Wednesday, January 13, 2010


“I feel myself becoming a god."
- Titus Flavius Vespasianus ,79 CE
One the fundamental features of D&D is that character’s become tougher and more powerful—often extraordinarily so—as they become more experienced, i.e. “level up” as the kids say. This has never really been addressed “in game-world” that I’m aware of except, in a way, in Mentzer’s so-called BECMI edition of D&D. Here the “endgame” became achieving godhood. I think this is an idea with a lot of potential—and a lot of potential to give “in world” context to other rules elements.  I’ve utilized to that end in the world of Arn. I don’t envision it as something to form the primary focus of the game (it won’t be the endgame of every campaign—or any, necessarily), but more as something to fill out the background. The major inspirations are the BECMI metagame plus some transhuman/posthuman space opera (particularly David Zindell’s A Requiem for Homo Sapiens trilogy with its “vastened” gods). Since first starting to play with this idea, I’ve discovered Erikson’s Malazan series contains the similar idea of heroes “bootstrapping” themselves into deities, so you might want to check them out as well.

The following is from a treatise by Mnaurmon Lloigor, a renowned scholar and historian, late of Thystara:

It is one of the fundamental features of the universe that mortals may by great deeds come to be invested with capabilities and perceptions superhuman, making them as gods. Such beings are known as “ascended.” Theologians argue this point with thaumaturgic and natural philosophers but have yet to articulate a compelling argument that the supernal objects of human worship are in anyway demonstrably different from ascended beings. In fact, some deities have emerged in historic times by this very process—noble Ahzuran, the patron of the Empire, among them!

How mankind acquired the knowledge of ascension is lost to prehistory. We certainly can trace it to the ancient Empire of the Godmakers, for whom ascension apparently formed a central cultural rite. Perhaps the Godmakers stole this knowledge, or were given it under apprenticeship to some nonhuman elder race. Some have suggested that it was the older, true gods, from whom it was stolen. Or perhaps it was they who carelessly bequeathed it to man.

From where ever it came, we know something of what that knowledge wrought. The Godmakers’ civilization soared to heights mankind has never achieved since, and numerous god-like beings—Immortals—arose.  These godlings made war with superhuman armies and reality-searing weapons against the last redoubts of the elder races, and fell abstractions from the noumenal planes, and finally, against each other.

Then they succumbed to strange fall, and their civilization was gone.

The Godmakers left us no written record (beyond perhaps some indecipherable monumental text), but fragments of their knowledge has been delivered to us through the hands of earlier ages, and the sometimes suspect memories of long-lived, extraplanar entities. Secrets were preserved in hidden places, in some cases by oral tradition, in others by arcane means.

And then there are the subterranean labyrinths constructed, or invoked, apparently to be the crucible of apotheosis—and persisting to tempt the brave or foolish to this day. The purpose of these structures, however, was not immediately recognizable. Other sources were less cryptic and less dangerous.

It was the young conqueror Azuranthus, known to us now as Ahzuran, who became the first man in millennia to claim these secrets from an ancient order of mystics, and ascend, becoming both emperor and patron deity. The knowledge of ascension became part of the teaching of the imperial cult, spread to all parts of the empire.

God-Emperor Ahzuran eventually chose to move beyond this plane. With strife between old faiths and new, political tensions in far-flung provinces, and the machinations of the nascent ascended which had followed in Ahzuran’s wake, the empire could not hold without its patron.

In the period of turmoil that followed, the class of professional adventurers emerged. Foremost, they were interested in finding wealth amid the ancient ruins, or even just looting the treasure troves of  Ahzuran's empire. Over time, however, skillful (and lucky) adventurers began to discover that the dungeons provided a path to ascension. This knowledge became widespread as the empire's successor states began to coalesce.

To this day, adventurers continue pursue the legacy of the Godmakers and of Ahzuran. They dream of temporal power and riches, but also of the chance of godhood. Perhaps some even think on Ahzuran’s last, cryptic pronouncements, wherein he hinted of levels of attainment beyond the ranks of the ascended, and suggested there was even greater power to be won in realms beyond human perception, for those audacious enough to seize it.

No comments: