Saturday, March 17, 2018

"Weathering the Storms" (Dragon #137) and the Köppen Climate Classification System

The second major inspiration for what would later become THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER was Lisa Cabala's article "Weathering the Storms" in The Dragon #137.

The central insight of the article was to present twelve climate templates, templates that both tracked the different climate tyoes of our own world as well as (presumably) any half-way "realistic" fantasy world. The climate templates were these:

  1. Desert
  2. Tropical Savanna
  3. Steppes
  4. Equator
  5. Warm and Rainy
  6. Monsoon
  7. Warm with Dry Summer
  8. Warm with Dry Winter
  9. Cool and Rainy
  10. Cool with Dry Winter
  11. Tundra
  12. Polar
Each type was defined by its temperature ranges within the four standard seasons as well as the daily precipitation chances within those seasons. Those two variables and how they changed or varied (or didn't) from season to season constituted the basics of any climate type, and simply by presenting twelve of those types you could track the richness and diversity of all the earth's climates, or so it seemed.

For example, much of Western Europe was Warm and Rainy (5):

Unlike some other climate types, Warm and Rainy had a simple precipitation rate scheme. Daily chance of precipitation was a constant 40% throughout the year.

That's it.

I found this to be an improvement over what I saw as the more fiddly mechanism for determining temperature presented by David Axler in his "Weather in the World of Greyhawk" (The Dragon #68). There, the referee would, among other things, constantly be checking latitudes. Cabala's scheme also seemed more true to life. While latitude obviously affects temperature, in our own world wildly different climate types co-exist at identical latitudes. And in turn, very similar climate types appear at quite different latitudes.

So, the original design for my fantasy weather algorithm was to enter the climate data for the twelve climate types and then choose the appropriate one for each geographical location I wanted to model. If the average temperature for one or more seasons came out significantly different than that shown by the data for the location, I would simply make the appropriate adjustments.

However, in my quest for greater "realism," I soon became a bit dissatisfied with the list. As I found myself making more and more "adjustments" it became clear to me that the twelve templates offered worn't really enough. There were hot deserts and cold deserts, for example.

Somewhere along the line I discovered the Köppen Climate Classification System. In the late 19th century, the Russian-German climatologist Wladimir Köppen had also separated the world into different climate types. After the system was modified and refined by others, there were a resulting thirty climate types (or thirty-two, depending on how you counted them). Here were hot deserts and cold deserts (and hot semi-deserts and cold semi-deserts), among other things.

My inner weather nerd (yet another inner nerd this outer nerd never knew it had) became excited.

Again, one of the things that is fascinating about the climate types (if you're into this sort of thing) was how they didn't track latitude, at least as much as you would think. The world map above sort of gives you a sense of that, though it's more apparent if you focus on a smaller area. Such things as warm and cold ocean currents, wind patterns and so on are often much more important.

This is of course a commonplace for anyone with even a minimal knowledge of weather and climate, but it was useful and interesting to be reminded. 

I suspect Cabala had riffed off of Köppen but had wisely chosen to simplify it for her Dragon article. Thirty templates would have been too many for a scheme that required one to consult charts and roll dice. But if I were designing a relatively complex algorithm from scratch, starting with thirty sets of data wasn't that much more difficult than starting with twelve.

I would later make things even more granular to model different areas within each type - London versus Paris, for example - in order to make each location modeled truly "its own." And in the end, the classifications themselves would fall out as I settled on basing each of my own climate templates on the raw climate data for the particular location modeled, as opposed to its Köppen classification (which used the same sort of data but in a more general manner).

So, for example, I used Athens, Greece as a model for my internal Köppen template of Csa - Temperate, Dry and Hot Summer:   

But when creating my own Climate Template 101: Temperate South, which I roughly modeled on the climate of Jerusalem (also classified as Csa), I entered an entirely new set of data:

Would anyone have known that Temperate South, which I claimed to have roughly modeled on Jerusalem, was in fact really roughly modeled on Athens?

Yes. I would have. God would have.

Okay, even God probably wouldn't have cared, but still.

THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER: Volume 1, Swords & Sorcery was intended to simulate Middle-Eastern, Central Asian, Robert Howard-ish, Fritz Leiber-ish, "Swords & Sorcery"-ish sorts of climates. And, dammit, Athens didn't really fit. Entering the data for a second Csa climate type only took an extra hour or so.

And now, that one weather nerd out there who knows that it never would get down to -11 F in Jerusalem can't complain.   

But readers of THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER will notice that each of my own climate templates is also labeled with the Köppen type that it fits.

Tomorrow, the excitement level ramps up. Yes, I'm talking about temperature.

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Weather in the World of Greyhawk" from Dragon #68

As I might have mentioned before, the idea for designing what would eventually become THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER came to me when I was re-imagining druid spells for the Book of Spells supplement to SEVEN VOYAGES of ZYLARTHEN. Many of the spells were directly or indirectly linked with weather, which naturally brought up the question - how do you know what the weather is?

As far as I know, none of the original rulebooks for old-school D&D - OD&D, Holmes, B/X or AD&D offered a weather generation mechanism (I didn't go back and check this, so it's possible I'm wrong), which is sort of odd considering that some of the books, such as the DMG, went into such great detail on other things.

However, an article by David Axler, "Weather in the World of Greyhawk" in The Dragon #68, offered a detailed and robust system. As I understand it, that system had been or would be also incorporated into the Greyhawk boxed set. This was where I started.

Readers of FANTASY WEATHER may note that I took many of the same names for precipitation events from that article - Light Rainstorm, Heavy Rainstorm, Light Blizzard, Heavy Blizzard and so on. Since my original intention was not to design a commercial product, I didn't initially worry about copyright, but when I did start to think about that, the naming conventions seemed generic enough to be fair game, and I did notice that much of the same list was used in some of the other newer non-TSR weather products.

I soon altered the list however. Some of the names seemed too American or Western - Hurricane, Tropical Storm, Tornado, etc. - or too obviously culturally specific - Monsoon - for the tone I was trying to set. I didn't want FANTASY WEATHER to sound like the weather report from a North Carolina CBS affiliate, or an AP report from Bangalore. And I folded the article's "special weather" into the more general list. If you used the calculation scheme of the original article, a desert would only get a sandstorm once every eight years, or so I figured it. Where's the fun in that?

I used the article's durations, rainfall/snowfall amounts, wind speed ranges and the like for each precipitation event as a jumping off point, but soon started to fiddle with them for various reasons. For example, I soon discovered that while the rainfall amounts initially seemed realistic, if you did the math, the amount of yearly rainfall for pretty much anywhere in Greyhawk would be off virtually any terrestrial scale - often more rain (in inches or millimeters) than even the wettest place on earth. One of the first things I designed was a method to quickly alter rainfall and snowfall amounts to fit the data for the climate type being simulated. For example, if the weather results for a London-type climate yielded 400 inches of rain on average (roughly ten times the actual total) you could simply divide the rainfall for each event by ten. Of course, you could also just make precipitation events less likely (by a factor of ten) but that possibility wasn't attractive. London is pretty rainy. That doesn't mean you get a huge amount of annual rainfall, measured in inches or millimeters (it's less than New York), but it does mean that you have 150-200 at least slightly wet days per year. Reducing that to 15-20, which would have amounted to desert conditions, didn't seem right.

I realize that the last consideration is more for weather nerds or "realism" nerds. It's unlikely that many readers, referees or players would know or care that the sum of the daily rainfall totals wasn't "realistic." But I figured if I was going to do it, I might as well get it right.

"Weather in the World of Greyhawk" also gave me the idea for those funky rainbows (including that 1 in a 1000 chance of a Bifröst bridge), which I thought, if nothing else, added a fun flavor to things. So I left the idea intact, though I did twiddle the percentages. Later I would add in "supernatural causes", again, suggested by the article, although I substantially modified their chances and content. And I significantly changed how lightning worked. I wanted there to be at least a chance of it in most rain-event types, not just in thunderstorms. Again, this seemed to better match the real-world data, at least as I understood it.

And, of course, I found the article's mechanism for generating each day's weather with dice to be utterly impractical. It just took way too long. That's not the article's fault per se, of course, simply an unavoidable factor of real-world physical realty. That you could do it virtually through an algorithm coded into an Excel Spreadsheet, and then present it clearly in "almanac" form, was the whole idea behind FANTASY WEATHER.

That's the sum of it. I don't mean to sound critical of what in my view was the best treatment of weather and climate to ever appear in a TSR product. Along with a later article, which I'll talk about in the next post, it gave me the framework for how I would look at the problem of fantasy weather. The central insight of the article for me was framing the thing around "precipitation events" and their properties. But there's a lot more to the article than that that either I didn't talk about here or didn't find relevant for the FANTASY WEATHER project but that is still quite interesting and useful in its own right.

If you have The Dragon #68 in hard copy or have access to the PDF, I urge you to read or re-read it.

