Sunday, October 21, 2012

Deities And Demigods Is Totally A Book You Should Be Using Because This

So...Deities and Demigods. Published in 1980 by TSR. Chock full of (and I quote experts here)  mindbending psychedelic blasphemy.

The god appears as a three-headed, eight-armed man, with silvery scaled skin, eyes that blaze like fire, and the ability to grow or shrink in size...He also uses a small brick of gold that he throws for 5-50 points of damage up to 100 yards away. 

He has a panther skin bag that blows a whirlwind like that of a djinni. He uses a bracelet which, if it is thrown and strikes an enemy, attaches itself to the neck of its target and strangles him or her in 5 melee rounds unless they are able to alter their form or teleport themselves to another plane. He also has the power to throw one 30 point fireball per round.

No Cha is the patron of thieves, and there are many tales of his famous thieving exploits.

Is your brain on fire now that you read that? Yes it is. Are you thinking, "The lack of magic bricks,  strangling bracelets and panther skin bags in my campaign is a sign of my worthlessness on all levels"? Yes you are.

On the other hand, many peop...ok, everybody...knows that TSR's famous Deities and Demigods supplement is kinda useless unless you're running some twisted postmodern Kaiju campaign where you're Thor and I'm Yen Wang Yeh and we team up to kill Eagle Woman.

Now I'm all for killable gods. If someone asks you if you want to fight a god, you say "Yes." Particularly if you're 20th level. But 143 pages of gods? Then you say "No" or you say "Why don't we just play Exalted?"

Here is Gary Gygax lying:

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. 

However, there is a vital clue here.

For if you take each sentence and change it to its opposite, watch what happens...

DEITIES & DEMIGODS is totally not an indispensable part of the whole of AD&D. Go ahead and think of  it as a supplement. It is not at all integral to Dungeon Mastering a true AD&D campaign. I invented a cool game with this guy Dave but sometimes I just say stuff. Worship the devil and kill your friends in tunnels.

Clearly, Gary Gygax intended this introduction to be what is called in some of the more terrifying circles of our ruling class a Straussian Text. That is: it says one thing but means another thing, and that thing is a thing to which only the philosopher is privy.

Keep this here in mind.

So for 32 years people have been picking up Deities and Demigods assuming it would be full of worldbuildy goodness--that it would explain the comparative characteristics of various fantastic religions, differentiate clerics of one faith from the next, and guide the GM in deciding what spells the different patron gods grant them. What they got instead was a munchkin's Monster Manual. Right? Wrong.

Because why? Because in actuality Deities and Demigods does explain the comparative characteristics of various fantastic religions, does differentiate clerics of one faith from the next, and does guide the GM in deciding what spells the different patron gods grant them.

You just have to have access to the esoteric key of divine gnosis which I totally have and which I will totally grant you now by finishing this blog entry.

Let's take a look at the entry for a god we all know...
...the principle here is: the characteristics of the faith reflect the characteristics of the deity.

So, you pack of mewling quims, take a look at about 3/4s of the way down where it says "Cleric/Druid", "Fighter", "Magic User/Illusionist", etc.

These are actually the chances that a given cultist of Loki will be a member of that class. You start with the highest and work your way down until you get one. So, the highest level is illusionist, and there's a 20% chance. Roll roll...nope. Now we move to assassin--15% chance...roll roll...nope, then Cleric, Druid and Ranger, roll for each in a random order...aaaand bing this Loki cultist is a ranger. If you get no results that means the cultist is an unlevelled schmuck.

This fits the pattern in the book: more powerful gods have more classes and more levels and, therefore, their cultists tend to be classier and more various. 

Let me now draw your attention to Loki's hit points: 300.

If you look at D & Demigods, you'll notice that the gods' HP figures range from about 200-400 and that the head of each pantheon (and sometimes his or her great nemesis) always has 400 hp. Heroes and mythological monsters usually have less than 200 hp.

What this number actually is is the strength of that god's cult on a scale of 1-400.  This number is useful in a variety of ways: 

*Let's say you are in a geographic area where Loki might be worshipped and need to find the nearest temple or cleric of the smugfaced strife god. Is there one about? Well there's a 30% chance. (God's hp divided by 10.)

*You're in the Cruel Northern Climes and find a random cleric. With what divinity does this cleric traffic? 

