The Dreams of Ruin aren’t a natural phenomenon - they were created by someone (or someones) who wanted the multiverse to get a little more Chaotic Evil. In my X-COM campaign it was all the work of the Ebon Masters,who make no particular effort to hide that fact as they use the Dreams as a weapon of conquest and a tool of terraforming. But in the original text the identity of the people who created the Dreams is supposed to be a mystery.
Geoff C. Grabowski, the book’s author, mentioned in a thread over at the RPG.net forums that you could find the real culprit from clues present in the book by looking at the Deities and Demigods supplement for AD&D 1st Edition. He couldn’t mention that in the book itself because it would violate the OGL, and was apparently reluctant to point fingers explicitly for the same reason.
Well, I got Deities & Demigods during a recent DTRPG sale, and I have no legal ties to the Dreams of Ruin, so let’s try to figure out who’s to blame for this mess!
Clues in Dreams of Ruin
Anyone trying to look into this mystery directly will eventually come across a vision of the Malediction that opens the book - you know, the bit with Old Woman Crow and and the Wind. That vision was put in place to hide the true identities of the perpetrator(s) of the Dreams, but it does make some allegories to the actual process. Investigating the process itself yields more clues, which are listed in a section near the end of the book. All of them are stated in AD&D 1st Edition terms:
Creating the Dreams requires the abilities of a 20th-level Magic User, a 20th-level Illusionist, a 14th-level Cleric, and a 14th-level Druid. Those are minimum levels - the perpetrators either had plenty of time or lots of extra power. If one of them was a god of some sort they could even fulfill multiple prerequisites.
The Illusionist was likely the mastermind, as Illusionist spells are the basis on which the system was built.
The Druid was largely responsible for designing the ecology of the Dreams and might have used this expertise as a bargaining chip to get included.
The work involved a truly ridiculous amount of wishes and limited wishes, among many other spell effects.
Four cards from the Deck of Many Things were involved. One of them was the Moon, which grants a wish, which means the perpetrators might have found a way to cheat the Deck and draw as many Moons as they wanted.
The result of the process was a single spore, created by a final limited wish cast by the illusionist which brought all the other factors together. This spore then multiplied on its own and brought forth all the other horrors in the book.
What’s In Deities and Demigods
Knowing old D&D supplements were “quirky” and actually experiencing it are two different things. A lot of modern books try to emulate this style, but this thing here is the genuine article. The layout and typography are readable enough, but they give me this feeling of being amateurish. It’s not something the authors were trying to do on purpose either, like in the Dungeon Crawl Classics line - this really was the best they could do at the time. The introduction also has Gary Gygax boasting about how writing the book involved extensive consultations with himself, which is, uh, something.
I’ve heard a lot about how this book was nothing but a jumped-up bestiary, but the introduction says exactly the opposite! It advises the GM to use the information as reference for roleplaying and to not treat the deities as just a collection of stats. I guess the reason they get full stat writeups is that the concept that you didn’t need to stat everything up hadn’t yet become popular. Which is kinda ironic considering the complaints about “games these days” from hardline old-school adepts.
Anyway, the book presents several different pantheons here. Each one begins with a very brief description of how their mortal religions operate, and follows up with full stat blocks for what Gygax considered to be their main figures. Each one has an illustration and a very brief description of the being in question, usually focusing more on physical appearance and any special abilities than in mythological information.
The stat blocks are different from your usual monster writeup, unless the entity in question is an actual monster. This writeup includes ability scores as well as a list of classes and levels that acts as a shorthand for what sort of PC-like abilities the being in question possesses. Heroes get a similar writeup to gods, and monsters get Ye Olde Monster Statblock.
Most pantheons are drawn from real-world mythology as filtered by Gygax in his extensive consultations with himself, but my copy of the PDF also has the pantheon of the Farfhd and The Grey Mouser stories and a bunch of original nonhuman deities that would proceed to become fixtures in every future edition of D&D, like Moradin, Corellon and Gruumsh. Earlier printings of the book also had writeups for Melniboné and the Cthulhu Mythos, which were taken out to avoid copyright troubles.
The Suspect Line-Up
We’re looking here for an entity or group of entities who fulfills the following criteria:
Chaotic Evil alignment, or as close to it as possible. The mastermind is most likely CE, accomplices might be NE or CN depending on their individual personalities.
Is or contains at least a 20th-level Magic User, a 20th-level Illusionist, a 14th-level Cleric and a 14th-level Druid.
I’m assuming the information on Deities & Demigods is basically correct, which probably wouldn’t be true in a campaign which cared even a bit about real-world accuracy. I’ll consider a credible suspect any listed entity that has the requisite alignment and fulfills at least one of the level requirements. Any pantheon from the book not mentioned here lacks a listed entity who could be a credible suspect.
The Native American Mythos
Coyote has the requisite Druid and Cleric levels and is Chaotic Neutral, so he could theoretically be convinced to aid in the creation of the Dreams… but that sounds a bit too actively malicious for him.
The Babylonian Mythos
We have two suspects, but they’d need help from outside the pantheon.
Anshar the god of darkness is CE and can play the role of the Cleric. His ability to “catch” and store arcane spells is powerful, but I’m not sure it would allow him to play the MU or Illusionist role, so he would need co-conspirators.
Nergal is NE and both a 25th-level Cleric and a 20th-level Magic User. He sounds like he’d be on board as a helper.
Central American Mythos
Plenty of suspects to go around here!
