Sunday, May 26, 2019

Um, Effort? Anyone?

Working on demons and demonology the last couple days, being commissioned by a reader to do so, I can't help notice the illogic of much detail that's been written by module-makers and their ilk.  I'm not an alignment-guy, but even I know there's a benefit to following principles that recognize good vs. evil, or law vs. chaos.

The Abyss is clearly defined as chaotic and evil.  And yet, I am reading everywhere about the queen of this or the duke of this group of demons or of such-and-such realm.  The Forgotten Realms Wiki describes the marilith as follows:
"Maraliths were the tacticians of Abyssal hordes and queens of the Abyssal realms. They served as the generals and advisors to the demon lords of the Abyss.  They sought strategies that brought the most destruction in whatever realm they were in."

All the pics I found for mariliths were poor.  This one
is so overused it's painful.  A less cartoonish, expressive
image is dearly needed.
Excuse me?  Tacticians?  Generals?  Strategies?  Hey, dummies, what do you think the word "chaos" means?

I've always seen the Abyss as a mess of layers where the denizens are at the mercy of incredibly powerful loner serial killer types, who don't work together, don't make plans, don't have purposes, seeing existence as the pure hedonistic pursuit of physical and immediate emotional gratification.  They don't form "armies."  Hey, buddy.  This is the abyss.  We don't follow "orders."  We don't even want to give orders.  Chill out, take a pill, slaughter a few fresh souls and get off my fucking cloud, man.

The Abyss has enough room for that.  It has enough room for everyone.  Ain't no resources and no land we gots to fight for.

It would be one thing if the various morons in charge of the "official" worldbuilding program had real insight about how a grand big picture of modules should work.  Instead, it's just the same concept repeated over and over by half-baked derivative slack-asses without real creativity stretched across every kind of monster.  If devils form armies, then obviously demons should too, and why not everything else in the universe?  Call it Rule 69.  Eventually the fan service of every game concept mirrors every other concept.

That this doesn't make any sense in the universe that's published and re-published ad nauseum as dogma plainly doesn't matter.

It is disconcerting that after 40+ years, there is so painfully little that's been expanded on the nature of so many creatures and concepts that are instantly recognizable to many of us.  Sometimes, what we do have is plainly ridiculous.  Quote, "Mariliths stood around 9 feet tall and measured 20 feet from head to tip of tail. They weighed 4,000 pounds."

Huh?  A Kodiak bear stands between 8 and 10 feet tall and weighs between 600 and 1400 lbs.  This is four times that average, for a creature that has a woman's volumptuous body and a thin, snake-like body.  Is it made of basalt?

I said "morons" and I meant morons.

40+ years and we get 29 words about their personalities, and these don't even make sense as they basically describe character aspects that are diametrically opposed to chaos.  All in all, it's enormously frustrating.

I've written a bunch of posts lately about the importance of having rules, but this is a special problem that pervades throughout the game universe.  If we go looking for dense, meaningful content, it just isn't there.  We're given the same statistics, with half-notes that improve nothing, with the expectation that we're going to use these ideas for combat and for nothing else.  And then we're told by a whole other group of twits that the game "shouldn't be about combat," or that combat bores people, or whatever.

What a bunch of shiftless jerks.


Dicebro said...

What do you expect? Participation in today’s d&d/pathfinder “community” is about paying for someone else, probably a freelancer cheaply purchased by a bunch of corporate group thinkers, to do your imagining for you. I gave up on the contemporay garbage and went back to the 1974 white box.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Which solves what, exactly? Your answer to the lack of improvement is to pretend that it is 1975?


J'ohn said...

Ever since OD&D there's been a pecking order among demons (type I-VI) and demon lords, even before devils were introduced. AD&D introduced even more demon lords and different domains for each one. So if there's irony in the concept of demonic hierarchy, it's one going back to the roots of the game. Which of course doesn't mean that it's sacrosanct, but at least it's not a recent fad.

Two points come to mind that might help with your research, although I'm pretty sure you must have stumbled upon them already.

First, the Blood War between devils and demons. Regardless of the initial cause (ideology, or Asmodeus' machinations, or some other reason) there are devil armies invading the Abyss. In the interest of self-preservation, it may make sense for organized demon fighting forces to arise in defense and retaliation.

Second, in the Great Wheel cosmology, there are evil planes more chaotic than the Abyss (namely one, Pandemonium). If the Abyss is not the most chaotic lower plane, it might allow for *some* organized behavior to arise in the mindset of its denizens.

I'm not sure if all this holds water, to be honest. Very interested too see how your work will turn out.

Dicebro said...

No, I don’t pretend it’s 1975. I pretend that there is a world of monsters and magic using a set of rules published in 1974. It doesn’t cost much and I don’t fall into the trap of agonizing over a bloated set of rules. Eureka!

JB said...

