Thursday, October 13, 2022

On "The Dungeon As A Mythic Underworld"

[This was originally posted as a comment on a Reddit post but, knowing that will disappear down the memory within a few hours, figured it was worth preserving here as well]

In Original D&D (1974) the advice and procedures for creating dungeons were very strange: dungeons were supposed to be infinitely large and ever-changing, filled with a mostly-random assortment of monsters, treasures, tricks and traps with no particular reason or justification, and there were even weirder rules like that doors are always stuck for adventurers but never for dungeon inhabitants, and that all dungeon inhabitants can see in the dark unless they’re in the service of a PC in which case they lose that ability. 

By the time of AD&D and TSR's first published modules (in 1978) Gary Gygax had mostly moved away from that mode of design and towards a more logical and rational style that James Maliszewski later dubbed “Gygaxian naturalism” (though that is something of a misnomer since other folks/games like RuneQuest and Chivalry & Sorcery both went there first and leaned it to it more heavily - Gary always kept one foot in each camp) and the earlier mode was derided as “funhouse” style and looked down upon, and was largely abandoned by the early-mid 80s (The Abduction of Good King Despot, published in 1987, was probably the last gasp of this style of adventure in the Classic Era). Which was a shame, because that kind of game can be a lot of fun, especially compared to overly-ecologized stuff which can be dry and boring (especially when it jumps through so many hoops to explain and justify its “fantastic” elements that it drains the thrill and wonder from them).

Fast forward about 20 years to the early 21st century, and a few of us were trying on forums to revive the legacy of that old style, to bring back more of the sense of freewheeling fun and adventure that we felt had gotten lost and buried in 2E and 3E D&D. So we went back to the earliest material (books, fanzines, and testimonies of first-generation players) and advocated for the way they did it then and that the game could still be played that way and would be as much or more fun than the other approach. But that effort was hampered because people kept harping on the lack of logic and realism - declaring that everything was arbitrary and dumb and simplistic and they couldn’t suspend their disbelief enough to enjoy playing in such an environment.

Frustrated at being put on the defensive and having the same arguments over and over again, a couple of us decided it was worthwhile to come up with a rhetorical justification that went beyond the reductive “it’s just a game lol” excuses. I was reading both Lovecraft’s Dreamlands cycle and Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces at the time and realized that all of the weird elements of funhouse-style D&D made sense in a world of dream-logic and in the context of the mythological hero's journey; combined with the notion already present in D&D lore that almost all of the classic “funhouse dungeons” were built and overseen by a hostile or insane demiurge of divine or near-divine stature (Zagyg, Halaster, Zenopus, Keraptis, Acererack, Ignax the 27th, etc.) and it all kind of came together. I was (I think, but don’t have any receipts to back it up) the first person to articulate the idea of the dungeon as a mythical otherworld that is specifically counter to the normal logic and natural laws that govern not just our world but even the mundane parts of the fantasy world (the towns, wilderness, and “lair-dungeons” that operate on (what would later be called) Gygaxian Naturalist principles); that entering the dungeon is literally crossing the Campbellian Threshold to Adventure into a mythic otherworld. Either way, a friend of mine named Jason Cone (who goes by the forum-handle Philotomy Jurament) took this idea and ran with it, expanding and formalizing it into an essay that he posted on his blog c. 2005ish.

A few years later, following Gygax’s death, the controversial sacred-cow-slaughtering shift to D&D 4E, and the release of OGL “retroclone” games like Labyrinth Lord, there was a sudden upswell of interest in the oldest forms of D&D with tons of blogs (Maliszewski's Grognardia chief among them) popping up on the subject and bringing those old forum discussions to a new and wider audience. These guys were all really taken with Philotomy’s essay on the Dungeon As A Mythic Underworld and it became something of a foundational text to the budding OSR movement, alongside Matt Finch’s Quick Primer for Old School Gaming (which popularized the "rulings, not rules" concept that also grew out of those same forum discussions). Between those two essays, all of the things about 70s-era D&D that had been so roundly dismissed as dumb and primitive and broken in the 80s and 90s now had a sufficient rhetorical and game-philosophical justification that people felt freed up to play that in that "old-school" way and have fun with it without having to feel guilty or defensive about it.

But now, another dozen-plus years later, that’s all ancient history. The maxims of Rulings Not Rules and Dungeon As Mythic Underworld have become OSR dogma, stripped of their original context and purpose - i.e. to oppose the then-dominant contrary trends and justify a style of play that had been denigrated and dismissed for decades. What got lost is that these concepts weren’t posited as the only or best way to play, but as an alternative. We never intended to claim that rules are always bad, or that all dungeons should be mythic underworlds and normal logic and ecology should never be employed. On the contrary, one of the original points of the dungeon as mythic underworld is that it’s an exception to the fantastic-naturalistic logic and ecology that govern the rest of the game-world. To me there’s an ideal balance between rules and rulings, between logic and symbolism, between reality and dreams, that Gygax, Jaquays, Stafford, Perrin and a few others instinctively hit c. 1978-82, that really thrills and inspires me even to this day. The pendulum swung too far in one direction in the 80s-90s and diminished that magic, then our attempted correction in the 00s caused it to swing too far in the other direction with the OSR in the 2010s.

So if you feel [like the Reddit poster this was written in response to] that the Mythic Underworld concept is overused and is too often used as an excuse for lazy or sloppy design, I say that you’re right, and do so as one of the first people to articulate the concept and inspire the guy who popularized it. There’s a place for dream-logic non-naturalistic dungeons, but they should be (at least in my opinion) a fairly minor ingredient in an otherwise Gygaxian Naturalist stew rather than the only ingredient in the pantry.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

"Foster's Miscellany, Volume 1" now available for sale

As mentioned in my last post, I decided to compile the various little house rule and addition tidbits that have accumulated over the last two years since The Heroic Legendarium manuscript was completed into a 20 page pdf which is now officially available at DriveThruRPG as PWYW, under the title Foster's Miscellany, Volume I. No print option because it's only 20 pages (and only 16 of them are actual content), and probably nothing new to anybody who's been reading and downloading content from this blog, but hopefully still worth a look for anyone who liked the Heroic Legendarium (or hasn't bought it yet but would like a cheap preview - about half of the new book is Play Aids that combine HL data alongside the original canon data (class and race info, equipment lists, weapon stats) for convenience at the table.

