Saturday, September 14, 2019

'Mythic Evil In Old School Campaigns' - Another OSR Commentary

Why would any of the planar elements & powers care about some lowly PC on some backwater world? Because the lowly adventurer does not stay in the lower ranking tier of the adventurer if they survive long. From the very beginning in Original Dungeons & Dragons the fate of the player character is writ in blood & violence. As the player characters make their way up the levels of their careers the cosmic game plays itself out in the mythology & adventures of the campaign.

The wargaming aspect of Dungeons & Dragons was built in right from the beginning & as well as this came into a more sharper focus & use of

Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren's  Chainmail.

"Dave Arneson used Chainmail in his Blackmoor campaign, and many elements of Chainmail were carried over wholesale into Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) in 1974. In fact, the original edition of D&D required that the reader own a copy of Chainmail (as well as the Avalon Hill game Outdoor Survival). The first edition of Dungeons & Dragons frequently defers to Chainmail, for example in the rules for elves and hobbits, in the "Invisibility" and "Conjure Elemental" spells, for the special abilities of monsters, specifically for the text of many monsters including goblins and ghouls, in the magic items descriptions (e.g. "Horn of Blasting") and in the naval combat rules."

But another gaming is playing itself out at the same time as the game plays on. The players might not be aware at all that the battle of power plays out as they assume their place as the movers & shakers of the world. Demons, gods, and other far worse things are watching them from the shadows.
All of this echoes through Dungeons & Dragons right from the beginning with its role springing from the Chainmail rules.

"Shortly before the publication of Chainmail, Gygax wrote to Wargamer's Newsletter describing his intention to add "rules for Tolkien fantasy games" to his medieval miniatures rules, including rules for balrogs, hobbits, trolls, giants and the aforementioned dragons.[17] In a 2001 interview, Gygax recalled that the members began to get tired of medieval games, and I wasn't, I decided to add fantasy elements to the mix, such as a dragon that had a fire-breath weapon, a hero that was worth four normal warriors, a wizard who could cast fireballs, [which had] the range and hit diameter of a large catapult, and lightning bolts, [which had] the range and hit area of a cannon, and so forth. I converted a plastic stegosaurus into a pretty fair dragon, as there were no models of them around in those days. A 70 mm Elastolin Viking figure, with doll's hair glued to its head, and a club made from a kitchen match and auto body putty, and painted in shades of blue for skin color made a fearsome giant figure. I haunted the dime stores looking for potential additions and eventually found figures to represent ogres, elementals, etc. The players loved the new game, and soon we had twenty or more players showing up for every session.[18]
The first edition Chainmail Fantasy Supplement added such concepts as elementals, magic swords, and archetypal spells such as "Fireball", "Lightning Bolt" and six other spells"

So right from the beginning mythological elements have been a part of the Original Dungeons & Dragons product set up. Psionics, Demons, Druids, Artifacts & Wandering Monster Tables were all part of the "Eldritch Wizardry" from 1976. This set up the PC's as heroes in the mold of Conan & other Sword & Sorcery characters who were always encountering demons in the wastelands of various novels. The height of war gaming in the 60's & 70's paralleled the rise of Original Dungeons & Dragons.

This means that the dungeon master's campaign world & player's PC's go from being nobodies adventuring on a back water world to suddenly appearing on the multi dimensional stage the second their PC's encounter their first demon or devil. Because waiting right in the wings are the minions of the gods who be more then happy to claim a soul for the armies of the gods. This goes back to mythologies the world over.

This all ties back with the rise from lowly adventurer to king or wizard along the steady levels of the game. "Eldritch Wizardry" gets a Hell of a lot of undeserved heat almost literally. Check out the B.S. in this Amazon review from a verified purchaser  ; "This book contains sections on the five areas mentioned in the title of the review. Half of the book dealt with psionics.

The only real problem with this book is the decision the writers made to jump into the world of Satanism and demonism in it. I don't believe anyone on the team were believers in it. I've heard that Gary Gygax himself was a Jehovah's Witness. I think it was just an exploration of a type of fantasy that existed more prevalently in those days. One example I am aware of is the movie "The Black Cat" starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi (1934). In that movie, Boris Karloff's character was a Satanist. After saying the word "Satanist" though, no further mention is made of the concept.

