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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - A Guide to The Rod of Seven Parts

Today we're going to take a look at one of the major artifacts in all of Dungeons & Dragons: The Rod of Seven Parts. It is a D&D campaign all unto itself. I'd highly recommend that you check out the massive boxed set adventure about this item, which is very inexpensive in pdf form.

I'm going to go through each edition of D&D and see how the rod developed over time. All of the lore is collected in this article to give you a good jumping off point for deciding what material works for you and your campaign.

The Essential Information

  • The rod is a lawful artifact. It was originally called The Rod of Law.
  • The pieces of the rod are scattered all across the world and even the planes. You can use one piece to sense the location of the next piece.
  • The rod must be carefully assembled. Doing it wrong will cause at least one piece to vanish and appear somewhere random hundreds of miles away.
  • Each piece has a magic power, and more powers are unlocked as the rod is assembled.
  • A demon lord called The Queen of Chaos wants the rod, so she can use it to free her demon general, Miska.
  • Lawful humanoids called the Wind Dukes want to assemble the rod to kill Miska once and for all.
Eldritch Wizardry

The Rod actually first appeared in "Eldritch Wizardry," a supplement for the white box edition. It is explained that the rod is also known as "The Rod of Law," and that it was used in a war between the Wind Dukes of Aaqa and the Queen of Chaos. The rod was used to imprison the Queen's general, Miska the Wolf-Spider during The Battle of Pesh.

AD&D 1st Edition

The 1e Dungeon Master's Guide has a massive pile of artifacts listed in it, including the rod. 

Here's what we learn:
  • The first part of the rod gives you a sense of the direction of the next piece.
  • Each piece has a different spell-like power.
  • When pieces are combined, they "unlock" more spell powers.
  • Every time a power is used, there's a 1 in 20 chance that the rod breaks apart and the pieces teleport to random areas up to 1200 miles away.
  • If "out of order" pieces touch each other (the 1st part touching the 3rd, for example), the higher numbered piece teleports away to a random location up to 1,000 miles away.
  • Once three sections are joined, the wielder is unable to let it go until all pieces are joined.
The book actually leaves it to you to pick out the rod's powers. That seems like a lot of work.

The "Dwarven" Quest for the Rod of Seven Parts

This "adventure path" was run in a series of AD&D tournaments in 1982 at various conventions. These were written by Frank Mentzer who you may know as the "jokiest" D&D adventure writer of all time. He's the guy who included the receptionist in Lolth's spidership in Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

From what I understand, you must use the pregens in this adventure. There's 5 dwarves and a human mage. AD&D Tournaments were meant to test your SKILLS in these three essential categories:
  1. Role-Playing
  2. Rules Knowledge
  3. Cooperation
The heroes go through a series of 4 modules (some broken into two parts) on a quest to collect all 7 parts of the rod:

Igex Pass/The Fiery Fortress: A combat-oriented adventure that tests players on whether they know when they should run away.

Thor's Fountain: A dungeon with lots of vertical sections. Thor's Fountain is a large geyser.

Yog's Dessert: "Dessert" is not a typo. It's Frank Mentzer. A large castle with many levels, including a 10-level black tower. It's on an island, and the piece of the rod phases in and out of existence.

Tinker's Canyon: Part 1 has a battle with a family of red dragons. Part two has a wilderness journey and cave exploration. There's these magic pillars that summon guardian maidens.

Air Plane!: Yep. Air Plane. This is set in the elemental plane of air.  There's a donut-shaped city of djinn (air genies). The vizier of the city has the final piece of the rod.

There's piles of great details on this adventure here, including a rundown of the version of the rod created by Mentzer himself. His rod is more focused on protecting the wielder. If you try to disassemble the rod, you must make a saving throw with a -5 penalty or DIE.

This rod has a lot of fun effects. The wielder can speak any language. The wielder grows 3 inches and 15 pounds every time he or she uses certain powers. It changes your alignment to Chaotic Neutral (?!) and you lose one level! Get a load of this. It pollutes all holy water within 10 feet automatically.