Since it's PWYW I went ahead and made the preview the entire thing, so you can see what you'll be getting if you purchase it. 

The big adventure-campaign book is still coming eventually (progress has been slow the last month or so but I haven't given up, I swear!) but I figured this was a nice little interim thing which will hopefully be of at least a bit of interest to some folks and will also (hopefully) suffice to get me off of DriveThruRPG's "second class citizen" list where they consign publishers who've only released one title. It also allowed me an opportunity to make a little tribute on to dedication page my dad, who passed away last week, following my mom by just over 13 months (and was an easier way to keep my mind occupied than trying to be creative).

Anyway, I hope y'all will take a look and maybe find at least one or two things that you'll find worth using in your 1E/OSRIC games.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Some new house rules & additions

As a way of procrastinating from doing more work on the adventure-campaign book I've been working on seemingly forever I decided to collect my miscellaneous "OSRIC" house rules and additions that weren't included in The Heroic Legendarium, either because I only came up with them after the contents of that book had been finalized or because for whatever reason I forgot to include them there. A lot of this stuff is pretty simple and minor, to the point that it didn't necessarily need to be formalized in writing, but a couple of them are more substantial and impactful. 

While I'm not so naive as to believe anyone besides me would want to actually use all of these rules and rulings in their games (surely anyone running a 1st edition game at this point has already resolved all of these issues to their satisfaction many years ago), maybe some folks will find something they like here, and - as always - I've already done the work of writing it all up so why not share it, right? So, that said:

Google Drive download link


Update: In a fit of inspiration, I decided to combine this document with the other house rules and play aids I've published here over the last couple years (since the HL text was finalized) into a smallish (20 page) pdf and put it up on DriveThruRPG as PWYW. I'm still a second-class citizen there so it hasn't gone live yet, but should within the next couple days (and when it does I'll probably make another post about it with a link). The Necropolis conversion notes aren't included (both because they're incomplete and because I'm not sure it would actually be legal to upload them for sale there - I know people sell 5E conversion guides for old 1E modules but am not sure what the rules are for that and don't want to take any chances and risk a repeat of last year's Lulu fiasco) but everything else is. Most of you reading this have probably already downloaded anything that you're interested in, but it might still be convenient to have it all in a single file, plus it will at least theoretically reach the people who (shockingly!) don't read this blog.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

D&D Historical Sales Data

Recently game historians Paul Stormberg (at Dragonsfoot) and Ben Riggs (on Facebook) have been sharing a trove of historical sales data from TSR for various D&D and AD&D products. As a nerd, I'm a sucker for this sort of stuff, but was frustrated by the fragmentary and piecemeal nature of it so I decided to copy & paste their numbers into a combined spreadsheet of my own. Once I had collected all of their data and organized it as I wanted it (chronologically by release date, more or less) I also felt the urge to insert placeholders for all of the major items (hardback books and boxed sets) that they did not provide numbers for, which became a massive rabbit-hole because I'd forgotten how many boxed sets TSR released for 2E AD&D (and I have no confidence that I didn't miss some, especially since I had stopped buying any of them by about the end of 1990 - the last two items on the list I ever actually owned were the first Ruins of Undermountain set and the Monstrous Manual - the latter came out a couple years after I'd stopped playing 2E, but I bought it anyway as a reference to replace the terrible looseleaf binders that had preceded it). 

With these numbers conveniently combined, I noticed a couple interesting (to me) bits of trivia. While everybody knows that the D&D Basic Set was TSR's all-time best-selling product, with total sales of over 3 million units, if you separate out the different versions of that set (1977 Holmes, 1981 Moldvay, and 1983 Mentzer), the best-selling single product is actually the 1st edition AD&D Players Handbook (with total sales of more than 1.5 million).

In all, TSR had five items that sold over a million units each:

  1. AD&D Players Handbook, 1st edition (1.57 million)
  2. AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st edition (1.33 million)
  3. D&D Basic Set - Moldvay edit (1.26 million)
  4. AD&D Monster Manual, 1st edition (1.16 million)
  5. D&D Basic Set - Mentzer edit (1.1 million)

Additionally, another 6 products sold over 500,000 units apiece:

  1. AD&D Player's Handbook, 2nd edition (776K)
  2. D&D Basic Set - Holmes edit (639K)
  3. D&D Expert Set - Cook/Marsh edit (619K)
  4. AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, 2nd edition (543K)
  5. AD&D Monster Manual II (541K)
  6. D&D Companion Set (537K)

The D&D Companion Set is a weird anomaly on this list, with a sales trajectory in its first 3 years (1984-86) pretty similar to other products, followed by an inexplicably huge jump in its 4th year (1987) to above what it sold in year one (and more than any other product sold that year, except for the brand-new Dragonlance Adventures AD&D hardback), with sales remaining similarly high for the last 3 years of its product life. I have no way to explain that strange late-in-cycle popularity for this set. I almost wonder if the numbers for those years might be off by a factor of 10 (that TSR's records show 132,000 sales when it was actually 13,200, and the same for the following years), which would be more in line with the trends seen for other products released around the same time (and would put its total sales around 250K - still very respectable). If anybody has an explanation for why these numbers are correct and this several-year-old boxed set was somehow outselling both the core AD&D books and the D&D Basic Set by a wide margin for several years, I'd love to hear it. Possibly AD&D fans were buying it because it included rules for topics (domain management, mass combat, top-end monsters) that weren't really covered in AD&D, but if so, why did they wait until 1987 to start doing so? I was active in the scene in those years (reading Dragon magazine, attending GenCon) and I certainly don't remember the D&D Companion Set being particularly popular or talked-about, and although I had a copy (purchased in 1984) I don't remember anyone else from my gaming circle buying it, and certainly not in 1987-90.

Anyway, this is deep in-the-weeds nerd trivia for sure, but since I spent a couple hours yesterday pulling it all together, I figured I'd make it available for anyone else who might also be interested. Enjoy! 

