willpell wrote: it could be the comforting touch of moral certainty which makes a fantasy universe resonant and appealing to certain player types (even while turning off others). We have settings that appeal to people who enjoy gritty grimdarkness and horror and madness and carnage (Warhammer comes to mind, for instance); the reverse ought to also exist. We have the fantasy archetype of a paladin for a reason; some people want to believe that absolute good is a thing that can exist.
I'm not saying that good isn't real, or shouldn't be rewarded or whatever. It's not necessarily "grimdark" to say that there are hard moral questions that don't necessarily have a firm answer that the cosmos conveniently provides.
Gods are formed from mortal beliefs, for the most part, and are basically mortals writ large, with both their virtues and flaws exaggerated.
That is certainly one perspective.
Yes, it's only one perspective. It's something people within the world of the game should be able to believe without being thoroughly disabused of the notion.
The fact that gods require mortal belief to exist seems to be unquestionably true, though, since there are documented instances of them dying without it. There might be exceptions to this rule, though (like Tharizdun, who is mostly forgotten; perhaps the fact that he's asleep means he consumes less energy?).
They have a "god" of their own, the Unknowable Light or whatever they call it; they simply consider it non-anthropomorphic, uninterested in mortal affairs, and so on.
The Great Unknown (or, sometimes, the Greater Unknown). More of an ideal that a being who unquestionably exists, though it seems to grant spells.
I guess ambiguity is my aesthetic. Stating "the Great Unknown is an actual entity that definitely exists" is tedious. The Athar believe there should be something beyond the petty and feuding powers, something worthy of their worship. But they don't know this for a fact.
Ao in the Forgotten Realms is explicitly a god
No. He's something else. Planescape calls his sort of entity an "overpower." Unlike a god, he doesn't require or accept worship and he seems to be a different level of being altogether. He's perhaps the sentience of Realmspace's crystal sphere.
yet if you did a FR version of Planescape, it would make a lot of sense to treat the Athars as devotees of Ao
No. The "FR version of Planescape" is just regular Planescape; Planescape sources like On Hallowed Ground
mentioned him, and Forgotten Realms sources like Faiths & Avatars
discussed Ao in the context of the cosmology the Realms shared with the Planescape setting. Ao and other overpowers (the
Highgod of Krynnspace is the only other one to be named) have no power beyond Realmspace (or whatever crystal sphere they rule over—Ao has some power over any god worshiped in the Realms, but only as far as the Realms were concerned: Tyr could be reduced to avatar form in Realmspace but the aspect of Tyr worshiped on other worlds was fine).
So, for one thing, Ao is only one of countless similar overpowers, who each act as wardens of the divine within their crystal spheres. So worshiping Ao as "the Great Unknown" would be strange, since what, then, is the Highgod? They don't seem to be the same entity.
Another problem: Ao specifically rejects worship, and cults dedicated to him mysteriously die out, as happened shortly after the Avatar Crisis. So if the Athar tried to worship Ao, they probably wouldn't for long.
Or maybe they could, since Ao has no power over those who live on the planes. But why would they want to? He's pretty clearly a local entity with no jurisdiction or interest in planar affairs beyond his little corner of the Material Plane. In a way, he's a more petty being than the gods are. At least the gods are forces to be reckoned with on the planes. Ao's just a local traffic cop.
(Yes, yes, it's somewhat ambiguous, but it seems clear enough to me).
the fact that the canon Athars would propose this not-god of theirs as a universal creator
I'm not certain that they would, but that seems like a valid theory they might have. They might also view the Great Unknown as an entity that transcends the multiverse; not a creator, but something more like the Pleroma
of Gnostic belief, a transcendent reality beyond the phenomenological world created by the corrupt Demiurge, or the Kabbalistic concept of Ein Sof
(the unknowable, undefinable Godhead that precedes and stands outside of creation).
indicates that they are by no means actual atheists
I think they range from agnostic to gnostic to atheist to deist to pantheist, depending on the individual. Some are atheists. The Great Unknown isn't a universal doctrine for them, though their factol Terrence is a believer in it. The Godslayers from A Guide to the Astral Plane
don't seem to care about the Great Unknown at all.
From The Factol's Manifesto
"Then, cringing, he asked me the question they all ask just before the final break. 'Are there no gods, then?'
"I pitied the poor berk. 'Well, I wouldn' t go so far as to say that divinity does not exist. Who knows what might lie beyond the veil of our limited awareness? What might the visage of that mystery look like? Perhaps mere mortals cannot fathom it. But, I assure you, this divinity bears little resemblance to the powers who cavort here in the Great Ring."