Tomorrow: "Weathering the Storms" and Köppen climate types.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER is now live on DriveThruRPG

Campion & Clitherow has just released THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER. It's available on DriveThruRPG and Lulu.

THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER is a new and greatly expanded edition of SEVEN YEARS of FANTASY WEATHER, published by Campion & Clitherow in 2017. The most obvious difference is that while SEVEN YEARS included seven years of weather for one geographical area or climate type, THE ALMANAC has eight years of weather for each of ten different climate types. Here you will find cyclone lashed coasts, burning deserts, steaming jungles, ice-covered wastes and more—enough (we hope) to provide realistic and interesting weather for an entire “Sword & Sorcery” world in the style of Burroughs, Howard or Leiber.

We have also made some other changes. Some of them are “internal” and, therefore, not immediately noticeable. I think the data sets and algorithm for SEVEN YEARS were pretty rich, but we couldn't resist tweaking them and expanding on them. We increased the number of data points and redesigned the internal format for how initial information for each climate type was represented, allowing for more diversity, complexity and pattern in the generated weather results. Thus, many precipitation events now come at the head of “real” warm and cold fronts, cloud cover varies by month and season, wind speed and precipitation often vary according to whether it is day or evening, “exogenous” factors may cause cold or warm spells for days, weeks or months, and so on.

The most noticeable external changes to the weather charts are a slightly expanded list of precipitation types, the addition of a wind-chill/heat index rating and the addition of a new category of weather events—those directly caused by “supernatural” forces.

THE ALMANAC clocks in at 1,130 extensively bookmarked virtual pages (960 pages of weather charts - 12 x 8 x 10 - plus 70 pages of text, climate summaries and spaces for notes). It sounds like a sort of monster, and in a way it is, but the bookmarks allow you to get around quickly to find or use (on your phone, tablet, computer or hard-copy print-out) only what you want or need at the moment.

Because of its size and diversity, I think it makes for a more useful product, giving the referee many more options to choose from and match with the specifics of his or her campaign. I should note, though, that the climate types and weather charts for MEDIEVAL ENGLAND, THE ICELAND OF THE SAGAS and INDEA remain unique, and have not been "rolled-in" to THE ALMANAC.

Previous purchasers of SEVEN YEARS may purchase THE ALMANAC at a discount ($12.95 - the list price of $19.95 less the $7.00 price of SEVEN YEARS).

An email has just gone out to most purchasers of SEVEN YEARS on DriveThruRPG. However some purchasers did not include contact information on the DriveThruRPG list. If you purchased SEVEN YEARS and do not receive an email in the next few hours, send me an email at and I'll shoot you the discount code.

These tables (from the Introduction) detail some characteristics of the new climate types:

And here are two months of weather from "Climate Template 102: Southern Desert", roughly modeled on the Arabian Desert:

The desert has a higher proportion of relatively rare "supernatural" weather events. (They occur, on average, roughly twice a year in most other climates but roughly six times a year in the desert.) The "ef" next to whirlwind denotes that it was caused by an Efreeti. Why was there a sudden downpour? Because it was caused by a demon or demons ("dm"). Obviously, the player-characters may not know that an event had a direct supernatural cause, though there may be signs - the clouds form unusually quickly, they can dimly see an outline of a figure or figures in the sky, etc. As always, the referee is free to alter or mix and match things to suit the specifics of his or her campaign, and ideas for how to do this are included in the introductory notes.

I had a blast designing THE ALMANAC of FANTASY WEATHER. It brought out by inner weather nerd (which I never knew existed). And I'm very excited by how it turned out.

I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Adventurers in the Snow, from "Weather in the World of Greyhawk," in The Dragon, No. 68

Campion & Clitherow has just published its first system-neutral product!

It's called Seven Years of Fantasy Weather. More precisely, it's Volume 1 of a series.

You can buy it on Lulu or DriveThruRPG.

Here's the pitch (from the description blurb on both):
SEVEN YEARS of FANTASY WEATHER gives you seven years of realistic weather for 5112 separate days and nights. Each twelve-hour day or evening entry includes information on temperature (in Celcius and Fahrenheit) weather events - fog, thunderstorm, blizzard, etc. - amount of rainfall/snowfall, occurrence or possibility of lightning, wind speed, wind direction, phases of the moon, effect on movement rates and chance of getting lost. It's an almanac for the fantasy gamer. No more annoying die rolling or consulting an app or online program to generate a random or patternless result. With FANTASY WEATHER you can see all of it at a glance. Whether you're using Dungeons & Dragons 5e, an OSR retro-clone or any other current or past game or mechanic, this is the last word on weather for your roleplaying needs, This first volume simulates the weather patterns of Medieval England, but other volumes will be forthcoming.
But the best way to describe it is to show it. Here's the first page of weather (Year 1, January) for the climate type that I've labeled "Medieval England":

