[Let's Read] Planescape Monstrous Compendium I-III

Montegris

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#11
I find it more likely that a Deva is fooled into falling from grace, or does so willingly, but for a good feeling. Keep in mind that Devas are creatures of "pure good", more or less, so they would definitely have a hard time considering a mortal as an inferior not worthy of their time.

With this in mind, maybe a Deva could be fooled by a powerful entity (say, for example, Graz´zt) into bringing the characters into an ambush. Even though the Deva was trying to do good, it ultimately did evil, and this was stripped of her powers.
 

Thordic

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#12
It's shown in the books, however (Blood Wars trilogy) that if they spend time around mortals, their natures could be altered. Phaeton, the deva in the books, ends up killing a number of his own kind because of his urge to protect the mortals he cares about. The other devas are shown as being EXTREMELY rigid. Rigidity can lead to not such good results under certain circumstances.

Also, remember, devas (and all aasimon) are more or less based off Judeo-Christian angels. Plenty of angels, including Lucifer, feel because they became corrupted by pride. So there's precedent.
 

Sleeper

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#13
Another twist on the rigid angelic code of conduct would be: "That which is not forbidden, is permitted". Give the angels a set of very specific rules. They have to follow those rules. It's not an option or a choice, it's how they're made. But if it's not covered by those rules? Then they're free to act, in whatever fashion they feel is right. They can be right absolute bastards.

Perhaps part of the coda is that they have to serve and give the utmost respect to those who are sterling examples of Good. Which is established by an imperfect, somewhat arbitrary set of laws. That urchin who just stole a loaf of bread to feed her little brothers? That's against the rules. Meteor swarms are allowed.

This could make an interesting twist on the god-angel dynamic. Angels are the perfect servants. Literal, utterly loyal. But they're also merciless, amoral, or inhuman. Whether it's a cold disdain or a burning and barely-kept-in-check fury is a matter of taste. But the gods are scared of their own armies. What if the angels find a loophole and turn on their masters?

This supports the concept of alignment as an allegiance, instead of an abstract moral principle. They're the servants and forces of Good. But "Good" is just a faction. Morality is relative, and there is no one real universal standard. So there will always be a clash between a character's inner guide, and the dictates of the alignment they profess to serve.
 

Montegris

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#14
Another twist on the rigid angelic code of conduct would be: "That which is not forbidden, is permitted". Give the angels a set of very specific rules. They have to follow those rules. It's not an option or a choice, it's how they're made. But if it's not covered by those rules? Then they're free to act, in whatever fashion they feel is right. They can be right absolute bastards.

Perhaps part of the coda is that they have to serve and give the utmost respect to those who are sterling examples of Good. Which is established by an imperfect, somewhat arbitrary set of laws. That urchin who just stole a loaf of bread to feed her little brothers? That's against the rules. Meteor swarms are allowed.

This could make an interesting twist on the god-angel dynamic. Angels are the perfect servants. Literal, utterly loyal. But they're also merciless, amoral, or inhuman. Whether it's a cold disdain or a burning and barely-kept-in-check fury is a matter of taste. But the gods are scared of their own armies. What if the angels find a loophole and turn on their masters?

This supports the concept of alignment as an allegiance, instead of an abstract moral principle. They're the servants and forces of Good. But "Good" is just a faction. Morality is relative, and there is no one real universal standard. So there will always be a clash between a character's inner guide, and the dictates of the alignment they profess to serve.
This idea, while interesting, clashes frontally with the alignment system. The character that would blast a kid that stole a loaf of bread would be, by its very definition, Lawful Evil (upholds the law no matter at what cost, even enforcing it with cruel extremes).

Stealing to feed your family is an example of chaotic behaviour (even CG, depending on the circumstances, and how the character feels about the act), not of an evil one.
 

Sleeper

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#15
This idea, while interesting, clashes frontally with the alignment system. The character that would blast a kid that stole a loaf of bread would be, by its very definition, Lawful Evil (upholds the law no matter at what cost, even enforcing it with cruel extremes).

Stealing to feed your family is an example of chaotic behaviour (even CG, depending on the circumstances, and how the character feels about the act), not of an evil one.
Well, nobody ever agreed what alignment means, exactly, and even the rather conflicting definitions have shifted over the various editions. D&D is a game based, primarily, on medieval Europe, complete with a Bishop Turpin/Christian crusading priest analog. The strong Good/Evil axis, the characterization of outsiders as evil, the belief that Good is clear-cut and indisputable. Except the influences also include a sword & sorcery vibe, with morally ambiguous anti-heroes, thieves and scoundrels as exemplars, murky moral quandries, and black and vile evils faced by a shifting panoply of grays. Add to that the early 80s shift toward more heroic fantasy, taking the Tolkien seeds in the game and further muddling things by trying to make them the basis for the implied morality in the 2nd edition of the game. Then there's the weird Moorcockian Law and Chaos axis, which has little parallel in actual faiths.

Those forms of morality aren't even vaguely compatible. There is no way to take that mess, and say this is Good, and this is Evil. Morality is subjective. And except for the limited subset of the most universally despised acts, there's no way to slap a Good or Evil label on particular action.

