Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thinking About Angels

We often talk about under-used (and over-used) monsters in D&D, but I rarely hear people bring up angels as an underused monsters. But think about it ... aside from the railroady-save-the-world-from-elder-evil games, most D&D concerns a bunch of plunderers and tomb robbers. Even though some might be, technically, lawful, why wouldn't some angelic vengeance show up once in a while when the party violates a consecrated tomb and carries away the burial goods or busts in on some humanoids who aren't, at that moment, breaking God's Law (or Whoever's Law) and slaughter them wholesale, carting away their treasures. Angels in the game seem to just show up when a (technically) Lawful character summons them for help.

"Sure, mortal, I understand how hard it is to murder your way to riches. Let me help you out with some free healing because you're technically on my team!"

I think there are a few reasons why this attitude predominates.

1) In a culture with Judeo-Christian roots (whether you believe or not, the roots are there), fighting angels seems wrong - i.e. not just non-lawful, but deeply chaotic. Fine for an "Evil Campaign" perhaps, but just weird otherwise.

2) The GM/Ref is "God". You can fight berserkers, orcs, basilisks, balrogs, flail snails, etc. all day long, and it makes sense, because they're just supposed to be there. But if an angel shows up and scolds the party with a fireball, it must be because the GM is trying to punish you for wrecking his dungeon/world.

3) History might be another problem. For generations, supposed believers in The Book wore their religion on their sleeve while engaging in plunder and slaughter. Angels didn't punish them, so why should they punish us? We often posit - "What would a fantasy world be like if The Gods were real?", but not  - "What would a fantasy world be like if Vengeful Enforcers of the Ten Commandments were real?".

4) Finally, we tend to take a very soft, Michael Landon sort of view of angels in popular culture. You know, technically the adventurers are the good guys (or at least mostly focus their killing and robbing on evil folks), so, you know, the angels are kinda sorta on their side.

But how about a more unforgiving view of angels. Angels are relentless enforcers of the deity or deities of Law on the Material Plane. They take orders from an entity that is right, by definition, always right (maybe this entity is always right in your campaign, or maybe Lawful entities think he/she/it always is). "Thou shalt not kill" isn't a suggestion, its a rule. You go around killing things, even wicked things, and eventually you're going to run into some divine interference (maybe a cumulative 1% chance per killing, first you tangle with a lesser deva, and then work your way up to a Solar).

These are angels that encourage the concept of "martyrdom for one's beliefs" (i.e. pacifism in the face of sure death, 'cause the point is to die with your alignment intact, not with the most XP or GP), not the "muscular Christianity" of the 19th century. Steal a pound of gold, lose a pound of flesh. It's a different view of angels than we usually get, but isn't that the point? Players won't see it coming, and you can finally get some use out of the those solars, planetars, devas, archons, eladrin, etc. that are taking up space in your favorite monster book.

Anyhow - just a thought.



  2. for random angel crazyness. I should explain myself better. Yeah.

  3. I think I've used Angels as high level monsters more often then Demons or Devils in recent years - I don't know, maybe I'm just irreverent.

  4. Good idea. And it would also give the party's chaotic cleric a chance to finally roll on the turning chart!

    1. Maybe then the party would finally appreciate them. *sniff*

  5. What are devas, chopped liver?

    And, if you assume a Gnostic-style evil demiurge, angels make great villains.

    (this from the guy who statted up the nine orders of angels from the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in high school)

  6. I would personally love it if RPG religions were more like real world ones:

    And for me that does include avenging angels, if you believe in them of course. Anyone who hasn't seen it should check out the killer Christopher Walken flick The prophecy. It looks a bit dated now, but is still an ace film and has a great performance from Viggo Mortenson too.

  7. Like Shortymonster, I like the avenging/Old Testement type angels as sort of divine enforcers who don't care that much about mortals. To quote the Supernatural TV series, "Man, angels are dicks."

  8. I highly recommend the manhwa (Korean manga) 'Priest' by Hyung Min-woo. It's a great example of how to cast really spooky angels as the antagonists in an adventure. Plus the artwork is amazing.

  9. I've been thinking for awhile that summoning angels or celestials to be bodily present should be something akin to leveling the Hoover dam to put out your house fire. The fact that "Be Not Afraid!" needs to be the first words out of the thing's mouth so you don't run in terror.

    Avenging angel:

    On the round after summoning a star falls burning from the heavens.

    On the second round a winged form, naked and perfect, sans hair, can be made out in the center of the light and flame, gliding on vast wings. Even at this distance you can tell that the angel is huge. All witnesses save or freeze in awe.

    On the third round the figure alights in full glory between you and your foes and brandishes a sword of light formed of it's own substance. The light of the sword pierces the hearts of all within 15 yards. Save or flee in terror. The sword does not harm the flesh but utterly destroys those impure spirits it comes in contact with (hint: no mortal has a pure spirit), mortals can sense this and fear it.

    If combat has ended and the celestial has not been slain before the time the spell duration runs out, it turns on the caster and company. It may or may not attach them, but it's gaze pierces the heart of each. Saving throw or severe penalty to all actions for 2d8 days, as the character questions every choice they've made in life. You realize how the divine plan of the angel's patron actually is best for you and the world in general, and reflect on every case where your selfishness and thoughtlessness has been screwing things up your whole life.


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