Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Scripture & the Megadungeon Part 5: Alignment

Strap in folks, this is a long one, but one that I am rather excited about. I hope you find it as useful as I have found it to be fun to work on and write.

Of all of the various “controversial” mechanics in D&D, Alignment is probably the most, because it doesn’t really work. What started out as a simple guide for which fantasy troop types could or would work together, it evolved into the nine-fold metaphysical mess that it is today. This failure is largely due to the fact that it couches Good and Evil in materialist language:

Basically stated, the tenets of good are human rights, or in the case of AD&D, creature rights. Each creature is entitled to life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness. Cruelty and suffering are undesirable. Evil, on the other hand, does not concern itself with rights or happiness; purpose is the determinant. — 1e DMG

The inherent problem with this is that materialism has no real metaphysics. Indeed, once one starts to seriously look into metaphysics, the materialist world-view begins to collapse in on itself. Note the relativism implied in "life, relative freedom, and the prospect of happiness." What is life when undeath is a reality? What is freedom when dangerous and powerful magics, including spells like Charm Person are available? Though undesirable, what if cruelty and suffering are the only means towards happiness? Is the purpose to serve others evil? All of these platitudes have no real meaning.

Thus, the instinct by many players today to entirely eliminate Alignment from the game is quite correct, from a materialist POV. I, however, reject materialism and my instinct is that it should be part of the game. The question has always been how.

In the modern, materialist world-view, the opposite of being is nothing — something that is no thing, has no being, has no material form. This is not how ancient Greek philosophers, and much of Western thought prior to the Enlightenment, understood things. Plato, Platonism, and Neo-Platonism all find that the opposite of being is becoming. Aristotle developed this into potential and actuality. To possibly over-simplify, there are things that change and things that don't. Those that don't are superior to those that do. As to why, remember death is the one change none of us can escape.

When one reads the Fathers of the Church, they use Platonic, Neo-Platonic, and Aristotelian language and concepts to explicate the Gospel, but ultimately reject the metaphysics of philosophy in favor of Scripture. English translations of Genesis describe the opposite of being as:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. (1:1-2)
The words "without form" and "void" in the Masoretic Hebrew are ṯō·hū and ḇō·hū, the latter only being used twice in the OT, both in conjunction with the first. In fact, the only way that we have an idea of how to translate ḇō·hū is other translations, specifically the Septuagint Greek. Ironically, a close examination of that Greek offers a different meaning.

The first word is ἀόρατος, which means "unseen" or "invisible." The second is ἀκατασκεύαστος, meaning "not properly prepared." This lack of preparedness implies something unformed, or (far more relevant to the subject of this post) chaos.

This primordial unseen chaos is represented by "darkness upon the face of the deep." Here, "the deep" is ἀβύσσου or the abyss. This abyss, however, is described in terms of the sea with the Holy Spirit hovering over the face of the water. In the Masoretic Hebrew, the abyss is rendered ṯə·hō·wm, which has been etymologically linked to Tiamat — the Babylonian goddess of the sea and a symbol for the chaos of primordial creation.

Being, therefore, is the order brought by God's creation and the purpose with which it is endowed. Using philosophical categories to explain the image and likeness of God in humanity, we are created to become like God and have the potential to share in God's eternity by the actualization of the divine in us. Paul describes this with the Greek word δικαιόω. Often translated as "justified," it literally means set right and shares the same root as righteousness. All of this, of course, is made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, because without Him through whom all things were made, we are completely incapable of being.

Jesus also reminds us that only God is good (see Mark 10:18) and His brother James states:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Thus, the source of all good in the world is God the Father, in whom is no change (note the link to Plato's thinking). Given this, there is no neutrality in creation. Either God's goodness flows through something or it doesn't and humanity has been given the task of tending creation — ordering the world according to the goodness of God.

It should be noted that the word alignment means to set in a straight line and the word for sin in both Greek and Hebrew means to miss the mark — the alignment of your life and actions have failed to align with the purpose set before you by God.

