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Fairest of Them All
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

A fter discussing a number of good-aligned fey last week, and touching on the issue of the role of good monsters in the game, it's time to set our sights even higher (in a moral sense) and look at celestials.


Celestials in the World

Celestials are very different from fiends in the way they work in the world. They're not commonly summoned to the world by meddling wizards or even pious clerics-that's not the way they work. They come when they want to, or better, when the powers they serve want them to. If they choose to, it's not (usually) to establish their own kingdoms or build up their power, it's to help mortals in some dire need. Sauron was a fiend, interested in dominating and corrupting the world. Gandalf, Sauron's equal in the order of being, was a celestial, hiding his true nature as he worked in the world to guide the Free Peoples to a brighter age.

That said, in Dungeons & Dragons fiction specifically, there are few examples of celestials becoming involved in mortal affairs, being summoned to the world, or otherwise entering the world, and that's not an accident. It's very rare for them to do so.

Peoples of the Upper Planes

Archons are the native inhabitants of the Seven Heavens of Celestia, just as devils are native to the Nine Hells. Likewise, guardinals are the natives of the Blessed Fields of Elysium, and eladrin are the natives of the Olympian Glades of Arborea. (More on the archons and the eladrin, and their relationship to the elemental archons and fey eladrin introduced in 4th Edition, in a bit.) That's the way they were introduced to the game (the archons in the original Manual of the Planes and the others in the second Monstrous Compendium for the Planescape setting.

Unlike demons and devils, constantly striving not just with each other but within their own ranks for power and status, these celestials are content with their lot. And why shouldn't they be? They live in some of the most pleasant and peaceful places in the multiverse. The society of the archons is structured exactly as it should be, while the chaotic eladrin possess the freedom they most cherish. They have no need to war against each other over philosophical differences or territory, and they don't vie for power among themselves. This is not to say that they're uninteresting, just that they have little incentive for getting tangled up in mortal affairs.

As I said in talking about the fey, the monsters presented in the D&D game aren't just opponents for heroic adventurers to vanquish. The monsters we present in the game help to describe the world(s) of D&D-or, in the case of the celestials, the planes of existence. That's the most important function for archons, guardinals, and eladrin, and (apart from their names) they don't really need much story elaboration or expansion from the way they were presented in 2nd Edition.

The exception to all this is the race of angels. Allow me to go back to the story brief presentation I've been using for a few weeks now.

Angel

Medium (Movanic Deva) to Large (Planetar and Solar) Celestial
Alignment: Any good
Level: Medium (Movanic Deva) to High (Planetar and Solar)
Environment: Upper Planes

Angels are the most common form of celestial, servants of good-aligned deities found throughout the Upper Outer Planes. They coexist peacefully with the other celestial races (including archons, guardinals, and eladrin), doing the bidding of the gods throughout the multiverse. Defined by their service to good deities, angels inspire awe and terror in mere mortals. To encounter an angel is to stand face to face, if not with a deity, then with a living embodiment of a deity's will. They are far from being just "the people of the Upper Planes"-they are special and mysterious, truly a higher order of being than mere mortals.

Unlike demons and devils, angels can't be summoned to the Material Plane. They travel there only at the pleasure of a deity, and movanic devas are the angels most often chosen for that purpose. Five main types of angels exist: three varieties of deva used as agents on specific planar regions (movanic devas on the Material Plane, monadic devas on the Ethereal and Inner Planes, and astral devas on the Lower Planes), planetars, and the mighty solars.

Angels have a handful of common traits. Their speech can be understood by any creature that has a language (as though using the tongues spell). They are immune to petrification, cold, and lightning, and they resist acid and poison. They all have magic resistance and resist weapon damage unless the weapon is magical. They have low-light vision and darkvision, though they can also shed light around themselves. In addition, when they appear in natural form they inspire awe in mortals akin to a dragon's frightful presence (an effect called celestial reverence in 2E), inspiring protective reverence in good creatures and raw terror in neutral and evil ones. This effect also functions similarly to a magic circle against evil and provides a barrier to low-level magic (like a minor globe of invulnerability).

Though they cannot gate in other angels the way that demons and devils summon their kind, angels can send out a distress call that other good powers sense, drawing the attention of any enchanted good beings (such as unicorns, ki-rin, and metallic dragons) that happen to be nearby.