The official definitions rarely help. The alignments are usually defined in vague terms, or not at all (in OD&D, for instance). Unlike extant religions, there isn't a body of scholarship. There aren't mythical parables and allegories. There isn't a shared culture, where certain basic precepts are held, (fairly) universally. There isn't even a clear body of secular law.

So what happens is that Good and Evil, in D&D, tend to be defined in modern terms. Specifically, based on the biases of whichever author is writing at the moment. This means it tends toward a the vague, mushy middle: An abstract, secular, modernistic Western humanism.

But that actually represents nobody. People's beliefs are fragmented. The typical author writing in the 1970s doesn't share the same basic beliefs as the typical writer in the 1990s; a lapsed Catholic won't think like an ex-hippy or a neo-Pagan. There is no real melting pot; opinions and beliefs vary by culture, sub-culture, micro-culture, and the individual. Without reference to a clear and coherent system of defined morality, no two authors can agree.

Internet discussions get heated because alignment doesn't boil down to a discussion of how to interpret a well-defined, external belief system. Since, after all, there isn't one. No, flames happen because people impose their own belief systems on the alignment system. Then they naturally get emotional when challenged, because it's their own beliefs being challenged, by proxy.

So saying this act is Chaotic and that act is Good is almost entirely irrelevant. It tends to be the author imposing their own morality onto the system. Which is a terrible shame, because the most fascinating part of religion has always been the schisms and heresies; minor dogmatic difference and major theological divides. The push and shove between competing belief systems, some very similar and some very different. And all are fervently, passionately supported by people who believe their favorite system is absolutely right.

That's the kind of religion I'd love to see more of, in an RPG.
 
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Montegris

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#16
While I can understand where you're coming from, I have to disagree, at least partly. It is undeniable that alignments have been muddy when it comes to their definition. It's not, however, up for debate, that certain acts have always been considered to be objectively evil, and that certain acts are diametrally opposed to a lawful take on things. To give you some examples, rape and torture can, under no light, be considered anything other than evil, and willingly breaking the laws is against the definition of Lawful.

In this case, if the Deva killed that child who stole some food so as not to starve, the Deva, a powerful, angelic being is executing someone who amounts to a defenseless prisoner, with no regard for proportionality. A Lawful Good being would probably take that food away, and make the child work for his food (perhaps even providing him with said work). A lawful evil creature would be the one blasting with Meteor Swarm.

Following that trail of thought, stealing can probably considered good under some circumstances (if you steal from the rich, corrupt prince to give to the poor and destitute) or evil (you steal from those who can´t defend themselves at swordpoint), but it´s something that, under no circumstances, can be considered Lawful.

In short, what you´re proposing that the Deva could do is something that may be Lawful, or may not, but it´s under no light Good, and a creature with the intelligence and wisdom of a Deva would know before hand.
 

Sleeper

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#17
Actually, I'm proposing that alignment be treated as an allegiance, which is exemplified by adherence to a specific code. This code may be a system of morality — if gods are human creations, then they may impose what resembles human morality — but it may out of date and ossified, or based soley on those the beliefs that are shared by all or most cultures across the different primes. The result could be an inconsistent and arbitrary hodge-podge, if some key beliefs are held only in part or not at all on some worlds.

Each prime may interpret those dictates differently, based on the default morality of that world, but that's just one interpretation. These elaborate belief systems developed by each specific culture may be local constructs, erected around a distilled, bare-boned pan-planar set of rules. Maybe all that's needed to be Lawful and Good, as defined by the powers that be, is to follow a very specific and short set of rules. Which doesn't have to be consistent, because the average of hundreds or millions of varied cultures is going to be an incoherent mess. Everything built on top of that code is just local variation.

This also fits Planescape fairly well, since ascribing a human ethos to the weird and alien creatures of the Great Wheel implies that they think like us. It can be equally interesting to given them alien mindsets, instead. Even if gods are just an anthropormorphization of the Akashic Records, angels and demons and modrons might not be. They might be the original inhabitants, enslaved and bound by the collective beliefs of the Prime races. They follow the rules of their masters, because that is part of their very being, but their real guiding codes might be very different. They might even have motivation to interpret these codes maliciously — angels might hate and resent the inferior and messy humans they are forced to serve, a la Walken's character in The Prophecy. Or they might just be different, inexplicable, with an inhuman belief system.

And there are plenty or moral systems where what we would consider to be rape and murder are considered justified. The Inquisition killed people over minor or imaginary infractions or just in case, to save their souls. Forced marriage and conquering, warlike cultures often sanction rape, to different degrees and different forms. In the middle ages in Europe and the Middle East, theft of bread even to feed a family, resulted in the loss of a hand or even death. This even shows up in D&D disputes: Is killing or babies wrong? There is no one, absolute solution. The best answer, of course, is what makes for the most interesting game.
 
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Thordic

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#18
Just to throw some "canon" deva information out there, according to The Blood War trilogy by J. Robert King (I know it's not considered the best stuff ever written, but it does a good job in some areas, and one of the characters is a deva, and the story takes place in his town on Mount Celestia for a while).

