Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Retrospective: Deities & Demigods

Like its OD&D predecessor, I have decidedly negative feelings about 1980's Deities & Demigods. Certainly my friends and I purchased and used this book when it was released. We weren't particularly discerning in those days; we bought nearly everything TSR produced for D&D and this was a hardcover volume -- "proof" positive that the DDG was an important volume. This is an attitude that Gary Gygax, in his foreword to the book, makes clear
DEITIES & DEMIGODS is an indispensable part of the whole of AD&D. Do not fall into the error of regarding it as a supplement. It is integral to Dungeon Mastering a true AD&D campaign. Experienced players will immediately concur with this evaluation, for they already know how important alignment is, how necessary the deity is to the cleric, and how interaction of the various alignments depends upon the entities which lead them. Those readers not well-grounded in ongoing campaigns must take my word for all this, although they will soon discover for themselves how crucial the deities of the campaign milieu are.
Looking back on it now, I can see so many problematic statements in the few lines of the foreword quoted above, but, back then, Gygax's words were law and if he said the DDG was "integral to Dungeon Mastering a true AD&D campaign," then it was so. Now, though, I see things somewhat differently. A "true AD&D campaign?" What do those words even mean? That it's impossible to play the game without the information contained in Deities & Demigods? Or is it that Gygax believes the notion of gods to be a foundational principle of the game?

Either position is, in retrospect, somewhat questionable. Not only is it possible to play even AD&D without recourse to the DDG, it's possible to play the game without gods at all. Moreover, the particular approach to the divine adopted in Deities & Demigods is by no means the only one. I've noted before that early gaming often evinced a rather different approach, but, even if one adopts a polytheistic model, there are other ways to portray the gods than as, for all intents and purposes, extraordinarily powerful "monsters."

Deities & Demigods
is, in many respects, just another Monster Manual, filled with pages and pages of statistics, such as armor class, hit points, and attack forms. Despite the claims of the foreword, the book did little to impress upon me the importance of gods or their worship in AD&D, as the book provides only the most cursory information on the role of religion in the game, instead focusing on extending ability score modifier tables and elucidating the powers of gods of various ranks.

If I were to point out a single, fundamental flaw in the way Dungeons & Dragons has developed over the years, I'd say that it was its relentless drive to quantify everything. It's a flaw Deities & Demigods demonstrates time and again. A book detailing various historical and literary pantheons, along with information on including them in a campaign, is a great idea. But why include game stats for the gods at all? Why tell us that Ra has 400 hit points or that Mjolnir deals 10d10 damage? How does this information accord with Gygax's claims that the DDG lays out "how crucial the deities of the campaign milieu are?" In my experience, such details only fueled foolish arguments over which god was most powerful, not to mention dreams of marching on Mount Olympus to slay Zeus. What is so "integral" to the game about this?

Truth be told, I don't hate Deities & Demigods. I simply don't see it as anything more than a minor volume in the AD&D library, less significant even than Unearthed Arcana, which, for all its manifest faults, contained more unambiguously useful information to the game. I also think it contributed to the power creep to which D&D has always been prone, as well as being part of a reductionist "demystifying" approach to magic and the divine. As a younger person, I enjoyed reading the book, since it included gods and mythologies with which I wasn't familiar. I didn't get much direct use out of it, however, since I'd created my own religions and didn't see any need to provide stats for divine beings. That's an opinion I still share, even though it runs counter to the trajectory the game followed and that seems to have appealed to many of its players.

45 comments:

  1. James - thank you again for making me reconsider something I thought I was done with. I have long held the same opinion you set down here - in my games the PCs never met the gods, nor was there any question of fighting them, and I think all of that is because I bought EGG's foreword, and because I was stuck with a particular conception of gods (as the determiners of alignment and the bestowers of clerics' powers). I might even have refused to countenance inter-planar travel exactly because I didn't want to raise the possibility of tracking Marduk to his palace and killing him.

