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07-10-2012, 02:12 AM
Originally posted on Tuesday 07-10-2012 02:01 AM at koboldquarterly.com (http://www.koboldquarterly.com)

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Demons and devils occupy an odd position in the pantheons of most fantasy RPGs. For the most part, those terms are just two more names in a long list of monster classifications, not much different from fairies or talking animals. They’ve been stripped of their terrifying spiritual implications.
That’s a shame, because their unholy aspects are what make demons and devils so fascinating in our collective, churning imagination. Reducing them to scaly super villains deprives our fantasy campaigns of some fascinating potential. Sadly, the same affliction cripples most RPG “gods,” who are diminished to the status of remote, somewhat apathetic super heroes.
D&D’s cosmology throws more oil on the hellfire by pitting devils and demons against each other instead of uniting them in a mutual war against Heaven.
Traditionally, the Devil is the personification of evil. He/she/it leads the infernal host in its opposition to the reign and agenda of God, whoever he/she/it might be. Their battlefield is not some remote plane of existence. They wage war in the everyday world over the souls of mortals like you and me.
Demons are the footsoldiers of evil in this war. They tempt mortals toward sin, test their faith, drive wedges between mortals and their gods, and generally spread suffering and torment for the hell of it (you knew it had to be said; now it’s out of the way).
At the heights of human superstition, demons were assumed to be everywhere. Everything from natural calamity to minor bad luck to out-of-wedlock pregnancy could be blamed on them. Whether 500 people died from a flu epidemic or a clothesline snapped and dropped fresh laundry into the dirt, snickering demons were high-fiving each other in the Pit.
The war between Heaven and Hell supposes something that many RPG campaigns lack: an afterlife. Without an afterlife for mortals’ souls to aspire to, a supernatural war to claim those souls makes no sense. Without a tug-of-war over mankind’s eternal spark, demons, devils, and gods lose much of their traditional role in the world.
Fantasy religions tend to differ significantly from the Abrahamic traditions most Western roleplayers are familiar with (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Some percentage of DMs and players—no one can say how many, though I would love to know—are uncomfortable with anything in their games that smacks of real-life religion. God is a sensitive topic.
If a GM wants to restore some of the demons’ traditional purpose, could it be done without violating the game’s carefully erected wall between church and d8? What changes would need to be made?
About the Author: Steve Winter has been involved in publishing Dungeons & Dragons in one capacity or another since 1981. Currently he’s a freelance writer and designer in the gaming field. You can visit Steve and read more of his thoughts on roleplaying games, D&D, and more at his website: Howling Tower (http://www.howlingtower.com/). If you missed the earlier entries on the Kobold Quarterly site, please follow the Howling Tower tag to read more!



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