Of the innumerable demon lords of the Abyss, dread and vile Orcus, Prince of the Undead, might be the one most often worshiped as a god. Orcus is typically 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 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.
Orcus is in many ways a contradictory figure. He does not delight in his charges, the undead, and has not taken up the self-proclaimed mantle “Prince of the Undead” out of devotion
or allegiance. If anything, the demon lord despises undead. He has little but contempt for them and uses them without thought or consideration. Of course, Orcus despises the living as well. He hates all things, and seethes with utter revulsion and loathing at all times. He craves only personal power and the spread of misery and destruction for all others.
Occasionally, Orcus allows his wand to be found by a mortal in order to wreak greater chaos and evil among those inhabiting theMaterial Plane. This sort of dalliance lasts only for a short time—perhaps a year or two at most—before the bloated prince grows bored and reclaims his artifact, usually along with the soul of whoever currently wields it.
Orcus is in a constant state of war with his rivals Demogorgon and Graz’zt. More often than not, actual warfare occurs between his armies of undead and demons and Graz’zt’s hordes of monsters and demons. Strife with Demogorgon often takes a more subtle guise, that of assassination and sabotage. This is usually because both his and Demogorgon’s full armies are simultaneously warring against the forces of Graz’zt. However, sometimes the legions of Orcus and Demogorgon meet in the course of their struggle against Graz’zt, and then they attack each other as viciously
as they fight the legions of the Dark Prince.
The cult of Orcus is widespread, with a more significant following among humanoids than most demon princes can boast. In particular, orcs, half-orcs, ogres, and giants revere
Orcus, as do a large number of corrupt and despicable humans.His temples are usually hidden, and his worshipers form secret societies living in otherwise normal communities. Other of his temples are terrible strongholds full of undead, where wicked lords commit atrocities and wage wars in the demon prince’s name. Sometimes an entire orc tribe devotes itself to the Prince of the Undead, but such individuals are shunned even by other orcs.
Orcus demands living sacrifice as a part of his rituals. Blood and skulls are an important part of the imagery used in his worship. Idols and altars are often surrounded by or built upon tall piles of skulls. Intelligent undead never willingly serve Orcus (they are more likely to venerate the deities Kiaransalee or Velsharoon).However, many vampires, liches, and other undead creatures are forced into his service by dark pacts or compelling magic.Priests and particularly influential followers of Orcus are called Skulls, while high priests are called Skull Lords. Often, a single Skull Lord gains so much power and influence among the followers of Orcus that he adopts the mantle of Skull King or Skull Queen.
Orcus in the Realms
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 went 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.
In -1025 DR, a human worshiper of Orcus called Thargaun became the first king of Tharos, which would later become known as Narfell. His dynasty would rule until -633 DR, when the lich-king Belevan was slain by twin sons of Graz'zt.
Orcus became the patron of the Red Wizard Zhengyi in the 900s DR, aiding him in his quest to become a lich. Priests of Orcus supported Zhengyi in 1347 DR, when Zhengyi created the Castle Perilous, giving the lich control over many undead creatures. Zhengyi attacked Damara in 1348 DR, finally bringing it under his control in 1357 DR. Zhengyi lost his power when Gareth Dragonsbane and his company banished Orcus's power from the realm by stealing his wand. Zhengyi's undead army disintegrated along with Castle Perilous and Zhengyi the Witch-King was defeated.
Shortly afterward, Orcus was slain by the drow demi-goddess Kiaransalee, who took over rulership of Orcus' layer of the Abyss and locked his (apparently restored) wand away in the last layer of Pandemonium. Kiaransalee decreed that Orcus' name be erased from all existence.
Despite the drow demi-goddess' efforts, Orcus was restored as an undead demon lord, renaming himself Tenebrous. As Tenebrous, Orcus 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, and to restore himself to his lost divinity, Orcus went in search for his wand. During his search, Orcus killed several gods including Primus, God of the Modrons 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' predations, has since nullified the Last Word.
However, Orcus was resurrected by Quah-Nomag, one of his foremost high priests and thralls, in a blasphemous ritual he 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.