Let us now look at how D&D actually uses Alignment. It is possible to break down Alignment mechanically into four broad categories:
  • A code of conduct required of a PC to take advantage of class abilities. See clerics, monks, paladins, etc.
  • Something that determines the efficacy of certain spells such as Detect Evil and Protection from Evil.
  • An effect of a magic trap or item that either changes the alignment of a PC or determines the ability of a PC to use said item. See Helm of Alignment Change, Intelligent Swords, etc.
  • Alignment Languages.

Let's take a look at how Scripture might help to clarify these mechanics.

Class Requirements

Scripture clearly shows that there is no one way that an individual can become righteous. People from all walks of life from both the Old and New Testament are today recognized as Saints in the Orthodox Church: shepherds, kings, prophets, judges, fishermen, lawyers, tax collectors, physicians, slaves, women, children, etc. At the same time, many of these very same saints spent time falling away from God. It was an act of repentance that separates a King David from a King Saul, both of whom where made righteous by being chosen by God and anointed by the Prophet Samuel. All of this suggests that the core idea of having certain class abilities tied to behavior is Scriptural, as is the idea of quests of penance to get those abilities back after a fall. 

The behavior that is and isn't acceptable, however, is not necessarily going to be universal. The way a monk and a paladin deal with a situation, given their different set of skills, is necessarily going to be different. This all suggests that Players and Referees need to world build so that various organizations that represent various classes have clear cut Codes of Conduct. I might also suggest having clear paths of penance so that players can weigh the cost/benefit of breaking their codes. This would also free the Referee to be rather strict about enforcing those codes. Given the fact that most of the classes that have such codes are some of the most powerful in the game, and given that the Referee and players are clear as what is expected, this seems to me to be a reasonable ask for these classes.

Spell Effects

There are two basic types of spells that specify evil: Protection from Evil and Detect Evil. If we take a look at the original wording of the former, it really doesn't have anything to do with evil mechanically, despite its mention of "evil attacks:"

Protection from Evil: This spell hedges the conjurer round with a magic circle to keep out attacks from enchanted monsters. It also serves as an “armor” from various evil attacks, adding a +1 to all saving throws and taking a –1 from hit dice of evil opponents.

These spells specifically target attacks from enchanted creatures. Depending on how one interprets enchanted this could theoretically include traditionally Good creatures such as unicorns. Later editions do try to define "enchanted," such as Moldvay's "summoned or created" — a definition that does fit nicely into a Scriptural POV. Given this definition, however, this spell seems to be a variation on Protection Scrolls, which specify a type of creature that are affected — Protection from Lycanthropes, for example. While more recent versions of the game expand the scope of this spell to include Law/Chaos as well as Good/Evil, I think it far more practical to move that variety more in the direction of the Protection Scroll. Either PCs can have access to a variety of Protection spells or a specific category of creature is invoked when the spell is memorized or cast. Thus, this category is less about Alignment than it is about a targeted category of creature.

When it comes to the spell Detect Evil, the original explanation runs very much counter to Scripture:

Detect Evil: A spell to detect evil thought or intent in any creature or evilly enchanted object. Note that poison, for example, is neither good nor evil. Duration: 2 turns. Range: 6”.

Given that humans sin in thought all the time, this spell would produce nothing of any real import. Although it specifies an ability to detect an evil enchantment on an item, it explicitly declares a mundane object, such as poison, which is almost exclusively used for evil intent, as undetectable due to its neutrality. Given that it is impossible to be neutral when it comes to God (the source of all good), this use of this spell is non-sensical from a Scriptural POV.

To fix this, I think that the whole concept of detecting thoughts ought to be abandoned. Not only are there other spells that deal with this ability (ESP, for example), but the explanation is so ambiguous that, in my experience, the spell is rendered largely useless in this regard anyway. In order to make Detect Evil into a useful utility spell, we can take advantage of the Scriptural understanding of the co-creative role of humanity. In other words, the spell is able to detect the manner in which an object was last used — something aligned with God or aligned with a human desire for power, money, lust, etc. 