    Now, though, it strikes me that this is the logical monster manual for ultra-high-level campaigning, and that such a campaign could be a really interesting journey, where you can destruct test cults on the point of your vorpal sword, like Stone Monkey at the beginning of Journey to the West. Eventually Monkey learns that there is a cosmic order but that the gods don't own it... and then his adventures begin, as he tries to understand what that order is. Moorcock's and Howard's heroes arguably discover self-determination through the destructive testing of their assumed orders... I'm starting to realise that I shied away from killing the gods because I didn't want to deal with the questions that would raise in the game, but that maybe it would be an interesting journey to take with my players, letting them try to figure out how to ask the questions and live with the answers. I've certainly never tried to run a campaign where the fundamental quest was to find out where clerical powers came from or what would happen if you destroyed the source.
    ...admittedly, that's hardly an Old School Low Fantasy premise.

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  2. In my most recent campaigns I have been focusing on designing religions, rather than just deities. In fact, since I assume that most clerics are going to worship the gods in general, at least those recognized by they're faith, it's less important to define the deities then to consider how the church and the like is organized. I'm going to only define a few deities, just to give the PCs some names to drop and develop any others I need as the campaign goes on.

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  3. D&DG is a classic 'systematize the fantastic' nerd creation. It attempts to nail down definitive "Who would win in a fight...?" answers for not just for Kirk and Picard, but for the whole of human mythology!

    Richard above is probably right when he typifies it as the ultra-high level Monster Manual. D&DG really taps into your childish fantasies about doing all the stuff the heroes of myth and legend did: fighting Jormgandr, wrestling the Nemeaen Lion, replaying the Titanomachia, punching out this or that @sshole Olympian god.

    Is it necessary to D&D? Heck no! Gary was writing as TSR Gary in the introduction. But is it fun? And is it part of what grabbed you about role-playing in the first place? I'd say so.

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  4. I didn’t get a lot of direct use out of the DDG either. Still, it remains one of my favorite books.

    While the appendix in the DMG told me about HPL and Moorcock and Lieber, the DDG showed me HPL’s mythos, Melniboné, and Nehwon. It probably did more to get me reading those three authors than anything else.

    Likewise it introduced me to ancient religions of the world like no other source ever did.

    I still look to it as a guide for developing my own pantheons. Not the “monster stats” parts, but the rest.

    I also think the brief introductions before each pantheon are great sources of ideas for AD&D campaigns with different flavors.

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  5. I must admit to finding Richard's comment about D&DG as a "monster manual for ultra-high-level campaigning" to be very intriguing and potentially interesting in an Old School REALLY High Fantasy sorta way.

    Mind you, I agree with you, James, that the quantification of the gods for combat purposes was less than useful. As the only interpretation of the presence of the divine in a campaign, it was actively detrimental. One sign of this is to contrast Gary's foreword with Tim Kask's intro note to Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes.

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  6. I used to have the same opinion as James does of the D&DG. I've since come to look on the work much more favorably.

    One of the things that effected my opinion of the book was that I finally got to see the full book with the Cthulhu and Elric stuff added. That's a good 30 or so pages of additional stuff that gives the book a much more pulpy flavor.

    But more so, I started to see how D&Dg could be used as a tool to help you create neat campaign settings. How you could alter the flavor of the AD&D world with a tweak or two and come up with something new.

    D&Dg is best used in moderation. Don't throw in everything. But, know where Hephaestus' forge is, and the gate to Arawn's realm. Place a hero or two here and there. Have a chapel housing an artifact in an important city. Etc.

    While Gygax's statements as to the necessity of the D&Dg to running AD&D is certainly overblown, I find as an idea bank, D&Dg (the original, unabridged version) provides a ton of inspiration, and is probably my favorite and most referenced non-core book.

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  7. I loved this book as a kid when it came out. As a child of European Catholics, my brain was already yearning for a more open minded approach to religion. Because of the scant God information given, I eventually researched all the Gods and creatures therin. By high school, I was blowing away Mythology and history teachers with my knowledge. I remember showing it to Jr. high school teachers (the more liberal ones) and they found it very interesting.

    As far as using it, well, I kind of did. As a kid I had yet to create my own gods for my game world, so I delved deeply into books. I'd let a character be a cleric or worshipper of any deity from any pantheon. At that point, my game world was at it's most "Arduin."

    But it wasn't too far into the 80's when I was creating new gods, or more often than not players came up with new gods for their clerics, and those stayed a part of my world for decades.

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  8. The foreword that you quote is my premiere case study for how the cleric class makes worldbuilding so much harder than it needs to be. For no other AD&D class was it ever argued that a separate, standalone hardcover was "integral" and "crucial... [to] the campaign milieu".

