• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

[Let's Read] 4e's Faces of the Planes

VoidDrifter

Registered User
Validated User
Dragon #427: Channel Divinity: Nerull
Opening Thoughts
I don't remember off the top of my head where Nerull was first mentioned in 4th edition lore; I know he was established as the former god of the dead who was deposed by the Raven Queen, but I mostly remember him from the Power Play: Dead Gods article in Dragon #390, where it's stated that he was the second such god, murdering Aurom, God of Life and Death, and usurping the position before being usurped in turn.

So, this article actually didn't surprise me as much as you'd think. Since Power Play: Dead Gods provided mechanical support for worshipping a dead god, I figured this might be a spiritual successor.


Rise and Fall of Nerull:
In the World Axis cosmology, Nerull was born a mortal man, a human wizard in the ancient days of creation. In fact, he as one of the first nonelves to learn the arts of wizardry, meaning he studied at the feet of Corellon himself!

Naturally, such power drew him into the Dawn War, which was where his story truly began. After one particularly gruesome battle, Nerull looked out over the field of the fallen and cursed the dead for having allowed themselves to pass on, accusing them of avoiding their duty of preserving creation against annihilation. Now, the article doesn't explain why he thought that way, which is a shame, because it invites so many questions. Still, regardless of the reason why, Nerull retreated back to his study and spent months brooding over issues of mortality and the threat of the elementals.

This became an obsession with him, and he began studying how magic could be used to interact with the bodies and souls of the dead. Evetually, he learned first to bestow a semblance of life upon corpses, and then to bind departed souls to continue existing within the mortal realms. Rooted in Nerull's desire for the fallen to rejoin the war against the primordials, these discoveries became the foundation for the school of magic known today as Necromancy.

Nerull was overjoyed by his success; this, he was certain, would be a valuable weapon in the Dawn War. It might even turn the tides in the favor of the gods! So, he presented his findings to Aurom, the God of Life and Death... only to be rejected; Aurom declared Nerull's work a blasphemy, a breaching of the natural cycle that could not be countenanced. Nerull was horrified and incensed by Aurom's decree, and sought out other gods, hoping they would side with him instead. But each deferred to Aurom's judgment.

Each rejection only incensed Nerull further; he refused to let Aurom's pigheadedness ruin his brilliant discovery. Finally, his rage built to the point that he decided to take his revenge and make his point. When Aurom was next involved in battle against the Primordials, Nerull waited. Once the enemy were in flight, he attacked the God of Life and Death with a vast legion of the undead, pulling the wounded god down and slaying them before claiming their portfolios over death and the dead.

This was the first ever occurrence of a god falling at the hands of a mortal. This event shocked the surviving gods, and their confusion - bolstered by their fear over Nerull's mysterious new magic - held them at bay long enough for Nerull to offer up Aurom's wide array of other portfolios to the gods, that they might divide the spoils amongst themselves. This stayed their hands, and they acceptede the newly risen god - if I recall rightly, Aurom's profile in "Power Play: Dead Gods" states that the other gods envied his/her vast array of portfolios as an elder god, but that's not mentioned here.

What is mentioned is that Nerull took the gods' acceptance of him as a sign of weakness; he believed that fear of him made them acquiesce to his ascension, and that combined with his resentment of their former rejection filled him with contempt. Indeed, as the Dawn War raged, Nerull was consumed by the lust of power; he began to envision himself as king over all the gods, and took to brutally scouring the mortal races with blights and plagues, hoping to swell his personal power by flooding the ranks of Pluton with a glut of souls. It was during this time that his common monikers of "The Reaper" and "The Hater of Life" were earned.

It bears mentioning that, as a whole, the gods were ambivalent towards Nerull's penchant for murder. After all, as those he killed were reanimated into his undead legions, and the undead were tougher than the living - bordering on immortal, in some case - it was never a loss to their net strength. Indeed, sometimes it was a net gain! Still, three gods developed a personal enmity to Nerull; Pelor, Moradin, and Corellon. Now, Corellon hated Nerull for what he saw as Nerull's perversion of magic, but why exactly Pelor and Moradin were so opposed to the Reaper isn't spelled out. So they came together and plotted a way to defeat the god they named "The Foe of All Good".