The PDF of Seven Years of Fantasy Weather Volume 1: Medieval England contains 84 pages (7 x 12) of monthly charts, plus 7 pages of summaries for each year and four pages of ideas and rules. Here is the summary for Year 1:

There were no Blizzards, let alone Heavy Blizzards, in Year 1 of "Medieval England" (it's England, not Alaska), though the possibility does exist. Were there any in Year 2? You'll have to buy Fantasy Weather to find out.

Seven Years of Fantasy Weather includes four pages of introductory material featuring a glossary of weather event terms and effects and a (slightly altered) excerpt from the Wilderness travel rules section of Seven Voyages of Zylarthen. But the weather effects (in terms of movement and chances of getting lost) are built-in to the charts, and obviously the wilderness rules can be be used as is, mined for ideas or simply ignored.

We even managed to find a weather-appropriate illustration from John Dickson Batten for the cover (from a relatively obscure book of children's poetry):

There are a number of weather apps and online generators out there. And I should say, I don't mean to be too critical of them. Indeed, as long-time readers of this blog know, I was quite inspired by some of them. But in the end, they prompted me to try to come up with something better. How does Fantasy Weather differ?

The simple answer is it's not a generator. It's simply the weather. Or as one OSR game designer put it, "Instant weather, no generation required!"

What's the advantage of that?

Well, as I said above, the apps are themselves fairly simple. Or at least they appear to be. That's part of the problem. Even if there is a more underlying complexity or pattern to them, you can't see it. As far as anyone can tell, they're more or less just generating a few "random" weather data points for a particular climate type - cold, temperate, warm, etc. - and season. With Seven Years of Fantasy Weather you can instantly tell exactly what's going on.

Plus, Medieval England isn't just "temperate" but, well, England. Or, rather, late 14th century England when they tell us that it was 2˚ colder. There's a lot of precipitation but not a lot of total rainfall - at least when compared to certain tropical zones. You might get a blizzard in January but you probably won't. More likely it will be 45˚ F and drizzling. Or foggy.

Actually, England (and especially London) isn't and wasn't as foggy as most people think. And much of the fog that there really was was attributable to 20th century pollution. Medieval England ramps the fog up a bit, for the fun of it, but only a bit. There's still a lot of drizzle.

Interestingly, I almost went with the weather pattern for the so-called Medieval Warm Period, lasting from the 10th to 13th centuries. That would have been perhaps more authentic for the "Medieval" label, but it was also more boring. Raising temperatures by just 4˚ means you cut down radically on the chance of snow. I like snow. Sorry Medieval Warm period.

But snow or no snow, too many weather mechanics make the mistake of introducing weather as simply another way to screw the players. Or at least, that's often how it seems. One online app usually generates only a few lines of text for the day's weather. But watch out if you get more text lines. Cold front? Roll for hypothermia. Moderate wind? Your torches blow out, missile fire is impossible and search checks are reduced by -5. Thunderstorm? You have a 1% chance per turn of being struck by lightning, which deals out 8d8 hits of damage. Most adventurers - and, I assume, 99% of the general population - will sooner or later suffer death from electrocution.

If they aren't pummeled into a pulp by a hailstorm first.

That's not what Fantasy Weather is about.

What is it about?

The point is to use the weather as background to help set the tone, and to sometimes provide interesting choices and opportunities for players. For example, in the desert player-characters can significantly increase their movement rate by traveling at night when it's usually much less hot. This comes with other advantages - fewer wandering monsters - but also some disadvantages - the monsters have a greater chance of surprising you, and it's easier to get lost. A Call Lightning spell is extremely powerful in a thunderstorm, but quite useless otherwise. Can one somehow contrive a plan to lure a foe out into the open when such conditions occur? And fog or low visibility can be used by player characters just as much as they can be used against them. And so on.

But most weather is just there, so to speak. There's no reason to solemnly announce each day that the temperature is 60˚ with a gentle breeze or whatever. But if you need it, the chart will tell you what's going on.

Creating Fantasy Weather also brought out my inner weather nerd. And part of the reason for my inclusion of the "summaries" was simply because I found them interesting, even fascinating, and felt the reader might as well. It's notable how some averages are quite constant - the average yearly temperature was 52˚ F for five of the seven years, and 51˚ F and 53˚ F for the other two - but others are more stochastic - there were ten snowstorms one year but only two in the next.