AD&D 2nd Edition

The rod is featured in the Book of Artifacts. The art of the rod is basically a pile of sticks sitting on grass.
  • The parts fit together in order of ascending length
  • The pieces are 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 15 inches in length.
  • Using the rod causes the wielder to suffer " immediate shift to an ultra-lawful alignment that would make a paladin seem unprincipled." The book actually says that this would make PCs unplayable and that the rod should only be used by NPCs. That's lame.
  • Bringing two pieces within a foot of each other causes the larger piece to teleport to a random location d100 miles away.
The wind dukes actually impaled Miska the Wolf-Spider on the rod. His blood covered the rod, and his chaotic essence is what shattered it into seven pieces. This caused an explosion which sent Miska through a planar rift to an unknown plane.

The powers are given, from the smallest piece (the tip) to the largest:
  • Cure light wounds 1/day
  • Slow 1/day
  • Haste 1/day
  • Gust of wind 5/day
  • True Seeing 1/day
  • Hold monster 1/day
  • Heal 1/day
The book also gives us the powers that can be unlocked as pieces combine:
  • Two parts: fly at will!
  • Three parts: 20% magic resistance
  • Four parts: Control winds 2/day
  • Five parts: Shape change 2/day
  • Six parts: Wind walk 1/day
  • Fully assembled: Restoration 1/day, and an aura of Law that causes enemies to have to make a saving throw or flee in panic!
Assembling the Rod: Combining two pieces is a delicate process. You have to spend a day inscribing wards and glyphs on each segment.

The suggested means of destruction are interesting. Apparently, if Miska and the rod are on the plane of Concordant Opposition at the same time, they are destroyed. The Plane of Concordant Opposition is also known as The Outlands, which is a frequent adventuring locale in my Planescape campaign.

Dragon Magazine #224 - A History of the Rod of Seven Parts

Author Skip Williams thinks he may have invented the rod. He created an adventure for his group that involved collecting four pieces of a magic item called The Staff of Cynnius.

"I shared the idea with the gaming crowd in Lake Geneva, and the actual Rod appeared shortly thereafter. For all I know, I invented the basic concept."

He actually stats out the Staff of Cynnius in this article.

Rod of Seven Parts Boxed Set Adventure

This is a gigantic adventure by Skip Williams. I have tried to run this two or three times, but every single time the campaign gets derailed (most recently, a wizard tried to assemble it and scattered the pieces and we just gave up).

The box has four books. Book one has three entirely different intro adventures for the DM to pick from. This is handy, as there is a chance a rod piece will get scattered and the extra adventures might be put to use. Here's the other adventures. This has spoilers galore:

Spelunking: The lair of an aboleth. The piece of the rod is actually in the slime on the aboleth's belly.

Uninvited Guests: The rod is in a cloud giant's home. The cloud giants have a visitor, a fire giant named Siiri. She is using the piece of the rod as a hairpin. She doesn't know what the rod is, but does use its magic haste power often.

Hospitality: Two parts of the rod are in the possession of a jackalwere who has been turned to stone by a medusa. The medusa accompanies a big pile of genies in a valley.

The Forgotten Temple: The sixth part is in a pocket dimension created by a pit fiend named Ulthut. He is trying to keep the piece out of the hands of the Queen of Chaos and her demons. This dimension is odd - it's just like a tower at nighttime in a regular world. It's crawling with undead.

The Citadel of Chaos: The seventh part is guarded by Miska the wolf spider himself. He's trapped in the plane of Pandemonium. The heroes must raid his home and have a final battle.

The third book in the boxed set is really awesome. It's got pages and pages on the rod - the powers, the command words, assembling and disassembling. It's got side trek adventures that tie in to the spyder fiends and the wind dukes in very direct and entertaining ways. It's even got a game of chance called Dragonfire.