They found their ploy when another powerful wizard fell in the Dawn War; a human sorcerer-queen, who like Nerull had been tutored by Corellon. Sneaking into Pluton, with the aid of Sehanine, the gods turned her into a weapon against Nerull: they fortified her soul with divine magics, intensifying the traits she had possessed in life; magical might, intellectual brilliance, shrewd discernment, unshakable courage, cold allure, and colder pride. Soon, she shone amongst the drab gray spirits of Pluton, and Nerull fell head-over-heels in love with her. He named her Nera, for her true name had been scoured away by the gods, and showered her with gifts, even promoting her to his right hand in a desperate attempt to win her affection.

Nera instead betrayed Nerull, stealing his secrets for tapping the power of dead souls and ultimately assassinating him. Thus she took his place as the Raven Queen.

A sidebar at the end of this segment, titled "A Curse of Death", reveals that some scholars believe Aurom did not go quietly into death - they believe that, as one part revenge on his/her killer and one part an extension of his/her own belief in the cycle of life and death, Aurom cursed the portfolio of death so that any god who held it was doomed to ultimately perish themselves. This is how Nerull fell for the ploys of Nera, and it likewise feeds the usurpers who beset the Raven Queen - ultimately, she too will fall, these scholars argue, and then the cycle will begin anew. It also points readers to "Power Play: Dead Gods" in Dragon #390 for information on Aurom, and to the sidebar "Rise of the Raven Queen" in Divine Power for more details on Nerull's story and the other gods of death.


Devotees of the Reaper:
Nerull's cult was fairly small and loosely organized even when he was alive. The God of Death was always more feared than revered; most who openly prayed to him were assassins and murderers, with his priests - clad in rust-red and wielding sickles or scythes - performing their unholy rites in small shrines, typically located in crypts and catacombs.

Even then, Nerull's clerics were rarely tolerated within communities. Even when not actively sowing pestilence and poison, or going on murder sprees in Nerull's name, they were prone to kidnapping victims and making them into human sacrifices. The cult was further kept small and in disarray due to its loose organization and sparse array of divine mandates; the cult could and often did fall into open conflict with other cells or even within its own ranks.

The clerics of Nerull took many different interpretations of their god. Some were mass murderers, seeking to strengthen Nerull's army and build up his terrifying reputation. Others performed more subtle acts, hoping to shroud Nerull's name and nature in mystery. Others still sought to keep people's attention focused on death's inevitability, usually through acts of precision assassination.

Only three public temples to Nerull are known to exist. One lies in Pluton. The second lies in Sigil. And the third lies deep in the Shadowfell, in a small village known only as "Death of Innocence". When the Raven Queen came into power, she sealed up Death of Innocence, surrounding it with towering wooden walls and gates, so slippery with blood that oozes constantly from the wood that nothing can climb them. The article calls it a "Domain of Dread", but what actually lies within its boundaries, nobody knows - just as nobody knows why the Raven Queen sealed the place away in the first point. Rumor has it the temple within contains an artifact of Nerull's so potent that even the Raven Queen fears its unleashing.

With Nerull's fall, his cult has... actually, continued to exist, but if anything it has become more scattered and incoherent. The main legacy of their works are shrines to Nerull, scattered in ancient dungeons, crypts and catacombs, concealed from ready view. Only their tendency to enhance the potency of necromantic magic gives them away.

This segment of the article concludes with a brief examination of three notable Nerull cults.

The Legion of the Gray are the spiritual hosts of Pluton, sworn to serve Nerull even after his death, incapable of escaping Pluton despite centuries of seeking the aid of gods, devils, demons and all manner of would-be masters; they come to fatalistically accept their lot, guarding Pluton's palaces and relics, and using its treasures to fund efforts by mortals to revive Nerull.