I admit that one's "fascination" quotient may vary. Then again, I was never a weather nerd before...

Fantasy Weather: Medieval England costs only $7.00 for seven years of weather. If your characters journey to or inhabit a different climate, there will soon be other variations, which will cover most climes from the northland of the Sagas to "sword & sorcery" jungles and deserts.

Whether you purchase 1, 3 or more, it will be some of the best "supplement" money you've ever spent. And unlike, say, Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, this product is system neutral. Use it with Zylarthen, Swords and Wizardry or Dungeons & Dragons 5e.

And finally, pitch aside, I would love for you to tell me how you use it. The point is not to impose more rules on the referee or more ways to die on the players, but again, to create interesting choices and opportunities at minimal cost in time or effort. How can the player-characters use a heavy rainstorm to get the advantage in a wilderness encounter? I have no idea. But I suspect many good players will come up with something.

I hope you enjoy it, and that it is as fun for you to read and use as it was for me to design. Good travels! And may the wind be always at your back!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monsters as Player Characters - OD&D vs. AD&D

I don't know - it looks good to me

I'm taking a three-day break from demons to talk about something I rediscovered while looking for demons. I'm sure what I'm about to point out has been mentioned before, though I don't have a reference.

In Men & Magic, after detailing the three character classes and three additional races, Gary Gygax wrote:
Other Character Types: There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as let us say, a "young" one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee (p. 8).
Now I have no idea how many referees back in the day were coming up with stats on the fly for players who confidently announced they wanted to play a non-standard character, but I think it's indisputable that from the very first many were experimenting with creating their own new character classes, races and types to supplement the ones in the text or customary rules. Arneson's Blackmoor campaign had a Balrog player-character, and Gygax's reportedly also allowed such variations in Greyhawk (which is presumably why he wrote the passage above).

The author of the Dungeons & Dragons "Basic" set, John Eric Holmes, apparently also enjoyed running adventuring parties of non-standard classes or creatures. And he implied as much in the text of that game:
At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man (p. 7).
However, now consider this passage (also written by Gygax) from the AD&D Dungeon Master Guide, six years later:
On occasion one player or another will evidence a strong desire to operate as a monster, conceiving a playable character as a strong demon, a devil, a dragon, or one of the most powerful sort of undead creatures. This is done principally because the player sees the desired monster character as superior to his or her peers and likely to provide a dominant role for him or her in the campaign. A moment of reflection will bring them to the unalterable conclusion that the game is heavily weighted towards mankind...
The considered opinion of this writer is that such characters are not beneficial to the game and should be excluded.
The later Gygax is of course contradicting his earlier self. Playing "monsters" as characters is now no longer recommended. Indeed, someone who pushes for it might even have psychological problems!

In fairness, Gygax does temper things a bit. He's against doing it, but such a decision should ultimately be left up to the referee - "As to other sorts of monsters as player characters, you as DM must decide in light of your aims and the style of your campaign." And it is preferable to find ways to discourage the practice rather than banning it outright:
Note that exclusion is best handled by restriction and not by refusal. Enumeration of the limits and drawbacks which are attendant upon the monster character will always be sufficient to steer the intelligent player away from the monster approach, for in most cases it was only thought of as a likely manner of game domination. The truly experimental-type player might be allowed to play such a monster character for a time so as to satisfy curiosity, and it can then be moved to non-player status and still be an interesting part of the campaign - and the player is most likely to desire to drop the monster character once he or she has examined its potential and played that role for a time. The less intelligent players who demand to play monster characters regardless of obvious consequences will soon remove themselves from play in any event, for their own ineptness will serve to have players or monsters or traps finish them off (p. 21 for all references).
Of course during this quasi-concession Gygax takes the opportunity to further put down players who might have such a desire - unless the goal is purely experimental, then they either have a will to dominate or are relatively stupid and inept. This might be characterized as one manifestation of what has been called High Gygaxian style. Here an air of wisdom is coupled with silly insults. That's not a criticism (of the style). In fact it's quite entertaining.

It sure beats "In creating the story of your character, work with your DM. Talk to them about your ideas, preferences and feelings."

Is it evil to contradict one's earlier self? Of course not. And for all we know, Gygax had learned from the previous six years of play that people playing dragons or demons was simply more trouble than what it was worth. But it's also an example of how, as the universe of Dungeons & Dragons was in most ways expanding (in terms of text or ruleset length if nothing else), there were walls to that universe that were simultaneously being erected or reinforced. All things being equal, I think that's something to regret.

