Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 1: A Brief History of the Planes
Hey, I've been lurking here for a couple weeks, but decided it was time to make an account and contribute, and after some thought I figured something I could tackle was my favorite D&D setting: Planescape. I know this setting very well (well... I knew it; honestly it's been long enough since I've done anything with it I've probably forgotten a lot)—I have all the Planescape supplements; I've run several campaigns in the setting; and I was one of the contributors to the semi-official-but-not-really 3E Planescape conversion on planewalker.com. (Though I wasn't one of the editors, and I'm not in favor of all the decisions they made.) When and if Wizards of the Coast ever opens up Planescape to the DM's Guild, I'm going to jump right in with my own Planescape books and adventures. But as much as I love the setting, I don't think it's perfect by any means, and I think it's worth discussing in detail.
(This decision has nothing to do with Mors Rattus's review of the clearly heavily Planescape-inspired Sig. I had already begun writing these reviews well before those started—I wanted to be a few posts ahead and have several parts of this review written before I actually posted the first one—, so the timing is entirely coincidental. In fact, the entirety of this first post was completely written before the first Sig post dropped, except of course for this paragraph.)
Okay, I checked out the archives, and I see that the first few Planescape products were previously covered by SirPhoebos (and one later adventure has a partial review by DAD LOST MY IPOD). But most of them weren't, and even those that were I have lots to say about that isn't in SirPhoebos's (or DAD LOST MY IPOD's) reviews, so I think it'll still be worthwhile for me to write up my own take on them.
So let's get started.
Or actually, let's not, quite yet. I was going to start with the original Planescape Campaign Setting boxed set, but on second thought I think I'll go back a little earlier. Planescape came out during the time of the second edition of Dungeons & Dragons (or "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons", as it was then called to contrast it with "Basic Dungeons & Dragons"), but it had roots in first edition. The most obvious inspiration is the first-edition Manual of the Planes. And so I was going to start with that... but then I figured, what the hey, let's go back even earlier.
The Manual of the Planes was the first book to really describe the planes in detail—and its descriptions were mostly followed in Planescape, and in later presentations of the D&D planes. But it wasn't the first book to define the D&D cosmology. The existence of other planes had been hinted at as early as the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set, which included the spell "Contact Higher Plane"—or arguably even earlier in D&D's predecessor Chainmail, which included elementals that had to be "conjured up by a Wizard", though it didn't specify where they were "conjured up" from. (Incidentally, is it just me, or is "conjured up" kind of a weird phrasing? "I'ma gonna conjure me up an elemental, ayup.") The full Great Wheel cosmology—though it wasn't named that at the time—was first laid out in Dragon #8, in the grandiloquently titled article "Planes: The Concepts of Spatial, Temporal and Physical Relationships in D&D", by (who else?) Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. It wasn't much—barely longer than a page, with a single diagram that Gygax himself admitted looked like "abstract art", but it was a start. (It wasn't really abstract art, he clarified, but "a 2-dimensional diagram of a 4-dimensional concept." I'm not sure how he decided it was "4-dimensional"; by my analysis, if each plane is infinite in three dimensions, and if we assume that planes shown as adjacent in the diagram are also literally physically adjacent along some geometrical axis, then the given arrangement of the planes would require at least five dimensions total. But that's not really important.)
Did he... did he color this in with crayons?
In the first-edition Player's Handbook, "Appendix IV: The Known Planes of Existence" recapitulated the information from Dragon #8; it took up two pages instead of just one and a quarter, but that wasn't so much because it added new information as because it had more spacing between paragraphs and included two large diagrams instead of just one small one.
As it later turns out, the Elemental Plane of Air is not in fact inhabited by living clouds with faces as shown in this diagram. The Happy Hunting Grounds, however, is. (Are?)
But the same couldn't be said of "Appendix 1: Known Planes of Existence" in the first-edition Deities & Demigods, which took up a full six pages. Some of this was, again, due to more tables and diagrams; this appendix included five diagrams, as well as encounter tables for both the Ethereal and Astral Planes and tables for making a random choice from either the Inner Planes or the Outer Planes. But it did also include some new information, including six new planes not mentioned in Dragon #8 or the Player's Handbook: the Plane of Shadow (the distant ancestor of fourth and fifth edition's Shadowfell), the true neutral Outer Plane of Concordant Opposition (later known as the Outlands), and the four Para-Elemental Planes that lay between the four main Elemental Planes. But the influence of Deities & Demigods on the D&D cosmology wasn't limited to this appendix—the fact that it defined homes for each of the gods on the planes had significant consequences for the Manual of the Planes and later Planescape and the D&D cosmology in general.
So that's where we're starting our look at Planescape and its predecessors, with the first-edition Deities & Demigods, by James M. Ward and Robert J. Kuntz. I chose this book not only because of the impact it would have on the D&D planes, but also because, well, there's a lot to say about it. Deities & Demigods was probably the most—I hesitate to use the word "problematic", because it kind of gets overused to the point of near-meaninglessness, but here I think it does apply, so what the hey—problematic book of first-edition D&D. Alongside fantasy pantheons and ancient pantheons like the Greek and Norse, it included rather more culturally insensitive entries like the "Indian Mythos", which described gods still widely venerated today by the roughly one billion Hindus in the real world; and the "American Indian Mythos", which lumped together unconnected traditions from disparate peoples all over the North American continent into one muddled, ahistorical syncretism.
This isn't entirely new to the first edition Deities & Demigods, actually—the fourth supplement to the original D&D boxed set, "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes"—not coincidentally by the same authors, though listed in the reverse order—also included most of the same mythoi, including the Indian but not the "American Indian". It also, incidentally, included the mythos of "Robert E. Howard's Hyborea", which did not make it into the 1E Deities & Demigods. I'm not going to give a full review of this supplement—it didn't really have a direct impact on Planescape—, but I will bring it up again; in fact it's going to come up again in the next post.
Before we get into the meat of the book, though, let's take a gander at the cover:
I'm pretty sure the two gods on the front cover are supposed to be fighting, but they don't really seem to be into it.
Anyone familiar with the art of first-edition D&D will recognize that as the work of Erol Otus, who definitely has an instantly identifiable style of his own. Otus also did some interior illustrations in some other books and illustrated the cover of the 1981 version of the D&D Basic Set, and did many covers and interior illustrations for Dragon Magazine and some adventure modules. He's also done work for other role-playing game companies, as well as art for some video games, including Star Control II.
None of the entities on the cover actually appear in the book, though. Unless those three gods in the sky are supposed to be Egyptian gods, which... maybe? The middle one could be Ptah, I guess, but I'm not sure who the other two would be.
Incidentally, both credited authors of Deities & Demigods are still alive, and still working to some degree in the RPG industry, though not on Dungeons & Dragons. Both were players in Gary Gygax's original Greyhawk games, and both have been immortalized in the game under scrambled versions of their names. James M. Ward created the first science-fiction role-playing game, Metamorphosis Alpha, released by TSR about the same time as "Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes". The Greyhawk archmage Drawmij, the eponym of the spell Drawmij's Instant Summons (and several other spells in earlier editions), was named after him—note what you get if you spell "Drawmij" backwards. Robert J. Kuntz, meanwhile, was for a time the co-Dungeon-Master of Gygax's Greyhawk campaign, and contributed heavily to the Greyhawk setting. His player character Robilar not only eventually appeared as an NPC in the Greyhawk setting, but also had a scrambled version of his name attached to a core magic item, the iron bands of Bilarro. Kuntz also was more directly referenced via an anagram of his surname in another NPC, the archmage Tzunk, first mentioned in the third supplement to the original D&D boxed set, "Eldritch Wizardry", as a wizard who wrote about the Codex of the Infinite Planes—although there his name was spelled "Tzoonk"; it was respelled "Tzunk" in the first-edition Dungeon Master's Guide, perhaps to make the homage to Kuntz a little clearer.
Anyway, Deities & Demigods was eventually reprinted under the title Legends & Lore (not to be confused with the entirely different second-edition Legends & Lore... at least TSR didn't reuse old titles to the extent that Wizards of the Coast later would during the third-edition era), but I refer here to the former title because the first printing of the book had two pantheons (or "Mythoi", in this book's terminology) that the later printings, including those under the Legends & Lore title, lacked: the Cthulhu Mythos, based of course on the works of H. P. Lovecraft and his collaborators and imitators, and the Melnibonéan Mythos, based on the stories of Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock. (Actually, Moorcock had an important influence on D&D that's worth discussing... but I'll save that till we get to the Melnibonéan Mythos.) I'd bought the book when it first came out (or rather had it bought for me, I suppose, since I was a young child at the time), and so I had a copy of the printing that included these two mythoi—still have it, in fact, along with all my other first-edition D&D books, though at the moment due to limited shelf space they're in a box in a storage unit. Unfortunately, the book is in pretty bad shape; the spine is missing, and the cover is badly battered, which I'm sure greatly reduces its value to a collector—not that that matters much, since I have no intention of selling it. But anyway, I guess its well-worn condition testifies to how much use this book saw—or at least how much I enjoyed looking through it, since its actual application to a game was somewhat limited.
The obvious explanation for the absence of the Cthulhu and Melnibonéan Mythoi from later printings is that TSR had failed to acquire the rights, and so was forced to remove them. That's not the real story, though; what really happened was more complicated. It's debatable that rights were even needed for the Cthulhu Mythos, which was almost certainly in the public domain by then; Arkham House, a publishing company set up by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, claimed the rights to Lovecraft's work, but that claim wasn't necessarily on firm legal ground, and it's doubtful that it would have held up against a serious challenge in court. But TSR didn't try to challenge Arkham House's claim, so that's moot. The same couldn't be said of Moorcock, however, who was still alive at the time—and at the time I'm writing this still is—, but TSR actually had contacted Moorcock and obtained his permission to use his characters and concepts. The fact is that it wasn't Arkham House or Moorcock that objected to TSR's inclusion of these mythoi at all—it was another role-playing game company that had officially acquired the rights to those two properties, and wasn't sure it liked the idea of a different company using them. That other game company is, incidentally, still around today, and if you know much about role-playing games you can probably guess who it was.
That's right: Chaosium, publisher of Call of Cthulhu. Call of Cthulhu is now in its seventh edition, but back then was only in its first. (Or was about to be in its first; when Deities & Demigods came out Chaosium was working on Call of Cthulhu but hadn't actally published it yet.) At the time, it was also publishing (or about to publish) a game called Stormbringer, based on the same works by Moorcock that Deities & Demigods drew on for its "Melnibonéan Mythos"; that game is out of print today, but went through six editions (five under the name "Stormbringer", one under the name "Elric!" between Stormbringer's fourth and fifth editions) before Chaosium let the license lapse in 2007. (The original Stormbringer game, incidentally, was co-written by Ken St. Andre, probably best known for his role-playing game Tunnels & Trolls, the first real competitor to Dungeons & Dragons.)
Chaosium's production values were a little lower back then than they are today.
However, when Chaosium threatened legal action, TSR contacted them and worked out a deal. Chaosium would withdraw their objections to TSR's using this material, as long as TSR included them in the acknowledgments. And they did—at the end of the "Credits and Acknowledgments" section of the first printing of Deities & Demigods was the sentence "Special thanks are also given to Chaosium, Inc. for permission to use the material found in the Cthulhu Mythos and the Melnibonean Mythos".
Unfortunately, the next year TSR was taken over by two brothers, Brian and Kevin Blume, who had a very different vision than Gygax (and who would eventually sell their stock to TSR manager Lorraine Williams, giving her a controlling interest in the company—but that's another story). The Blumes didn't like the idea of mentioning a rival company in their own book, and decided they would rather excise those two chapters entirely than leave in the single sentence thanking Chaosium. And so in the second printing they did just that—or they did half of that, anyway. Ironically, when they removed the chapters on the Cthulhu and Melnibonéan Mythoi, they neglected initially to take out the offending "special thanks" that was the whole reason they wanted to remove those chapters in the first place. So the second printing of Deities & Demigods still thanked Chaosium for permission to use material that no longer appeared in the book—as did the third, and part of the fourth, until they finally got around to getting rid of that sentence that had bothered them so much. I'm not sure the Blumes were terribly competent.
So while Legends & Lore was essentially the same book as Deities & Demigods except for the title and the cover and those two missing mythoi from the first printing of the latter, because I'm going to include those two mythoi in my review here I'll refer to the book throughout as "Deities & Demigods". Before moving on, though, I will remark that Legends & Lore had a much blander cover:
I'm not bothering with the back cover this time because it doesn't have any art—just text on a solid-color background.
Anyway, I think this preamble has gotten long enough for a post by itself, so next post I'll get around to actually discussing the contents of the book.
Next Time: Gods and Monsters
Jerik fucked around with this message at 16:02 on Jun 25, 2019
|# ¿ Jun 25, 2019 10:17|
|# ¿ Dec 1, 2022 23:01|
Love the retrospective, Jerik. But as a recommendation, you may want to start each post with a consistent bolded title, it helps the nice guy who maintains the F&F archive when he's hunting the thread for posts that need to be hauled over there.
I was going to start each post with a bolded title starting with the second, but I figured I'd leave the title off the first post so as not to give away what book it was about right at the beginning. But in retrospect, yeah, that was probably a stupid idea, and not worth the inconvenience it would ultimately cause to inklesspen; I'll go back and edit in a title. Thanks.
The Mad City is a dark metropolis, haunted by terrible nightmares. Here, the sleepless trade sanity for safety to fight off the terrible monsters.
Welp, looks like we can add Don't Rest Your Head to the list of other games Sig is ripping off...
|# ¿ Jun 25, 2019 15:16|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 2: Gods and Monsters
The first thing we see when we open the book (assuming we open it at the beginning) is another piece of art by Erol Otus:
I kind of like to think the entities on the left are good, and the ones on the right are evil, just to play against type. Or maybe both sides are good and it's a dispute of law vs. chaos. Just a friendly disagreement. They're not really trying to hurt each other.
None of these creatures appears in the book either.
Anyway, below that image are the credits, and then we get a foreword by Gary Gygax that lays out the goals of the book.
Gary Gygax posted:
[O]ne particular aspect of fantasy role playing was foremost in my mind: there was either a general neglect of deities or else an even worse use by abuse. That is, game masters tended to ignore deities which were supposedly served and worshiped by characters in the campaign, or else they had gods popping up at the slightest whim of player characters in order to rescue them from perilous situations, grant wishes, and generally step-and-fetch. Obviously, there is a broad ground between these two extremes, and that is squarely where I desired AD&D to go."
He goes on to emphasize just how much input he had into the book and its format, and how closely he supervised the authors to make sure the book matched his vision. Which, incidentally, I totally believe; I think pre-Blumes Gygax was pretty hands-on and protective of his game. I'm not going to quote the whole foreword—it fills most of a page; I don't think anyone ever accused Gygax of being laconic—but there are two other bits I want to highlight. One is that he mentions that the "[d]iabolical and demoniac deities are important to the campaign milieu", but not included in this book, because they were already in the "MONSTER MANUAL and the attendant volumes forthcoming", and it was "no great matter to extract these beings from the other works and include them amongst the other deities"—which seems to imply he intended Dispater and Demogorgon and the other archdevils and demon princes from the Monster Manual to be considered gods on par with Anubis and Artemis. (Actually, that's made more explicit later in the book, in the chapter on Nonhumans' Deities... we'll get to that eventually.) The other thing I wanted to mention is this:
Gary Gygax posted:
It is worth commenting that the strength and powers of the beings contained herein are appropriate to the overall work. Thus, addition of these deities and demigods does not imbalance the campaign. Furthermore, characters who become a match for them are obviously to be ranked amongst their number, no longer suitable for daily campaign interaction, but to be removed to another place and plane and treated accordingly.
So the PCs were not intended to fight the gods, because any PCs powerful enough to fight the gods would ipso facto be gods themselves, and no longer player characters. So then why were the gods given full statistics in the first place? This question is revisited (but not really answered) in the Editor's Introduction—not directly bylined, but presumably by Lawrence Schick, who's credited as the book's editor:
Lawrence Schick posted:
Well, here it is, DEITIES & DEMIGODS, the latest addition to the series of ADVANCED D&D volumes. But what exactly is it? Let's see, it has a nice cover—open it up, inside there are lots of pictures next to sets of stacked statistics . . . it must be just like the MONSTER MANUAL! There, that was easy. Now that we know what it is, we know what to do with it, right?
Okay, but again, if the gods aren't intended to be encountered by player characters, why do they have full statistics?
This wasn't the first time this matter had come up. The "Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes" supplement to the original D&D boxed set had also included full statistics for the gods within—"full" being a relative term, because statistics for anything in the original boxed set were pretty sparse. This matter was addressed in that book by Timothy J. Kask, TSR Publications Editor:
Timothy J. Kask posted:
This volume is something else, also: our last attempt to reach the "Monty Hall" DM's. Perhaps now some of the 'giveaway' campaigns will look as foolish as they truly are. This is our last attempt to delineate the absurdity of 40+ level characters. When Odin, the All-Father has only(?) 300 hit points, who can take a 44th level Lord seriously?
I feel like this post needs more images, so here's the cover of "Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes"
While this—along with the Editor's Introduction from Deities & Demigods— wasn't written by Gygax himself, it seems a sure bet that Gygax read it and approved it before it saw publication, and that it mostly reflected, or at least didn't conflict with, his own views. But, well, this last rationalization really doesn't seem to me to hold much water. First of all, if you want to highlight how ridiculous high-level characters are, there are simpler means than creating more than a hundred stat blocks you never expect to be used. Second, well, if that was really the intent, the method seems counterproductive. If you provide the players with statistics for anything, at least some players are going to think they're supposed to fight them, no matter how much you try to protest otherwise in the introductory sections that a lot of players are just going to skip over anyway. Stat up the gods, and players will fight the gods. And of course they did.
Not that I did myself, or know anyone who did. I've never been interested in powergaming, and I've never had a character reach nearly that kind of power level—nor has it happened in any campaign I've run as a DM, and I've run long campaigns that went on for real-time years. But my experiences are not universal; there's clear evidence that some players did play in such absurdly high-level campaigns. Early issues of Dragon Magazine include letters from players boasting about their 358th-level characters. That's not an exaggeration: a letter in Dragon #137 began with the sentence "Recently my AD&D® game character, Waldorf, a 358th-level magic-user, created the nuclear bomb." Okay, maybe it's a little bit of an exaggeration, in that I referred to "358th-level characters" in the plural, but while others may not have reported that exact level, some claimed levels that were even higher. In Dragon #31, a writer to the "Sage Advice" column mentioned having "two characters that are at one thousand-plus level". ("I don't know whether to laugh or cry," columnist Jean Wells responded.) And in the same issue as the 358th-level Waldorf, the writer of another letter stated that his friends had "been playing the AD&D game for over six years now" and their characters had "levels in the millions, maximum scores for almost every ability, and can obliterate five planes of the Abyss in a round." (They complained that they were out of challenges, and asked how they could "have fun with these high-level characters." "Perhaps you should meet Waldorf," editor Roger E. Moore replied.)
"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds! Do ho ho ho!"
Actually, those "thousand-plus level" characters are particularly pertinent to the matter at hand, because of how they got to be thousand-plus level. I think I'll just quote that entire letter:
Some silly person posted:
Question: In GODS, DEMI-GODS AND HEROES it says that a forty-plus level character is ridiculous. In our game we have two characters that are at one thousand-plus level. This happened in "Armageddon," a conflict between the gods and the characters. Of course, the characters won. What do you think about that?
In other words, yes, at least some players are on record as having used the book of gods as a book of monsters, having their players gain experience from defeating gods. I'm sure they weren't alone.
But was this really an unintended consequence? On Gygax's part, at least, I'm inclined to say yes. I think Gygax's oft-expressed contempt for such absurdly high-level play was genuine, and that he really didn't intend for players to treat the gods as monsters to be fought. Which, however, again leaves unanswered the main question: Why did they have full statistics?
I think I may have an answer. One thing that gets talked about with regards to early versions of D&D is "Gygaxian naturalism"—the idea that Gygax included a lot of statistics and details in his books not because they had any direct impact on gameplay, but just because they made the world seem more detailed and real. This wasn't really the case in the original D&D boxed set, but certainly was in first edition; monsters frequently had abilities that didn't directly relate to combat; stats and rules and tables were included to deal with all sorts of relatively mundane situation; Gygax's adventures often included notes as to how dungeon features were maintained, even though adventurers were unlikely to discover this. Gygaxian naturalism survived Gygax's own involvement with the company; arguably second edition engaged in it to an even greater extent than first, with monster entries having detailed notes on their habitats and ecologies and even their reproduction, and third edition went so far as to stat up monsters using similar rules to player characters. Of course, this kind of naturalism wasn't unique to D&D, and other games have similarly fleshed out their gameworlds and tried to give them a plausible basis, some to a greater extent than Gygax ever did. So maybe "Gygaxian naturalism" is a bit of a misnomer, but even if wasn't something unique to Gygax, it was definitely something promoted by him. And I can see that as the reason for the gods having stats—if these are something that exist in the gameworld, then by golly they should have statistics (for purposes of naturalism), even if they're never going to be used!
Now, personally, I'm all for Gygaxian naturalism, or whatever you want to call it. To me, a big part of the appeal of role-playing games—maybe the main part of the appeal—is to feel like I'm vicariously experiencing another world, and having the setting feel like a living, breathing environment not entirely focused just around adventures is an important part of that. That's probably why I'm not a big fan of "storygames", or other games that heavily incorporate metagame mechanics; the contrivances they go through to give the players a larger role in defining the gameworld and the environment work against the immersion for me... I don't want, as a player, to be able to influence elements of the surroundings that my character shouldn't have control over, because that undermines the sense of a larger world that doesn't exist just to serve the characters. It's why I don't like "rules light" games that leave much up to DM fiat and narrative convenience; I like having rules for everything, because it bolsters the illusion that there's an objective world where these events are taking place. It's also at least part of why fourth edition was my least favorite edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, it may have been the most balanced edition, but it achieved that balance at the cost of jettisoning any pretense of naturalism; it may be the best edition for games centered around fighting monsters in set encounters and not worrying about what else is going on in the setting, but that's not the kind of game I want to play. (I am not, of course, saying that any of these kinds of games are objectively bad—only that they're not the kinds of games I, personally, prefer.)
So I guess my point, to the extent that I have one, is that while it's easy to poke fun at his including statistics for gods and then not expecting the players to use them, I think I can see why Gygax did that—or more accurately why he allowed (or even encouraged?) the writers to do that under his supervision. I might even have done the same in his place. So what, if anything, should he have done differently? I'm honestly not sure. Maybe been more upfront about his reasons for including the statistics? (Though introspection can be hard, and maybe he wasn't totally aware of his own motives—that's in no way intended as a slam on Gygax; I can't claim to be sure I'm fully aware of my own motives for everything I do either.) Maybe been more explicit about what players and DMs should do about characters who grow too powerful? Or maybe there's really nothing in particular he should have done differently, and the way it was presented served the goals he meant it to serve, and the fact that it also enabled powergaming players who wanted thousand-level characters was an arguably unfortunate but unavoidable side effect.
(Though it may not be directly pertinent to the matter at hand, I feel I would be remiss not to at least mention the existence of the third-edition Deities & Demigods (with its fully statted gods) and Epic Level Handbook (with its rules for characters becoming powerful enough to challenge them). Those books attracted a good deal of mockery and criticism at the time, but they're not completely without precedent; as we've just seen, giving full stats for the gods goes all the way back to the original D&D game. Still, I guess there's a difference between giving stats for gods when those stats are brief enough that you can fit four gods on one page, and giving them when the stats for a single god take up nearly two pages; and while some players may have played ridiculously high-level characters in earlier editions, no previous edition explicitly condoned and encouraged such play the way the Epic Level Handbook did (the closest was probably the Basic D&D Immortal Rules, but even that was less over the top); so maybe the criticism isn't entirely unwarranted.)
Quick point of order -- the Epic Level Handbook wasn't unprecedented by any means. AD&D 2E had "Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns" which is almost a 1:1 model for the content in Epic Level Handbook.
You're right; that's another precursor to the Epic Level Handbook that I should have mentioned—honestly, I guess I'd forgotten this book existed, even though I had it and even used it in a campaign I ran. (Not the high-level material; I used the material in Chapter 5, on Magical Duels, which wasn't restricted to high levels. Which of course raises the question as to why it was in this book in the first place.) However, I wouldn't say it's "almost a 1:1 model". There are certainly some commonalities—extending class abilities beyond 20th level; high-level applications for skills; a special system for spells above 9th level. But there are plenty of things that are in one book but not the other, too, and I'd still argue the Epic Level Handbook goes significantly farther over the top. Most notably, Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns insists on a hard level cap at level 30, which means it only lets characters exceed the levels in the Player's Handbook by a relatively modest 50%; the Epic Level Handbook imposes no upper limit on the levels a character can theoretically reach, and includes monsters with CRs as high as 66 (and some epic monsters from other, later official sources had even higher CRs!), implying that it's expected that PCs could conceivably reach those levels. I wonder how many actually did. I did run a long 3E campaign once where the PCs got up to epic levels before the campaign ended, but only barely; they were in the low 20s. I really don't think I'd want to try to run (or play in) a campaign for 50th- or 60th-level characters.
Anyway, I've now spent almost two thousand words discussing why the gods have stats. Time to move on.
After Gygax's foreword, we come to the table of contents, at the bottom of which is our first piece of art not by Erol Otus. I'm not sure who it's by, actually; while the credits list all the artists, they don't say who did what, and I don't see a signature on this piece—and I'm not sufficiently intimately familiar with the styles of the various 1E artists to recognize it. (If I had to guess, I'd venture it's probably Paul Jaquays (as she was then credited; she now goes by Jennell Jaquays), but I'm not sure.)
He looks kind of bored. "It's a living."
At least, assuming that's supposed to be Poseidon, this time it depicts an entity that actually does appear in the book.
We then get a preface by James M. Ward, who spends much of it discussing (in generalities) his reasons for the creative decisions the authors made in deciding on the gods' abilities and relative power levels. I'll just quote a part of this:
James M. Ward posted:
All of the leaders of the pantheons were given 400 hit points and the rest were scaled down from there; the relative resistance of beings to blows and magic was derived from studies of their battles with natural and supernatural forces; while concepts like strength were easily assigned in the case of deities of strength or war, this concept is less easily applied to the more powerful deities who have no need for massive muscles. Alignments were perhaps the hardest AD&D concept to deal with, and the one that will have the most debate among the interested users of this work. Beings like Set, Loki and Arioch are easy to classify, but when working with the middle-of-the-road deities who were often chaotic but known for consistent kindness, or were rogues of the worst sort but very companionable, it became necessary to consider them as a whole to make a judgment.
Actually, I don't think even Set and Loki were as straightforward as he's making them out to be. Both are usually depicted as evil in modern pop culture, but neither really was evil in the oldest myths. Set was originally a benevolent god of the desert and of warfare, and was widely honored; his name was used for love spells, and he accompanied Ra on his daily journey on the solar barge and protected the sun god by fighting off the evil serpent Apep. It was only after Set was adopted by the invading Hyksos that his association with foreigners, combined with the rise in worship of Osiris, induced the Egyptians to have a more negative view of him. As for Loki, he was certainly mischievous in many of the myths about him, but he was generally a staunch ally of the Aesir, and the only myths in which he did anything outright evil were set during (and just before) the events of Ragnarǫk—which may very well have been at least in part an invention of the Christian mythographers who are the only source we have for these stories.
Anyway, below the preface are the credits, including the aforementioned thanks to Chaosium, and then on the next page we finally get to... the Editor's Introduction. Yes, we have a foreword, a preface, and an introduction, each written by a different person. Don't worry; we don't also have a prologue, a preamble, or an exordium.
I've already quoted the beginning of the Editor's Introduction above; Schick goes on to discuss the vital role that clerics should have in a campaign and the importance of the DM's considering "the flavor of the campaign" when deciding which pantheons to use, and encourages DMs to read up on the mythologies themselves to "discover the fascinating stories behind these immortal characters, and get a really solid feel for how to play them." There's one odd statement I want to highlight:
Lawrence Schick posted:
The most important thing to remember about this book is that, unlike the other AD&D volumes, everything contained within this book is guidelines, not rules. DDG is an aid for the DM, not instructions.
I'm honestly not sure exactly what Schick is getting at here. Surely in some sense every book contains guidelines, not rules, but why is this more true of Deities & Demigods than any of the others? Gary Gygax was never going to come to your home and force you at gunpoint to roll a loyalty check for your faithful henchmen when you left them in a position where they could potentially steal your silverware. I think what Schick means is that you can choose which gods and pantheons to use in your campaign, and you can change their alignments and abilities if it works better for your purposes, but the actual rules regarding gods are just as much rules as anything in the Player's Handbook or Dungeon Master's Guide.
Anyway, after the Editor's Introduction we now finally get to the "Explanatory Notes", which... I guess I'll save for another post, because this one got long enough as it is. (Admittedly mostly because of the long digression about the gods having statistics.) Sorry.
Next time: The Consequences of Negative Charisma
Jerik fucked around with this message at 16:22 on Jul 1, 2019
|# ¿ Jun 26, 2019 01:57|
I feel like most people say "Gygaxian Naturalism" with a sneer, but to me, likewise, it's a good thing. I especially loved 2nd edition when each monster had a full page with not just a stat block, but an explanation of how it fit into the world. It made them feel like residents of the world, not just encounters. 3rd ed, on the other hand, I didn't consider to be engaging in Gygaxian Naturalism at all, because it only had stat blocks. 3E's monster manuals, and all monster entries, were so disappointing to me. Plus they felt terribly edited because they never just kept to a monster per page, they clearly tried to jam in as many entries as possible at the cost of editing.
I completely agree about second edition; I loved the detailed monster descriptions too. I think third edition had more naturalism than you're giving it credit for, though... it certainly suffers in comparison with second edition, but it did include information about the monsters beyond the stat blocks and combat abilities—not as much as second edition, but at least as much as first. Just looking through a few of the monsters under A in the 3E Monster Manual, we get a paragraph on aboleth reproduction; we get the feeding habits of ankhegs and how their burrows and their nutrient-rich waste are beneficial to farmland; we get the arrowhawk's complete life cycle; we get colorful details on the athach's love for collecting crystals; we get a decent-sized paragraph about the societal structure of azers.
Fourth edition, on the other hand, really did leave out almost everything except the stat blocks. There was a little flavor information buried in the brief "Lore" sections, but it wasn't much. As you say, 4E "scraped back all rules not directly associated with the combat system", and I guess that's mostly why it seemed to me less naturalistic. Yes, of course a DM could detail the larger world and make it seem like an active, living place, but I feel like that wasn't really supported by the rulebooks the way it was in earlier editions, and some of the advice in the Dungeon Master's Guide actively discouraged it. (Though as a Planescape fan the fact that 4E completely altered the D&D cosmology also bothered me.)
Again, though, this is all just my feelings on the subject, and I'm not saying it was an objectively bad game. It certainly had its good points—besides the better game balance, I think that even though there were some problems with the implementation, the idea behind skill challenges was a good one, and something I do wish fifth edition had followed up on.
Do any of the DD editions contain suggestions for spheres/powers for the associated Clerics? Because that always felt like something that was left partially unfinished in, say, the 2nd ed AD&D PHB.
Yes, actually. Second edition didn't do this in the Player's Handbook, but the Complete Priest's Handbook went into considerable detail on customizing clerics to fit specific faiths, with bonus proficiencies, possible special restrictions, major and minor access to particular spheres, and often additional powers unique to that faith. It included dozens of "sample priesthoods" covering topics from agriculture to wisdom—and after that, each book about gods would also include similar details on specialty priests of each god. The 2E Legends & Lore, Faiths & Avatars, Monster Mythology, Powers and Pantheons, Demihuman Deities... each of these books gave information on specialty priests for each deity, though some in more detail than others.
In fact, aside from the detailed monster descriptions, that was probably the thing I most missed about second edition when third edition first came out. Sure, domains allowed some differentiation between gods of different faiths in 3E, but it wasn't at all the same thing as having customized specialty priests for every god.
(On the other hand, the main thing I didn't miss about second edition was the deadliness—2E had a lot more save-or-die effects than third, though third edition certainly wasn't entirely free of them.)
|# ¿ Jun 26, 2019 06:17|
Quick point of order -- the Epic Level Handbook wasn't unprecedented by any means. AD&D 2E had "Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns" which is almost a 1:1 model for the content in Epic Level Handbook.
OK, that's fair enough. I think I had that book (and if so, it's almost certainly currently in a box in a storage unit with the rest of my earlier-edition books), but I don't think I ever used it or even browsed it much, and I wasn't aware of the similarities.