The Star Reapers are an apocalyptic cult of mages and psions, united by their all-consuming fear of the Far Realm. Obsessed with the vision that the Far Realms will invade the World Axis in a conflict even more destructive than the Dawn War, they seek to unite the entire cosmos behind the banner of a single powerful ruler, one whose united legions will be mighty enough to defeat even the aberrant hordes. And they believe Nerull, and an entire cosmos converted into undead, is the only force that can do that. A sidebar even addresses the possibility of sing the Star Reapers as unlikely allies in struggles against aberrations.

The Triumvirate are a band of three evil undead eladrin adventurers, exiled from the Court of Stars nine hundred years ago. They consist of two liches; Vasres, a sadistic artificer who enjoys building puzzles to torment those he considers inferior, and Nehmer, a sorceress cursed by Oran of the Green Fey for reasons she has never disclosed to be unable to show her face to another living creature; and a death knight named Ca'Sross, a bloodthirsty warlord who was expelled from the Summer Court for running deadly hunts and waging needless battles. They claim to have recovered Nerull's personal grimoire from a secret vault of Vecna's; the original treatise on necromancy, penned by the first necromancer and bound in the skin of Aurom. The book has spoken to them, promising to uplift them to the role of exarches and grant them vengeance against those who exiled them. Their party has now traveled to Pluton, where they believe that they have found a way to resurrect the Reaper... with a sidebar noting that, given the numerous deceased goodly gods, such as He Who Was (God of Peace and creator of humanity) or Amoth (God of Mercy), this information will be sought by countless creatures.


Serving the Reaper:
Amazingly, a significant part of the article actually approaches the topic of playing a worshipper of Nerull. It addresses the obvious practicalities - the need to hide one's faith from all others, the appropriate classes, and so forth. But it also extensively discusses why your character might worship Nerull, how you might express that reverence, and ultimately reminds you that you should discuss the topic with your DM and your fellow players to ensure that they are comfortable with you worshipping such a character.

Nerull's faith is, obviously, mostly found amongst Assassins. However, his faith is also found amongst arcanists and divine magic-users as well. Necromancers commonly revere Nerull for founding their discipline, even if they pay only lip service to him; many worship him exclusively for this aspect of his nature rather than for his powers as god of death - other common arcane worshippers include Warlocks, especially those sworn to dark powers or vestiges, and mages who come to worship him after their prolonged efforts at delving into the ancient tomes and treasures concealed by Nerull's cult. For the divine classes, Invokers are most common, having literally inherited a shard of Nerull's death-tinged divine essence, but particularly zealous followers may become Avengers. True clerics are extremely rare, and most are instead Warpriests of the Death Domain.

I don't think I can do justice to the "adventuring" segment myself, so forgive me for quoting it here:
'Channel Divinity: Nerull' said:
Before you create a follower of Nerull, it is important to understand what your character’s long-term goals are. Does your character follow the Star Reapers and wish to resurrect Nerull in an attempt to save the world? Or does your character hope to lay to rest the soul of an ancestor who is a soldier in the Legion of the Gray? Does your character think the Raven Queen is too weak to hold onto the domain of death, and want this power returned to Nerull rather than risk it falling into the hands of Orcus or Vecna? While the end goals of any of these paths can be justifiable, are they worth the risk of bringing back a god who thought little of wiping out the living to fuel his own power?

Although most followers of Nerull seek his eventual return, some follow the dead god for reasons that are slightly more palatable for the unaligned character. Does your character worship him from a purely academic standpoint, to gain more insight into necromancy? Does he or she seek Nerull’s power over the dead to help hold back the tide of the undead? Or maybe your character ultimately seeks to claim the Reaper’s dispersed power and advance on the road to godhood.

