Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Moon Slave VDND World Tour- Let's Talk About Moon Slave

1. So nonspecific evil.

Picture a good person, not even a great person. Would that person do a thing? No? Then that thing is evil. Picture Sir Galahad, the quintessential paladin. Would HE do a thing? No? Then anyone who mostly looks and acts like Sir Galahad is an ANTI-paladin.

Look at how useful this is! You could get twos of ideas out of that.

Evil is the May Contain Nuts of D&D's stupid morality alignment system. There might NOT be nuts but there's not the pure and wholesome certainty of the absence of nuts so To Be Considered Nutted until further notice by order of Her Majesty.

The thing to me is that most people don't go about their lives considering whether something is evil, like platonically evil in the Red Tim Curry sense. We know evil. We see evil. But when we see evil we know it in horrifying specificity. I won't belabor this at the moment. I needn't. But it's not just the sum of all bad things, it's something specific making the world more terrible in some very specific ways. Often the subject of something being EEEEVILLLL will only come into the conversation because, somewhere, someone decided that something was so bad that God Himself (or gods themselves or whatever) actively hated it and despised it, sometimes discussing something so bad and onerous that you HAVE to believe there is a force actively campaigning to rid even the notion of, say, murder from the world in order to store much faith in the power and beneficence of such an entity.

In this way evil things are shown being a subset of bad things.

Ah, now bad things: without bringing culture or religion or manifestations of Not Goodness into the mix we could all list off several hundred bad things without much effort because bad things are self-evidently bad from a practicality sense. Hurricanes are bad because shit gets fucked up and people die. Earthquakes are bad because shit gets fucked up and people die. If you're in a nice Germanic Grimm situation then witches are bad because babies get stolen and corn gets blighted. Or maybe you live in a fertile flood plain, and, yes, you understand what a flood plain is, but look at how fertile those floods made this plain! Until one spring when oh shit FLOODS ARE BAD AGAIN NOW.

None of this is evil. In fact some of this may be happening for a very good reason or have a beneficial side to it. Sure maybe Hecuba cursed your crops but maybe doing so appeased Fangfagor the Despiser, or at least scared idiot farmers away from His unholy place of rest. But still: bad things. Things that make the hard millstone of life considerably more difficult and sad and dangerous and depressing. You still don't need morality in that gradient because you can always easily identify the baddest worst no-goodest thing around. It's whatever the rich people/king/president/emperor is pissed about. You know that because something has to be pretty bad to pierce the cushion of convenience the well off have and make their lives as miserable as a poor person, or at least you know that because they TELL you so. Of course by that point the actual poor people are being ground into cornmeal.

2. So mythology.

People don't remember the Japanese or Norwegian or Egyptian or Sumerian or Greek or Hopi or Aztec pantheons because they make such a cool list of names, or because their statues are all so great, or because it's nice to know who the local fertility god is in case of time travel-induced-sterility. People remember all these gods because of their stories. For that matter people remember Jesus and Allah and Buddha for the stories around them as much as their philosophies. There are stories that come from wants and desires, even when the desire is to eliminate desire. Not always those of the gods themselves but they come into the story because of how they react to the desires of others, and so DO SOMETHING.

Let's take Ares. I could tell you Ares' position in his pantheon the way some people discuss the placement of constellations: rival of Athena, patron of Sparta, son of Zeus, dad of Fear and Dread, lover of Aphrodite, God of War. Ok that's a nice enough list. OR I could tell you about him and Aphrodite getting caught in a net trap left by Hephaestus, who suspected their union, and all of the other gods coming over to look at their naked god asses and laugh at them and poke them. That's better.

D&D gods by and large don't have that story because they are their station. We started getting setting information and the gods who literally stride across the world are a big part of that. OK, I get that. But D&D gods usually break down into one of two paths, either the path of having nothing to differentiate them or make them special or notable other than a generic Genus-Species listing of what they cover for mechanical purposes and easy field identification, or they have way way too much history because they got written into a novel series at one point as a patron or antagonist and oh my god shut up shut up.

It gets worse when the D&D alignment system comes in, because god of Neutral Evil has never been a helpful descriptor.

Sometimes you get both, like you get with Lolth, and if the demon queen of spiders' overexposed ass can't get some due consideration what choice does say Lirr have?