ETA: I've now looked through the book, and I agree it's got some similarities and I probably should have mentioned it (and I may edit my post to insert your comment), but I wouldn't say it's "almost a 1:1 model". There are certainly some commonalities—extending class abilities beyond 20th level; high-level applications for skills; a special system for spells above 9th level. But there are some pretty significant differences, too, and I'd still argue the Epic Level Handbook goes significantly farther over the top. Most notably, Dungeon Master Option: High Level Campaigns still insists on a hard level cap at level 30, which means it only lets characters exceed the levels in the Player's Handbook by a relatively modest 50%; the Epic Level Handbook imposes no upper limit on the levels a character can theoretically reach, and includes monsters with CRs as high as 66 (and some epic monsters from other, later official sources had even higher CRs!), implying that it's expected that PCs could conceivably reach those levels. I wonder how many actually did. I did run a long 3E campaign once where the PCs got up to epic levels before the campaign ended, but only barely; they were in the low 20s. I really don't think I'd want to try to run (or play in) a campaign for 50th- or 60th-level characters.
Also, looking over this book now, it's ringing enough bells that I'm sure now that yes, I did have it and did read through it before a long time ago; I'd just forgotten it. In fact, I used the rules for Magical Duels from Chapter 5 in a 2E campaign I ran years ago; I'd just forgotten they were in this book. (And am still not sure why they're in this book, actually, since they don't require the participants to be any particular level and they work just as well for relatively low-level characters.)
Although I liked the 4th edition cosmology, I did shake my head when Player's Handbook 2 tried to cram Sigil back in, with all the weird changes that imply (like turning Shemeska into a Rhakasha).
She wasn't a rakshasa; she was a raavasta, which was the 4E replacement for arcanaloths, though I'm not sure why the 4E designers thought they needed replacing, when the other yugoloths were still there just changed into demons. Maybe they just didn't like the name.
I think there was even a book (or maybe an issue of Dragon or Dungeon?) that explicitly noted the connection and said that arcanaloths had turned into raavastas for some reason, though I can't find it now.
Ah, it's in the Lore for raavastas in the 4E Manual of the Planes:
4E Manual of the Planes posted:
Many planar scholars believe that raavastas were once demons known as arcanaloths. According to sages, the demon lords drove the arcanaloths out of the Abyss due to their conniving ways, and it is from these demons that raavastas and rakshasas descend. Their similar tendencies and greed supports this theory, though rakshasas are quick to dismiss such claims as evil slurs against their race’s honorable nature.
Hm... okay, so while it connected raavastas and arcanaloths, it also made rakshasas into arcanaloth descendants, which is... kind of weird. I'd forgotten that part. Anyway, though, raavastas were basically just arcanaloths in all but name, so making Shemeshka a raavasta wasn't much of a change. (There were plenty of big changes in 4E I didn't like, but that wasn't one of them.) A'kin was also a raavasta in 4E, according to the DMG2.
Jerik fucked around with this message at 17:42 on Jun 26, 2019
|# ¿ Jun 26, 2019 17:05|
Brief tangent, did anyone ever play a game where you actually rolled your hit die when you leveled? Even the groggiest table I've played at let you take 75% of your hit die. It's the most inexplicable thing I've seen in the rules for Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons because everyone ignores it.
Huh. Maybe a lot of people do ignore that rule, but I've never encountered a group that did. Every D&D/d20/Pathfinder game I've been in (excluding 4E games, of course, since 4E didn't have randomized hit points) had players roll for hit points each level, though sometimes with house rules like taking half the maximum die value if you roll below that.
Sorry if I'm being dense, but I couldn't help but wonder... do those asterisks represent something that was illegible in the original text due to the "weird font", or are they there to censor an explicit word? (If the latter, I'm not sure what word would fit there.) Or were those asterisks actually in the original book for some reason?
By the way, sorry for the delay with the next part of the 1E Deities & Demigods review. I've had it all written and ready to go for some time (the text, anyway, though it needs formatting and images), but I've been busy with an out-of-town job the last few days and just got back today. I should have the next part of the review up by tomorrow morning, and hopefully there won't be this big a delay between parts again, though given my unpredictable and irregular work schedule I can't necessarily guarantee that.
|# ¿ Jul 1, 2019 05:39|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 3: The Consequences of Negative Charisma
I probably should have been using this banner from the start... oh well.
Foreword, preface, and introduction finished, now we finally get to the meat of the book. Oh, we don't get to the gods themselves yet; no. First we've got to get through the:
This section details the statistics given in each entry for a god or monster. Some of these statistics apply only to gods, others only to creatures, but they're all mixed together in these notes. Most of these are straight out of the Monster Manual and other early monster books: Frequency, Number Appearing, Armor Class, Move (with the quirky 1E convention of preceding the movement rate with a slash to indicate flying speed, two slashes for swimming, etc.), Hit Points, Hit Dice, % In Lair, Treasure Type, Number of Attacks, Damage per Attack, Special Attacks, Special Defenses, Magic Resistance (in 1E Magic Resistance was a standard item in every monster entry, even though the vast majority of monsters didn't have it), Intelligence, Size, and Alignment. We do get a few notes on possible special values for these items for gods: Move, for example, could be Infinite, indicating that "the entity can travel to any point desired with no time lapse, and this is the being's preferred mode of movement." We also get a description of how Magic Resistance interacts with deities' special abilities—surprisingly, it still applies. After Alignment we get our first item that hasn't been standard in monster books: Worshiper's Align, the typical alignment of worshipers of the god, which may or may not be the same as the alignment of the deity. ("This does not necessarily apply to the alignment of the deity's clerics, which must be identical with their patron's.") After that we get Symbol ("Fairly self-explanatory, this is the symbol by which the deity and his or her faithful followers are known. It will be found engraved upon most holy items."), and then Plane—the "deity's plane of origin", usually, but not always, one of the Outer Planes. After that, for deities and heroes we get their levels of ability in various classes and subclasses: Cleric/Druid, Fighter, Magic-User/Illusionist, Thief/Assassin, and Monk/Bard. (It's worth noting that the gods and heroes in this book do not apparently make any attempt to follow standard AD&D multiclassing/dual classing rules—which were, admittedly, messy and contrived anyway.) We then get Psionic Ability—like Magic Resistance, a standard item in 1E monster entries, even though it didn't apply to the vast majority of monsters (though most of the gods do have some level of psionic ability)—and finally, for gods and heroes, their ability scores: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma (abbreviated by their first letters, except Charisma, which is CH).
The ability scores get a little over a page of extra explanation, because while the Player's Handbook laid out the bonuses and penalties of ability scores ranging from 3 to 18, gods and heroes often had higher ability scores. Therefore, this book extends the tables from the Player's Handbook to include ability scores from 19 to 25—25 was a hard cap on ability scores in 1E, as 30 is in 5E. For example, characters with a Strength of 25 can carry 15,000 pounds, get a +7 bonus to hit and +14 to damage, and have a 23 in 24 chance of forcing open a stuck door (or 9 in 10 if it's locked, barred, magically held, or wizard locked). Characters with a Dexterity of 25 get a +5 adjustment to attacks, a −6 defensive adjustment to Armor Class (in 1E, lower armor classes were better), and bonuses ranging from 30% to 50% to the various thief skills.
Charisma is unique in that it gets extended to values not only above 18, but also below zero. "In certain instances," the book explains, "some divinities are so loathsome and repellent as to actually have negative charisma." For example, a being with a Charisma of −7 gets a reaction adjustment of −70%—meaning that 70% is deducted from the probability of an NPC's having a positive reaction to the character. Gods, but not other characters, also have a horror ability if they have a negative charisma, causing creatures below a certain threshold of hit dice or levels (12, for a Charisma of −7) to be "stunned with fear and detestation until the being is no longer in sight"—divine beings with a high positive Charisma, incidentally, have a differently flavored but mechanically identical awe power. Oddly, neither Deities & Demigods nor the Player's Handbook addresses the effects of Charisma between 0 and 2; apparently you can have a Charisma of −1, or you can have a Charisma of 3, but nothing in between.
After the Explanatory Notes, we have the Standard Divine Abilities—as well as another image, while I'll include here because I realize that other than the banner at the top I haven't included any images yet in this post (but this introductory text in Deities & Demigods is really light on illustrations—there'll be more once we get to the actual pantheons).
So is this drawing trying to make an analogy between role-players and gods? Because that seems really... trite.
STANDARD DIVINE ABILITIES
Basically, there are eight special abilities that all gods have, unless specified otherwise: they can command other creatures, with no saving throw; they can comprehend languages; they can unerringly detect alignment; they can gate in other beings of the same mythos; they can impose a geas or a quest (these were both spells in first and second edition, with similar but slightly different effects, so this counts as two different abilities); they can teleport; and they have true seeing, the ability to see all things as they truly are (also a spell... in fact, all these abilities are based on spells). These abilities all "function instantaneously and at will, but not continuously." The book also encourages DMs to give the gods "bonus powers" not listed in the book according to their judgment. Finally, all gods and demigods make all saving throws on a roll of 2 or higher on a d20; heroes need a 3.
DUNGEON MASTERING DIVINE BEINGS
Dungeon Mastering Divine Beings posted:
In AD&D, when the deities deign to notice or interfere with the lives of mortal men, it is the Dungeon Master who must assume their roles. DMing a divinity presents a far greater challenge than playing the role of a merchant, a sage, or an orc. Players will quite naturally pay special attention to the words and deeds of the gods, so the DM must make a special effort to understand how to present them.
Basically, we're told that the gods are egotistical beings who will harshly punish any mortals who try to intimidate them or treat them as equals. They "enjoy flattery, but any any god with a wisdom score above 15 will know it for what it is, and will generally not allow his or her opinion of the flatterer to be altered by the flattery." Most gods have much higher Intelligence and Wisdom than mortals, and shouldn't be easy to trick or fool. "In fact, as DM, you can usually assume that if you know why a character is saying or doing something, the deity would know it as well. This should help to simulate the deity's superior intellect and wisdom, and impress the characters." Gods rarely deign to enter combat with mortals, and even if they do they won't risk their lives, and are likely to just summon aid and then teleport away. Nor will they typically fight other gods, "[u]nless they have a history of mutual antipathy".
Gods are willing to aid their worshipers, but usually do so in subtle ways rather than by overt miracles, much less personal appearances.
Dungeon Mastering Divine Beings posted:
If the supernatural powers of the various Outer Planes could and would continually and constantly involve themselves in the affairs of the millions upon the Prime Material Plane, they would not only be so busy as to get neither rest nor relaxation, but these deities would be virtually handling all of their own affairs and confronting each other regularly and often. If an entreaty for aid were heard one time in 100, surely each and every deity would be as busy as a switchboard operator during some sort of natural disaster. Even if each deity had a nominal number of servants whose purpose is to supply aid to desperate adventurers, the situation would be frenzied at best. It is obvious that intervention by a deity is no trifling matter, and it is not to be allowed on a whim, even if characters are in extremis!
Nevertheless, it's not entirely impossible that a god might come to a character. Evil gods are particularly likely to appear, if they think they can make converts; good gods are more likely to send servants. The book does something very interesting here and suggests that the increased abilities of high-level characters are in fact due to direct divine intervention: "the accumulation of hit points and the ever-greater abilities and better saving throws of characters represents the aid supplied by supernatural forces." I guess that's one way to answer the pervasive question of what hit points really mean in the game world, but for better or for worse I don't think this was ever followed up on. (To be fair, the 1E Player's Handbook had mentioned "luck (bestowed by supernatural powers)" among the things that hit points above first level were supposed to represent, but Deities & Demigods seems to suggest that that's all they are.) In any case, this goes two ways; gods regard high-level characters as important resources, which means they may call upon those characters to do things for them. "In these cases, rather than being requesters of divine intervention, characters may actually become part of the intervention itself!"
This section ends with a discussion of the chances of a character's receiving divine intervention when requested, and it's... actually much higher than the preceding text would seem to indicate, at least for first-time petitioners.
Dungeon Mastering Divine Beings posted:
If the character beseeching help has been exemplary in faithfulness, then allow a straight 10% chance that some creature will be sent to his or her aid if this is the first time the character has asked for (not received) help. If 00 is rolled, there is a percentage chance equal to the character's level of experience that the deity itself will come, and this chance is modified as follows:
And then we get a bunch of modifiers to the chance: minus 5% for each previous intervention, plus 1% if the character is "opposing forces of diametrically opposed alignment", etc. We also get a note that this applies only to activity on the Prime Material Plane, or occasionally in the Astral and Ethereal; gods never intervene directly on the Outer Planes or the Positive or Negative Material Planes, and "intervention in the Elemental Planes is subject to DM option, based on the population he or she has placed there."
CLERICS AND DEITIES
Here we get information about the relationship between, well, clerics and deities. Most of this is fairly predictable stuff: gods expect their clerics to "maintain appearances and perform the proper rituals"; clerics may be expected to build places of worship for their gods; etc. One bit worth noting is that not all clerics have access to all spell levels; there are essentially three tiers of godhood, and only the highest tier, "greater gods", can grant their clerics spells up to seventh level (the highest level of cleric spell that existed in first and second edition). "Lesser gods" can only grant up to sixth level spells, and "demigods" only up to fifth. Personally, I think back when I played first-edition D&D I just ignored this fiddly and annoying rule, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. (Not that it would have come up much anyway; clerics of sufficiently high level to cast sixth- or seventh-level spells were few and far between.) We're also told that first- and second-level spells come directly through the cleric's own faith and knowledge; third- through fifth-level spells are granted by divine servants; and sixth- and seventh-level spells are bestowed directly by the gods themselves... but it's not clear that this has any actual game effect. (Well... I guess the part about first- and second-level spells not requiring the deity to grant them does turn out to have one game effect that we'll get to later, but it's one that would only come up in extremely unusual circumstances.)
We then get a discussion of what happens if clerics fall away from the path of their deities. Basically, low-level clerics don't really need to worry about divine punishment; the gods expect more from higher-level clerics. (Although the book doesn't say so, I'm assuming that applies only to relatively minor transgressions; if a low-level cleric decides to go on a spree of desecrating the temples of his or her god and wantonly slaughtering the god's other worshipers, I would expect the god might actually raise an objection to that.) For such a cleric, a minor lapse can result in nothing more than an admonitory omen on first offense. (We'll be getting to omens in a moment.) If the trespass is repeated, however, the god may send a servant to require the cleric to undergo penance—which may be as simple as an atonement spell if the cleric wasn't really at fault (yes, this was a spell in earlier editions), and otherwise may involve "several days of fasting, prayer and meditation and/or minor sacrifices." More weighty infractions may require major sacrifice, minor quests, or, in some religions, "public degradation and humiliation"; really serious offenses may require the cleric to "sacrifice all of his or her possessions and then go on a major quest in order to restore good standing." And of course, really serious sins or heresies may result in excommunication or even "direct divine wrath".
So... really pretty much what you'd expect, although we're assured at the end of this section that a "faithful and true cleric... does not even consider committing actions which oppose those of his or her alignment and religion."
And now we get a section on omens, "signs or indications from deities that display the pleasure or displeasure of the gods or serve to foretell the future." Oddly, we're told that this section "deals with many of the common omens of historical reality", by which I assume the authors mean phenomena that were historically believed to be omens, unless they really think that gods constantly dispensing omens is a part of genuine, real-world history. Players who act against their alignment will be sent bad omens, most commonly in the form of a slight loss of power. (Yes, the book says players, but of course it no doubt means player characters... there are a lot of things here that could be worded better.) This isn't limited to clerics; unfaithful fighters may lose half their hit points due to illness, magic-users may be unable to cast their higher-level spells, and so on. The importance of getting the player characters to stick to their alignments is really hammered hard here:
In short, omens are devices for judges [i.e. DMs] to use in correcting players that constantly do improper things in the campaign. If a temporary loss of power does not deter a player from constantly violating his or her alignment or not following the ways of the deity, then more severe omens can be given or the effects of some can be made permanent.
We then get lists of common omens, though we're assured that they're "entirely optional", and that:
Under no circumstances should a player be allowed to badger a DM into, for example, giving the player a bonus on saving throws simply because he or she is carrying a pouch full of four-leaf clovers! In the AD&D universe, such an occurrence might foretell seven years of ill fortune to follow.
First we get the good omens, and it's... not really particularly interesting. Yes, four-leaf clovers are there, along with dice, crossed fingers, "and the three apes that see, hear, and speak no evil", inter alias. We do get the interesting note that "[t]he wearing of leather from top to bottom is said to repel demons and devils"—which is given no hard rules to back it up, and, again, is never followed up on. Bad omens, we are told, are more numerous than good, and include standard superstitions such as breaking mirrors, spilling salt, and "[t]hirteen of anything in one group". Rather oddly, we're told at the end of the paragraph that "[t]he coming of a will-o'-the-wisp is interpreted to mean that some building is going to burn to the ground within seven days, while the wail of a banshee certainly means that someone is going to die that very night." Well, according to the Monster Manual, will-o'-the-wisps and banshees are evil monsters that want to kill you. I think calling them bad omens is kind of redundant.
Save versus magic or be instantly killed by this bad omen.
In between the good and bad omens, dung for some reason gets a whole paragraph.
Dung is said to have both good and bad properties. Objects or persons that are covered in dung reputedly cannot be touched or hurt by the undead. On the other hand, if even a small bit of dung is cast upon an altar consecrated to good, the altar is defiled and only evil can be contacted there. The forces of good must go to great lengths to resanctify such a tainted object.
The appearance of a rainbow, by the way, is a "definite statement from a deity. Its appearance means either that the deity wants to converse with a mortal, or that the deity wants the mortal to undertake a quest." So apparently in the D&D multiverse, every rainbow is a direct miracle specifically sent as a message from a god—at least according to this book, and no other D&D book ever. (One wonders how the mortals who see the rainbow know who the rainbow is specifically intended for, and what the quest is they're supposed to undertake. Perhaps D&D rainbows don't have a standard ROY G BIV order, but are color coded to signify their meaning.)
"Hm... blue red blue yellow purple green orange red. Welp, looks like Oghma wants Finn to go slay a hag."
MORTALITY AND IMMORTALITY
The last major section of the introduction is "Mortality and Immortality". This section begins by discussing the difference between souls and spirits—a technicality that existed in early editions of D&D, but was dropped from third edition on. Basically, only humans, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and half-elves have souls; all other creatures that worship gods—including elves—have spirits. (Apparently creatures that don't worship gods don't have either souls or spirits, and are just gone when they die. Or they have some third, unspecified type of vital force (or anima, as the book calls souls and spirits collectively). Pneuma? Quintessence? And yes, we are given some brief guidelines for deciding whether or not a given type of creature worships deities.) Creatures with souls can be restored to life by a raise dead or resurrection spell; creatures with spirits cannot. (We are, however, assured that this system "is only a suggested one", and that "[i]ndividual Dungeon Masters should use a different system if they find this one unsuitable.")
Yes, that means in first and second edition elves could not be raised or resurrected. That part isn't actually new to this book; it was in the Player's Handbook—though that's another rule that I'm guessing was probably widely ignored. What is new to this book is the more detailed account of what happens to souls or spirits after death. Both souls and spirits go to an Outer Plane, usually the one where their deity resides, and more specifically to the part of that plane where the deity's influence is strongest. (Yes, there does seem to be an assumption throughout this book that every character will necessarily be devoted to a single god; characters who worship multiple gods or who don't bother worshiping any gods at all apparently don't exist.) The soul or spirit of a person who has not been perfectly faithful to his or her deity's tenets, however, may instead go to a different plane more in keeping with the character's true alignment. Once they get to their destination plane, souls are there for good; spirits, however, are eventually reincarnated and returned to the Prime Material Plane, though not necessarily as the same species as they used to be. The timing of the reincarnation is unpredictable: "It could range from as little as ten years to a millenium [sic] or more—time is not important to a deity."
(Speaking of reincarnation, it just occurred to me that the first- and second-edition reincarnate spell interacts weirdly with the soul/spirit distinction. The reincarnate spell could potentially bring back a dead human as an elf, or vice versa; does that mean the subject's soul was transformed into a spirit, or the reverse? Or does that result in a human with a spirit, or an elf with a soul? For that matter, the druid version of the spell could also bring back a dead human or elf as, say, a badger, or a raccoon (though I don't think any first-edition book ever had game statistics for raccoons); if badgers and raccoons don't normally worship gods, and hence don't have souls or spirits, is the soul or spirit of the reincarnated individual destroyed, or does he or she come back as a uniquely ensouled/enspirited badger or raccoon? Maybe these questions were addressed in a "Sage Advice" column somewhere, but if so I'm unaware of it.)
We're then given this parenthetical paragraph:
Mortality and Immortality posted:
(Note: The above is only a suggested method for dealing with character life-after-death. The DM may, of course, use whatever system is most appropriate to his or her campaign.)
Yes, we were already told a few paragraphs ago that this system was optional, but apparently the authors found that important enough to warrant reiterating. Okay, maybe the Editor's Introduction really meant what it said about everything in this book being guidelines, not rules after all.
Anyway, the soul or spirit is not instantaneously transported to an Outer Plane immediately upon a person's death. Rather, it has to travel through the Astral Plane, a process that takes 3-30 days. (At least, we're told that's the time "relative to those in the Prime Material Plane", but "time is meaningless to the soul or spirit". Which means... what, exactly? Does the soul or spirit experience it as instantaneous travel? Does the soul or spirit just have no idea at all how much time had passed?) This is why it's harder to bring people back with the raise dead spell the longer they'd been dead; the farther along they are in their travel to their destination plane, the farther they are from the Prime Material Plane. The resurrection spell works differently, though, and rather than calling back a soul in transit actually brings it back from the plane of its deity.
Mortality and Immortality posted:
As this involves the cooperation of the deity on the plane where the soul was, clerics must use extreme caution in employing this spell. If a cleric resurrects a being of radically different alignment, the cleric's deity (who gave the cleric this power) may be greatly offended. Similarly, if a cleric resurrects a being of different alignment simply to serve the purposes of the cleric or his or her deity (to extract information, for example), the deity on the plane where the soul was may be highly displeased and may take appropriate action.
So, wait, if resurrection requires the cooperation of the deity where the soul is, can't that deity just not cooperate if it doesn't want the person resurrected, rather than allowing it to happen and then getting all huffy about it afterward? Apparently not, I guess.
Two other notes about souls and spirits before moving on: First, we're told that the soul or spirit's journey through the Astral Plane can be dangerous because of the monsters that "roam the ethereal and astral planes at will" (why are the monsters that roam the Ethereal Plane relevant, if the soul is only traveling through the Astral?), and that this "is why burial chambers often include weapons, treasure, and even bodyguards to protect the soul on its journey." Second, we're told the following:
Mortality and Immortality posted:
The servants, functionaries, and minions of some deities (demons, devils, couatl, ki-rin, titans, and others) are actually spirits put into those forms for the purposes of the deity. It should be noted that the forms listed in the MONSTER MANUAL are by no means the only ones these servants can take — some chaotic deities rule planes where no two beings have the same form!
Which is another thing that was never really followed up on in later books, and in fact ends up being at least partly contradicted by them. Yes, we do later get details of how demons and devils are formed from the souls of the dead, but that seems to be a sort of quasi-natural process rather than an act of the gods, and there's no indication that couatls and ki-rin are formed similarly (and titans, at least, get an entirely different origin). Oh well.
We then get to what immortality means in D&D: basically, an immortal being doesn't age, but that doesn't mean it can't be killed. Whether a god appears old or young has nothing to do with the god's power level. Gods and their servants travel through the Astral Plane anchored by a "silver cord" similar to that of an astrally traveling mortal, except the god's silver cord is unbreakable. (The silver cord was another whole weird thing from early editions of D&D... I won't explain it now, but we'll get into it when we get to Appendix 1.) If the god or spirit is slain on another plane, the silver cord snaps it back to its home plane near-instantaneously and it's not destroyed, but it is weakened: even a greater god will need a few weeks of rest and recuperation, during which time any clerics of that god won't be able to recover any spells above second level. Any divine servant or even god is destroyed utterly if slain on its home plane, beyond even the power of the deities to restore. However, "[a]ll creatures are most powerful in their own territory", and it should be virtually impossible for a god to be killed on its home plane by anything other than another god.
The very last part of the introduction, a subsection under "Mortality and Immortality", deals with Divine Ascension. In other words, we get to find out how a mortal can become a god. Basically, there are four requirements for this to happen:
Mortality and Immortality posted:
This process of ascension usually involves a great glowing beam of light and celestial fanfare, or (in the case of those transmigrating to the lower planes), a blotting of the sun, thunder and lightning, and the disappearance of the character in a great smoky explosion.
Although in this illustration it kind of looks like both are happening at once?
No description of what the process involves for characters that are neither good nor evil. (And yes, as we'll see, there are plenty of gods that are neither good nor evil, and there are Outer Planes corresponding to such alignments, so this does seem to be a significant oversight.)
Of course, a PC who ascends to divinity becomes an NPC. Still, I guess that's a better way for a character to retire than failing a saving throw against a giant centipede's poisonous bite.
Save versus poison or be instantly killed by this common ¼-hit-die monster. (Okay, you get a +4 to your saving throw, but still...)
And that's that. Whew. Okay, I'm very glad to be through with all that introductory matter. Maybe I should have split it into more than one post, but honestly I'm just glad to get it done. Starting next post, we'll finally get into the actual pantheons.
Next time: Haida, Iroquois, Navajo... those are all basically the same thing, right?
|# ¿ Jul 1, 2019 17:54|
I realize I may be nitpicking here, but I don't think Sig's creator really thought through the whole Möbius-strip aspect of the city's geometry. I guess that was just a takeoff of the fact that Sigil is a ring, so Sig's creator decided his city should be something like a ring, but even more strange and mystical. But the way that Möbius strips work, and the way the map of the city is set up, if someone were to walk all the way around the city they'd end up as a mirror image of their original self. (Note the top and bottom edges of the map—the top of the map has to be mirror-reflected to join up with the bottom.) The same goes for anything they were carrying with them; any books would now seem to people who hadn't joined them in their circuit to be written in mirror writing. I get that you could try to handwave the issue away with "well, that doesn't happen because magic", but the phenomenon is so inherent to the topology of the Möbius strip that for me that wouldn't really be satisfying; it would make about as much sense as saying that magical effects in this universe make it so five isn't a prime number, or so there's a forbidden number between 12 and 13. (On the other hand, if the creator did address this in the book and you just didn't mention it in your summary... well, props to him, I guess; that could be an interesting aspect to the setting if it's actually dealt with.)
Honestly, my overall reaction to Sig so far has been... disappointment. From the first post, it sounded like it could be really intriguing. And there are some intriguing aspects. I like the idea of the tethers, and how the city changes with the tethered planes. And there are some imaginative details (though given the amount of "borrowing" present I don't know how much of them are copied from relatively obscure RPGs I'm not familiar with). But, well, for instance, the factions... apparently Sig has Factions because Planescape had factions, and Sig's creator liked them in Planescape. But the main thing that made Planescape's factions interesting wasn't the roles they played in running Sigil; it was their philosophies, their beliefs, and the fact that through those beliefs they could literally shape reality. Unless you've glossed over that part in your summary, it doesn't seem like Sig's Factions have any of that—they're just defined by the jobs they do in the city. They're essentially just trade guilds; they're not factions in the Planescape sense; and they're not nearly as interesting. If you're going to copy an existing property rather than innovate, at least copy the good parts.
And the Spark RPG system itself sounds to me like it would be about as much fun to play as repeatedly whacking myself in the forehead with a two-by-four, though I admit that's down to personal preference—like I said in one of my prior posts, I don't particularly enjoy storygames or metagame mechanics, and it seems the Spark RPG system is all storygaming up the wazoo.
Bah, sorry for being so negative about this; again, a lot of this is no doubt just down to personal preference. I'm not saying other people can't enjoy Sig, or are wrong to do so... but it seems it's definitely not for me.
On a more positive note, my reaction to World Tree, incidentally, has gone the other way. From the first post, it seemed to me it was going to be just yet another generic furry RPG that only existed to give an excuse for those who were into that sort of thing to play anthropomorphic animals. But as the posts went on, it became clear that the creators really had gone to the trouble to build a unique and imaginative gameworld, with lots of potential for conflict and discovery. I'm still not sure I'd ever want to actually play the game—the whole furry aspect is still rather a turn-off—, and, like other posters here, I find the Zi Ri to come across as kind of insufferable. Still, while my opinion of Sig really plummeted with succeeding posts after a mostly positive first impression, so far World Tree has been turning out to be a lot more interesting than my first impression made me think it would be. (Though I don't think Tendales has posted anything about the actual rule system yet, so we'll see if that turns out to be a train wreck.)
Night10194, I'm looking forward to reading about Hunter. I think it's the oWoD game I'm the least familiar with. (Yes, even counting Demon and Mummy.)
|# ¿ Jul 1, 2019 20:13|
Well, okay, I guess I can see that... I'm not sure how a belief like "passion is incorruptible" or "strength is a burden" could really motivate a character's actions or lead to interesting stories, but I guess knowing only the elevator pitch of the philosophy and not the details or nuances you could say the same of, for instance, the Bleak Cabal in Planescape (which incidentally is one of my favorite factions). That still doesn't do much to change my opinion of Sig, though; the factions were just one example of something about the setting that seemed to fall flat to me.
By the way, since I didn't explicitly say this in my last post, I want to make it clear that my criticism is directed at the game itself, not at your write-ups. I've been enjoying reading your write-ups about Sig, even if I don't think I'd enjoy playing the game.
|# ¿ Jul 1, 2019 20:46|
(There's art! I can't find a jpeg to post of it, but gently caress yeah! Grandpa slamming a spoon right through a werewolf's chest to save his elderly wife rules!)
Here, maybe I can help you out with that—I said Hunter was the oWoD game I was least familiar with, but that's not because I don't have the book; it's only because I never got around to reading it. Sorry for the low quality scan, but hopefully it's better than nothing—is this the illustration you had in mind?:
These clans/tribes/guilds/etc. came to be known as “splats” and are still widely imitated in the tabletop business today. The term arose because White Wolf published sourcebooks called Clanbooks, Tribebooks, etc. and the Usenet community collectively referred to them as *books. Some computer nerds pronounce the * as “splat,” hence splatbooks, hence splats.
This is something I was going to get into when I finally got through all Planescape's main precursors and to the Planescape Campaign Setting boxed set itself, but at least according to one former TSR employee, the Planescape factions were directly and intentionally inspired by White Wolf's Vampire clans—Vampire: the Masquerade was very popular at the time, and TSR (or one of TSR's writers, anyway) decided it might be a good idea to copy one of its concepts. In retrospect, I can definitely see the connection, though I certainly wasn't aware of it at the time back when Planescape was still in print.
|# ¿ Jul 3, 2019 01:13|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 4: Haida, Iroquois, Navajo... those are all basically the same thing, right?
We start out with a bang, with one of the worst-handled "mythoi" in the entire book: the American Indian Mythos.
Or as the title seems to have it, the AMERICAN...indian mythos
As I've already mentioned, this is a grab-bag of figures and concepts from different Native American peoples, all jammed incoherently together. And we start out with a solemn reiteration of the standard cliché of Native Americans being close to the land:
American Indian Mythos posted:
The gods of the Indians of North America were as close to nature as their worshipers could make them. The natural world is the most important aspect of the Indians' existence. The gods will always prefer to appear in the form of a creature of the land. They can, if necessary, appear in human form, but such appearances require great energy and may only last a short time.
Please note that this last bit about the gods rarely taking human form is flatly contradicted in the descriptions of the gods themselves. Of the nine gods in this section, six are described as typically taking human form; a seventh doesn't have his form explicitly described but is depicted as humanoid in the illustration (and is said to use a shield and a bow or hand-axe, which would seem to be difficult for a four-legged animal). This leaves only two gods out of nine that "prefer to appear in the form of a creature of the land"—though they happen to be the first two gods listed.
The text goes on to tell us that "Indian" clerics wanting to control something must have a part of that thing already; that "the symbolism of a name is very important to the Indians", and that "[a]ll Indian rituals involving demons or devils require the use of a large fire for control of the creature." (Nothing further is said as to under what circumstances "Indians" would perform rituals involving demons or devils.) "Rituals revolve around the seasons", we are told, and "[f]ood, finely made jewelry, weapons used successfully in battle and the like are burned at these times for the good of the tribe in the upcoming season." This is all, frankly, pretty generic stuff—generic enough that I can't even say if it was based on the practices of a particular Native American people; it just seems like boilerplate priest-of-a-"primitive"-culture stuff. Clerics dress with magical symbols, which are "buried with the cleric in the event of his death"; young clerics go into battle while older clerics call upon the gods for aid... none of this is particularly interesting or evocative. At the end we finally get to some things that at least sound pop-culture-Native-American: we get a reference to "the warpaint of the warriors" (which, to be fair, really was fairly widespread among Native Americans, though obviously it had different meanings and details in different areas), and are told that "the tent or lodge of the cleric(s) is a place taboo to the rest of the tribe and supposedly guarded by strong spirits."