There's cards and poster maps. There's this one piece of cardstock which gives you all the information you need on the rod. To me, this was the most handy thing in the whole box.

What is the Problem: Why is this boxed set forgotten? Why isn't this adventure talked about as a classic? It's well thought out. It's beyond epic. It has piles of art from TSR legends Erol Otus and Jim Roslof. It fleshes out a central D&D story first introduced in 1976!

I can think of two reasons why this adventure gets overlooked:
  1. It's really ugly. The box is an eyesore and the covers are hideous. A lot of the interior art is not the best. The design is just not pleasing to the eye.
  2. It is so high level that I think few characters could handle it. The third adventure deals with giants! Not many groups ever got high enough level to play this, and if they did, high level characters in 2e were more than a little problematic if I recall correctly.
The Novel

TSR published a novel, a tie-in to the release of the boxed set adventure. I actually bought it on amazon by accident a few years ago. I tried to read it but I couldn't get into it. The reviews are less than stellar:

"This is one of the least involving books I've ever read; I kept turning the pages, but only to get the darned thing over with; this is one book you can't help but start skimming through towards the end."

This one is a bit more positive and amusing:

"Don't go in expecting the sweeping, world-changing grandiosity of the original Dragonlance saga, or the deep-rootedness of R. A. Salvatore's seemingly endless saga of Drizzt the dark elf (and long may it continue). This is a simple standalone novel about a halfling and his rod"

D&D 3rd Edition

The Arms and Equipment Guide details the rod in 3rd edition. It has the same basic spell powers as the 2nd edition rod.
  • A non-lawful character who possesses a single segment of the rod must make a DC 17 Will save or become lawful.
  • Lawful wielders can make a concentration check to sense the location of the next piece, no matter how far away.
  • The rod can be used as a melee weapon. As more parts are joined, it becomes more powerful, eventually becoming the equivalent of a +5 quarterstaff.
  • When assembled, it has the power to cast true resurrection, but doing so causes the rod to scatter.
Age of Worms

This adventure path ran in Dungeon Magazine back in the 3rd edition era. It is regarded as one of the best campaigns of all time.

The Whispering Cairns (Dungeon #124): This is the first adventure of the path. It is a dungeon set in the tomb of a wind duke who died at the battle of Pesh! The wind duke's name was Zosiel.

A Gathering of Winds (Dungeon Magazine #129): The heroes return to the whispering cairn in this adventure. They head into the tomb of another Wind Duke, named Icosiol. There's awesome treasure in here, including:
  • Ring of the Wind Dukes: Shoots lightning and gusts of wind.
  • Sword of Aaqa: Whenever this sword gets a critical hit, the target is hit by a strong wind that knocks them down or send them flying up to 40 feet.
  • A Strange Metal rod: The final piece of the Rod of Seven Parts!
D&D 4th Edition

The rod is quite different in 4e, because 4e is so different. The wind dukes are now 7 angels who serve Bahamut. Miska was a "demonic primordial of terrible power." The rod's goal is to be assembled, to tame the elemental chaos and to destroy all remaining primordials.

The 4e rod gives you bonuses and powers as you raise its concordance score by gaining levels and killing elementals. Flouting laws or codes of conduct lowers the score by 2. Once the score is 0, the rod shatters.

The 4e rules don't really lend themselves to the rod.

Surprisingly, the rod is not included in the D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide. I guess we'll have to wait and see where it pops up next.

Here's some details on the entities tied to the rod.

The Wind Dukes

Also known as The Vaati. They have smooth ebony skin, velvety black hair and white eyes. They once ruled a vast empire but were nearly wiped out when the war between Law and Chaos erupted.
  • They can fly innately.
  • They have various wind powers like dust devil and control wind.
  • They do not age, and most are at least 3,000 years old.
  • There's 7 castes in their society. The caste known as The Wendeam are the ones who wander the planes tracking pieces of the Rod. They actually have the power to follow a teleporting creature if they can find its tracks.
They live in an ideal place called the Valley of Aaqa. It's a secluded vale ringed by mountains. The only way in is to fly.