    Of course, one argument is that this was just puffery by Gygax to spur sales. Truthfully the passage in question seems a bit overheated, "thou doth protest too much". Nontheless it certainly clinched a feeling that I was "missing something" for many years by never getting a campaign "right" insofar as making clerical ceremonies, holy days, sacrfices, etc., key and central to the action. Among other things, the whiff of "Silver Age" 2E AD&D comes through the window here.

    The DDG god-stats, of course, have two camps behind them. The truth is, I think it's better to fall back to OD&D Sup-IV where the intent was much more up-front that you'd be most likely fighting these beings as top-end monsters. The DDG tack to "bolt on" pantheistic worship to this system doesn't work well, created the needed for Gygax to fulminate about something that was really definitely not integral to the system, and caused much grief. Personally, I don't mind the DDG god-stats at all -- I mind the fact that the front boilerplate makes them sound extraneous to a lot of readers.

    Some stuff I've written previously trying to work through the issues of AD&D DDG deity presentations:

    http://www.superdan.net/dndmisc/avatars.html

    http://www.superdan.net/dndmisc/outer_planes.html

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  9. Even as a teenager, I found the D&D book both fascinating and silly. Fascinating, because it introduced me to so many different pantheons that I had no idea existed. Silly, because of the whole "quantify everything" issue that you mention.

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  10. The best part of DDG always was the monsters and heroes to me.

    The King Arthur stats first gave me the idea of using AD&D for Arthurian games.

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  11. Not sure if it was listed in the book, but I came to believe that the stats depicted the gods only in their avatar form and that if you actually encountered them in their native realm they were far more powerful.

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  12. Actually, having worked with EGG on deities, I have a few things to say.

    Gary's thoughts on deities being very critical to campaigns comes from his own beliefs. If you notice his more recent works, such as Living Fantasy, he considered the role of the clergy very important in the world, especially when the beings providing their power (cleric magic) was active.

    I find it very ironic that both modern and old school RPGs all spend a lot of time talking about eliminating the cleric, when EGG from Unearthed Arcana onward was trying to make them more important. The cleric became more and more important.

    Gary would also occasionally discuss this. He said one of JRRT's weaknesses with LoTR was the complete absence of anything spiritual in the work. It was an interesting discussion.

    One thing Gary did change however was the concept of deities as beasts you could fight. He really walked away from that perspective. He still quantified deities with ranks (if Living Pantheons ever was released we would have seen basic stats for deities "levels", so to speak), and would not have gone as far as 2ed did to remove deities from having stats--but he insisted that mortals could never hope to defeat anything more than a minor god by themselves, with rare exceptions of some greater ranked onces with the help of other deities and artifacts.

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  13. I think some of the disconnect James is seeing here is because Gary wrote the introduction but not the book. You see elements of where Gary’s thinking was going to, but it also carries some of the baggage from the earlier work. To some, the baggage seems to out-weigh the newer elements.

    JRRT’s weakness here is shared by a great deal of the other literary foundations of the game. So, for good or ill (or good and ill), it looks to me like Gary was the odd man out on this score.

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  14. Agree with Robert just above.

    Crow -- The all-gods-are-avatars idea is a later, 2E concept. In 1E DDG it is only mentioned for the Indian mythos, to wit (p. 75): "Probably the most difficult concept this mythos presents, at least in AD&D terms, is that of the 'avatar'. An avatar is a physical manifestation of a deity upon the Prime Material Plane..." Which highlights the enormous difference in thinking between early D&D and later forms.

    John -- "EGG from Unearthed Arcana onward was trying to make them more important. The cleric became more and more important." Some might say: if the shift in thinking about clerics was largely a UA-era development, that's yet more evidence (parcel with other UA additions) of its being off the reservation from the original game.

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  15. Actually, I think Tolkien was one of the "odd man out" when it comes to classic fantasy. While the distinction between magic and miracles is somewhat of a D&D invention, other books have religion--even if the deities are not active and may or may not exist, religion plays a deep part in cultures--shamans, priest, clergy, etc. Tolkien kept all of that out. Maybe it was because of his own religious beliefs as some theorize (and that this took place in earth's past--but then again, human races in history had multiple religions over ages. It's hard to think that there wasn't some belief system held or acknowledged in LoTR).