Google Sheets link

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Plugging Away

As of a month ago I'm now working again on a part-time basis (three days a week). In January I walked away from a position I'd held for over 20 years because I was feeling extremely burned out and over-worked, and took about two months off before starting this new position (which happily pays about the same for 3 days a week as I was earning at the other place working full-time. I had worried that going back to work even part-time would take me away from writing, but I'm happy to report that it has actually done the opposite - the discipline of knowing that I have to cram all of my creative work into the four non-work days (but that I also have those four days available for creative work) has energized me and cleared away a lot of the ennui and procrastination that had kept me from doing much substantive writing (as opposed to low-effort social media posts) during my ostensible break time.

Within those last few weeks I've written about 16,000 words of new adventure material (a bit more than the total word count of "Melonath Falls," which was just under 15K words) detailing 76 rooms across 3 levels of a planned 6 level ~140 room dungeon and am not feeling burned out or blocked - I've got a pretty solid outline of what will be on the remaining 3 levels (and have drawn preliminary maps - one thing I did get accomplished before I went back to work) and feel like I can keep my momentum going and actually get this thing wrapped up. 

It's part of the same setting as Melonath Falls and is a prequel of sorts (since it's intended for 1st-4th level characters instead of 3rd-6th), both based on an ambitious outline I wrote several years ago. It's written in the same style so those who didn't like the first one aren't likely to like this one much either, but I'm pretty happy with what I've got so far and hope that those who did like Melonath Falls will feel this is of-a-piece with it (and hopefully superior, given its larger scope and at least theoretical additional lessons learned based on how the last one was received). I'm very eager to get it in front of some players to see how they'll be able to deal with it, and whether or not I've totally overestimated the capability of  1st-2nd level characters (or possibly underestimated it, but that seems less likely). Writing all this stuff and being excited about it but not being able to share with anyone yet is frustrating! 

The ultimate plan is that once this dungeon is done it, Melonath Falls, some town and outdoor material I wrote a few years ago, and a couple more sections still to be written, will all be combined and published together as a single volume, likely somewhere around 120 pages in length, which can be run as a low-level "campaign in a box" taking characters from 1st to 6th (+) level over a couple dozen sessions, or can be pulled apart and used in bits and pieces as each individual purchaser sees fit. I don't have an ETA on when this will happen yet because I've still got an estimated one-third or so of the thing still to write (and the not-inconsiderable challenge of procuring professional quality maps, art, and ideally a second set of editorial eyes) but with the progress I've made in the last few weeks it definitely feels like things are moving and the end is a lot more realistically in sight than it was before. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

I was interviewed for a Podcast!

This is sort of old news now (since it was posted on three days ago) but in case anyone hasn't already heard, German AD&D (and other old-school wargames) uberfan Settembrini did a 3 hour interview with me for his podcast, which is now available for your listening pleasure. I've heard from people who've listened to the whole thing (or at least claim to have) that it's not totally boring and incomprehensible, so yay! 

I haven't listened to it (because I don't think I could stand to listen to my own voice for 3+ hours) but from memory we talked about (in no particular order and tending to ramble back and forth between topics) why we like AD&D better than BX D&D, my inspirations and methods for creating The Heroic Legendarium (and the bootleg "AD&D Companion" that preceded it), what makes for good adventures and why Temple of Elemental Evil isn't one, my games with Gary in the 80s playtesting Necropolis (and my attempts at leveraging that experience to create an accurate AD&D conversion of it), using miniatures vs theater of the mind, why I like wargames but am not actually very good at them, why and how OSRIC needs to be updated, whether it's possible to make the Upper Outer Planes a location for interesting adventures, and probably some other stuff that I'm forgetting. 

It was fun having a nice long conversation with someone who shares my enthusiasm for this stuff. Maybe it will also be fun to listen in on that conversation... 

Friday, April 8, 2022

Literary and pop-culture examples of AD&D classes

A friend recently asked me if I had a list of literary or pop-culture characters that exemplify the various AD&D classes (in the same manner as the alignment examples I posted a few months back). I didn't, but it seemed like a fun idea so I came up with one. And, having done so, it seemed only fitting to post it here. Of course I've included the classes from The Heroic Legendarium alongside the canonical ones. I'm sure people could find things to quibble with in some of these, especially as some of the classes have been subtly or not-so-subtly redefined in later editions, but I feel all of these matches are good for how I envision the classes and how they were portrayed in the 1st edition books.

Fighter - John Carter of Mars, Hercules, Sinbad, Robin Hood, d’Artagnan (The Three Musketeers),  Odysseus, Thor (Marvel comics), James T. Kirk (Star Trek), Duncan Idaho (Dune)

Barbarian - Conan, Tarzan, Jeremiah Johnson

Hunter - Orion, Daniel Boone, Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games)

Ranger - Aragorn, Natty Bumppo (James Fenimore Cooper), Davy Crockett

Cavalier - Sir Gawain, Sir Tristram, Boromir

Paladin - Sir Galahad, Sir Perceval, Roland Deschain (Dark Tower series)

Cleric - Van Helsing, Friar Tuck, Father Merrin (The Exorcist), Moses

Druid - Merlin, Radagast the Brown, Grizzly Adams

Mystic - Danny Torrance (Doctor Sleep), the Witches (Discworld series), Yoda (Star Wars series)

Magic-User - Gandalf, Circe, Ged/Sparrowhawk (Earthsea series), Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series), Dr. Strange (Marvel comics)

Illusionist - Saruman, Morgan le Fay

Savant - The Doctor (Doctor Who), Spock (Star Trek), Sherlock Holmes

Thief - Bilbo Baggins, the Gray Mouser (Fritz Leiber), Nifft the Lean (Michael Shea), Nuth (Lord Dunsany), Satampra Zeiros (Clark Ashton Smith), Aladdin

Acrobat - John Robie (Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief), Catwoman (Batman), Lupin III

Assassin - Black Widow (Marvel comics), John Wick

Mountebank - Cugel the Clever (Jack Vance), Harry Mudd (Star Trek), Professor Harold Hill (The Music Man)

Monk - Kwai Chang Caine (Kung Fu), Remo Williams (The Destroyer series)

Bard - Orpheus, Alan-a-Dale, Richard Francis Burton, Gurney Halleck (Dune)

Jester - Loki (Marvel comics), The Joker (Batman), Will Scarlet

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Abyss Info Dump

As a companion of sorts to my recent post about the Upper Planes here's a collection of canonical (and quasi-canonical) info about the planes of the Abyss in AD&D. My starting point was the overview in the Demon entry of the Monster Manual II,  supplemented by the extensive notes from Gord's Greyhawk drawn from Gary Gygax's novels Come Endless Darkness and Dance of Demons (which, like all of Gygax's fiction are very weak in terms of plot, characterization, and dialogue, but are a treasure trove of setting info and color and constitute a virtual series of "lost" AD&D supplements) and the expansions and translations of that material into AD&D game format by my friend GT, some of which I've shared here previously with his permission. 