And then we get a couple of paragraphs about "sacred bundles", which in real life I think were mostly confined to some of the tribes of the Great Plains (and, apparently independently, in parts of Mesoamerica, but that's not covered in the "American Indian Mythos"—there's a separate chapter for the "Central American Mythos", which we'll get to later). This is... actually pretty flavorful, if not necessarily faithful to real Native American beliefs, and pretty blatantly overpowered. A warrior makes a sacred bundle with the help of a cleric and a summoned spirit, and it gives significant benefits: +2 on all saving throws, an armor class of 2 (equivalent in first-edition to Plate Mail +1), one point subtracted from every die of damage taken in battle, and the character has only a 1 in 6 chance of being surprised. The bundle contains 5 to 10 items, and... what the hey; I'll just quote the last paragraph:
Sacred Bundles posted:
There are always from 5 to 10 items in a bundle, and the summoned spirit chooses several of the items so that they are very dangerous to secure (thus proving the worthiness of the supplicant). Things like a rattle from a cave of giant snakes, a feather from a high nesting giant eagle, or the hair of 13 enemies killed in battle are the type of items that go into a sacred bundle. When all of the items have been acquired, the priest of the tribe must be brought; he will demand that the last offering placed in the bag be of his choosing. This thing is always something that the priest can use a part of for his own purposes.
Wait... is that an "E.O." down at the bottom? Is this an Erol Otus drawing? Huh. Doesn't look like his usual style.
Now for the gods. In contrast to most of the pantheons, in which the gods primarily inhabit the Outer Planes, most of the "American Indian" gods make their homes in the Prime Material Plane. They're a mixed lot, though, and look pretty playable; all the alignments are represented among the gods except lawful neutral and neutral good. There's no information, however, about relationships between the gods, or how they interact with each other—which in one way is understandable, as the gods are drawn from several different traditions. The book does not specify which particular Native American culture each god is from, or in any way acknowledge that there is more than one Native American culture, but I've tried to track down the origins of each god and I'll state them as we go. (I am not, however, by any means an expert in Native American anthropology, and I may get some details wrong.)
Ah, distinctly I remember, in the marshes of Marsember...
In most of the pantheons, the head of the pantheon comes first, and the rest of the gods are listed alphabetically. In the "American Indian Mythos", Raven is listed first, out of alphabetical order, implying that he's in some sense the head of the pantheon, though this isn't specifically addressed in the text.
Raven is chaotic good, though he is worshiped by people of all alignments, and makes his home in the Elemental Plane of Air for some reason. He's a 12th-level cleric, a 12th-level druid, a 10th-level ranger, a 16th-level magic-user, a 16th-level illusionist, and a 14th-level thief, and—in accordance with what's mentioned in the preface about the leaders of pantheons—he has 400 hit points, more than any other god in the pantheon (though Shakak, whom we'll get to later, is a close second with 390).
Raven is "the great transformer-trickster who is responsible for the creation/transformation of the world". His big thing is shapechanging—both himself and others. He can change his own shape to "appear in virtually any form he chooses", and can also transform others (who receive a −3 to their saving throws).
In actual Native American culture, Raven as a creator and trickster god was basically a thing of the Haida and Tlingit and other people of the Pacific Northwest. The art, too, looks vaguely inspired by those cultures, complete with a totem pole (also a thing specifically of the Pacific Northwest.).
"Hello, Fire Head Girl!"
Of course Coyote is here, as possibly the most famous figure from Native American mythology. The trickster Coyote comes from the traditions of Native American peoples of the Plains and Southwest regions, but of course that doesn't prevent him from being crammed in here into the same "pantheon" with Raven from the Pacific Northwest and, as we'll later see, other entities from elsewhere in North America. He's a chaotic neutral 14th-level cleric/14th-level druid/15th-level fighter/14th-level magic-user/17th-level illusionist/18th-level thief, and after this I think I'm going to stop giving the class breakdowns of the gods unless there's something really interesting about them because seriously, they're usually like this.
"Although Coyote is responsible for teaching arts, crafts, and the use of light and fire, he is primarily a bullying, greedy trickster." (Which I think actually is pretty much how he was portrayed in a lot of the Native American myths, so fair enough.) He can also change his shape, but not as well as Raven; he can only change into different animals. He's largely worshiped by thieves.
We can't have a chapter about Native Americans without teepees somewhere.
And now we toss in a god specifically from Navajo mythology, because why not. Actually, as we'll see, although this chapter draws from traditions from all over North America, the Navajo in particular get disproportionate representation.
Also known as the "Red Lord", Hastseltsi is a god of racing who appears as a man with all red equipment. (Exactly what equipment isn't specified.) He also has a giant maroon horse that "is enchanted so it will run faster than anything it is competing against."
When he enters a tribal area it is because he desires to race, with any person and in any way. He never shows his godlike abilities (always running iust a little faster than his opponent).
Which... seems like it would make for kind of a pointless encounter. There's nothing that says that he places any wager on the race, or that there's any consequence for losing, so basically I guess the PCs are just beat in a race by some guy wearing a red loincloth or whatever his "red equipment" is, and they never find out who he was, and nothing ever comes of it. I mean, sure, a creative enough DM could find a way to make something interesting out of this, but it certainly doesn't immediately lend itself to much. (And that's assuming he does beat the PCs... for all the emphasis on his divine abilities, Hastseltsi, unlike his horse, is not said to be enchanted to run faster than anything he is competing against, and his speed is twice the speed of a normal human, which is fast, but not insurmountably so; in first-edition he can be easily outrun by an eleventh-level monk. Granted, he can fly at twice the speed he can run (so four times human running speed), but if he flies during a race that might sort of qualify as "show[ing] his godlike abilities". (And even then, he'll lose to an eleventh-level monk under a haste spell.))
I kind of like the stylized art that some of the gods from this pantheon are given. As we saw with Hastseltsi, not all the gods are drawn this way, but we'll see one or two more that are.
Also known as the "Black Lord", Hastsezini is a lawful evil god of fire who makes his home on the Elemental Plane of Fire. "This being is jet black and extremely ugly," and "is very fond of destroying villages by fire if they do not make sacrifices to him." Most of his description is about his combat abilities, which is odd, because how likely is it that PCs are going to enter into combat with him? Wouldn't it be more useful to give information about his worshipers, or heck, his relationship to other gods in the pantheon?
This is another Navajo god, by the way, as you may have guessed from the similarity of the name to Hastseltsi's. Which I'm sure never had the potential to cause any confusion in play at all.
Heng comes originally from the traditions of the Huron, a Native American people who lived north of the Great Lakes. Heng's header actually says "HENG (thunder spirit)", but he's listed as a lesser god, so apparently he really is a full-fledged divinity. "This god is favored among all the Indian tribes because he can sometimes be relied upon to bring rain to those that suffer, and give luck to those that hurt." But only sometimes, I guess. His priests "sprinkle large quantities on the ground to attract his attention" when they need rain, and then he may or may not choose to answer the summons. The guy's lawful good... one would think he'd be a little more conscientious.
Oh... Heng lives on the Elemental Plane of Air. No word on whether he and Raven are roomies.
We don't get an illustration for Heng, but since he just "appear[s] as a braided warrior of the tribe that summoned him", I guess we're not missing much. That doesn't mean, by the way, that he just appears as some generic warrior; he apparently copies the form of a specific warrior of the tribe, and the warrior he copies "will have luck in battle for the whole year (in the form of a + 2 to hit enemies)."
In his birch-canoe exulting / All alone went Hiawatha...
Possibly the greatest of all Indian heroes, this warrior can be found (with many other names) in many of the cultures of America. He is often depicted battling monsters and even gods on behalf of mankind.
Um... no, Hiawatha could not be found with many other names in many of the cultures of America. Hiawatha was not a mystical warrior who battled gods. Hiawatha was a real person. He was one of the founders of the Iroquois Confederacy, a semi-democratic union of several Native American nations that some scholars argue served as partial inspiration for the United States Constitution.
However, while the information here about Hiawatha is pretty much completely wrong, the authors of Deities & Demigods aren't the first ones to make that mistake. The Hiawatha in Deities & Demigods is almost certainly not based on the historical Hiawatha, but on the Hiawatha of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem The Song of Hiawatha, which had nothing to do with the historical Hiawatha either. Rather, Longfellow's poem was rooted in the stories of a figure from Algonquin folklore variously called Manabozho, Tcakabesh, Wisakedjak, or Glusakabe, among other names. Longfellow had originally planned on using the name Manabozho for the protagonist of his poem, but he somehow got the confused idea that Hiawatha was yet "another name for the same personage," as he wrote in a journal entry, and decided to use that name instead.
At least you could argue that the Deities & Demigods portrayal of Hiawatha is more respectful than Walt Disney's Little Hiawatha cartoon, I guess. I mean, would you rather be remembered as a lawful good druid/paladin/ranger who "transcends the normal boundaries of tribal feuds in that he will help all people in trouble", or as a clumsy young boy whose pants keep falling down?
The text says Hiawatha "fought the great bear of death and won through hand-to-hand combat". So I guess that's what's happening here. We do not get statistics for the great bear of death.
A chaotic good wind god who casts lightning bolts in combat, Hotoru has a couple of things in common with Heng. First, despite his good alignment, he apparently only sometimes decides to help people out by giving them good weather or making their crops grow. Second, he doesn't have an illustration, but that's okay because he just takes the form of some nearby mortal anyway—though in his case it's "the form of the chief of any village that he is near", rather than a warrior of the tribe.
Despite these similarities in their presentations, Hotoru does not have the same origin as Heng—Hotoru comes from the traditions of the Pawnee, a Native American people from Oklahoma and its surroundings.
Like Hiawatha, Qagwaaz is not a god, but a powerful hero associated with the pantheon; he's a neutral good ranger/bard who enjoys "chasing and capturing horses and buffalo on the plains for sport, and entering villages to test his strength against the best warriors there." And... I'm not really sure where he comes from. Apparently, neither is anyone else; I found a whole thread on EN World about the topic. (Well, about the gods from the "American Indian" pantheon from Deities & Demigods in general, but the title of the thread was "Deities & Demigods: American Indian Mythos (or, Who the Heck is Qagwaaz?)", so it seems they found this hero particularly troubling.) There is a Qagwaai, or Qagwaay, from Haida stories, but he seems to have little in common with the Qagwaaz of Deities & Demigods beyond the name—not to mention the fact that Qagwaaz is supposed to be a "hero of the plains", and the Haida are a people of the Pacific Northwest, nowhere near the plains. Still, I can't find any better leads, so my best guess is that Qagwaaz did ultimately come from Qagwaai, though he seems to have been changed quite a bit along the way. Perhaps the authors ran across the name but no further information, and just invented their own details.
"Ice to meet you. Ha ha ha. Shut up I am so the first person to ever say that."
Shakak is a white-skinned, chaotic evil deity who has a human form with a demonic face. People sacrifice to Shakak by burning valuable items to propitiate him so he'll make the winter less harsh, "but no one prays to this evil being for fear that he will come." Like Heng, he's parenthetically referred to as a spirit ("SHAKAK (winter spirit)"), but he's listed as a greater god. Apparently the writers decided that "American Indians" referred to (at least some) gods as spirits, which... yeah, okay, I guess that's not surprising.
Shakak is a spirit of winter from the folklore of the Acoma Pueblo of New Mexico, opposed to Miochin, the spirit of summer, who does not appear in this book because apparently the authors just threw together figures from various Native American traditions at random.
Bitten by a radioactive snake... wait, I may be thinking of someone else.
Snake-Man is a chaotic good god of reptiles, I guess. No reptilian creatures will attack him, including "fantastic reptilian beings such as certain devils, demons, dragons, and the like." He never fights physically; he either uses magic or summons snakes to fight for him—he "can summon 5-500 random types of snakes to serve him (once per day)." (So... if he summons 5-500 random types of snakes, does that mean just one snake of each type? Or if not, how many snakes does he summon, in all? One would think that might be more important than the number of types.) He also "ages at will, and often visibly turns younger or older in long conversations with other beings", and I'm not sure exactly how or if that's supposed to tie into the whole reptile theme.
Snake-Man "appears in the shape of a man with rainbow-colored skin", and "always wears 75,000 gold pieces worth of jewelry". (Always exactly 75,000 gold pieces worth?)
Traditions of some sort of "Snake-Man" existed among many Native American peoples, including the Blackfoot, the Hopi, and others, and none of them quite match the Snake-Man in Deities & Demigods, but if I had to guess, I suspect it was inspired by the divine Snake-Man, or Tł'iish Hastiin, from Navajo mythology, though I've been able to find very little information about this deity online or in any books I have and really I've spent way too much time on this already and ought to just move on.
This hero is famed for his great strength and will wander from tribe to tribe and fight the best each tribe has. Sometimes he will lose, and when this happens he will stay with the tribe for one year and fight in their battles.
Also, he has "a cloak that enables him to turn into a halibut at will."
Stoneribs comes from Haida tradition, where he is most famous for killing a great sea monster and wearing its skin. That sea monster's name? Qagwaai. Remember how I said the Qagwaaz from Deities & Demigods seems to have little in common with the Qagwaai from Haida mythology except the name? Yeah. (To be fair, in some versions of the story Stoneribs assumed the sea monster's name after killing it, so I guess in a way there was a hero named Qagwaai, but he still... was nowhere near the plains, among other things.)
The turning into a halibut is straight out of the original stories, by the way, except that there he does it by somehow putting on a halibut skin instead of a "cloak".
Stoneribs is a lawful good 10th-level ranger, making him one of the few characters from this book (and the only one from this chapter) to stick to a single character class.
Thunder bird is go!
Yes, in addition to gods and mortal heroes, this book does, as the Editor's Introduction mentioned, "include some monsters" related to the various pantheons. The thunder bird is the only monster in this chapter, and its Frequency is given as "Unique", so it's a one-of-a-kind entity, not a species of which multiple individuals exist. It can cast thunderbolts and is never surprised, though I'm not sure why you'd want to fight it anyway, since it's chaotic good and it "warns of great disaster and is often found fighting evil creatures of great power that have been summoned by the enemies of good tribes." The thunder bird has been killed several times in the past, but it's always come back. No method is given of preventing its return from death, though again, there doesn't seem to be any real reason a PC would want to.
Thunderbirds were one of the few mythological motifs that actually were fairly widespread among Native American cultures; they're particularly prominent in the Pacific Northwest, but also appear in the traditions of various peoples of other areas as well.
Tobadzistsini is another god who comes from Navajo myth, and another god who's referred to as a "spirit" ("TOBADZISTSINI (war spirit)"). In the original Navajo accounts, he was the younger twin brother of Nayenezgani, Slayer of Alien Gods, who was at least as important as Tobadzistsini in Najavo mythology but who does not appear in Deities & Demigods. Also, in the original Navajo accounts, Nayenezgani and Tobadzistsini were heroes who slew terrible evil spirits, but in Deities & Demigods for some reason Tobadzistsini is neutral evil. He "usually appears as a massively built male", and likes to butt into battles between tribes.
"I suppose you're wondering why I've called you here today..."
Yanauluha was the first of all tribal clerics, and he is able to summon any spirit (god) of this pantheon to his people. The priest is now classified as a friendly spirit and is invoked by Indian priests whenever they need an especially large boon from the gods.
So... Yanauluha is not a god, but he's a useful go-between to communicate with the gods. So... kind of like a Catholic saint, I guess? He's not all that hard to summon, either; any sacrifice of magic items gives him a 10% chance of appearing, and it seems if it doesn't work the first time there's nothing stopping you from sacrificing another magic item and trying again. (There's nothing specifying how valuable the magic items had to be, either, so apparently you can summon him by sacrificing first-level scrolls or potions of delusion—though granted magic items in general were harder to come by in first edition than they became in some later editions.)
Yanauluha "appears as an old man in rich Indian garb and talks very slowly." I like the "talks very slowly" bit—the DM actually gets some information on how to role-play him.
Oh—I almost forgot. Yanauluha comes from the mythology of the Zuni, a Pueblo people who lived in what's now eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. (Well, still live there, in fact, though in a much smaller area than they used to, and now mostly just in New Mexico.)
Okay, that's it for the "American Indian Mythos". This may not have been handled as well as it could have been, but it's mostly uphill from here. Sort of.
Next time: gently caress You, Mordred
|# ¿ Jul 3, 2019 05:12|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 5: gently caress You, Mordred
I'm not sure why there's a period. I don't think "Arthurian Heroes" is a complete sentence.
So here we get a section on the characters of the Arthurian legends. As a child, I found this the most boring chapter of the book, and I guess really I still do. There are no gods or monsters, mostly just a bunch of samey knights, and they don't even get much flavor text; not counting King Arthur himself, only two of the knights get more than five or six lines of description. Also, despite their common association with a fantastical version of medieval Europe, I'm not sure how well Arthurian legend really fits Dungeons & Dragons. The chapter includes a drawing of King Arthur chasing a D&D troll, and, I don't know, to me it just looks sort of weird and out of place.
Also, it kind of makes me sympathize with the troll.
At least the text does sort of acknowledge its possibly ill-fitting nature:
Arthurian Heroes posted:
The knights of the Round Table may not fit into some AD&D worlds, but DMs may find it interesting to spice up their campaign with a trip to Arthur's Britain. More useful information can be found in TSR's KNIGHTS OF CAMELOT™ Fantasy Boardgame.
After a couple paragraphs of introduction, the first two entries on this page are for "The Average Knight of Renown" and the "Knight of Quality". These are general statistics, intended to be varied for individual characters. Average Knights of Renown are fighters of 8th through 10th level, with variable hit points "but never less than 60", and ability scores that "may never be below 10, and most average 15." Their alignment is "Variable (but 80% lawful)". Knights of Quality are fighters of 10th through 13th level, with variable hit points "but never less than 70", and ability scores that "may never be below 13, and most average about 16." Honestly, so many of the statistics are left as variables that these statblocks are pretty useless; it would have made more sense just to say that Knights of Renown are fighters of levels 8-10 and Knights of Quality are fighters of levels 10-13, and left it at that without having to fill space with mostly empty statblocks.
One interesting point in the description of these knights is that apparently 5% of Knights of Renown have squires who are better at fighting than the knights they serve. Also, Knights of Renown "will most often kill their defeated opponents, rather than grant mercy," while Knights of Quality "will usually (75% of the time) grant mercy to all those who ask for it during battle." Make of that what you will.
Is that horse on the right floating?
After that we get a long list of ninety "good or neutral knights of the Arthurian legends"—sixty-four Knights of Renown and twenty-six Knights of Quality (marked with asterisks). We are given no information about these knights beyond their names and in a few cases very brief parenthetical notes ("brother of Gawaine", "knight of the black lawns", etc.) After this, we get a similar but much shorter list of thirteen knights who "are evil through and through": nine Knights of Renown and four Knights of Quality. (None of these even get parenthetical notes.) These lists may be useful for someone already familiar with Arthurian legends who just needs a reminder about the characters, or for someone who needs to make up an Arthurian knight but is very bad at coming up with names. They're pretty much useless for anyone else. Fun fact: King Arthur's court jester, Dagonet, was apparently a Knight of Renown. Also, Mordred, one of the most famous and significant figures of the Arthurian legends, apparently wasn't deemed important enough to get his own full write-up, and instead is just listed without comment among the evil knights. At least he's a Knight of Quality.
This done, we get to those personages who, unlike poor Mordred, do get their own full entries, starting, of course, with King Arthur. He's a lawful good 14th-level paladin/5th-level bard with an 18 in every ability score except Wisdom, which is 19, and Dexterity, which is only 16. (Also, his Strength is listed as 18(52), because first edition had this weird "percentile strength" thing which, if you don't already know about it, isn't worth explaining.) Despite being the most important figure in the Arthurian Mythos, King Arthur is not, of course, the divine head of a pantheon, and thus does not get 400 hit points, having to settle for a measly 123.
He didn't have that cape in the other picture. I guess he takes it off for troll-chasing.
We get a brief summary of Arthur's history—you know, the sword in the stone and all that—and are told that he "upholds the idea of lawful righteousness and fair play." Also, Excalibur is a +5 lawful good sword of sharpness, and its scabbard is also magical and prevents him from being cut by any attack.
Huh, come to think of it, you know who else doesn't get her own statblock, besides Mordred? Gwynevere. (Yes, that's the way the name of Arthur's wife is spelled here.) She's mentioned once in Arthur's description, but that's it; we're given no game information about her, not even her alignment. One would think the queen of the realm would warrant more than a single namedrop, but apparently not.
SIR BERNLAD DE HAUTDESERT (the magical green knight)
If you're familiar with the Arthurian story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, you might expect the Green Knight to be some magical being, probably a fairy of some sort. Nope. He's just a chaotic good fourteenth-level fighter who has magic armor that prevents him from being hurt by physical weapons. Also he has a +3 axe. So he's a really well-equipped fourteenth-level fighter, but that's still all he is.
By the way, the earlier listing of Knights of Quality also lists a different Green Knight, "Pertelope". No other information is given. It turns out Sir Pertelope does appear in what's apparently the primary source for this chapter, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, where he's the brother of Sir Persaunt the Blue Knight and Sir Perimones the Red Knight, but that's not mentioned in Deities & Demigods—that is, Sir Persaunt and Sir Perimones are both listed too, but there's no indication that the three are brothers. But anyway, if Sir Bernlad de Hautdesert and Sir Pertelope are both Green Knights, then sure, they can each be a Green Knight, but could either one of them really be called the Green Knight?
I'm no historian, but was it normal to wear armor on the torso and leave the legs completely unprotected?
He's a 20th-level paladin, he's the bastard son of Sir Launcelot, and he successfully completed the Quest for the Holy Grail, and he has 18s in all his statistics except Intelligence, which is 15. And there's really nothing else interesting to say about him.
SIR GARETH OF ORKNEY (knight of the many colors)
He's called the knight of the many colors because of "the many colors he used on his armor and shield". "He was the most modest of all the knights", and really I guess there's no reason for him not to be modest, because he's a pretty ordinary neutral good seventeenth-level fighter. With, admittedly, pretty good ability scores, but not as good as Sir Galahad's.
SIR GARLON (the invisible knight)
Sir Garlon was given a special power "by a witch of the fens for the promise to only use the power for evil". Can you guess what the power was? Aside from that, really the only thing noteworthy about him is that he's one of the few knights in this chapter who's not just a single-classed fighter or paladin. He's a 13th-level fighter/3rd-level thief. Oh, and he's chaotic evil.
Sir Gawaine's had enough of your poo poo.
Sir Gawaine posted:
Gawaine has been given a magical gift of an unusual nature. From 9 in the morning till 12 noon, he gains in strength. From 9-10 he has a 19 strength; from 10: 11 he has a 20 strength; and from 11-12 his strength is 21. After 12 his strength returns to normal.
Well, that's weird, and kind of pointless. Okay, apparently this is actually a thing in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, but it's still weird. (Also, why the passive voice? He "has been given a magical gift"? By whom? The Dungeon Master?)
Sir Gawaine is true neutral, and is "a revengeful knight [who] would travel to the ends of the earth to right some supposed wrong done to him or his family."
Sir Lamorak is a neutral 15th-level fighter, and there's nothing special about him (except maybe for the fact that he has really good ability scores), and I don't know why he needs his own entry and isn't just listed among the Knights of Quality. Oh. Right. Those only go to thirteenth level. Okay then, I guess.
SIR LAUNCELOT DU LAKE
Also known as "The Knight of the Mullet".
You probably know who this is; he's the most famous figure from Arthurian legend next to King Arthur himself. Here, he's a 20th-level paladin, or I guess maybe he's not, because while his stat block says he is his description says that he "was able to use all the powers of a Paladin, until he fell from grace". We get a little information about how he fell from grace and what he did afterward, but there's nothing really interesting. His lowest ability score is Wisdom, which... yeah, that tracks.
"Higitus figitus migitus mum..."
The son of a sorceress and an incubus (a succubus shape-changed into male form), Merlin has a combination of powers and abilities for beyond those of mortals. There is a great deal of evidence to support the concept that Merlin is a being as powerful as the Great Druid with magical powers thrown in.
That evidence being his stat block, which lists him as a 14th-level druid/15th-level magic-user/10th-level illusionist. The Great Druid, in first edition, was a 14th-level druid, the highest level listed for druids in the Player's Handbook. Or rather, the Great Druid was the 14th-level druid. That is to say, in any given campaign world, there existed only one 14th-level druid, and that individual was called the Great Druid; any PC wanting to advance to 14th level would have to defeat the incumbent Great Druid in combat in order to do so. Although before doing that, the PC in question would have to have defeated one of the nine existing capital-D Druids to advance to 12th level, and one of the three Archdruids to advance to 13th. There was a similar deal for monks—apparently there could only ever exist three 8th-level monks, and only one for each level above that!—and for assassins—to reach 14th level an assassin would have to seek out and challenge or assassinate the local Guildmaster Assassin, and to reach 15th the character would have to do the same to the unique Grandfather of Assassins. Yeah, this was another of those weird things in first edition that many DMs may have just ignored... assuming the PCs in their campaigns ever reached those levels in the first place.
(All of which means, I guess, that that bit in the review of the previous chapter where I mentioned that Hastseltsi could be outrun by any eleventh-level monk maybe isn't that big a deal after all, if there are only seven monks of that level or higher (the 1E level progression for monks ends at level 17) in the entire world.)
And yes, the succubus was a thing in first edition (unlike in fifth edition, in first (and second and third) edition the succubus was explicitly a type of demon, and in fourth edition for some reason it was a devil), but the incubus wasn't (at least, not in any of the books, though an incubus did appear in Dragon Magazine issue 54—though that didn't come out till the year after Deities & Demigods was first published). So because Malory said Merlin was the son of an incubus they had to write in an explanation of just what an incubus was in D&D. (Which did not match what Dragon #54 would say an incubus was the following year, but oh well.)
Merlin can foresee the future in a random manner. There are times when his inability to see what lies just ahead in the future causes him great problems... He is a very earthy being and a pretty face may cause him to act rather boyish in order to impress a lady.
MORGAN LE FAY
She's either casting a spell or conducting an orchestra. I'm not sure which.
Morgan Le Fay is a chaotic evil 12th-level magic-user/12th-level illusionist who "is at least partially nonhuman". (Thanks for being so specific.)
...By the way, something just struck me about the "American Indian Mythos" from the previous post. Among all the gods and heroes presented there, every single one is male; there's not a single goddess or female hero. This isn't especially relevant to the "Arthurian Heroes" chapter (well, except insofar as it has almost as extreme a gender imbalance, with only a single statted female character), but it's something I thought was worth mentioning. I should have noticed it earlier. Hmm. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, though I admit I have been pleasantly surprised at the consistent use of "he or she" in this book to refer to players and Dungeon Masters. I mean, that's not a big thing, but it's a better nod toward representation than I was expecting from a first-edition book, especially considering some of the disturbingly sexist material that appeared in early issues of Dragon Magazine. (And, briefly checking the first-edition Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide, I see that they... actually mostly do that too. In the foreword to the Player's Handbook, TSR Games & Rules Editor Mike Carr refers to the Dungeon Master only with masculine pronouns, but the rest of the book does seem to use "he or she" pretty consistently for both players and DMs. The same goes for the Dungeon Master's Guide; players and Dungeon Masters are routinely referred to as "he or she". (Though it's certainly possible there were some slips that I missed in either or both books; I only gave them a quick glance.) So, well, that's nice. I mean, obviously it doesn't come close to meaning there's nothing sexist in first-edition D&D, but at least it's one small step in the right direction that I hadn't remembered.)
SIR PALOMIDES THE SARACEN
The only things worth mentioning about Sir Palomides are that he's another knight who's not just a single-classed fighter or paladin (bizarrely, he's a 16th-level fighter/3rd-level monk/3rd-level bard), and that he's "noted for his use of the composite bow (a weapon not usually used by knights of any order)."
King Pellinore is a lawful neutral 12th-level fighter who's entirely unexceptional, except again for his high ability scores (for ordinary humans, the knights in this chapter seem to have an awful lot of 18s in their abilities), and that he "hunts a strange unique creature, the Questing Beast, which his family is fated to pursue, though neither they nor anybody else will ever catch it."
We do not get statistics for the Questing Beast. We do, however, get an illustration of it.
At least, I'm assuming that's what this is supposed to be.
Actually, we do get statistics for the Questing Beast in the 2E Legends & Lore. In fact, I think there are enough interesting things to compare and contrast between the two books that I've decided I want to review Legends & Lore, too. (Not right away, though; I still intend to cover the 1E Manual of the Planes next.)
Yes, I know I started this review by saying I was going to cover Planescape, and I still do intend to do that; I just have these precursors I want to get through first, because I think they give some useful insight on Planescape's origins. At least the next book, the Manual of the Planes, is maybe a little more directly and obviously Planescape-related. Still, I'll get to Planescape proper eventually...
SIR TRISTRAM OF LYONESS
Seen here carefully suspending the point of his sword two inches above the ground for some reason.
He's a neutral 17th-level fighter who is not remotely interesting in any way whatsoever and is only here so we can get a very brief one-paragraph summary of the tragic story of Tristram and Isolde. (Isolde, of course, doesn't get a statblock.) Or the beginning of the tragic story of Tristram and Isolde; apparently we're to assume that the ending hasn't happened yet. Can the PCs step in and prevent events from unfolding as they did in the original story? Maybe. Is there something more exciting they could be doing instead? Almost certainly.
So there we have it. The most boring chapter of the book, mostly devoted to a bunch of bland fighters. I said in the last post that it was mostly uphill from there, but... well, it's mostly uphill from here in a different sense.
NEXT: Everything is Demons
Edited because I realized I misspelled Sir Tristram's name. Or... spelled it in a different way than it was spelled in the book, though I think both are acceptable variants.
Jerik fucked around with this message at 02:49 on Jul 5, 2019
|# ¿ Jul 4, 2019 23:03|
Which, honestly, would probably be the real work of the writers rather than spitting out five sentence descriptions and human Fighter stat blocks.
Oh, to be clear, when I said only two of the knights got "more than five or six lines of description", I literally meant lines of text, not sentences. They're mostly only two or three sentences. Here's the full description for Sir Palomides the Saracen, reproduced in its entirety:
Sir Palomides the Saracen posted:
A bitter rival of Sir Tristram, Palomides was noted for the quickness of his scimitar and his courage in battle. The man was also noted for his use of the composite bow (a weapon not usually used by knights of any order).
Admittedly, this is the shortest description of any of the characters in this chapter, but not by much.
Also, this should be in a different book. I mean, these are ostensibly Christian knights. They don't really fit into this unless... Oh dear. Are we going to see DnD trying to put in Abrahamic pantheons? I both dread that idea and look forward to it with morbid curiosity.
Nah; the writers do stay away from trying to put game stats to major modern Western religions. (Major modern Eastern religions, on the other hand...) Although there were statistics for Satan in an early issue of Dragon Magazine (#28), and a different issue (#35) had stats for the orders of angels in traditional Christianity (cherubim, seraphim, dominations, powers, principalities, thrones and virtues—plus archangels and "angels of the ninth order"). Also, there was a 3E supplement called Testament that did try to put game terms to a Biblical setting, though that was a third-party publication, not a product of Wizards of the Coast... and checking the archives, I see it's already been reviewed in F&F.
Edited to add:
To be fair to Gygax et al. I believe this game was written before the Python film came out.
Actually, checking the dates, it seems not. Deities & Demigods came out in 1980; Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in 1975. Though of course I doubt the writers drew on it as an influence on the book.
Jerik fucked around with this message at 00:52 on Jul 5, 2019
|# ¿ Jul 5, 2019 00:07|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 6: Everything is Demons
I can't say the writing style of the logo screams "Babylonian" to me, but I don't know what would. Maybe cuneiform?
Ah, here we get to a pantheon I did make heavy use of in my own campaigns. Well... not the whole pantheon. Just one god. I'll point him out when we get to him.
(Not that I didn't make any use of the other pantheons. I don't think I ever used anything from the Arthurian Heroes section, but I did have a country in my homebrew campaign world that was Native-American-flavored, and where the gods of the "American Indian Mythos" were worshiped. Or at least, I guess they presumably would have been, though I don't think any PCs ever visited that country in any campaigns I ran, so the matter never really came up.)
For some reason, the authors choose in this chapter to go on at some length as to how hard it was to research this pantheon, and, well, I'll just quote this part:
Babylonian Mythos posted:
The origins of Babylonian mythology are extremely ancient. Because of this, misconceptions, duality among the gods and goddesses, and similarities between their deities and those of other pantheons exist. In formulating this list for your use, we have consulted many sources, and some of these conflict with each other. This version is designed to be close to historically accurate and still playable in AD&D terms.
Really, most of that could be said of any of the historical pantheons. Contradictions, duality among the gods and goddesses, and similarities with deities of other pantheons exist aplenty in the Egyptian, Greek, and Norse pantheons as well. Regardless, though, I like the fact that this pantheon is here at all; ancient Mesopotamia typically gets short shrift in fantasy worlds compared to more familiar places like Greece and Egypt. In fact, the ancient Mesopotamians get not one, but two pantheons in this book... as we'll see later, there's a Sumerian Mythos as well. On the one hand, this makes sense; as much as people sometimes talk about "Mesopotamian mythology" and "Mesopotamian culture", Mesopotamia is a place, not a specific civilization, and there are a number of distinct civilizations that existed there at different times (Babylonia and Sumer, yes, and also Akkadia, Assyria, Chaldea... and of course modern Iraq and its neighbors). On the other hand, they just got done two chapters ago trying to shoehorn all of pre-Columbian North America into a single pantheon, and as we'll soon see they also have a single "Central American Mythos" rather than having distinct pantheons for the Aztecs, Maya, and Olmec. So the separate treatment of the Babylonian and Sumerian Mythoi certainly isn't wrong or unjustified, but it is a bit... inconsistent with their treatments of other areas. Anyway, I'll revisit this point when we get to the Sumerian Mythos, where the authors do address their reasoning for separating the mythoi. Sort of. Not really.
