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When the Canon goes off…

Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On September 16, 2008 @ 5:14 am In Specific RPGs | 10 Comments

I love to give my DM a hard time.  It’s just playful teasing and part of how i have fun in the game.  For example, my DM uses large monsters a lot but uses 1″x2″ bases to represent them and I’m fond of teasing her how her current tactical setup would be impossible were she using the “correct” basing.

Yesterday, after game, she told me “I was so worried you were going to call me on the fact that I put those gnolls in an encounter with a succubus and some imps.”  I was completely puzzled.  What was wrong with gnolls, a succubus and some imps?  She further explained that the Monster Manual states that gnolls often work with demons.  That made sense to me.  After all, gnolls worship Yeenoghu, Demon Lord of Gnolls.  Then she followed up with “and Succubi and imps are devils.”  That’s when it dawned on me.  Of course!  Imps were devils, not demons.  I should have totally spotted that.  However, she was wrong about succubi.  Succubi are demons that seduce more with/inspiring animal lust, whereas the devil equivalent is the Erinyes, a female devil with feathered wings that uses carefully crafted seduction.  My DM was puzzled that I was so sure of this, so we looked it up.  Oops!  Succubi are devils!  Serves me right for not reading all the new core rulebooks from front to back.

It seems that with the changes to the alignment system in 4e, demons and devils had to be classified differently than “Lawful Evil” and “Chaotic Evil” so now all demons are horrible engines of violence, moving some of the more subtle demons square into devil territory.  They also created new canon around the creation of demons and the abyss, since demons and devils can no longer be corrupted versions of the “Lawful Good” and “Chaotic Good” outsiders.  Frankly, the new cannon for demons bothers me.  I don’t like the new direction it takes demons and I think it’s pretty hokey sounding (although I dohave to give props where props are due.  An epic campaign to travel to the heart of the Abyss and shatter the seed of ultimate evil that created it, destroying the Abyss and all of demon kind in one fell swoop does sound all kinds of awesome).

Still, it’s not as though this is the first canon change DnD has ever seen.  Every eddition, there are a few changes in stats, new fluff is added and old fluff is dropped, which can make being a 1e trivia buff kind of fun.  For example, only in 1e do they go into detail on how devils (and demons, until 4e) are created and promoted and why, because of this, it’s exceedingly unlikely they can “fall to goodness”.

What canon changes have called out to you in your favorite games over the years, fellow gnomes?  Which ones have left you annoyed and indignant?  Which have inspired and excited you?

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.




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10 Comments To "When the Canon goes off…"

#1 Comment By amatriain On September 16, 2008 @ 7:20 am

Fading Suns. Symbiots. They originally were scary motherfuckers, shapeshifting unknowable aliens who could disguise themselves as humans in order to cause the maximum carnage possible. Worse yet, some of them could infect you with a disease that would wipe your personality and turn you into one of them. Scary indeed. A single symbiot spore falling on a planet was very bad news.

Then came the “lifeweb” book. And these mean bastards suddenly were not so bad after all, just misunderstood nature-loving guys who were in tune with Gaia and just reacted badly to mankind polluting the environment.

Come on. I mean, give me my shapeshifting xenokillers any day, rather than some green-loving beatniks.

#2 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On September 16, 2008 @ 8:14 am

I’ve never gone much into trying to concern myself with differentiating the devils/demons things. But the entire mythology/cosmology thing of D&D is also something that concerns me little.

(All of which SHOULD make me a big fan of 4E’s approach to the default story, I know. Alas …).

I try to go with the flow with canon changes, though to tell the truth, the default array of deities from 3E to 4E has made me stumble more than anything. I mean, where did Olidammara go?

#3 Comment By yunatwilight On September 16, 2008 @ 8:16 am

For example, only in 1e do they go into detail on how devils (and demons, until 4e) are created and promoted and why, because of this, it’s exceedingly unlikely they can ”fall to goodness”.

Not actually true. 2e goes into immense detail on this. It’s just not in the Monstrous Compendium — they moved all of the nitty-gritty detail about demons and devils into the specific lower planar sourcebooks, most of which got Planescape-branded.

#4 Comment By deadlytoque On September 16, 2008 @ 10:08 am

I really dig what they’ve done with the cosmology/planes of 4E. I like that angels are the (mercenary) servants of the gods, good and evil; devils are the fallen servants of the gods, and thus serve devil princes; whereas demons are something else entirely. Devils want to conquer the Planes… demons just want to unmake reality.