Thus, in context of a murder mystery, Detect Evil might be an interesting spell to use in order to try and determine a murder weapon, for example. It also gives the Referee a clear directive as to whether or not an object reeks of evil. In terms of world building, it also drives the need for spells like Bless and Purify Food and Water in non-adventure settings. Every year at Epiphany, for example, the priest goes from house to house blessing houses with the holy water blessed during the services of the Feast.

Magic Traps and Items

Now we finally come to a subject directly relevant to the subject of the megadungeon, and something that I think ought to be far more common, at least from a Scriptural POV. In Genesis, God warns Cain as he meditates on murdering his brother Abel:

So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin crouches at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” — 4:6-7

The Masoretic Hebrew for "crouches" is etymologically linked to an Akkadian word rabitsu, which is a crouching demon that hides near doors. This warning refers to the fact that not all thoughts originate from within our minds. We are constantly being bombarded by thoughts from the holy and the demonic. To illustrate this, try praying the Jesus Prayer multiple times concentrating on the words: "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner." Very quickly, our minds will wander away. These thoughts that catch our attention are from the same rabitsu that were waiting at the door of Cain's heart.

In other words, as adventurers delve into the depths of the megadungeon trying to align themselves and the dungeon itself to the purposes of God, the challenges PCs should face ought to go beyond the physical. This can take the form of traps and magic items that force a PC to change their alignment away from God's purpose. Their resistance can either take the form of a Saving Throw or the Player's choice to refuse the power available to them through use of an item.

This is all well and good, but in the traditional D&D alignment system, the alignment change is the consequence in most cases. The rest lies in that nebulous space where Players try to interpret how their characters would now act "evil" or "chaotic" instead of "good" or "lawful." Unless the PC was a character that depended upon a specific alignment, there is no clear cut way as to how this mechanically affects the game.

If, however, "Alignment" referred strictly to a PCs relation to God's purpose, then there are some mechanical choices that can be made and imposed. In Orthodox Christianity, the "likeness" in the "image and likeness" of God refers to our eternal quest to become more and more like God. Thus, we can tie level progression to Alignment. Thus, a PC can't progress in level, regardless of the amount of XP accumulated, unless they are properly aligned. 

Those that fail a Saving Throw or choose to use a powerful magic item with an Evil Alignment must then perform some kind of act of repentance. This could take the form of tithing in cases of a missed Saving Throw, or a quest in cases of choosing to use evil magics. To my mind, this makes Alignment consequential and can make many Alignment decisions by Players far more meaningful: "I don't have the magic weapon necessary to defeat this monster, unless I pull out and use this evil sword."


Alignment Languages have long been a source of confusion and mockery. The idea that a PC who dons a Helm of Change Alignment simultaneously and instantly forgetting one language and learning a new one is rather laughable. In context of Scripture, however, understanding speech is tightly linked to a relationship with God. Prior to their attempt to control God by building the Tower of Babel, humanity all spoke the same language. As punishment for their audacity, God confused the languages. We see another explicit example in the Gospel of John:

[Jesus said,] "Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. — 12:28-29

Those that were ready — Aligned to the purpose of God — heard the voice. Those that were not merely heard thunder. This suggests that Alignment languages can be understood by anyone who is willing. Thus, if a PC were willing to change their Alignment (as with the evil magic items above), an otherwise unreadable text would become known; however, like those willing to use evil magic items, they would then have to repent in order to advance in level. It would also make texts written in a heavenly language indecipherable. This renders spells like Read Languages and Comprehend Languages even more important than they already are, because they would allow a PC to read a forbidden text without making the necessary Alignment change.


If we are to use Scripture as a guide for making Alignment mechanically meaningful, we are forced to understand that the traditional Good/Evil and Law/Chaos dichotomies are meaningless. All order and good that is in the world have their source in God. Everything else is a manifestation of evil and chaos. Thus, a more useful language to use is In or Out of Alignment (with God's purpose).

