Talkin’ About Outsiders

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Riffing on my recent post:

If you wanted to keep something like the traditional D&D Great Wheel cosmology, and you wanted all the planes on the Wheel and all the various alignment-oriented races of outsiders to be cool and thematic and not-shoehorned-in, what would it look like?  Let’s give it a shot.  Maybe this will be useful someday, if I ever run a planar-savvy D&D campaign.  Or if you do.

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The Fae have almost no resonance as the thing that LN Outsiders need to be. You can justify “Oh, Fae can be seen as LN”, but you think “avatars of LN”, and what comes to mind has almost nothing in common with the Fae. Fae exist outside of good and evil and law and chaos. Fae cannot be understood in that framework.

I’d want mechanistic, robotic, indefatigable beings whose commitment to principles and laws cannot be dissuaded – no matter what a bad idea their task may be to mortal health. A samurai-bushido aesthetic in places would also help.

also: you don’t have a strong through-line as to what CG Outsiders are but you want them not to have a strong visual theme either? and you optimized for “where do they live” over “what do they do” when the latter is far more relevant to D&D? and you never even considered “avatars of Hot-Blooded Fighting Spirit” as their thing?

I’d want mechanistic, robotic, indefatigable beings whose commitment
to principles and laws cannot be dissuaded – no matter what a bad idea
their task may be to mortal health. A samurai-bushido aesthetic in
places would also help.

I mean, your narrative desires may vary, but this is precisely the thing from which I am trying to get away.  (The “mechanistic, robotic, indefatigable” bit, anyway.  The samurai/bushido thing is cool, thematically appropriate, and probably very adaptable to my purposes.)  There are really only two stories you can tell about the Borg – “oh no, the Borg!” and “holy crap, we’re temporarily allied with the Borg, because our interests happen to align with their Great Purpose!” – and those two combined are not enough to support a major setting element of this kind. 

Something I should have talked about, in my last post, is the idea that internal diversity and complexity is necessary to make a race any good for worldbuilding purposes.  This is a problem that all D&D outsiders run into a lot, especially demons, who (as I said) often get written as “they’re all Killfuck Soulshitter.”  It is important to my conception of things that, if you poke around the Abyss for long enough, you can find a nice demon.  Not a good demon, that’s a contradiction in terms, barring weird shenanigans with redemption-oriented plot-magic – it is inherent to a demon’s nature that it cannot really value anyone’s well-being above its own desires – but that doesn’t preclude it from having desires like “bake cookies for my friends and throw a kickin’ party where everyone has a blast.”  

Anyway.  Take the same mentality to LN.  You have a bunch of creatures who aren’t all the same as each other, who are capable of having personalities and individuation and even conflict with each other, but who are fanatically bound to the principles and commitments that define them – and, to me, this sounds like the fae from the tales I know.  “I swore to my queen that I would kill anyone who crosses this bridge, and sure, that was fifteen hundred years ago and our court hasn’t been located here in centuries and in fact no one including my queen gives a shit, but you don’t expect me to break my word, do you?”  “You have brought me the marriage-gifts as defined by the customs of my people, looks like we’re married now, guess we’re both going to have to deal.”  Etc.

(A lot of this just boils down to “I think that, if you’re going to have a race of outsiders that insanely follows its lawful directives without any flavoring from good or evil, I prefer the ‘sworn to my fairy law’ flavoring over the ‘beep boop I have been programmed’ flavoring.”)

also: you don’t have a strong through-line as to what CG Outsiders are
but you want them not to have a strong visual theme either? and you
optimized for “where do they live” over “what do they do” when the
latter is far more relevant to D&D? and you never even considered “avatars of Hot-Blooded Fighting Spirit” as their thing?

I did consider that thing, actually.  It’s a classic way to characterize CG, and while usually it’s done with something more like a Jovial Viking Brawler vibe (like Kord), you could give it a shonen kind of spin, sure.  And, yeah, I would want guys like that to be represented in the CG race.  I rejected it as an overarching idea for the kinds of reasons discussed above; it seemed too one-note for an entire alignment’s worth of outsider race.  In particular, I want it to be possible for planar travelers (or CG souls in their paradisical afterlife) to be able to engage with heavily CG-flavored things without necessarily being part of constant violence or even constant Strenuously Difficult Undertakings.

I’ll be honest – the “starting with ‘where they live’“ strategy worked out pretty well, as far as I’m concerned.  After like an hour of thinking about the couple of paragraphs I put in my post, I felt as though I had a pretty good handle on these guys, and could write up a smattering of monster descriptions with relatively little trouble.

(Short version: The Shiny People of a big heterogeneous city.  Angels who are dedicated to doing cool nice things and sharing them with others in a sort of idiosyncratic, always-having-to-be-different kind of way.  The big ones are lords of little fiefdoms where they do Variegated Awesome Shit, the little ones sometimes do the same thing on a smaller scale but more often bop between the fiefdoms as, uh, celestial scenesters.  You imagine holy art galleries and holy rambling semi-wild parks and holy spiritualist chapels and holy gaming parlors and holy sex temples and holy kitten cafes, and, yes, holy fighting arenas, all crammed cheek-by-jowl instead of separated out into Abyss-style layers.  And then you imagine the sort of creatures who would be dwelling in those places.)

It is important to my conception of things that, if you poke around the Abyss for long enough, you can find a nice demon.  Not a good demon, that’s a contradiction in terms, barring weird shenanigans with redemption-oriented plot-magic – it is inherent to a demon’s nature that it cannot really value anyone’s well-being above its own desires – but that doesn’t preclude it from having desires like “bake cookies for my friends and throw a kickin’ party where everyone has a blast.”  

Then it is important to your conception of demons that some of them aren’t evil. That demon you describe? They’re not evil. They’re neutral.

I really don’t think you’ve actually grappled sufficiently with the concept that the vast majority of people are true neutral. Like, it’s not 50%, it’s more like 80% of humanoids (at least the ones in civilization; outside that it’s harder to pin down). What that means is that most personality variation isn’t reflected in your alignment, and therefore extreme alignments aren’t that varied.

And, furthermore, most of the psychological variation in mortals with extreme alignments is reflected in the depth of their commitment to various pieces of their alignments and which ways, like the places where a paladin is willing to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing (ex. extralegal murder of known slavers) or bend the code of their paladin order (ex. “this shiny rune-inscribed emerald was definitely made to order for us overnight, not stolen from the Brothers of the Gem five blocks over from where the rogue stayed last night”). And outsiders, as archetypes of their alignment, don’t even have that flexibility.

Essentially, you’re asking for outsiders who are psychologically human, which is directly contrary to their nature as outsiders. Outsiders are alien, unchanging beings. (even the outsiders of pure chaos, who are unchanging in the form of their changes, and to whom the answer to everything, including “how do I open this door”, is giant frog.)

…wait, what? No?

It’s absolutely possible for a genuinely evil entity to have, like, hobbies. Nice hobbies, even.

But we’re not talking a mere entity, we’re talking a sentient ball of elemental evil. It one thing for a pyromaniac to do stuff other than burn things, and another thing entirely for a fire elemental to do so.

Angels can fall.

Angels are elemental Good.

Therefore elemental-alignment Outsiders can have moral complexity, internal mental states, and possible idiosyncratic tendencies.

Angels can fall.

Er, can they? In core D&D setting, non-homebrew?

That’s what erinyes are.

Also in 4E POLand, most of the devils IIRC.

(Also 4E angels are unaligned, they serve all of the gods, so it’s not a good comparison, but even the unaligned 4E angels have been shown to change their nature like so)

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