Orcus is the fictional demon prince, and lord of the undead in many campaign settings for the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. He is named after Orcus of Roman mythology. His symbol is a mace with a human skull as the head. Orcus was also named as one of the greatest villains in D&D history by the final issue of Dragon.
Orcus is one of the most detailed demon lords of the Dungeons and Dragons game and one of a small handful to be detailed in every edition of the game.
Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1976)
Orcus made his first appearance in Eldritch Wizardry
supplement for the original (white box) Dungeons and Dragons game (1976). He is described as a grossly fat demon lord with goat-like head and legs, holding the wand of death (Orcus' Wand).
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition (1977-1988)
Orcus, Prince of the undead, was given coverage in the 1st Edition AD&D Monster Manual
(1977), and his Wand was detailed in the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979). Orcus was a central antagonist for The Throne of Bloodstone
series of adventures, especially The Mines of Bloodstone
(1986) and The Throne of Bloodstone
(1988). In The Throne of Bloodstone
, his realm is given as the 333rd layer of the Abyss
Dungeons & Dragons (1977-1999)
Orcus appeared in the Immortal Rules set, in the DM's Guide to Immortals (1986).
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition (1989-1999)
For the 2nd Edition of the game, Orcus suffered the same fate as many other demons and was not included as part of the core game. He did resurface as part of the Planescape line of products and much of his current history and details were established then. His return was the central theme of the Dead Gods
mega adventure (1997).
Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 edition (2000-2002)
As of 3rd Edition, Orcus made his first appearance in Dungeon
#89 in the adventure "Headless" (November 2001), and later in the Book of Vile Darkness (2002). Orcus' reappearance in the rules was even used as a selling point for the book (among others) and his image was featured in the online art gallery previews. Orcus was detailed as one of the gods for the Ghostwalk
campaign setting (2003).
Orcus's aspect was detailed in the Miniatures Handbook (2003).
Orcus was also featured in the non-Wizards' published (an ENnie award winning) Tome of Horrors (2002) by Necromancer Games who have also featured Orcus in many of their own products. Necromancer Games also uses Orcus as their company mascot and logo. He is also briefly mentioned as the “Prince of Undead” in the Book of Fiends II by Green Ronin Publishing.
Other publishers have also used Orcus as either an antagonist or as a deity in their own publications. Goblinoid Games in their Classic Fantasy Review, dedicated to the D&D spin off system OSRIC, introduces a cult of Orcus in their second publication.
The Demon Prince Orcus in the NetHack computer game is based on the Dungeons and Dragons Orcus, (see Orcus (mythology)).
Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition (2003-2007)
Orcus was one of the deities featured in Libris Mortis
(2004). He also played a small role in the Tome of Magic: Pact, Shadow, and Truename Magic
He was also featured again in the Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss (2006). He made an appearance in the climax of the "Savage Tide" adventure path in Dungeon #149 (August 2007).
Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (2008-)
Orcus is the only demon lord detailed in the 4th edition Monster Manual (2008), and he also appears on the cover. "Orcus" was the code word for the 4th Edition.
In Game Information
In many Dungeons & Dragons
books, Orcus has typically been described as having the head and legs of a goat, although with ram-like horns, a bloated body, bat-like wings, and a long tail.
Orcus cares for nothing save himself — not even for his devotees and undead servants — and focuses only on spreading misery and evil. One of his most identifiable symbols is the artifact, the Wand of Orcus, a skull-topped wand with the power to slay any living being. In earlier editions of the game, Orcus also wielded a powerful artifact known as the Orcusword.
Orcus is a very old demon. Like many of the most powerful demon lords who struggle for power in the Abyss, Orcus started his existence as a mortal on the Prime Plane. He was apparently a wicked spellcaster of some sort, most probably a priest to some dark deity. After his death, his soul, like the souls of all Chaotic Evil mortals, went to the Abyss and Orcus began his afterlife as a lowly larva.