Regardless of the reasoning you choose, speak with your DM and your fellow players to make sure that they are comfortable with your character worshiping a god that extols death and murder.
This section ends with two feats - Reaper's Blade (+2 to damage with sickles and scythes, which increases by +1 per tier, and you treat these weapons as having High Crit) and the Channel Divinity feat Nerull's Binding - and a new Paragon Path available to any Arcane, Divine or Shadow Class that worships Nerull; the Soul Binder.


Nerull's Remnants:
This final segment to the article discusses the only things that remain of Nerull itself; his Shade, a literal divine ghost, which has become a wandering, murderous spirit, and Lifecutter, his legendary scythe.

The former is statted as a monster - a level 27 Elite Controller.

The latter is a non-sapient artifact level +6 scythe that can be used as a staff implement, grants resistance 15 to radiant and necrotic damage, ignores 15 points of damage resistance with its attacks, changes its untyped daamge to necrotic & radiant damage, and sucks away a healing surge from you whenever you end a combat encounter having used Lifecutter but not having killed any creatures. It has three encounter powers; you can use an at-will implement or weapon attack power as a minor action, you can turn a successful hit with Lifecutter into an automatic critical hit as a free action (at the cost of gaining a death saving throw failure until your next extended rest), and as a minor action you can make your weapon attacks that target AC instead target Reflex until the end of your next turn.


Closing Thoughts:
This is a really solid article. The segment on playing a... Nerullite? Nerullian? Whatever is unexpected, but very interesting; I always love 4e's willingness to embrace its pulpy roots and the moral ambiguity that comes with that.

The lore on Nerull is also excellent - I never really paid attention to him in 3e, as I considered him just a generic evil reaper god... well, okay, there's definitely more than a little of that here. But Nerull's backstory as the founder of necromancer, and his ultimately noble reasons for inventing the so-called Dark Art? That's new, and intriguingly different. It blends into 4e's lovely brand of gray and grey and black morality, and it gives him some much needed depth.

All in all, this article reminds me of why I like the World Axis' divine pantheon in a way I never really did any other setting's gods. I definitely enjoyed it, but I'll be the first to admit it's not to everyone's tastes.

So, which article shall we read next? You can find the list on the previous page.
 
Last edited:

Kakita Kojiro

IL-series Cylon
RPGnet Member
Validated User
If they stayed separated for long enough, I wonder if they’d grow into separate divinities, like starfish split in half.
There's actually a Gloranthan deity like that -- Thanatar. The god Tien got decapitated. The body simply took its killer's head, stuck that in place of its missing head, and went on as the headhunting god Than. The head was burned to a skull by another god, then lost for a long time until a knowledge priest found it and began worshipping it as the knowledge-devouring god Atyar. Later, the two cults hooked up to create the composite god Thanatar.
 

JoeNotCharles

Registered User
Validated User
I really liked 4E's list of God's: small enough to fit in even a casual player's head, but covering a lot of archetypes. Very evocative. So I was apprehensive about bringing in dead gods. Especially since Asmodeus' backstory, rebelling and murdering He Who Was, is a beautiful Miltonian epic, and adding more dead gods after that makes the deed less unique.

But I can get behind Nerull, because "just plain evil death God" is a niche that's missing from the main list, and one-note enough that it's actually better as a God that used to be in the world, so you can flesh out their trappings at their height as much as you want without them having to be THE death god.

And also the Raven Queen's story is a nice epic, too, and this is an important part of that.

But I do think the list of dead gods in 4E got a bit ridiculous. Io, He Who Was, Nerull, that Winter goddess that the RQ also killed - those are important and evocative parts of the setting. But they just kept going, to the point where the official dead gods vastly outnumber the living ones.

Which I guess sells the "giant war at the dawn of time" backstory, but it does shift the setting from there being a small number of Gods who are each a Big Deal and exemplars of the universe, to the remaining gods being so few just because they were the only survivors, which is quite a different feel.
 

