Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Broken Sword and Deities & Demigods Link Roundup

Okay, y’all got two for one again this time. (I’ve pulled this “pivot to a really arcane gaming topic” several times and nobody’s called me on it. Hopefully it’s not worn out, yet!)

RETROSPECTIVE: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

I am not the first person to connect the fourth AD&D core book to The Broken Sword. (You can see “T. Foster” do that on the Gronardia post linked to below.) But I am maybe the first person to connect this book to Tolkien, Dunsany, and Lewis… and to first edition GURPS Fantasy. Okay, it sounds crazy… but it made sense when I was writing it. But if you wanted to know why it is that eighties style “pink slime fantasy” is so danged pink and slimy… this is why!

Grognardia — “Personally, I find The Broken Sword interesting, because it provides a plausible alternate avenue for the treatment of elves and half-elves in D&D, particularly the latter. Given that half-elves first appear in Supplement I, a book that also introduces several other Anderson-inspired game rules (such as the paladin class), I don’t think this is implausible. Anderson’s elves share many characteristics with Tolkien’s, but then both authors looked to Norse legends as their models. Anderson’s elves are far more passionate and martial than are Tolkien’s. They’re also more alien and removed from the affairs of the mortal world of which they are not a part. I very much like their portrayal and my own interpretations of the race owe a lot to Anderson, much as I suspect Gygax’s did as well.”

Dreams in the Lich House — “Was Poul Anderson channeling some post-war geopolitics?  The gods, as superpowers, intervene in the mortal world only through proxies, and let their followers battle it out.  Neither side (the Asgardians or the Giants) wants to commit themselves to the mortal realm and bring about Ragnarok, so they arm the combatants and provide indirect help like the Cold War.  It’s a model that would work well for D&D.”

Roles, Rules, and Rolls — “Fey creatures also cannot handle iron and are harmed by it. This means that a fostered human or changeling, as well as the dwarfs who are not iron-shy, become valuable tools in the elf-troll war. We catch a glimpse of this in the OD&D and Holmes D&D logic of elves choosing to be fighters or magic-users each day. Holmes apparently elaborated on the reason for this in a novel. Simply enough, the choice to wear iron armor and weapons would nullify the elf’s magic. But although games like Runequest took the idea and ran even further with it, AD&D dropped it cold. If people complain that elves are overpowered in AD&D and later editions, perhaps one reason is that Gygax chose to go with the Tolkien view of elves as benevolent, superhuman beings. What would have happened instead if he’d taken up the Anderson view of elves as powerful and innately magical, but limited by weakness to the inexorable forces of Law and metallurgy?”

Grognardia — “A book detailing various historical and literary pantheons, along with information on including them in a campaign, is a great idea. But why include game stats for the gods at all? Why tell us that Ra has 400 hit points or that Mjolnir deals 10d10 damage? How does this information accord with Gygax’s claims that the DDG lays out ‘how crucial the deities of the campaign milieu are?’ In my experience, such details only fueled foolish arguments over which god was most powerful, not to mention dreams of marching on Mount Olympus to slay Zeus. What is so ‘integral’ to the game about this?”

Blood of Prokopius — “Whether intended or not, giving stats to all these pagan gods as if they were monsters expresses a fundamental truth about the pagan world-view. These gods are quantifiable because they are part of creation. Ancient creation stories repeat over and over again how all the various bits and pieces of the world are made from some part of the gods themselves. Creation always happens from some kind of pre-existant matter — everything is quantifiable.”

Jeff’s Gameblog — “The original DDG has tons of great illos. Here’s one by David LaForce that totally blew my mind when I was a kid. Back in the day I was baffled by those bad guys. Who the hell are they? At one point I considered that they might be an NPC party from some parallel Prime Material Plane where they play a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle/Palladium Fantasy hybrid game. Eventually I settled on the idea that the tiger-headed guy was a rakshasa, the bird dude was a kenku and the boar-head guy was an orcish cleric. Together they formed a sort of dark mirror anti-PC party, a pro-active multi-racial group of badguys to oppose all those mixed parties of goody-goody dwarves, elves, and humans.”

the revealer — “In 1980, for instance, the AD&D rulebook Deities & Demigods devoted a lengthy section to the metaphysical nature of D&D characters, and their survival after death. ‘AD&D assumes the anima, that force which gives life and distinct existence to thinking beings, is one of two sorts: soul of spirit,’ it begins. Humans, and select near-humans are accorded souls. Elves and similar beings must make-do with spirits. ‘When a being from the Prime Material Plane dies, its soul or spirit goes to one of the outer planes,’” the text continues. ‘For souls, [arriving at an outer plane] is the beginning of eternity; it is on this plane that the soul will remain forever, enjoying the benefits or suffering the torments thereof.’ Spirits are governed by a separate mechanism. “At some time in the future, at the will of the deity, the spirit can be returned to the Prime Material Plane — reincarnated. What’s more, the passage of souls and spirits from the “prime material plane” is a lengthy process: it can take 3 to 30 days, depending on circumstances. ‘Thus the rationale for the progressive time limit on the raise dead spell becomes clear,” the book concludes. Similarly detailed treatments are given, in Deities & Demigods, for the dispatching of omens, the calculus of divine intervention and the exact mechanics of the awe induced by an encounter with a god. Ultimately, AD&D’s complexity carried the system into areas with likely to have little bearing on any one session of the game itself. Its rules became not just the physics of the D&D world, but also its metaphysics. It’s an approach that Dungeons and Dragons, under Gygax and his successors, has continued to refine for more than thirty years.”

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2 responses to “The Broken Sword and Deities & Demigods Link Roundup

  1. Pingback: That Woefully Incomplete Sampling of Appendix | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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