I'm not sure exactly where the line is drawn between what GT drew from Gary and what he created himself (particularly regarding the names and locations of the various lords' and princes' home planes) - some of it is definitely the former, but I suspect some is the latter as well (I tried to peruse the books themselves to verify references but it wasn't easy - it's a pity that when Krista Siren compiled the Gord's Greyhawk database back in the 90s that she didn't include page references!) so full credit and acknowledgment goes to GT for anything included below that was his original material and not something adapted from Gygax.

Like the Upper Planes info, this is an undeveloped info dump, a starting place for further development and additions, not an endpoint. In particular, there are still many princes and lords listed in the MM2 that have not been otherwise detailed. At least some of those names come from actual real-world mythology and folklore and we can surmise and extrapolate what those beings would be like based on those names (as GT has already done with a few of them) but that's a larger scale project that will have to be done over a considerable period of time. When/if I get around to that perhaps I'll do a follow-up post. 

As always, please note that post-Gygax TSR and Wizards of the Coast "official" sources of info on the planes (including the Manual of the Planes, Planescape campaign setting, et al) were not consulted or given any weight when compiling this info, and any resemblance between anything here and in any of those sources is purely coincidental, based on shared inspiration from the Gygax-era works and the real-world myth and folklore that underlies them.

As with the Upper Planes info I compiled all of this for my own use, but realized once I'd done so that it might be useful or inspiring to others as well, and since the work was already done I might as well share it. 

Notes: (F) after name = female demons; names in italics = not on the MM2 list




Demogorgon - MM; He wields the artifact Venomfountain. Demogorgon rules (nominally) over forty layers of the Abyss (429 – 469), inhabited by vicious apes, reptiles, and bird-like monsters but his home is the 444th layer, referred to as Demogorgia. He has several death knights and a large contingent (generally a company of 100) of dusin demons guarding his stronghold at all times.

Graz'zt - MM2; rules an entire layer - Mezzafgraduun, 333rd layer of the Abyss, and levels 332 and 334 are directly ruled by him as well. He also holds nominal power from layer 304 to 346; dedicated foe of both Demogorgon and Orcus; confined to his own plane for a century; served by lamias. Graz'zt’s major artifact is The Eye of Deception.

Lolth (F) - FF; Demon Queen of Spiders; Her plane (“The Demonweb”) is the 66th level of the Abyss.

Marduk - lord of the 666 Type VI demons; owns the Fire Fan

Orcus - MM; rules manifold layers but his home plane is called Morterebus (Level 266). It is a dark and bone-littered plane populated with skeletal monsters, various sorts of zombies, huecuvae, shadows, sheet phantoms, vampires, and death knights. Owns the Rod of Unlife (aka Wand of Orcus).

Zuggtmov (F) - T1-4; Demoness Lady of Fungi; dread and fell ruler of the 222nd ghastly plane of the Abyss (Mycorji); owns the Cauldron of Corruption


Abraxas - Prince of Magic, detailed by GT; His Abyss level is 300, and he has aims to conquer back to Baphomet’s realm and through to Yeenoghu’s realm, which would give him seven levels and place him in a position of antagonism with Graz’zt. Ally of Demogorgon.

Ahrimanes - Prince of Darkness, detailed by GT; This demon prince is one of the most powerful of his kind, inhabiting the ranks of Demogorgon, Orcus, Graz'zt, Zuggtmoy, and such. He has been known to have alliances with Nergel and Ereshkigal when contending against the other greater demon princes; His dark and frigid plane (Drugaskanum) is located very deep within the Abyssal layers (rumored to be the 633rd layer).



Areex - demon prince (eventually conquered by Graz’zt) who plots with Zuggtmoy


Astaroth - detailed by GT; This demon prince is quite powerful and influential; not usually battling abroad as many demon princes and lords do, but content to consolidate his power at home. It is assumed that he merely bides his time in order to eventually become one of the greatest of all demon princes; His realm is called Scientiarrus (the 111th layer) and here he is rumored to hoard assorted arcane tomes and magic items, and retain a force of 40 companies of various demon sorts (mostly Type I – IV)

Azazel - He is a demon lord who is undecided in the wars with Graz’zt.

Dagon - Prince of Aquatic Monsters, detailed by GT; His realm is Dagnazotuus, a liquid plane with hezrou (type II), dretch, octopi, squids, kraken, sea snakes, eels, weird fish, and horrible fish-monsters

Eblis - a demon lord opposing Graz’zt.

Elazalag (F) - She is the overlord of the Abat-dolor demons, whom she rules from her palace in Iyondagur (layer 399). She is seven feet tall and beautiful. She rides a spike encrusted adamantine chariot that is driven by three hippokeres that are harnessed with iron chain. She is elegantly armored in dark chainmail with an adamantine helm and uses a morning star.

Ereshkigal (F) - Princess of the Dead, detailed by GT; Ereshkigal is the demoness queen of a vast, dark plane (Aralu-latari, level 356) of gray dust and stone inhabited by zombies and skeletons (wearing cloaks of gray feathers) and Type I demons. Her citadel is a mighty fortress of stone and baked-clay bricks surrounded by seven concentric stone walls. A Type VI demon of largest size (named Namtar) guards the gate of the outermost wall. Nergel is said to be her consort, and they often work together and co-rule levels 354 and 355.

Fraz-Urb'luu - MM2; Prince of Deception; dwells on a dreary plane (the 363rd) that seems to be totally flat and featureless but is actually alive to his wishes and shapes itself accordingly into hills, caves, etc. The place is not only depressing and sickening but magic items there lose their dweomer. Ally of Demogorgon.

Lugush - demon prince opposing Graz’zt


Nocticula (F)


Palvlag - Demon Lord of Flame; detailed by GT (after Gord novels); Palvlag, like Pazuzu and Shabriri, is a surviving proto-demon; commands 50 Type VI demons

Pazuzu - MM2; Prince of the Lower Aerial Kingdoms; “Proto-Demon,” rules the skies above all layers; does not compete for rulership on any plane or in any place - considers himself above competition; on amicable terms with daemons and dukes of Hell

Shabiri - Demon Lord of Water and Blindness, detailed by GT (after Gord novels); Like Pazuzu, Shabriri is a proto-demon of ancient origin and is on fairly decent terms with some daemon lords. Also like Pazuzu, he possesses an odd sense of humor and enjoys toying with victims and following odd whims.

Socothbenoth - Prince of Succubi and Incubi, detailed by GT; Socothbenoth’s realm is called Erossum, and is the 99th layer of the Abyss. This demon prince relies on diplomacy rather than brute force to maintain its stake in the Abyss.

Ushablator - great demon prince opposed to Graz’zt

Zortolagon - great demon prince opposed to Graz’zt

DEMON LORDS (those who do not have complete sovereignty over an entire layer)

Agadin - minor demon lord allied to Demogorgon


Aldinach (F)

Alrunes (F)

Apepi - a cobra headed demon who wields a khopesh. He has poison spittle

Ardat (F)




Barbu (F)




Baphomet - MM2; lord of minotaurs; wars against Yeenoghu, occasional ally of Graz’zt; His realm is called Shubgottia (Level 296).

Bulumuz - He is a demon lord who is initially undecided in the wars with Graz’zt.


Cagrino - a potent demon lord. He chitters.



Juiblex - MM; rules a plane (the 224th, called Szhubloxa) with slimes, deadly puddings, jellies, and various ameboid monsters; cousin and ally of Zuggtmoy

Kostchtchie - MM2; so hateful that he is disliked by all the rest of his kind; served by leucrotta, frost giants, and white dragons; His home realm is known as Tschyrtolikya, and resembles snow-swept tundra with odd lichen-like growths and strange green-black conifers. It is level 347. He is allied with Graz’zt currently, and serves as a buffer to the forces of Nergel and Ereshkigal.


Mandrillagon - This demon lord is a monstrous, blue-faced parody of a mandril. He has filthy yellow-gray fangs and speaks in roars, coughing, and barking. He controls two planes with his winged monkey demons. He is a long ally and blood kin of Demogorgon, whom he fears. He opposes Graz’zt

Meurteenz - a minor demon lord allied to Demogorgon


Mycortte (F) - The chieftainess of an Abat-dolor region and the chamberlain and vice-princess to Elazalag.


Nergel - Lord of Unlife, detailed by GT (after Gord novels); Nergel is a dark and dour demon lord having dominion over the unliving. He has the fealty of legions of shadows (q.v.) and shadow demons (q.v.) in the Abyss, and occasionally is known to be at odds with Graz’zt; His realm is called Meslamtaius (level 353), and is a benighted realm with dust-covered plains and deep caverns. It is largely inhabited by Type I demons, shadow demons, shadows, manes, skeletons, and zombies. He is consort to Ereshkigal (q.v.).

Nigroch - Elazalag‘s chief warrior and herald. He is accompanied by the Abat-dolor chevaliers.

Ogrijek - lord of the winged Nabassu demons, in charge of the voord and consul to Graz’zt.

Ojukalazogadit - detailed by GT (after Gord novels); a sexless, sprawling, imbecilic mass of chaotic matter that covers an entire layer (the 366th) of the Abyss under a featureless orange sky. Its surface is mostly a disgusting dun color, resembling ulcerous, infected flesh. It constantly seethes, pulses, exudes vile fluids, and extrudes extremities or forms gaping maws; and the entirety reeks of decay. Its consistency ranges from sinking morass to steel-hard chitin. Shrieks, moans, gurgling, rending sounds, and other disturbing noises are constantly emitted by the being in a maddening cacophony.

Poshban - a minor demon lord allied to Demogorgon.

Soneillon (F)

Verin - detailed by GT (after Gord novels); He is lord general and viceroy to Graz’zt, and is utterly loyal to that demon prince. While Graz’zt was imprisoned by Iggwilv, Verin continued to administer his realm until the demon prince returned.

Vloorm - a minor demon lord allied to Demogorgon.

Volophon - a minor demon lord allied to Demogorgon.

Yeenoghu - MM; rules a vast plane abounding with hyenas and hyenadons, gnolls, ghasts, ghouls, and a few trolls; His realm is called Jaklhout and is layer 303. He currently has a nonaggression pact with Graz’zt, such that he serves as a buffer to Graz’zt’s holdings and is not invaded by the forces of that demon prince.

Zerkar - a minor demon lord allied to Demogorgon.

Zabulon - He is a high rakshasa and ally of Verin

Non-Demon Deities Listed as Dwelling in the Abyss

Lu Yueh (Chinese)

Tou Mu (Chinese)

Kali (Indian)

Vaprak (Ogre)

Laogzed (Troglodyte)

Urdlen (Gnome)

Demon Races/Types and Other Abyssal Inhabitants

Type I - Vrock (MM); fight with needle-tined military forks

Type II - Hezrou (MM); fight with jagged blades

Type III - Glabrezu (MM)

Type IV - Gashnulfu (MM); fight with pole axes (individuals: Bilwhr, Johud, Nalfeshnee)

Type V - MM (individuals: Aishapra, Kevokulli, Marilith, Reharemme)

Type VI - Raloogs or Conflagrati; 666 total in the Abyss; kin to the proto-demons (MM) (individuals: Alzoll, Balor, Errtu, Gulcar, Ndulu, Ter-soth, Wendonai)

Abat-dolor - The Abat-dolor are an independent race of demons of which Graz’zt is a member. They are ebon-hued, six-fingered, seven to eight feet tall humanoids. They are more human and more civilized than most demons; yet they are reputed to be the most vicious of all demons. They are broken into the nine clans of pain, each of which has their own lord, with Elazalag serving as their overlord. They are independent of all other demon lords. The soldiers wear polished red bronze plate armor. They are armed with swords, spears, and light crossbows. Some have swivel-mounted antimatter guns which are used as a last resort and only by the order of Elazalag. Mezzafgraduun used to be held by the Abat-dolor under Graz’zt, while he was Elazalag’s consort. However, Iggwilv came to Mezzafgraduun and separated Graz’zt and four clans of Abat-dolor loyal to him from the rest of the Abat-dolor.

