Friday, July 18, 2008

Has Your Paladin Gotten Some Sweet, Sweet Chaotic Tail Today?

You know... summer sucks. Many of my fellow bloggers have joined me in not writing jack shit lately. Bad, bad us!

Anyway, one thing I love about Grognardia is James' insistence on the importance of the source literature for D&D. I wholeheartedly agree, but my dirty little secret is I haven't read all of it (by "all," I mean the DMG's Appendix N). I'm fairly well-read I think, but the fact is, there are some key items I've never read. To fix this, I've used the scant Random Creature Generator income (it's sold 17 copies! wooo!) to go towards buying a couple of these items via a friend in the States.

The first is Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions. I've seen commentary on this book and how D&D trivia can be picked up from it ("There's a troll! Ooh, the swanmay!"). Yay. That's not important though. What is important, if we're taking the book as a true influence in methodology and not just a source for this and that, is the treatment of alignments, and perhaps not unrelated to that, paladins.

I suspect that most gamers, if they accept the Law/Chaos cosmology at all, take it from Moorcock. But that's just one way, and Moorcock took it from Anderson, and it isn't quite the same. This would be a valuable model if you're using versions of D&D that don't have the Good and Evil alignment axis.

(No, I'm not going into it at length here; the setup is pretty self-evident if you read the book, and you really should... it's to my shame that I waited until the year 2008 to do so myself. Don't be a dumb fuck like me. Actually, I'm not a dumb fuck anymore. I read it. Are you a dumb fuck? Fix that, you dumb fuck.)

But the paladin... (spoilers ahead, so go read it first, then join the discussion) Surely Holger is a seminal example of what a D&D paladin is, and supposed to be. Notice how often he's thinking with his penis. Alianora? He likes her, wants to fuck her, but... well, he likes her. She's one of the good guys, mind you. But Meriven? Holger fucked her. "The rest of the night was as much fun as any he had ever spent, or rather more so." Told dirty stories with her, and frolicked in the fields, and he did it right under Alianora's nose. And a bit right in front of her face. And he knew he was in the realm of faerie, of Chaos. Morgan Le Fay? Yeah, he did her too. Not during the course of the novel, although the temptation is a key conflict late in the story.

Now, when discussing this with someone (the same guy that sent me the book, Mr. Had Adventures With Giant Bunnies), it was also pointed out that Launcelot du Lac, surely also a prime Paladin influence, also had problems keeping his cock out of places it shouldn't be.

(In non-penis matters, Holger also engages in magical deception towards Carahue for a good deal of time.)

Now my language is coarse here, but it makes the point more clear I think. In my experience, and listening to the stories of many gamers, the only character flaw AD&D paladins are allowed to have without risking their paladinhood is inflexible assholishness. Can you imagine most DMs' reaction to a player saying "Sir Do-gooder is absolutely taken with the Drow Queen... he listens to her explanations for her plans and why she thinks they would be a good thing for the world... and yeah, he beds her. He thinks she's swell." Or even, "I disguise myself and pretend to be somebody completely different so the fellow noble warrior will be deceived for a long time." I think there'd be less hesitation to strip all paladin powers than if the guy slaughtered kobold youngsters and stepped on all the eggs in the kobold nursery.

Something to think about.

And I lied. I am still a dumb fuck. You see, I'd never read a full Jack Vance story before. But part of this book shipment was the Tales of the Dying Earth, which contains "all four Dying Earth novels." I'm only 100 pages in, but it's full of goody goodness. I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about Vancian magic later (details of how magic works hasn't been discussed much yet, although the "wizards running out of spells" thing has already popped up)... but in addition to the genre mish-mash (I do believe that's a helicopter that couple was flying around Ampridatvir), there is this bit:

Guyal played a wild tarantella of the peasant folk, and Ameth danced wild and faster, flung her arms, wheeled, jerked her head in a fine display.

Wait a second.

Now this is just general ignorance, not a "I didn't know D&D's roots" thing, but... I'd always thought that the "tarantella" in the D&D Basic sets (I got it from Mentzer's version) was some sort of... I dunno... misprint or redefinition of "tarantula," and the dancing poison never made much sense to me. But then there's this here and here.


I need to read far, far more often, and stop being such a dumb fuck. Because this is all stuff I should have been aware of two decades ago.

