The following depths of insanity are brought to you by BDC
Since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the many gods portrayed across the world. Since most of the information was about the Greek gods, I focused on them. And not many of the many deities were more majestic than Poseidon; Master of the seas, shapeshifting, horse lover (sometimes literally). But for every light there is a darkness. And, as I look to the multitudes of gods in D&D, none are darker than some of the mad gods of the deep.
Mad gods? You needn’t look much farther than the depths of the many settings in the D&D multiverse. In fact, madness and the religions of the deep go inseparably hand-in-hand. Is it because of our fear of the unknown? Is it the alien monstrosities that litter the sea floor of our own, very real world? Sea farers for centuries told tales of monsters that hindered the advance of man across the oceans. And even in our times, we celebrate the fiction of Lovecraft who fills our nightmares with the bringer of insanity who rises from the depths but who is so alien from anything on this world.
So, if you want to run a Lovecraftian D&D campaign, you don’t have to look far to find lore fodder to fill it with. Gods, primal powers and demons of incomprehensible madness roam the multiverse just under the surface of the many seas in the many worlds of which are created and you, yourself, create every day on the tabletop.
YEATHAN: GOD OF THE EVIL DEPTHS
If it is true that the gods rise from our deepest virtues and fears, Yeathan is the poster child. Called the Master of the Last Breath, he arises from the fear all people have of drowning. But it goes much deeper than that (couldn’t help it, sorry). Known by most as the God of the Evil Depths he is the patron of all things evil and foul about the sea. He resonates in everything that we fear of the dark, unknowable depths.
Yeathan’s unholy symbol is a blue-green spiral with a black center; symbolizing the whirlpool threatening to drag one down into the shadowy depths. Feared or virtually unknown to surface dwellers, legends say Yeathan was a ‘simple water deity’ (Book of Vile Darkness p. 12) who ‘brooded on darker, more mysterious matters’ becoming something equated with the darkest, insidious and foul aspects of the sea.
Besides being aligned with watery deaths and the dark unknowable depths, Yeathan also is the god of the calamities associated with the seas. It doesn’t go into details, but I assume, besides the whirlpools which is his symbol, it includes hurricanes, Tsunamis and other vicious storms at sea. This may be in association or replace the Sea Bitch, Umberlee in your world.
A visit to a temple of Yeathan could be a good reason to do an undersea adventure or a whole campaign since they are always submerged. Although this reminds me of the Call of Cthulhu story about the temple that wasn’t there before that gained access to the madness of the depths itself, Cthulhu, and disappeared back into the darkness of the sea at the end of the story. It could be a great timed adventure that gives them a timetable to find something and get off before they too are swept back into the depths.
SEKOLAH: THE EVER HUNGRY
Representing an almost insatiable force of apathetic violence, Sekolah is the patron god of the Sahuagin race. In the same manner, he drives his patron race to maim murder and dominate any and all in their path. This god has no allies and, yet, many enemies. But he doesn’t care. That’s more to hunt. Did I mention that he’s a monstrous shark? Or that he resides on Stygia in the Nine Hells?
All of this adds up to one badass god.
According to the Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, his realm lies deep beneath the Stygian Ice of that layer of Hell. Seperated from most natural ways of entry, the only way in is teleportation. And, even then, one must mind their “P’s” and “Q’s”. His eternal Sahuagin attendants must keep their perfect geometric positions around him and keep their infinite dance steps straight or face his ravaging wrath.
And, knowing all of this, it’s no surprise that he is also a devil himself. Being a devil, don’t think his goals to be simple. He has designs on the whole level of Stygia and wishes to devour the current ruler, Levistus. Lucky for him, he’s trapped in ice and the Shark devil/god cannot get to him. But it would be a great fight if he could.
Making enemies wherever he went, Sekolah found a way to imprison the great Demon Demogorgon early in history. Now, free of him, the Demon Prince has a great hatred for the Shark god, but refuses to invade Sekolah’s domain. Most of this inmity plays out between the two races that call the demons ‘god’. The Sahuagin have loyally followed Sekolah since as far back as primordial legend and the Ixitxachiti (a ray like race) who revere Demogorgon. Their eternal war paints the sea floor red with blood and their madness and zealotry is unrivaled even on the shore.
Word of advice: don’t venture in-between these monstrous races. It won’t end well. But it would make a great story, right?!
BLIBDOOLPOOLP : THE SEA MOTHER
Another race of fanatical, maniacal infamy throughout the sea is the Kuo-Toa. They worship the strange deity they call ‘Mother’. She sports one of the earliest depictions of a strange alien looking god. Basically, she was a 15 ft. tall naked woman…only with a lobster head and claws. Yeah, I told you she was strange. But her followers are just a strange and insane. In fact, it was their insanity that created her or so they say. And it might have been the Mind Flayer’s fault since it was their torture and enslavement that drove them there in the first place. Manipulating and experimenting on the simple Kuo-Toa may have unleashed a collective ability to create anything enough of them believe in intently enough. This was the origin story of Blibdoolpoolp’s rise to godhood. Unlike many other evil gods, if her followers gather in enough numbers and sacrifice enough people, she will appear.