The Queen of Chaos

She is 24 feet tall, and has "...a corpulent humanoid torso that sits atop a mass of squid-like lower body that sports a mass of powerful tentacles." She's got blue skin. She really is a lot like the villain from The Little Mermaid.

She rules a layer of The Abyss known as The Steaming Fen. She commands demons known as Spyder Fiends and plots to rescue her general and lover (!) Miska the Wolf Spider.

Miska the Wolf-Spider

Miska is a giant drider with three heads and four arms. He has one human head and two wolf heads. His bite causes you to fall into a stupor for 2 to 14 hours. Worst of all, he can't die while the rod of seven parts exists!

He broods in a hidden citadel, imprisoned in a cocoon of Law in the plane of Pandemonium.


These demons are a combination of spiders and wolves. Some are as big as a pony, others are as big as an elephant. They have a poison bite that puts you into a stupor for hours! They shoot invisible silk rather than webbing. There's a ton of different types of spyder-fiends.

The Ultimate Adventure

Sword of Aaqa
To me, playing an entire campaign where you go on a quest to assemble an artifact is what D&D is all about. Traveling hundreds of miles over months or years of game time, hounded by demons along the way - it seems like it would be a lot of fun.

I know some people might think it's all a bit of a cliché. When I was younger, I used to desperately try to avoid using clichés in my games. I was always striving for something wholly original. What I eventually discovered is that certain things are a cliché for a reason. It's what people want, it's what they respond to. There's a reason almost every single movie ever made has a guy and a girl who get together at the end.

I think the trick is in making it feel fresh. That comes from you, the DM. You have to communicate a feeling. I call it the "Reading a book and can't put it down" feeling. If you can infuse your game with it, you will find success.


Timothy Brannan said...

I knew most of this information, but not all of it. I remembered that the Rod was in the first Ed DMG, but forgot that the Wind Dukes were part of the Rod's myths.

I have never used the Rod in any of my games ever. I think I need to fix that.

Dan said...

I featured the Rod prominently in my recent Age of Worms campaign. I was intrigued by the inclusion of the final fragment of the Rod, and it always struck me as odd that a major artifact was tossed into a campaign as little more than an afterthought.

So, I rewrote the backstory for the campaign to feature the Queen of Chaos, Miska the Wolf Spider, and the ancient War Against Chaos as the origins for the rise of Kyuss. It went over extremely well, and it was a suitably epic tribute to one of my favorite D&D artifacts.

Erik Carl said...

I actually ran the big boxed set campaign right around the turn of the century. I remember when it was because we actually converted to 3rd edition roundabout adventure 3. It was actually quite epic and one of my more memorable campaigns, not the least because we ended up traveling across the outer planes and I was a big Planescape nut. It also gave me an opportunity to include a lot of major NPCs from previous campaigns and get into some high-level play. Good stuff. Thanks for the article!

Dan said...

Yeah, I was using the boxed set as well. Great stuff in there.

Jason Raabis said...

I remember agonizing over the assigning of powers to the pieces in 1st addition as a fledgling DM in high school. I never did use it but I thought it was so awesome to be able to customize such a powerful artifact.

Ed said...

Great article! Ever considered giving the Orbs of Dragonkind an overview like this? I always wanted to create a campaign focusing on the orbs.

miztres said...

Thanks for this article. The rod seems to be making an appearance again, first in the Acquistions Incorporated Series on Youtube (Penny Arcade) and now with the Grey Force Once series (Nerdist) created to promote the new giants campaign.

Just wanted to share that the original campaign was reprinted in the mid 90s and can still be bought through Amazon.

Personally, I'm very happy with the details given here. Great job.

Sean said...

Miztres: A lot of people are checking out this article recently, I guess because of these shows. I really like making these kind of posts, I'm glad it is useful. Thanks for the kind words.