Appendix N really isn't there to pick and choose from, is it?


  1. Okay, that's kind of freaky.

    I recently picked up the four-in-one-volume Tales of the Dying Earth (which I'm reading).

    And I'm awaiting Three Hearts and Three Lions, which I ordered last week from Amazon (although, to be fair, I've looked everywhere else and this was a last resort, so I've at least wanted to read it for a long time...)

    Is this synchronicity? Or is it because Gary died, and in tribute I really want to cozy up to D&D's roots?

  2. The Dying Earth is D&D. I recommend reading all of it and his later series Lyonnesse (published to late to make it to Appendix N). All excellent. His Science fiction works are worth it as well.

  3. My local library has Three Hearts and Three Lions and Lyonnesse, but apparently only has Cugel's saga from the dying earth series. Not sure if they can be read out of order or not. Its hard to tell with collected stories. At any rate the first two will be waiting for me when I drop by later today.

  4. Hi,

    Great topic! I also went on an Appendix N quest in the wake of Mr. Gygax's passing. Three Hearts and Three Lions, check -- I think you're right on the mark about this one.
    I also found several books by A. Merritt, who is described as among the "most immediate influences" in Appendix N but who seems to be all but forgotten nowadays. His novels The Moon Pool, Dwellers in the Mirage and The Face in the Abyss are all variations of the same "discovering a lost mystical civilization" trope that informs what D&D is about on a really basic level. Merritt has that Burroughs-ish tendency to build his plots around a cloyingly idealized romance, but he also writes some vividly visual descriptions of weird phenomena and wondrous places that are worth reading.
    Another "immediate influence" I read was Pratt and de Camp's "Harold Shea" series (published by Fantasy Masterworks as The Compleat Enchanter), which is fun and light-hearted and seems to have contributed lots of little things from how giants are conceptualized to how Phantasmal Force works (magic spells that kill unless you see through them are a major plot point in the Kalevala-inspired "Wall of Serpents").
    Possibly, I'm telling you what you already know, but I couldn't resist an opportunity to blurt out my enthusiasm.


    P.S. On the subject of Vance, I honestly don't think you'll find the "memorizing spells" gimmick anywhere but in the first few pages of "Turjan of Miir". It's a dashed-off literary conceit that took on a life of its own in Dungeons and Dragons. (Incidentally, when did memorizing multiple uses of the same spell start? It's explicitly prohibited in the original "Men & Magic".)

    P.P.S. To hywaywolf -- Cugel's Saga is a direct sequel to Eyes of the Overworld, and reading it first would completely spoil the ending of Eyes, which deserves a chance to be read on its own terms. With other Dying Earth stories and novels, the sequence of reading is less critical than it is with these two.

  5. I was lucky enough to sort of stumble upon Three Hearts about 10 years ago. I figured a book mentioned in the DMG and the recommended reading of GURPS Time Travel would be worth checking out.

    And I think you're right about paladins. The way most people think they should be played, now that I'm thinking about it, seems to be this sort of Victorian conception of the ideal Christian knight.

    Considering that real Christian knights, nevermind a "knight" in a polytheistic society like D&D, lived their lives in a much more, shall we say, "earthy" fashion, I'd say there's plenty of room to add some humanity to your typical paladin and still be faithful to the class and alignment.

  6. Let me get on my soapbox here for a moment: If you liked Three Hearts and Three Lions (and I certainly do) then you must find a copy of Anderson's The Broken Sword. The former is good but the latter is a great and truly underappreciated classic of fantasy. And like Lions, Sword is only 200 pages or so. It's terrific, Anderson's best work IMO.

  7. Years ago I set out to read every book on Appendix N... got about a third of the way through and gave up. The stuff that was good was really, really good and remain some of my favorite books today. But the clunkers... oh my.

  8. I managed to get a copy of The Compleat Dying Earth and have been struck by how, well, light and fun the books are for being set on the last days of planet Earth. Cugel's adventures make up a good half of it, and Rhialto's, who's not a huge bit better, another fourth.

    I'm still working through them, but I do kind of wish some of the fascinating characters from the first book would show up again. It's beginning to look like we'll never find out what Pandalume looks like, or what was the deal with the blue amulet he wanted, or what happened with T'sais and T'sain, or the further adventures of Tarjan.