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Every now and then, someone posts to a D&D group asking how everyone used Deities & Demigods in your games. The question almost always refers to 1st Edition D&D (“1e”). I suspect the reason for that is 1) many people that used it as kids so (like me) their answers will depend on how long ago they played; and 2) later editions of D&D overtly incorporated combat with divine creatures, or their avatars, for epic level adventurers. I’ve also played 3rd Edition D&D (“3e”), 4th Edition D&D (“4e”), and 5th Edition D&D (“5e”), so I’m going to address all of them.
Yes, there’s a clear pattern in my abbreviations, but this is how lawyers write.
As a kid, I loved reading mythology before I had even heard of D&D. Mythology is what drew me in, so of course I was going to use Deities and Demigods anyway I could. I remember during my earliest days (1977 or 1978), I created a list of 100 (or so) magic items from that sourcebook (e.g., Thor’s hammer, Enlil’s helm), and each PC was permitted to roll a d100 to determine their starting magic weapon. Yes, a 7th-level level character could wield Zeus’s Aegis. As an adult, this sounds stupid, but there’s no wrong way to play D&D, right? We had fun with it.
I stopped playing D&D in 1982 due to the Satanic Panic, so no 2nd Edition or 3rd Edition D&D for me.
I returned to the game of D&D in 2005, and 3.5e was the current edition. I never played or ran epic level for 3.5e, so that edition’s Deities and Demigods was nothing more than reading material. I sold off almost all my 3e materials when 4e came out, but when I repurchased some for posterity, I made sure to grab that one (actually, it was gifted to me by James). I love that book, but what stood out the most to me about it was the transition to Horus as the supreme leader of the Egyptian pantheon. Like the real world, leadership switched. But I never used it in game.
Side Note: I really wish I’d never sold Hordes of the Abyss or Tyrants of the Nine Hells. They’re great resources valuable in any edition, but buying them now would be a horrible waste of money.
There was no 4e Deities and Demigods. Divine creatures, or their avatars (DM’s choice as to which), appeared throughout various monster manuals, and they were designed as encounters for epic level creatures. Basically, Wizards of the Coast (“WotC”) surrendered to the notion that a lot of us wanted to face the divine, and it became part of the game. How the monster was interpreted – the actual creature or just an avatar – was a matter for the DM to decide, but they were there. Well, a few of them. I don’t recall WotC publishing gods beyond their own proprietary pantheons. I believe you had to go to third parties for that material, and sometimes it wasn’t right on point (e.g., Soldiers of Fortune had a Thor equivalent, but he wasn’t called “Thor”).
Now that I’m going backwards, I must decide how to deal with divine creatures. They aren’t baked into the scheme like they are with 4e. In fact, as some have pointed out, it really should be impossible for PCs to compete against the divine on their home plane, which is the only place where they can finally be defeated. Once you leave the Prime Material Plane, many spells don’t work or are severely weakened. The environment itself works against the PCs but is home sweet home for divine creatures. There’s no upper limit to class levels for PCs, so eventually PCs should be able to fight the divine within the rules, but who’s going to level up to level 1,000? No one, and isn’t advancement through adventuring the real fun of the game? I’m not just going to say, “Okay, you’re all 1,000th level. Let’s go fight some gods.” I’m also not going to rewrite the rules in some odd way to make divine encounters more practical. It’s assumed that DMs will tweak the rules a bit, but eventually that reaches a point where we aren’t playing D&D anymore. That doesn’t interest me.
Of course, I don’t have to make my decision anytime soon. In fact, I may never have to make it. Once I sit down at the table, I may lose interest in 1e quickly. We’ll see.
This isn’t much of a plug, but here it goes. Luddite Vic and I are designing our own RPG. It’ll never see the commercial light of day because we don’t meet frequently enough to get it done. However, the system so far is, unsurprisingly, exactly what I want from an RPG. One of our design schemes relevant here is to make sure that PCs can emulate characters from mythology, folklore, or literature even at first level. I’ve never seen that in an RPG.
For example, how might one emulate Thor in 5e? One less-than-ideal option would be a hammer-wielding human tempest cleric, but that cleric would barely be distinguishable from any other cleric build until 3rd level, and even then, it’s going to take a while before it’s obvious to other players what you’re trying to do. You could just tell them, but if you need to do that, you’re not really playing Thor yet. What about Tarzan? How long would a half-naked, dagger-wielding barbarian last in a game of 5e?
In our system, everyone would know from the get-go exactly what you were doing with your lightning/thunder-based, hammer-wielding, human tempest, or a half-naked, dagger-wielding barbarian, even though those characters wouldn’t be any more or less powerful than any other 1st-level characters. That’s the real solution, but I know of no other game that does that. One game was mentioned to me where the PCs are the gods, but from what I understand, they don’t start as anything resembling 1st-level for other RPGs. That’s not bad, but it’s not the same thing. I want to start as first level with that character concept and earn divinity.
That’s how I’d prefer to “use Deities and Demigods.” I shouldn’t need to. I should be able to make the PCs and NPCs exactly what I need them to be. But in 1e, they’re just avatars.
Maybe someday Vic and I will finish our game.
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