Now I confess that in saying this I feel like a hypocritical politician. When I played D&D back in the day, I never ran or played non-standard player-characters, and since my rediscovery of the game and subsequent determination that I was now firmly in the more open-ended OD&D camp, I still haven't done so. But let's just say I philosophically or aesthetically favor an approach that leaves open the possibility. Or at least I like to think that I do.

If you want to play a dragon, that's fine. Just give me a few minutes to come up with something.

But don't tell me about your feelings.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Demons in Early D&D, Part 2

The Arch-devil Asmodeus, from the AD&D Monster Manual
See Part 1, here.

Dungeons & Dragons "Holmes Basic" Set (July, 1977): There were only a few passing references to demons in this edition. I assume this was largely because they were too powerful and complicated to feature in an introductory treatment designed to take player characters only through 3rd level.

AD&D Monster Manual (December, 1977): The first AD&D book fleshed out, so to speak, the nine demonic types presented in Eldritch Wizardry and added three more to their number including Manes, Juiblex (The Faceless Lord) and, oddly perhaps, Yeenoghu, who we are told is "Demon Lord of Gnolls." The numbered Types I to V are also given additional names, and the Balrog is renamed "Balor." Interestingly, two of the types - Type IV (Nalfeshnee, etc.) and Type V (Marilith, etc.) feature illustrations that appear to be fairly close copies (though in mirror image) of their initial illustrations in Eldritch Wizardry, twenty months before. (Both sets were drawn by David Sutherland.) As far as I know, this is the only case where the Monster Manual made obvious use of previous art.

Type V Demon (Marilith) from (L to R) Eldritch Wizardry and the Monster Manual

EDIT: R. Nelson Bailey pointed out to me that the Monster Manual illustrations of the sahuagin and umber hulk appear to be exactly the same as those originally found in Blackmoor

As in Eldritch Wizardry, the Monster Manual suggests that
If the name of a particularly powerful demon is spoken, there is a chance that he will hear and turn his attention to the speaker. A base 5% chance is recommended to the referee. Unless prepared to avoid such attention - or to control the demon - the demon will whereupon immediately kill, by whatever means are most expeditious, the one pronouncing his name (p. 16).
One wonders in how many campaigns a referee invoked this rule when the players were joking around.

The Monster Manual tells us that "Demons are able to move from their own plane into those of Tarterus, Hades, or Pandemonium or roam the astral plane" (p. 16).
But what is their own plane? It's not very clearly presented, but the careful reader can figure it out: If the amulet of a demon prince is destroyed, it will "Thus condemn the prince to abyssment for one year." As well, Manes are described as "Those dead which go to the 666 layers of the demonic abyss" (p. 17).

The Monster Manual also introduces devils for the first time. These are primarily distinguished from demons in that devils are lawful evil in alignment whereas demons are chaotic evil. There are eleven types of them, led by the "Arch-Devil" Asmodeus, who are the "inhabitants and rulers of the planes of hell." I actually remember these entities much better than their demonic rivals, perhaps because the illustrations are more evocative and appear to be of a higher quality, and also because of their more memorable and resonant names.

In addition, various creatures are listed outside of the "Demons" and "Devils" sections - imps, larva, night hags, quasists, etc. - who are either "minor" demons or devils, are related to or associate with demons or devils in some way or who, like demons and devils, largely inhabit the lower planes. Curiously, the rakshasa is listed as a "devil" (not a demon as in Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes) in the Index but that fact is not mentioned in its description.

AD&D Players Handbook (June, 1978): As demons and devils were now official monsters, the second AD&D volume contained a number of references to them, just as it did for other creatures. As one might expect, many of these references were in descriptions of relevant spells such as Protection from Evil and so on. But demons had also apparently now reached a status in the canon where they could be used to stress the imaginative and epic proportions of Dungeons & Dragons:
This game lets all of your fantasies come true. This is a world where monsters, dragons, good and evil high priests, fierce demons, and even the gods themselves may enter your character's life. Enjoy, for this game is what dreams are made of! (p. 7).
In the Players Handbook it is revealed that clerics might be able to turn or control some demons and devils, just as they turn undead. Though players would have to wait until the Dungeon Masters Guide (August, 1979) or the preview of it in The Dragon (No. 22, February, 1979) for charts on this.