Achaierai - FF

Ahazu-demon - These are squarish, lank, long-armed greater demons that are affiliated with Demogorgon. (individual: Talonclast)

Alu-demon - MM2

Babau - MM2

Babau-ogres - larger versions of Babau

Bar-Lgura - MM2

Bodak - MM2

Boorixtroi - They are shuffle-footed, powerful, massive, stupid, lesser demons with disproportionately long right arms and shark-toothed, lipless mouths.

Cambion - MM2

Cataboligne - HL

Chagrin - massive arms, horny hands, long fingers with which they like to break necks and attack with their fists. Red rimmed eyes and an obscenely high pitched voice, but can imitate any human voice that they hear. Have acidic spittle and can produce flame. Are very intelligent. 33 of them are able to move out of the nether pits. Can hide in shadows, and like to sneak up from behind. (individuals: Krung, Yugnoth)

Chasme - MM2

Death Knight - FF

Demonic Beasts - There are 6000 kinds of animal brained demons Type one: elephantine in size, these have hippo bodies, snake necks, and beaked heads; Type two: these are bearlike mastadonian demons.

Demonic Brutes - There are 600 kinds of demon monsters more terrible than the Beasts. These are silent stalkers hunted by the demon lords with entourages of pike-wielding minions, who sometimes become the hunted. The demon lords carry special weapons to hunt the brutes. Many of them are more powerful than dragons.

Dretch - MM2

Dusin - GT

Goristroi - HL (as Grosskopf)

Hippokeres - GT

Kerzow - a demon type

Maluachau - pig demons

Manes - MM

Nabassu - MM2

Nikomars - saucer-eyed demons.

Quasit - MM

Retriever - FF

Rutterkin - MM2

Shadow Demon - FF

Shoosuva - Dragon #63

Skurda - GT

Ssilhex - snake demons.

Succubus - MM

Thang - a demon type with beetle brows.

Thunder Beast - MM2

Vargrineen - another type of Abysmal steed used by the Abat-dolor.

Voord - carrion eating demons. They are under Ogrijek‘s control.

Yatish - a demon type

Yochlol - MM2

Index of Abyssal Planes

1 - There is a maelstrom above this level which is controlled by no one. The plane itself is a desolate dun with leprous ochre growths and livid gashes of terra cotta. In the distance (from Gord and Gellor‘s entry point) stand several tall, flat-topped hills. Nearby is a portal to Layer 303. Also in the bluffs are portals to levels 2 through 21. A few hundred lesser demons live there. These portals are disguised as Bottomless pits, toothed maws, caldrons of lava, a grinding millstone, etc. A metallic sphincter is a gate to level 8.

8 - This layer is a frozen wasteland. There is an entrance on the Soulless Sounding here. It is reached by digging a hole in the frozen ground the size of a bier. Four feet below the surface is a coffin with a crystal lid and a rotting spinning corpse. This is the entrance.

66 - Demonweb - Lolth

99 - Erossum - Socothbenoth

111 - Scientiarrus - Astaroth

222 - Mycorji - Zuggtmoy

224 - Szhubloxa - Juiblex

266 - Morterebus - Orcus (also nominally rules many other layers)

296 - Shubgottia - Baphomet

300 - (unnamed) - Abraxas

303 - Jaklhout - Yeenoghu

333 - Mezzafgraduun - Graz’zt (also directly rules layers 332 and 334 and nominally layers 304-346)

347 - Tschyrtolikya - Kostchtchie

353 - Meslamtaius - Nergel (also co-rules layers 354 and 355 with Ereshkigal)

356 - Aralu-latari - Ereshkigal

363 - (unnamed) - Fraz-Urb’Iuu

366 - Ojukalazogadit

399 - Iyondagur - It is attached to layers 398, 400, and 366. It is held by the Abat-dolor demons. It is not a great strata, but is considered to be a large wild layer. The entrance from the Soulless Sounding is in the middle of the great plaza of Elazalag‘s fortress’s outer courtyard. The palace itself is in the center of the plane (if such a thing can be said). There are many frowning facades of hewn stone blocks hedging in this irregularly shaped area. Squads of Abat-dolor line the parapets on the walls of the square. Princess Elazalag is announced by iron rods pounding on wood and by deep horns that shake the stones. The fortress has a massive portcullis and drawbridge leading to the courtyard.

444 - Demogorgia - Demogorgon (also nominally rules layers 429-469)

633 - Drugaskanum - Ahrimanes

? - Dagnazotuus - Dagon

The Soulless Sounding - This is essentially an express route through the Abyss. There is an entrance on the eighth plane. It is reached by digging a hole in the frozen ground the size of a bier. Four feet below the surface is a coffin with a crystal lid and a rotting spinning corpse. This is the entrance. Inside are all things and nothing. It is very gloomy and sad. It is full of lost loves and melancholy dreams. Distance is variably distorted. It connects with 600 layers of the Abyss including most of the middle ones. It does not reach the first layer. It is a mind twisting passage and only the very strong can tolerate it for very long. The portal leading to Iyondagur (layer 399) consists of iridescent striations like black opal and silver, hammered into six horseshoe-shaped arches. The gate closest to the Iyondagur gate leads to a cold windswept waste plane filled with icy rock and scrub. This unnamed layer is full of demonic brutes and is adjacent to Mezzafgraduun (layer 333).

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Brainstorm notes on the Upper Planes

Gary Gygax devoted a fair amount of attention and detail to the Lower Planes of AD&D, in both the rulebooks and especially his Gord novels, but left the Upper Planes mostly untouched except for names and a few supernatural creatures that dwell there (ki-rin, titans, baku, hollyphants, devas, etc.). His reason for doing so was presumably twofold - firstly that such realms don't offer the same sort of adventuring potential as the lower planes (putting Good deities to the sword and looting their stuff doesn't have quite the same appeal of doing the same to hordes of demons and devils), and secondly that as someone who was strongly religious in his personal life Gary was always very careful about "treading too close" to subjects and content that impinged upon real-world Judeo-Christian religion.

