Wizards has published another D&D 4e preview of several angels. As usual, I’m underwhelmed.
On the rules side – I understand shaving down the special abilities of creatures to make them more manageable. But now even a high level angel or devil doesn’t have any real magical powers, just a couple special attacks. And those are pretty cheesable; the succubus’ charming kiss and angel of vengeance’s sign of vengeance are probably best used on an ally.
But my main problem is with the backstory change. Now in 4e, angels aren’t really servants of the gods of Good – they are just Astral mercenaries who sell their services to the highest bidder, of any alignment. This ties into several other changes – in 4e there is no Celestial or Infernal, just “Supernal,” and there’s no holy or unholy, just “radiant.”
So not only is this a little incoherent – Devils are cited as “servants of the gods that rebelled,” but if you’re a mercenary can you really rebel except in terms of breaking your agreement, and if being cast down to devilhood was from a simple “terms of the contract” violation like that why would they be Lawful and Evil? But it also is an unwelcome step towards subjectivism.
It’s an unfortunately common meme in fantasy etc. that Evil and Good are just “two sides of the same coin.” One shoots black firey blasts at victims and one shoots blue glowy blasts at victims, but there’s no material difference in how they act. I think this is a dangerous and nihilistic viewpoint to embrace. It leads directly to “why not torture suspected terrorists?” and other such evil-in-the-name-of-good poppycock.
Take the 4e Angel of Vengeance and the 4e Malebranche Demon stat blocks. Replace the words “angel
and “fiend(ish)” with a neutral word. Shuffle. Can you tell any difference between them? No. Just meat lumps with a couple big attacks.
I have news for you – good and evil are different. They are not just opposing sides, identical in all but skinning. Real Good involves mercy, self-sacrifice, et cetera. It is different in methods as well as ends.
It would have been simple to put a little of this in. An extremely simple example – instead of the angel’s teleport ability being “teleport to your enemy and kick his ass,” it could be “teleport an ally out of harm’s way as a free action.”
Sure, you can reconcept angels, work around this – but it’s looking like more and more of the D&D cosmology isn’t conducive to an accurate distinction between Good and Evil, and that’s unfortunate because it was once of the places were you still could get a taste of that in modern entertainment.