But don’t think her a joke. If you see her, run. She is still a god. Starring intently into her eyes too deeply will drive one insane. It goes without explanation that the Kuo-toa themselves carry within them the power to drive one mad themselves. Although 5E ignores this, old editions allowed them this ability to incite madness.
If you get a chance to check out Monster Manual V’s write-up on the Kuo=Toa, they give a class of the little, wild-eyed maniacs who are actually monks! Using their oversized fists to deliver heavy blows and natural stickiness to get advantage on the second strike. They even added stunning strike and flurry of blows for good measure! So, if you face an unarmed Kuo-Toa in your next campaign, don’t get caught sleeping.
PANZURIEL: THE WRITHING ONE
Once again, we return to the tentacled obsession of the deep. With Panzuriel, we find an extensive portfolio and list of domains that make the god very fleshed out. God of evil sea creatures, but also of confusion, murder and subversion. Unsurprising, he is a despicable, hate-filled god who still a bit angry about being banished from the Prime Material. Or should I say, “partly banished”. The story goes that Deep Sashelas, the aquatic elven god and Lord of the Undersea, joined forces with other good-aligned sea gods to rid all worlds of Panzuriel. Unfortunately, the Writhing One‘s left foot was severed and left behind.
Panzuriel’s Avatars appear as a hunched-over old man with gills and scales. He has a greenish complexion that fades to yellow. He had taloned hands and wore tattered clothes.
Much like Bootstrap Bill of Pirates fame.
Therefore, one of his symbols are of a left footprint. It also meant that part of essence remains behind on Toril. Until he can find some way to return, he resides in the second layer of Hades called Niflheim or the Second Gloom (Manual of the Planes/3rd Ed). Also according to Faiths and Pantheons, Umberlee (mentioned before) has gained power using his name. It would be a great comeback story if her were to find a way to return and confront the bitch. And civilization is caught in the war that ensues.
Because the Elven god cut his foot off and led the attack to banish him, he hates elves most of all. He wishes to capture and torture Deep Sashelas, but any elf will do for now. Unlike most of the gods talked about here, Panzuriel is very inclusive and will accept any race into his murderous little cult. Running a campaign concerning this angry little god gives one a good reason to pull out the Kraken seeing that it is favored by him.
Any Avatars sent by him must be carefully used. According to Monster Mythology, if his Avatar is destroyed on the Prime Material Plane, it will take Panzuriel 20 years to return. All the more reason to hunt it down and extinguish it, actually. But good luck finding it, as described above he carries the domain/portfolio of subversion and murder. So, his clergy are masters at stealth and subterfuge and, even more so, killing.
DEMOGORGON: DEMON PRINCE OF THE DEPTHS
We finish up with most foul, most mad and most powerful of the powers of both the Abyss and the deep: Demogorgon!
One of the powers that has a great hatred for Sekolah, who some legends say ‘magically compelled, him to serve him, probably because of the Demon Princes connection beyond the Abyss and influence upon the dark waters of the seas.
Appearing as a double headed baboon with reptilian features and tentacles for arms, Demogorgon is a horror to behold. But his use of Avatars is careful and calculated. As with a power so great and so old, there are confusing and, sometimes, conflicting origin stories. There is no doubt he was one of the first Tanar’ri who was cast aside as a deformed and useless power by the Queen of Chaos early on.
Still there is a strain of legend that says the Demon Prince and his rival Orcus as well were Primordial powers who were some of the first to vie for power in the Abyss. And alliance of powers defeated the powerful Obox-ob. Once the Queen of Chaos was dispatched by the Tanari’ri, Demogorgon came out of exile to cower both Orcus and Graz’zt to become the Prince of Demons.
BUT how does this connect to the deep?
First of all, we get clues in the descriptions of his realm on the 88th layer of the Abyss. It was known as the Gaping Maw and was described as a ‘great sea of briny water’. His twin towered palace, Abysm, rose from the waters in serpentine twisted rock. Most of his palace was underwater and he associated with both Krakens and Aboleths. The only landmass in his domain was the jungle filled contenent that housed his capital city of Lemoriax.
On the Prime Material, various races of people worshiped this mad god, including troglodytes, kuo-toa (who called him Leemooggoogoon, the “Deep Father”) and even twisted humans. But his most accomplished followers were the ray like race of beings called the Ixitxachitl. These manta ray looking beings were an aquatic race as were most of those who followed the Demon Prince. But their relationship seemed to give each participant a bit of a power boost.
The Ixitxachitl became powerful in the use of magic and developed massive cities in the coral reefs of Toril among other worlds. Fighting for survival from birth, they grew to be a tenacious and sturdy race. This is mostly due to the most powerful and long lasting of them being vampiric in nature; drawing the life force from the living. Some say this action also empowers Demogorgon as well through the Planar portals and connections between them. They revere the Demon Prince as their creator which is probably not far from the truth seeing that he has been known to advance such experiments that have spawned such creatures as the Ettins, retrivers and khaastas. He was also known to turn the first death knight.
So, there is heavy evidence, not only in his chosen home domain, but in those who worship him that he is aquatic in nature and is a power in the depths. He also fits the them that gods of darkness find solace in the deep.