At first glance, this may seem to run counter to the existence of Assassins, Barbarians, Druids, Thieves and any other class that have Alignment requirements that in traditional D&D embrace Chaos, Neutrality, and/or Evil. In a world in which Chaos manifests itself as the megadungeon, however, even PCs that live and operate in that grey area between Civilization and the Wilderness can align themselves with God's purpose by becoming adventurers that delve into the megadungeon.

Understanding Alignment as "In" or "Out" allows us to have some very clear mechanical consequences for choosing one over the other:

  • Classes that require a code of conduct to use certain class abilities are Out if they break that code
  • All PCs that are Out may not advance in level, regardless of XP earned
  • PCs that are In may read and understand "heavenly" languages
  • PCs that are Out may read and understand "demonic" languages
  • PCs that are Out may avoid certain magical traps and use certain magical items
  • PCs that are Out must perform penance in order to become In
  • The penance necessary to become In is up to the Referee and may include quests of various kinds

To my mind, this is a far more useful Alignment system than any I have encountered in D&D or elsewhere. It helps portray a world in a way that helps players understand how their choices interact with the realities of that world.

So, are you In or Out? ;)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Scripture & the Megadungeon Part 4: Factions

One of my favorite published megadungeons is Rappan Athuk published by Necromancer/Frog God Games. With all of its various entrances it is a sandbox campaign unto itself. Nonetheless, I still have quibbles. For example, while it is organized, it is not organized for use at the table and without a lot of preparation on my part makes for an awkward and slow gaming session with lots and lots and lots of page turning. For the purposes of this series, however, my biggest misgiving is this quote from the 2012 S&W edition:

Oh, and yes, Level 15 is still just intended for the Referee to read—Orcus is still supposed to be unbeatable.

This is, in part, due to the fact that Orcus is literally the logo of Necromancer games and they don’t want to produce a product where the symbol of their company gets killed. From a Scriptural POV, however, Orcus is doomed and Rappan Athuk will be conquered.

To make this case, let us first go to Genesis Chapter 18:

And the Lord appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. (v. 1-2)

The oaks of Mamre were a pagan place of worship. The word for "standing" in verse 2 has a military connotation, coming from a word meaning "station" in Hebrew and "marshaling troops" in Greek. In other words, God is claiming this worship place as His own.

This is possible because, unlike other gods who are tied to a specific place, God's throne is mobile:

And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire — Daniel 7:9
In the previous verse, the thrones of God's council are set up. We get a description of one of these thrones when Elijah is taken up into heaven. These thrones are chariots:
Behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. — 4 Kings (2 Kings) 2:11

At the time of Moses, the primary place where God set his throne was in the tabernacle (a tent), which Moses made according to God's command:

See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain. — Exodus 25:40

With the incarnation, the tabernacle became humanity itself:

καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν (And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us) — John 1:14

Note that in the Greek, the word translated as "dwelt" is ἐσκήνωσεν, which literally means to tabernacle. Thus, the place of God's throne — the tabernacle — is baptized humanity and through this humanity, all of creation. This includes megadungeons.

This does not suggest, however, that the megadungeon will be conquered long or even at all before the Second Coming. Note that Solomon, the builder of the Temple and the wisest of all men:

went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord. 3 Kings (1 Kings) 11:5-6

Indeed, his son Rahoboam refused to listen to the advice of his elders and the Kingdom of Israel was split into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Eventually, both would succumb to foreign invaders because they failed to stay faithful to God.

This suggests that while Orcus and his ilk can be killed, there is always someone in the wings ready to take his place. In his portrayal of Morgoth, Sauron, and Saruman, Tolkien illustrates this very well. It also gives us a very different understanding of factions within the megadungeon.

Christ tells us (in reference to being accused to working for Baalzebul):

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. — Mark 3:24
Thus, all the monsters within a megadungeon are on the same side. That doesn't mean, however, that various subordinates aren't gunning for a higher position within the team. Remember, Baal is a usurper and is doomed to have the same done to him. Thus, it could very well be in the best interest for one of those subordinates to make a little deal with PCs to have them do the dirty work of cleaning out a level or two before moving in and taking over.