- Their way of thinking of very different from mortals, almost alien. Their lives are defined by very rigid laws. They may understand concepts such as compassion, but would never apply it to someone who lay outside their ideals of who would deserve compassion. For example, a deva would never feel compassion for an evil enemy, no matter how pitiful.

- They don't mesh well with others. Mostly, I suspect, due to the above. I got the impression in the books that they don't do well with visitors / mortals because they can't understand them.

- The deva featured in the book, Phaeton, was changed through constant exposure to humans. I would say that throughout the series his alignment changed from LG to CG, or at least NG, based off his experiences and interaction with humans.

- Devas don't do forgiveness or redemption. In the books they wish to kill a human visiting Mount Celestia for events which occurred in the past, associated with a life she had long left behind. She was visiting peacefully and they wished to kill her for her past crimes (and possibly even her offspring, I'll have to check that later).

Just a few things to keep in mind. Note the above is about LG devas from Mount Celestia. Devas come from all the upper planes, so you will find LG, NG, and CG devas.

Which brings up another thought - Devas from Ysgard are probably much cooler than what most people would think of when they think of devas. Viking angels? Hell yes! Of course, one would have to assume they are bound by their own rigid (yet chaotic) alignment.

As for the killing the child thief example above, I think it's a little extreme. However, I don't think the Deva would have any problem with cutting off one of the kids hands. He would follow the law, if it states taking a hand for thievery is an appropriate punishment. Allowing the child to get away with his theft would encourage others to steal and undermine the law. The loss of a hand is a fair punishment and an example to others who may want to steal in the future. The fact he's a child is no excuse. The deva would hold humans to the same code the deva follows, and I don't think the fallability of humans wouldn't cross his mind.
 

Thordic

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#19
Aasimon, Light

One of the weirdest aasimon, maybe someone knows if they pulled this from mythology somewhere.

A light aasimon is a swirling mist of glowing light. The illustration shows a face in the cloud, but the description doesn't mention one.

They have a lot of special combat rules, such as ignoring all nonmagical protection (Full Plate +1 would only be AC9 against a light aasimon), not being able to hurt creatures of good alignment, and having the ever-coveted AC -10. They don't hit particularly hard, and are the only aasimon who receive a single attack. They attack with basically a beam of pure good.

They are fairly dumb for a celestial, only being Very (11-12) intelligent, while all other aasimon are Exceptional (15-16) at worst.

They are created by the gods as familiars for high-level good worshippers who request aid and follow a special ritual. They chance of getting one even then is fairly low (a 20th level paladin would only have an 18% chance). Once so summoned, they stick around for a single mission. Sounds like a lot of work but I guess they could be useful.

The ecology section mentions they are beings of pure good, and some believe that they are the embodiment of good in physical form.

Which, of course, proves Dark Helmet right. If Good only has an 11 intelligence, evil will always win.

I've never found a use for these guys, and don't find them particularly interesting. They may make a cool set dressing if the PCs meet with a high level paladin, and he has a big glowy cloud following him around.
 

Thordic

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#20
So Light Aasimon aren’t the coolest bits, I’ll admit. But now we are getting into two of the coolest entries in the book, IMO. First up…

Aasimon, Planetar

The second-highest rank of aasimon, Planetars are the direct servants of the good powers. They are the tallest we’ve seen so far, standing 8’ tall. Interestingly, they are described as having emerald skin. Odd. They are also hairless. They can communicate telepathically with anything within 100’.
They are beasts in combat, as to be expected, wielding +3 2H vorpal swords and getting 3 attacks per round (33 – 60 dmg per round).

They can spells as 7th level priests with 21 wisdom, which is quite a bit of spells when you take into account the bonus spells.

They also have a plethora of innate spells abilities, some of the more notable being Raise Dead 3x/day, Limited Wish 1x/day, and Improved Invisibility at will. They also have a sizeable package of “always on” detection abilities, such as True Seeing, Detect Invisibility, Detect Lie, and Detect Snares & Pits. Oh, I forgot to mention, they are also impossible to surprise.

They have a wide range of immunities as well. The only thing that isn’t negated or reduced is acid or +3 weapons.

Besides whatever their normal duties are, they can sometimes assist “powerful mortal servants of good”. This, of course, has a percentage. 12th level is a base 5%, with +1% per level after that. Who the hell uses these percentages anyway? If I write an adventure, I’m either throwing in a planetar or I’m not. I’m not leaving it up to chance when it would screw up all my combat and likely social encounters as well.

It doesn’t give a whole lot more information about them. The best use of a planetar I see is as a questgiver. Presumably they are fairly busy beings, and can’t attend to everything themselves. I can see them having odd jobs for players now and then, if not serving as an outright patron. Or they may be testing a party to see how good they really are. Maybe one member of the party is being considered to be recruited as a proxy.

Using these guys in combat, unless you have an evil party slaying aasimon left and right, seems like a waste. Maybe to set an example by having them hurl flame strikes and blade barriers left and right.
 
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