It's extra frustrating because we are all rolling in the shadow of the ultimate god of GENERAL, vague evil who nonetheless has specific personality and resonance and who we all associate with specific things he did and will do: Sauron. Sauron is the mack daddy of D&D gods and while he can't get in the books by name he still haunts the hobby, D&D and otherwise, in the form of all his imitators. Some people are pulling their hair out because Sauron isn't technically a god but he fits every definition of what I think makes a good god so I'm counting him.

3. Quick aside here for later clarity, when I was a kid and I played with GI Joes and Cobra, I didn't own Duke or Sgt. Slaughter or Cobra Commander or Serpentor. I did however find a Warduke toy at a comic shop, bagged loose, and I bought the shit out of him, not knowing what he was (but guessing). From then on he and his machine gun and ninja sword ruled Cobra as Warlord (close!), a muscular warrior soldier who was also a wizard. I basically just put Skeletor in charge of Cobra.

GI Joe was run by King of Cars, a living talking green monster truck whose headlights shot lasers.

I'm great.

4.  When I first wrote about Moon Slave I wasn't specifically thinking about Warlorduke or Sauron or anything. I wanted to frame him as that kind of "this guy was great and terrible and powerful and let's worship him" cat that your old Norse myths or even Arthurian mythology is full of. Zeus had a lot of shitty boring kids but like Hercules or Orion were big deals, all the more because they EARNED their place in the canon. So I looked at it from a perspective of "Beowulf's Greatest Hits." If this guy was this much of a badass, A) what did he do that people remember him for, B) what sounds like something you'd get in a story where, say, Thor tries to drink all the seas? And even that was only to get a starting point to free associate how fucked up his kids must be.

If I had to lay out his D&D Domains I would say they were Smoke, Nightmares, and Witches. If I had to give him an alignment I'd say fuck off with that, but if I had to had to had to then I guess he'd be CN or CE because he's the god of fucking up things in his way and taking everything he's already fucked up and making it weirder. If I could I would make him the god of Everybody Run Away From Him.

He is also a family man, a fathering god, the kind of figure you get in mythology whose big job is shooting someone full of gods and monsters and forces of nature and creating, basically, end-stage-bosses for your campaign. There is a Dr. Wily element to Moon Slave.

If he has edicts then they would be...
  • The terror of you is a form of worship, so let some survive.
  • Fire is life, spread the seed of life wherever you can.
  • You are not owed ever waking up.
  • The creation of strange, new, dangerous, surprising magic is scary and great, and those who do these things are priests to Moon Slave. Those who do so in his name, or in the name of fear and discovery and the destructive transformation of creation, are saints.
  • Never kill someone in defense you can murder later, gruesomely and publicly, in revenge.
  • Do everything fast. Do everything hard. Do everything loud.
  • Life is meant to be lived high on the drug of terror, the drug of power, or just some kind of drugs.
  • Your family will kill you. Progeny are life. Play with fire.
  • You understand mercy. You afford mercy. But you do not brook escape.
  • If Moon Slave has chosen you you're dead already so fucking take some risks.
Moon Slave can be communed with through the smoke in front of the moon by any who A) believe, B) tempt him, C) offer meat, D) have ever killed someone.

Moon Slave has wives but everybody is too scared to ask about them. They are his equal and they are many and though custom dictates it never be spoken once suspected pretty much everyone is sure they killed Moon Slave so don't get their attention. They continue to give birth to his children. One day, one of them will give birth to Moon Slave, if they haven't already. It may be that Moon-Slave-Not-Yet-Moon-Slave walks the world now, waiting for his flesh to awaken to his soul.

If he has a realm to speak of it should be a cracked plane of lava and stone and once-great castles constantly smoldering, his victims and his Swordtouched all mingling in a great throbbing Godzilla-refugee mass, while his throne waits empty atop a mountain shaped like an eagle.

Tradition says his body was burned and its ashes rest on the moon.

If you manifest an aspect of him, for as long as he remains in the vessel, everything he says casts a spell. For every sentence, some spell effect goes off. These all revert once his aspect departs, EXCEPT that for every question you ask one effect is permanent, and for everything you ask him to DO consider him as casting a powerful ultra Wish. Invoking his restless spirit briefly in aspect is difficult, and the dangerous secrets of this ritual are well guarded.

Believers may summon him more easily and less riskily in nightmares, at the consequence that you save or die in your sleep, and you wake up pants-crapping insane.