Monday, October 20, 2008

Archaic Game Material of the Week

Deities & Demigods was, I believe, the first expansion to the "core" rulebooks in 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. To me, the dangers of this book were many-fold.

The original issue of this book included characters from the Elric of Melniboné books by Michael Moorcock, as well as Cthulhu mythos entities from H.P. Lovecraft, et al. Suddenly, everyone you played with was out to kill Elric and get Stormbringer, or Excalibur, or Morj... Mjorl... uh, Thor's hammer. The point of the book became the killing of gods. Now, I am an atheist, but I can suspend disbelief for D&D and realise that when a god dies, his portfolio goes to all crazy. Anyway...

Second, because the book was very popular, it led to the Fiend Folio, a collection of (as I remember them) very half-assed monsters. But if you wanted the drow and gith yanki you had to buy it. Deities & Demigods showed that we would buy more, if they would just write more.

Enough of the bad stuff... On the good side, you got to see bits of world religions that you might not have come across otherwise. The D&D description was not always the greatest, or most accurate, but learning is the way of the true nerd. Being able to say that TSR "doesn't know squat about Hunapu and Xbalanque" means that at some point you looked them up. Another step down the nerd path to enlightenment.

Also on the good side, this was (to my knowledge) the first major attempt at defining gods and pantheons for D&D. Clerics had always been part of the game, but the nature of a cleric's religion was always ill-defined. Now you knew what your holy days were, what kind of sacrifices you needed to make, when your god expected prayer, etc. It was a bit clumsy, considering that only the non-human deities get any real play these days – hard to have Greeks and Chinese running around Greyhawk together.

While it set a dangerous precedent, it was a fun book and I still have my original... Unfortunately, it is the second printing without Elric and Cthulhu. Oh well. There's always eBay!

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