Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Commentary On Deities & Demigods For 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons For Your Old School Campaigns

Good morning kids, I took yet another night off of social media, writing, and whatnot to get back into the habit of reading.An older and somewhat wrongly maligned favorite of mine is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons first editions Deities and Demigods by James M. Ward and Robert J. Kuntz. You can read all about its history right over here.  Though it came out in 1980, this book is still having echoes across the gaming table; here's my thoughts as too why.

So what is it about this book that really still gets my gamer's heart beating and what buttons does this book push for me?? Let's get right into the heart of matter now. Deities & Demigods presents guidelines for creating your own gods, heroes,and demigods of mythology along with some of the heavy hitters of classical mythology along with some interesting choices for cultural mythologies including the Finnish, American Indian, Chinese and more. So why is this book still being used at the gaming table besides some fantastic urban gaming lore and history?
Well its a damn useful book that summarizes some of the world's mythological and intricate religious figures into a handy and useful set of guidelines at the table for the dungeon master for one. Yes there are vast differences between some of D&D's depictions of certain mythological characters and heroes. That's fine given the fact that there myriad prime material campaign worlds across the AD&D multiverse. The book also contains some of the first appearances by the nonhuman AD&D races gods;"The original 1980 edition was the first print appearance of various fictional non-human deities, such as Corellon Larethian, Moradin, Gruumsh, and others, many of which have become standard features of the D&D game and its derivatives. These deities were the creation of Jim Ward." That's important if the dungeon master wishes to pull certain types of mythological details into their games from the original source material for NPC's, adventure details, and adventure setting pieces for their games.  And yes there are some folks who are that pedantic about adventure writing and design. The Deities and Demigods book always seems to be at hand.
I know three or four of them in real life right off the top of my head. But back to the Deities and Demigods book itself; the fact that it summarizes and makes these deities accessible to the DM to customize for their campaigns is great. This fact keeps in line with the DYI ethos of earlier editions of AD&D. No longer was was mythology, theology, and religion something nebulous but hands on for both the player (especially those who love clerics) and DM's who wanted access to all things cosmic. Wizards of the Coast is still treading upon this book's contents to this day and too me it speaks volumes. Various editions of this book are trading right now on ebay.

So besides the above, why is Deities & Demigods being used in 2016 by dungeon masters and players across planet Earth? Well, with a simple bit of restructuring Deities and Demigods can be a flexible book you can use it for both science fantasy and post apocalyptic AD&D games too add in some unexpected color to the backgrounds of mutant communities and followers. That especially true if the nonhuman races are starting to spawn from the unknown recesses of the wastelands or from the other dimensional seals that were put in place by the Ancients. Those non human deities I mentioned earlier might be putting forth their own agendas. But there's more too the appeal of Deities and Demigods then simple nostalgia for me at the table top level. Here are my top ten reasons why for me book still has use:
  1. Fast reference material for the dungeon or table top during the writing phase of adventures. When your dreaming about creating your dungeon grab this book and start reading. This is one to provide some damn fine inspiration for your adventures that draws from the cultural landscape of mythology. This always works for me. 
  2. As a resource for your clerics its sometimes the little details that make it come together for a player. This book provides all sorts of nice pieces of reference for clerics;
    "the quick reference chart for clerics particularly worthwhile, which describe items such as what a cleric should wear, what his holy colors and animals are, when and where he should worship, and what he should sacrifice." But the thing to remember is that these are guidelines and should never ever be forced onto a player! They might have a complete different take on their character then what this or any other rule book has to say! Listen to them first and come to a decision together. This book is a set of guidelines and not a set of instructions! 
  3.  Remember this is a piece of gaming fun and a  fine one at that not a primer on real world religion. Though it references many factual and existing religious figures this book is from a game. This very fact makes Deities and Demigods a very interesting book to use and play around with. Have fun with it. 
  4. Browse the gods, add them to your campaign regions and give your campaign world some flavor. Different deities in various areas of campaigns adds flavor to adventure worlds. I came across this great blog entry with exactly that sentiment.  
  5. This book is from 1980 and all of the material in this book is usable with a number of retroclones including OSRIC and the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Companion. That's some damn fine utility right there in my humble opinion. 
  6. There is a nice mix overall with the gods in Deities and Demigods that makes adventure placement easy and fun. I've also heard the complaint that there isn't enough detail on so and so deity as well as not enough background. I think that this is a strength for the DM allow him or her to add in details for future adventures as they fit and are needed. 
  7. Even the goofy gods can shred your PC's and avatars are a bear to deal with. God's love long and drawn out revenges; this fact was something I got to watch when a player's powerful PC killed a god in one of those campaigns. The DM drew out the revenge of the god over months and it wasn't pretty but damn it was fun. Everyone walked away and had a good time with it. This was an epic end of the campaign event.
  8.  Plot hooks abound throughout Deities and Demigods just look for them and add them to your game on an on the the ground level for adventures. There's something very operatic to the struggles of mythologies in old school adventures. Take advantage of those. 
  9. The same tables that give what to wear, what to sacrifice, and so forth can be used as tables for evidence of cults and activities for play for PC's to stumble upon for adventure hooks. The number of times that I've done this countless. 
  10. Deities and Demigods is a great book to thumb through and use in your games. Don't be afraid to alter, and change the details on gods as you want and need for your old school campaigns. Gods change, evolve, and morph as they will with the times. History and war can be your friend as a DM take and embrace these deities as your own. Its a time honored tradition in gaming and one to take full advantage of.  
Deities and Demigods is a fine book in my humble opinion and one that I'm proud to own. I take a certain amount of pride that my copy of Deities and Demigods has survived moves, a fire, pizza, and god knows how many players. As always your mileage may vary a lot when it comes to classic gaming but for my money Deities and Demigods remains a favorite. Happy gaming and now go roll some dice.

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