Guide to Hell
It would be entirely possible to have the Athars turn out to be pawns of one or more "Aesir" or "Asuras"
claims they're all pawns of Asmodeus, who hopes to harness the power of doubt to weaken the bonds imprisoning him in Hell, but I discount that.
who are attempting to take over the multiverse and exile the current gods, who in this model are the Vanir or Devas, by first discrediting them in the eyes of their flock. A dubious strategy, but a legitimate one I think.)
The revelation that the Athar are mere dupes of the asuras (though that would be precisely in character for the asuras detailed in the Pathfinder RPG, especially) would be kind of cruel to any Athar PCs in the same way that revealing that, say, Heironeous was definitely a Wizard of Oz-style charlatan would be cruel to a player whose character devoutly worships Heironeous. Some players might be fine with that, but it seems like kind of a dirty trick. It's the same reason I don't accept Guide to Hell's
premise that Asmodeus created the Athar.
As I said, ambiguity is my aesthetic. I don't want it to be clearly the case that the Athar are or aren't deluded, which means there's a possibility
that the gods are frauds and equally a possibility that they represent some valid multiversal truth. The two possibilities aren't even necessarily mutually exclusive.
distinguishing what's an angel and what's an Archon is not exactly my favorite activity).
Per Planes of Law
, archons are eventually promoted to angelic status, so the concepts blur in that case. I prefer the hierarchy from Green Ronin's The Book of Fiends
, which identified different angelic and archonic castes with the choirs from traditional angelology.
But yeah, for the most part angels are pawns of the divine rather than independent personifications of good, as eladrins and guardinals are. There may be some exceptions, with angels being born from the substance of the Upper Planes (or even the force of goodness that preceded the formation of the modern Upper Planes) rather than created by the powers. I mean, anything's possible.
The mysterious progenitors of good, counterparts of the baernaloths
(I don't know if Gygax specifically is responsible for this bit of inanity
This is Colin McComb's idea, from Hellbound
and Faces of Evil
. Looong after Gary Gygax left the company. But before you dismiss it as "inanity," keep in mind that you're judging based on one context-free line that I wrote. Not best practice if you care about making informed judgments.
The best take on the baernaloths is Shemeska's (Todd Stewart's) Baernaloth Cycle, who wrote evocative short stories for some of the baernaloths known as the Demented (there are other baernaloths, but the Demented tend to be the most active). Each is a primal, multiversal force of evil.
Tellura ibn Shartalan
, the Dire Shepherd.
, the Wanderer.
Tarsikus ibn Meth-Kultesh
, the Book Binder.
Harishek apt Thul'Kesh, the Blind Clockmaker
, the Inqusitor.
, the Lie Weaver.
Lazarius ibn Shartalan
, the Architect.
, the Proselytizer.
Methikus sar Telmuril
, the Flesh Sculptor.
Sarkithel fek Pathis
, the Chronicler.
Right, I definitely know that the Good can disagree; it's just harder for me to imagine them ever disagreeing so strenuously that they would declare Total War and kill trillions of souls over some fine point of doctrine.
Well, millions. The idea, I think, isn't that they're warring over mere doctrine. I think the idea is that pantheons can go to war when the mortal cultures who worship them go to war (for example, the ancient Suloise and Baklunish on the World of Greyhawk, or the Aesir and Vanir from Norse mythology). And the angelic hosts serving those gods go to war with them.
I know all this already, but I'm still looking forward to reading how exactly you write them up. (I'm curious also about the numbering, given that I can't come up with any logic for the other ten factions, or nine if you don't count the Free League. As someone who is fond of tinkering with and revising this faction system for his own campaign world, I'm very eager to discuss this subject at greater length.)
I mean, there was a whole book on them, The Factol's Manifesto
Other good sources include The Mimir
and The Lady's Cage
. I have thoughts on most of them, but I'm not going to go on and on for thousands of words in a thread that was supposed to be about the Feywild.
The Dustmen are morbid Buddhists, combined with the inhabitants of the Necropolis Litharege
The Godsmen are transhumanists.
The Transcendent League are Zen mystics who listen to the rhythms of the multiverse.
The Free League range from anarcho-capitalists to simply people who want to be left alone by the other factions.
The Harmonium are collectivists.
The Revolutionary League are anarchists, revolutionaries, or Occupy Wall Street types.
The Sign of One are solipsists.
The Fated are Objectivists.
The Sensates are hedonists and Epicureans.
