The first chapter of Seven Footsteps to Satan presents a quite familiar figure: the down on his luck adventurer in desperate need of a way to make a quick buck. Granted, this is a staple of Classic Traveller much more than D&D, hearkening back not just to the original rules of that perennial space gaming favorite, but to the inspiration for the game itself: the intrepid Dumarest of Terra.
Chapter two presents us with the inevitable answer to such a premise: the mysterious patron with an offer that can’t be refused!
“That ferryboat yonder,” he pointed, seemingly unaware of my scrutiny. “It is an argosy of potential adventure. Within it are mute Alexanders, inglorious Caesars and Napoleons, incomplete Jasons each almost able to retrieve some Golden Fleece—yes, and incomplete Helens and Cleopatras, all lacking only one thing to round them out and send them forth to conquer.”
“Lucky for the world they’re incomplete, then,” I laughed. “How long would it be before all these Napoleons and Caesars and Cleopatras and all the rest of them were at each other’s throats—and the whole world on fire?”
“Never,” he said, very seriously. “Never, that is, if they were under the control of a will and an intellect greater than the sum total of all their wills and intellects. A mind greater than all of them to plan for all of them, a will more powerful than all their wills to force them to carry out those plans exactly as the greater mind had conceived them.”
“The result, sir,” I objected, “would seem to me to be not the super- pirates, super-thieves and super-courtesans you have cited, but super- slaves.”
“Less slaves than at any time in history,” he replied. “The personages I have suggested as types were always under control of Destiny—or God, if you prefer the term. The will and intellect I have in mind would profit, since its house would be a human brain, by the mistakes of blind, mechanistic Destiny or of a God who surely, if he exists, has too many varying worlds to look after to give minute attention to individuals of the countless species that crawl over them. No, it would use the talents of its servants to the utmost, not waste them. It would suitably and justly reward them, and when it punished—its punishments would be just. It would not scatter a thousand seeds haphazardly on the chance that a few would find fertile ground and grow. It would select the few, and see that they fell on fertile ground and that nothing prevented their growing.”
This is a fascinating passage.
Note that in 1927 you have what the patron is offering up being explicitly termed as being an ADVENTURE. It’s no accident that this term is synonymous with almost any tabletop role-playing game scenario. Combine insane risks with the potential for even more insane rewards and you instantly get the most exciting experience you can have while chucking dice at the tabletop. After all, nobody wants to role-play as some dweeb that never took a chance on anything.
Whether you’re talking about Bilbo Baggins, The Man With No Name, Han Solo, or some random murder hobo named Ed, this is serious business. (And if there happen to be any practicing psychologists reading this, why do you think that boys in particular would find such scenarios to be absolutely captivating? Anybody?)
I love how ominous this guy is, though. Sure, the title of the novel sort of tips A. Merritt’s hand with this. But he follows up a mild “God is an absentee landlord” argument with the insinuation that this other guy can run things waaaaaay better than the fellow that used a parable about seeds and sowing to break down how life really works.
And note the cognitive dissonance there. The patron is suggesting the protagonist give himself over to this mind control or coordinated demonic possession for the purposes of some scheme… but no, it’s not like slavery at all! See, throughout history… everyone was controlled by God/Destiny anyway. Of course, this God/Destiny was never concerned enough to take direct control of an individual. Which makes God/Destiny dumb. Which also makes this proposed demonic possession slavery in a way unlike what Napoleon or Cleopatra experienced as figures of history.
Which means our protagonist here is about to get involved with some seriously bad stuff. He’s being offered a chance to become one of these guys: