Thursday, July 9, 2020

One Man's God: Basic Demons (BECMI Demons, Part 2)

Last week I cover the topic of Demons in BECMI D&D and Basic Era D&D in general.  I want to expand on that a bit today. Again, this is a bit of a different tone for One Man's God, but it does get at the heart of what OMG is about.

One of Basic D&D's features vs. Advanced D&D is its alignment system of Law vs. Chaos with Neutrality in the middle.  Now a lot of ink and pixels have been spilled over the pros, cons, and everything else about alignment. I am not going to go into that here.  Although I am currently rereading Søren Kierkegaard for the first time since college and he is "still stuck on Abraham," so I wonder if I am going to do a proper talk on demons I might need to go back to the basics and address alignment someday.


So my discussions on demons in BECMI were covered in my Immortals Set Review and One Man's God: The Immortals and Demons of BECMI

Writing so much about witches you can't help but have to read about and write about demons.  The two subjects have been conflated for so long that "witchcraft" and "demonology" are either synonymous in some circles or so tied up together that separating them is difficult. 




Demonic Families and "The Usual Suspects"

Succubus
One of the Usual Suspects. ePic CG
For the "Basic-Era" demons were introduced in the classic D&D (OD&D) Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  Here we get what I call "The Ususal Suspects" of demons; Type I to Type VI, Succubi, Orcus and Demogorgon.  The same group appears in the AD&D Monster Manual (with some additions and some names) and then again in the D&D Immortals Set under new names again.  The AD&D game introduces Devils as a separate type of fiend.  Though it should be noted that D&D 4 looked over all the fiends and moved some around.  Notably, the Succubus became a type of devil, due to some machinations of Asmodeus in the "Brimstone Angels" novels.  They became an "independent" type of fiend in D&D 5.

Despite all of that, there is a good reason to include Demons (a chaotic evil fiend) into the milieu of D&D and its cosmic struggle of Law vs. Chaos.   Devils?  Let's save them for AD&D.  Besides, the division is artificial at best.

This division became more pronounced in the AD&D 2nd ed era when TSR caved to the Religious Right and pulled demons and devils.  

Tanar-what? Baate-Who?

One of the Unusual suspects, ePic CG
Demons and Devils would return in Planescape with the bowdlerized names of Tanar'ri and Baatezu respectively.  I remember at the time I was very disappointed in TSR for caving to the pressure of what I felt was a fringe group of religious nutjobs.

While I disapprove of why TSR caved, I approve of what became of it. "Demon" became a generic term to describe any evil outsider.  The "Tanar'ri" were now a specific group of Evil Outsiders that also happened to be chaotic and inhabited the Abyss.  They certain features, such as resistance to various magic and other attacks and certain vulnerabilities too. They were a family of creatures related by certain phenotypical descriptors. Now we have different demonic "families" of fiends. Add Yugoloths/Daemons and Demodands to the official rosters.  We don't have to be limited by "demon" or "devil" alone.  
Sometimes the constraints force us to be more creative.

Later in D&D 3rd Editon era we would get the official Obyrith and Loumara families of chaotic evil demons.  In Green Ronin's Armies of the Abyss and then later Paizo's Pathfinder then added Qlippoth, the OGC version of the Obyriths. Mongoose Publishing gave us the Tzaretch family.  Back at the end of 2nd Edition, I made the Lilim family.  In my Eldritch Witchery (use the link to get it at 50% off!) I introduced the Calabim and Shedim families and the Baalseraph, which is sort of like a family.  In my various Warlock books, I also added Eodemons, or dawn demons. My take on the first of the demonic families.

The scholars can then argue who belongs where.

Spend any time reading demonology text you will soon figure out that these "learned scholars" were just pulling things out of thin air. Sure sometimes you see the same names or even some descriptions that are similar, but otherwise, there is no more validity to the Ars Goetia of the Lesser Key of Solomon than there is to the Monster Manual II when it comes to naming and categorizing demons.  For me, the "key" to unlocking this was the demon Astaroth.

Astaroth and Astártē
What really got me going was what Christian demonologists did with the Goddess Astarte.  Astarte, also known by many other names including Astoreth, was Goddess of love and lust (sex), fertility, and war.  She was obviously connected to Ishtar, Innana,  Isis, and maybe even Aphrodite. She appears throughout the Middle East and even makes an appearance in the Hebrew texts and even in later Christian writings.  But her transformation from fertility goddess to nature goddess to a demon is odd, but not uncommon.  Early Christian writers saw any other god or religion as demonic or even devil worship.  Early Jewish scholars usually never had an issue with other gods. So it is conjectured that when Christian writers and scholars saw Astarte/Astoreth and her crescent moon horns she became a demon.  And a male demon, Astaroth, at that.  It is the primary example for me of how "one man's god is another man's demon." 

Often who was on what list of demonic entities depended on who was writing it and when. One can claim to "go back to the research" but when you are researching what is essentially a completely made-up topic it is not difficult to find something to support your claim.   

For me, that leaves only one satisfactory conclusion.  
Classify these creatures as I like. 

Demons In Basic-Era Games

Do demons belong in (my) Basic-era games?

I figure I have witches, vampires, all sorts of fey creatures, and other monsters.  So yeah there is no good reason to keep them out. 

So there are "demons" in the sense as the world defines them. And there are "demons" as I plan to use them here or, more to the point, have been using them here.  
Translation: Some devils are now demons in my game. 

I have been doing this with the lesser devil types like the barbazu, cornugon and gelugon.  They are all part of the Shedim or demons of rage.   Erinyes remain fallen angels, so technically I suppose that makes them Baalseraphs.

One thing that came up in my review of the Immortals set was how powerful the BECMI demons are vs. their AD&D counterparts.  My idea is to scale them back down.  I like to think of all creatures as being Normal Human focused since that is the world they are in. Player Characters are the rare exceptions. So when a succubus drains life levels with her kiss then it needs to be scaled so that if she chooses a normal human the kiss can still be deadly, but not always so.  I mean someone needs to survive to tell their priest/cleric so it can be written down in a demonology somewhere.

Every version of the game has translated these creatures somewhat differently.  Though there are more commonalities between them than say Medieval demonologies from the so-called experts.  
Demons are legion and defy classification attempts, but that is exactly what I am trying to do.  Essentially make my own "Demonomicon of Iggwilv."


I think if I pursue this idea more I would have to come up with my own demonologies and groupings.  I like the ones I have been using so far, maybe a couple of others might be nice too.   Could be a fun exercise.

Maybe even come up with a witch to do the authoring of it.  I can't really use (nor do I want to use) "Demonomicon" or "Iggwilv." Plus someone new would be fun for a while.

What do you do? Do you have Demons in your Basic, not advanced, games?

1 comment:

Sean Robert Meaney said...

Actually Tim, for BECMI Dungeons & Dragons, I pretty much went with Japanese Demon Names. The Doctor who wears a white bird mask during plague outbreaks was a demon named Shiroi Karasu (white crow)- demonic clerics who worship Orcus. Demons can be any human character class except they have an ability of transposition (where they can swap places with a person at line of site allowing them to teleport into your boots and clothing leaving you naked up a forest tree). Werewolves, naga, spiderfolk all demon races.

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