But they're all flexible concepts with a lot of different possible interpretations. The Factol's Manifesto
softened some of the more extreme philosophies (for example, introducing the concept of the Great Unknown and making Signers more than absolute solipsists, giving them a more nuanced view that everyone is potentially the center of the multiverse, and capable of influencing it, adding multiple sub-factions among the Mercykillers, etc. Most of the factions have extreme and moderate adherents, including both allies and antagonists among them.
The Mercykillers are clearly Lawful Evil from this description
I'm not sure what you think you can discern from a one-line summary. There are two major sub-factions among the Mercykillers, with one (primarily lawful good) emphasizing mercy and the other (primarily lawful evil) emphasizing punishment.
and neither of the other two seems capable of resembling Good to more than the most minimal extent
As above, each faction has moderate and extreme elements. At their most benign, the Hardheads are just cops trying to keep the peace. Factol Sarin is a lawful good paladin who worships St. Cuthbert. The more fascist elements in Arcadia answer to Killeen Caine, whose activities aren't all sanctioned by the factol.
They shouldn't be distinct
Law and chaos have many meanings. Ethics are only one of them.
where belief shapes reality.
Which is an interesting theme, but an empty statement in itself, and the source of countless
arguments among the Planescape fandom because it can mean basically anything you want it to mean. People believe all sorts of things. They have beliefs about ethics, and beliefs about law and chaos, and these sets overlap but belief doesn't make them synonymous. Chaos is liberty, and chaos is change, chaos is entropy, etc. Alignment is mainly about the liberty aspect.
The planes of Law and Chaos aren't an equator, they're an entire tropical and subtropical zone.
The Planes of Law
boxed set described Baator, Acheron, Mechanus, Arcadia, and Mount Celestia. The Planes of Chaos
boxed set described the Abyss, Pandemonium, Limbo, Ysgard, and Arborea. The Planes of Conflict
boxed set described Carceri, the Gray Waste, Gehenna, the Beastlands, Elysium, and Bytopia. The Outlands were detailed in a separate boxed set, A Player's Primer to the Outlands
So anyway, the "Planes of Law and Chaos" overlap the Upper Planes and Lower Planes. Arcadia is both a Plane of Law and an Upper Plane.
I already linked to the 5th edition Great Wheel diagram, which clearly includes Arcadia and Ysgard among the Upper Planes,
Here's the chart from the 2nd edition Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix
Here's an excerpt from that source's description of the Upper Planes; Arcadia is listed first:
Again, my basis for this definition is the mechanics in the 3E Manual of the Planes.
Again, that's a limitation of the mechanics there, but we're not confining this discussion to 3rd edition. This thread is about using 4th and 5th edition concepts in a 2nd edition campaign setting, so 3rd edition mechanics really shouldn't be seen as definitive. Even then, the only one defining "upper plane" as "planes with the good descriptor" is you. There's no particular reason "upper" should mean "good." It means what it says on the tin: up. The upper planes are the planes above Mechanus, the Outlands, and Limbo, whether or not they're considered "good" in your game mechanics of choice.
Chaos, undiluted by any influence from Good, is pure random force, equally likely to destroy as to create. It absolutely cannot peacefully coexist with the idea that life has meaning and should be preserved.
Heh, but mostly when we're talking about eladrins, we're not talking about "pure random force," we're talking about balancing the concept of liberty against the concept of altruism. For a real-life example, do we permit hateful and dangerous speech to ensure that more benign speech is also protected? On the chaotic side of the ethical coin, the answer is yes, freedom is all-important and if that means some evil is done in the name of freedom then so be it. On the neutral good side we say no, not necessarily: freedom is nice but it has to be balanced with concerns for safety. On the lawful good side we say absolutely not, freedom is a luxury we can't always afford. Bad things should be banned, and if the same laws are used to ban good things too, well, that's the price of safety. See also the gun control debate, or the health care debate, or the immigration debate, or any number of other issues. Obviously I'm not going to be able to map real world debates perfectly on to a system as artificial as the Dungeons and Dragons alignment system, but this is the general sort of dichotomy it encompasses.
So an eladrin's ethical paradigm includes some tolerance for the wickedness of demons, within limits, because freedom always includes an element of danger. An archon's ethical paradigm includes some tolerance for the wickedness of devils, who exploit loopholes in the laws that archons support, because law always includes the potential for abuse.
Sorry, while you were saying all that, a demon got bored and ripped off your head, shat down your neck, and is now fornicating with your corpse.
Which is to be avoided! Eladrins fight against that sort of thing! Yet demons are champions of chaos: they break down boundaries and allow the multiverse to change, bloom, and grow. Demons are allies in the promotion of chaos, enemies against the promotion of good. And while I said that, archons were promoting stasis and bureaucracy, strangling passions, smothering new ideas in the cradle, their laws providing shelter and ammunition for devils. Ten million eladrins failed to be born, or withered and died, because the cosmic balance shifted too far toward Law. Archons are allies in good, but enemies in the promotion of chaos.
As long as demons exist, archons are a resource that eladrins can use against both demons and devils. The reverse will never be true; demons are too dangerous to even try and use for any sort of beneficial purpose.
They're not supposed
to be used for beneficial purposes; they're supposed to be used for chaotic
purposes, which they can be relied on to do. Demons are a resource that can be used against both devils and archons. It's not necessarily beneficial
, but eladrins aren't solely interested in what is beneficial.
the abduction of eladrin children is still kind of a big deal, unless you simply assume it hasn't actually happened.
It doesn't really matter. The Abyss is a big place without any centralized authority. The eladrin children (who number fewer than 100, according to the Fiendish Codex I
) are only a tiny part of it, and it's hard to say all demons bear collective responsibility for Pale Night's crime. Technically it's the obyriths (of which Pale Night is one) who were their target; the tanar'ri are a separate race who rose to dominate the Abyss after the eladrins wiped out many of their former masters.
I don't have any problem with the idea that eladrins and demons come to blows when the demons are "shitting down the necks" of innocents. But demons also oppose devils and archons, and eladrins are much more ideologically similar to demons than they are other fiends. I think it's fascinating to look at these beings not from our human perspective, but from the alien perspective of entities literally formed from these cosmic forces. From the perspective of an eladrin, there's a lot to like about demons, just as there's a lot to like about archons, because "chaos" is every bit as important to them as "good" is. Modrons and yugoloths are abhorrent, and devils worst of all. Demons and archons are allies in some instances and enemies in others. That doesn't mean they have to slaughter archons, but it means archons are their ideological opponents every bit as much as demons are.
Pretty nearly so, yeah. The eladrins were originally made up for a freakin' collectible card game, so they probably weren't very well thought out in the first place, but over time they've syncretically evolved into a neat midpoint between the classic Tolkien elf and the mythological Fair Folk
They should have nothing to do with elves or faeries at all. They're no more related to elves than hound archons are related to dogs, or modrons are related to polyhedron dice. As personifications of the chaotic good alignment, associating them with elves is far too limiting, and does a disservice to chaotic good characters of other races.
(from what I've heard, their appearance in Spelljammer predated any mention of them in the RPG, although I admittedly am only repeating hearsay; even if publication dates bear me out, we don't know what was going on behind the scenes, so maybe Baker had something decent in mind before the cards were printed).
, I think you mean, though they were actually from the Blood Wars
card game. But I give Rich Baker credit for developing them in the Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix II
, since that source included a lot more information than the cards did. I suppose someone could ask Rich Baker if he came up with the initial idea, but I don't really care.
I believe the same book which proposes the Rilmani also has a race of extradimensional mirror-people whose name I forget
The nerra. There's actually an interesting backstory in Tales From the Infinite Staircase
in which the Outlands were originally inhabited by a race known as the kamarel, but when the rilmani arose the kamarel fled into the plane of mirrors, abandoning their cities to the rilmani. Perhaps the kamarel evolved into the nerra, though 4th edition has some other interesting ideas about where the nerra came from.
The nerra originated in the 3rd edition Fiend Folio
, but the rilmani are originally from the Planescape Monstrous Compendium Appendix Volume II
, like the eladrins and guardinals, and they have more castes and more detail (and better illustrations) in the earlier source.
That's weird, I use the name Aeons for a different, less elfy version of Chaotic Good exemplars, very inspired by Thelema and similar forms of occultism (I forget exactly which new-age guru type, and/or medieval Gnostic prophet, proposed the idea that all true divinities were but emanations of the ultimate archetype of cosmic perfection, but somewhere in this field of study, the word Aeon was used in a very particular context, which I latched onto but good).
In Gnosticism, aeons are the servants of the true divine, dwelling in the Pleroma, while archons are the lords of the phenomenological world, the prison universe created by the Demiurge (as described in Ephesians 6:12
; the archons are the "rulers" or "authorities," the "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." They specifically rule over the planets, and thus astrology, so it kind of fits that the good-aligned D&D archons are associated with layers of Celestia named after the planetary spheres). I've used aeons to mean celestials who have ascended beyond the six lower Heavens to the Seventh, leaving archons behind as bodhisattvas to guide mortals to similar transcendance.
