history throughout the Planescape line is revealed, as is new identity as Tenebrous. However, his resurrection probably fails, theoretically leaving the multiverse still Orcus-free.
Orcus' killer, Kiaransalee, is frequently named-checked in "Out of the Darkness", but doesn't play a particularly notable role
Finally, D&D's favorite lich, Acererak, is briefly mentioned. It's said that he helped to bring Orcus back as Tenebrous, perhaps inadvertently: "Somewhere on the Prime, a lich named Acererak stirred up the dark suspension of the Negative Energy Plane with a barmy scheme." This connection between to the two entities would grow in Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998).
Artifacts of Note. The artifact that Orcus is searching for in "Out of the Darkness" is, of course, the Wand of Orcus, one of the most popular MacGuffins in D&D history. There's even a nice history of the wand, which reveals that the iconic skull atop the wand came from a hero named Anarchocles — though the fourth edition Monster Manual (2008) would later contradict that, saying "the skull atop the wand once belonged to a god of virtue and chivalry who dared challenge Orcus in battle." An alternative possibility better keeps with this history: "Other legends identify it as the skull of a human hero, but if that is true, it has been magically enlarged to its current size."
Much as with the long-ago "H" adventure series (1985-1988), one of the goals of "Out of the Darkness" is to destroy the Wand of Orcus (or send it away).
Future Histories. "Mysteries of the Dead Gods", by Monte Cook, in Dragon #240 (October 1997) talks more about how dead gods appear on the astral plane.
About the Creators. Monte Cook was one of Planescape's core authors in its later days. He got his start on the line with his contributions to Planes of Chaos (1995) and also was one of the co-authors for The Great Modron March (1997). He'd complete the trilogy of massive metaplot books for Planescape with his co-authorship of Faction War (1998).
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.