Nevertheless, even if there's not so much adventuring potential on these planes there is value in detailing them from a worldbuilding perspective, to give players a sense of what those realms are like (and what their characters can expect after death), as well as to provide a foundation to build upon in the event travel to one or more of these planes (intentionally or otherwise) does come up in play.

In that spirit, I've collected both notes from the AD&D canon of what is known about each of the Upper Planes (including which creatures and deities dwell in each of them) and have added some color and flavor of my own based on what felt fitting and appropriate for each plane. These are rough notes from a couple days of brainstorming activity and not intended to be complete or final, only a starting point and outpouring of ideas and inspirational nuggets to guide and inform potential future development.

Note that any resemblance between the below and other post-Gygax depictions of these planes (including TSR's Manual of the Planes and Planescape) is wholly coincidental and comes only from being derived from the same base (Gygax-era) source material.


Weather is calm towards the lawful planes, turbulent towards the chaotic planes; climate is universally mild (warm or cool depending on specific plane/level) - it never rains on the lawful plains (but doesn’t create drought conditions), it rains (or snows) daily on the chaotic planes (but doesn’t create floods); it is never full night on the upper planes - daylight fades (in scintillating reds and oranges) to perpetual post-twilight with deep indigo sky and brilliant starlight; on the neutral planes there are always puffy white clouds in the western sky and menacing storm clouds in the eastern sky.

All senses (vision, hearing, smell/taste, and even feel) are sharpened and amplified on the upper planes, but at the same time visitors always have a sense of detachment and unreality similar to a waking dream or hallucination - it all feels “too real” to be real.

Food and drink are plentiful on all upper planes (type depending on the plane) and require minimal effort in cultivation and preparation; eating a meal of upper planes food will instantly refresh the eater, functioning as a combined elixir of health, potion of vitality, and potion of extra healing (effective once per day per individual), however, for every such meal consumed the eater has a cumulative 10% chance per meal of completely and permanently forgetting their mortal life. Any food or drink taken away from its native plane loses all extraordinary powers and becomes normal food in all respects.

Architectural style, clothing, cuisine, types of flora and fauna, and all other visual trappings are variable based on the culture and expectations of the visitor - everything will always appear comfortable and familiar but may well appear differently to a visitor (or deceased soul) from a different culture or alternate prime plane. The deities who dwell in and rule over each plane are able to modify such appearances at will, as often as desired.

The primary and most common inhabitants of all the upper planes are mortal souls of humans and demi-humans (save elves, whose spirits dwell temporarily in Alfheim before being sent back to the mortal realm). The lawful planes are densely populated towns, the neutral planes less so (small villages of at most a couple hundred souls), and the chaotic planes are sparsely populated (single-family homesteads). In their natural state these souls have no memory of their mortal existence (or more than a few days in the past) and are wholly content to repeat endlessly their narrow pattern of post-mortal existence (though certain spells, such as Speak With Dead, will temporarily bring back their mortal memories). They do not fight (except for those who feed themselves by hunting) or use any magic. They can all communicate with each other and any other person or animal via telepathy. They cannot be permanently killed by physical means (they regenerate 1 hp/turn from all forms of damage and will always be fully restored within 24 hours) though some spells - such as Destruction - may do so. They will never willingly leave their plane/level unless extraordinary magic is employed. If attacked all animals in the area (which are actually immortal spirits in animal form) will come to their defense. If that is not sufficient, the more powerful supernatural beings native to that plane will intercede and the offenders will be detained, ejected, or slain depending on the magnitude of their offense. The majority of post-mortal souls dwell on the first level of each plane - the mass of regular, mundane individuals of the corresponding alignment. The upper levels of the planes are inhabited by the souls of the most pious and exemplary, the heroes and saints of the various religions.

Inhabitants of the Upper Planes generally: Agathion, Deva, Hollyphant, Planetar, Solar

[See also Heroic Legendarium p. 89 for guidelines regarding how magic items and spells are affected on the Outer Planes]


Endless Town (cobbled and lighted streets and open squares with inviting cafes and taverns and shops, comfortable bourgeois homes (warm hearths, soft beds, plush sitting chairs), no garbage or foul smells, no rats or pestilence, no crime)
  1. Rustic suburbs (gardeners (vegetables, herbs, small livestock) - St. Cuthbert, The Protector)
  2. Midtown (crafters and artisans - Pholtus, dwarf gods)
  3. High street (bankers, jewelers, luxury goods - Marduk)
Inhabitants: n/a

Deities: St. Cuthbert (Greyhawk), Pholtus (Greyhawk), Marduk (Babylonian), Moradin (Dwarf), Berronar (Dwarf), Clanggedin Silverbeard (Dwarf), The Protector (my pantheon)


Endless Leisure (1st level is an endless beach with warm water and gentle tides, higher levels are ivory buildings and amphitheaters on puffy white clouds)
  1. Sport (Girru)
  2. Games (chess, etc) (Heironeous, The Father)
  3. Intellectual pursuit (philosophy, debate) (Chung Kuel, ki-rin)
  4. Sculpture & painting (Ebisu)
  5. Dance (Kuan Yin, platinum dragon)
  6. Music (Surya)
  7. Poetry (Vishnu)
Inhabitants: Platinum Dragon, Ki-rin, (Lammasu), (Shedu)

Deities: Heironeous (Greyhawk), Girru (Babylonian), Chung Kuel (Chinese), Kuan Yin (Chinese), Surya (Indian), Vishnu (Indian), Ebisu (Japanese), The Father (my pantheon)


Endless Savannah (wild cattle, horses, and dogs, antelope, impalas, gazelles, zebras, giraffes, elephants, buffalo, rhinos, etc.)
  1. Lowlands (Epimetheus, Halfling gods, The Mother)
  2. Uplands (Ukko, Gnome gods, air maidens)
Inhabitants: Air Maiden

Deities: Ukko (Finnish), Epimetheus (Greek), Garl Glittergold (Gnome), Baervan Wildwanderer (Gnome), Segojan Earthcrawler (Gnome), Flandal Steelskin (Gnome), Yondalla (Halfling), Arvoreen (Halfling), Cyrollalee (Halfling), The Mother (my pantheon)