Hence, from a Scriptural POV, Gygax and Mentzer got it wrong when they had Zuggtmoy bound in the depths of the Temple of Elemental Evil. Zuggtmoy should have made some kind of deal with the various forces of Good that participated in the "great slaughter" of the Temple, killing off Loth or some other demon she needed out of the way so that she could re-establish it once the various rulers who made the deal had passed away. Another option is that it was Iuz who made the deal to get rid of Zuggtmoy.

In other words, the fight versus Chaos will never end until such time that Christ comes again because men are weak in the face of evil and there will always be another evil ready to step in when Orcus eats dirt.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Scripture & the Megadungeon Part 3: Meditating on Those Who Hate the Light

Probably my all-time favorite illustration of a goblin

The most iconic adversaries for a party of adventurers exploring the first levels of a megadungeon are kobolds, goblins, and orcs. While D&D has always differentiated these as three different types of creatures, an examination of etymology and Tolkien suggest that they are three different names for the same type of creature. The word kobold is a German form of the Latin gobalus both of which come from the Greek κόβαλος. In turn, Tolkien himself suggested that orc and goblin are two different names for the same creature (having used goblin in earlier works for what would later be called orcs).

If one looks at the meaning of κόβαλος and orcneas (a plural of orc used in Beowulf), there is a suggestion that kobolds, goblins, and orcs are all human.

A κόβαλος was an impudent rogue and the adjective κόβαλα had the connotation of knavish trickery. Later it was associated with goblins invoked by rogues. Orcneas is often translated as evil spirit and literally means underworld corpse. It could be argued, then, that kobolds, goblins, and orcs are all varieties of humans who have willingly aligned themselves with Baalzebub, Asmodeus, etc. and have either been transformed or are possessed by demonic powers.

This understanding of these creatures is actually hinted at in the 1e MM:

Orcs dwell in places where sun-light is dim or non-existent, for they hate the light.

This mirrors John’s use of the Light/Dark motif is his Gospel:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. — 3:19

Intriguingly, the word translated here as judgement is κρίσις, the root of the English word crisis. While the Greek does have a connotation of trial and judgement, it can also mean decision or choice.

The reasons behind this choice can be gleaned from the polemics of Ezekiel 28 where the King of Tyre is condemned to the pit (v. 8) and is turned to ashes on the earth (v. 18) because he claimed, “I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods” (v. 2). While it could be claimed that this is directed at an earthly king, the Lament over the King of Tyre in verses 12-19 call him a guardian cherub who was placed on the holy mountain (v. 14, 16). In other words, the King of Tyre is seen as a Baal.

In the Baal Cycle, Baal kills Prince Yam-Nahar and takes his throne as the King of the Gods. Yet, despite (or more accurately because of) his victory, Baal fears Mot, the personification of death:

But take care, divine servants: Do not get too close to Divine Mot, lest he take you like a lamb in his mouth, like a kid, you be crushed in the chasm of his throat. The Divine Lamp, Shapsh, is red; the heavens are weak in the hands of the Beloved, Divine Mot. From across a thousand acres, a myriad of hectares, at the feet of Mot bow down and fall, you shall prostrate yourselves and honor him.

Despite the apparent victory and enthronement of Baal, he has no real power because even he cannot approach the land of the dead without being consumed. He killed in order to gain the throne, which means someone else could do the same to him. Like other hero myths from around the world, the Baal Cycle sees Baal forced to go into the underworld (Mot kills him) and then returning with knowledge that allows him to subjugate death.

Thus, at the heart of the Baal Cycle and the other pagan myths that follow the same pattern, is a desire to overcome death using one’s own power — without God. The polemic found in Ezekiel 28 proclaims the folly of this endeavor and warns:

[you will be] thrust down into the pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas. (v. 8)
Thus, from a Scriptural view, kobolds, goblins and orcs could be seen as what remain of those who align themselves with Baal and attempt to cheat death. What remains of them are underworld corpses, possessed of evil spirits trying to steal from humanity what once was theirs before they turned their back on the Light and embraced Darkness. It is their former humanity, and the temptation for other humans to cheat death without God, that see them occupying those levels of the megadungeon closest to the surface.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Scripture & the Megadungeon Part 2: The Destroyer

