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Though monsters have worshiped many gods over the years, Tiamat was the first.
Tiamat has made a big return in Tyranny of Dragons, but monstrous deities have been a central element of D&D since its earliest days. There were three great sources of monstrous deities in the 1970s and '80s: the dragons, the demons and devils, and the world of Greyhawk. Since then, monstrous deities have proliferated.
The Primal Dragon Deities: 1975–1987
You won’t find any references to deities in either Chainmail (1971) or OD&D (1974). Instead, they quietly slipped into the game in Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975). There, the dragons acquired two rulers. The platinum dragon, “king of lawful (and neutral) dragons,” is said to live in “a great palace behind the east wind”; while the chromatic dragon, “queen of the chaotic dragons,” receives no geographic detail, but gets plenty of description—revealing her as a five-headed creature, striped in the colors of the five chaotic dragons, with the tail of a wyvern.
These two draconic rulers returned in the AD&D Monster Manual (1977), which gives more description including their names: Bahamut and Tiamat. Though they continued to be described as monsters, it became obvious that these two rulers were actually draconic deities, as Tiamat is reported to rule the first layer of the Nine Hells. Bahamut had to wait until the Manual of the Planes (1987) to get a definitive and deific extraplanar home, but it was worth the wait because he got two: one in the Seven Heavens and one in the Plane of Air.
Both of these draconic deities received good attention throughout the ’80s. Tiamat appeared as a recurring villain in the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon (1983–1985). Meanwhile, both Bahamut and Tiamat appeared prominently in the Dragonlance Chronicles adventures (1984–1986) under the new names of Paladine and Takhisis. The last two Chronicles adventures even spotlighted the deities: in DL13 Dragons of Truth (1986) the Companions journey to the Glitterpalace of Paladine, while in DL14 Dragons of Triumph (1986) they invade the temple of Takhisis.
After the ’80s, Bahamut and Tiamat continued to appear in a variety of deity and monster books, but they’d never again reach the prominence they’d seen in the ’80s . . . until now.
In the meantime, many other monstrous deities arose.
Fiendish Lords: 1976–1997
The demon princes were the second set of monstrous deities to appear in D&D. They first were revealed in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976), which detailed Demogorgon and Orcus. The AD&D Monster Manual (1977) supplemented the demon princes’ numbers with Juiblex and Yeenoghu and also premiered the arch-devils: Asmodeus, Baalzebul, Dispater, and Geryon. Many more have appeared over the years, such as the demons Baphomet, Fraz-Urb'luu, Graz’zt, and Pazuzu and the devils Belial, Mammon, and Moloch—all of whom were found in Monster Manual II (1983).
Just as the draconic deities got to play a major role in Dragonlance, the demon lord Orcus got his first chance to shine in another of AD&D’s classic adventures. Though the Bloodstone Pass (1985–1988) series began as a military adventure that highlighted Battlesystem (1985), it ended with the PCs fighting Orcus and stealing his wand!
Unfortunately for those who enjoyed these monsters, demons, devils, and their deities all faced a major setback with the publication of AD&D second edition (1989). They didn’t appear until MC8: Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix (1991) and then their names were changed: the demons had become tanar’ri and the devils had become baatezu.
In later second edition days, they got to play a larger role thanks to the Planescape Campaign Setting (1994). Hellbound: The Blood War (1996) revealed an ancient enmity between the fiendish races, while Faces of Evil: The Fiends (1997) provided even more details on devils, demons, and their lords alike. Then Dead Gods (1997) shook things up when the drow goddess Kiaransalee killed Orcus, who was reborn as Tenebrous!
Dead Gods was a delightful mash-up of multiple monstrous deities that showed how important they had become to the D&D mythology following two decades of detailed evolution. As for Kiaransalee, this wasn’t her first appearance: we’ll return to that after a short digression through the World of Greyhawk.
The Evil Gods of Greyhawk: 1976–2000
The world of Greyhawk was the third major source of monstrous deities for the D&D game. That setting’s affinity for evil deities dates back to the earliest days of Gary Gygax’s Castle Greyhawk campaign, where players accidently set free the malevolent demigod Iuz—who had been imprisoned by the mad wizard Zagig. Similarly, many of the demon lords in Monster Manual II (1983) came from Gary Gygax’s The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (1982).
At least a half-dozen other important evil or monstrous deities appeared in Greyhawk supplements of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s; today, they continue to be some of the most evocative entities in D&D lore.
Lolth, the spidery goddess of the drow, was the first major evil deity to appear in print Greyhawk supplements. She was first mentioned in the Descent adventure series (1978) and then came fully onstage in Queen of the Demonweb Pits (1980). She’s since become one of D&D’s best-known monster deities—especially in the stories of the Forgotten Realms’ Underdark. Ironically, Lolth wasn’t supposed to be the major villain of the GDQ series at all: it appears that the Elder Elemental God was intended for the role, but things changed when Dave Sutherland took over the writing of Q1.
