Friday, September 3, 2021

Random Roll: DDG, p. 11

In a change of pace, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a section from AD&D's Deities & Deimgods. On page 11 of that book, there's a section entitled "Divine Ascension," which I recall attracted a lot of attention among players I knew in my youth. 

As study of the various mythologies will show, it is remotely possible for mortals to ascend into the ranks of the divine. However, there are certain requirements that must be fulfilled before such a thing could happen.

While I suppose it's possible that the players interested in seeing their characters ascend to godhood did so in imitation of Greco-Roman style apotheosis, I suspect the vast majority of them did so for far less historically-grounded reasons.

First, the character in question must have advanced to an experience level that is significantly above and beyond the average level of adventure-type characters in the general campaign. (This includes all such non-player types as military leaders, royal magic-users, etc.) For example, if the average level of characters in a campaign, both player and non-player, is around 5th level, then a candidate for ascension should be something like 9th or 10th level. If the average level is something like 15th level, then a character would have to be in the realm of 25th–30th level!

Given the overall premise – divine ascension – this seems reasonable. The fact that it specifies level ranges is surprisingly practical. That those levels are scaled to the average level of the campaign is fascinating.

Second, his or her ability scores must have been raised through some world-shaking magic to be on par with the lesser demigods. (Should such an act be lightly considered, remember that a wish spell is the most powerful magic that mankind can control, and such an average increase in abilities would literally take the power of dozens of wishes! Each use of that spell weakens the caster and ages him 3 years into the bargain, so they are not easy to come by.)  

A quick perusal of the demigods described in the DDG suggests that even the "lesser" ones have multiple – if not all – ability scores above 18, usually in the 20–22 range  Given that, this second requirement is particularly onerous and, in any reasonably run AD&D campaign, probably completely out of reach of most player characters. 

Third, the personage must have a body of sincere worshipers, people convinced of his or her divinity die to their witnessing of and/or belief in the mighty deeds and miracles which he or she has performed (and continues to perform). These must be genuine worshipers, honest in their adoration or propitiation of the person.

Again, this seems reasonable, though, in a world in which magic is, if not commonplace, a well-established and widely known thing, what constitutes a "miracle?" "Mighty deeds" are probably easier to quantify, though these too are probably defined in a relative fashion. 

Fourth, the person in question must be and have been a faithful and true follower of his or her alignment and patron deity. It is certain that any deviation will have been noted by the divine powers.

The most notable thing about this last requirement is the implication that being "a faithful and true follower" of one's alignment is not the same thing as being such of one's patron deity. The relationship between alignment, the Outer Planes, and the gods in AD&D is a vast topic with no clear answers, so I won't delve into it here. However, I do want to draw attention to it, since I think there are some rich possibilities to mine.

If all of the above conditions have been met, and the character has fulfilled a sufficient number of divine quests, then the character's deity may choose to invest the person with a certain amount of divine power, and bring the character into the ranks of the god's celestial (or infernal) servants.

"Divine quests?" Are these the same as the mighty deeds and miracles mentioned earlier or something else entirely? I assume the latter, though the text is not clear.

This process of ascension usually involves a great glowing beam of light and celestial fanfare, or (in the case of transmigrating to the lower planes), a blotting of the sun, thunder and lightning, and the disappearance of the character in a great smoky explosion.

Perhaps it's just me, but I find the description of ascension rather tacky.

Characters thus taken into the realms of the gods will serve their patron as minor functionaries and messengers. After several centuries of superior service and gradual advancement, exceptional servants may be awarded the status of demigod, which includes have an earthly priesthood and the ability to grant spells (up to 5th level) to the demigod's clerics. 

The bit about demigods being able to grant spells of up to 5th level is an interesting expansion/clarification of a section in the Dungeon Masters Guide that talks about the acquisition of clerical spells.

Naturally, ascension to divinity effectively removes the character from the general campaign, as the person will become a non-player member of the DM's pantheon.  

I think this final sentence pretty well sums up the general tenor of this section: yes, it's possible for a character to ascend to godhood, but it's really hard to do and, in the end, your character becomes an NPC who might, in a few centuries be recognized by mortals for his divinity. In short: why bother?  


  1. The process of ascension sounds like an appropriate spectacle to me, but spending hundreds of years as Marduk's unpaid intern is truly lame.