Orcus proceeded to climb through the demonic ranks in the next several thousand years, going from larva to mane, from mane to dretch, from dretch to rutterkin, from rutterkin to vrock, from vrock to glabrezu, from glabrezu to nalfeshnee and eventually a balor. From there, he ascended to the rank of demon lord, becoming the Prince of the Undead and ruling the layer of Thanatos, the Belly of Death. Even though there are other demon lords aspiring to the title of "Prince of the Undead", Orcus' claim to the title has gone unchallenged for the most part. Ever hungry for more power, Orcus wanted to be recognized as "Prince of Demons", a title held by Demogorgon and coveted also by Graz'zt. As a result, he became the arch-enemy of both demon lords. In time, Orcus also achieved true godhood.
However, shortly after his divine ascension, Orcus was slain by the drow demi-goddess Kiaransalee, who took over rulership of Orcus' layer of the Abyss and locked his wand away in the last layer of Pandemonium. Kiaransalee decreed that Orcus's name be erased from all existence.
A peculiar combination of events thwarted Kiaransalee's plans. Acererak's tampering with the nature of the Negative Energy Plane, the last prayers of Quah-Nomag, and the unexpected awakening of some of the sleepers of the demiplane of Moil combined to cause the spirit of Orcus to be reanimated as an undead god. Renaming himself Tenebrous in order to help obscure himself from his enemies, Orcus traveled to ruins buried in the sands of Pelion. There, he discovered the Last Word, an utterance so powerful that it can destroy deities. The Last Word will also eventually kill those who know it unless the being is a true deity. Thus, to restore his lost divinity, Orcus went in search of his wand. During his search, Orcus killed several gods and other powerful entities, including Bwimb, Primus, and Maanzecorian. Orcus' efforts were stymied by a group of adventurers and Orcus was again destroyed, this time by the power of the Last Word. A cabal of greater deities, in response to Tenebrous's predations, has since weakened the Last Word considerably.
Orcus was resurrected by Quah-Nomag, one of his foremost high priests and thralls, in a blasphemous ritual enacted in the Astral Plane. Orcus then reclaimed his kingdom and his original name, re-proclaiming himself "Prince of the Undead" (despite his hatred of undead). However, as a result of his second death and resurrection, Orcus has lost his divinity, the ability to use the Last Word, and is a demon lord once more.
Orcus' divinity now exists as a vestige, also named Tenebrous: The Shadow That Was, and can be called upon by binders.
Orcus' realm is Thanatos, the 113th layer of the Abyss (although in H4: The Throne of Bloodstone, it is numbered 333rd). It is a frigid and frozen layer infested with the undead. Several cities dotted the layer, (most of whom are ruled by minions of Orcus, including a powerful succubus and Quah-Nomag himself). The Prince of the Undead rules from his palace of Everlost in the Bone Meal Desert north of a vast mountain chain (called the Final Hills) that cut across the layer. Despite Orcus regaining control over Thanatos, Kiaransalee's taint can still be found in the city of Naratyr on the Frozen Sea south of the layer, and in the so-called Forbidden Citadel in the city of Lachrymosa, located in the Final Hills.
Orcus also keeps a fortress, named Tchian-Sumere, on the Negative Energy Plane.
Cult of Orcus
The cult of Orcus is mainly composed of twisted creatures with a morbid fascination with the undead, such as necromancers, as well as creatures deliberately seeking the path to undeath, such as would-be liches and vampires. They often wear macabre costumes decorated with bones and skulls.
Orcus has a chance of hearing his name whenever and wherever spoken, and of reacting by manifesting to the speaker in an irritated mood. Unscrupulous merchants in various parts of the D&D multiverse have used this by selling parrots trained to speak only innocuous phrases until at a predetermined location, when they scream Orcus' name non-stop. This summons the demon, who slays the adventurer, allowing his or her equipment to be looted by the merchant's associates.
Promise your soul to Orcus, eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, and through him you will gain life everlasting. Mercy is a luxury that none are worthy of; suffering and torment are the fuel that will empower Orcus's ascent. The worshippers of Orcus will overwhelm the world in a tide of undeath, and even the gods will perish.