We start with our requisite few-paragraph overview of the pantheon. The high priest is usually also the ruler of the country, and "must be a combination magic-user/cleric of great power". Which... raises a big question right there, since in first edition the only way for a human character to have more than one class (and the priest-king definitely must be human, for reasons we'll see shortly) is to "dual class", starting as one class and then switching into another. So... did the priest-king reach a high level as a magic-user, and then switch over to devote himself to clerical pursuits late in life? Or did he first level up as a cleric, and then take considerable time off from his clerical progression to learn the way of the magic-user? Either way it seems odd. Maybe the priest-king is supposed to be a rare exception to the usual dual-classing rules, but the book doesn't say that.
Anyway, clerics of the Babylonian Mythos "remain aloof from the normal populace in temples and shrines", but apparently they go on quests together—even the priest-king—to "bring back riches (usually through conquest) to further the sect". They seem, in fact, overall to be rather a mercenary lot; the book says they also advance "through the payment of gold to the high priest's court." Successful priests may be "given great (and highly dangerous) quests to prove their worthiness to stand by the King." All Babylonian clerics wear white kilts with red cuneiform writing on the hem.
We get a whole paragraph about the harshness of punishment for clerics who fail in their duties. Clerics who violate minor laws may be required to fast, meditate, and sacrifice animals and gold or precious jewels. Those who violate major laws are excommunicated and denied all spell use (apparently even the first- and second-level spells that we were told in the introductory text come directly through the clerics' faith and aren't granted by deities), unless they agree to go on major quests to help the faith. Such violations of major laws include "helping enemies of the sect", "dealing with humans of the opposite alignment", and... "communicating with intelligent creatures or demi-humans (all of whom are considered 'demons') other than humans".
So... the entire pantheon is fantasy-racist.
"Didn't you see the sign? 'No nonhumans need apply.'"
Anyway, let's get to the gods.
ANU (god of the sky) "Chief of all the Babylonian Deities"
The head of the pantheon is Anu, lawful neutral god of the sky, who makes his home in Nirvana (the plane of lawful neutrality, later renamed Mechanus). All we're told about his appearance is that "[t]his god appears as a man." Um... any particular kind of man? Always the same man, or does he vary his appearance? It doesn't say.
Okay, we do get an illustration, so I guess that may answer the question of what he looks like, though it doesn't answer the question of whether he always looks like that.
"A dragon, a dragon, I swear I saw a dragon..."
"Beings casting things at this god must make a saving throw against disintegration at −4 for both the being and the thing cast." Saving throws in first edition were divided into various categories based on what you were saving against: paralyzation, poison, or death magic; petrification or polymorph; rod, staff, or wand; breath weapons; or spells. Note that "disintegration" is not one of those categories. So apparently what's meant here is that the being must make a saving throw or be disintegrated. But then what kind of saving throw is it? It doesn't say. I'd guess death magic, but it would be nice if the text were more specific. That is, if this were something that was ever actually going to come up, rather than combat notes about a god that players almost certainly should never be fighting anyway.
Other random facts about Anu:
ANSHAR (god of darkness and the night)
Anshar is a chaotic evil god who "always appears as a dark-skinned human and only appears at night or in deep darkness". He casts a darkness beam that does damage, and he can teleport in areas of shadow and darkness, and fortunately halfway through his description the writers finally stop using the word "darkness" so much. He can grasp spells out of the air and toss them back, and usually stores spells before battle, and wait a minute, why are we talking so much about what he does in combat? How often is that going to come up? Aren't there more useful things we can know about this guy? There's nothing about who worships him (other than that his worshipers' alignments are chaotic evil or neutral evil), or how, or why, or what his goals are, but we know he has a 200 spell level storage limit, because that's certainly going to be important to campaigns.
DAHAK (three-headed dragon spirit of death)
Dahak's statted as a unique monster, not a god, though it's a very powerful monster. It's chaotic evil, and it "will only eat the flesh of lawful or good creatures, and it never goes hungry." It is ethereal except when attacking with its bite; it can "negate any magical ability permanently with a touch of all three of its heads at the same time", and once again we get no information about its goals, or how it fits in with the rest of the mythos. Apparently there's just some random über-powerful three-headed evil dragon wandering around for no particular reason.
I was curious enough to look up Dahak to see what role it actually played in Babylonian mythology, and it turns out, as far as I can tell, well, it doesn't. It's not actually from Babylonian mythology at all. Dahak, also known as Zahhak or Aži Dahāka, comes from Persian mythology, which means it's from roughly the right geographical area, but at least a few hundred years too late. Oh well.
DRUAGA (ruler of the devil world)
Remember I said there was one god in this pantheon that I made heavy use of? This is him. Not that he ever made a personal appearance in any of my campaigns, as far as I can recall, but he played a major role behind the scenes. This despite my not having a defined place in my homebrew campaign world for the Babylonian Mythos—eventually I decided there was a distant Babylonian-flavored country across the ocean where the pantheon was worshiped, but I never really developed anything about the country except the name.
Anyway, aside from his appearance, Druaga really isn't all that interesting as evil gods go, frankly. I think the only reason I liked him so much was because I liked his illustration.
Okay, I actually still kind of do like his illustration.
Anyway, we start with a description, which I'm not going to bother to quote because it pretty much matches the illustration, although I will mention that we're told the "combination is so hideous that it often causes enemies to be paralized with fear." (No game effects listed, though; "often" implies that it's not automatic, so is there a saving throw? Does it just happen at the DM's whim?) But while that's his true form, he can shape change at will, and "generally never appears to anyone at the same way twice." (Of course, he's a god; how often does he personally appear to the same person more than once anyway?)
Huh, odd thing I just noticed: Druaga is referred to as "it" in the first paragraph of his description, but "he" in the remaining paragraphs. Oh well.
Anyway, not for nothing is he called the "ruler of the devil world". He can call on any type of (non-arch-)devil once a day "in numbers of 2-20", and anyone hit by his ruby mace must make a saving throw versus magic or turn into a random type of devil under his control.
Also, we get a weird bit about his having a "soul object" that contains the "total essence of his being" and that he places in an unwitting living human for safekeeping. If Druaga is ever killed, he regenerates from his soul object. I guess the idea is that he can be killed for good if the soul object is destroyed, but there's absolutely no information about how that can be done. Is the soul object destroyed if the human it's implanted in is killed? If so, then implanting his soul object in a living human seems like a really stupid move on his part. I mean, he's a literal god with 230 hit points, an Armor Class of −1, and 75% Magic Resistance; I'd think his soul object would be a heck of a lot safer in his real body than implanted in some random human.
Druaga, by the way, is another god here that isn't genuinely Babylonian. In fact, as far as I can tell, he's not genuinely anything; the authors seem to have pretty much just made him up. Not necessarily completely out of whole cloth; the name may come from the Zoroastrian concept of druj, or the related Old Persian root drauga, related to lying or deceit. But personalizing this concept as an eight-armed, snaky-legged monster with "the head... of a beautiful boy" appears to be all on Kurtz and Ward.
(Yes, Druaga as described in Deities & Demigods did also appear in an arcade game called Tower of Druaga (and a later anime series inspired by it), but that game came out four years after the release of Deities & Demigods, and no doubt copied Druaga from it. This is by no means the only example of a Japanese video game ripping off D&D... take the original Final Fantasy game, with monsters such as ankhegs, mindflayers [sic], ochus (otyughs), sahagins (sahuagin), remorazzes (remorhazes), piscodemons (piscodaemons), and, um, bihorudaa (beholders)... which apparently were a step too far and got renamed to "evil eyes" in the American localization.)
The concept drawing for the Final Fantasy bihorudaa, by artist Yoshitaka Amano, and the original Japanese sprite. Yes, the appearance was changed in the localization too.
(Not that this was unique to the Japanese; a lot of the monsters in the early Ultima CRPGs were blatantly ripped off from D&D too. But anyway, I digress...)
"I can take all of you! Come at me!"
Gilgamesh is a great king who is neutral good and "noted for his tyrannical rule". I'm not sure those two things go together. "Although he governs well and maintains peace, he uses his authority to satisfy his personal pleasures." Still getting some mixed messages here.
As apparently is usual for Babylonian kings, he's both a cleric and a magic-user, though oddly despite being described as a "warrior/necromancer/high priest" he's only a 5th-level cleric.
He "has a great fear of death, and if he learns of any way to avoid death, he will do whatever is required to gain it." This is certainly a reference to an episode in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh in which Gilgamesh undergoes a long series of adventures to seek out his ancestor Utnapishtim, who had been granted eternal life after following the gods' instructions to preserve his family through a great flood (in a story very similar to, and probably the inspiration for, the Biblical story of Noah), to ask for the secret of immortality. Still, we can't leave the impression that Gilgamesh's fear of death makes him a coward:
One oddity, however, is that his fear of death seldom occurs to him while facing a terrible foe. At such times, his courage will hearten him and he will fight without wavering.
Gilgamesh was a real historical king, but he ruled in Sumer, not Babylonia. Still, it wasn't till the time of Babylonia that the myths that had developed about Gilgamesh really coalesced into a coherent narrative and the Epic of Gilgamesh came together, so I guess there's some justification for including him in the Babylonian Mythos instead of the Sumerian.
GIRRU (god of fire)
We start with another of the detailed, highly informative descriptions that characterize this chapter: "Girru usually manifests himself as a man." Yeah, great.
Girru casts all fire spells as a 40th level magic-user, and I'm not even sure what that means, because the "SPELLS USABLE BY CLASS AND LEVEL - MAGIC USERS" table in the Player's Handbook only goes to level 29, and I don't see any notes on how it might be extended beyond that. I guess it means that he's considered to be level 40 for any level-dependent parameters in the spell, like that fireball in 1E has a range of 10" + 1"/level and does 1d6 damage per level. So... he's blasting fireballs with a range of 50" (that is, 500 feet indoors or 500 yards outdoors) that do 40d6 damage. All right then. Sure, why not. In light of that, the fact that he also has a mace with a poisoned barb and a +3 axe that can stun people it hits kind of seems like overkill. Also, any weapon that touches his body will disintegrate, with no saving throw. Yeah, we get over half his description devoted to his fighting abilities again. Sheesh.
Girru is lawful good, and he "hates all things evil and will destroy such whenever he comes in contact with them." So that's nice, I guess.
ISHTAR (goddess of love and war)
Also goddess of movies that run over budget and bomb at the box office.
Ishtar "never appears to her worshipers in any form other than that of a beautiful woman." Because of course she doesn't. "She has the strength of a titan, the ability to shape change at will [which she apparently never uses, at least in front of her worshipers], and she uses her voice as a constant suggestion spell", because of course she does. She wears a magic item called the headdress of love and war, which forces any male she is interested in "to become passionately in love with the wearer (no saving throw applicable), but she must really be interested in that male." We get a fun dangling participle in the next sentence: "When fighting an enemy, the headdress gives the wearer the same powers her enemy(s) has." If we take this literally, apparently her headdress fights enemies on its own.
Ishtar has a flying chariot pulled by seven enchanted lions, and we do get brief statistics for the lions for some reason. She also has a blue crystal rod which "is able to transform any spell energy into direct energy times ten, e.g. she is able to strike for 90 points of damage when expending a ninth level spell through the rod and 10 points when using a first level spell through the rod." That seems a little overcomplicated, but okay.
Is he wearing scale mail, or a fishnet shirt?
"Marduk is also called 'the justice bringer' and 'lord of pure incantations'." As you can see from the image, he's "one of the few nonhuman-appearing beings in the pantheon"—in fact, he seems to me to be the only nonevil nonhuman-appearing being in the pantheon (he's lawful neutral, though his home plane is Arcadia, which could imply he tends toward good). Apparently flames shoot from his mouth when he speaks, so I guess he's not really attacking the panel border up there; he's just... yelling at it?
Marduk fights with a "net made of the four winds" that "binds the target until Marduk releases the net". He can also "create any type of weather condition in an instant", including summoning "20 dice lightning bolts". But maybe his most impressive power is that he "can borrow any single ability from any one other deity in the pantheon (no saving throw applicable) and use it as he sees fit." It doesn't say how close the other deity has to be for him to do that—it does say the power "can be given back at any time from any distance", but it doesn't say whether the same holds for borrowing the power in the first place.
Marduk "occasionally assumes the leadership of the Babylonian gods when Anu is preoccupied." Also, "[h]is battles with Tiamat are legendary." Which actually makes sense, because Tiamat is originally from Babylonian mythology, and the mythological Tiamat did fight with the god Marduk. (And was in fact killed by him.) Well... the name Tiamat is originally from Babylonian mythology, anyway, but while the mythological Tiamat was a female figure of primordial chaos, there's certainly nothing in Babylonian mythology to suggest she was a five-headed dragon. (And that, of course, is another thing that was copied from D&D by the original Final Fantasy...)
Making a special guest appearance, everyone's favorite evil dragon queen...
By the way, Tiamat's not the only figure from Babylonian mythology to appear in first edition outside the Deities & Demigods book. There's also Pazuzu.
Till I looked him up just now to double-check that I was remembering correctly about him really being from Babylonian mythology, I actually didn't realize just how closely this illustration was patterned after a real ancient statue of Pazuzu.
But Pazuzu appeared in the Monster Manual II, which came out after Deities & Demigods, so of course it makes sense that he's not mentioned here.
Actually, Pazuzu played a major part in a long-running campaign I DMd in college, so I guess there are two Babylonian divinities (or semidivinities) that I used a lot back in the first-edition days. But only one from Deities & Demigods.
NERGAL (god of the underworld)
Nergal "rules over all things that are dead and never uses any form but a human one." Again, does he always use the same human form? If so, what does his human form look like? It doesn't say. Thanks.
As with Anu, though, we do at least get an illustration.
Why is he bothering to carry a sword, if his shield kills people? Maybe he just uses it to chop vegetables.
He is worshiped by those who wish success in evil deeds, and who gain his favor by sacrificing good creatures on his black basalt altar. In combat, because once again we for some reason have to dedicate more than half his description to his combat abilities and tactics even though he's a god and the chances of the PCs ever facing him in combat are minuscule, he has a +5 shield that "casts a death spell aura (saving throw applicable) in a 30 foot radius around the god", but his "favorite tactic is to revive the 5 most powerful dead enemies of his foe and have them fight for him."
(It's widely claimed that Nergal—the original Mesopotamian god, not the D&D version of him—was the inspiration for the Chaos God Nurgle in the Warhammer setting, but I haven't seen any sources for that, and while it definitely seems plausible I'm not completely convinced it's true until I see confirmation from one of the developers. There are certainly similarities beyond the name, but not marked enough to rule out the possibility of their being coincidental.)
RAMMAN (god of storms and thunder)
Not counting Ishtar's form as a "beautiful woman", Ramman is the only god of whose form we get more description than "a man"—he appears as a man "with massive build and a rather homely face". See, Kuntz and Ward, was that so hard? Why couldn't you have given us descriptions like that for Anu or Girru or Nergal? Anyway, he's a neutral god who is worshiped by "beings who wish rain" of all alignments and who "sacrifice expensive liquids" to bring rain or cooler weather. He also has a core of neutral worshipers who always perform their services at night, though it's never described what those services entail. In combat, he shoots lightning and throws his 10 foot boomerang mallet and has +4 ring mail made out of cloud vapor, but seriously again who cares about what the gods do in combat!? Seriously.
So there we have it. The Babylonian Mythos. Maybe a little lacking in diversity—there's only one good god, only one chaotic god, and only one goddess. (Though I guess that's one more goddess than we got in the American Indian Mythos, at least.) But honestly, for all its flaws (like the lack of physical description of the gods and the pointless obsession with their combat abilities), I think this was the best chapter so far. Though given the competition that's a low bar.
Next time: A New Use for the Severed Head of Your Enemy
|# ¿ Jul 6, 2019 19:09|
This is one of the single least accurate portrayals of the Sumerian and Babylonian gods I've ever seen.
For the most part, aside from the handful of entries that clearly weren't remotely Babylonian or Sumerian (Dahak and Druaga), I was going to save the discussion about the gods' historical accuracy till we got to the Sumerian Mythos, since there's a lot of overlap. I didn't know the fact about Anu not being represented anthropomorphically, though, and that's good to know; I'll definitely bring that up (crediting you for the information) when I get to the Sumerian Mythos.
|# ¿ Jul 6, 2019 19:42|
Whoops... for the record, I haven't abandoned the Deities & Demigods review; I've just been very busy with work lately and I guess lost track of time and didn't realize how long it had been since my last post. Next Deities & Demigods post should be up later tonight; in the meantime there are just a few posts since my last visit here that I wanted to comment on:
Is that an actual scan from the book? Does it really say "Equiment" in huge block letters? Because if so, that seems like kind of a major oversight by the copy editor.
We get a comprehensive one-page spread of Nyamban poisons which sadly are mostly copy-pasted from the Dungeon Master’s Guide but include a few new ones: aboleth mucus grants you the ability to breath underwater at the expense of suffocating in air; carrion crawler brain juice can paralyze you for 2d6 minutes, while jellyfish sting extract dazes you for 1 round initially and can stun you for 2d6 rounds as a secondary effect; poison frog secretions deal 1d6 Constitution on initial and secondary damage and 1 to 2 points of said damage can be a permanent drain; raw sewage of all things is a new poison which can nauseate you for 24 hours, and spoiled food for 1d10 hours; spitting cobra venom and spotted toadstools have a chance of blinding or deafening the victim respectively, said affliction becoming permanent on a secondary failed save.
For the record, carrion crawler brain juice isn't new; that's one of the standard poisons from the DMG.
She is daughter of the Silent Regent, and that comes with baggage. She is bound to the city itself by ancient pact, and she alone can hear its words. She alone may access her mother’s mazes and command her cryptic servants.
Wait... mazes? The Silent Regent had mazes? Is there any further description of these, and if so, just how close are they conceptually to the mazes of the Lady of Pain in Planescape? I mean, yes, of course it's been obvious all along that Sig was heavily Planescape-inspired, but this hews a little closer than I was expecting. (Though maybe I shouldn't be surprised.)
Surprising players by just running roughshod and making all the decisions as the Auteur GM is just going to piss everyone off; you'll be upset if and when they start pushing against your Grand Deep Narrative and they'll be pissed off about being dragged through someone else's failed novel pitch.
Oh heck yes. This describes a GM I used to play with to a T; he planned out in detail exactly what he intended to occur in his campaigns, and had no intention of letting the players deviate from his predetermined plots. To his credit, he did plan out the plots around the PCs, and at first it wasn't obvious what he was doing because they involved things the PCs would want to do anyway, but he got progressively less subtle about his railroading as time went on. (I recall in one Mutants & Masterminds game he asked me at one point whether I'd be interested in having my character pick up some magical spellcasting powers. I told him I wasn't; it really didn't fit my character concept, and I'd rather invest the power points into further developing my character's existing powers (which were centered around shapeshifting). But apparently his plot mandated that my character get spellcasting powers, because he soon after introduced into the campaign a spellbook that would grant powers to anyone who read it (at the cost of possible insanity), and proceeded to try to badger my character, and only my character, into reading the book. Why did he even bother to ask if I was interested in the first place, if he wasn't going to take no for an answer? Oh well.)
But yes, I'm totally with you on this; not only as a player do I not like having my freedom of action arbitrarily limited just because the GM's already decided what's going to happen, but as a GM much of the fun for me is seeing what the players do, and how they shape the campaign.
The Japanese thing is a reference to a single animated short from the 70s.
I don't speak Japanese (it's one of several languages I'm learning with Duolingo, but I'm still very much at beginner level with it), but a Google search suggests that's not the case: I know Google searches are customized to individuals' search history, so this may not be true for everyone, but most of the links on the first page of the search for me reference it as a Japanese term related to the atomic bomb and make no mention of the animated short. (This, for example, is the first page my Google search shows; no mention of the short.)
In fact, it seems the term goes at least as far back as 1945, when it was discussed in a book called Hiroshima Diary by Michihiko Hachiya, a doctor who survived the Hiroshima bombing. It was also used for the title of a photobook about the Hiroshima blast in 1961. So while you may be right that it's not a widespread term in Japan—I wouldn't know—it clearly didn't originate with the 1978 animated short.
Jerik fucked around with this message at 21:53 on Jul 17, 2019
|# ¿ Jul 17, 2019 21:33|
Yes, it's from the book. I clip the artwork using MSPaint and upload it to Imgur.
I figured that was the case; it didn't seem likely you were making those images yourself. Just seems odd that the book's copy editor missed such a glaring typo in a chapter title. Huh.
Regarding Brain Juice, I haven't read the DMG in like forever, and its poison list is huge, so it likely escaped my notice.
Yeah, that's completely understandable, of course; I only looked it up because for some reason it sounded familiar (I'm not sure why; I never made much use of poisons back when I played 3E, but I guess carrion crawler brain juice had stuck in my mind for some reason).
|# ¿ Jul 17, 2019 22:09|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 7: A New Use for the Severed Head of Your Enemy
I wonder if it's the same artist doing all these chapter titles, or if they're done by the same person who does the art for the corresponding chapter? I'm guessing the former.
It says "Celtic", but these gods are mostly Irish, or at least use Irish names. We do get one Welsh god, one Welsh hero, one (rather obscure) Gaulish god, and one god who isn't Celtic at all and seems to have wandered into this chapter by mistake, but all the rest of the gods and heroes in this section are Irish. On the one hand, one could reasonably argue that there are enough similarities between the different Celtic traditions that it wouldn't really be feasible to have separate mythoi for each one, and it makes sense to combine them; on the other hand, there are enough differences that it might have made more sense to pick one and call it, say, the Irish Mythos, rather than making a "Celtic Mythos" that's almost entirely Irish anyway and just tossing in a few gods from other cultures. Oh well.
"The Celtic mythology is by no means confined to the British Isles", the book correctly says, and then proceeds to give us exactly two gods that aren't from the British Isles, and one of those, as previously mentioned, isn't even Celtic. We're told that "[t]he beings listed are all in human form, unlike some of the other pantheons in this book." But not unlike the Finnish, Greek, Japanese, Norse, and Sumerian pantheons, so it's unclear why this fact was singled out for the Celtic Mythos as if it were something unusual.
Most of the Irish gods here, by the way, were members of the Tuatha Dé Danann, an ancient people in Irish lore who had potent magical powers. I mention this not to argue that they shouldn't qualify as gods—in later tradition, they became equated with fairies, but "gods" worked differently in every culture, and the Tuatha Dé Danann qualified as gods as much as anything else did in Irish mythology. I only bring this up because I'll be mentioning the Tuatha Dé Danann later, so I figured I should go ahead and define the term up front.
Celtic Mythos posted:
[The gods] all have spheres of influence and these spheres are areas of control for the deities. Any major manipulation of these areas by humans or other life forms will cause the god or goddess in question to take an interest (in force) and attempt to put a stop to it.
...Again, isn't that true of all the pantheons in this book? All of them list particular spheres of influence for each god, and presumably all the gods are protective of their spheres of influence. Why is this written here as if it were something special to the Celtic pantheon?
In the next paragraph, we do get to something that is special about the Celtic pantheon, namely that the clerics of most of its deities are druids. Now, this seemed to present a complication, in that druids in first edition had to be true neutral in alignment. Most of the gods in this book, however, were not true neutral. If the clerics of most of the gods were druids, then the "WORSHIPER'S ALIGN" for those gods would have to include true neutral, even if the god in question was of another alignment. Did the writers take that into account?
Well, credit where it's due, they did. First of all, while most of the gods in the book as a whole are not true neutral, most of the gods in this chapter are... all but three of them, in fact. Secondly, unlike in most of the chapters, the "WORSHIPER'S ALIGN" for most of the gods in this chapter—including all the non-neutral ones—did not actually list alignments at all, but instead fields of interest like "All beings worshiping death" or "Beings that use the healing arts" or "Beings using the sea"... designations that presumably could include druids. So, okay, that's at least consistent with most clerics of this pantheon being druids; fair enough.
We get some description of druid religious services, including the fact that human sacrifices are made four times a year: "on November 1 (called Samain) celebrating winter's start; February 1 (called Imbalc) celebrating winter's leavetaking; May 1 (called Beltane) celebrating spring's planting; and Augist 1 (called Lugnasad) celebrating the time of harvest". Okay... two issues here. First of all, the use of the real-world calendar strikes me as awkward; does that mean that every world where the Celtic pantheon is worshiped has to use the same calendar as Earth? Second, well, the idea that druids have to perform human sacrifice is... troublesome. That seems like a pretty evil thing to do, and I'm not sure the insistence that "[c]ondemned criminals are typical sacrifices" helps much. (And of course it's historically dubious at best; there are classical accounts of druids performing human sacrifice, but given that the Greeks and Romans were trying to conquer the druids' people at the time they weren't exactly impartial chroniclers, and their accounts are widely believed by modern scholars to have been little more than sensationalist propaganda.)
We get a paragraph about druid groves, and then another paragraph on druid wardrobe. Worth mentioning in the latter paragraph is that "[e]very druid wears a torc (ornamental neck ring), and it represents the god or goddess most favored by the druid... The best ones are encrusted with precious gems and imparted with magical powers by their high-level owners". Also, every druid owns a cauldron that they use to "catch all the blood or sap of a sacrifice." (Sap of a sacrifice? Do the druids sacrifice trees? There was nothing about that mentioned earlier.)
Celtic Mythos posted:
The cauldrons of tenth level or higher druids act as crystal balls when filled with human blood.
Okay then. Where do they get all that quantity of—you know what? Never mind.
Celtic Mythos posted:
Druids consider themselves an elite group, separate from all other humans. They do not mingle with others, and are only allowed to mate with worshipers within their sect.
So... I guess that kind of rules out Celtic druids as PCs, then, unless all the PCs are druids. Huh.
As a side note, I think this chapter contains my least favorite illustrations in the book. Personal preference, I guess; I'm just not a fan of the art style. (The same artist also illustrated the Japanese Mythos, but for whatever reason his illustrations for that mythos don't bother me as much.)
DAGDA (dozen king)
What exactly is going on with his lips?
Meet the leader of the Deities & Demigods Celtic pantheon. He's loaded up with magic items that seem kind of... superfluous for a deity. He has a staff that can act as a death spell on creatures touched by the large end, and raise the dead by touching them with the small end. He has a cauldron that "enables him to brew any nonmagical liquid or food". And he "sings with a sentient harp that talks in the common tongue and can control weather."
His two primary attributes are the ability to separate himself into 12 distinct and powerful entities. All 12 are fully aware and mobile, but 11 are ethereal in nature and roam the earth with unlimited range, constantly supplying information to Dagda. These beings have all the qualities of the original, but they must stay in the ethereal state at all times.
That's, uh, by my count that's one primary attribute. What's the second? (No, it's not covered in the next paragraph; that starts off by listing some of his "other attributes". It looks like there may be something they forgot to include.)
The mythological figure that Dagda was based on was actually generally referred to with a definite article, as "The Dagda". While he wasn't generally considered the overall ruler of the Tuatha Dé Danann, he was a very powerful being who had a position of rulership, so that part's not completely out of left field. I'm not sure where the "Dozen King" part comes from, though; I haven't been able to find a source for that.
ARAWN (god of the dead) "The Dark One"
Wait... does that horse have fangs? (No, the horse is not mentioned at all in his description.)
Arawn is unique among the gods in the Celtic pantheon in three ways: He's the only Welsh god in the pantheon; he's the only evil god; and he's the only one not to make his home in the true neutral plane of Concordant Opposition. (Rather, his home base is on the Prime Material Plane, on "an island in the sea that only the dead can find.") He "can flash 2 death spells from his eyes at any time, striking independent targets if he chooses." (I have a mental image of his going wall-eyed to use his power on two enemies on either side of him.)
Remember in the post about the introductory text, I brought up the question of why, if resurrection "involves the cooperation of the deity on the plane where the soul was", a god wouldn't just refuse to cooperate and prevent someone from his plane from being resurrected if the god didn't want the person to be, rather than apparently letting it go on and being "highly displeased" after the fact? Well, that comes up again here:
The god will appear if someone restores to life a person he wants to stay in his domain (a 2% chance of this per level of the dead person, if he or she worshiped one of the Celtic gods), and he will either fight for the dead person or offer a substitute from the vast ranks of the dead (there is a 25% chance of this offer being made).
Okay, but again, how can someone restore to life a person he wants to stay in his domain in the first place, if we were explicitly told in the introductory text that that resurrection can occur only with his cooperation? I kind of get the impression that immediately after writing that sentence about resurrection involving the deity's cooperation, the authors completely forgot about it.
Incidentally, Arawn's evil alignment isn't really justified by the original myths; there, he wasn't so much the king of the underworld as the king of the otherworld—the world of Faerie, you could say more or less, though it wasn't called by that name in Welsh mythology—and there was nothing particularly malevolent about him. In fact, he struck up a friendship with a mortal prince and seems to have been a fairly amiable guy. Also, by the way, some scholars think that the story of Sir Gawain the Green Knight, alluded to in the Arthurian Heroes chapter, may have been based on the story of Prince Pwyll and Arawn.
BRIGIT (goddess of fire and poetry)
Brigit is basically exactly what you would expect a goddess of fire and poetry to be, in pretty much every way. I do, however, want to call attention to the following:
Note: if any players wish to worship Brigit (and possibly catch her attention) by singing during battle, the DM should require that the player make up an original battle-song on the spot and sing it while engaging in strenuous activity.
I don't know; I think most players might object if their DM insisted they do jumping jacks while improvising a song, or whatever, but I could be wrong.
CU CHULAINN (hero)
...Okay, he's actually not bad-looking, though he's got a bit of a pug-nose thing going on.
Cu Chulainn fights with a spear called Gae Bolg that only he can wield, and he "shines with a brilliance that makes it impossible for his mortal enemies to look directly at him".
Cu Chulainn posted:
The hero exists to fight giants and right wrongs all over the countryside. He often appears when all hope is lost.
Not really sure what else there is to say about him. I mean, in the original Irish myths there are a lot of interesting stories about Cu Chulainn, but none of them are related in this book.
DIANCECHT (physician of the gods)
I mentioned that Arawn was the only evil god; Diancecht is the only good one. He "appears as a young man" and "can heal any wound or restore any dead being, no matter how long dead"... although "[h]is power will not work on beings who have had their head taken away." (I guess decapitation is okay, as long as the head is still present?) He "never fights in large battles" (do most gods typically fight in large battles?), but he "has fought with Arawn over some of his dead." "In these battles, Diancecht has always won", which is weird, because Diancecht is only a lesser god and Arawn is a greater god, although looking at their stats Arawn doesn't really seem to be notably more powerful.
Diancecht "is hardly ever attacked because he will heal friends and enemies alike during a battle." Yeah... I can see how that would be kind of counterproductive, though I wouldn't think that would make enemies less likely to attack him... I'd think it would just make his allies less likely to ask him for help fighting.
DUNATIS (god of the mountains and peaks)
Why the authors decided to include this god I'm not sure; he seems to be a really obscure Gaulish deity, and there are several much more important and better known Celtic gods they could have included instead. He does not, incidentally, seem to have been a god of mountains in real Gaulish mythology; rather he had dominion over sacred places and fortifications. Be that as it may, in Deities & Demigods he can "raise a mountain peak into a flat plain, or flatten a giant mountain into a prairie", and that's... about all that's worth saying about him, really. He doesn't even get an illustration. I guess I could also mention that he fights by forming boulders from thin air and throwing them up to 1,000 yards, but, yet again, how gods fight doesn't seem terribly important.
GOIBHNIE (blacksmith of the gods)
Is it really wise to be wearing metal armbands while working near a hot forge? Eh, I guess if you're a god it doesn't really matter...
I'm not sure where the authors of Deities & Demigods got the spelling they used; this god's name seems to be more commonly spelled "Goibniu" or "Goibhniu". Regardless, he "appears as a hugely proportioned man", and he creates "weapons and amulets of great power for the gods and the very few mortals he favors." Goibhnie's magic amulets "have the power to nullify any one specific spell", but they'll shatter if you try to wear more than one at once. His weapons will "never miss their target", but if they're "used to attempt an impossible hit (like a sword strike from 200 yards away), the weapon will hit, but will then shatter and bring on the wielder the instant wrath of the god in the form of a thunder bolt". Hm. What is the range on those "impossible hits", then? Is 200 yards the maximum, or was that just an example? Could you use them to attempt a sword strike on someone you can barely see on the horizon? Also, if the weapon does hit such an impossible strike, what exactly happens? Does the sword suddenly become 200 yards long? Does it fly 200 yards to the target and return? Does it swing normally, but a wound appears on the target without direct contact? I don't know. I'm not sure the authors know either.
LUGH "long handed" (god of generalities)
God of generalities?
"So, Lugh, what are you the god of?" "Eh, you know... stuff."