  2. Personally, regarding "why bother," I always thought of divine ascension as the ultimate D&D End Game. Sure, you built a castle, and a kingdom around the castle, and you cleared out all the monsters, and "retirement" after that is to rot in your big, blinged-out tomb (with treasures and traps and all)... but how much more awesome is it to become a GOD? Why settle for a gold watch when you can go for the Lamborghini?

    Never happened in any of my games, as a player or DM, but it was always in the back of my mind...

  3. That is a very interesting review and commentary of that section of Deities & Demigods. I think your final paragraph is spot on - when power level gets to a certain point, isn't it more fun to retire the character and start anew with a different angle? I think the joys of having such a powerful character are pretty juvenile, but I am interested in hearing a different perspective.

    1. Shouldn't godlike power automatically lead to a "different angle" to the campaign anyway? You shouldn't still be dealing with the same kinds of issues mere mortals do at that stage, any more than you'd expect to be fighting rats in the local inn's cellar at 10th level. Multiplanar politics, finding a place in a pantheon or founding your own, exploring the limits of the multiverse where even gods fear to tread - that's the kind of thing that's open to you. Squatting on the Prime Material playing at being the big fish in a small pond would be juvenile indeed, but there's other things to do.

      Retiring to start back at 1st level (even in a new class) doesn't strike me as inherently more interesting than exploring what a demigod can (and can't) do.

  4. Stuff like this makes me wonder how many wishes Gary used to give out in his campaign if he had to put so many conditions on them.

  5. In other words: if you really want to play this, here's how to make it unfun. Glad game design (including OSR game design) has moved past this punitive approach. I am all for failure, but not for boredom. Divine ascension rules/ guidelines where 99% of the time you fail miserably but have fun in the process are good game design, designing for boredom is not. Compare with how the quest for power is designed in Stormbringer: you will fail miserably and die randomly, but you will have fun in the process

  6. Don’t forget this was all spelled out in explicit detail in fhe Basic/Expert/Companion/Master sets and the final rules which let you play divine PCs! All I can say is, as an elementary school kid I loved it, and I suspect there were enough elementary school (age or mentality) players to make the books viable 😂

  7. I do find it weird that to ascend to godhood here, you must be a faithful follower of the existing gods — something which many of the kind of powergamers who wanted to play gods probably had very little interest in, and found workarounds for ASAP. Tho of course having Zeus himself say “you are my chosen successor” is an extra level of self-congratulatory power fantasy 😂

    1. It's readily apparent these days that you can take other approaches to apotheosis than suggested here. AD&D rather foolishly gave the gods combat stats, and D&D fiction has more than a few examples of achieving godhood by killing the deity whose portfolio you're taking over. More than just D&D too - the God of War games are a decent roadmap for how one might run a god-slaying campaign that leaves your players as their replacements. That sort of thing would very definitely cater to power gaming fantasies, don't you think?

  8. Just play some Exemplars & Eidolons. No immortality for PCs, but it's a helluva fun and well designed OSR game!

  9. I just wanted to jump in, and crankily complain that the whole idea of raising stats using multiple wishes is the dumbest rethack I have ever seen for a poorly designed game. Wish was a stupid spell, worse than resurrection, and should have been removed from the start.

    Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

  10. Is there anything in the 0e or 1e archaeology that people have dug up where this process actually happened?

  11. Yeah, that sort of advice was definitely part of the AD&D Buzzkill era (big chance of pace later with the D&D line). At exact same time that Deities & Demigods came out, The Fantasy Trip: In the Labyrinth also offered some similar limiting advice on forms of apotheosis in Cidri.

    Back in the early 90s I had some fun running a game where the entire objective was to rapidly level up to godhood thanks to certain birthrights to replace a vanished pantheon before the world broke up. Offered it TSR (I'd just done some 2nd edition stuff for them at the time) but no go...

    I wonder how much of AD&D philosophy was seriously warped by TSR's heavy concentration on tournament-play promotion during the 1975-1980 era. Early tournament play required rigid rules, concentration on quantifiable wargaming-style goals, and large parties with callers in order to win. Of course, it also gave us some great classic adventures (the S series, etc.).

  12. Back then, the players I knew or heard of who had their PC ascend to godhood used the usual M.O. of ranking level up to 30+ then kicking Thor's butt to steal his hammer and take his place.