    One reason I wonder if gamers are more likely to reject religion comes from modern sensibilities. Many gamers today lean a bit liberal and towards atheism, or at the very least they don't mind breaking the taboo of Abrahamic religions being kept out of D&D and other FRPGs. I know Gygax did not want to explore real world religions outside of inspiration of historical clergy. He had demons but not angels. (Devas et al come whole from Theosophy, that's where the terms come from--a lot of game designers ignored this). He may not have been as bothered with demons because of his own faith--a former Jehovah's Witness who, as such, does not believe in the existence of a real Hell--or because demons existed in other myths and legends.

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  16. Delta, unfortunately I'm not one who believe UA = "Bad Gygax" or "The End of the Golden Age", as I tend to like the writer better than a fixed point in time. And I can't think of Gary ever being "off the reservation" of his own creation.

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  17. For what it's worth, 2e-style avatars were first introduced in AD&D in 1988's Greyhawk Adventures hardback, ostensibly a 1e book.

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  18. A couple other things I just remembered.

    1) Gary later seemed to dislike some elements of the DDG--particularly how the planes were setup. Also, in his first "Deities of Greyhawk" note, he noticed that he felt the innate powers of such deities were "weak", and beefed them up significantly.

    2) If things had evolved farther, we would have seen Power Points very similar to what ended up in the Immortals D&D rules, that was covered in Gygax's last or next to last Sorceror's Scroll before he was pushed out (not counting his goodbye one). There, faith would have mattered in a mechanical sense.

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  19. These days I'm seeing a lot of parallels in the career arcs of Gygax and, say, George Lucas. Although to me Gygax rehabilitated a lot in the late era and there's precious little sign of that from Lucas.

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  20. We started playing in 2nd ed, but the DDG was still a must-have for our group. Our first DM used the greek, norse, and nonhuman deities to the fullest. Before we had read any rules about the deities having avatars, he automatically assumed they did. I mean, how else can your weapon strike a deity? It needs a form, or avatar, for you to attack it or touch it.

    At lower levels this book didnt mean much to us. Sometimes one would create a huge background on a character and include religious ties. But those were the characters that seemed to be reduced to mush by an ogre club more often than not. At higher levels, when we could manipulate time, and even worked with some demigods to achieve certain goals, this book became a must have.

    We later replaced it with demihuman deities, powers and pantheons, and faiths and avatars. But I still have my copy with the cthulhu and melnibonean mythos.

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  21. the distinction between magic and miracles is somewhat of a D&D invention
    ...well, there was also a lively debate at the turn of the 20th century among anthropologists regarding what was religion and what was magic (ie superstition): Fraser's Golden Bough is a contribution to it. And I don't think it's really true that JRRT presented an "unspiritual" fantasy: there's all sorts of discussion of creation and various kinds of ur-spirit-creatures in his notes, it's just all in a decidedly un-Judaeo-Christian register. ...in certain respects. Gandalf and the wizards, for instance, seem to have been left as some kind of stewards for the world by some entity from the early days of the world that smells an awful lot like providence.

    I'm really interested in this business of the Devas coming to D&D via Theosophy, though: John, do you have any more information about that?

    Finally, regarding Gary being "off the reservation" - part of me thinks that excluding his later work is a bit like claiming that Picasso should have stuck with the blue period stuff and ignoring all that cubist stuff, another part of me thinks that we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that D&D was always the work of many hands, and that every work leaves its author's control when it's sent out into the world. I wonder what Gary thought about this, in later years.

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  22. Many gamers today lean a bit liberal and towards atheism, or at the very least they don't mind breaking the taboo of Abrahamic religions being kept out of D&D and other FRPGs. I know Gygax did not want to explore real world religions outside of inspiration of historical clergy.

    Really? I thought D&D clerics were steeped in Christian influences (e.g., use of holy water and holy symbols vs. undead and specifically vampires, etc.). What gave you the impression he shied away from it?