I also love what the revisions have done for Yeenoghu, Demon-god of the Gnolls. It’s currently downloadable content on the Wizards website, but the short version is that he was once one of the Primordials, responsible for helping make the world, but has since become corrupted into the Beast of Butchery we all know and love. Gnolls are my favorite D&D monster, because hyenas scare the everlovin’ pants off of me, so I’m happy to see their unholy master get his due.

#5 Comment By Swordgleam On September 16, 2008 @ 11:18 am

I never use the settings that come with any games I play, which makes most of the monster fluff useless to me. And while I appreciate that D&D pillages a lot of mythology, reading that the Erinyes (the Greek name for the Furies) are supposed to be seductive makes me cringe.

I just can’t deal with having a plane that’s the Roman name for hell, and a plane that’s the Greek name for hell, and a plane that’s the Yiddish name for hell, and a plane that’s a “subplane” of the Greek hell, all being entirely different things. So I enjoy that the new cosmology seems to do away with that.

I like mythology, and I like taking myths and changing them. But taking the name for one thing, and applying it to something different entirely, without any apparent rhyme or reason, just makes me twitch. That’s probably entirely unreasonable of me. But I will never be able to make it through an adventure that mentions the perils of Gehenna without bursting into laughter. It’s like saying, “If you fail at this, Santa will leave you a lump of coal.”

#6 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 16, 2008 @ 11:29 am

Re: YunaTwilight-
Oops! My mistake. Back when i was a teeneager, I knew every book I owned front and back. Now days not so much, and I never owned ALL the books, so I’m in no way the ultimate source for stuff.

Re: SwordGleam-
You wouldn’t scoff at Santa if you had seen his 1e stats. Not kidding. Check out the Dragon Magazine Archive. They’re in there. I think they give Rudolph the treatment too.

#7 Comment By Knight of Roses On September 16, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

I am a big fan of the Legend of the Five Rings setting but as it is tied to the CCG which chooses major story points by who wins major CCG tournaments . . . Let us just say, when I GM L5R, my campaign no longer aligns with the canon setting.

Same with Shadowrun, love the basic outline of the wacky setting but there are aspects that rub me the wrong way. So, in my campaign, they are gone. They are minor to the way the game plays but they are important to me, I need a world that is coherent to me.

And, I like the new D&D cosmology even though I do not use it (or the original D&D) cosmology in my campaign.

#8 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 16, 2008 @ 8:43 pm

Metaphysics is the Achilles’ heel of most fantasy RPGs. We need a reason for nearly-omnipotent beings to give puny mortals some of their power, but not to get personally involved; we also need an explanation for the afterlife that’s kinda-sorta the same for all beings, or at least some of them; we need rationalization for objective Good vs. Evil, instead of conflicting viewpoints wherein each side sees themselves as Good; we also need all of this to be transparent so the players know exactly what they’re doing. Monotheism is starting to sound tempting, isn’t it?

Personally, I appreciate some of the ‘metaphysical cleaning up’ that 4E has done. The biggest exception is the “Gooder than Good/Eviler than Evil” aspect that makes Law Good and Chaos Evil. WTF? Take the entire history of the tension between freedom and responsibility, and boil it down into “discipline is good; freedom’s evil”? Robert A. Heinlein is spinning in his grave.

Admittedly, nine alignments (ten, if you count “active neutral” and “apathetic neutral” as two alignments) wasn’t much better (if at all), but still…

My own interpretation (because what’s a GM site for, if not to brag about your own campaign?) is not to tell the players because I haven’t made it up yet. I’m tempted to say that each religion has its own beliefs; and who’s to say which one’s right (if any)? Can this be made to work in a game?

Anyone else got a good answer here?

#9 Comment By Swordgleam On September 16, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – “not to tell the players because I haven’t made it up yet”
I’m glad I’m not the only person who has that at the core of their GM strategy.

I can see each alignment, new or old, working as a code of ethics that believes in its own rightness. As someone mentioned in another discussion, if “lawful evil” were called “ruthless discipline,” would players automatically think it was opposed to good?

How about this:
Lawful good believes there is no goodness without order, good believes that “do what thou will, be it harm none,” neutral believes any number of things, evil believes in some sort of “invisible hand” theory of everything working out best if everyone serves their own interests, and chaotic evil believes that people being absolutely free to pursue their own interests is such a moral imperative that it’s okay to overturn any institution, no matter how benificent, to get to that state.

#10 Comment By Scott Martin On September 17, 2008 @ 9:32 am

Amatriain brought up a common example of change I dislike– when the bad guys are explained and lose their edge. Though there’s a huge exception to this rule– I really liked the Guide to the Technocracy and the hyper science of the revised convention books. They felt like advanced science, while many of the early convention books made them feel like mages [with magic rings and everything] who disguised things with technology. Being true believers in science worked a whole lot better.


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