Endless River (self-maintaining croplands on either bank - wheat, barley, millet, sorghum, lentils, peas, beans, dates, figs, watermelons, pomegranates, coriander, cumin, coffee, sugar cane, rice)
  1. Delta (Egyptian gods, The Grower, phoenix) 
  2. Lower river (Ishtar, baku)
  3. Upper river (Sumerian gods)
  4. Headwaters (other gods, moon dog)
Inhabitants: Baku, Moon Dog, Phoenix

Deities: Ishtar (Babylonian), Isis (Egyptian), Seker (Egyptian), Ushas (Indian), Tsukiyomi (Japanese), Bragi (Norse), Enlil (Sumerian), Nanna-Sin (Sumerian), Nin-Hursag (Sumerian), The Grower (my pantheon)

Happy Hunting Grounds

Endless Forest (elk, deer, moose, squirrels, birds; fruit, nuts, berries, mushrooms)
  1. Boreal (American gods, Brother Sun)
  2. Temperate (Skerrit)
  3. Jungle (Bast)
Inhabitants: Thunderbird

Deities: Raven (American), Hotoru (American), Snake Man (American), Bast (Egyptian), Skerrit (Centaur), Brother Sun (my pantheon)


Endless Mountain (storms)
  1. Forested foothills (Alfheim - elf gods)
  2. Slopes & vales (pastoral (sheep, goats, alpaca, rabbits) - Nephthys, foo creatures)
  3. Cloud-capped heights (godsland - Greek gods, titans, eudaimones)
Inhabitants: Titan, Foo Creature, Eudaimon, (Opinicus)

Deities: Nephthys (Egyptian), Zeus (Greek), Aphrodite (Greek), Apollo (Greek), Ares (Greek), Artemis (Greek), Athena (Greek), Demeter (Greek), Dionysus (Greek), Hera (Greek), Hermes (Greek), Nike (Greek), Poseidon (Greek), Prometheus (Greek), Tyche (Greek), Corellon Larethian (Elf), Deep Sashelas (Elf), Rillifane Rallathil (Elf), Aerdrie Faenya (Elf), Erevan Ilsere (Elf), Solonor Thelandria (Elf), Hanali Celanil (Elf), Labelas Enoreth (Elf)


Endless Adventure
  1. Midgard (realm of endless cliffs, fjords, volcanoes; storm-tossed sea - Tritherion, Indian, Japanese gods)
  2. Asgard (realm above (mountain-tops) - Norse gods, The Son, valkyries)
  3. Niflheim (realm below (caves) - includes Muspelheim, Nidavelir, Svartalfheim)
Inhabitants: Valkyrie

Deities: Tritherion (Greyhawk), Karttikeya (Indian), Lakshmi (Indian), Hachiman (Japanese), Oh Kuni Nushi (Japanese), Odin (Norse), Aegir (Norse), Balder (Norse), Forseti (Norse), Frey (Norse), Freya (Norse), Frigga (Norse), Heimdall (Norse), Idun (Norse), Loki (Norse), Magni (Norse), Modi (Norse), Sif (Norse), Thor (Norse), Tyr (Norse), Uller (Norse), Vidar (Norse), The Son (my pantheon)

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Melonath Falls Rumors

 Last summer I wrote an AD&D adventure (actually an extract from a larger work-in-progress) called "Melonath Falls" and submitted it to Prince of Nothing's "No Artpunk" Contest where it ultimately placed as the runner-up and is now available for purchase (only as a pdf, alas) with the proceeds going to charity (for the time being - eventually it will become a free download instead, but don't wait for that). I wrote the adventure quickly and didn't get a chance to playtest it prior to submission - what I submitted is effectively a first draft - but since Prince liked it I let him publish it more-or-less as-is 

Not everybody liked it as well as he did, and one of the complaints was that I didn't provide enough aids to make it easy to run. In an attempt to rectify that (and as an aid to myself because I might finally be running it myself sometime soon) I came up with and am presenting here a table of rumors to help get a party of adventurers oriented and provide a bit more info about the place and inhabitants before they get dropped into the deep end.  

The "core" hook for the adventure is that the PCs have been adventuring (or otherwise spending time) in the town of Warnell and have learned from the locals about Melonath Falls, a spectacular 400' tall waterfall in the forest about a day's travel north of town and famous local landmark. In addition to being a spectacular sight in itself there are also known to be caves behind the falls and it has come to the party's attention that a band of "blue goblin" bandits who have been causing trouble in the area (attacking merchants and travelers along the river) have established a base there. So the party has either decided on their own or been sent by the government of Warnell (as suits the circumstances of the campaign) to scout and explore the area, see what the blue goblins are up to and what their strength is, and to hopefully put an end to their depredations and even recover some of the stolen trade goods if possible.

Beyond that, each PC gets one roll on the following table. It's likely multiple PCs will hear the same rumor (though the DM is free to make minor alterations to obscure this, if desired) and they can share their info with the other players or keep it to themselves. Spending an evening bar-hopping (and 10-60 g.p. on drinks and tips) allows another roll, but only if the players specifically ask about the possibility (don't volunteer it).

Roll 2d6 (-1 for Lower SEC characters; +1 for Upper SEC characters)

2 (or -) Within the highest cave behind the falls is a shrine to a forgotten river god (T)

3 The tribe of blue goblins dwelling in the caves behind the falls are particularly favored by their patron rat-god (T)

4 A giant catfish dwells in the pool beneath the falls (T)

5 The blue goblins in the caves behind the falls are led by a human magic-user (F)

6 The caves behind the falls are all connected to each other via secret passages (B)

7 There are multiple caves behind the falls, including at least one underwater cave (T)

8 Blue goblins are behind the local lotus blossom smuggling ring (B)

9 The blue goblin bandits are in league with a local wine merchant who is siccing them on his competitors in order to corner the local market (F)

10 The blue goblins are magic-resistant due to eating fungi that grow in the caves (F)

11 The blue goblins in the caves behind the falls are allied with a gang of rat-people (T)

12 (or +) Boss Bowlton’s [i.e. the lord-mayor of Warnell] missing daughter was kidnapped by blue goblins (B)

T = rumor is true

F = rumor is false

B = rumor is partially true but also contains a substantial false component