In The Avatar's Handbook
from Green Ronin, aeons are neutral good celestials with a nature theme.
I'm sure this is all very fascinating to some people, but to me, it seems extremely silly. I can believe in a sort of primordial uber-fiend, but having them specifically turn out to be canoloths, nycaloths, arcanoloths and so forth
The uber-fiends are the baernaloths (I've seen people use the infernals from the Epic Level Handbook
as a basis for their 3rd edition stats). The canoloths, nycaloths, and so on are their creations, just as the demons and devils are. The General of Gehenna cast off the chaotic and lawful taint the yugoloths had absorbed, which became the primal larvae that were herded into the Abyss and Baator, becoming the oldest fiends (the obyriths and elder Baatorians, probably, rather than the tanar'ri or baatezu, though this is somewhat ambiguous).
it strikes me as a very childish
"The idea that one thing might be older than another thing is for babies!"
The main idea is that the primal forces of Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil are the oldest things on the Outer Planes, and they only began to blend later on. So the neutral evil, neutral good, lawful neutral, and chaotic neutral races are older than the chaotic evil, lawful evil, chaotic good, and lawful good races.
I'd assign it to some far more conceptual sort of entities, calling them Dreadlords or Dark Ones or something, and the yugoloths would probably just be cast-offs from the other two types of fiends, since they very much seem like an afterthought by comparison to them.
The yugoloths, in Planescape, represent "purity" of evil, untainted by law or chaos or mortality. They view mortals with disdain (since they precede them) and concentrate on manipulating the younger fiendish races via the Blood War.
In the Pathfinder RPG, their equivalent of yugoloths, the daemons, are incarnations of the concept of mortality, and each caste represents a different kind of death.
(Although an interesting different take, which can't really coexist with these, is the idea that the tanarri, baatezu, and yugoloths all started out as three distinct sorts of evolution, with one being almost entirely reptilian in cast, another heavily using mammalian features, and a third having an insectlike nature, with all three sort of intermingling over the aeons. By this theory, ice devils were probably originally a yugoloth race who settled in a cold part of Baator, explaining why they don't share the tendency towards scales and fangs that we see in the pit fiend, the cornugon, the hamatula, and a lot of the other iconic devils. Similar logic is applied to all the other fiends that don't seem to quite fit the aesthetic of their race...for instance I can very easily see the Arcanoloth as an ex-demon, whose interest in magical lore was difficult to pursue amist the constant turbulence of the Abyss.)
The idea that gelugons were originally a yugoloth caste is familiar. I almost feel like a 4th edition source might have gone with that (though yugoloths are demons in 4e)? I have a half-memory of some source claiming they began as yugoloth mercenaries hired by Mephistopheles. Edit: Oh! It's in the 4th edition Manual of the Planes
, page 104. "Mephistopheles’s great strength lies in his command of the ice devils, or gelugons. These were once a mercenary race of demons akin to mezzodemons, but he entrapped them in perpetual servitude millennia ago, transforming them into denizens of the Nine Hells. Although Mephistopheles permits ice devils to serve other archdevils, they are bound to obey him before any others—a significant bit of insurance for the lord of Cania." Though there are other insectlike devils, like the kocrachon and bone devil (with its scorpion tail), so they're really not that unusual among devilkind.
Of the yugoloth types, nycaloths are roughly similar to horned devils or nabassu in appearance. Ultroloths are simply faceless humanoids. Hydroloths are similar to hezrou or slaadi. Yagnoloths are sort of similar to glabrezu (different sized arms), and marraenoloths are similar to bone devils and babau, so only the lowest castes of yugoloths are insectlike anyway. And there are insectlike demons, such as the chasme.
I've written more extensively about it elsewhere, but I see yugoloths and guardinals as having obvious parallels to one another. The base footsoldiers, the mezzoloths, mirror the cervidals, the winged nycaloths mirror the avorals, the sagely arcanaloths mirror the ursinals, and the ruling ultroloths mirror the leonals. Other castes were created later.
Similarly, there are some strong parallels that suggest the archon castes might have been derived from guardinal castes in some way, particularly if you look at how the archons were originally depicted in 1e. Lupinals and hound archons, leonals and sword archons (which had cat heads in 1e), ursinals and warden archons, and avorals and tome archons (which had hawk heads in 1e).