Thinking About Angels

We often talk about under-used (and over-used) monsters in D&D, but I rarely hear people bring up angels as an underused monsters. But think about it … aside from the railroady-save-the-world-from-elder-evil games, most D&D concerns a bunch of plunderers and tomb robbers. Even though some might be, technically, lawful, why wouldn’t some angelic vengeance show up once in a while when the party violates a consecrated tomb and carries away the burial goods or busts in on some humanoids who aren’t, at that moment, breaking God’s Law (or Whoever’s Law) and slaughter them wholesale, carting away their treasures. Angels in the game seem to just show up when a (technically) Lawful character summons them for help.

“Sure, mortal, I understand how hard it is to murder your way to riches. Let me help you out with some free healing because you’re technically on my team!”

I think there are a few reasons why this attitude predominates.

1) In a culture with Judeo-Christian roots (whether you believe or not, the roots are there), fighting angels seems wrong – i.e. not just non-lawful, but deeply chaotic. Fine for an “Evil Campaign” perhaps, but just weird otherwise.

2) The GM/Ref is “God”. You can fight berserkers, orcs, basilisks, balrogs, flail snails, etc. all day long, and it makes sense, because they’re just supposed to be there. But if an angel shows up and scolds the party with a fireball, it must be because the GM is trying to punish you for wrecking his dungeon/world.

3) History might be another problem. For generations, supposed believers in The Book wore their religion on their sleeve while engaging in plunder and slaughter. Angels didn’t punish them, so why should they punish us? We often posit – “What would a fantasy world be like if The Gods were real?”, but not  – “What would a fantasy world be like if Vengeful Enforcers of the Ten Commandments were real?”.

4) Finally, we tend to take a very soft, Michael Landon sort of view of angels in popular culture. You know, technically the adventurers are the good guys (or at least mostly focus their killing and robbing on evil folks), so, you know, the angels are kinda sorta on their side.

But how about a more unforgiving view of angels. Angels are relentless enforcers of the deity or deities of Law on the Material Plane. They take orders from an entity that is right, by definition, always right (maybe this entity is always right in your campaign, or maybe Lawful entities think he/she/it always is). “Thou shalt not kill” isn’t a suggestion, its a rule. You go around killing things, even wicked things, and eventually you’re going to run into some divine interference (maybe a cumulative 1% chance per killing, first you tangle with a lesser deva, and then work your way up to a Solar).

These are angels that encourage the concept of “martyrdom for one’s beliefs” (i.e. pacifism in the face of sure death, ’cause the point is to die with your alignment intact, not with the most XP or GP), not the “muscular Christianity” of the 19th century. Steal a pound of gold, lose a pound of flesh. It’s a different view of angels than we usually get, but isn’t that the point? Players won’t see it coming, and you can finally get some use out of the those solars, planetars, devas, archons, eladrin, etc. that are taking up space in your favorite monster book.

Anyhow – just a thought.