"Alright, (-flip flip-) the major god in the pantheon is Odin, there's a 40 % (400 hp divided by 10) chance of this being a cleric of Odin...(roll roll)...nope"
"Fair enough, they probably can't heal my lost eyeball anyway."
"Next up is...(flip flip randomly in the Norse section)...Idun, Goddess of Spring and Eternal Youth"
"32% chance...(rattle roll)...nope."
"Awww mannnnn eternal youth is cool"
"Ok, let's see about Loki....(rattle rattle roll)..."
"Oh fuck."
"Oh look at that..."

Start with the head god (the one at the beginning of each chapter) then just roll around randomly in the chapter after that. It may sound slow, but it builds tension plus it's a fun way to download a little Setting Background into the players' minds as they roam around the map.

If you do want to speed it up and rationalize it, make a descending-order chart of the gods, heroes and monsters in the local pantheon by hp. Should take you fifteen minutes.

*In direct conflict with other gods or their cults: when two priests of different gods channel their divine might against each other, when two artifacts of different gods collide, when there is a war between religious factions and you need to abstract it quickly, each side rolls d100 plus this number. High roll wins and, if necessary to calculate, losses are proportional to the difference. Odin  (400 hp) will always defeat Loki (300 hp)  head to head--unless Loki's followers do something to increase their numbers and influence.

Now check out the bottom where they've got Loki's ability scores. This is where you go when your cleric is praying for new spells. Each ability score corresponds to cleric spells of a different type:

Strength- Damage causing spells

Intelligence- Any kind of spell not otherwise covered: Alteration, Summoning, etc

Wisdom- Divination/Detection

Dexterity-  Movement or Hiding/Illusion spells depending on the kind of god.

Constitution- Buffs and protective spells

Charisma- Charm, Suggestion, etc

Note also that in Deities and Demigods, monstrous fear-causing creatures have negative Charisma scores--these count as if they were 20 plus the (positivized value of the) negative score and grant necromantic, deforming or fear-causing spells

So start with the highest stat first...

Loki's best stat is Intelligence (25), this means there's a 25% chance when praying for a new spell that it'll fit this category.

Let's say I'm a cleric of Loki praying for a 2nd level spell. Just using the AD&Dlist the choices

Augury (Wis)
Chant (Con)
Detect Charm (Wis)
Find Traps (Wis)
Hold Person (Int)
Know Alignment (Wis)
Resist Fire (Con)
Silence (Int)
Slow Poison (Con)
Snake Charm (Cha)
Speak W/Animals (Cha)
Spiritual Hammer (Str)

If I rolled that 25% my cleric's next level 2 spell is Hold Person or Silence. If I didn't roll that 25% I'd move down to Loki's second best stats, Str, Dex, Con and Charisma. Roll a d4 to see where to start...roll roll..ok, 24% chance of a strength spell...we got strength so I got Spiritual Hammer. Though this is Loki so it's probably a Spiritual Dagger since hammers probably bring back some fairly traumatic evenings spent in gym lockers.

Now what if I rolled a Dex spell or failed to get any of these spells? Well then something cool happens...
you get a spell based on the god's unique powers. Let's take a look at Loki:

immune to fire
immune to magical control
takes a +3 or better weapon to hit.
In the body of the entry it says... 
he can shape change
has suggestion (and looking at him for 3 rounds negates all saves vs that suggestion)
his boots combine the powers of boots of water walking, flying, travelling, and speed,
he is immune to illusions unless cast by someone over 20th level.

We treat these characteristics as the highest-level versions of special spells available specifically to clerics of Loki. Our cleric needs to fill a 2nd level spot, so s/he can choose from a 2nd level version of these abilities. Like, say...
Resist Fire
Resist Magic (+2 to saves)
Immunity to normal weapons (lasts 1 round)
Polymorph into an animal for 1 round
Suggestion (one level earlier! It's cool to be a priest of Loki)(with a save penalty per round looking at the cleric)
Water Walking (for one round)
Fly (1 round)
Travelling (treat uneven ground as normal for...a day? ok)
Haste (self only)

OH MY GOD WHAT A PAIN IN THE ASS TO DO ALL THIS TRANSLATION...Ok, but if you think about it, not really.  Your campaign is located in a place, it has a limited number of gods, right after you hand Deities and Demigods over to your party's cleric to decide which god s/he likes you spend a half hour the next night writing up what the bonus spells are for that god and you use that thing you wrote up for the whole rest of the campaign. So there's some work, but there's a payoff.

It also makes statting NPC clerics of this god cake now, because you've already written down all the most common spells.

Of course, the hapless player doesn't necessarily know exactly what the manifestation and power curve is going to be like when s/he signs up to be a cleric of Hastur because the entry just gives the god's powers, not which spell appears at which level. But that makes sense, right? When you decide to join a cult and you're like "So exactly when do I get to grow tentacles out of my ears?" they're totally going to just say some mystery bullshit instead of give you a straight answer. You just have to pick the god that seems coolest and pray, just like everybody else in human history.

What else? There's that armor class number. Each cult's priesthood has distinctive armor: That's the typical NPC priest's armor class modifier. The nimble and stealthy priests of Loki have a mod of 4, indicating an AC of 6/14--like they're wearing scale mail, whereas warrior priests of Indra go around in this  AC -2/22 stuff they can barely move in for some reason.

Magic resistance. This is a tough one, I'm thinking: how did Ward and Kuntz decide Thor had 80% magic resistance and Shang Ti had 50%? What's that even mean for us mortals? Well, practically speaking in the game it means how easy or hard it is for a regular D&D magic user or cleric to fuck with said being. So the Magic Resistance should correspond to the deity's "cosmic indifference" level. The higher the number, the less time the god spends entangled with stuff on earth. How do you use this number? This is the chance that the god does not give a fuck when spoken to with a Commune spell or the like, this is the chance that the demolition of a cathedral, cult or magic item will fail to spark the god's ire, this is the chance that it will ignore a Gate spell or the dying curse of an archpriest. Essentially, the lower the god's magic resistance, the pettier the god is overall.

Psionic ability is even tougher. Ok, all the Lovecraftian creatures have them, that makes sense, but Heimdall has type III psi abilities--what does that mean? I'm not sure this is is translatable into something useful but if you've go any ideas, take it...

Move? Not a big deal, but if the god has a fly or swim speed listed, or has a move of "infinite" then one of the special spells should be flying or swimming or teleporting.

#of attacks and damage/attack. Let's assume every god has some avatar golem or gruesome max level beast that can be summoned to lay waste to the cleric's foes in some fucked up ritual. This creature will have the numbers listed here. To find out the common types of avatar creature, turn to the back of Deities and Demigods and look where all the characteristics of the gods are listed where it says "Animal". So while Loki's animal is listed as "monsters" and his damage/attack is down to using his magical abilities,  the Finnish death god Tuoni is more straightforward: expect a snake that has 2 attacks doing 3-30 +14.

 Alright so let's roll it all up. For any god in Deities and Demigods:

Armor class: Armor class mod for priests' armor
Move: Indicates whether god grants special movement spells and kind
Hit points: Level of church's power/influence
No of Attacks: Most ferocious beast/avatar's number of attacks
Damage/Attack: Most ferocious beast/avatar's damage/attack
Special Attacks: Kinds of special spells granted
Special Defenses: Kinds of special spells granted
Magic Resistance: Indifference level ("Save to Ignore Mortals")
Size: Whatever
Alignment: Same
Worshippers' alignement: Same
Symbol: Same
Plane: Same
Cleric/Druid: Use to calculate chance a follower is a cleric or druid
Fighter: Use to calculate chance a follower is a fighter
Magic User/Illusionist: Use to calculate chance a follower is an MU/Illusionist
Thief/Assassin: Use to calculate chance a follower is a Thief/Assassin
Monk/Bard: Use to calculate chance a follower is a Monk/Bard
Psionic ability: Whatever
Ability scores are used to determine frequency of granted spells....

Strength- Damage causing spells
Intelligence- Any kind of spell not otherwise covered: Alteration, Summoning, etc
Wisdom- Divination/Detection
Dexterity-  Movement or Hiding/Illusion spells depending on the kind of god
Constitution- Buffs and protective spells
Charisma- Charm, Suggestion, etc
(Negative charisma)-Necromancy, Fear, Deformation


So for the Church of Cthulhu (or the Cthulhu of AD&D's Understanding anyway)...
We have...
Priests wearing crappy armor offering no protection--probably robes.
Many-armed avatar beasts with 30 attacks, doing d10 each.
An 80% chance of ignoring calls from the mundane world.
An average Cthulhu cultist has a 20% chance of being a magic user and, if they aren't, a 16% chance of being a fighter.
When praying for spells, clerics of Cthulhu have a 27% chance of 
receiving a necromancy, fear, or deformation spell, then
a 25% chance of a damage-causing or protective spell, then
a 23% chance of a divination spell, then 
a 20% chance of a hiding or illusion spell or another kind of standard spell
if none of these are gained, the cleric chooses one of the following kinds of spells...
resistance to hostile environments (water, cold, vacuum)
control and summoning of sea creatures

Looks good, amirite? A little slow, but in a way that drags both GM and players through the world-building in a fun way.