The description doesn't make the matter much clearer; it says that he's "a druidical ideal, and more fully understands druidism than any other entity", but it's not really clear that generalities = druidism, is it?
Lugh "appears as a tall man with very large hands." He "is unique among the gods in that he can use any one attribute of any being he has ever met", which seems like a heck of a power... Marduk from the Babylonian Mythos had something similar, but he was kind of the vice-head of the pantheon. For that matter, Lugh can also cast an unlimited number of druid spells "at the 30th level of magic use (an unattainable level for any other being)," so why isn't he the head of the pantheon? He seems more powerful than Dagda, frankly. Sure, Dagda has more hit points, but only barely. Maybe Lugh just isn't interested in the headaches of leadership.
In actual Irish mythology, Lugh was associated with arts and crafts, the sun, and the law, among other things. So okay, he wasn't really a tightly focused god, but it still seems it should be possible to define his field of interest more specifically than "generalities". (It would be hard to define his field of interest less specifically than that.) Also, for what it's worth, according to some sources he was the most powerful of the Irish gods. He was also the father of Cu Chulainn, though for some reason Deities & Demigods doesn't bother to mention that.
MANANNAN MAC LIR (god of the sea)
Based on his description, I guess he's supposed to be wearing armor made of sea shells, but it looks more like a tunic made of fabric with a scallop pattern.
I said Arawn was the only evil god of this pantheon, and Diancecht was the only good god; Manannan Mac Lir is the only chaotic god. (Both Arawn and Diancecht are lawful.) His main enemies are the fire giants, though I'm not exactly sure why, since the sea seems like the last place in which they'd have any interest. He has a trident that "absorbs moisture from the bodies that it hits (draining ¼ of the total amount of the victim's original hit points)", which may sound pretty good until you read on and find out that he also has a sword that automatically kills every time it hits "(magic saving throw applicable)", so... I'm not sure why he bothers with the trident? Maybe to use against enemies with really good saves? (Though it still does a good amount of damage even if the save is made... admittedly maybe not "¼ of the total amount of the victim's original hit points" good.)
"His main attribute is the power to call on any non-godlike creature of the sea to fight for him at any time and in numbers up to 50." I'm not sure what it is with this chapter that it seems to feel it necessary to call out the gods' "main attributes". We saw it before in Dagda's "two primary attributes" (though only one was actually described), but, though I haven't been quoting it every time, we were also told about the "main attributes" of Arawn, Dunatis, and Goibhnie, and all with the same wording ("His main attribute is the power/ability to...") Okay, it looks like that same phrase does come up a few times in later chapters as well, but not as frequently as it does in this chapter. It's really odd.
Math is not a god (in this edition), but a hero, "the greatest of all the legendary wizards in Celtic myth". He has a rod that "turns any being touched into a pool of water (permanently), magic saving throw applicable." (This raises a lot of questions, none of which are answered in the text.) "He has given himself the power to hear anything said in a breeze anywhere in the world. He has done so much for the gods that he has been given a Torc of the Gods (q.v.)." We'll get to that.
In Welsh mythology, Math ap Mathonwy was a powerful sorcerer and king who "could not exist unless his feet were in the lap of a maiden". Uh... okay, I'm actually kind of glad they left that last part out of his description in Deities & Demigods.
MORRIGAN (goddess of war)
The text specifies that she has a "hideous face", but honestly I think almost all the faces in this chapter are fairly hideous.
Morrigan "appears as a well-proportioned woman with a hideous face". She can "deprive all who face her of their courage", and has a 5% chance of striking dead any of her worshipers who flee from a battle she is watching. But there's only a 10% chance she's watching any given battle, so there's really only a 1 in 200 chance she'll strike a fleeing worshiper dead. I guess those aren't terrible odds. She fights with two spears, one of which has a red head and one of which has a yellow head but they otherwise have exactly the same properties.
Speaking of things with the same properties, "Morrigan's servants include four demi-goddesses of war, Fen, Neman, Badb, and Macha, who are identical to her in all regards save hit points (they each have 200)." That's... weird. So they're identical in all respects save hit points? Do they each have identical red and yellow spears? Do they all look the same? That must get confusing, seeing five identical hideous-faced women. How do onlookers know which one is the real Morrigan? I guess they don't.
In the original myths, Morrigan was often said to be the wife of the Dagda, though Deities & Demigods doesn't mention that. Also, like her sometimes-husband, she was usually named with the definite article, as the Morrigan.
NUADA (god of war) "god of the Silver Hand"
Not to be confused with Tycho Brahe, astronomer of the silver nose. (Okay, fine, turns out it was actually brass.)
The sobriquet isn't metaphorical; Nuada "appears as a man with an artificial silver hand." The description goes on about his combat abilities, but never quite gets around to saying anything about his worshipers, or his relationship to other gods, or... really anything else besides his combat abilities. Oh well. I guess it's kind of interesting to note that in battle his silver hand detaches and flies around on its own.
Oddly, despite his status as a god of war, Nuada has no fighter levels (though he does have levels as a ranger, which I guess is close enough).
In Irish mythology, Nuada was the first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann. So wouldn't it have made more sense to make him the leader of the Celtic Mythos here, instead of Dagda? Oh well.
OGHMA (god of knowledge) "The Binder, Patron of all Bards"
Or all bards who worship the Celtic Mythos, anyway, I guess.
Oghma gets no illustration, but the longest description of any god in this chapter. He "looks like an aged, white-haired man", and, somewhat surprisingly, "is the best wrestler of all the gods and considered their champion when fights with giants occur." Huh. In fact, "[h]is strength is such that when facing any being, he will have equal to that being's strength plus his own." I'm not sure how that's supposed to work, though, given that his Strength is already 25, and that's as high as the Strength tables go. Do you add the bonuses together? (If so, what happens if his opponent is weak enough to have penalties to their hit probability and damage?)
Any time someone sings an original composition, there is a 1% chance that Oghma is listening. The book states no consequence of this, but I guess it's nice to know. If "a song or tale is spread by others", though, there is a 5% chance that he hears it and "reward[s] the creator with great wealth in the form of gold 'strangely' given by the lord of the particular hold that the person was visiting and performing at."
Oghma knows "the secret name of any non-godlike creature." For, you see, "[i]n Celtic mythology, everything has a name it gives to the world, and another secret name that links it to its soul. If any being knows the secret name, he or she can control the creature or being or simply make them die (save vs. death applicable)." Okay, but if this is a general feature of everything in Celtic mythology, shouldn't it have been in the introductory text for the mythos and not buried in the description of a specific god?
Oghma is known as The Binder for his ability to successfully force demons and devils into a special prison of his making where they stay imprisoned until he wishes to bring them out.
Yes, that's... that's what a prison does, all right. Also, I like the fact that the authors felt it necessary to include the word "successfully". Consider the alternative. "Oghma is known as The Binder for his constant attempts to force demons and devils into a special prison of his making, even though it never works."
SILVANUS (god of the forests and nature)
Silvanus, seen here just after eating a lemon.
Here he is, the god who isn't Celtic at all but insisted on barging his way into the Celtic Mythos chapter anyway. Silvanus was, in fact, a minor Roman god. Sure, he was sometimes equated with a Celtic god, but so were many of the other Roman gods: Vulcan was equated with Goibhniu, Neptune with Manannan Mac Lir, Mars with Nuada, etc. Furthermore, one of the gods with which Silvanus was frequently equated already exists in the chapter as a separate god, Dagda. My best guess as to why Silvanus got inserted into the Celtic pantheon is just because his sphere of influence made him seem like he could be associated with druids. In any case, however mythologically inaccurate, his inclusion in the D&D Celtic pantheon ended up sticking, all the way through the current fifth edition where he's listed among the Celtic Deities in Appendix B of the 5E Player's Handbook.
Anyway, Silvanus "looks like a man with very long legs". He "can control any number of animals and creatures of the forest with the sound of his voice", and can "make plants grow and shrink at any rate he wills." He is accompanied by a giant wolfhound (for which we also get brief stats), which I guess jumps in front of any and all physical attacks on Silvanus and takes damage for him, though the wording of that part is a little confused. Given that the wolfhound has only 100 hit points to Silvanus's 333, I'm not sure this is a great idea on the wolfhound's part, though at least the wolfhound does regenerate 5 hit points per melee round.
"There is a 1% chance that [Silvanus] will appear whenever harm is done to a high level druid or his or her grove." It doesn't say, though, what he does if he does appear. Presumably he takes revenge upon the person who inflicted the harm, but maybe he just shakes his head sadly, a single tear sliding slowly down his cheek.
So that's all the gods in this chapter, but we're not done yet... now we have brief descriptions of two magic items. I was going to say that the Celtic Mythos is the first (but not the last) chapter in the book to include some new magic items. (That is, magic items that have their own separate headings and descriptions, rather than being mentioned in the entry of a specific god or hero like Excalibur or Druaga's mace.) But on second thought, that's not really true; the "American Indian Mythos" chapter included the sacred bundle. But for some reason there it was at the beginning of the chapter, whereas the magic items in the Celtic Mythos chapter are at the end. Glancing ahead, this inconsistency is repeated throughout the book; some chapters have magic items at the beginning, before the gods, some have them at the end, with no apparent rhyme or reason. Well, whatever.
Anyway, the first of the two magic items here is the tathlum, which is a weapon created by cutting off the head of an enemy and coating it in several coats of lime from the decedent's former territory. The exact number of coats is not specified, but we are told that each coat takes one week to dry, so we're talking a few weeks at least that it takes to make this thing. Once it's made, it can be thrown at "friends of the former owner of the head", and if this is done under bright sunshine, it does damage "up to ¼ of the original hit points of the person hit", or half their hit points if they're "a relative of the head". Considering that this is only good for one shot, I'm not sure that's worth the time investment.
TORC OF THE GODS
Useful and stylish. I guess.
Remember from the introductory text the discussion of torcs, "ornamental neck ring[s]" worn by druids of the Celtic Mythos? Well, the torc of the gods is a magical torc made by Goibhnie that "allows the holder to shape change or polymorph others." (How often? At will? If so, that's pretty drat powerful.) It isn't clear from the description whether the torc of the gods is a one-of-a-kind item or whether multiple torcs of the gods exist, but given that Math's description says he was given "a Torc of the Gods" I guess the latter is intended.
THE WILD HUNT
Finally, we get a page and a half on the Wild Hunt, including full stat blocks for the Master of the Hunt and the dogs that make up the Pack of the Wild Hunt. (And, to be fair, also including a large illustration that accounts for half a page.)
The description says nothing about the Master of the Wild Hunt's wearing any sort of mask, but he certainly seems to be wearing one here. Either that or he's got a really weird face.
The Wild Hunt posted:
The Wild Hunt exists in all the lands where Druids and their deities dwell. It is a physical manifestation of "life force" that always takes on the same form. The Hunt is made up of one huge black-skinned man with antlers growing from his head and his pack of hounds.
The Wild Hunt "appears wherever there is evil in the land"; it always begins ten miles from "the source of the evil that has created it". After passing by the source of evil, "it will travel on in a random direction for ten more miles." While it usually sticks to the ground, it can run into the air to "fly over obstacles or especially difficult terrain."
Wait... that's it? The Wild Hunt just passes by the source of evil? It doesn't actually do anything about it?
Apparently not. The Wild Hunt does attack its quarry, but its quarry isn't the source of evil that summoned it. Anyone who sees the Hunt as it passes by must make a saving throw versus magic or join the Hunt; anyone who hears the hunt and actively pursues it likewise becomes a part of it when they see it. (The howling of the dogs and the Hunt Master's horn "can be heard for miles in the night.") If the Hunt is still on its way to the source of evil, there is a 10% chance per mile of distance from that source that a person joining the hunt will do so as a hunter. Otherwise, the person becomes the prey. Anyone caught up in the Hunt after it passes the source of evil has a 90% chance of becoming prey. If the Hunt still hasn't found any prey by the time it's traveled ten miles away from the source of evil, it will just hunt down the nearest large game animal. Anyone who has been a part of the Hunt before (either as hunter or as hunted) has a flat 50% chance of being drawn in again if they ever see the Hunt on a future occasion.
So... yeah, apparently the Wild Hunt is drawn to the Prime Material Plane by a source of evil, but instead of actually doing anything about that source of evil, it hunts down some hapless random passerby instead. Well, that's just great.
Anyone joining the Hunt as a hunter will magically be able to keep up with its pace, regardless of their own usual speed, and will be compelled to attack the Hunt's quarry in a fight to the death (regardless of alignment—the book specifically gives the example of paladins being compelled to attack helpless women). The Master and his hounds will let the other hunters take care of the hunted, but if all other hunters are defeated, they will then step in and finish the job, unless they're killed themselves. Short of defeating all the hunters, including the Master and his pack, the only ways for someone hunted by the Wild Hunt to escape are to evade them till morning or to get more than ten miles away from the source of evil that summoned it.
There are legends in the past of great heroes slaying the Master and his hounds, but they always return somewhere else the next night, "proving that the force that creates the Hunt is eternal."
Like I said, we then get stats and descriptions of the Master of the Hunt and his pack. They're pretty tough, but not impossible for a high-level character to handle.
The Master of the Hunt posted:
The Master has iet black skin and glowing green eyes. His head is crowned by a set of stag antlers, and he wears a suit of black leather. The Master never speaks.
The pack of the Wild Hunt are "huge black hounds [with] licks of green fire for tongues and green fire for eyes." They have average human intelligence for some reason.
And that's the end of the chapter. Before moving on, though, there's one other thing I'd like to touch on. I mentioned in a previous post "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", the fourth supplement to the original D&D set, which was written by the same authors as Deities & Demigods, and clearly inspired it. I didn't do a separate review of "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", and maybe I should have... although it has very little flavor text and is mostly just stat blocks, so there's not much to review. What I think I will do, though, is a brief sort of compare and contrast with the presentations of the mythoi in the two works—or rather, where a Mythos appeared in that earlier book, I'll combine my review of the chapter in Deities & Demigods with a brief rundown of the presentation of the mythos in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes". All but one of the mythoi in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" would later appear in Deities & Demigods, the only holdout being "Robert E. Howard's Hyborea". The reverse is not true; there are many mythoi that appeared in Deities & Demigods that did not appear in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes". There was in the earlier work no "American Indian Mythos", no treatment of the "Arthurian Heroes", no Babylonian Mythos. There was, however, a description of the Celtic Mythos, making this the first one we've come to so far to appear in both works.
(In case you're wondering whether, by just comparing each chapter rather than having a full review of "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", we're missing out on some interesting front matter... we're really not. There's a one-page foreword, part of which I've already quoted in previous posts, there's a table of "Gods Psionic Abilities"—rather than being individually detailed, the gods were sorted into six different classes of psionic abilities, a practice that was repeated in Deities & Demigods—and then we get the following note:
Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes posted:
Unless specifically noted otherwise all Gods and Demi-Gods pre-rolled abilities (strength, intelligence, etc.) are considered to be 20. Heroes or otherwise nonGod types are either listed or will have to be pre-determined by the respective judge.
And that's it for the front matter; we then jump right into the descriptions of the gods, starting with Egyptian Mythology (for some reason... I'm not sure what the logic was behind the ordering of the mythoi in this book, but it's certainly not alphabetical). So, yeah, I'm not really skipping anything important.)
Here's an image from the title page of "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", just to avoid going too long without an illustration.
As opposed to the six paragraphs of introductory text on the Celtic Mythos that we get in Deities & Demigods, in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" we get just one short paragraph:
The Celtic Mythos posted:
The Celtic mythology is by no means confined to the English Isles. The Gods are all in human form as opposed to some of the other pantheons mentioned. They all have spheres of influence given for each God. These spheres are areas of control for the Gods and any manipulation of them by humans or other life forms causes the Gods to take an interest.
You might recognize that everything in this paragraph also appears in Deities & Demigods, and we've already covered the issues with it. The fact that the same text appeared earlier in "Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes"... doesn't really explain anything.
As for the actual gods, all the same gods and heroes appear in "Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes" as would eventually appear in Deities & Demigods, though they're in a different, apparently random order, and some of them have different names. Even Silvanus is already here, so even though he really has no business being in the Celtic Mythos he's been there in D&D since the beginning. In most cases, the name differences are just a matter of a variant spelling: Dagda is "Daghdha" (and already has his "Dozen King" epithet and corresponding power), Lugh is "Liegh" (and here he's not said to be the "god of generalities", but it's not specified just what he is the god of); Cu Chulainn is Cu Chulain. Two of the name changes, however, are more substantial. The Celtic god of death in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" has a very similar (albeit much briefer) description to that of Arawn in Deities & Demigods—but his name isn't Arawn; it's Donn. Now, unlike Arawn, Donn actually was a god of the dead in Irish mythology, and the description here—and the description of Arawn in Deities & Demigods—actually fits the mythological Donn a lot better than it does the mythological Arawn. So why did the writers change the god's name to Arawn in Deities & Demigods? Maybe because they wanted to get more representation from other Celtic peoples than just the Irish, so they threw in a figure from Welsh mythology, even if that figure didn't fit the description of the Irish god it had originally been applied to. But there's at least one other possible explanation. Deities & Demigods doesn't mark the first time that Arawn appeared in pop culture as a figure of evil; he was the main villain of the young adult fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. (A series I read and loved as a child, and that would later form the (loose) basis for one of the least remembered and least regarded Disney animated films, The Black Cauldron. (The books were better.))
In the books, Gurgi was a gangling humanoid monster; in the movie, for some reason he's a mustachioed chihuahua.
The Chronicles of Prydain predated Deities & Demigods by more than a decade, but I don't know that the authors of Deities & Demigods were familiar with it or that it had any role in inspiring the treatment of Arawn there—though I also don't know for sure that they weren't and it didn't. One possible hitch in this theory is that The Chronicles of Prydain predated not just Deities & Demigods, but also "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", so if Kuntz and Ward were inspired by the series to include Arawn as an evil god of death, why hadn't they done so earlier? Of course, there are possible explanations for this—perhaps, for example, they read the series in between writing "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" and Deities & Demigods—but ultimately this is just speculation anyway. I don't know their reasons for changing Donn to Arawn, but regardless it really would have made a lot more sense to leave the god of death as Donn.
The other major change is that Morrigan was originally named Medhbh (but had a similar (but briefer) description, complete with the part about the "hideous face"). Like Donn and Arawn, Medhbh and Morrigan were two different gods mythologically, though unlike Arawn they were both Irish, and it has been suggested they may have been linked in some way. By the time of the best recorded Irish myths, Medhbh wasn't really considered a goddess, but a mortal queen, but historians believe she may have been based on a sort of "sovereignty goddess" in older times. ("Medhbh" is, incidentally, a cognate of the name "Maeve"—much later used as the name of the queen of the Seelie Court of the Shadow Fey in the Ravenloft setting—and also possibly of Queen Mab of Shakespearean fame.) The change from Medhbh to Morrigan makes more sense than the change from Donn to Arawn; while both Medhbh and Morrigan had some association with war (in that Medhbh was considered a warrior queen), Morrigan's association was stronger, in addition to which Morrigan was better known and more definitively divine. The better question in this case, actually, isn't why they changed the name from Medhbh to Morrigan, but why they didn't use the clearly more appropriate Morrigan in the first place.
"Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" also has one additional character who didn't make the cut to Deities & Demigods: Balor.
Once a huge monster, this creature is now nothing but a 30 foot tall head. When the eyes of this head are forced open, all beings looking at it will die (no saving throw applicable).
Balor also comes from Irish mythology, where he was the king of the evil Fomorians, the main enemies of the Tuatha Dé Danann (who would later be loosely adapted into D&D as a race of evil giants in the 1E Monster Manual II)... although the myths only said he had a single deadly eye, not deadly eyes plural. Why he didn't make it into Deities & Demigods I'm not sure, although my best guess is that it's because the name "Balor" had already been used in the Monster Manual as a sample name for a demon, so perhaps the writers though that also using it as the name of a specific mythical monster would be confusing. Of course, the similarity of the demon name "Balor" to the name of the Irish mythological figure was almost certainly coincidental; D&D's "Balor" most likely originated as a mangling of "Balrog", the Tolkien creature that inspired that demon type.
(Yes, in 1E "Balor" was a sample name of an individual demon, not the name of a type of demon as it would later become:
1E Monster Manual posted:
Each type VI demon has its own name. (Balor is a type VI demon of the largest size.)
The same was true of the name "Nalfeshnee" for a (specific) type IV demon and "Marilith" for a type V. The use of these names to refer to the entire corresponding type of demon—and the dropping of the Roman-numeral "type" numbering from first edition—wasn't a thing till second edition.)
The type VI demon illustration from the 1E Monster Manual. Not sure why it's shown holding a lightning bolt, since it has no electrical attacks... and of course even if it did, a lightning bolt isn't really something you can hold.
After the gods, we get, as in Deities & Demigods, entries on the Torc of the Gods and the tathlum, though the descriptions here, again, are much briefer. And then we get a description of druids... sort of. Actually, what we get is this:
The Celtic Mythos posted:
Yes, in the original D&D set, druids appeared in one of the supplements... the same supplement, incidentally, that introduced the demon types that would later appear in the AD&D Monster Manual, though the sample names like "Balor" wouldn't appear till then. So the section on the "Celtic Mythos" in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" basically just suggested that the druids from Supplement III would be a good fit for the mythos without going into further detail.
Anyway, there we have it, the Celtic pantheon, the first "major" pantheon in this book, in the sense that it made it into a lot of later books and was a fixture of the similar books of gods in later editions.
Next time: Gods from a Parallel Universe
|# ¿ Jul 18, 2019 06:30|
Seeing all that 1e AD&D art really up close isn't doing it a lot of favors. Not trying to knock the artists of the time, it's just strange to see something that was a presented in a few square inches on rough paper blown up on a monitor
Well, I think that's particularly true of this chapter... like I mentioned, this was the chapter that had (IMO) the worst art in the book (though again, that may be just a matter of preference); the other chapters were at least a little better. But in general, yes, a lot of 1E art looked amateurish by current standards.
Oddly enough, my feelings about two of the main 1E artists kind of swapped over the years: David C. Sutherland III and David A. Trampier, both of whom signed most of their art with their initials, DCS and DAT. Between them, they did most of the art for the 1E Monster Manual, and they worked on a lot of other D&D products as well. (Trampier is also known as the creator of "Wormy", a comic that appeared in early issues of Dragon Magazine, though I didn't know that at the time—I don't think I had a subscription to Dragon till after Wormy's run ended.) When I was a child, I much preferred Sutherland's art; I thought that it was more detailed and realistic, while Trampier's art struck me as kind of blocky and weird. I've since come to realize, though, that while Sutherland put in a lot of cross-hatching and fine linework, his proportions and line quality were often inconsistent, and I've come to appreciate Trampier's style and regard him as by far the better artist. (Which isn't to cast aspersions on Sutherland; I may not think his art was as good as Trampier's, but it wasn't that bad by the standards of RPG art at the time, and he certainly had a lot of impact on D&D, both through his art and through some of his other creative contributions; for instance, he wrote the classic module Queen of the Demonweb Pits.) Unfortunately, both Sutherland and Trampier passed away at relatively young ages (they were both in their fifties).
In any case, though, I'd say Trampier's art, and that of certain other 1E artists, still holds up today even in close-ups. Consider the banshee picture from the third Deities & Demigods post... that was one of his. The art from the Celtic Mythos chapter, though... honestly, I was never really fond of it even seeing it in a few square inches on paper.
|# ¿ Jul 18, 2019 19:21|
Anyway, while much of it may not be up to top modern RPG art standards, at least the art in 1E D&D was for the most part a vast improvement on the art in the original D&D boxed set. (The art from the "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" title page in the post above is an exception, but I'm confident that was taken from a public-domain source and not created for the book.) Here, for example, is the illustration of the Type VI demon in "Eldritch Wizardry", which I probably would have included in the post had I found it in time (I missed it because it was for some reason in an entirely different part of the book from the demons' descriptions):
Based on the signature, by the way, that artwork is by David C. Sutherland III, but he apparently improved a lot between the original boxed set and the 1E Monster Manual—the picture of the type VI demon from the Monster Manual that I included in the Celtic Mythos post was also by Sutherland, and while it still may not be the equal of most modern RPG art it's a lot better than this drawing. Good for him. I mean, he may still not be my favorite 1E artist, but I do think it speaks well of him that he apparently put in the practice and improved his skills.
|# ¿ Jul 18, 2019 20:43|
(Unlike those boring Israeli modules)
Actually, for what it's worth (which admittedly probably isn't much), your partial reviews of "those boring Israeli modules" are literally how I found this forum in the first place. For, uh, reasons, I'd been searching for years for more information on those modules (or, better yet, a way to get my hands on a copy of the modules, but that's probably a pipe dream), and so that's how I ran across your reviews here, which, incomplete as they are, include the most in-depth information I've been able to find about those modules so far. (Well, about the first module, anyway.)
Not that I'm trying to guilt-trip you into finishing those reviews; if you're so bored by the modules that you don't feel up to posting further about them, that's completely understandable. Just wanted to let you know your effort with them wasn't wasted, and at least one person did appreciate what you posted about them.
(Also, this is the point where I again apologize for my having been away so long since my last post on the Deities & Demigods review, and promise that the next one's coming soon. Seriously, sorry; when I started that review I really thought I was going to be able to post a lot more often than I have been; I've just had a lot going on lately.)
|# ¿ Jul 28, 2019 03:41|
I'll be happy to gift you the modules Jerik, Provided you can review them.
Wow... that's very generous of you. If you're serious about that, I'll be happy to pay the postage costs, of course.
As far as my reviewing the modules, though, while I'd be willing to try, I don't think I'm really the best person for the job, mostly because of the language issue. I know just enough Hebrew that I should be able to work out what the text says, given sufficient time and the aid of a dictionary, but I'm nowhere near fluent, and I'd be likely to miss some nuances or make some errors in translation that might affect the reviews. If you really don't want to review them, I'd be willing to give it a shot, but if you want the reviews done right you're probably better off finishing them yourself before parting with the modules.
|# ¿ Jul 28, 2019 18:15|
Huh. There was a completely different monster called an entrope in the Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix III, which was also written by Monte Cook. I guess he really liked that name.
|# ¿ Jul 28, 2019 20:39|
It doesn't say that because that's not a definition of 'person' that EP shares. EP is deliberately a setting where there's no practical difference between a thinking brain and a perfect copy of that thinking brain, and these are considered to be the same person. This is the premise: that whether 'you' wake up in a new body or die and a clone wakes up is making a distinction without a difference.
Well, I, at least, am 100% on board with that. All those questions about whether, for example, a Star Trek transporter really kills you and creates a copy so the new copy isn't really you always struck me as nonsensical, trying to draw a completely meaningless distinction. I am my mind, memories, and personality. If the copy has my mind, memories, and personality, of course it's me. Why wouldn't it be? Because it's not made of the same atoms as the previous version? So what? Those aren't what define me, and my body cycles through different atoms over time anyway. Because of continuity of experience? I don't have that anyway; I lose consciousness (almost) every night. I just have yet to hear a coherent argument for why, if I'm "replaced" by a copy with my exact same memories and thought processes, that copy shouldn't be considered to still be me.
I don't even see the possibility of two copies existing at once as posing a problem (which I gather is what's meant by "forking"). Okay, planarians are famous for regenerating if you cut them in two; both halves regenerate into a new planarian. Which one is the original, and which one is the copy? Okay, now suppose humans could regenerate like planarians, with each half retaining the mind and memories of the original, and you cut a human in two to get two copies. Which one is the original and which one is the copy? They both have just as much claim to be the same individual as the original. Obviously, that's not how "forking" is supposed to take place here; it's by direct copying of the mind into a new body; but I don't see that the means by which it's done are important to the result. If both copies have the mind and memories of the original, which one is the same person as the original? Both. Of course, their memories and personalities will diverge over time, and they'll no longer match each other, or the original. So what? My memories and personality today aren't the same as my memories and personality five years ago, but I still consider myself the same person; those forked copies have just as much reason to consider themselves to be both the same person as the original as well.
...Anyway, getting off of the philosophical digression and back to the subject of RPGs, I hadn't been previously familiar with Eclipse Phase, but these posts have piqued my interest. Sure, it seems it has some problematic elements and some wonky rules, but, well, I have yet to encounter an RPG that doesn't; if a perfect RPG has been created I have yet to find it. I sort of want to give Eclipse Phase a try now, though I don't know when I'm going to be able to... my current unpredictable work schedule makes it impractical to commit to a regular gaming group at the moment, unfortunately.
|# ¿ Jul 29, 2019 23:10|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 8: Gods from a Parallel Universe
Why does every chapter title have that weird little knot/percent-sign thing after it? What exactly is that supposed to be? I thought it was a period when it showed it up in the "Arthurian Heroes" title, but apparently not. Is that the artist's monogram? If so, what initials does that represent? ...Hm, one of the credited artists was "Darlene Pekul"; I guess that could be a "dp"...
Central American Mythos posted:
The Aztec and Maya presented the world with an interesting set of closely related gods, goddesses and creatures that have a moral background similar to that of other ancient mythoi. The beings are just as evil or just as good; the difference seems to be that they are not moved by anything resembling human thoughts and feelings, unlike the deities of other mythoi. They act only upon their own inscrutable motives.
Okay, I'm sorry, but this opening paragraph strikes me as pretty much gibberish. Don't a "moral background similar to that of other mythoi" and being moved by something "resembling human thoughts and feelings" go together? Are the writers trying to say that the Central American gods still follow moral principles, but for completely different and incomprehensible reasons? And anyway, what drove them to the conclusion that the gods of this mythos were so much more alien and unfathomable than those of other mythoi anyway?
It gets worse.
Central American Mythos posted:
These beings are said to have come from the stars, and their "plane of origin" is not the same as other mythologies. For the purposes of this work, we will assume that these gods come from the Prime Material Plane of a parallel universe.
Seriously, this whole thing about the Mesoamerican gods being unknowable alien beings from a parallel world is just... bizarre. And it isn't really supported by the presentation of the gods themselves, who are for the most part treated like personalized entities with typical human emotions; we're told that Camazotz can be "tempted to comply with a summons", that Chalchiuhtlicue is "eager to aid" petitioners under certain circumstances; that Itzamna "tries to temper his father [Tezcatlipoca]'s harsh dealings with man." These pretty much sound like something "resembling human thoughts and feelings" to me.
Inscrutable or not, the gods of this mythos are an unusually malevolent lot. Fully half the gods presented in this chapter are evil, and only two are good. Hm. (Of course, in two chapters we'll get to an even more malevolent mythos...)
Anyway, despite the mention at the top of the "Aztec and Maya", what we get here is mostly Aztec. Granted, there were plenty of similarities and borrowings between the two cultures, but, again, that was at least as true of the Babylonians and the Sumerians, but they each get their own Mythos. Why combine the Aztec and Maya gods, but not the Babylonian and Sumerian? I don't know, but here we are anyway.
Central American Mythos posted:
The clerics of this mythos are the elite of the populace, and even the lowest levels have absolute authority over any of the peasants. Along the same lines, any cleric of a higher level may give orders to lesser clerics of the same deity with complete freedom. Though all sects must usually work together, there is much clandestine infighting between groups for followers among the rich and poor alike.
The text goes on to describe the rituals, which take place every twenty days and which the public is forced to attend. (And yes, they sometimes, but not always, involve human sacrifice.) We're told that "[a]ll temples are built on the step pyramid design"—both the Aztecs and the Maya did historically build step pyramids, so okay, fair enough. We then get a paragraph about divine punishment of clerical transgressions—oddly, "defeats in personal combat (duels)" count as offenses against the gods for some reason. Finally, the last paragraph states that each cleric must choose one of the four cardinal compass directions to be associated with, and get combat bonuses when facing in that direction.
Central American Mythos posted:
Clerics of the east must wear red clothes at all times, clerics of the south must wear yellow, clerics of the west must wear black, and clerics of the north must wear white.
Those particular color associations with the compass directions are from Maya culture (and, incidentally, also some Lakota); the Aztecs also associated each compass direction with a color, but their color correspondences were different. The Maya also associated the center, between the four colors, with another color, blue and/or green (Mayan languages do not necessarily distinguish between these colors), but Deities & Demigods doesn't mention that. It might also be interesting to note, although Deities & Demigods doesn't mention this either, that both the Aztecs and the Maya associated each compass direction with a particular god or gods as well. For example, the Aztecs associated the north with Tezcatlipoca, Lord of the Smoking Mirror, God of Sorcery, Strife, and the Night Sky; the west with Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, God of Learning, Wind, and the Morning and Evening Star; the south with Huitzilopochtli, the Turquoise Prince, God of the Sun, War, and the Cycle of Day and Night; and the east with Xipe Totec, the Flayed One, God of Agriculture, Disease, and Not Appearing in This Book.
This is another pantheon that did also appear in the "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" supplement to the original D&D boxed set, though there it was called the "Mexican and Central American Indian Mythology". Rather than summarize the differences at the end of this post as I did for the Celtic pantheon, I'll just mention the differences in each god as we get to them. (Not all the Central American gods in Deities & Demigods were also in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", however, and if I don't mention a god's treatment in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" it's because the god didn't appear there.) I'll quote here the introductory paragraph for the "Mexican and Central American Indian Mythology" section:
Mexican and Central American Mythology posted:
Due to the lack of space in this booklet we, the authors, are only able to present parts of this mythology. What is listed below will be mainly the gods & let it be noted that information on these divinities is scarce.
