Saturday, October 4, 2014

…and Gygax Saw The Angel

"...and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face."
-Numbers 22:

Redoing the Monster Manual some more…
click to enlarge
Angels (split into deva, planetar and solar and all barely distinguishable) come right after the aboleth in the manual and have a similar problem--since they, too, strongly rely on a monotheism for their impact. Plus they're good which means there aren't a lot of reasons to fight them. But I got this.


Our plane of existence is sentient. It knows it exists and can see itself.

It's also, naturally, 4-dimensionally aware--it can see all of time at once, and thus all of cause and effect.

So there's none of this "noticing something's wrong and sending an angel down from heaven to address it" that's strictly 3-dimensional thinking. The Prime Material Plane is and has always been aware of any potential problems.

What possible problems could there be? The Plane is existence itself, right? (Echo of an old philosophical problem: why would God need to do anything like a miracle or sending an angel down if the universe works exactly how he wanted it to work?) Surely everything that happens in it is part of the Plane.

Well, almost: The Prime Material Plane can see all of itself as a kind of 4-dimensional sculpture from the inside, with breaks in it where threats from other planes intrude on or threaten it. It can't see those other planes directly, they are not of its substance). The plane can just see where they are interfering with it--the same way that from the inside of a tin can you can't see who's kicking it, but you might see the dent.

So, from the beginning of time, angels have been seeded by the Plane itself to be in exactly the appropriate moment in space-time to address these "dents". Angels are not sent, they simply arise at the right moment.

This conveniently means the angel isn't necessarily a totally useless good guy in the game so much as something dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the Plane. So if players are involved in anything that frays the barriers between planes, then they have to deal with an angel. For example, an angel might mature and manifest at the exact moment the players are about to cross a barrier to the Astral Plane or summon an particularly powerful elemental creature.

Notes in red on the picture:

1. Over by the red 1 I put the three most common manifestations--(i.e. where angels come from): a human can discover they are an angel (typically a paladin that reaches 21st level at exactly the right moment),  a statue can come to life (not unlike a gargoyle's relation to a demon), or an animal can evolve into an angel.

2. Angels in the game typically have a whole laundry-list of resistances and immunities which I simplified to a more mythic rule: Angels can't be hurt by anything from our plane. I'd assume most magic is mostly manipulating things from our plane (fireballs, shadows) but summoned demons (and the weapons they carry and that grow from their bodies) aren't, and a lot of magic items aren't. Clerical magic that manipulates stuff from our plane (lightning, ice) can't hurt them, but anything that channels divine power directly can.

3. Rather than use the Deva, Planetar, Solar hierarchy--which is just one of those "Remember when you fought these guys 4 levels ago? Well here's a tougher one!" hierarchies and replaced it with the Hebrew one--10 ranks of angels from Ishim to Chayot with corresponding HD levels. Added bonus is that tradition assigns many of these angels freaky characteristics like the Chayot has six wings and is covered in eyes. Bonus to using Hebrew mystic names: you can name them ominous things like "Angel of Six Roads" "Angel of Hypothermia" "Angel of Subtraction".

4. Angels carry shields (I know because St Michael does in all the paintings). The shield makes the angel immune to all divine magic. It only works for angels and demons, so stealing it doesn't steal the power, it just deprives them of it.

5. I also figure there are weird things that just happen around angels. Call them Aura Actions? Like animals start singing, etc.

Most of the given combat profile is fine as far as it goes (it's a tough guy with wings), though I decided the flaming arrows and sword that fights by itself were dead cheesy.

I think each individual angel should probably be custom-made with extra powers for its purpose and where it appears. Add slightly modified demon traits if the specific situation doesn't suggest abilities on its own.



Timothy S. Brannan said...

I like this. I pretty much agree with all of this in fact, but you left out one thing. If demons are terrible to behold then angels should be equally terrifying, though on the other end of the spectrum.
So beautiful to behold that their visage inspires awe and fear.

Zak Sabbath said...

good point.

spike said...

what about glass

like rather than taking a statue, the angels just breaks all the nearby windows and makes a body out of the shards; thats why churches have all that stain glass.

kaleidoscope lazer angels

Zak Sabbath said...

good one--like in Young Sherlock Holmes

captainben said...

This series is fantastic. I'm glad to see someone breathe some life into vanilla D&D.

August said...

"So if players are involved in anything that frays the barriers between planes, then they have to deal with an angel. (...) Clerical magic that manipulates stuff from our plane (lightning, ice) can't hurt them, but anything that channels divine power directly can."

Are your angels adverse to the gods of your campaign? I mean, if the gods come from beyond the Prime material plane then that seems to put them in the same spot relative to the angels as demons would be in: reality-screwing aliens who need to be put down.

sapient said...

In all the years I've played, I've mostly seen angels in the monster manual as place filler. It's there, because if you have demons and devils, there's more or less supposed to be some opposition - in the dichotomic cosmogony that most settings have. It's there, but never makes an appearance.

But this? This is good.

Nagora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nagora said...

BitD, our high level party had a series of run-ins with devas of the opposing Law/Chaos spectrum - the party being Chaotic in the main. It wasn't all about Good Vs Evil. Which also got us away from the monotheism angle too. We had a hostile encounter with a planetar once, too (we ran away), but it's certainly true that they don't get brought out much except to announce things.

spike said...


anarchist said...

Zak, can you point me to an online source for the weird characteristics of angels in Judaism? I couldn't find it on wikipedia.

Zak Sabbath said...
look up the ten names individually

anarchist said...


piles said...

"So there's none of this "noticing something's wrong and sending an angel down from heaven to address it" that's strictly 3-dimensional thinking."

But if you notice that something is wrong somewhere at some time, it is an exact moment in space-time and thus 4D?

Zak Sabbath said...

No because only a being unable to see the 4th dimension as a whole immediately would only discover an event when it "happens", the same way you, not being an ant, see the table edge coming as soon as you look at a table.

piles said...

Yes, in case of a self-contained self-aware 4D plane. The intrusion, however, is coming from another plane and at that moment in space-time, an angel is seeded by the plane. That is no different than a angel that would be sent at that same moment?

I really like your angel description and the fact that the plane itself seeds them, but I do not see how it is different from sending angels.

Zak Sabbath said...

"That is no different than a angel that would be sent at that same moment? "

No it's totally different, because in the typical example the entity (or ant)
the table
then has to do something.
The angel then goes from one place to another to deal with the noticed threat.


In my example the angels
growing, waiting to come into being at the
because the entity

So the stimulus isn't _noticed_ thereby prompting a _response_ . (2 events in sequence)

Rather: at the moment of creation, the stimulus was built to be accompanied by a response.

piles said...

Thanks for the clarification. I am with you again.

Very nice series of posts.

anarchist said...

I think that some medieval theologians actually thought of God as existing outside of time, in a way that's quite similar to how physicists think of 'space-time'.

To me this makes them more likely to be wrong (if their assumptions and aims are different, yet the end model is the same, to me that suggests that the model is something that humans are predisposed to come up with).

Sean said...

Dr. Who style Weeping Angels should have their own entry. Creepiest television monster ever...