The 50s and 60s were pretty innocent. Evil stuff like we see today didn't much exist back then. The words were merely just mentioned for the basic thrill it gave everyone and then nothing much deeper was ever explored. The same goes for this book. Except for the mention of the word "Demon" and the idiot who chose to put a painting of a naked woman on a sacrificial altar on the cover, the book is pretty innocent. Honestly speaking, the only reason why there are statistics for demon and devils in this book, is so that players can go and find them and kill them.

It was really too bad though. The cover of this book and the mentioning of Satan and other devils in Dragon magazine really put a bad and undeserved stink on this game."

By the way its diabolism oh reviewer, the real reason that the demons are in the game is to act as adventure set pieces & vile villains in the vein of mythology & pop culture for adventures. PC knights, paladins, clerics, etc. are their to battle these evils there by pulling their respective worlds from back water to chess piece on the board of the multiverse. This is the actual function of alignment in the game & clerics are one of the prime agents of the gods in the game. Once again this great reviewer of Basic D&D spells this out the form and function of alignment in his review in part one of Basic D&D. I highly recommend you take a look.

Player characters are subject to forces beyond their ken the moment they step into their first dungeon. The gods are watching them.
All of this is pretty much spelled out in the Original Dungeons & Dragons Gods, Demi Gods, & Heroes By James Ward & Robert Kuntz & even pushes on the Arthurian legends of King Arthur & his knights. The struggle between the otherworld, the worldly, & the quests of the divine is intertwined throughout that mythological & literary tradition.

So let me push this who commentary into a modern OSR context for you oh dear reader. With retroclone games such as Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, & even Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition it would at first seem that these struggles & tussles with the divine & demonic might not have any place within them. This isn't true at all. These forces are at the center of the struggle of these games. There are vast alien & demonic forces right at the heart of Lamentations of the Flame Princess where a first level wizard can use the Summon spell to get themselves into a world of trouble. I've actually used a summoning spell going wrong to be the center of a beginning adventure for an LoFP game. In Swords & Wizardry there are numerous adventures where the demonic plays a central role.
The forces of chaos are front & center in the 'Weird Tales' source material of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea with its alignment system which states that the forces of chaos wish to tear apart civilization. The forces of law wish to save it & guess whose there to save it all!?

A favorite art piece from AS&SH second edition.

Last night I mentioned a Near East occult text with ties to the blog post woven through out and tonight will be no different with me using the Abu Maʿshar to tie things together.
Abu Maʿshar, Latinized as Albumasar (also Albusar, Albuxar; full name Abū Maʿshar Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad ibn ʿUmar al-Balkhī أبو معشر جعفر بن محمد بن عمر البلخي ; 10 Aug 787 – 9 Mar 886, AH 171–272),[3] was an early Persian[4][5][6] Muslim astrologer, thought to be the greatest astrologer of the Abbasid court in Baghdad.[2] While he was not a major innovator, his practical manuals for training astrologers profoundly influenced Muslim intellectual history and, through translations, that of western Europe and Byzantium.[3]
Abu Ma'shar was a Persian nationalist"

So not only is the Abu Ma'shar a corner stone of Western occult tradition but its great real world occult resource that not only touches on the celestial, the demonic, etc, etc. But the 'Kitāb al‐milal wa‐ʾl‐duwal ("Book on religions and dynasties"), probably his most important work, commented on in the major works of Roger Bacon, Pierre d'Ailly, and Pico della Mirandola' 
Also hints at the greater workings of heroes, knights, etc. in their struggles against the evils of the universe against a cosmic background.  Its just the type of real world resource that could make a perfect resource or capstone for an OD&D or Lamentations of the Flame Princess game.

In the end the only thing that stands between the weirdly dangerous & demonic forces of the other dimensions is your PC's. The may succeed in their struggles or fail utterly but in the end the clock keeps on ticking invisible against the patterns of the campaign. This is part of the essence of old school play. For now keep those dice rolling.

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