I think two other things stand out in the Handbook. First, we see perhaps the first sustained reference to player-characters voluntarily interacting with the demonic in a detailed and explicit way. It's in the description for the 7th level Magic-User spell, Cacodemon:
Explanation/Description: This perilous exercise in dweomercraeft summons up a powerful demon of type IV, V, or VI, depending upon the demon's name being known to the magic-user...The spell caster must be within a circle of protection (or a thaumaturgic triangle with protection from evil) and the demon confined within a pentagram (circled pentacle) if he or she is to avoid being slain or carried off by the summoned cacodemon...
By tribute of fresh human blood and the promise of 1 or more human sacrifices, the summoner can bargain with the demon for willing service...
The components of this spell are 5 flaming black candles; a brazier of hot coals upon which must be burned sulphur, bat hairs, lard, soot, mercuricnitric acid crystals, mandrake root, alcohol, and a piece of parchment with the demon's name inscribed in runes inside a pentacle; and a dish of blood from some mammal (preferably a human, of course) placed inside the area where the cacodemon is to be held (pp. 86-7).
Of course it would be easy to pull this "out of context" to argue that AD&D was attempting to make occult practices attractive to children or whatever. In truth, I didn't even remember the spell, and was only reminded of it when researching this post, even though, at the time, I played AD&D exclusively and thought of the Players Handbook as the defining D&D tome. I suspect I'm not alone in this. Among other things, Cacodemon was a high-level spell and I doubt that many campaigns got that far. As always, I could be wrong.

The second thing to note is that it was in Appendix IV of the Handbook that all of the planes were finally explicitly named and their nature and relation at least somewhat described or explained (using a list, a two-dimensional representation and a three dimensional representation!). So, as for evil places where demonic entities might dwell, we are introduced to:
17. The Planes of Pandemonium of chaotic evil neutrals.
18. The 666 layers of the Abyss of absolute chaotic evil.
19. The planes of Tarterus of evil chaotic neutrals.
20. Hades' "Three Glooms" of absolute (neutral) evil.
21. The furnaces of Gehenna of lawful evil neutrals.
22. The Nine Hells of absolute lawful evil.
23. The nether planes of Acheron of lawful evil neutrals (p. 120).
That demons hailed from the Abyss and devils lived in the Nine Hells wasn't mentioned in the Players Handbook, but the Monster Manual had made that sort of clear, and of course there was also that early chart in The Strategic Review.

Next (Part 3): the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, The Dragon and the first modules.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Demons in Early D&D, Part 1

A demon from Eldritch Wizardry

There were plenty of demons in early Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1979). Not only were there many kinds of demons, but demons could be summoned by spells, they could possess people, and characters could even make "pacts" with them, perhaps involving human sacrifices. All of this was described in "official" TSR sources such as the rulebooks and supplements or semi-official outlets such as The Dragon magazine.

There was plenty of red meat for Christian fundies who worry about that sort of thing to get worried about.

But of course that only tells half the story.

While demons existed, they didn't exactly dominate things. In essence they were simply an additional kind of monster introduced to make things more interesting. Back in the day I never used demons in my campaign, and I can't remember ever running into them in the three or four other campaigns that I played in.

For my campaign this was not because I had any particular religious objection to them (unless it was unconscious), but rather because demons just seemed too complicated. In the Monster Manual their descriptions went on forever (or so it seemed to me). They didn't seem Tolkienish enough (a big consideration for me at the time), and they were too high-level for my campaigns. Also I resented the imposition of the complicated and arbitrary (again, so it seemed to me) metaphysical architecture or geography that went with them - all of the hells and planes and so on and so forth. Demons were just too much fuss.

For all I know there were other campaigns that made a fetish of demons. One thing the anti-D&D people never seemed to quite understand is that Dungeons & Dragons, especially in the early days, was what you wanted to make of it. (Of course, logically, this wouldn't have completely disposed of the worry.) Could it be a gateway drug to actual cults or covens? I suppose some people might have played it to make it look that way. But I never saw it.

But the other part of the story is that while demons would eventually stake out their demonic place in the universe of 1970's D&D, they didn't exist for at least the first two years of the game.

This is a companion piece to my earlier post on witches. Witches sort of burst out (at least implicitly) and then fizzled. But demons, while they took their time making an appearance, would by the end of the 1970's be featured all over - again not because they were the raison d'etre of the game or anything like that but simply because they had become an accepted member of the monster canon, along with Unicorns, Dragons and everyone else.

Dungeons & Dragons (January, 1974): The "three little brown books" contained no demons. The Balrog would later become a demon (before having the "Balrog" part of the name deleted for copyright reasons), but he wasn't a demon then.

Greyhawk (March, 1975): No demons.

