The presentation of the Aztec pantheon is one that’s been altered virtually every time it’s appeared in Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, even the name of the pantheon itself is different with each iteration, to say nothing of the component deities that make it up. Few are the pantheons that have this level of fluidity in their membership.
While it’s easy to look askance on this imprecision, I think that this has an upside to it as well. After all, the deities here have been repurposed not once, but twice within various AD&D game worlds. We see them in the gods of Maztica (though more as inspiration than a direct representation), as well as the Olman pantheon.
Despite the links between these pantheons, I’ll save my coverage of them for other articles.
Original Dungeons & Dragons
Receiving only two pages in the original Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, this collection of gods is called the “Mexican and Central American Indian Mythology.” Noting that information on these gods is scarce, the books lists only six deities: Quetzacoatl, Tonatuh, Huitzilopoohtli, Goddess of the Jade Petticoat, Tezcat, and Mictantecuhtli.
As with all of the gods of Supplement IV, the information on each god is limited directly to the deity in question, outlining their powers and abilities. Information on how clerics and priests of these gods conducted themselves, or even what the gods wanted from their worshipers, would have to wait until the next iteration of the game.
AD&D First Edition
In Deities & Demigods, the pantheon that these gods belonged to was called the “Central American Mythos.” Not only did the deities in question grow, but so did the available information on their overall nature, as well as those who would worship them.
I forgot to mention in my article about the American Indian pantheon (though I went back and edited it in later), but while deities in AD&D 1E didn’t have priesthoods that were tailored to them, the pantheons presented in Deities & Demigods did have, in their opening sections, modifiers that applied to priests of any god of that pantheon. I find that interesting, because while it’s less distinctive than having priests of each deity have specific abilities, it creates a thematic presentation for each pantheon as a whole, giving them a shared presentation in the game world.
For priests of the Aztec pantheon, this was not only limited to their commune and gate spells being restricted to the alternate Material Plane where those gods dwelled, but was found in the extremely harsh conditions that Aztec priest characters labored under. Even minor transgressions result in losing some wealth or some XPs. A major failure will see that offender not only losing all wealth but also all experience points, busting them back down to 1st level!
There’s also a notation that Aztec priest characters must choose a cardinal direction, and gain a bonus to attacks and spells made when facing that direction, but even though that’s generous for AD&D 1E, I have serious doubts as to whether it’s enough to make up for the high costs of failure. At least when your character dies, you can have them resurrected or roll up a new one; being robbed of all of your character levels in one fell swoop, however, is a penalty of such magnitude that I can’t see many PCs coming back from it.
…of course, that also means that, if you’re facing an Aztec priest character as an antagonist, defeating them once will usually be enough to put them out of commission for a long, long time.
Moving on, there a several more deities to be found here (deities who were present before, but have had a name change – notwithstanding minor spelling differences – have their previous name listed in parenthesis): Quetzalcoatl, Camaxtli, Camazotz (Tezcat), Chalchiuhtlicue (Goddess of the Jade Petticoat), Huhueteotl, Huitzilopochtli, Itzamna, Mictlantecuhtli, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, Tlazolteotl, and Xochipilli. There’s also a single entry for Hunapu and Xbalanque, twin heroes.
To summarize the changes from OD&D, only Tonatuh the sun god is no longer present in the roster. Given that the new sun god, Tezcatlipoca, is not only Chaotic Evil (which is also true for the Huhueteotl, the new god of fire) but schemes to overthrow Quetzalcoatl as head of the pantheon, a good in-game explanation would be that this god overthrew Tonatuh.
AD&D Second Edition
Now simply referred to as “Aztec Mythology” in the AD&D 2E Legends & Lore book, the pantheon has received another shake-up, though with thirteen deities it’s now slightly larger than its previous presentation. The gods listed are: Ometeotl, Huitzilopochtli, Quetzalcoatl, Mictlantecuhtli, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue, Tlazolteotl, Xochipilli, Xochiquetzal, Metzli, Centeotl, and Ixtlilton.
Here, we can see that several deities from the AD&D 1E group have been replaced by newcomers. Camaxtli is gone, as are Camazotz, Huhueteotl, and Itzamna. Interestingly, we actually got an explanation (albeit one considerably after the fact) for what happened to Camaxtli, as he was stated to be killed by Tenebrous in the Planescape adventure Dead Gods. Similarly, both Huhueteotl and Camazotz are found with the aforementioned Olman pantheon; perhaps they were banished from the Aztec pantheon proper? Finally, there’s been a change in leadership, as newcomer Ometeotl is now the head of the pantheon.
That’s not the only change. In addition to having sections on Aztec history, culture, and religion (including a note that these deities now live in space in AD&D 2E, rather than an alternate Material Plane; it even mentions Spelljammer in this context!), we also get a new spell locate spirit animal, and a new magic item, the murky mirror. While Hunapu and Xbalanque are overlooked, we do get stats for three new notable personages: Nezahualcoytl, Nezahualpilli, and Axayacatl.
Finally, note that the “Sage Advice” column in Dragon #198 gives unofficial suggestions for what Tome of Magic spheres specialty priests of the Aztec deities should receive.
D&D Third Edition
The Aztec pantheon never received a formal debut in D&D 3E, but the article “Do-It-Yourself Deities” in Dragon #283 lists several pantheons as examples to be drawn upon when building a pantheon from scratch, the Aztec among them.
The gods listed there are drawn verbatim from the twelve in AD&D 1E, and aren’t given any real presentation besides what each one is the god of, their alignment, their clerical domains, and their typical worshipers. Still, notwithstanding knowing the deity’s favored weapon, that’s just barely enough to play a cleric of one of these gods in 3E.
It’s unfortunate to consider that the Aztec pantheon, like the American Indian pantheon, was so thoroughly forgotten within the wider AD&D multiverse. They weren’t totally ignored, but they were still thoroughly overlooked, to the point where the instances where they were included are exceptionally rare.
Two members of the pantheon, Tlazolteotl and Xochipilli are – once again, just like Raven from the American Indian pantheon – featured in an adventure in OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes. In fact, it’s the same adventure, “A Simple Deed, Well Rewarded,” except that they’re kept in the background, being proprietors of a pleasure palace on a jungle world. Of course, both gods remain “off camera” the entire time. That’s also the case for Camaxtli in his aforementioned reference in Dead Gods.
Beyond that, there’s virtually nothing. I do recall that Camazotz gets name-dropped at one or two points in the Savage Tide adventure path in Dungeon magazine, but that’s a very minor reference.
Personally, I really wish that Spelljammer had given some reference to the Aztec deities living in wildspace, or even better: a short adventure involving one or more of them. There was a lot of potential for genre-mashups with mixing those two together, and I think it’s a real shame that we never got to see what that would’ve been like.