RPG Week: D&D Rules Cyclopedia Day Three

In the grand cosmology of the Rules Cyclopedia, there isn’t an Epic Battle between Good and Evil. It’s bigger than that.

This is Classic D&D with just three Alignments – Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. The Good and Evil axis is absent, and the entire rulebook remains conspicuously silent about the whole ethical side of things other than to concede that Chaotic behaviour might be called “evil” in some circles.

No, this isn’t about good vs. evil. It’s about Civilization versus Savagery. It’s about Nurture versus Nature. It’s about Order versus unbridled Chaos. It’s Us…… versus Them.

But, Epic as that sounds, that’s not all.

There’s multiple Planes of existence, alternate realities and dimensions to explore all covered in a mere three pages of the Rules Cyclopedia. Each alignment has it’s own tongue. In our campaign, the language of Law is Latin (of course). Law books and religious texts are written in this tongue, and most civilised folks know quite a lot of Latin words without even knowing it. The language of Chaos is very bad German Thrash Metal….. no, I mean Old Norse, and the language of Neutrality is French, the tongue of the philosophers.

But that’s not all.

Gradually, as the characters steadily gain levels they discover that the world is more than it first appears. For a start, it’s Hollow (but we’ll save that for another time, ok?). Those Gods the common folks worship and the Clerics pray to for spells….. they’re not Gods at all, but powerful Immortals who were once members of ordinary mortal races like you and I – and it’s possible to become one of them! These are deities in the classic Greek, Roman and Norse tradition with all-too-human ambitions, passions, plots and goals. There’s a strict hierarchy with lesser Immortals plotting and scheming to gain power and prestige in their area of influence.

Each Immortal is a Patron to one of five Spheres – Matter, Energy, Time, Thought and Entropy – and their prime objective is to further the cause of their Sphere while at the same time thwarting the wiles of the other four. It’s easy to label the Immortals in the Sphere of Entropy as the Big Evil (indeed, many are), but each Sphere has more than it’s fair share of righteous and unrighteous Immortals. The power-play between the Spheres means there’s a precarious balance in the heavens which is ripe for all sorts of wonderful GM-spawned high-level adventures. Immortals are also obsessed with their own personal interests, so the Immortal of Boomerang Throwers might have an ongoing feud with the Immortal of Shuriken Wielders, even though they’re both members of the same Sphere. An Immortal who was originally an Elf might have a closer affinity for that race, or an Orc-born Immortal be busy poking his followers eyes out with a stick. Or whatever.

In short, the Classic D&D take on religion is living, dynamic, plot-filled and an order of magnitude awesomer than any other D&D Pantheon that’s followed.

Want more proof it’s so cool it hurts? One of the Immortals is a feckin’ Tyrannosaurus Rex! Yep, Classic D&D has a T-Rex GOD. Ka the Preserver, I salute you.

Next: Combat and that THAC0 thing

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5 Responses

  1. benpop says:

    You had me at T-Rex. Except it was at the very bottom of the post.

    Thank you for your posts on the D&D Cyclopedia. I’m glad for this introduction to collected original D&D!

  2. I love this series, too. I like your exuberant writing style in particular!

    Alex Schröders last blog post..2009-03 Book Club

  3. Greywulf says:

    @benpop I’ll remember to put the T-Rex right at the top next time :D

    @Alex Glad you like it! It’s easy to be exuberant about the things you love.

  4. I had the Cyclopedia at exactly the wrong time in my youth. I wanted new, official, and edgy. Sadly, I completely missed all the good stuff in there. And, as 3.x was stealing my brain, my nostalgia failed me at exactly the right time and I gave the thing away.

    I’m looking at the PDF and remembering all the AD&D campaigns I ran that could have been improved by the use of this book, if only as a sort of spiritual guide if not by the use of the rules themselves.

    When I think of D&D as a “genre” of gaming or a sub-genre of fantasy in general, THIS is the game in my head. Oh well, at least I still have copies of the BX books.

    If I understand you correctly, in your games you use Mystara, and add things like your own Caste system and the like for flavor. Correct?

    Dr. Checkmates last blog post..I’m an agent of chaos

  5. Greywulf says:

    > If I understand you correctly, in your games you use Mystara, and add things like your own Caste system and the like for flavor. Correct?

    When we play using the Rules Cyclopedia, yes, we use the Known World – don’t call it “Mystara”, that’s a bastardized marketing-bred name spawned during the Dark Days of TSR when they tried to turn the Known World into a kind of child-friendly AD&D setting. Ugh. How the mighty fell.

    The Caste concept is just our way of explaining How Classic D&D Classes Work. It’s an explanation that puts a layer of logic onto an otherwise illogical system. But hey, it works, and give the GM something to spark plot ideas too.

    I’ll be writing about how we interpret the Known World, later this week :D

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