Uh... what? They're only presenting parts of all the mythologies. Surely the authors didn't think their Celtic Mythos section comprehensively covered every god from Celtic mythology, or likewise for Egyptian, Greek, and so on. And if they found information on Central American gods particularly scarce (though I don't see any reason that ought to have been the case), then it makes even less sense to call out the fact that they're only presenting part of the mythology in this section in particular, if they had less material to draw on. Oh well.
QUETZALCOATL (god of the air) "Law Giver"
Wait... why does he have a skull on his hat? Is he a baddie?
Also known as Kukulcan, or (in his capacity as wind god) Ehecatl, this god appears in a bewildering number of forms, and while he usually acts as per his [lawful neutral] alignment, there are times when he works in chaotic or evil ways (making it very hard to align him).
So I guess this is the one god whose description does sort of live up to whole "inscrutable motives" thing, but he's the only one. I don't know that the note about its being hard to align him was really necessary, any more so than it would be for other gods; most major gods in ancient mythologies had contradictory myths develop about them. Heck, Zeus did some pretty dang evil things in Greek mythology, but, as we'll see when we get to the Greek Mythos, he still gets to be chaotic good. (And Athena is lawful good, despite the part she played in the Judgment of Paris and the Trojan War...)
He appears occasionally on our plane and works closely with his worshipers against other gods.
I wanted to quote this sentence just because of the odd use of the first person. Are Kuntz and Ward suggesting that they live on the same plane as their D&D characters? Or are they suggesting that Quetzalcoatl occasionally drops by on real-world Earth? Anyway, moving on...
Quetzalcoatl fights in the form of a monster of his choice, and "cannot be hurt by creatures of the same form he is using; in other words, when he is in the form of a dragon, he cannot be hurt by any dragon type, and when he is in the form of a magic-user, he cannot be hurt by magical spells." (Wait... so "magic-user" counts as a form of monster? Can he take the form of a fighter, and be immune to weapon attacks?) If he "suffers a great loss of hit points", he will "take the form that he had assumed at the beginning of the battle and quadruple its powers and re-attack". If he could just arbitrarily quadruple his powers, why doesn't he just attack with the higher power to begin with? (Also, what exactly does it mean to quadruple his powers? Does he attack four times as often? Do his attacks do four times as much damage? Are his magic spells harder to resist, and if so, what constitutes four times as hard? Or does he cast spells like a magic-user of four times the level?)
Quetzalcoatl was the mightiest god of the mythos, though his claim is disputed by the followers of Tezcatlipoca, his arch-enemy. Quetzalcoatl is patron of the arts and the founder of metallurgy.
Mythologically, Quetzalcoatl was especially associated with books and learning, though he did also preside to some degree over the arts in general, and was also an especial patron of priests and merchants. "Ehecatl" was the name of a wind god usually considered an aspect of Quetzalcoatl, and "Kukulcan" was the name of a Maya god often identified with the Aztec Quetzalcoatl—making this the only time in this chapter the writers give both an Aztec and a Maya name for a god. "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" gets all this rather dramatically wrong, saying that "Quetzalcoatl is the feathered Serpent-God of Mayan religion" (emphasis added), and that he's called "Kulkulkan [sic] in Incan". Not only was Kukulcan not an Inca name, not only was Quetzalcoatl by any name not part of Inca mythology, not only is "Incan" not a language (the official language of the Inca Empire was Quechua, which is still spoken today by some people in Peru and nearby countries), but the Inca didn't live in Mexico or Central America at all; the Inca Empire was located along the western edge of South America! Perhaps it's for the best that in Deities & Demigods the authors didn't try to specify which culture each god came from, if that's what happened when they did...
Quetzalcoatl was closely associated with the feathered serpent, and was often depicted in that form—in fact, both the names "Quetzalcoatl" and "Kukulcan" basically mean "feathered serpent". (This is also, of course, where D&D's couatl comes from.) Deities & Demigods does list Quetzalcoatl's symbol as a "feathered serpent" but doesn't otherwise acknowledge this association, though there is a picture of a feathered serpent at the bottom of the page. In this one aspect, at least, "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" arguably did better than Deities & Demigods, in that it did explicitly refer to Quetzalcoatl as a "feathered Serpent-God". It also gave him serpent-specific powers that weren't in his Deities & Demigods entry: "[a]ll serpents are subservient to him", and he "has at his beck and call one of every class (type) of dragon."
"What're you looking at?"
CAMAXTLI (god of fate)
This human-appearing god is able to see the past and future of any being and put this information to use in his own way. He is not allowed to kill any being, but he can look into that being's past and discover what force caused the most physical damage to that being, and then recreate that force exactly to again do the same amount of damage.
We get another instance of passive-voice vagueness here. He's not allowed to kill any being? Who or what is stopping him? Quetzalcoatl? Some kind of universal law? Gary Gygax? The Dungeon Master?
There's a 25% chance that Camaxtli will, for a short period, "do what he can to help" anyone who sacrifices precious metals in the amount of 500,000 gold pieces or more. On the one hand, that's a lot of money; on the other hand, hey, we're apparently talking about the direct, personal help of a greater god, so maybe it's worth it. As a colorful touch, "[t]he sacrifice is always cast into the beyond by the most powerful means available (i.e. a random teleport spell, a limited wish, or the like)."
(Please note, however, that by the book casting objects "into the beyond" via a "random teleport spell" doesn't actually seem to be possible. The description of the teleport spell in the Player's Handbook says that it can only be used to teleport the magic-user casting the spell; the magic-user can bring "a certain amount of additional weight" along, but doesn't seem to be able to teleport objects without going him- or herself. Also, the spell description does not give any indication that it can be used to teleport things randomly, though there is a random chance that the teleport could be off from the intended destination. (In keeping with the high incidence of random instant death in early editions of D&D, any result where the magic-user arrives lower than the intended destination "means the instant death of the magic-user if the area into which he or she teleports is a solid"—and there's a 1% chance of that happening even if the magic-user is teleporting to a very familiar destination. And no, targeting the air slightly above the intended destination to avoid being killed by a low result is explicitly ruled out: "there is no possibility of teleporting to an area of empty space, i.e. a substantial area of surface must be there, whether a wooden floor, a stone floor, natural ground, etc." Have fun having a chance of instantly and unavoidably dying every time you teleport, first-edition magic-user! (Unless I guess you target the upper floor of a building, or another place where you know there's an open space just below the floor, maybe.)))
Tragically, Camaxtli would be one of several gods pointlessly killed off offstage in a certain Planescape adventure... but we'll be getting to that (much) later.
CAMAZOTZ (bat god)
So Camazotz is this big chaotic evil bat god with venomous claws and bite who really likes eating bugs. No, seriously:
This god appears as a huge bat and is always found with 1,000 normal bats flying around him. He may be tempted to comply to a summons by a being that offers many insects for his followers. Priests can actually appease this deity by offering him insect plagues.
I like the fact that he can be summoned by offering insects to his followers, too. What are they going to do with them? Do his followers eat insects, too, to emulate their god? (Or just to be polite?) Or are they just resigned to people giving them big piles of insects that they then stash away in a shed behind the temple?
Camazotz appeared in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", but he was called "Tezcat", which is weird, because, well, that's not a name that as far as I can tell any Central American culture ever actually used for him. There was another god named Tezcatlipoca, but, well, that's an entirely different god... and one we'll be getting to later. But no, this description is clearly for the same god that in Deities & Demigods is (more appropriately) called Camazotz; it even has the weird bit about offering insects to his followers and appeasing him with insect plagues. We also get the following even weirder bit:
He is served by three servants:
Setting aside the strangeness of insisting that there's "no further information available" on the third monster (hey, you guys know you can make stuff up, right?), why was a bat god being served by water creatures?
(Also, by the way, the water naga actually appeared in Strategic Review #3, not #4. Oh well.)
The Bat God's sinister servant, Conch and Cane.
So far I'm definitely getting the feeling that Kuntz and Ward at least did a little more research on Aztec and Maya mythology between "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" and Deities & Demigods. I mean, there are certainly issues with the "Central American Mythos" in Deities & Demigods, but the "Mexican and Central American Mythology" section in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" is downright ridiculous.
By the way, I was going to add that a "Sea Monster" isn't a specific, statted up monster in D&D, but I just double-checked the "Monsters & Treasure" book from the original D&D boxed set and huh, turns out it kind of was:
Sea Monsters posted:
As a general rule these creatures are more for show than anything else. However, they could guard treasure. The typical Sea Monster of mythology is equal in size to a Purple Worm, and they work upwards from there to double or treble that size. The best guide is a book on prehistoric life forms, from which the referee can pick a number of suitable forms for his Sea Monster. Typically, hits from a Sea Monster would inflict 3 or 4 dice of damage.
The "Sea Monsters" entry in the "Monster Reference Table" isn't particularly helpful, though; while most monsters' entries in the table include "Number Appearing", "Armor Class", "Move in Inches", "Hit Dice", "% In Lair", and "Type or Amount of Treasure", the "Sea Monsters" row just says, in its entirety, "All variable and at referee's discretion". So "an intelligent Sea Monster of 20 hit dice" still isn't terribly specific.
One last note: Camazotz is one of only two gods in this chapter who comes from Maya mythology rather than Aztec.
CHALCHIUHTLICUE (goddess of running water and love)
Also known as the "goddess of the jade petticoat", this goddess is not only a water deity, she is the goddess of chaste love.
Is there a goddess of unchaste love, you might ask? Yes. Yes there is. We'll get to her.
In any of these aspects, she uses her power for the good of the beings that she is favoring at the time.
Unlike most gods, who of course use their power to benefit beings they actively dislike.
Anyway, she's chaotic good, and you can get her help by sacrificing high-quality jade by tossing it "into a bottomless pool of water in one of several such areas in the mountains." (As we all know, the mountains of Central America have bottomless pools of water all over the place.) Also, the sacrifice must be carried out "by the light of the full moon, and there must be no other being within a mile of the area." If all that is done, there's a 1% chance that she'll help (unless you're a priest performing the sacrifice on behalf of the needy, in which case the chance goes up to 25%). Which seems to contradict a sentence in the previous paragraph that said that "[t]hose that sacrifice to her (of any alignment) can expect her help if the proper forms are observed"—I mean, I wouldn't necessarily expect something that only has a 1% chance of happening.
Another interesting note:
She also has the unusual ability to transform 3-300 beings into any single form she wishes (usually fish). This ability is used only to save the lives of devout worshipers.
Do situations really commonly come up where the lives of her devout worshipers can be saved by the transformation of three hundred people into fish? Okay.
The last sentence of her entry just says that "Chalchiutlicue [sic] is the wife of Tlaloc." I'll be coming back to that when we get to Tlaloc.
Chalchiuhtlicue also appeared in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", but only as the otherwise nameless "Goddess of the Jade Petticoat", and with a total of two brief sentences of description. But hey, at least, unlike Quetzalcoatl's and "Tezcat"'s, her entry in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" doesn't include anything drastically wrong. Though I do wonder, given the brevity of her entry and the fact that she's a water deity (even though "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" doesn't say that), whether perhaps the three misfit servants of Tezcat were intended to be hers, and were put in Tezcat's entry by mistake...
(Okay, full disclosure here... unlike Deities & Demigods and the other first-edition books, I don't actually own a print copy of "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes". I'm going by a PDF for that, and it's possible that some mistakes were made in the conversion. That wouldn't explain things like the erroneous reference to Kukulkan being an Incan name, but might explain things like Chalchiuhtlicue's servants maybe being put under Tezcat instead. Or it might not, but I figured I should acknowledge the possibility.)
HUHUETEOTL (fire god)
"I'm just happy to be here!"
Physically, Huhueteotl appears to be a demon with a humanoid body, reptilian facial features, flames shooting all around him, and hair patches where his red gem armor does not cover him.
In Aztec iconography, Huhueteotl was usually depicted as a wrinkled old man, but sure, Deities & Demigods, you do you.
Anyway, we're told that Huhueteotl "requires frequent human sacrifice", and then in the very next sentence that "[s]acrifices are in the form of valuable articles of clothing and or gems and jewels", which I cannot help but note are not usually considered human.
The god is also in charge of keeping time in motion, and in this capacity must have a special sacrifice of gems, feather robes, and humans every 52 years. During the fifty-second year, the god has the ability to stop the motion of any one thing in any single day. In this stopped state, that thing cannot be harmed by any force in the Prime Material Plane.
Presumably this is based on the Aztec and/or Maya calendars, both of which included fifty-two-year cycles. Why exactly Deities & Demigods associated this cycle with Huhueteotl in particular, though, I'm not sure, since he doesn't seem to have mythologically had any special connection to it. Other questions raised by this paragraph and unanswered: What makes the "special sacrifice" different from the normal frequent sacrifices Huhueteotl requires? What happens if he doesn't get the sacrifice?
HUITZILOPOCHTLI (god of war)
The text says his headdress is made of hummingbird feathers. That must have been a really unusual hummingbird.
Huitzilopochtli is neutral and completely antisocial. Commune spells don't work with him; "[h]e can rarely be called upon for any non-warlike situation", and while he may "appear on any battlefield where his worshipers are fighting and aid them", "this will not be in such a manner to make sure his side will win." (So... he'll pull his punches? He'll take out one enemy, declare "My work here is done", and go away?) Sacrifices can only be made to him in battle ("and only by fighting clerics"), which seems like it would be difficult, unless just slaying an enemy counts as a sacrifice, but the text doesn't say that.
If a sacrifice is (somehow) made to Huitzilopochtli, though, there's a 5% chance he'll show up, in which case he "will take the body of a dead warrior that won great victories either during that battle or in the past." Which turns out to be a good deal for the dead warrior, because "that warrior will be raised and live a long and lucky life", whether Huitzilopochtli's side wins the battle or not. (The text even quantifies exactly what it means by "lucky": "This luck takes the form of a +3 on all saving throws.")
Huitzilopochtli was apparently considered primarily a god of war in early myths, but in later myths he took on other aspects as well and became the supreme god of the rulers of the Aztec Empire and the patron god of the city of Tenochtitlán (which would become modern Mexico City). You know how the Mexican flag depicts an eagle perched on a cactus and holding a snake its beak? That's based on a mythological account of an omen sent by Huitzilopochtli to show where the city of Tenochtitlán should be founded.
In "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", Huitzilopochtli didn't have the ability to possess (and raise) a dead warrior, but he did have other special abilities: all fighters below 10th level would "fight him as if a slow spell had been placed upon them", while all fighters above 10th level would "see two exact duplicates of this god when engaged in combat with him." I guess fighters who happened to be exactly 10th level could fight him without any special drawbacks?
HUNAPU AND XBALANQUE (twin heroes)
Well, we may only have two good-aligned gods, but at least we have two lawful good heroes, though they're "legendary for their thirst for revenge", which... doesn't sound all that lawful good to me? (Also, they have levels as druids (in addition to as rangers and magic-users), which shouldn't be possible in first edition for lawful good characters, but as we've already seen the heroes in this book make no apparent attempt to follow the rules for player characters.)
Hunapu and Xbalanque posted:
Their father was killed by beings of the underworld and so they went down and defeated these beings in games and battle.
All the rest of the text is about their combat abilities, which I guess is a little more excusable than combat abilities for gods, though I'm still not sure why PCs would want to fight these guys. They use poisoned blow gun darts, and are slightly resistant to cold and fire for some reason.
The twin heroes—or "Hero Twins", as they're more often called among anthropologists, appear in the Popol Vuh, the oldest known account of Maya mythology. (Camazotz the Bat God also appeared in the Popul Vuh, sort of, but there the word seems to have been used to refer to a type of demonic bat creature rather than an individual entity.)
ITZAMNA (god of medicine)
Itzamna normally appears to men in the guise of a toothless old man, with sunken cheeks and a Roman nose, leaning on a crooked staff. However, he may also assume the form of light in one of its myriad aspects, e.g. a blazing globe, a fading ember, or a dusty moonbeam, and when in this guise he may take on any size.
Itzamna is a lawful good god who "often travels in the world of men", and who "is often called upon by his clerics to intercede for man with the other gods in times of calamities and sicknesses." He is the son of Tezcatlipoca, whom we'll be getting to in a bit, and if he's "ever in a desperate situation he will call upon his father for help", despite his father being of the exact opposite alignment.
Although the text says he is "by no means a weakling", neither he nor his clerics like to fight. Itzamna's clerics "are loath to do combat unless there is no other recourse", and Itzamna himself "rarely relies on the strength of his arms" in his dealings with other gods. (Do other gods rely on the strength of their arms in dealings with each other? Do they engage in combat with each other, or just arm wrestle?)
We don't get an illustration of Itzamna himself, but we do get a picture of one of his clerics.
Like Camazotz and the Hero Twins, and unlike any other entity from this chapter, Itzamna comes from Maya mythology rather than Aztec. He's a creator god and was according to at least some accounts the most powerful and most important Maya deity, though he was also the patron god of medicine, so fair enough.
Incidentally, how did a Maya god become the son of an Aztec god? I don't really have an answer for that; I have no idea where the bit about Itzamna being the son of Tezcatlipoca comes from. Maybe the authors just added that to try to connect the mythos together, but then in the original myths Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Tezcatlipoca were brothers, and they didn't include that, so... who knows.
MICTLANTECUHTLI (god of death)
That snake is a daring fashion statement.
The god usually appears in a lich form, and no undead is able to resist his commands. At any given time, he can instantly summon 20-200 skeletons, 10-100 ghouls, 6-36 wights, and 2-5 spectres. He can be summoned only after at least 50 live human sacrifices have been given the god in worship. The god demands these lives during the dark of the moon and requires them from the ranks of his worshipers.
So he requires his worshipers to sacrifice each other? In numbers of fifty at a time?... Must be hard to get new recruits. Oddly, his stats include "WORSHIPER'S ALIGN: All alignments", so I guess there are lawful good worshipers of this evil god of death who don't mind slaughtering each other at their deity's whim. Hm.
Then of course we get a paragraph of his combat abilities, which... I'm not going to bother with.
Mictlantecuhtli is basically the same in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", although he's said to appear as "the skeletal figure of a man" rather than a lich, and the numbers of undead of each type that he can command are multiplied by a factor of ten. (Exactly a factor of ten, as a matter of fact; apparently when writing Deities & Demigods Kuntz and Ward decided he should only command one-tenth the numbers of undead he did in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", for some reason. I mean, sure, I wouldn't like to try to run a combat involving two thousand skeletons, but ease of running doesn't seem to have been much of a concern in most of these entries.)
Oh... also, at least "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" doesn't put up with that "All Alignments" business:
Any person that worships this God is definitely worshipping Chaos itself, since Mictantecuhtli craves death. Human sacrifice is very prevalent with this god.
TEZCATLIPOCA (sun god)
I'm kind of guessing this jaguar was drawn without photo reference.
Tezcatlipoca (which means "the smoking mirror") is the god of the sun who ripens the crops but also brings drought and famine. Conversely, he is also the god of the moon and the night. Tezcatlipoca and his followers are always plotting the overthrow of Quetzalcoatl, and this god is the patron of treacherous schemings and betrayals.
The part about plotting the overthrow of Quetzalcoatl does have a basis in Aztec mythology. Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl were co-creators of the world who then became enemies and rivals. One account has Tezcatlipoca as the original ruler of the gods until Quetzalcoatl usurped him; another has Quetzalcoatl as the original leader who was supplanted by Tezcatlipoca. At least one account even has Quetzalcoatl taking Tezcatlopoca's place as the leader of the gods and then Tezcatlopoca later throwing him down and taking it back.
I'd say the part of this paragraph that's least faithful to the original myths is making him the god of the sun... Tezcatlipoca was the god of many things, but the sun doesn't seem to have been one of them. Well, that and making him a "patron of treacherous schemings and betrayals"... sure, he was an enemy of Quetzalcoatl, but the myths weren't really clear on who betrayed whom, or whether their conflict really involved any betrayal at all. Still, here Kuntz and Ward apparently decided to make Tezcatlipoca the unambiguous, chaotic evil bad guy.
Tezcatlipoca rarely takes human form, and when he does it's "to masquerade as someone else in the furtherance of one of his schemes". More often, he appears as a giant jaguar or a bear, and more often still he doesn't appear in physical form at all, and just "prefer[s] to remain invisible and intangible." (Is that a thing all gods are supposed to be able to do? Because nothing under the "Standard Divine Abilities" in the first part of this book gave that impression.)
Once a year, at a great religious gathering, Tezcatlipoca's priests sacrifice a young, perfect human male and offer the god his heart. These sacrifices (usually war prisoners) are pampered and feted for a full year before the ritual. Though they are given almost anything they might desire during this period, they always end up on the altar.
This actually was a real thing, and did go down pretty much as described here. So... hey, at least this book isn't totally historically inaccurate.
Tezcatlipoca is a spreader of disorder and war, but also an originator of wealth.
He is large; he contains multitudes.
Tezcatlipoca didn't appear in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes"... but a different sun god did, Tonatiuh. In the previous cases we've seen so far of a god from "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" being renamed in Deities & Demigods (Donn to Arawn, Medhbh to Morrigan, Tezcat to Camazotz), at least part of the original description was carried over intact. Here it isn't; aside from the fact that they're both sun gods there really isn't anything the descriptions of Tonatiuh and Tezcatlipoca have in common. (Among his other powers, Tonatiuh "may cause great draughts [sic] and... can form something like the 'Death Valley U.S.A.' in about one week's time.") So I'm not sure in this case whether it's a matter of Tonatiuh being renamed to Tezcatlipoca, or of Tezcatlipoca being added and then Tonatiuh being removed because the authors judged him redundant. In any case, unlike Tezcatlipoca, Tonatiuh really was a sun god in Aztec mythology, as well as a patron of warriors, which makes him somewhat redundant not with Tezcatlipoca, who has no business pretending to be a sun god, but with Huitzilopochtli, who is one, and who ended up overshadowing Tonatiuh in later Aztec mythology.
TLALOC (rain god)
Doesn't this look like a Charisma 19 kind of face to you?
With his great tusks and goggle eyes, Tlaloc's appearance is quite impressive. He wears all black but for a garland of white feathers.
Anyway, we get a whole paragraph about how priests regular sacrifice children and babies to him. ("WORSHIPER'S ALIGN: All who need rain. So lawful good people who need rain are okay with cooking babies, apparently.) In accordance with his lawful evil alignment, I guess, he does ("usually") grant rain to his worshipers if they've been carrying out all the sacrifices and rituals, but if not, he'll punish them.
Tlaloc has four pitchers of water: one filled with good water to make crops grow properly, one filled with water that contains spiders' eggs and webs and causes blight, one filled with water that turns to frost, and one with water that rots all fruit.
And then we get a paragraph about his combat abilities, because this is Deities & Demigods.
In Aztec mythology, Tlaloc was generally considered a relatively beneficent god... but on the other hand, children really were sacrificed to him, so okay, I'll accept his evil alignment. (Even the part in Deities & Demigods about how "[i]f the babies cry during the sacrifice, this is taken as a good sign that rain will be abundant during the coming year" has a historical basis.) Then again, child sacrifices were also made to Quetzalcoatl and Chalchiuhtlicue (albeit less frequently), and neither of them is evil, so... uh...
Oh, speaking of Chalchuihtlicue, remember how she was the wife of Tlaloc? Note that Chalchuihtlicue and Tlaloc have diametrically opposite alignments. I can't imagine that's conducive to a lot of marital harmony. Of course, we touched earlier on the fact that the father/son pair of Tezcatlipoca and Itzamna also have opposite alignments. There's a lot of family disagreement among the gods of the Central American Mythos, it seems.
TLAZOLTEOTL (goddess of vice)
(Link to image on external site due to mild NSFWitude)
When this goddess is under stress, rushed, or being attacked, she appears as an incredible monster, with a humanoid body, demonic face with fangs and blazing eyes, talons for the ends of her feet and hands, and a black warty skin with a slick, greasy look. This is an illusion, however. When she is at ease, before her worshipers, working on a victim, or in front of many strangers for one reason or another, she appears as a beautiful woman...
All right, that's actually kind of different; most of the time when you get a monster or some other entity with a hideous monster form and an attractive human form it's the monster form that's the true form and the attractive human form that's the illusion. So okay.
I stopped the quote in the middle of a sentence there, so let me continue with the rest of it.
...she appears as a beautiful woman capable of inspiring desire in any male and jealous respect from any female.
Because gay men don't exist in first-edition Dungeons & Dragons, apparently. (Or her powers make even gay men desire her, but, uh, I don't think that's really much better.) Or asexuals, for that matter, I guess. Okay, it's not fair to single Deities & Demigods out for this; I don't think any games were doing much to acknowledge nonheterosexuality in the eighties; but I still didn't want to let that pass without comment.
Also, "jealous respect"? Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron?
Anyway, Tlazolteotl is chaotic evil and "tries very hard to ruin lawful good beings all over the Prime Material Plane" apparently just because that's what chaotic evil does. She usually fights with magic, especially charm spells, and doesn't fight physically at all: "if met with beings that cannot be hurt by spells, she will teleport away." She has fifteen levels as an assassin, though, and no compunction about using those; assassinating people doesn't count as fighting physically, apparently. Also, "[n]o evil being can even think of harming her, even if they are magically controlled", which is weird, because I didn't think evil was really known for its sense of team spirit, but whatever.
Tlazolteotl was in fact an Aztec goddess of vice, but she was also a goddess of garbage and decomposition, which I think might somewhat cut down on her allure... I'm not sure most men would really be so sorely tempted by someone known as the "Eater of Filth". To be fair, though, she was known to inspire licentiousness, so even if the Deities & Demigods description doesn't capture all her aspects it's not completely off. (Though the "incredible monster" bit does sort of come out of left field.)
XOCHIPILLI (god of gambling and chance) "Lord of Flowers"
Xochipilli is a neutral god who "almost always appears as a young man" and who "can often be found wandering among the people bestowing good and bad luck in the form of lost or granted saving throws." There's no mention of how he decides whether to grant good luck or bad luck, so maybe he just does it at random, although we are told that he "is most pleased with beings that take a large calculated risk." We're also told that he is "predominantly a peaceful being" (I guess giving people bad luck isn't technically attacking them), and that he "gives a great deal of happiness to his followers"... which seems to imply either that he always gives his followers good luck, or that they're just really good sports.
In Aztec mythology, Xochipilli wasn't a god of gambling; he was a mischievous but benevolent god of beauty, flowers, creativity, love, alcohol, and revelry. Incidentally, apropos of what I just mentioned about ignoring nonheterosexual orientations, he also seems to have been a patron of gay men and male prostitutes. (He also had a sister, Xochiquetzal, not mentioned in Deities & Demigods, who may have played a corresponding role for women.)
Anyway, that's the last god in the chapter, and we don't get any new spells or magic items this time, though I guess it may be worth mentioning that several gods have some kind of animal totem listed as their symbols. Mictlantecuhtli's symbol is a "dog totem (itzcuintli)", Tlaloc's is a "deer totem (mazatl)", Tlazolteotl's is an "ocelot totem (ocelotl)", and Xochipilli's is a "monkey totem (ozomahtli)". Nowhere is it explained what these "totems" actually are, or what they're made of. I don't recall ever having used this mythos in a campaign myself, but I guess for all its inaccuracies it's serviceable enough, though I'm still not sure what's up with the whole "parallel universe" thing.
Oh, it just occurred to me, there's one more thing that this chapter (and some others, but especially this chapter) could probably have used: a pronunciation guide. I'm guessing the average D&D player back then (or now, for that matter) would have no idea how to pronounce most of these names. Then again, I'm guessing Kuntz and Ward probably didn't know how to pronounce them either.
Next time: It's Like The Office, But With Gods
|# ¿ Jul 30, 2019 22:09|
Crying Wood, Forest of (Tarantis) - A forest named after the “many foul leucrotta that hunt the interior”, whatever those are…
Leucrottas are a D&D monster that can imitate human voices and uses that ability to lure humans to it as prey.
Leucrotta illustration from the 1E Monster Manual
They come from a creature described in Pliny the Elder's Natural History, and the D&D monster is actually very faithful to Pliny's description, all except for the name—Pliny called it a "leucrocotta", so Gygax shortened it by one syllable. Whether that shortening was intentional or not I have no idea, but it stuck through all the leucrotta's appearances in later editions.
I wonder if the leucrotta mention was in the original 1977 version of Wilderlands? It may be possible; the first-edition Monster Manual came out the same year as Wilderlands of High Fantasy, though I'm not sure what time of year Wilderlands came out, so I don't know which was first. If the leucrotta was in the 1977 Wilderlands, that would be kind of interesting, since the leucrotta wasn't in the original D&D boxed set, but the full AD&D rules hadn't been released yet—the Monster Manual came out in 1977, but the Player's Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide wouldn't come out till later. So nobody could have actually been playing AD&D at the time Wilderlands came out, which means if the 1977 Wilderlands did mention the leucrotta it would mean that either its writers anticipated that D&D players would be switching over to AD&D anyway, or they assumed they'd take monsters from the AD&D Monster Manual and use them in original-flavor D&D.
But it seems very possible that the leucrotta reference was added for the new edition, because...
Glazed Lake (Elphand Lands) - Named because the shallows are covered in a film of weird slime. Aoboleth’s have been seen around here lately, possibly explaining the slime?
This, on the other hand, could not possibly have been in the original 1977 Wilderlands, because the aboleth's first appearance was in the 1981 module "Dwellers in the Forbidden City". (And unlike the leucro[co]tta, the aboleth has no mythological or folkloric basis.)
Wait a second... it just occurred to me that if the leucrotta reference was added for the new edition (or actually even if it was held over from the original version), it probably shouldn't have been, because the leucrotta wasn't Open Content in 3E under the Open Game License... it didn't appear in the 3E Monster Manual, and didn't show up in 3E till Monsters of Faerûn (the contents of which weren't released under the OGL). Hm. Oh well.
[Edited because of a fairly trivial punctuation error that I felt the need to edit the post to fix because... okay, I'm not totally sure why.]
Jerik fucked around with this message at 05:31 on Jul 31, 2019
|# ¿ Jul 31, 2019 05:29|
Isn't that in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?
What? The leucrocotta? Maybe... I don't remember it being mentioned there, but it's been a while since I read it.
Yep, apparently it is:
The leucrocotta is featured in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, in the chapter "Leucrocota, the Wolf of the Evening", where the titular character names another person in the book as one, as a reference to his personality and lifestyle.
(Wait... "the titular character"? There's not a single titular character; there are two characters named in the title. Oh well.)
Jerik fucked around with this message at 07:59 on Jul 31, 2019
|# ¿ Jul 31, 2019 06:27|
Hm... another entry suspiciously reminiscent of a monster from the Planescape Monstrous Compendium III. In this case, the name isn't exactly the same; the PSMC3 monster in question is called a "garmorm". (And yes, I realize that later in the description you say that you'd initially misread the name and it's actually "gemorrn", which makes it even more different from "garmorm".) But it's not the name that made me think of the garmorm. It's the whole face-absorption thing. The garmorm was a floating worm covered with singing faces instead of a pillar of energy filled with screaming faces, but it had the same gimmick that if it killed you your face went into it.
I get the impression Monte Cook may have been doing a bit of recycling...
|# ¿ Aug 1, 2019 01:58|
Hm, that "be a Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM)" bit can be read at least two ways...
I initially interpreted it the second way... and I'm still kind of hoping that is the way it was meant, and if so I'm looking forward to finding out just what the difference is in this game between a Game Master and a Dungeon Master...
|# ¿ Aug 2, 2019 04:22|
Because I obviously "get" what they're alluding to, but I want to see them try to explain it.
I guess maybe I'm naïve, but I actually don't get what they're alluding to.
That is not a request to explain it. I think I may be happier not knowing.
|# ¿ Aug 2, 2019 16:41|
That's one thing that's always bothered me about the Ravenloft campaign setting (for which, despite its many flaws, I retain a great deal of affection). Its population figures are ludicrously low, even for a setting that didn't have loads of undead and other horrors running around and killing off good numbers of its inhabitants. It's the mention of Paris and London that especially reminded me of that, because there's a city in Ravenloft called Paridon; it's basically supposed to be a Victorian-era metropolis that's reminiscent of Paris and London (well, despite the name it's far more London than Paris, really), and it has a population of 11,600. Other standouts:
|# ¿ Aug 2, 2019 17:09|
Honestly Ravenloft is the only D&D setting where the wonky population numbers make sense, because it’s a handcrafted Disneyland of suffering instead of a place where anything could be said to be naturally occurring.
Eh... I don't think that excuses the ridiculous populations. Regardless of the origins of the cities, even if they were artificially created, they just can't possibly fit the descriptions with the given population numbers. If the books said, for example, that Port-a-Lucine's grand opera house was always almost empty because there just weren't enough opera-goers to fill the seats, and its galleries and theaters stood unused and unvisited, then okay, sure, that fits with the tiny population, but no, it's supposed to be this bustling city full of high culture and all these busy establishments and that just isn't remotely possible with the given population numbers, even if the Dark Powers did create the place artificially as a prison for the darklord.
