Tuesday 15 March 2022

D&DG Worshippers 4: Central Americans

Xochipilli (Lombard Museum)

Central American Worshippers

For the first time we come to a pantheon in D&DG in which every PHB class is represented amongst the gods. The idea of a paladin of Quetzalcoatl in authentic Aztec dress and arms certainly appeals, but it does bring up yet another problem with the book's coverage of "pagan" religion - aspects, or the lack thereof.

Quetzalcoatl is listed as lawful neutral, so why would any paladin hold him in high regard, let alone Camaxtli, the neutral god of fire. And as for Chalchiuhtkicue - she's chaotic, for Set's sake!

Many polytheistic deities represent or control an aspect of the world which has the potential for a wide range of effects on the human world. Loki and fire is the classic example, but Chalchiuhtkicue's element of water is another. Even more abstract ideas can have variable levels of desirability depending on how they are applied: law, passion, invention, love etc. can all be positive or negative depending on the degree or the type. Because of this, deities often has aspects which represented these facets of their sphere of control and different forms for each aspect.

In the UK I think we generally associate this with the Hindu pantheon, if we associate it with anything, but it manifests all over the place. If you go to Nashville, Tennessee and look at the statue of Athena you will see a giant snake beside her on the dais. That snake is none other than Athena's father, the great god Zeus from whom we get the words "Deus" and "Deity" itself, in his chthonic (underworld) form*.

*Edit: I may be misremembering this (see comments) but Zeus Ktesios was a widely worshipped form of Zeus as a snake protecting a family or household, which is what I thought he was representing on the Parthenon.

Encounter Cleric Druid Fighter Ranger Paladin Magic-user Illusionist Thief Assassin Monk Bard
Quetzalcoatl 1-13 1-17     1-29 1-10 1-17 1-63     1-29
Camaxtli 14-23       30-46 11-19          
Camazotz 24-30   1-20     20-30 18-34   1-17    
Chalchiuhtkicue 31-40       47-64 31-40         30-51
Huhueteotl 41-48 18-30 21-40     41-47 35-47   18-33 1-31  
Huitzilopochtli 49-54 31-47   1-57   48-52 48-53   34-50 32-63  
Itzamna 55-65       65-83 53-59          
Mictlantecuhtli 66-72 48-66   58-100   60-68 54-69   51-67    
Tezcatlipoca 73-77   41-80     69-76     68-83   52-60
Tlaloc 78-87   81-100     77-86          
Tlazolteotl 88-94 67-84       87-94 70-90   84-100   61-82
Xochipilli 95-100 85-100     84-100 95-100 91-100 64-100   64-100 83-100

So, if we say that a paladin follows or venerates a deity who is not lawful good we need to ask - is there an aspect of this god which fits. In the case of Quetzalcoatl it's a pretty small step from a god of "law giving" to an aspect which uses the law to help the weak. Water, likewise, can be harnessed for such socially positive things as irrigation, turning water-wheels, or even fishing. Xochipilli is a bit more of a challenge as the god of gambling (in D&DG; in real life that was his brother Macuilxóchitl, apparently).

Well, gambling is generally part of a game and games have rules (even "I bet that snail crosses the path faster than that snail" generally includes rules like "you can't pick your snail up and just throw it across the path"), so that's lawful. The Good part is a bit trickier but perhaps we can imagine a paladin of a god which encourages us to enjoy life and be more flexible in the face of changing fortunes. An up-beat paladin would be quite a change, wouldn't?

Anyhow, aspects were a common part of polytheistic religions (and, if you scrape the surface, you can find traces in most monotheistic ones), and are glossed over in D&DG. RuneQuest generally didn't do a great job here, although some of Stafford's writing did include them. But mostly they are an uncharacteristic weakness in RQ's religiousity. Petal Throne, especially with Bob Alberti's wonderful Mitlanyal guide to the gods of Tekumel, did do it a bit better.

Friday 4 March 2022

D&DG Worshippers 3: Celts

Celtic Worshippers

This week we have the Celtic pantheon from D&DG and, like the Babylonian one, there is a distinct lack of thieves in the results (and paladins, but you  have to get used to that). There are a couple of assassins and of course lots of options for bards, both of which could subsume thievery functions.

Encounter Cleric Druid Fighter Ranger Magic-user Illusionist Thief Assassin Monk Bard
Arawn 1-16 1-9   1-30 1-15         1-9
Brigit   10-18 1-8   16-42         10-19
Dagda 17-27 19-27 9-20   43-54 1-24       20-31
Diancecht 28-47 28-36 21-30   55-63         32-37
Dunatis 48-58   31-42             38-48
Goibhnie   37-45 43-54             49-57
Lugh   46-65 55-67             58-68
Manannan Mac Lir 59-78   68-78              
Math   66-68 79-81   64-86 25-40        
Morrigan   69-75   31-65       1-56   69-74
Nuada   76-81   66-100       57-100   75-80
Ogham 79-89 82-91 82-91   87-100 41-69       81-91
Silvanus 90-100 92-100 92-100     70-100       92-100

However, the solution I used with the Babylonians of going with a general alignment table doesn't work as most of the deities are neutral and for "worshippers' alignment" they generally have something of the style "all beings interested in <deity's sphere of control>". So Brigit is worshipped by "Beings worshipping fire and poetry", for example. Once could almost say that the Celtic deities are rather catholic in their acceptance :)

Anyway, there's no easy conversion to alignment for quickly generating NPCs.