Blackmoor (September, 1975): Technically, the first use of the word "devil" in an official Dungeons & Dragons publication was in this supplement. And fittingly (for Blackmoor) it was aquatic-related. The evil creatures called Sahuagin were described as "Devil-Men of the Deep."

The Strategic Review (April, 1975 to April, 1976): The first appearance of demons in D&D occurred in the second to last issue (Vol. II, no. 1, February, 1976) of this predecessor to The Dragon. Both demons and devils were featured on the first of two charts in an article by Gary Gygax discussing the D&D alignment system - an article which heralded the apparent evolution of alignment from what had seemed to be a two- or three-point system to a five- or nine-point system.

I imagine that this chart might have been confusing to many. It named four sorts of creatures or beings - Saint, Godling, Devil and Demon - and diverse places - Nirvana, Heaven, Elysium, The Abyss, etc. - none of which had appeared in Dungeons & Dragons before. They came from varying religious or mythical traditions but were all meticulously placed on a chart that seemed to represent some sort of deeper metaphysical or supernatural truth. Why were "Saints" (were these just really good people?) "Lawful/Good" and "Godlings" (whatever they were) "Chaotic/Good"? And why was The Devil on the other side of the chart from a Demon? Were Hell, Hades and the Abyss different places? Why was the Law side of Neutrality Buddhist but the Chaos side of it Catholic? And so on.

Some of us are so used to the religious cosmology of AD&D that we may not fully realize that it was Gygax and D&D that first made a distinction between "devils" and "demons" as two separate but similar evil supernatural beings. In Christian or European tradition, demons were usually equated with the fallen angels (they may also inhabit people and be cast out, etc.). "Devil" was used as in "The Devil," to denote the first fallen angel or leader of them, or was employed as a sort of slang term to describe demons or supernatural monsters in general or even just very bad people.

I'm not claiming that there's anything wrong with Gygax patching together his own novel cosmology out of many different sources, mashing them together and redefining some of the terms - after all, this is essentially what he did with the entire monster canon for D&D - only that it must have seemed a bit confusing to some at the time, especially since it came with little explanation. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons would of course fully flesh all of this out, but at this time, AD&D was still 1-3 years away.

Eldritch Wizardry (May, 1976): Here is where demons not only made a grand entrance but positively exploded into the game, in all their myriad and numbered types. There are 94 mentions of the word "demon" in this booklet, and 4 of "devil." Nine types of demon are given statistics and described - six types simply numbered "I" to "VI" (although VI is also called "Balrog", which was still listed as a "monster" in the then available printings of Monsters & Treasure), Succubi, and the two "demon princes" Orcus and Demogorgon. Various demonic magical items and artifacts are described. Demon psionic strength is explained. And demons now appear in the encounter charts alongside everyone else from Lions to Lycanthropes. Indeed, in many terrain types you suddenly have a 1 in 20, or sometimes only a 1 in 12, chance of encountering a demon if your monster check comes up. This might have been annoying to wilderness adventurers. Interestingly, in Eldritch Wizardry demons are not given a specific home. They're said to "roam" the astral plane, but they appear to actually live in or on some other plane or planes. These are not named. The explicit populating of Hell, Hades and other such places is still months in the future - although, as we saw, it was telegraphed in that The Strategic Review article.

Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes (July, 1976): There are numerous and varied demons mentioned as part of many mythologies. Their use here is quite nifty in my opinion, and it's of a completely different flavor from the sterilely labeled numbered types in Eldritch Wizardry. This would herald a trend in which some of the coolest treatments of D&D demons would be, so to speak, ethnic.

Here is a description of the Rakshasa, which had earlier been introduced in the "Creature Feature" section of the The Strategic Review, and would appear again in the AD&D Monster Manual, though not explicitly as a demon in either of those texts:
Armor Class: — 5, Magic Ability: (See Below), Move: 18/36, Fighter Ability: 15th Level, Hit Points: 200, Psionic Ability: Class 6 
These demons constantly fought man and Gods alike. Many of their leaders were so powerful that the Gods were forced to call a truce at times and give them concessions. All Rakshasas have these powers in common: shapechange, fight invisible except against Gods, all regenerate as a troll, crave the taste of human flesh, and cannot refuse a gambling bet. Some of the more powerful ones have complete control over forces of nature.
That sort of short but evocative monster description, lumping together such diverse considerations as invisibility (though not against Gods), regeneration, favorite cuisine (people) and a weakness for gambling is in my opinion one of the defining virtues of early D&D. It would soon be lost. 

Next (Part 2): The Holmes Basic Set, the AD&D Monster Manual and the AD&D Players Handbook.