Besides, as the line went on, the initial use of the setting as just a weird place that PCs were brought to for a single horror adventure and then escaped from afterward was increasingly downplayed, and it was more and more emphasized that despite its artificial origins Ravenloft was still a place that had native inhabitants who lived relatively normal lives despite the horrors around them. The third-edition books, especially, were designed to focus mostly on native PCs, and went in considerable detail about the cultures and economies of the various domains and tried to paint Ravenloft as a place that, despite the darklords and all the monsters, still had people going about their ordinary lives and keeping up their societies. And yet they kept these absurdly low populations that absolutely did not work with the way the societies were described. (The quote about the “nightmarish scenes of dreadful urban squalor” in Nova Vaasa comes from its third-edition description.)
So yeah, you could sort of try to justify the Ravenloft populations by saying that, well, it was all just created artificially by the Dark Powers; it doesn't have to make sense... but I don't think that justification really works, and I think it pretty clearly wasn't the developers' intent.
|# ¿ Aug 2, 2019 21:19|
I can’t really speak to the third edition version of Ravenloft as I haven’t read any of it, but for a setting that is explicitly a horror game world the fact that this city is always bustling and filled with urban press but there’s just. Not enough people to do that. Is pretty creepy! I doubt there was any sort of developer intent it making that happen but that doesn’t invalidate the potential of this packed city where there are demonstrably only eleven thousand and some people in it, and so on and so on.
I'm not sure what it would even mean for a place to be packed and full of urban press with not enough people for it... unless you're going with what ChaseSP suggests about having the same person inexplicably turning up in multiple places. Regardless, though, that's not really the kind of horror Ravenloft is... at least, not the Core domains, though that could maybe work for an island domain. In Ravenloft, at least in the Core, and especially in late second edition to third edition materials, the cities and towns—and even most wilderness areas—are not overtly horrific, at least not in an unnatural sense. There may be urban squalor, severe class inequality, and government oppression, but there's little or nothing obviously supernatural. (The Mists that surround the Core being a big exception, I suppose.) The supernatural horror lies hidden beneath the surface, or erupts suddenly and by surprise in a previously quiet community. The people of most of the domains may believe in vampires and ghosts and werewolves, but very few of them have ever (knowingly) seen one... those monsters are there, of course, but they're not a part of most people's everyday lives. With some exceptions far from civilization, there just aren't a lot of obviously creepy areas the way you're describing. That's a completely different flavor of horror than most of the Core domains of Ravenloft are going for.
If you're only familiar with the earliest Ravenloft adventures that were all about PCs being drawn into Ravenloft, having a horrific adventure, and then returning home, then yeah, maybe that kind of nonsensical weirdness might not seem so much out of place... but from the 2E Domains of Dread on, Ravenloft was presented as a much more naturalistic place that was a suitable setting for entire campaigns with native PCs.
Anyway, I should probably shut up about Ravenloft; sorry if this has turned into a bit of a derailment. Ravenloft is one of the D&D settings I'm most familiar with and that I'm most fond of—second only to Planescape—and I'd actually considered starting my reviews here with the Ravenloft line, until I decided to go with Planescape instead. (I still am leaning toward reviewing the Ravenloft line after I'm done with Planescape... though if I don't pick up the pace from my current rate with the Deities & Demigods review, that'll probably be, oh, some time around 2030...)
(For what it's worth, though, psudonym55 is 100% correct about the ridiculous powers-check-by-class rules in 3E Ravenloft... though I completely ignored those rules when I ran a 3E Ravenloft campaign, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone in that.)
|# ¿ Aug 2, 2019 22:20|
I feel like options splats for Numenera would have a huge power creep problem, so maybe Monte seeded his core books with being extremely lazy so that he can later release extremely specific supplements like 'Let's talk about Hex, baby."
Eh... I think you're overcomplicating things. I think it's just that Monte Cook really likes coming up with weird ideas, and doesn't care enough about grounding them in some semblance of reality or connecting them together for him to bother with coming up with explanations if he can get away with just leaving them "mysterious". He's done the same sort of thing in work for hire for other companies where he had no incentive to try to pave the way for later splatbooks. (Besides, I don't see any evidence that avoiding power creep has ever really been a concern for him.) At his best, Monte Cook can come up with some really imaginative and evocative ideas... but he generally comes up with those ideas in isolation, and he doesn't have much of a track record for connecting his ideas together into a coherent whole, or providing sensible backstories and contexts for all the bizarreness.
|# ¿ Aug 3, 2019 21:54|
And yet another Numenara monster that's similar to a monster Monte Cook created twenty years ago for the Planescape Monstrous Compendium Volume III—;the scile. Though I admit in this case the similarity is a bit less marked than in the other two; really all the two monsters have in common is one thing they do, though it's a very weird and specific thing: eating colors. Except when the scile ate all your colors, it didn't turn you black; it turned you transparent, which is apparently sort of like being invisible except that you also "lose all awareness of your body" for some reason and get a −2 penalty to all die rolls involving physical maneuvers and it... really didn't make a lot of sense.
By the way, speaking of Monte Cook, I think in all the criticism of Invisible Sun maybe there's a possibility we've overlooked. Maybe he intentionally made a terrible RPG with broken rules because he needed a Despair point.
|# ¿ Aug 7, 2019 07:48|
Ruling River (Valon/Valley of the Ancients) - They keep mentioning that a bunch of these rivers fork, which (to my knowledge) isn’t how rivers tend to behave in real life.
It apparently can happen—Wikipedia has a whole page about the phenomenon—but it's not common. (Outside of river deltas, but that doesn't really count.)
Great Unctuous Swamp (Ghinor) - Ooh, “Unctuous”! Someone on the design team had a word a day calendar! Trolls and Lizardmen duke it out here and a disease called “filth fever” runs rampant!
Filth fever is actually one of the ten "typical diseases" described in the 3E Dungeon Master's Guide. It's in the SRD.
|# ¿ Aug 9, 2019 08:16|
Which actually - what are everyone's favorite bestiaries?
I don't know that I'd call it my favorite—I have a hard time picking favorites—and I've never used any of the monsters in it (but then, the only GURPS games I've played are a couple of one-shots at conventions), but one book that I think did a particularly good job of making its monsters really evocative and interesting and useful in a campaign is GURPS Creatures of the Night.
All my GURPS books are currently in storage, so I can't check the details right now, but as I recall one of the monsters was the "pumpkin". Not pumpkin ghost or animated pumpkin. Just "pumpkin". No, it wasn't out of place in the book, and yes, it had potential uses in a game...
ETA: Don't know that that totally counts, though, since it was a supplement rather than a core bestiary for a game or setting, and those have rather different requirements.
Jerik fucked around with this message at 16:53 on Aug 11, 2019
|# ¿ Aug 11, 2019 16:44|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 9: It's Like The Office, But With Gods
I get what the artist was going for with the faux-brush-strokes technique for the title, but I don't think it really works.
We start out with a paragraph that commits the same absurdity as the "Mexican and Central American Mythology" section in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes":
Chinese Mythos posted:
The title of this section is somewhat misleading, as the mythology of the Chinese is so vast and varied that it is impossible to cover it adequately and remain within our size restrictions. We have chosen the deities we feel most appropriate for inclusion.
Okay, but again, isn't this true of all the real-world mythologies they included? They certainly didn't include every god from Celtic mythology, or Babylonian, or Central American. Didn't they just choose the deities they feel most appropriate from them as well? At least it's a little better here in that they didn't technically imply that their treatments of other mythologies are complete, only that they're "adequate", but still... are their treatments of other mythologies in other chapters really more "adequate" than their treatment of Chinese mythology here?
Chinese Mythos posted:
The Chinese image of the Heavens is that of a great bureaucracy. Many of the deities exist to perform a special task and watch over a special area of life. Each god is supervised by a more important deity, who is responsible for seeing that things are done correctly. Every being is accountable to the Emperor of the Heavens. Every year the gods send reports to their supervisors, and it is not uncommon to be promoted or demoted for work done during the year.
Okay, all this talk of reports and promotions and demotions is making me think less of a vast quasigovernmental bureaucracy and more just a typical, somewhat inefficiently run business. I mean, I guess there are similarities between the two, and one could easily argue that most businesses are bureaucracies (and conversely that demotions, promotions, and reports do happen in governmental bureaucracies as well), but that's what it makes me think of, and I'm not sure that's the kind of bureaucracy the writers have in mind. I'm picturing the other gods sitting around a big conference table while Yen-Wang-Yeh shows them a PowerPoint presentation, except he can't get the remote he's using to work right and keeps bringing up the wrong slides, and he's getting increasingly nervous as Shang-Ti is shaking his head and Lu Yueh just keeps scarfing down donuts...
Anyway, we're told that the emperor is both the head of state and the head of the church "(thus gifted with high priest powers by the gods)", that clerics "travel about the countryside preaching to rich and poor alike", and that worshipers atone for their misdeeds by sacrificing valuable items.
Chinese Mythos posted:
If the deed was severe enough (judge's option as to this in AD&D terms) the atonement might even be death.
The reason for this is explained in the sixth slide in Yen-Wang-Yeh's PowerPoint presentation, which he'll be glad to show you in just a moment; he—no, wait, that's a photo from his vacation last summer; that's not supposed to be here...
This is another mythos that did appear in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", but there it was called the "Eastern Mythos", because Eastern = Chinese, apparently. All of the same gods appeared there as here, all but two or three with the same names (plus or minus a hyphen); I'll only comment on their presentation there if there's an interesting difference. There are also a few beings, though, that appeared in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" but not in Deities & Demigods, and I'll cover those at the end of this post.
I will, though, again, quote the introductory paragraph of the section in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes":
Eastern Mythos posted:
The mythology of the Far East is varied and colorful. In dealing with it, the concepts of Yin and Yang must be defined. These are the Chinese equivalents of bad and good. These opposites are almost beings in themselves and move all Gods and creatures in a war for supremacy. In using eastern Gods one should always think of them as not lawful or chaotic, but having good Yang or bad Yin.
Defining "Yang" as "good" and "Yin" as "bad" is of course a severe oversimplification, but I think this is kind of interesting in suggesting a different alignment axis than the typical law-chaos of OD&D and Basic. (And, apparently, different from the later good and evil added to AD&D, since it seems to make a point of saying "bad" rather than "evil".) I mean, of course "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" doesn't actually do anything whatsoever with this, but it's at least potentially interesting in theory.
(Well, almost nothing; the description of one god, Huan-Ti, does mention that "[w]hen hard pressed, he draws a plus 3 sword with the purpose of slaying all things Yin.")
Oh, we also get this note at the very beginning of the section:
Eastern Mythos posted:
Note: Unless otherwise specified, treat as Psionic Ability: Class 6
This note is entirely unnecessary, since the psionic ability of every god is, in fact, explicitly specified. (And yes, most of them are Class 6, which means they have no psionic abilities, but they're "invulnerable to any kind of psionic attack.")
As we'll see, while many of the gods in this section go back thousands of years, there are some of them that are still worshipped today, so... this is another of those chapters that comes across as kind of tone deaf at best (and horribly offensive at worst). Well, at least the book doesn't include any stats for famous Chinese historical figures like Confucius or Lao Tzu. No, they saved that for second edition.
It might also be worth mentioning that of course there are multiple ways to transliterate Chinese names; Deities & Demigods usually uses the Wade-Giles romanization scheme, which nowadays has fallen out of favor and been mostly supplanted by pinyin. Originally, I'd written here that at the time Deities & Demigods was written Wade-Giles was still the system in the most widespread use, so the authors couldn't really be faulted for using it, but Xiahou Dun set me straight on that; the Wade-Giles system was already in disuse by the early sixties, and certainly wasn't still the standard in 1980 when Deities & Demigods was published. I've edited this paragraph to make that correction (and edited the rest of this post as well to fix the fact that I'd been capitalizing "pinyin", which I apparently shouldn't have been). As for why Deities & Demigods did use the Wade-Giles system, then, perhaps the real reason is that, as we'll see, the authors seem to have been using as their primary source a book published in 1922...
Not only were Kuntz and Ward using an obsolete romanization system, but they weren't even using it right; they left out apostrophes and umlauts that have important significance in distinguishing between phonemes. Anyway, though, for consistency with the Deities & Demigods convention, I'll use Wade-Giles romanization for the gods and other entities in this post, though I'll also include parenthetically the pinyin transcription and (when I can find it out) the actual Chinese spelling. (I did stick to the now-standard pinyin system for the names of Chinese dynasties and places. Also, I should note that I can't actually speak or read Mandarin or any other Chinese language, and it's very possible I've made some mistakes here in the transcriptions.)
Before we get to the gods, we get brief descriptions of a baker's half-dozen magic items:
Only the sword gets an illustration, because, hey, everyone knows what a wind fire wheel looks like, right?
Anyway, now for the gods. Once again, I'll try to discuss the real mythology behind the god as far as I can find it, but, once again, I'm by no means an expert in Chinese mythology, and I may make some mistakes. (Actually, you can just assume this disclaimer applies to every chapter.) Anyway, we'll start with the god whose name has already been mentioned:
SHANG-TI (supreme god of the heavens, god of the sky and agriculture)
Only the head of the Celestial Bureaucracy gets the privilege of screentone.
Shang-Ti is the head of the Celestial Bureaucracy, and all the other deities ultimately report to him. His word is law among all of the gods and goddesses, regardless of their alignment, and he is the final arbitrator in any dispute among them.
So why is his word law to the chaotic and evil gods, exactly? Does he enforce it by strength of arms? Or is the idea that honor and tradition are so important to this pantheon that even the chaotic evil gods wouldn't think about going against their leader? Or did the authors just not think it through?
Shang-Ti can sometimes be found travelling among mortals. On these occasions he appears to be an aged man with a long white beard, dressed in tattered robes.
No word on how he appears when he's not travelling among mortals. (Okay, we do also get a sentence about how he "also likes to float in the air ethereally, viewing cities and towns and the manner in which he is or isn't being worshiped", but still, what is his true form? How does he appear when he's just hanging out in his realm in Nirvana? (Yes, I know the name "Nirvana" comes from Indian tradition, not Chinese, but that's the lawful neutral Outer Plane in first-edition D&D, and that's where Shang-Ti lives.) I mean, sure, he's a god, and so one could try to argue that he doesn't have a true form and is inherently just an intangible presence, except that that's certainly not how things seem to have worked for any gods so far.
There are a few more paragraphs in Shang-Ti's description that I skipped, but, well, they're mostly about his combat abilities. I think from here on out I'm going to stop even mentioning that there are parts I skip about the gods' combat abilities. Just take it for granted that the descriptions of most if not all of the gods do include useless information about their combat abilities, but I'm not going to comment on it unless I think there's something particularly noteworthy about it.
Anyway, Shang-Ti (上帝; Shàngdì in pinyin) was in fact the supreme god of the people of the Shang dynasty (roughly 1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C.), though he was considered a remote god who wasn't actively worshipped. The word is still sometimes used in China to refer to other concepts of a supreme being, including the god of Christianity.
CHAO KUNG MING (demigod of war)
"Let's go, Battle Cat!"
Chao Kung Ming "appears as a very muscular man with bright red skin", lives in the Elemental Plane of Air for some reason, and "is able to travel from plane to plane with however many beings he wishes." Really? However many? There's no limit? So if he wanted to transport the entire population of the Material Plane to the Abyss, he could just... do that? I mean, he's neutral good, so he probably wouldn't want to do that, but still...
Chao Kung Ming posted:
He rides a giant flying tiger into battle
We get a brief stat line for the giant flying tiger. Alas, based on that illustration it certainly isn't a giant realistic flying tiger.
Chao Kung-Ming (趙公明; Zhào Gōngmíng in pinyin) was a hermit with magical abilities that he used to support the Shang dynasty. (He may or may not have been based on a real historical person, but if so, needless to say, the historical Chao Kung-Ming presumably did not have magic powers.) He was identified with Ts‘ai Shen (財神; Cáishén in pinyin), god of wealth. Exactly what induced Kuntz and Ward to make him a god of war, I have no idea. (Especially when there's another god of war anyway... I guess this is a case of bureaucratic redundancy.) I thought maybe they'd confused him with a different god, but Caishen was said to ride a tiger (albeit a black tiger that was not necessarily giant or flying), so... I don't know. (Unlike Deities & Demigods, "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" does mention that the tiger is black, but not that it's giant.)
CHIH-CHIANG FYU-YA (god of archers, punisher of the gods)
That's a really weird way to hold arrows.
This god has fiery red skin resembling scales, a black demonic head with tusks, elephant ears, a large set of leathery wings with a span of 40 feet, a humanoid body, and cloven hooves.
According to the description, he's eight feet tall. A forty-foot wingspan would therefore be five times his height. That seems... a bit excessive. I guess it's not completely out of the question—the wingspan to body length ratio of the greater flying fox is not too much less than that—but it doesn't look that big in the illustration. Then again, I also don't see anything in the illustration that I'd call tusks...
It is the duty of Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya to avenge offenses against the gods, particularly desecration of temples.
This guy was a hard one to track down the basis for, and I almost gave up and was going to just conclude that Kuntz and Ward must have just made him up. I wouldn't be the first person to reach that conclusion—a poster on the Giant in the Playground forum said this god "appear[ed] to be a complete fabrication". Not helping matters is the fact that "Fyu" isn't even a valid syllable in the Wade-Giles system of Chinese romanization... or any other major Chinese romanization system, as far as I know.
Deities & Demigods has a (brief) biblography (which we'll get to in the last post), and it includes one book specifically on Chinese mythology and one on "Asiatic Mythology"; both books, as it happens, are now freely available online at archive.org, so I thought I'd check them out and see if I could find any god in either of those books who bore any resemblance to Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya. I couldn't. Of course, Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya had also appeared in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", and he may have gotten into Deities & Demigods just because he was in there, and "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" didn't have a bibliography, so who knows what the authors' sources were for it? In fact, as previously mentioned, all the gods in Deities & Demigods appeared in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", so it seems likely that it was "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" that was the real source for this chapter, and the reason those two books are listed in the bibliography was less "Here are the sources we used to research this chapter" and more "Here are two books we found after this chapter was written that you can maybe read for further inspiration, though we didn't read them ourselves."
Nevertheless, it turns out Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya wasn't a complete fabrication after all... he's just been butchered a bit. Well, a lot. There was a mythological figure, Ch‘ih Chiang Tzŭ Yü (Chi Jiang Ziyu in pinyin; I haven't been able to find a source for how his name would be written in Chinese characters (or for that matter for the tones to include in the pinyin transcription), and I've spent way too much time on this as it is), who was a companion of the Yellow Emperor (we'll get to him), and who eventually became Hou I (后羿, Hòu Yì in pinyin), god of archers. Yeah, "Tzu Yu" and "Fyu Ya" are pretty different, but not so different that, say, if the authors had taken hand-written notes on their reading and then misread them later, they couldn't have made that mistake. Why didn't Kuntz and Ward just use the name "Hou I", which is much better known and more widely attested? Maybe they just liked the other name better, even if they didn't get it quite right.
Mind you, this still doesn't explain why he has a demon face or is especially concerned with avenging desecration of temples, neither of which seems to have been an attribute of Hou I, but as I think has been pretty definitively established by now the treatment of the gods in Deities & Demigods often bears only a tenuous relationship to actual mythology.
Hou I was the husband of the moon goddess Ch‘ang O (嫦娥; Cháng'é in pinyin), who does not appear in this book.
CHIH SUNG-TZU (lord of rain)
Chih Sung-Tzu "appears as a very muscular man [who] always wears a blue war helm", and that's about all the description we get of him that isn't about his combat abilities. Well, okay, he also likes to ride a big storm cloud; I guess that's not a combat ability. I'm not sure why he rides the storm cloud, though, since he can fly on his own at twice the speed the storm cloud travels. Maybe it's just less tiring. Or maybe it's just so he can bring other passengers along with him. Like Chao Kung Ming, he lives on the Elemental Plane of Air, and at least in his case it makes a little more sense, since rain has more to do with air than war does. (Of course, rain is made of water, but it's not rain if it doesn't have air to fall through, I guess. Maybe it could have made sense to place him in between the planes of Air and Water, except that what's there is the Paraelemental Plane of Ice, so... never mind.)
This is one of the two or three gods that had their names changed between "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" and Deities & Demigods—in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" he was called "Yu Shih". Mythologically, Ch‘ih Sung-Tzu (赤松子, Chìsōngzǐ in pinyin), which means "Master Red Pine", is a mythological figure identified with Yü Shih (雨師; Yǔ Shī in pinyin), god of rain, so those are more or less two names for the same god. I'm not sure why they decided to change the name in Deities & Demigods, especially since "Yü Shih" seems to be the name this god is better known by. Yü Shih is still worshipped today in parts of southwestern China, which makes his inclusion here a little inappropriate at best, but that's clearly not the reason for the name change... just wait till we get to the Indian mythos.
"Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" says that Yu Shih "looks like a man wearing plus 3 armor which seems to be rusting off his body", which is odd, because I never really assumed in D&D that +3 armor looked any different from +2 armor, or even from nicely made nonmagical armor. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to tell the power of magical armor just by looking at it.
CHUNG KUEL (god of truth and testing)
Chung Kuel posted:
This god is always dressed in costly robes, and his primary ability is to draw from a well of knowledge so that he can meet any test with success, if given time to visit his well. In any physical contest, if his normal powers will not let him immediately win (and he will know if this is possible), he will always run and secure the materials that will allow him to win, and he will do nothing else until he does win.
"Wait, let's put this thumb-wrestling contest on hold for just a moment while I go get a monkey wrench."
Chung Kuel posted:
This god occasionally travels around the Prime Material Plane dressed as an old pot-bellied man with a long grey beard. He asks beings riddles, and if they answer correctly, he may grant them a reward, perhaps even a limited wish. The more difficult the riddle, the greater the reward.
"So here's my riddle: What materials should I use to win a thumb-wrestling contest? I'll give you a hint: the answer isn't a monkey wrench. Not sure what I was thinking with that one."
Like "Fyu", "Kuel" is not an permissible Chinese syllable, in either the Wade-Giles or the pinyin romanization systems. (The only consonants or consonant digraphs that can end a Chinese syllable are n, ng, h (Wade-Giles only), or r (pinyin)/rh (Wade-Giles).) Nevertheless, in this case it's easily explicable as a typo or misreading, similar to that that apparently turned Qagwaai into Qagwaaz in the "American Indian Mythos", or, for that matter, Chih-Chiang Tzu-Yu into Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya on this very page. The actual name for this god is supposed to be Chung Kuei, with an I... or actually, it's supposed to be Chung K‘uei, with an apostrophe (鍾馗; Zhōng Kuí in pinyin); like I said before, Kuntz and Ward leave out the apostrophes, but in the Wade-Giles transliteration those apostrophes are actually important. The typo, incidentally, goes all the way back to "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", where he appeared with the same name, providing more evidence that the authors just copied the gods in this chapter from there without doing additional research or double-checking their sources (whatever they were).
Anyway, Chung K‘uei was best known for his ability to capture or drive off ghosts and demons, and even today images of Chung K‘uei are often placed in homes and businesses to keep away evil spirits. How he turned in Deities & Demigods into a god of "truth and testing" I don't know, but by this point I guess that's pretty much par for the course.
FEI LIEN & FENG PO "Counts of the Wind"
Fei Lien & Feng Po posted:
These beings figure prominently in all major battles of the gods, and are often used as go-betweens for gods and men.
Again, what battles of the gods? We were told in Shang-Ti's entry that all the gods obey him regardless of alignment, and he settles disputes among them. So why are there battles?
Fei Lien & Feng Po posted:
They appear to be demonic creatures in that their skin is jet black, their eyes blaze fire and they are tusked.
They appear to be demonic creatures, but in fact they're neutral good. Actually, while it's sandwiched between the two evilest pantheons in the book, the Chinese Mythos is pretty benevolent overall. It includes six good gods, five neutral gods, and five evil gods, so while the good gods don't have a majority, they at least have a plurality. Also, this is the first pantheon that actually has gods of all nine alignments. So that's nice.
Anyway, Fei Lien (飛廉; Fēilián in pinyin) and Fêng Po (風伯; Fēngbó in pinyin) seem to have originally been two different wind gods from different parts of China, but later on they were identified with each other. Fêng Po seems to have been the better known; conceptions of him changed over time. During the Han Dynasty era, he had the form of some kind of beast or bird; during the Tang Dynasty he was a fierce gladiator; during the Yuan Dynasty he was a ghost with red hair, the hips of a panther, and the head of a dog; during the Qing Dynasty he was an old, bearded man. Fei Lien originated as a wind god of the people of Chu in southern China, and according to some sources had a monstrous form with the head of a peacock or sparrow, the tail of a snake, the body of a stag, the spots of a leopard, and the horns of a bull... other sources say he had the head of a deer, but I guess there were probably variations in his description regionally or over time, or both. Please note that none of these descriptions matches the description of Fei Lien and Fêng Po in Deities & Demigods... though there seem to have been enough different conceptions of these gods that it wouldn't be surprising that one of them was described as a tusked, black-skinned creature with fiery eyes somewhere.
As far as I can tell, Fêng Po is the only one who was actually called the "Count of the Wind"... at least early on; I guess later you could say that title applied to both of them, but only because they were considered to be the same entity. Fêng Po was mythologically closely associated with the rain god Yu Shi, and the two of them frequently worked together... which of course is not mentioned at all in Deities & Demigods.
HUAN-TI (god of war)
He goes to the same hairstylist as the githyanki from the first-edition Fiend Folio.
Huan-Ti "appears as a heavily muscled man in red +3 plate mail" (which, again, it seems to me would look pretty much the same as a heavily muscled man in red nonmagical plate mail). His clerics "must always wear red armor or clothes." He flies around in a chariot pulled by four pegasi.
He watches every battle in which his worshipers take part, and when any mortal dedicates the last ten slain enemies to him he may (on a 1% chance) destroy utterly the very next enemy that being faces. Slain enemies dedicated to Huan-Ti must have their heads taken off and burned, or the sacrifices will not be received.
Taking time to decapitate ten bodies and burn their heads in the middle of a battle for a 1% chance of divine intervention to destroy a single enemy doesn't necessarily seem like a wise use of time. I guess maybe if the enemy forces include one especially powerful foe you have no chance of defeating on your own but also a lot of much weaker foes that you can easily kill and sacrifice—and if you're certain that you can arrange for that one especially powerful foe to be the very next enemy you face after the sacrifices—then it might be worth the gamble, but that strikes me as a very specific and unlikely circumstance.
"Huan-Ti" seems to be another typo; there is a Chinese god of war named Kuan Ti (關帝; pinyin Guāndì), and I think that's who this is based on. Kuan Ti is in turn identified with a real historical person, Kuan Yü (關羽; pinyin Guānyǔ), a close companion of the famous warlord Liu Pei (劉備; Liú Bèi in pinyin) during the Three Kingdoms period, who was deified after his death. (Both Kuan Yü and Liu Pei are major characters in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义; Sānguó Yǎnyì in pinyin; San Kuo Yan I in Wade-Giles), a famous fourteenth-century Chinese historical novel about the events of this period that has been the basis for countless films, video games, and other adaptations.) While Kuan Ti is usually depicted with a red face, he wears a green robe, so the bit in Deities & Demigods about the red clothes is a bit confused. (That's new to Deities & Demigods, though; there's nothing in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" about the clothes worn by Huan-Ti or his clerics being any particular color.) He is also a god of literature, which is not reflected in his Deities & Demigods description in the slightest.
It's possible that the change from Kuan Ti to Huan-Ti may have something to do with confusion with a different Chinese mythological figure, the Yellow Emperor, Huang Ti (黃帝; Huángdì in pinyin), a legendary ancestor of the Chinese people who supposedly lived during the third millennium B.C. However, the Yellow Emperor had no particular association with war (and as one might guess from his name, red wasn't the color he was most associated with either), so it seems to me more likely that Kuan Ti was the basis for Deities & Demigods's Huan-Ti, and that the Yellow Emperor, despite being an extremely important Chinese mythological figure, didn't make it into Deities & Demigods.
Kuan Ti is still worshipped in China today, and is, among other things, a patron of police officers, and is revered in both Buddhism and Taoism. Which, again, makes his inclusion in a book of gods for a fantasy game kind of... fraught.
A nearly-two-hundred-foot-tall statue of Kuan Ti that stands in the city of Jingzhou.
Pegasi, incidentally, obviously aren't Chinese in origin, but there were winged horses in Chinese mythology, called t‘ien ma (天馬; tiānmǎ in pinyin), although I don't know of any specific connection they had to Kuan Ti.
KUAN YIN (goddess of mercy and child bearing)
"Scissors beats paper. I win again."
Kuan Yin posted:
Her main following is with the common folk and all may work in her cause and expect to be rewarded someday. Her clerics are the peacemakers of the world and work diligently for the end of violence.
Actually, while it's not necessarily directly related to mercy or child bearing, ending violence seems to be her main schtick. Once per round, she can stop any act of violence directed at anyone, and no being in the universe can ever direct any violence against her. "For example, she could walk safely through 500 different types of demons and devils and never be harmed." (Presumably that means walking through a crowd of demons and devils, not walking through the demons and devils themselves. Walking through a creature seems like it would be kind of a violent act in and of itself.)
Kuan Yin posted:
When a being accomplishes a good act affecting 50 or more worshipers of Kuan Yin, and if the goddess is near, that being may be granted a wish (5% chance).
I'd think someone benefiting 50 or more of her worshippers while the goddess herself is nearby would be a rare enough occurrence that we could handle having more than a 5% chance of her rewarding them. At least it's better than the 1% chance of Huan-Ti rewarding an elaborate sacrifice during a battle. The authors really like giving tiny chances of gods reacting to things.
Kuan Yin (觀音; Guān Yīn in pinyin) is the Chinese name for a Buddist bodhisattva known in Sanskrit as Avalokiteśvara (अवलोकितेश्वर). She is associated with compassion and is a patron of mothers, so I guess the Deities & Demigods depiction of her isn't too bad, aside of course from the issue that it's giving game statistics for a figure still widely venerated today by hundreds of millions of people.
LEI KUNG (duke of thunder)
Three-year winner, Best in Show, Beijing Eyebrow Festival.
Lei Kung posted:
Lei Kung appears as a man with smoking black skin and eyes with pupils like lightning bolts. He has 2 large tusks and a huge nose. He has red spotted wings with a span af 40 feet.
Huh, another forty-foot wingspan. Okay, I cut Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya some slack on this, but he was eight feet tall; Lei Kung is only six feet tall, so that's a wingspan-to-height ratio of more than six to one. Yeah, I think that's a bit much. (And his wings clearly aren't anywhere close to that big in the illustration.)
Lei Kung posted:
Lei Kung exists to make foul weather of one type or another at the request of the other gods of the pantheon. These gods will request such when they feel that their worshipers need a lesson. Lei Kung particularly delights in creating wind storms that destroy fragile things of beauty or value."
So I guess sometimes the Chinese gods outsource their bad omens. Okay.
"Yeah, Lei Kung, I'm not really happy with the way this cleric's been doing things lately. You mind drizzling on his temple a bit?"
Lei Kung (雷公; Léigōng in pinyin) is indeed a god of thunder in Chinese tradition, though in mythology he wears only a loincloth instead of the +3 plate mail that Deities & Demigods gives him. Also, he's blue or green, not black, and at least according to some accounts he has a bird's beak, not an oversized but otherwise human nose. Well, at least he does have wings and tusks. This, by the way, is another god who still plays a role today in Chinese folk religion and, to a lesser degree, in Taoism, so, uh, maybe he doesn't really belong in a book of gods for a fantasy role-playing game?
LU YUEH (god of epidemics)
The middle head looks like he kind of resents the head on his left.
This god has 3 demon-like heads, 6 arms ending in claws, and green scaled skin. He has a look of death about him and an odor of putrescence.
Apparently there are two diseases in particular that he likes to cause: the Red Fever, which "will subtract 3 hit points... every melee round", and a rotting sickness, which "will kill his enemies who fail to make their saving throw versus poison in two melee rounds." And yes, "Red Fever" is consistently capitalized, and "rotting sickness" consistently italicized, and I don't know why. Also, anyone who hits him at close enough range "will suffer the rotting sickness (no saving throw applicable)"... so does that mean they don't get a saving throw against contracting it, but still get to save against dying in two rounds, or are they just going to unavoidably die in two rounds no matter what?
Lu Yueh posted:
Lu Yueh bestows gifts on those he deems evil enough. This is decided whenever an evil act affects more than 500 people. If the god is watching (on a 1% chance) there is a 5% chance he will give the evil being a disease-causing present with no strings attached.
So whenever anyone does an evil act that affects 500 people, there's an 0.05% chance that Lu Yueh will reward them with a disease-causing present. Okay. So first-edition DMs, if you didn't roll d10000 every time someone did such an evil act and have Lu Yueh reward them if you rolled 5 or under, you were doing it wrong.