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  23. The problem is that many people become confused when they hear the term god; they think in terms of the Abrahamic religions, where God is all-powerful. However, there are many examples in mythology of mortals and gods mixing it up. I watched Jason and the Argonauts the other day, and it reminded me of how influenced by mythology Dungeons & Dragons is: hydra, harpies, skeletons, iron golem, etc. In the context of the game's influences, Deities & Demigods makes perfect sense. In Greek mythology, the gods were very involved in the affairs of mortals. Even in a more strictly medieval milieu, there are still angels, devils, demons, and faeries to contend with.

    More detail on the gods then is present in Deities & Demigods would actually make the book less usable. Basic stats and sketchy details make it easy to modify and expand the gods as needed for one's campaign; just pick some deities for your campaign when it starts, and then modify them as needed as the campaign develops.

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  24. Funnily enough, I would have said that one of the problems with LotR is that there is too much spirituality and not enough grit. The book is absolutely all about magic in the sense of "wonder at creation" and the transcendent value of the spirit/soul, and not enough about hitting things (to be very blunt).

    Indeed, it seems to me that LotR is very much what a "deities are so far above mortals they're almost abstract" setting would be like. That there is little or no evidence of organised churches and clerics (although some is implied for the side of Evil) merely indicates that JRRT believed that religion did not need organising (an interesting idea for a Catholic).

    Silmarillion of course dealt much more openly with these issues, but one can argue that it never quite informed the background of LotR in a definite and canonical fashion.

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  25. I thought and do think that this is one of the most staggering of the AD&D books. Like somebody else mentioned it turned me on to reading Lovecraft, Leiber, and Moorcock. The business of there being two editions with the Lovecraft and Moorcock removed makes that book even more special and representative of an era I remember.

    I must agree that there was not a lot of practical use in the book in terms of game play, and what EGG is quoted here as saying sounds to me just egomaniacal sales spiel.

    But I'm in disagreement that it's an example of over quantification run rampant in AD&D. That this book dared to quantify the divine was to my junior high mind a staggering step. The idea that the divine could be quantified in any capacity, even in a fantasy game, I found to be a big idea, because if you can quantify something, then you make it real - even if it's pure invention. Half of the fun of D&D (and Arduin, which loves nothing more than a table or chart) is that it quantifies imagination. Quantifying mythic things is probably the secret process that mades D&D like a drug.

    What can be measured can be known. And what can be imagined can be known more intimately by giving it measure.

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  26. A "true AD&D campaign?" What do those words even mean? That it's impossible to play the game without the information contained in Deities & Demigods? Or is it that Gygax believes the notion of gods to be a foundational principle of the game?

    I should think the easy answer is that Gygax (1) was more a liability than an asset marketing-wise, and (2) had a famously screwy view of what he was doing in designing and approving these books, evident in the many contradictions and dead ends in his D&D-related talk; but despite (1) and (2) he very definitely (3) wanted you to buy everything his company sold, good or not, competently written/edited or not, fully-baked or not. He was a salesman, whether or not he was cut out for that job (it involves a great deal of precise lying, and I'd count 'logorrhea' high above dishonesty in a list of Gygax's flaws! Indeed, possibly first among them...).

    Occam's Razor: Gygax wrote that foreword to get you to buy the book, and as he wrote it, he probably meant what he was writing. If a PR person said that stuff you'd have dismissed it 20 years ago, not unjustifiably.

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  27. "I thought D&D clerics were steeped in Christian influences (e.g., use of holy water and holy symbols vs. undead and specifically vampires, etc.)."

    And actually, if you're talking LBBs, then it's "cross", not "holy symbol" (see Vol-1 Equipment, Vol-2 Vampires, etc.).

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  28. He was a salesman, whether or not he was cut out for that job (it involves a great deal of precise lying, and I'd count 'logorrhea' high above dishonesty in a list of Gygax's flaws! Indeed, possibly first among them...).

    Well, he was a salesman before he quit his day job, wasn't he?

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  29. Another point: Amongst myself and my AD&D compatriots, the standard divine abilities on p. 8 were considered enough for any deity to survive nigh any encounter with PCs.

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  30. I love DDG. I like it more than any other AD&D books outside of the PHB and the DMG.

    To me, DDG possesses a sense of wonder. Page after page of mythological beings (including the Cthulhu Mythos, and the Melnibonean, and Nehwon's, plus some monster deities) is even more interesting to me than the MM or the FF.

