Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Gods Welcome You: Immortality in the Game

I was just reading Dennis Laffey's blog the other day where he adresses the subject of questing for Immortality. The backround for this is Grognardia's review of the new B/X Companion, where Maliszewski expresses his dislike for the concept of questing for Immortality. Immortality in D&D was conceived by Frank Mentzer in the excellent BECMI line. Questing for Immortality was an option for heroes using the Master Rules, while the final set, the Immortal Rules took the game to a whole new level once that quest was completed. AD&D also had similar conceps of becoming a Demi-God, but only in Frank Mentzer's BECMI could you go all the way.

Dennis Laffey presents various examples of how such adventures have a presedence in mythology. Critics who claim that this should not be handled as part of the standard level progression should take another look at the Master Rules. Reaching Immortality is in no way a direct result of having reached 36th level, but rather a unique undertaking separate from the general level progression and reserved for unique heroes whose adventures will become legends retold for centuries to come.

I think a common pit fall in Internet discussions about D&D is that we end up talking about what a D&D game should be about and what it should not. One things I love about D&D is that it can be anything you want. This is one of the reasons why I prefer RPGs to Boardgames. One of the great things about the BECMI expansions was that it introduced new possibilities to what D&D could be about.

Similarly, we know that Dave Arneson would be open to pretty much any idea that came up in his games, giving rise to the description of his gaming style as "Gonzo". While the subject of ascending to Godhood was not a common theme in Arneson's campaign, Bob Meyer who played the powerful wizard Robert the Bald shared this story:
Personally, I not only survived these adventures, but I acquired enough interesting things to study that I ended up locked away in my tower studying them. This all proved to be my undoing, as I was the first of the original players (and one of only two I am aware of) to reach the highest possible level in David's rules. When I asked David what happened now, he told me that"The Gods welcome me". I lost Robert the Bald to David's control and had to start a new character.



  1. Of course, the Immortal rules are basically an entirely different fantasy RPG. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but I'm sympathetic with people who think Mentzer went a little too far because they expected the Immortal set to mesh better with all the other sets.

    Me, I always had a hard time getting past my visceral disgust for the term "immortal." Just so typical of "family-friendly" post-Gygax. They're called gods, people!

  2. Unless you're a Taoist, Will. The idea of simply becoming an immortal or saint or demi-god doesn't always involve full godhood bestowed.

    Although it really likely was part of the PC anti-D&D backlash, as you suggest. :D

    And Havard, thanks for the shout-out.

  3. Yeah, the immortal title was probably arrived at because of backlash, but as you point out its not without precedent, and I think using it perhaps suggests something interesting about the implied setting.

    While its not the only way to go, I think the idea of apotheosis being the endgame is a cool one (so much I ported into my own setting at one time), though I'm not fond of all the bits of Mentzer's execution.

  4. In Immortal Land we never wear shirts! ;)

  5. And Immortal regulations stipulate that our hair be worn in a minimum foot-long fashion. Big honking mustache optional.

  6. Me, I always had a hard time getting past my visceral disgust for the term "immortal." Just so typical of "family-friendly" post-Gygax. They're called gods, people!

    I dont know if this has too much to do with the family friendly D&D. The Classic D&D line enjoyed much less scrutiny from the head staff than the AD&D line did. The Immortal Rules even have Demons. However the concept of Immortals is a very specific interpretation on Godhood, so it might make sense to have that clear from the beginning. OTOH, I'd be surprised if they had gotten away with calling the box the "God Rules".

  7. I bought as far as the Companion boxed set before I realized I had never DMed for PCs over 10th level. And all these years later, I still haven't!

  8. Scott: Really? I have played in many campaigns where we made it to around 17th level, but only a few where we made it to the 30s when starting from 1st level. We also ran quite a few campaigns were we started at 10th though. Still I like having the Immortal rules just for the players to have something to aspire too :)