JoeNotCharles

Registered User
Validated User
If they stayed separated for long enough, I wonder if they’d grow into separate divinities, like starfish split in half.
That's actually Tiamat and Bahamut's backstory in 4E - the original Dragon God was Io, who got split down the middle by a primordial.
 

Bira

Registered User
Validated User
I think it's easy to guess why Moradin and Pelor took issue with Nerull. He's an evil fuck who wants to turn all mortals into undead under his control, and those two other gods felt the means did not justify the ends when it came to fighting the Dawn War. I wonder why Bahamut wasn't among the conspirators... perhaps Io hadn't been split yet.

One thing I don't like about the article is that it kinda takes away some of the Raven Queen's awesomeness. Earlier versions of the story had her ascend to godhood and steal the Death domain on her own, IIRC. Here the one who does that is Nerull, with the Queen only managing to gank him because she had the help of three other gods and possibly of a curse. The impression here was that the Raven Queen was just a tool, which I don't like. So in my games I'd remove these particular details.

I don't really like Nerull because "plain evil death god" is kind of a boring niche to waste a precious pantheon spot on. It's also redundant, since you already have Orcus.

I agree that the setting accumulated too many dead gods over the lifetime of the edition. If they want to add more possible gods, I think it would have been better to simply present them as alternatives for specific campaigns, much like the published settings used their own pantheons instead of the default one.
 

Victim

Registered User
Validated User
I really liked 4E's list of God's: small enough to fit in even a casual player's head, but covering a lot of archetypes. Very evocative. So I was apprehensive about bringing in dead gods. Especially since Asmodeus' backstory, rebelling and murdering He Who Was, is a beautiful Miltonian epic, and adding more dead gods after that makes the deed less unique.

But I can get behind Nerull, because "just plain evil death God" is a niche that's missing from the main list, and one-note enough that it's actually better as a God that used to be in the world, so you can flesh out their trappings at their height as much as you want without them having to be THE death god.

And also the Raven Queen's story is a nice epic, too, and this is an important part of that.

But I do think the list of dead gods in 4E got a bit ridiculous. Io, He Who Was, Nerull, that Winter goddess that the RQ also killed - those are important and evocative parts of the setting. But they just kept going, to the point where the official dead gods vastly outnumber the living ones.

Which I guess sells the "giant war at the dawn of time" backstory, but it does shift the setting from there being a small number of Gods who are each a Big Deal and exemplars of the universe, to the remaining gods being so few just because they were the only survivors, which is quite a different feel.
I don't know; it seems to me that if you have a fewer number of survivors from the dawn war, the impact of them dying later to treachery could be increased. The story of say one of the few remaining WW1 vets getting murdered by their grandkid seems like a much better deal than a marginal plus minus one on a giant conflict. It also seems like a good reason why the conflict between good and evil (or other fault lines) gods generally seems more subdued in 4e. Only the craziest god wants to kick off another giant struggle after everything else.

Moreover, I think you need some gods dying to mortals or their servants to emphasize some of the cyclical nature of things - just as the gods rebelled and overthrew the primordials, the god's own creations can turn on them and take their place.
 

Watcherwithin

Registered User
Validated User
I don't know; it seems to me that if you have a fewer number of survivors from the dawn war, the impact of them dying later to treachery could be increased. The story of say one of the few remaining WW1 vets getting murdered by their grandkid seems like a much better deal than a marginal plus minus one on a giant conflict. It also seems like a good reason why the conflict between good and evil (or other fault lines) gods generally seems more subdued in 4e. Only the craziest god wants to kick off another giant struggle after everything else.

Moreover, I think you need some gods dying to mortals or their servants to emphasize some of the cyclical nature of things - just as the gods rebelled and overthrew the primordials, the god's own creations can turn on them and take their place.
AFAIK, the gods weren't ever the creations of or ruled by the primordials and rebelled. They discovered the Primordials creation and changed it, then the primordials decided to destroy the world, prompting the war.
 
Top Bottom