Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Can a demon balance a checkbook?

The latest Dev&Des article has sparked an interesting conversation between myself and Crwth on the "new" nature of demons.

Demons and devils within the DnD setting is one of my favorite topics, so be warned. This'll probably be a long one.

A few times in various campaigns we've wandered across a demon trapped in the classic circle of protection against evil. Every time we talk to the creature and usually try to strike some kind of bargain. Two out of the three times that I can think if my character had Knowledge: Planes and recognized that the creature was a demon. Naturally I knew exactly what would happen when we released it. True to form it always attacked us making for a fun battle.

That in a nutshell is the demon. Unlike the scheming bargain making devil, the demon has always been in my mind the force of primal chaos that Chris Sims describes. So I have no problem with the demon being a force of destruction. A being that exists solely to unravel the fabric of the universe even if it means destroying iteself in the process. However that's the part which seems to be giving Crwth reason for worry.

He argued that the demon of 4e, at least as Chris Sims described, is going to be incapable of being a long running protagonist. An evil wizard might summon one and set it loose but any way you shake it, the demon is looking like a random encounter at best. It'll be a "there it is on a mindless killing spree let's get it" sort of monster.

It's a valid point. How can a demon be the nemesis to the party of heroes if it's very nature will eventually undermine it's limited plans? How can it lay out a carefully planned trap for the players when there's a killing spree waiting in that village over there? How is it going to scheme to end the world when it can't even balance a checkbook?

I suppose that the only answer to that is pick something else to play the role of evil mastermind, nemesis, foil. A devil, rakshasa, vampire, beholder, or lich will all nicely fill the "role" of protagonist.

Of course, that is exactly the kind of answer that I hate. It's my biggest fear in 4e that instead of options, choices, and tweaking we'll have cookie cutter roles, talents, classes. If Crwth wants to have a demon as the arch-enemy in his campaign, then who is Chris Sims to say no.

So, when Crwth suggests that maybe there's that one demon in a billion who has a shred of lawfulness, who bucks the chaotic trend, lays out a plan and then follows it through, I'm inclined to say go for it. If Drizz't can do it, then so can that Kyton.

Now, to play the Devil's advocate for a moment.

Drizz't can be good because the Drow aren't really evil by nature. I'd argue that they are more a product of their environment and society. In short, the Drow are evil because their mommies tried to kill them and they had spiders as pets. Ewwww!

Demons on the other hand are evil because they are literally made of evil and chaos. It's not just something they learned in grade school. They really are pure evil right to the very core of their being. They are born of chaos and have no choice but to do everything in their power to foster more chaos. Law and order are anathema to the demon. Destruction and pain are it's wine and cheese. Yum!

For a demon to be anything other than a chaotic machine of destruction would be akin to a great white shark climbing out of the ocean and becoming a vegan.

That said, I have to believe that there is some hope for demons filling the nemesis mastermind role. The existence of the the arch-demons like Demogorgon and Graz'zt seem to be proof of that. Sure, they might be at the top of the Abyssal food chain only because they happen to be the biggest, baddest bullies in the playground, but I doubt it. I think it would take brains as well as brawn, and at least some ability to scheme around one's enemies.

So while the devil will probably fill the protagonist role much more easily than the demon, I think/hope that the latter can at least be shoe horned in. In fact I'm sure that it'll make for a respectable and believable foe. It'll just have to get a minion to balance it's checkbook.

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