Funny Dice

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Mystery of the Divine

One of the nice things about Dungeons and Dragons / d20 is that all the basic rules are available online for free in the System Reference Document (aka SRD). The only difference between these rules and the rules you can buy in slick hardcovers that cost $30 a piece is that 1) there's no art, 2) there's no fancy descriptive text, 3) certain proper names, gods, and monsters have been removed. It's a very handy way to keep up on the rules without laying out loads of cash.

About a week ago, a new section on divine entities (57K zipped RTF) was added to the SRD. "Divine" is one of those words (like "strength", "level" or "spell") that has a precisely defined meaning in D&D, which is perhaps necessary for game play. Still, the wonder and awe of the Holy get lost somewhere when you use the same statistics (or even the same categories) to describe gods and people. Consider these two statements about God or gods:

Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power.
Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble. (...)
Who among the gods is like you, O LORD?
Who is like you -- majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory, working wonders?
-- Exodus 15:6-7, 11

Divine Characteristics:
Most deities are creatures of the outsider type (usually with 20 outsider Hit Dice). All deities that are outsiders have all alignment subtypes that correspond with their alignment. Unlike other outsiders, they have no darkvision unless noted in the deity description. Deities’ physical characteristics vary from deity to deity. A deity’s outsider type, along with its class or classes, determines its weapon proficiencies, feats, and skills. Deities have some or all of the following additional qualities, depending on their divine rank.
-- "Divine Ranks and Powers", SRD

Reducing deities to game terms (which bear a striking resemble to legal language) is a sure way to suck all the life and mystery out of an encounter with the divine. For a certain style of play, this degree of specificity can be useful -- but I vastly prefer the approach that says, "The gods work in mysterious ways. Mortals cannot fathom their powers and practices."

More on this later.


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