And a nice thing about Demigods is even though it's kinda useless for its intended purpose, it has a lot of fantastic mythopoeic details woven in (when Zeus' blood spills on the earth, the blood forms a random 6th level monster--did you know that? See I didn't know that. Your 3rd level lightning cleric totally wants the 3rd level version of this power. Who doesn't want giant rats congealing from their blood?) It's nice to have a way to activate them rather than just have them sit there on a shelf waiting to be ebayed.

And, yeah, for most campaigns I'd probably only use the Finnish, Norse, Nonhuman and Celtic gods straight up, but the others can be reskinned easy if you like the details for your campaign's made-up gods.

"This being is jet-black and extremely ugly, he always appears wreathed in flames...He is aware of anything that happens in any area that has a fire within 50 yards of it."

That's Hastsezini from the Native American section. So you don't want a god that looks like a totem pole in your Lankhmar pastiche? Fine. Call him Zed Nagath and say he's this guy...
Same powers, same ideas, now your cleric has a weird fire god. 



Jessica Grant said...

mad genius... love it.
generally I prefer coming up with stuff from my own mind regarding religions and gods, but for those occasional spur of the moment ideas mid-game this is an interesting suggestion.

Telecanter said...

Very nice. Very smart way to re-purpose cool but format-locked content. It's because of posts like these that I've always thought of the "r" in OSR as renaissance and not reformation or resurgence. Thanks.

Joe Johnston said...

Interest twist on an old favorite. I find your first two methods of typing the cultists of these gods rather compelling.

Frankly, I would rather treat all these gods as mere aliens and let the PCs try to kill them. Oh, there may be real gods, somewhere, but the PCs will never find them.

Geoffrey McKinney said...

This is one of the best blog posts ever. I especially like using a god's hit points to calculate the chance of him having a temple in the area.

richard said...

now I wish I had my copy back again. That's brilliant.
Also the first use of Straussian Text I like.

Bruce Heard said...

Very cool! Thanks for posting this stuff.

賈尼 said...

This is indeed a clever way to use a pretty useless tome. If you played RuneQuest, however, you would have all this already built in the game.

Patrick Mallah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fireymonkeyboy said...

RE: Psionics - how about the chance that the god possesses or grants abilities that screw with player perceptions of the underlying mechanics of the world, insofar as they consist of a set of self-reinforcing, but utterly alien mechanics in and of themselves?

Hence the tendency for Lovecraftians to have lots. They are fundamentally alien to the reality of the player's world, hence they have abilities that are totally inconsistent with how things work in that world.

Basically, psionic powers are the percentage change the DM gets to screw around with basic mechanics in figuring out what the god / cult / cleric can do.

Zak Sabbath said...

But then you'd have togas also and that would suck.

Zak Sabbath said...

While not illogically built, it seems like a mechanic like that asks for more work from the GM than it saves. And puts pointless restrictions on the GM for the nonpsionic gods. And why I-VII? What does that mean?

Nagora said...

Okay, you win.

Nick said...


Adam said...

The only thing wrong with this, the King of All Posts, is that now I've got to come up with similarly worldbuildy awesomeness for the thief, magic user, barbarian, fighter and ranger that make up my PC's party.

Unknown said...

Great post. Already reaching for my own copy now and looking at my own campaign world with a renewed glee and zeal.

Rick Marshall said...

I know it's months later and you're probably not reading these comments any more, Zak, but your ability to gamify anything, to turn almost any collection of mechanics, stats, or physical objects into solid and intriguing gameplay, is a source of wonder to us all.

As I read this post, I couldn't stop thinking of Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx using his Monkey-style kung fu to turn everything around him into excitement. I thought of Pablo Picasso turning an old bicycle seat and handlebars into a bull's head.

Keep up the great work, and don't let the cranky responses ever get you down.

Stattick said...

I realize I'm late to the party, but how about this....

Psionic ability is the likelihood that the deity is paying enough attention to his followers to notice their small trespasses against the faith. This ties into clerics and paladins loosing their granted abilities too.

Multiply the Psionic Ability score by 10%. So gods that only have a 10% or 20% are pretty chill, and don't take back their granted abilities too much. Gods that don't have a score at all, don't dick over their followers over petty shit. Lovecraftian deities though - they're positively cultish. You're likely to loose your abilities, and have to atone to get them back, for the smallest damn thing.

ixazal said...

This is hands down the best post on gods in D&D I have ever read - bravo.