Zuggtmoy, the fungus goddess, is best known for being the Big Bad of The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985), though once more Gary Gygax had apparently intended the Elder Elemental God to be the boss monster. However, things changed when he passed his adventure off to another designer—this time Frank Mentzer. Zuggtmoy has never had another starring role, but she’s appeared in various articles and codexes over the year.
Tharizdun, a Lovecraftian god of nothingness, premiered in The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (1982). He would not return to prominence until after the AD&D second edition era.
Iuz, the cambion demigod, made his first major appearance in Dragon 67 (November 1982), which detailed his stats and background. Though he was mentioned in Temple of Elemental Evil (1985) and the Gord the Rogue novels (1985–1988), he only came into his own in Greyhawk’s From the Ashes era (1992–1993). That’s when he got his own country, as detailed in the eponymous Iuz the Evil (1993).
Iggwilv, Iuz’s witchy mom, was first mentioned in The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1982) where another of her children appears: the vampiric Drelzna. Iggwilv stayed mostly in the background for decades but was still a name players would recognize.
Vecna, the one-eyed, one-handed lich, was first alluded to in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976). However, he finally got to appear in some adventures in AD&D’s second edition days: Vecna Lives (1990), Vecna Reborn (1998), and Die Vecna Die! (2000). The last was a notable adventure because it was a grand finale for AD&D second edition that featured both Iuz and Vecna as villains—making it another of the biggest monstrous deity mash-ups in D&D history.
Codifying the Mythology: 1980–1992
The monstrous deities that appeared during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s were scattered: demonic, devilish, and draconic deities could be found in various monster manuals, while the maleficent gods of Greyhawk were spread across numerous adventures. However, a few more concerted attempts to detail monstrous deities appeared over the years.
It began with AD&D’s Deities & Demigods (1980). Though the book mainly focused on historical pantheons, Lawrence Schick detailed a number of monstrous deities. Lolth reappeared, and several humanoid deities were revealed for the first time ever, including Vaprak the god of ogres and Gruumsh the god of orcs.
Roger E. Moore then wrote a series of articles for Dragon 58–63 (February–July 1982) that focused on humanoid and demihuman deities. New gods appeared for the kobolds, orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, and gnolls.
The biggest sourcebook ever for monstrous deities was Carl Sargent’s aptly named Monster Mythology (1992). Though it didn’t feature fiendish deities or the evil gods of Greyhawk, almost everyone else was there. Among the names that appeared were Bahamut, Tiamat, Kiaransalee (the future assassin of Orcus), Gruumsh, Vaprak, and many more.
If you were to pick out the monstrous deity highlights during the age of AD&D, the deific battles found in Dead Gods and Die Vecna Die! would be two of them, but Monster Mythology with its collection of about one hundred monstrous deities would clearly be the third.
Latter-Day Deities: 2000–Present
During AD&D’s second edition era (1989–2000), a mythology that dated back to the ’70s finally came together into a rich and expansive whole. Since then, the monstrous deities of D&D have been extensively referenced and occasionally used in adventures.
In D&D third edition days, monstrous deities mainly appeared in major sourcebooks, including Deities and Demigods (2002), Faiths and Pantheons (2002), Book of Vile Darkness (2002), Libris Mortis (2004), Complete Divine (2004), Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss (2006) and Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells (2006). Meanwhile Elder Evils (2007) presented new alien monstrosities to expand the world of monstrous deities, while “The Demonomicon of Iggwilv” (2005–2009) extensively described many fiendish deities in Dragon and Dungeon magazines.
Monstrous deities also appeared in D&D third edition in a series of nostalgic adventures. Expedition to the Demonweb Pits (2007) featured Lolth, while Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk (2007) included both Iuz and Iggwilv. The most interesting deific adventure of the third edition era might have been Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (2001), which now starred Tharizdun. In that adventure, the Elder Elemental God finally turned up... but he was revealed as a mask for Tharizdun, not an entity of his own.
D&D fourth edition included one of the biggest monster deity campaigns ever. Orcus was back and he was the ultimate enemy of Wizards’ mammoth 9-book “HPE” adventure path (2008–2009), which ended with Prince of Death (2009).
Finally with fifth edition, it’s back to the basics: Tiamat was the first monstrous deity to ever appear, in Supplement I: Greyhawk, and now she’s the most recent monstrosity as well, thanks to her starring role in the Tyranny of Dragons adventure series (2014).
With the classic feel of fifth edition, could other monstrous deities be around the corner? Only time will tell.