The name Asmodeus does not appear in the NT or in the Masoretic text of the OT; however, it does show up in the Septuagint OT in the Book of Tobit:
Sarah, daughter of Raguel...was married to seven husbands, but before they could be with her as a wife, Asmodeus, the evil demon, killed them.
According to the Orthodox Study Bible, the name Ἀσμοδαῖος means "the destroyer" and links this with the description of "the thief" as Christ claims the title of Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abudantly. I am the good shepherd.—10:10
The name Ashmedai appears in the Talmud and has been linked to the Zoroastrian demon of wrath, Aeshma of the Bloody Mace.

Though later Medieval writers would link these names to lust and even the title Prince of Lust, the Book of Tobit does not attribute any special status besides "evil demon" to the name Asmodeus. This bears little resemblance to Gygax's entry on Asmodeus in the 1e MM, with the possible exception of his glowing rod of pure ruby, which might be a play on the bloody mace of Aeshma.

To fully understand the portrayal of Asmodeus in the Book of Tobit in context of the megadungeon, I must first highlight one the main ways Orthodox Christianity is different from both Catholicism and Protestantism. Orthodoxy has always insisted that there is a distinction between the Essence and Energies of God. The word ἐνέργεια (energy) is often translated in English as work, but in many cases is better understood as activity. The activities of God are made manifest in the three persons of God — we experience the energies, or activities, of God personally. 

There is, however, an essential aspect of God which we can never know and which the Fathers of the Church use apophatic language to describe — ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, etc. This distinction can be illustrated with the 33rd chapter of Exodus where:

The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. — 33:11

Yet, when Moses, seven verses later, asks to see God's glory, the Lord responds:

You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. — 33:20

These two events are difficult to reconcile unless we acknowledge the Essence/Energy Distinction. Moses is able to encounter the Lord face to face in His energies/activities/person; however, when Moses asks to see the Lord's essence (His glory), the face of God becomes something no man can survive.

For the purposes of this post, however, the most important consequence of the Essence/Energy Distinction is that all the activities of God — Creation, Truth, Life, Love, Hope, Mercy, Forgiveness, Long-suffering, Magnanimity, etc. — are God Himself:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. — John 14:6

Death is introduced into creation when Adam eats the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge Good and Evil because he introduces a separation between humanity and Life itself — the energies of God.

This separation also exists in all the fallen angels, also known as demons. They have no access to the energies/activities of God. This is illustrated in the Book of Tobit with Asmodeus. He kills Sarah's husbands before they can consummate the marriage, thus cutting off the co-creative power of the marriage bed. All Asmodeus has power to do is "to steal and kill and destroy."

This all paints a very different picture from the Gygaxian Naturalism found in the 1e MM. Gygax's description of an orc lair would not, and arguably could not, exist:

Orc lairs are underground 75% of the time, in an above ground village 25% of the time. There will always be the following additional orcs when the encounter is in the creatures' lair: a chief and 5-30 bodyguards (AC4) 13-16 hit points, attack as monsters with 3 hit dice and do 2-8 hit points damage), females equal to 50% of the number of males, young equal to 100% of the males.
Pig-faced orcs, along with other hybrid creatures like gnolls, harpies, owlbears, satyrs, etc. are mere manifestations of Chaos "stealing" their appearance from other creatures and are incapable of producing their own offspring.

Asmodeus as depicted in Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal.
Notice how he is a hybrid.

Thus, the megadungeon is a manifestation of the fallen nature of Baalzebub, Asmodeus, etc. Whatever order exists within has been stolen from humanity — ancients destroyed by the introduction of the demonic into their cultures. As one goes deeper into the dungeon, this order begins to break down until there is nothing left but the Chaos embodied by caves and caverns.

Another implication is that one of the primary characteristics of the megadungeon is the undead. Having no ability to create life, Chaos must depend upon the bodies of the dead to provide vehicles for their abortive and monstrous attempts at the creative act.