Clerics of Orcus are in charge of promoting necromancy, pain, torture, undeath, and the destruction of all that is good. They pray for spells at midnight. Their colors are red and black, although bone white is often used as decoration.
The vilest ritual in Orcus's already vile faith is the Unhallowing. This ceremony has no set date, but involves sacrificing a paladin to Orcus and creating a self-loathing undead creature from the remains.
The holy days of Orcus are the nights of the new moons and Sunsebb 28, the last day of the year
. When a moon is at its darkest, worshipers of Orcus are required to either create an undead creature or to bring a corpse to other Orcus cultists so that an undead creature can be made.
Wand of Orcus
The Wand of Orcus
is a powerful artifact
. This skull-tipped wand has the ability to automatically slay any living creature it touches.
The Wand is highly coveted across the planes, and Orcus sometimes lets it fall into the hands of mortals in order to allow them to wreak chaos and evil.
The Wand of Orcus is currently thought to be in the possession of a cult called the "Lurkers In Shadow."
was Orcus's personal weapon when he was still a balor. It is currently held in Tchian-Sumere, Orcus's fortress on the Negative Energy Plane
The following beings are some of Orcus's most infamous servants:
- Acererak. The infamous lich Acererak was once a servant of Orcus, long ago.
- Elder Arantham, a huecuva priest, formerly devoted to Bahamut, who seeks to transform Orcus once again into a true god.
- Bleeding Setch, a cambion, was once a proxy of Orcus. He went into hiding after Orcus's demise, but it is not clear whether or not he has returned to the service of the Prince of Undeath.
- Eldanoth, a former vassal of Orcus who abandoned Thanatos when the wards keeping him enslaved to the Prince of Undeath were broken by the demon lord's death. He now dwells on the 359th layer of the Abyss, seeking to become a god of hate and crime.
- Eldrua, a derro savant who sought to build a device that would siphon thousands of souls to her master in the Abyss.
- Glyphimhor is a balor who serves Orcus faultlessly and enjoys slaying Kiaransalee's faithful.
- Hacamuli is one of the messengers of Orcus. He appears as a pale, gaunt horse with hazy black eyes. Flies crawl over his sore-infested body.
- Harthoon is a powerful lich sorcerer from the material plane. He is Orcus's vizier and a master embalmer.
- Kauvra is a deadly half-orc vampire known for her rages. She is Orcus's personal enforcer.
- Khuul the Witch-Ghoul was one of Orcus's greatest servants. Khuul was slain centuries ago by Saint Bane.
- Khavra Akti, a grey elven wizard who hopes to aid Orcus in annexing the world of the dead to his Abyssal realm.
- Kierno Varim, a tiefling warlock known as the "mad animator," who believes that if the undead ever outnumber the dead, reality will rearrange itself so that undeath is the natural order.
- The King of Ghouls, who served Orcus before his layer was conquered by Yeenoghu.
- Mauglurien, a dwarven death knight rival of Elder Arantham. Mauglurien hopes to elevate Orcus by slaying an existing goddess of death and reanimating her as an undead thrall. Mauglurien leads a mercenary company called the Ebon Riders.
- Quah-Nomag is a half-ogre Skull King who was pivotal in Lord Orcus's return. He now inhabits Lash Embrar, having been stationed there after Orcus tired of his pretentions.
- Shonvurru, an undead marilith who seeks to alter reality by studying or controlling elder evils from the dawn of time.
- Sithas Tyrr, a "paladin" of Orcus who seeks to change the world by controlling something that even the gods fear.
- Larme, John. Dangerous Games? Censorship and "Child Protection" (2000).
- Marmell, Ari. "The Ashen Covenant." Dragon #364. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2008. Available online:
- O’Connor, Shane. A History of Orcus
Orcus's aspect appears in the D&D Miniatures: Archfiends set #47 (2004).