    I especially love the fact that the gods are given AD&D stats. If you can't kill a god, what's he for? ;)

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  31. Well, most of the Theosophical works I have not read myself, but Gary read a lot of work by H. P. Blavatsky.

    Probably the best quick on-line source regarding the Devas would be a more recent work which explains the concept of Devas in Theosophy. Just reading the few pages--it explains the Deva hierarchy--Solar, the Planetary, then "Nature" which also pretty much explains why Gary created three classes of Devas tied to specific planes. Since the author of that book read all the Theosophy works, this is a good synopsis of the concepts.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=aTrF1e9V20sC

    Google won't let you read the whole thing, so just be sure to read the first chapter.

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  32. Also try looking at Wikipedia and at Theosophy.org.

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  33. It opened my mind to the plethora of pantheons and gods that pre-internet adolescent otherwise was unlikely to encounter. It actually started an interest in foreign cultures and religions that I've pursued ever since.

    I never took the stats to mean you were suppose to fight the gods. (they were so overwelmhing high and powerful) But rather as the common shorthand description, A shorthand known to all gamers.

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  34. I remember my first brush with this very book, and although I was still naive enough to believe that I needed every single product to be a true DM, I was never a fan of Deities and Demigods.

    Maybe it's because my rival for DMing dominance was obsessed with it, or maybe it was just because I didn't like that Gods were being reduced to a level on par with the players.

    I'm not even sure I'm a fan of the likes of the Lords of the Nine Hells being given stats. It makes them into something less than Gods, and something players can just aspire to kill.

    An informative, entertaining book - but one I'd never use in one of my games.

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  35. I also dislike giving the gods statistics, it's just asking for trouble.

    In my own campaign, the gods are at war and constantly meddling with the affairs of men. My players have even met one and one of them converted to worship her. Woe betide any of my heroes from challenging one of the gods in Summit, though. That is when Hitpoints, Armour Class, Magic resistance and Saving throws cease to function. The gods of Summit will rip the soul from its fleshy container and imprison it forever as they see fit, or enact a punishment similar to what happened to Prometheus... for they are *not bound by the rules* as *mortals are*.

    I suspect that giving attributes to the gods comes from too much wargaming.

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  36. Speaking of wargaming: If you think the DDG is bad with its stats for the gods, check out Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming. ^_^

    Also, although my AD&D group never did any deity hunting, I’ve got an idea for a campaign playing on that cliché that I’ve been hoping to run someday. The great thing about this hobby is that you can take almost anything, turn it on its head, and use it. Even a “bad” RPG book can be a gold mine of inspiration.

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  37. Gary would also occasionally discuss this. He said one of JRRT's weaknesses with LoTR was the complete absence of anything spiritual in the work. It was an interesting discussion.

    Yes, I recall Gary's having said similar things in various forums and it was such statements that, combined with others he'd made about LotR, that clinched for me the sense that he never really understood Tolkien or Middle-earth.

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  38. I know Gygax did not want to explore real world religions outside of inspiration of historical clergy. He had demons but not angels.

    That's a point he frequently made, as I recall. He felt it inappropriate to draw too heavily on (most) real world religions, which is why, for example, the archdevils and demon princes largely use obscure Goetic names rather than ones more strongly associated with actual religions.

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  39. I'm not one who believe UA = "Bad Gygax" or "The End of the Golden Age", as I tend to like the writer better than a fixed point in time.

    Nothing wrong with that. It's a minority opinion in old school circles these days, but it's not an indefensible one, even if I don't share it myself.

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  40. These days I'm seeing a lot of parallels in the career arcs of Gygax and, say, George Lucas. Although to me Gygax rehabilitated a lot in the late era and there's precious little sign of that from Lucas.

    I hesitate to say it, but I suspect that Gary's having lost control of his own creation probably had a lot to do with this, whereas Lucas has, if anything, only become even more iron fisted in his control.

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  41. [i]These days I'm seeing a lot of parallels in the career arcs of Gygax and, say, George Lucas. Although to me Gygax rehabilitated a lot in the late era and there's precious little sign of that from Lucas.

    I hesitate to say it, but I suspect that Gary's having lost control of his own creation probably had a lot to do with this, whereas Lucas has, if anything, only become even more iron fisted in his control.
    [/i]

    Once again another set of interesting reflections by all. But, it was this last comment that made me think.