I realize it solves little to write this, but I feel compelled to anyway: you have to ignore most everything "official" that has been written since (circa) 1985 or so. That includes all official (and unofficial) Forgotten Realms crap, the excising of demons from 2nd edition, and their subsequent reintroduction as "tamari'ri." Trying to use it...or take it just a fool's errand, man. It's a joke.

For all his failings, Gygax appears to have been attempting to create consistent content. Regardless of how one might judge his success in the matter, the fact that he was the main writer gave him (at least) the opportunity for greater consistency in this endeavor. The hodge-podge of authors that came after, charged with using the same IP, and yet being shackled in various ways (by the company line, the marketing needs, the reactions to public outcry, whatever) were often, so it seems, just throwing shit against a wall to see what might stick. When something met with success (like a novel) the company more often-than-not reacted in a way to take advantage of that success, attempting to replicate it. It's a tactic that the current company continues to emulate (see the "Stranger Things" boxed edition of D&D currently sold in retail stores).

All the best content for the game was published in its first 10 years...that's CONTENT, not production value or writing quality or anything we might judge as "professional polish." And a lot of that was still a mess...BUT it was an attempt to model certain things in a consistent fashion, drawing from original(-ish) sources. Most of everything SINCE has been ways to re-skin, recycle, and re-use that early content...and mostly for financial purposes. How else can you explain Tomb of Horrors being republished as Realms of Horror (1987), Return to the Tomb of Horrors (1998), Tomb of Horrors (2005), Tomb of Horrors (2010), Return to the Tomb of Horrors (2010), Dungeons of Dread (2013), Tales from the Yawning Portal (2017), and Tomb of Annihilation (2018)? It's all the same Goddamn thing: an attempt to make a buck off something credible from decades ago.

You can't lend any credence to that.

Take the original stuff and update it as works best for your game...but O Boy don't be looking at anything from the last 30+ years as a means of "filling in the blanks." If there'd been any serious work done, well, we wouldn't need a Tao of D&D, would we? Seriously, though: fuck that shit.

[you won't even find an old Dragon Magazine article on the Abyss before 2007; of course it's nothing but a swirling storm of raw Chaos and Evil! What more needs to be said?!]

JB said...

Re: The Blood War

I have a very low opinion of this concept first introduced in 1991 (2E era). Here's the brief:

It became yet another reason to sell books for a company (TSR) that was hemorrhaging money at the time, culminating with Hellbound: The Blood War (published 1996...a year before WotC purchased TSR).

Dicebro said...

In response to J’ohn: There is also the problem of alignment. In the 1974 set, “alignments” were left for the game judge to design. As for demons and pecking orders. I’m not sure that demons were classified into an established order. Rather, demons seem to be gathered into various types and stamped with an identifying Roman numeral. Also, Wasn’t there a random table that provided a tool for creating demons in the first edition of advanced d&d?


Hi Alexis, I really appreciated this post and I really have been inspired by your words. Can I ask to you if you would like to receive an artwork I did thinking about it (it is a Marilith did while keeping in mind your words)?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Sure, I'll look.

Alexis Smolensk said...

It's the waste that bothers me, JB. The enormous waste.

Ozymandias said...

Oh boy, do I want to rant about the Blood War . . . but I feel it would be slightly off topic.

Suffice to say, I think we can look at that material as a prime example of how the publisher had their head up their ass re: demons and devils (specifically), and most other content (generally).

"Look, not like our customers are overly concerned with accuracy or consistency. It's a fantasy game, they'll buy anything with some good artwork!"

Agravain said...

"Huh? A Kodiak bear stands between 8 and 10 feet tall and weighs between 600 and 1400 lbs. This is four times that average, for a creature that has a woman's volumptuous body and a thin, snake-like body. Is it made of basalt?"

Oh. This. I did some research on weight because I use a system that relies on it for many combat abilities (be it stunning, pushing, tripping, etc.) and I'm always amazed at how wildly inaccurate the weight of everything is in the official books.

Mujadaddy said...

"Is it made of basalt?"

Well, why not? Your Balrogs seemed to made of solidifying lava.

Also, whatchu got on my psionic modes? As awful and fiddly as psionics were, they really beefed up demons'n'devils as threats.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I discarded psionics 34 years ago.

If you want your marilith made of basalt, no problem. But you might mention that in the description of the creature, rather than just giving its weight.

Lance Duncan said...

This pattern of recycled garbage infects every aspect of 5e. People get confused when I complain about the core rules including 'banded mail' or 'studded leather' It's like putting the word mail after something magically makes it armor! And then the pictures of armor and weapons are just wildly innacurate, like maybe the artist doesn't know what they're supposed to be illustrating. It's been 40 years, you'd think the designers would deign to look at some of the research into arms and armor that has been conducted since 1974.

The designers of 5e clearly didn't care about making a better game;they just recycled pieces from every other game to see what combination would make the most money. And it seems to have worked.