Thursday, July 31, 2008

Handling Angelic Encounters

Angels here meaning 3.5 and previous edition angels. The 4e angels look like confused fire elementals.

Angels, and their diabolic/demonic counterparts on the other side, have been around since the beginning, or darn close to it. If you are beginning to recognize that statement from post to post, then you can attribute it to the fact that I want to put out statements that can (possibly) help grognards as well as those newer to the hobby.

Anyway, Angels are always there. Usually they only show up at higher levels, but nonetheless, they exist in the game world. They are, of course, paragons of good. Even aside from that, they are, in most campaign settings, lawful as well. See my previous admittedly rambling post for my thoughts on extremism in alignment, but let's think about angels. If anyone had a reason to be strictly good and lawful, angels would be the ones. As much as demons are always chaotic evil, angels are always lawful good. Holding the line, as it were.

This means that in many campaigns, angels will do what they can to help the party, if the party is at least neutral and not currently doing an evil act. Drop his one use of Resurrection today to rez that fallen rogue? Sure! Hand over some heavenly raiment to help the PCs combat the demons? Why not? Act as a glorified paladin/cleric multiclass tanker/healer? Of course!

I don't see this as reasonable. Think about 'good' and 'law' from an angel's perspective. I would reason that most angels don't have much experience with paladinal humans. The humans they typically see, if they typically see them at all, are probably the ones they are trying to stop from summoning demons.

So lets say you are an angel. In your society, in your homeland, everyone typically does the right thing. Charity is an unknown word because it's the default. If your neighbor is hurting, you help him. You know that he would do the same. If there is an invasion, everyone does what they are best able to do. You don't cheat on your spouse, and she won't cheat on you. You don't think about demonic or evil magic. There is no crime; it's unthinkable. No thieving, no murder, no arson; nothing evil happens.

Now, take that angel, who has lived in such a society, and place him in a human town. For some reason, he can't go back to Celestia right off. Imagine the culture shock. At first, he would be strikingly naive. On request, he helps every beggar he can. He gives them money, or food, or whatever else they need that he can provide. He believes sob stories from people, and helps if they say their mother is sick and they just need money for medicine. He heals the injured and refuses reward, thinking that when he is injured, they will do the same out of inherent goodness.

Now what happens when he sees the consequences that humans take for granted in the above scenarios? The beggars he gives his gold to spend the money on drink and worse, dying from their excess. His offer of Remove Disease makes the person speaking of their sick mother nervous; their mother has been dead for ten years. An accident injures him, and people demand money to heal him. He turns to get it, and finds his coinpurse missing. He's been robbed. The cleric demanding payment says he's sorry, and that he'd heal him for free if it weren't for those church regulations. The angel knows from his powers that the priest is lying. The cleric doesn't care about altruism, he just wants the divine being's money.

Even these relatively petty wrongs would seem repulsive to him. Lies? Gluttony? Indulgence in drink? Self-destruction? Greed? Theft? These things are anathema to everything he's ever known. Humans suddenly change from a meek race that needs protection from demons, to nearly demons themselves. Unsavable. Corruptible without effort. Untrustable. The small good acts and few random acts of kindness don't even start to make up for the moral failings of mortals as a whole.

Is this angel likely to trust your chaotic neutral party? Is he even likely to bother speaking with you? He certainly wouldn't provide you with assistance, since he would half expect you to stab him in the back as soon as he turned to leave. Even a paladin isn't neutral compared to what the angel sees as default behavior.

This isn't to say he wouldn't help the party if they were combatting demons and one of them fell. Of course he's willing to raise someone who fell in such a noble battle. But he won't give you money. He won't give you information on how to get to the heavens. He won't help you in any way that leaves him less able to retreat or hold his own against you. He knows how your kind works. You are all sinners and murderers. He can probably look at you and know that you've slain innocents and that you rarely help anyone who can't pay you. You aren't as good a person as he is. You never can be, and he knows it.

So don't make angels some glowing beacon of light that trusts the party implicitly. Make them terse, stern, and unforgiving of sins. They are still good; they still help where they can. But they won't be suckered into giving you the chance to use their gifts for evil, or for your own hedonistic pleasures. They won't attack anyone that isn't inherently evil, but they won't trust anyone that isn't inherently good.

As a closing note, for players: If you play a half-celestial, consider making part of your backstory having been raised on the celestial plane. You wouldn't be accepted there: your capacity for deceit and underhandedness is appalling compared to others there. But you arrive on this plane, and see that other mortals are far worse. Creates some interesting roleplay hooks.


DocBadwrench said...

This is a damned fine piece. Thanks for a refreshing take on this oft-stale piece of gaming history.

David said...

Thanks, always nice to hear a compliment like that.

Reogan said...

Interesting idea. It makes one think how a being of pure Law would react to that which goes against their fundamental beliefs. Would an angelic being who has just seen earth swear to bring swift merciless 'justice' upon all the 'sinners'? Could you create a Campaign set in the midst of an inter-planar war? It's certainly a possibility.

trollsmyth said...

Angelic beings are very rare in my campaigns, and every time my players have seen one and recognized it as such, the creature was layingth down the smaketh on some sinners who richly deserved it. These are beings of Old Testament style justice, who fight to uphold the rule of just law, and mercy and forgiveness are not their department. Fire and brimstone are their tools, and they work like surgeons removing a tumor. They'll make an effort to limit collateral damage, but they are not perfect, and the bad is coming out, whatever it takes.

So now, when my players hear there's an angelic critter showing up, they get the heck out of town.

- Brian