Quetzalcoatl seems like an unlikely suspect at first, but power-wise he’s a single druid level short of being able to do the whole thing himself. That’s a rounding error when it comes to greater deities. And despite being listed as Lawful Neutral, even Gygax acknowledges it’s hard to fit him into the alignment system, as you have several stories where he acts in a Chaotic or Evil manner. If this was one of those times, then you can see why there would be unbreakable measures in place to prevent others from figuring out who did it.
If you take inspiration from those bits of real-world Aztec mythology that say Tetzcatlipoca is comparable to Quetzalcoatl in power, he becomes an even likelier suspect than the Big Q, because his behavior is consistent enough to be rated as Chaotic Evil in the book. Simply going by the supplement, though, he lacks the levels.
Camazotz the bat god is CE and has the necessary MU and Illusionist levels. He’d need some help to fulfill the other roles.
Tlazolteotl the goddess of vice is also CE and can almost do the whole thing herself, lacking only a few levels of Magic User.
This leaves us with a very strong chance of the Dreams being the fault of these Aztec deities! Maybe Tzazolteotl enlisted Camazotz as an accomplice; maybe it was one of Quetzalcoatl’s Chaotic Evil moments; or maybe it was just Tetzcatlipoca being himself. The Dreams certainly look bad enough to be the thing that ends the Fifth Sun.
Lu Yueh the god of pestilense is CE, has 20 cleric levels and 19 MU/Illusionist levels. I’m sure he could compensate for the two missing arcane caster levels by being the god of pestilence, and he could create the Dreams if he recruited a high-level druid. No likely druid presents himself in the pantheon, though.
Set might be listed as Lawful Evil, but the Dreams sound right up his alley. He’s a 30th-level illusionist, which might compensate for his lack of Magic User levels… Or he could probably recruit a powerful enough wizard and druid through his infectious alignment change ability. Or you could stick by the alignment restriction and have him look at the Dreams and go “not even I would do that”.
The cast of the Kalevala gives us our second group of suspects who could have done it without help from outside the pantheon.
Tuonetar the goddess of the underworld looks like a prime suspect, being CE and only lacking Druid levels. If she did it, then her husband Tuoni was likely involved as the Cleric.
Kiputtyto the demigoddess of sickness has the necessary Druidic expertise, so she would complete Team Evil for the Finnish Dreams of Ruin.
Surprisingly few ideal candidates present themselves here, but a couple of them make for a really tempting picture.
Hecate is listed as Lawful Evil… but she has the requisite arcane power and can cast arcane spells without limit, making her the only deity in the book who could produce unlimited wishes without cheating the Deck of Many Things. She’s also powerful enough as a Cleric to fill that role too, and would need only a Druid helper.
Circe is labeled as Chaotic Evil and has the requisite Druid levels, so she would be the ideal henchwoman.
A NE or CE Hecate teaming up with Circe make an awfully evocative Team Evil for a Greek version of the Dreams.
These are the deities of the Farfhd & Grey Mouser stories. Most of them tend to the Neutral, but if the CE Gods of Trouble teamed up with the CE Nehwon Earth God they’d have all they need to unleash the Dreams.
Loki certainly has the inclination, but by himself he can only fill the Illusionist role. Hel can fill the Cleric role, but they’d need outside help for the Druid and MU slots.
And the Culprit Is…
Gee, we ended up with quite a big list of suspects there, didn’t we? Who should we finger in this lineup of cosmic evil?
Personally, I’m disinclined to consider mythological crossovers, so let’s strike out any pantheon who doesn’t have enough listed suspects to produce the Dreams without outside help. That leaves only the Aztec, Greek, Finnish and Newhon Gods as possible culprits. Mr. Grabowski has made use of plenty of Aztec and Sword and Sorcery influences on his work before, so I think I’m on to something here.
Let us next consider the base traits of the Dreams. They spread like a disease; and they thin the barriers between the targeted plane and the “evil astral”, which is to say the underworlds where demons and other horrors come from. They are as opposed to Law as they are to Good; A Lawful Evil interloper is as likely to be considered an enemy of the forest as a Chaotic Good one.
With all of that in mind I have to say my choice for culprits goes to the Finnish Gods - more specifically, Tuonetar, Tuoni and Kiputtyto working in concert. The first two are Greater Gods of an evil underworld. Kiputtyto is a demigoddess of sickness and has Druid levels, which fits the clue about the druid being at the start of this article. The Kalevala pantheon also has a history of being a source of D&D deities, with Loviatar and Mielikki being from there originally.
The Aztec gods come in at a close second, with the most probable cause there being a collaboration between Tzazolteotl and Camazotz due to their compatible alignment and stats. It’s not hard to fit the Dreams as an attempt to end the Fifth Sun if you read up on Aztec Mythology on Wikipedia, with more reliable sources likely providing better material, and the imagery of Aztec-influenced Dreams of Ruin sure does seem evocative. But going from just Deities & Demigods, the two deities in question seem to lack the “pestilence” portfolio, which puts a slight dent in their credibility.
The Hecate/Circe team lost out because Hecate is listed as Lawful and the notes don’t contradict it like they do with the Big Q. And the Nehwon gods lost out because while the Gods of Trouble seem to be perfect fits the Earth God wants to return the earth to a molten state, which doesn’t seem to be very much in line with how the Dreams work. I’m sure someone interested in using that pantheon as the source could scare up a suitably evil druid from the setting, though.
So did I get close, Mr. Grabowski?