Finally, this also speaks to something early D&D instinctively got right: randomness. Wandering monsters, randomly generated dungeon levels, random treasure, etc. all speak to the Scriptural understanding of the megadungeon far better than Gygaxian Naturalism. In some sense, the only things that should make sense inside a megadungeon are:

  1. Order is something stolen from Law 
  2. Chaos is randomness 
  3. The lower a party goes, the less order and more randomness there are

In this sense, Holmes got it right: he has Wandering Monsters as important features of dungeon exploration along with traps, doors, secret doors, and surprises.

Please note that I am a fan of Gygaxian Naturalism and take great pleasure in creating various ecosystems within a dungeon complex. As fun as creating a dungeon that "makes sense" and is "realistic" can be, it misses the opportunity to have Chaos, Randomness, and Theft the very things that "make sense" of a megadungeon. Besides, what better way can we simulate that "Oh Crap!" moment of the Balrog in the depths of Khazad-dûm?

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Scripture & the Megadungeon Part 1: Lord of the Flies

As you might recall from my last post, the name Baal is a generic title for a local pagan god which can be translated as “lord.” This name actually makes an appearance in the 1e MM:

Lord of the Flies
The sixth and seventh planes of Hell, Malbolge and Maladomini respectively, are ruled by Baalzebul, “Lord of the Flies” (“lies”?) He is an arch-devil of great power, second only to Asmodeus. Malbolge is a black stone plane, filled with stinking vapors, smokes, fire pits, and huge caves and caverns. Maladomini is similar, but there will be found the moated castles of the malebranche and the great fortress of Baalzebul.
As used in the NT, Baalzebul is called the ἄρχων of the demons:
Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “It is only by Baalzebul, the ruler of demons, that this man casts out demons.” — Matthew 12:24

Some English translations will render this as “prince” rather than “ruler,” but the word ἄρχων is the root for the English prefix arch- as in archduke and archenemy. Thus, it suggests a primacy not found in the word “prince.” In other words, this is a title for Satan: 

Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand; and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?”— Matthew 12:25-26

Thus, Gygax gets it wrong when he labels Baalzebul as the second most powerful devil behind Asmodeus (which we will get to later in this series). He also gets the meaning of the name wrong (though he is, in spirit, correct in labelling him as the Lord of Lies).

Baal-zebul can roughly be translated as “high lord Baal” which, is in turn, a rough duplicate of Most High God (ὁ θεὸς ὁ ὕψιστος). Given that, according to the Baal Cycle, it is Yam-Nahar that is made king of the gods by El and not Baal, this title is the title of a usurper. This is where the name "Lord of the Flies" comes from.

The OT writer of 4 Kings (2 Kings) could not bring themselves to call Baalzebul by his proper name:

Now Ahaziah ... lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.” — 4 Kings (2 Kings) 1:2

Baal-zebub is a term of mockery better understood as "lord of the place of flies" — a pile of dung. Anyone claiming that Jews and Christians aren't allowed to name-call hasn't read Scripture (or the Fathers, who could throw down with the best of them). This role of usurper is confirmed in Isaiah:

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit. — 14:12-15
This is where Gygax’s description of Baalzebul’s domain is strikingly accurate. Making good use of the prefix mal- (from the Latin male, meaning badly), Gygax calls the sixth plane of hell Malbolge (bölge in Turkish means region), the seventh Maladomini (where domini imitates the Latin for domain) and the various moated castles under Baalzebul’s control malebranche (branche in German referring to branch, as in a part of a business).

Ezekiel informs us that Baalzebul was cast down to the earth (28:17), and in the cosmology of the OT has Sheol under the earth. Therefore, it is safe to depict the realm of the Lord of the Flies as the megadungeon suggested in Holmes:

Note that the 6th level can be reached via The Pit  and the 7th has a moated castle

Thus, the Megadungeon, from a Christian POV, is the personification of Chaos (another way to express Baalzebul’s domain) sinking its stinking claws into God’s domain. It is the adventurer’s job, therefore, to beat it back down into the depths of Sheol.