As an alternative, I thought I'd look at the probabilities from Zac's original method and here is what we get:

Encounter Cleric
Dagda 1-40
Arawn 41-45
Brigit 46-50
Diancecht 51-55
Dunatis 56-60
Goibhnie 61-65
Lugh 66-71
Manannan Mac Lir 72-77
Math 78
Morrigan 79-84
Nuada 85-90
Ogham 91-95
Silvanus 96-100

Just liked the image, TBH

Although I was initially enthusiastic about the system Zac presented - who would turn down the chance to get something useful from Deities and Demigods, after all? - his approach did not in fact give much nuance. The head of the pantheon gets a base 40% of results and all the rest are weighted according to their hit points. Hit points are taken as a proxy for the amount of worship the deity enjoys which, ignoring the issue of it being a dubious theological concept, seems reasonable for game purposes.

The problem is that most pantheons don't have that much of a range, with 2:1 between top and bottom being rare.

Part of the problem is that D&DG doesn't contain that much information on each pantheon. The Greek pantheon has 19 deities listed out of hundreds - the Norse one is a similarly small selection. Another part is that the cap of 400hp isn't that much higher than the top levels for PCs and dipping much below 200hp makes a deity vulnerable to a high-level party which could possibly muster more hp between them. So the design is constrained and consequently there's not really room for obscure deities with small cults.

But, still, the idea of getting some value out of D&DG is very appealing. It is, after all, nearly a dead loss. The research is patchy, for a start, and it has basically no grasp or representation of religion at all. Compared to Cults of Prax for RuneQuest it's something of a joke in roleplaying terms.

Even today, most people who play D&D have relatively little grasp of polytheism (apologies to Hindu and Japanese readers) and D&DG doesn't really illuminate the subject much. It certainly doesn't get into the differences between types of polytheism.

"The DM must also make sure that the cleric is aware of his or her place in the community and the church hierarchy." (D&DG p9).

The church what, now?

Greek worship seems to have had no such thing. Each city seems to have had a particular favourite deity, and almost everyone agreed that Zeus was usually in charge of everyone, but there was no "church" in which to have a place. Individual clerics would "work" - usually part-time, often voluntarily - at a temple or shrine and the more important the temple the more important the post was, politically. But the priests worshipping the same deity in a temple three miles up the road had no need to obey or even much care about any statements made by the high priest of a city even as regards the proper worship of the god in question. And since every city was fiercely independent, there was even less power for the would-be church leader once s/he got to the neighbouring city limits.

The Sumerian experience seems to have been very similar, and even in Egypt there was real power vested in the priests near to the throne, but that power was not especially doctrinal in form and had no reach up- or down-stream unless the current pharaoh put his or (occasionally) her weight behind it.

With the Celts, and many others, the picture is very similar but with "tribe" swapped in for "city". Indeed, this tribal favouritism for one god is probably the seed from which city cults grew.

Old Time Religion
With no church to issue edicts, personal worship was very much an individual's choice. Relatively little writing has survived which expresses the feelings of normal people, or even members of the elite classes. But what does survive is often reminiscent, I find, of the sort of stuff one might find on a Reddit forum devoted to a boy-band. Passionate, but often rather arbitrary. Outside of special occasions like childbirth or illness, people generally worshipped the deities that they just liked.

Things do often change, however, as states become more intrusive (read: more militaristic) and we start to see State Religions.

To my eye, D&DG was written with Empire of the Petal Throne in mind. The strict hierarchies, nation-wide temples, and relatively small numbers of adventuring clerics who are semi-detached from the main clerical body fits with EPT's half-way house between the Christian Churches which clearly underpinned the original game, and the reality of most polytheistic "religions". Individuals, especially clerics, are expected to follow a specific deity through most of their lives - in EPT this is generally a Clan thing, or sometimes an occupational requirement.

What's odd about the D&D version of this is that it throws out the main functions of the Church: the determination of what is appropriate behaviour for the deity and punishments for transgressing the rules (unwritten or otherwise). In the Church's place the deity itself makes these calls, and tells the clerics either via dreams, messengers, or literally to their face.

In AD&D there are no doctrinal disagreements - a cleric who is transgressive has no spells and if they're high enough level to cast 6th or 7th level spells they will be told by GOD that they are wrong!

So we have this weird mix of an assumed Church within the cleric must "be aware of their place", and at the same time no temporal authority for any officials in that Church especially if they are not spellcasters.

D&DG tells us that 'Cleric "adventurers"...rarely have any important place in their religion's hierarchy'. This only makes sense if all the important clerics are spellcasters, otherwise we get scenarios like this:

Pope (0-level political genius): It is wrong to eat fish on the first Tuesday of the month.
Fred Bangashagga (cleric, 5th level): Actually, an angel told me that's not true. It came up when I was asking for create food and water.
Pope: Arse.

Now, it's possible to invent reasons for deities to subvert some of these observations, but the deity in question would need to be really into secrets and concealment (and of course there are always mystery cults in any pantheon) but even that is a level of sophistication which one will not find in D&DG.

So, really, all D&DG is, is a list of gods divided into cultures and with a bunch of very variable quality notes attached. The reference chart is at once very handy and at the same time complete baloney in terms of accurate historical observations.

But. It is lovely. 

It has that great Erol Ottis cover, lots of good illustrations inside, and lots of numbers which gamers usually like to see. I'm talking nostalgia here: the desire to see something the way you saw it when you were younger. And when I was younger I thought D&DG would be really great and really useful.

Which brings us back to the current series of posts as an attempt to at least get a bunch of tables that answer some useful question about the game world. Specifically, the question "this bloke the players have just walked up to in the street - what deity does he worship?"

It's not much but it's about the most a 57 year-old can get out of a book that his 15 year-old-self really loved.