    The more control one exerts over the product the less power/authority one actually has to change perceptions of the product. Hence, Lucas even though is more in control is reviled more. Also, because D&D is an exercise in collective storytelling it cannot be devolved to a single author - even if that author is a corporation (I use corporation in a much older meaning) - LucasFilm Inc.

    Back to the post, I remember having mixed feelings about Deities & Demigods. I remember thinking: "So that is going to happen to Magic User when he passes Lv 25..." Also, the Gods represented the ultimate Boss, as you noted, when you said it was simply another (rend)ition of the Monster Manual. However, I don't think many of us playing D&D would have accepted the statless gods, like we would today. It was important for the Gods of the gaming milieu to appear all powerful but flawed, so that players are merely not reduced to pawns in their affairs but feel that they can make a difference in the world.

    Deities & Demigods also I think was an attempt to break out the Christian mould that Dungeons & Dragons was rapidly beginning to fall into. If you look at some of the art of the period, shields bear crosses and clerics (even the evil ones) wear vestments akin the Catholic (or similar High Church) Church. Yes, Gary probably had his own mythology but many gamers of the 1970s were readily co-opting the religion around them and incorporating that into their games and at that time the dominate religion was Christianity (remember how many fanboy and official articles there were for stat'ing Satan there were). So, I could see Gary foreseeing the problems with that and forcibly introducing polytheism into the D&D mix.

    It is not that Pulp Fantasy had not been polytheistic but that literature was largely inaccessible to the average young gamer. I don't know how it was in Baltimore but here in Toronto there were only a few places where you could obtain fantasy/pulp literature...the mainstream stores a la WH Smith had very small fantasy/science fiction sections...used bookstores were not much better...save those on the Strip (the seedy areas of Yonge St.); the World's Biggest Bookstore wasn't built yet and Barraka was inaccessible. So, what Gary was probably doing was carving out a path, where those evil gods could be defined and therefore ultimately defeated. For once our heroes have dealt with ever growing powerful minions it would be time sooner or later to take on the Big Boss.

    Also, Gary probably wanted to introduce some elements of his own Greyhawk game which was quite diverse like the old Star Trek series...whereby adventures could meet Apollo, fight along side with Hercules/Grey Mouser to defeat Ra. Such fantastical adventures were the bread and butter of many an early D&D game before they got codified into a mythology of their own.

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  42. @Referee

    Wow. Great post. I think I buy that. What did I know about Lovecraft, Leiber, Moorcock, and pulp fiction beyond, of Howard, and the swamp of related books before I saw D&D? Zilch, I'd say. Afterward they were so canonical to my reading that I took it for granted that they'd always been in my awareness. Then, on Sundays, when the flea market came to Trafalgar Village in Oakville, I could identify City Of The Beast by Moorcock as something I'd probably like at the second hand book stall.

    "You know what, you've convinced me. Give me my dollar back."

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  43. I've always enjoyed D&DG for the background on various interesting mythologies and the sometimes utterly fantastic art, rather than the game stats therein.

    I mean, Erol Otus' art for some of the cthulhu mythos was inspired!

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  44. I derived immense enjoyment from DDG back in the day. I had the original version, with all the naughty bits (HPL, Leiber, etc.).

    As a DM, it was a useful tool for the clerics and for plot hinges.

    As a resource for the world's religions, it was terrific, too. Seeing as I jumped into D&D in the 3rd grade in the early 1980s, I found DDG and EGG not talking down to me and assuming I was not a fool to be refreshing. Also, I had few other resources for old religions. I read every book on Norse & Greek myths in the school library, but they had nothing on all these other religions found in DDG.

    Oh, EGG was likely a bit over the top in writing that DDG was essential to DM, but it surely did add flavor & depth.


    Another thing: I just don't get is the cleric angst. If one is suspending belief for hermetic magic, one more step to divine magic ought not be that difficult. Every human culture I can recall has had a divine order of some sort. To leave such out of a world is to design a crippled world.

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  45. I never found a use for the dieties & demogods. The whole thing was poorly presented. Why do Gods need stats? The book should have focused around the cults and religions and temples and not so much on the Gods themselves. Then it would have been useful, instead it was like a giant research paper with stats suggesting that if you played long enough you could fight demi-gods.

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