Lu Yueh got by far the longest entry in the "Eastern Mythos" section of "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", his description taking up more than a page. (By contrast, most gods got only a small stat block and a brief paragraph, and it wasn't uncommon for five gods to fit on a page; the entire "Eastern Mythos" section was only seven pages long, and that's including more than two pages devoted to magic items and monsters.) Much of that, however, was because we got information about "5 servants that fight with him in any battle", each of which had a full entry of his or her own (or what passes for a "full entry" in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes"); if you don't count those as part of Lu Yueh's entry, then he only had the second-longest entry, being narrowly beat by Tou Mu. (We'll get to her.)
Lu Yueh's five servants are called BEING CALLED "CENTER", BEING CALLED "SPRING", BEING CALLED "SUMMER", BEING CALLED "AUTUMN", and BEING CALLED "WINTER". The first three have identical stat blocks (but not descriptions), but Autumn has twice the hit points, and Winter has three times the hit points of the first three and also a better Armor Class and movement rate. They all appear as clouds of gas in different colors (yellow for Center, green for Spring, red for Summer, white for Autumn, and grey for Winter), and they're all referred to with feminine pronouns except Autumn, who's apparently masculine, though that could be a typo (or an error in the PDF conversion).
They also like to roam in different directions, and you'd expect the four seasons to correspond to the four cardinal compass directions and Center to correspond to, well, the center, but no. Center "likes to roam the West", Spring "likes to roam the East", Summer "roams over the South", and we're not told where Autumn and Winter roam, so I don't know if one of them wanders to the north and the fifth one just lazes on a couch, or if maybe nobody likes wandering in the north because, I don't know, it gets too chilly. Each of Lu Yueh's five servants has a different weird magic item, except Winter, who I guess doesn't need one.
These five servants are kind of strange, but the oddest thing about them, frankly, is the way they're listed. Why not just write "CENTER" instead of "BEING CALLED 'CENTER'"? I mean, isn't Lu Yueh really a "being called 'Lu Yueh'"? But anyway, for some reason that's the way they're listed here in BOOK CALLED "GODS, DEMI-GODS & HEROES".
Another thing that lengthens Lu Yueh's description in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" is that it not only includes the bit about his giving gifts to people who do evil deeds (in fact, it has him much more likely to do so; only fifty people need to be affected, and it's given a flat 5% chance without having to check against a 1% chance that he's watching), but it also lists exactly what those gifts are. There are five different gifts listed, and the DM (or "judge") is advised to roll d6 to determine which one he gives; "if a 6 is rolled the person gets his choice."
Anyway, Lu Yüeh (吕岳; Lǚ Yuè in pinyin) was a somewhat obscure god of plague who appeared in the famous sixteenth-century mythical-historical novel Investiture of the Gods (封神演义; Fēngshén Yǎnyì in pinyin; Feng Shen Yan I in Wade-Giles). He appeared in several different forms, but yes, in one of his forms he did have three heads and six arms. Chinese myth also included a "Ministry of Epidemics" which according to some accounts included one member associated with each of the four seasons and one with the center—so that's where Lu Yueh's servants in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" come from. They actually did have their own names, so "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" really could have avoided that whole "Being Called 'X'" business, but maybe those names weren't in whatever source Kuntz and Ward used. (For what it's worth, their names were respectively Shih Wen Yeh (史文業; Shǐ Wényè in pinyin), Chang Yüan Po (張元伯; Zhāng Yuánbó in pinyin), Liu Yüan Ta (劉元達; Liú Yuándá in pinyin), Chao Kung Ming (yes, the same Chao Kung Ming we already covered... okay, maybe there is a reason they didn't use these names, though I still think it's more likely they just didn't know about them), and Chung Shih Kuei (鍾仕貴; Zhōng Shìguì in pinyin).
MA YUAN (killer of the gods)
♪ I love you, you love me, we're a happy family... ♪
Ma Yuan isn't presented as a god, but as a unique monster, with a standard monster stat block. (Including a "% IN LAIR", which in his case is 10%. No word on what his lair is like.) He's a seventy-foot tall creature with "the strength of a storm giant" who "is said to have killed at least 10 minor deities."
Ma Yuan posted:
This monster has 3 eyes in his tyrannosaurus-shaped head, and has 4 large humanoid arms.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that nowhere in the original Chinese myths was there any reference to his head being "tyrannosaurus-shaped".
Ma Yuan posted:
The existence of Ma Yuan prevents complacency among the gods.
I'm not sure that seems like an effective management strategy. It's not a practice I foresee many businesses adopting any time soon.
"I think we've had a problem with complacency here at DystopiCo. So, to make sure all employees stay on their toes, we've hired this assassin to randomly hunt you."
Ma Yuan posted:
He also has a powerful magical device shaped in the form of a small triangular piece of stone that has the power to turn into any weapon the holder wishes, magical or otherwise.
And according to the illustration, it also makes a snazzy necklace...
In case you're wondering why I kept saying that "two or three" gods had their names changed between "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" instead of just specifying one number, Ma Yuan is why. His name in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" was given as "Ma Yuan Shuai". So it did sort of change, but only by shortening it; I wasn't sure that should completely count, so I hedged my bets by saying "two or three".
Ma Yuan is another god who was supposed in a post in that Giant in the Playground thread to be "invented [out of] whole cloth". And, as with Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya, that turns out not to be true; Kuntz and Ward may have mangled some of the gods in this chapter pretty badly, but there are none that they completely invented—and Ma Yüan-Shuai (馬元帥; Mǎ Yuán Shuài in pinyin) is no exception. I quote from Myths and Legends of China, by E. M. Werner, a book that was published in 1922 and therefore could easily have been Kuntz and Ward's source (the elusive Ch‘ih Chiang Tzŭ Yü, incidentally, also appears in this book):
Ma Yüan-shuai is a three-eyed monster condemned by Ju Lai to reincarnation for excessive cruelty in the extermination of evil spirits. In order to obey this command he entered the womb of Ma Chin-mu in the form of five globes of fire. Being a precocious youth, he could fight when only three days old, and killed the Dragon-king of the Eastern Sea. From his instructor he received a spiritual work dealing with wind, thunder, snakes, etc., and a triangular piece of stone which he could at will change into anything he liked. By order of Yü Ti he subdued the Spirits of the Wind and Fire, the Blue Dragon, the King of the Five Dragons, and the Spirit of the Five Hundred Fire Ducks, all without injury to himself. For these and many other enterprises he was rewarded by Yü Ti with various magic articles and with the title of Generalissimo of the West, and is regarded as so successful an interceder with Yü Ti that he is prayed to for all sorts of benefits.
Too bad neither "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" nor Deities & Demigods included statistics for the Five Hundred Fire Ducks...
And yeah, you'll note there's no mention of a "tyrannosaurus-shaped head".
NO CHA (demigod of thieves)
Three heads and not a decent haircut among them.
No Cha posted:
The god appears as a three-headed, eight-armed man, with silvery scaled skin, eyes that blaze like fire, and the ability to grow or shrink in size.
But according to his stat block he's sixty feet tall by default.
No Cha posted:
No Cha is the patron of thieves, and there are many tales of his famous thieving exploits.
No Cha (哪吒; Nézhā in pinyin) did, according to the myths, start out as a monstrous creature with three heads and eight arms. But he didn't stay that way. He has a... rather complicated story involving his being reborn inside a ball of flesh, committing suicide and then asking his mother in a dream to build a temple to him, and being brought back to life in a body made of lotuses and water lilies. Oh... the wind fire wheels were one of his weapons, so that's where those came from, I guess. But anyway, while he had his moments of mischief and anger and attempted patricide, he ended up as a protective deity and a patron of adolescents, so how exactly he became a neutral evil god of thieves in Deities & Demigods I have no idea.
Incidentally, just a couple of weeks ago an animated movie about No Cha/Nezha was released in China and broke the record for the highest-grossing Chinese animated film. Not that that has anything to do with Deities & Demigods, but I figured it merited mention.
I have no idea what is going on in this picture, but I'm pretty sure that's Nezha.
Anyway, there are still a couple pages to go in this chapter,, but I guess I'll have to put the rest in a separate post because apparently this post exceeds the maximum message length, which I didn't know was a thing until just now. So, uh...
Next time: The Classic Conflict of Law vs. Evil
Jerik fucked around with this message at 07:20 on Aug 13, 2019
|# ¿ Aug 12, 2019 05:57|
I already had a drink so I'm not gonna make an effort-post now, but I'll try to do one tomorrow cause jesus loving christ that is dire and for once I have something to contribute. (Not knocking your efforts, I just literally am getting a degree in this.)
I'd definitely be interested in your comments on the chapter. I mean, don't feel obligated if you don't feel up for it, but if you do want to post about the matter I'd certainly be interested in reading it. I did try to do my own research about the gods in the chapter (which is largely why this post took so long and why so much time passed between the post on the Central American Mythos chapter and this one), but like I said in the post I'm absolutely not in any way an expert on Chinese culture and mythology, and I'd like to hear from someone who is. I'm sure there are plenty of things I've missed or gotten wrong.
Also loving bullshit Wade-Giles was not standard then. Pinyin came out in the 50's and only idiots kept using it cause it's loving garbage. That point you're just straight up wrong about. Every even half-decent Sinologist adopted pinyin by the early 60's cause it's just way better. Also stop capitalizing it, it just means "spelling".
...Like that, for instance. Oops. Okay, yeah, my bad; I knew Wade-Giles was an older romanization system no longer in use, but I didn't know exactly how old, and I guess I just assumed that it was still standard when Deities & Demigods was written. I should have checked instead of assuming. I'll edit the post to correct that bit.
Actually, I think probably the real reason Deities & Demigods used Wade-Giles is because their principal source for this chapter was published in 1922 and used Wade-Giles: E. M. Werner's Myths and Legends of China. (I mentioned that book near the end of the post, but it'll come up again in the next post as it becomes increasingly clear that that book was Kuntz and Ward's main, if not only, source for Chinese mythology.)
Unfortunately, if the content of this post enraged you, I don't think you'll like the next post any better... among other things, as far as I can tell Kuntz and Ward managed to mistake a book for a god and presented a goddess noted for her kindness and virtue as a chaotic evil monster.
|# ¿ Aug 13, 2019 07:06|
|# ¿ Dec 1, 2022 23:01|
Deities & Demigods 1E
Part 10: The Classic Conflict of Law vs. Evil
Eh, since I already showed the chapter header in the last post, may as well reuse the generic header in this one.
Okay, this wasn't originally intended to be a separate post; I'd written the review of all the Chinese Mythos chapter up as a single post. But, as I mentioned at the end of the last post, it turned out to be so long a post that when I tried to post it I found out it exceeded the maximum message length, so I have to split it up. Yeah... I guess I got a little carried away with this chapter, maybe. In any case, I don't expect that any future chapter is going to require quite so much research as this one, so I hope there won't be that much time between posts again—and I don't expect I'm going to write enough about any future chapter to have to divide it into two posts again, either. (No promises, though.)
Xiahou Dun, who is in his own words "an academic focusing on medieval Chinese things" and who therefore, unlike me, is an expert on this subject, posted some further information about the material in this chapter and what's wrong with it. Those who have been following along in the forum will have of course already read his post but, for the sake of the eventual archiving of these posts, I'll link to it here.
I will note that along with Mjolnir and Stormbringer, Ma Yuan's omni-weapon gadget was one of the most sought-after bits of loot from this book back in the day. At least among Monty Haul campaigns where god-killing was a popular recreation.
Huh. That's something I didn't consider. I almost didn't even bother mentioning the "omni-weapon gadget" at all; the only reason I added it into the post at the last minute was because its description was very similar to a bit in the quote from Werner's Myths and Legends of China, strengthening the evidence that this may have been a primary source for Kuntz and Ward's treatment of this mythos. (As we'll see in this post, that evidence in aggregate turns out to be pretty strong!) I knew in the abstract there were players who enjoyed powergaming campaigns where they'd fight the gods and would treat the descriptions of their possessions as a shopping list, but like I said in the second post in this review, I've never run or played in such a campaign, and I don't tend to think that way, so it didn't really occur to me how desireable such an item would be from a powergaming player's perspective, but I guess I can see that.
Anyway, let's continue from where we left off...
SHAN HAI CHING (god of wind & sea)
He looks as confused as the people seeing this illustration are.
Shan Hai Ching posted:
This god has a roc's body with the oversized head of a man.
So, yeah, not only is he a bird with the head of a man, but he's a bird with the head of a man and a sixty-foot wingspan.
Shan Hai Ching posted:
The god and his clerics serve all beings using the sea, and any trip out into the oceans requires a sacrifice to this deity for good winds and the like.
Oh, he's one of those gods. The protection racket gods. "Oh, so you're traveling on the sea, eh? Nice ship. Be a shame if anything happened to it."
Shan Hai Ching posted:
His wind force is said to be able to last a full day when "great wrath is upon the deity".
Wait... so how long does his weather control last normally? Also, why is that last bit in quotation marks? Is it quoting something?
Amusingly, we're told in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" that while Shan Hai Chang "is perfectly able to fly for himself, he likes to ride on the back of an imperial dragon (explained later)." So if you think he looks silly now, just imagine that awkward human-headed bird sitting on the back of a dragon. I think that makes it even worse. Or better.
Shan Hai Ching is so special he gets two illustrations... though, alas, neither shows him sitting on a dragon.
Shan Hai Ching, seen here serenely contemplating his ridiculous appearance.
I think Kuntz and Ward got a little confused about this one. There is, as far as I can find, no actual Chinese god named Shan Hai Ching, or anything similar. There is, however, a very famous Chinese book called the Shan Hai Ching (山海經; Shānhǎi Jīng in pinyin), which in English is usually called the Classic of Mountains and Seas. This book dates back at least to the Han dynasty (and parts of it are almost certainly much older), and contains many fanciful descriptions and illustrations of mythical beasts—including at least three different birds with human heads.
One of several illustrations of human-headed birds in the Classic of Mountains and Seas.
So my guess is that Kuntz and Ward found one of these illustrations and misunderstood the caption, mistaking the name of the book from which it was taken for the name of the entity it represented. I don't know for sure that that's what happened, of course, but it seems as good an explanation as any.
Another illustration from the Classic of Mountains and Seas. This one has nothing to do with any entry in Deities & Demigods, but it amuses me. (In case you're wondering, this is the Ti Chiang (帝江; Dìjiāng in pinyin), a faceless, eyeless creature that likes to sing and dance.)
SPIRITS OF THE AIR
These again are monsters, not gods: minions of the wind gods who "exist to fight for the gods" and "can be summoned by them in numbers of up to 100 every day."
Spirits of the Air posted:
They have black skin, large bat wings, clawed feet (which they use in battle), and a tusked monkey's head.
"Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" also says they have an eagle's beak, but that disappeared from later descriptions. Anyway, Deities & Demigods doesn't include an illustration of them, but if you really want to see one, just be patient; they also appear in the Planescape Monstrous Supplement, included in the Planescape Campaign Setting boxed set, which we'll be getting to eventually, and they do have an illustration there.
I guess these things provide yet more evidence for Werner's Myths and Legends of China having been a source for "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" (as I mentioned before, the main (and probably only) source for the "Chinese Mythos" chapter in Deities & Demigods seems to have been "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" itself), because that includes a description of a "spirit of thunder" that's pretty much an exact match for these "spirits of the air":
Myths and Legends of China posted:
The Spirit of Thunder, for whom Lei Tsu is often mistaken, is represented as an ugly, black, bat-winged demon, with clawed feet, monkey’s head, and eagle’s beak, who holds in one hand a steel chisel, and in the other a spiritual hammer, with which he beats numerous drums strung about him, thus producing the terrific noise of thunder. According to Chinese reasoning it is the sound of these drums, and not the lightning, which causes death.
(Who's Lei Tsu? Well, there was a goddess of crafts and silk named Lei Tsu (嫘祖; Léi Zǔ in pinyin), the wife of the Yellow Emperor, but that doesn't seem to be the intended referent here. Rather, it seems that "Lei Tsu" (雷祖; Léi Zǔ in pinyin again) was also an alternate name for Wên Chung, whom we'll be getting to shortly.)
The problem is that there was apparently a bit of a misunderstanding here, because if you read carefully Werner isn't referring to multiple spirits of thunder, but to a singular spirit of thunder... and in fact that spirit of thunder is identified with Lei Kung, who already appeared in this chapter as a god. So... oops?
TOU MU (goddess of the north star)
I know it's not the intent, but it's always looked to me in this illustration like she's wearing three-eyed goggles.
So what would you expect the "goddess of the north star" to be like? Would you expect her to be a chaotic evil twenty-foot-tall monster with three eyes, sixteen arms, and red scaly skin who carries around the living head of a red dragon that breathes fire on her enemies, and likes running people over with the unbreakable jade wheels of her five adamantine flying chariots? Because that's what she is. Also, if you say you expected that, I don't believe you.
She carries around other things besides the red dragon head; that's just kind of the weirdest item... though the "piece of the moon that is able to block any single hit directed at her person in any given melee round" is a close second, and I guess the "lotus flower that heals all wounds at a touch" is in the running too. The red flag that shoots death spells is also a bit odd; that's not really something you'd expect a flag to do. Anyway, I guess since she has sixteen arms she's able to carry all this stuff around and still have plenty of hands free.
There's nothing in the text to indicate what her actual goals are, or what if anything she presides over besides "the north star". The first paragraph of her two-paragraph description is mostly about all the weapons and random doodads she totes with her, and the second paragraph is entirely devoted to describing her chariots. Oh well.
We get a little more information in the "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" description of her. If she likes an "especially valiant fighter", she will give him a magical book: either a "tome of death" that "allows anyone reading it to use one death ray spell once a day", or an unnamed book that "allows anyone to raise the dead once a day". (Not just a person reading it; the very fact that this book exists means that anyone is able to raise the dead. Okay, obviously that's not what the authors meant, but it... could have been worded better.) We are specifically told that she has an unlimited supply of these books (just in case any Dungeon Master was thinking of having her run out, I guess), and that the books are "made of a very brittle paper, but will remain useable as long as they are not exposed to hard wear and tear." Oddly, we are told at first that whether or not she likes a particular fighter is the "judge's option", but later in the paragraph we're told that "[t]he chance of her doing this is 3% in any battle having 1,000 or more persons", so apparently there's a fixed percentage chance and it's not just "judge's option" after all.
You might think that rewarding valiant fighters doesn't seem like a particularly chaotic evil thing to do. I think you would probably be right. Alignments aren't mentioned for most of the gods in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" (the only items in their brief stat blocks are Armor Class, Move, Hit Points, Magic Ability, Fighter Ability, and Psionic Ability), but there's nothing there to indicate that she's supposed to be evil, and at least one item that suggests that she's not: her gadget collection includes one pair of items that doesn't appear in Deities & Demigods, "2 amulets of Yin and Yang that protect the Goddess from spells sent by any person of the lawful and evil alignments." Okay, this is a bit strange, because "lawful and evil" aren't really contrasting alignments, because original D&D generally didn't refer to "evil" alignments anyway, and because weren't we specifically told at the beginning of this section not to think of the gods of this mythos as lawful or chaotic? Still, one would think that an evil goddess wouldn't have items to protect her against evil alignments. Maybe when they wrote Deities & Demigods and had to assign an alignment to her, Kuntz and Ward didn't remember their original source, and just figured that a goddess that weird and inhuman-looking had to be evil.
Mythologically, Tou Mu (斗母; Dǒumǔ in pinyin—the name means "Mother of the Big Dipper") is a kind and virtuous goddess who keeps a book in which she records the life and death of every person in the world. She does have three eyes and sixteen arms, though, at least in some depictions. (In other depictions she has only eight arms, though sometimes she has four faces.)
Tou Mu is yet another figure who still plays a role in modern Buddism and Taoism; I admit I don't know much about either Buddhism or Taoism, but my guess is that neither Buddhists nor Taoists would in general be thrilled about her being depicted as a chaotic evil horror.
WEN CHUNG (minister of thunder)
Wen Chung posted:
Wen Chung has 3 eyes in his head and a massive dark-skinned body. He summons weather for Lei Kung and for his chaotic worshipers.
Okay, wait. So the other gods outsource their bad omens to Lei Kung, and then Lei Kung outsources them to Wen Chung. Huh. I guess this really is a bureaucracy.
Wen Chung is the third god in this mythos to live in the Elemental Plane of Air. Not sure why that's such a popular place for Chinese gods. Maybe they just like the atmosphere.
Wên Chung (闻仲; Wén Zhòng in pinyin) is another character from Investiture of the Gods, though he's also described in Myths and Legends of China, so Kuntz and Ward probably got him from there. (The same is true, by the way, of Lu Yueh.) He has quite an elaborate backstory, none of which is even hinted at in his brief four-sentence entry in Deities & Demigods (half of which is, of course, about his combat abilities).
Deities & Demigods doesn't include an illustration of Wen Chung, but Myths and Legends of China does.
YEN-WANG-YEH (judge of the dead)
"I heard vertical stripes are slimming."
This god collects all the souls and spirits of the dead and makes sure that they are transported to the proper plane and do not roam the earth at will. He tracks down spirits that do and makes them suffer for eternity. He has no power over the dead who have risen to a higher plane through their good deeds.
So either there are no undead in settings where the Chinese Mythos is worshipped, or Yen-Wang-Yeh isn't very good at his job.
Also, he can shoot death rays out of his eyes and "shape change into an oriental dragon", and "[a]nyone touching his body with anything" has to succeed on a saving throw or be paralyzed. Yes, I said I wasn't usually going to mention the gods' combat abilities anymore, but my reasons for mentioning them in this case will become clear momentarily.
This is the other god who had a different name in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes". He's there—the description doesn't mention the black skin, but it does list the same combat abilities: it doesn't specify the form of an "oriental dragon" for his shape changing, but it does say he can shapechange, and the death rays and the thing about being paralyzed if you touch him with anything are there. But his name in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" isn't Yen-Wang-Yeh: it's "Yama".
Now, that's not necessarily completely wrong. There is a god of death in Buddhist tradition sometimes called Yama. But there are two problems here. First of all, "Yama" is a name for the god, but not really a Chinese name for him; the Chinese call him "Yen" (阎; Yán in pinyin), though they generally don't use that name alone, but as part of a longer name as in "Yenwang" (阎王; Yánwáng in pinyin—the name means basically "King Yama") or "Yen Lo Wang" (閻羅王; Yánluó Wáng in pinyin). Secondly, he was ultimately derived from the same source as the Hindu god Yama, which wouldn't be an issue except that that god also appears in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", in the "Gods of India" section. My guess is that the reason for the name change has more to do with the second reason: probably that the authors noticed they had two gods of death with the same name who were otherwise completely different, and realized that would be confusing, so they decided to change one of them. (And yes, the Hindu god Yama does appear in Deities & Demigods. We'll see him when we get to the "Indian Mythos".)
...Wait, hold on, "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" also includes yet another god named Yama in the "Robert E. Howard's Hyborea" section. I mean, Howard's Yama was almost certainly based on the Hindu Yama, but his description here is completely different. So... that's three Yamas. That is altogether too many Yamas.
"Yen-Wang-Yeh" (閻王爺; Yán Wáng Yé in pinyin) is in fact just another Chinese title for Yama. Of course, I don't know whether Kuntz and Ward knew this was another name for the same god or whether they ran across a reference to a Chinese death god named "Yen-Wang-Yeh" and assumed it was an entirely different god, but I guess it doesn't really matter.
Anyway, that's it for the Deities & Demigods chapter on the "Chinese Mythos". But while all the gods in this chapter also appeared in the "Eastern Mythos" section of "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes", the reverse is not true—there are a few entities in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" that didn't make the cut for Deities & Demigods. So before I end this post, let's take a look at those.
TAI YANG TI CHUN GOD OF THE SUN
Tai Yang Ti Chun posted:
This God appears as a noncorporal [sic] column of light that stands 20 feet tall and 4 foot [sic] wide.
Hm. Maybe he didn't make it into Deities & Demigods just because the authors thought a god with such an abstract form wouldn't be a good fit? I don't know.
T‘ai Yang (太陽; Tàiyáng in pinyin) is the Mandarin word for "sun", but as far as I can tell the most usual name for the Chinese sun god is T‘ai Yang Hsing Chün (太陽星君; pinyin Tàiyáng Xīngjūn). However, the name T‘ai-yang Ti-Chün (太陽帝君; Tàiyáng Dìjūn in pinyin) does appear in, you guessed it, Werner's Myths and Legends of China. (Not that it appears only there, but I mean by now I think we've pretty much established that was probably one of Kuntz and Ward's main sources, if not the main source.)
LEI CHEN TZU DEMI-GOD "SON OF LEI KUNG"
Lei Chen Tzu posted:
Lei Chen Tzu stands 10 feet tall, has green scaled skin, 2 large tusks in his one head, an overly long nose, red spotted wings with a span of 30 feet, has the strength and the damaging power of a
I think it's kind of amusing that the authors feel it necessary to specify he has "one head", but given there are two gods in this mythos with three heads, I guess maybe it's understandable. (By the way, does each of his eyes act as a mirror of life trapping, or do both eyes act jointly as a single mirror? I guess that only really matters under certain special circumstances.)
Lei Chen Tzu posted:
Anyone daring to kill this darling boy will suffer the revenge of Lei Kung.
I'm assuming the bit about referring to him as a "darling boy" is meant ironically, but if so it's a rare touch of intentional humor in this very dry book. I do find it kind of charming that the lawful evil Lei Kung has such a strong sense of paternal affection. (Granted, "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" didn't say he was lawful evil; his alignment wasn't specified until Deities & Demigods.)
Okay, the first thing I checked for a reference to this god was Myths and Legends of China and, surprise, he's there—as Lei Chên-tzŭ (雷震子; Léizhènzǐ in pinyin)—, and the desciption in "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" pretty much matches his description there. Not all sources make him out to be a son of Lei Kung (and in fact some sources say he simply is Lei Kung by another name), but Myths and Legends of China does so so does "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes". Even according to the accounts in which he is Lei Kung's son, he was actually abandoned by his father Lei Kung and adopted by a hermit, so I'm not sure Lei Kung would really care that much if he was killed, but Myths and Legends of China never addresses that question so neither does "Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes".
That's it for the gods, but then we get some non-god entities:
SHEN SHU: powerful spirits that guard portals the most powerful of which are called Yu and Lei.
Yes, that's how the heading appears. And despite the heading referring to them in the plural, the descriptive text refers to "[t]his spirit", singular.
Shen Shu: powerful spirits that guard portals the most powerful of which are called Yu and Lei posted:
This spirit seems to be a man until he starts to fight.
What does he look like after he starts to fight? We aren't told.
Shen Shu: powerful spirits that guard portals the most powerful of which are called Yu and Lei posted:
It stands by a portal summoned by a very powerful wizard or God in ethereal form and when beings of the wrong type try to enter it moves to stop them. It fights in plus 2 armor and shield and uses a halberd.
What are beings of the "wrong type"? I guess that's defined by whoever summons the shen shu, but the text doesn't explicitly say that. Also, wasn't the spirit a "he" in the previous sentence? Why is it an "it" now?
Turns out these guys are also in Werner's Myths and Legends of China, as two "Door-gods" named Shên Shu (神荼; Shénshū in pinyin) and Yü Lü (鬱壘; Yùlǜ in pinyin). However, in this case that may not have been Kuntz and Ward's only source on these beings, because other sources give the other door god's name as Yulei (郁垒; Yùlěi in pinyin), the syllables of which match their names for the "most powerful" shen shu. Of course, that still doesn't explain why they decided to split the name of one door god in half to make two different names and use the name of the other door god as the generic name for the type, especially when there already was a generic Chinese name for the door gods, mênshên (门神; ménshén in pinyin). But hey, Werner didn't mention that name, so...
(Wait, actually, I take that back, Werner actually does mention that the "Door-gods" are known as "Mên Shên"... but several pages back from where they're described in more detail and Shên Shu and Yü Lü are named, so Kuntz and Ward may have missed it.)
Werner even includes illustrations again.
Refer to the India section and the Rakshasas for their powers. While these beings are evil they have been on occasion on the side of the Gods in battle.
Against whom? Who are the gods and demons jointly battling against?
Wait... fairies in Chinese mythology? What?
At the top of every large mountain is a group of 1-10 Fairies. These beings stand 1 foot tall with gossamer wings and a delicate elfin appearance. One member of this group is a 15th level wizard and the rest are from the 7th to the 10th. They are very afraid of mortals and will react violently at any incursion of their land.
If the weakest fairies are 7th-level wizards, why are they afraid of mortals? Apparently if you go up to the top of a large mountain in China, you're just begging to get fireballed.
That's very specific, thank you.
Evil Spirits posted:
These noncorporal creatures of the air roam the earth with the ability to inhabit statues and use them for evil destructive purposes.
So I guess their statistics refer to them when they're in statues? Anyway, they're pretty slow, have no magical abilities (aside from the statue possession), and don't have a huge number of hit points (25), so these things don't seem horribly deadly... though they do have a good Armor Class and some psionic ability.
Okay, that's all the monsters from the Eastern Mythos, but we're still not done. Now we get magic items.
Eastern Mythos posted:
NOTE: The Gods have magic devices that they use in common of which they are very fond and will react violently at their misuse.
So, once again, these magic items are used by the gods, and aren't intended for mortals, and are therefore pretty much useless for a campaign. (Except maybe, I guess, for a powergaming campaign where the players run around killing the gods and looting their corpses, the exact kind of campaign that Gary Gygax and the editor insist should never happen.) Anyway, all seven magic items from the Chinese Mythos chapter in Deities & Demigods are here, but there are also a few extras:
THE 5 FIRE, 7 FEATHER FAN OF DEFENDING
The 5 Fire, 7 Feather Fan of Defending posted:
This device acts as a Jade Scepter of Defending and also negates all spells used against the holder.
THERE ARE 4 PURPOSE WHIPS
Please express your item header in the form of a complete sentence.
The whips are presented in a numbered list:
There Are 4 Purpose Whips posted:
Ah yes, once again the classic D&D conflict of Law vs. Evil.
There are no descriptions of these whips. Apparently the authors decided the names were self-explanatory.
Yin-Yang Mirror posted:
Paralyzes all beings of the lawful or evil alignment that look into it: duration - 1 year
So... does it sustain them without food or drink for that year? Also, "lawful or evil"? Seriously, what is it with this section (and only this section) repeatedly contrasting law with evil? Are we meant to assume that lawful = yin and evil = yang? Because that's certainly not the impression given by the paragraph at the beginning of the section.
Anyway, we're still not quite done, because now we get:
NOTES ABOUT DRAGONS
Notes About Dragons posted:
The Eastern dragon goes through 3 stages of metamorphosis in growing. While young, he has the head of a horse, the body of a lizard, tail of a snake, large red wings, and 4 lion legs ending in talons. In its middle years it has the horns of a deer, head of a camel, eyes of a demon, neck of a snake, scales of metal, claws of an eagle, and legs of a tiger with large yellow spotted wings. In old age it appears as the classical type.
♪ He has... the head of a camel... ♫
"Oriental dragons" would eventually appear in AD&D in the Fiend Folio, but very differently from how they're presented here. Here there are six types of Eastern dragon, most of which are color-coded like standard D&D dragons, though it's not clear whether they're supposed to be otherwise similar to the standard dragon of the same color. There are green dragons who "are lawful and unaffected by anything with wood in it", blue dragons who "are made of the sky and neutral and not affected by anything launched in the air at them", and red dragons who "are very evil and breathe fire". (Again we have law vs. evil. Huh.) Then there are gold dragons who "are found in all 3 alignments" and get no further description; "Imperial Dragons" who are yellow and live in the sea and "can cause wind and rain storms, breathe fire, and fly, even though [they do] not have wings"; and an unnamed "dragon of treasure whose skin is made of gems and gold" and that "attracts treasure to its body as a magnet to iron". "Evil dragons live in mountains and hills, whereas good dragons live in water areas", and now they're not even trying to stick to the usual law and chaos alignments of original D&D. (Or the yin and yang alignments indicated at the beginning of the section.) All Eastern dragons "can polymorph themselves, become invisible, and use the ESP spell".
"Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes" doesn't have an illustration of an "Eastern dragon", but Deities & Demigods does. With a bunch of gibberish fake Chinese characters (that bear very little resemblance to actual Chinese characters) in a box to the right. The leftmost of which are designed to resemble the artist's initials, but maybe he figured people wouldn't notice that so he also put his initials above the box. Wait... there's a different artist's monogram below the box. Did it take two artists to make this illustration for some reason?
And now we're finally done with this chapter. In terms of actual gameplay applicability, useless magic items aside, this may be the best chapter so far; it includes an interesting assortment of gods, and as I said, it's the first one to include gods of all nine alignments. In terms of mythological accuracy and cultural sensitivity, though, well, I'm not sure it's worse than the abysmal "American Indian Mythos", but it's definitely down at that level.
There are, alas, other chapters to come that are just as bad in that respect. But first, we'll take a short break from mutilating ancient mythologies...
Next time: Three Synonyms for "Tentacle"
|# ¿ Aug 14, 2019 06:05|