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.


Dennis Laffey said...

The Japanese call this "gekokujo" or 'those below toppling those above'. Most depictions of the samurai are from the Edo Period (17th-19th centuries) when Japan was relatively at peace. But histories of the Warring States Period (14th to 16th centuries) like the Taiheiki show that this sort of thing was pretty common. Everyone was loyal to their side...until they saw an opportunity to grab more power within their group by betraying the leader. Seems appropriate for a megadungeon's politics.

Dennis Laffey said...

Ah, that should say "depictions of the loyal samurai" above. Typed too fast. :D

pi4t said...

I'm not convinced that Morgoth is a great example of this concept, actually. Yes, he is defeated and his physical body is banished beyond the walls of the world, but his malice is still at work. If certain writings of Tolkien are to be believed, he put his essence into the whole world in the same way Sauron did the ring, and to truly defeat him would require the world to be unmade. Or, more precisely, cannot happen until the new creation comes. And if certain other writings of Tolkien are to be believed, at the end of time Morgoth will find his way back into the world again, and only then will he be killed.

It's notable that after Morgoth banished, Sauron still taught the Numenorians to worship him. It could have been a trick, but other writings by Tolkien indicate otherwise, that at that point, at least, Sauron still had some actual loyalty to Morgoth. He may have lost that loyalty later on, but he wasn't waiting in the wings to snatch power from Morgoth's defeat.

Sauron-Saruman is a much clearer example. As is Sauron-Galadriel/Gandalf/etc, if they'd tried to use the ring to defeat Sauron. "In place of a dark lord you would have a queen..."

On a lighter note, I wasn't much of a fan of Rappan Athuk personally; it's tonally all over the place and, like you said, awkward to run a session from. And there are several glitches I've noticed, like passages between floors which are missing from one of the levels. I've found Dwimmermount much better thought through, and have been running a campaign in it for several years now.

FrDave said...

Since I am sure you are more familiar with Tolkien than I do, I will defer to you. I was attempting to draw out the Sauron-Saruman relationship to its origin because it is familiar to a lot of us.

As for Rappan Athuk and Dwimmermount, I love both of them! I would agree that Dwimmermount is easier to use at the table in almost every aspect; however, Rappan Athuk manages to create a mystique that is easy to communicate to players (having an Obituary at the end of the book can do that). It makes survival something to be celebrated — an Old School mentality that not many published adventures do well or at all.