Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy All Saints Day!

And thank God it's the end of Daylight Savings Time...finally the rest of the State is back to MY biological clock. I was able to sleep in an hour and still get coffees and get home before the Seahawks game started.

Also, it means the beagles woke me an hour later than normal this morning...which is nice since we were out fairly late last night.

Back to normal, says I, and once again my thoughts are turning back to Dungeons & Dragons. For as many, many years November has always signalled a craving for D&D in my soul. Perhaps part of this is that my first RPG, Tom Moldvay's Basic Set, was gifted to me for 8th birthday many years ago (November 13th, 1981). Another part of this might be the amount of vacation time afforded to school kids in November...with Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving (two days!) there was a lot of looong weekends for game playing.

A third part has to do with the briskness of the weather which made outdoor play and chores a fading memory every November. And finally, November always brought a family trip to Montana and an opportunity to shop to my favorite used bookstore, inevitably finding something for the Dungeons and Dragons RPG.

Heh...I was at Half-Priced Books yesterday and actually found a copy of the adventure module A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity. A very rare find (besides the Internet), I was tempted to buy it...except that it wasn't half-price (in fact they were charging $15). I still might have picked it up except that I have owned it in the past and I KNOW that somewhere in my mother's house it is still lurking, crammed into some dusty book shelf or box of comics. I passed.

Reading the blogs this morning, I've become interested in the recent conversations on religion floating in a particular corner of the blog-o-verse. I won't bother re-posting my (rather long) comments, but it's got me thinking about clerics again...and alignments and mono-theism.

Now keep in mind that I play B/X D&D these days...originally (in OD&D and B/X) the cleric class was only available to humans. It could almost be considered an advantage human societies had over the demi-humans of D&D-land...they have the ability to commune with God and perform miracles and no one else does. Talk about manifest destiny!

But the original D&D had a dualistic cosmology. There were Lawful clerics (that had "good" spells: curing, resurrecting, etc.) and Chaotic clerics (that had access to "evil," reversed spells). Neutral clerics (at least in B/X) were required to choose whether their deity granted normal spells or reversed spells, not both.

[yes, in B/X clerics ARE still able to use their opposite number...reversed spells for Lawful clerics, healing spells for Chaotic clerics...but ONLY in extreme circumstances]

In essence, choosing Lawful or Chaotic as your alignment determined whether you followed the Lords of Light or the Minions of Darkness...or to put it in Catholic terms, Yahweh or Satan. Being Neutral meant you still had to choose one of these powers (the Light or the Dark), but the alignment would simply seem to indicate the character was less than totally committed to the side (and interestingly, in OD&D, Neutral clerics were admonished for such fence-sitting and not allowed to advance beyond a certain level).

But somewhere between OD&D and AD&D this dualistic cosmology got lost and the game became polytheistic. The assumed game world was anything BUT Christian as supplements (starting with Supplement IV) provided numerous pantheons of divine hierarchies. I can think of several reasons for the idea:

- historical or "sword & sorcery" fiction often featured different pantheons of gods than the medieval Christian. What if someone wanted to play a Teutonic priest of Thor?
- not every player of the game was interested in a Christian duality that the basic game implied
- from a "story" point of view "rival gods" provide great causation for campaign world conflict

But ya' know, historically speaking I seem to recall that in most polytheistic religions all Gods were generally worshipped equally (at least in their own sphere of influence). I don't know...I'm not much of a historian, really. But the ancient Greeks (as one example) might have a patron god of their city-state (like Athena and the Athenians), but certainly wouldn't snub Poseidon when going to sea or Ares when going to war...or Hades when someone died.

Actually, I suppose that the tales of Greek mythology ARE a good example of conflict between certain rival gods...especially when one thinks of the Iliad. But even so, attributing human Alignments to the gods isn't especially helpful...the gods are what they are and they are concerned with their own affairs (a city they patronize, a sphere of interest), and while they may not always be fair or "just" they aren't necessarily evil.

There are definitely many different ways to run one's D&D campaign...probably a reason for the game's enduring popularity...but I can't help but think a return to the old dualistic philosophy (especially with regard to B/X play) isn't a bad little way to go. It sure makes things simpler, cosmology-wise. And I believe it allows for more "shades of grey" within the game world's societies than might occur with a more numerous pantheon of scheming, competing deities.

More on this shortly.


  1. But how does The Toad feel about this?

  2. I was going to mention the Toad, as a matter o fact, but I thought my post was getting too long and "rambly" as it was.
    : )