Movanic Deva. A movanic deva is a human-sized angel most commonly sent as a messenger or agent to the Material Plane and its mirror planes. It appears as a slender humanlike being with milky white skin and silvery hair and eyes, and large feathered wings sprouting from its shoulder blades. It is primarily a melee combatant, wielding a flaming greatsword in combat, though it's also somewhat clericlike in its ability to support its allies with bolstering and healing effects. Once per day, it can commune or raise dead, and it also has the power to neutralize poison and break curses. It has high Dexterity, Wisdom, and Charisma scores, though its other ability scores are nothing to sneeze at.

A movanic deva can polymorph itself to appear in any form it desires, though it usually appears as an innocuous human or animal unless the shock-and-awe value of its natural form is needed. Legends tell of angels that have moved in mortal form undetected for years, lending their aid to good-aligned heroes in large and small ways.

Planetar. A planetar is a Large (8–9 feet tall) humanlike angel that serves as a general of celestial armies, though it is sometimes sent to aid powerful mortals on important missions of good-particularly missions that involve battling fiends. It appears as a massively muscular, hairless humanoid with opalescent skin and white-feathered wings. It is primarily a melee combatant, wielding a magic greatsword (traditionally defending, wounding, and/or vorpal, but not necessarily any of those things), though, like the movanic deva, it has clericlike abilities to bolster and heal its allies. It also has perfect senses, enabling it to see invisible creatures, see through illusions, detect traps, discern lies, and even note the presence of evil creatures at all times. It has very high Strength, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.

In addition to its normal abilities, a planetar can perform special miraculous acts delegated to it by the deity it serves, such as loosing an insect plague to devour a nation's crops. In this and every way, a planetar acts as the hands and feet of the god it serves, presenting a visible and tangible representation of its deity's power.

Solar. A solar is a Large (9–10 feet tall) humanlike angel that is comparable in power to a demon prince, yet willingly subservient to a good deity. It appears as a powerful, beautiful humanoid with copper skin, bronze hair, and glowing topaz eyes, and its deep, resonant voice is commanding. It has four coppery-gold wings. It can function equally well in melee, wielding a dancing greatsword, or at range, using a magic longbow that creates slaying arrows at the solar's command. It has clericlike abilities similar to the lesser angels, as well as the planetar's perfect senses. It can also make a miracle, duplicating the effect of any spell or creating a unique effect specific to its mission. Its ability scores are all high, and few creatures in the multiverse have a higher Charisma score.

Solars are extremely rare, and it is speculated that only 24 of them exist. Some hold permanent positions as stewards or seneschals of specific deities, while others are said to slumber or exist in a semiconscious state of contemplation until their services are needed to stave off some tremendous threat to the cause of good.

What's in a Name?

Archons, eladrin, and devas-we have a terminology problem on our hands! All of these names refer to very different creatures in 4th Edition than they did in past editions of the game, and thus present a challenge to my efforts to take an inclusive, ecumenical approach to the lore of D&D.

The archons of the Elemental Chaos presented in 4th Edition are well-liked, based on more-or-less anecdotal evidence. I've heard people say that they're far more useful and interesting elemental creatures than basic elementals (which, granted, is not hard), and similarly that they're more useful at the gaming table than a motley assortment of angel-like creatures-dog-headed, bearlike, or spherical globes of light-from past editions. It's pretty clear that the denizens of Celestia established clear claim to the name back in 1987, so although I think the 4E archons will survive into D&D Next, they'll almost certainly get a name change. It might be as simple as calling them "elemental archons."

It's not hard to imagine the eladrin of 4th Edition-the dialed-up high elves of the Feywild-as the most common form of the very similar eladrin of previous editions. That's not an accident-it was quite intentional when we designed the 4E eladrin, and that's why ghales and bralanis, types of eladrin from 2nd Edition, survive as noble titles in the Feywild. If the Feywild becomes an optional element of the D&D cosmology, designed for use by DMs who want to make heavy use of the fey in their campaigns, it's easy to relocate the eladrin from Arborea into the Feywild, tone down their strong chaotic good alignment, and have something that looks very much like what we've presented in 4E.

Similarly, while the astral, monadic, and movanic devas are full-fledged angels, there's still room in the multiverse for devas who have bound themselves to the world in mortal flesh and become the devas presented in the 4E Player's Handbook II. Like the (elemental) archons, they might need a qualification of their name-maybe bound devas or incarnate devas.

And what about evil angels? That's another element of 4th Edition lore that has been lifted up as a clear improvement over past editions, but here I want to tread more carefully. I would like to say that evil gods, as a rule, do not have evil angels in their service. On the other hand, it's entirely possible for angels to become corrupted and fall from their state of grace and their gods' favor. The worst of these can sometimes find a place in the service of an evil deity, becoming a terrible mockery of their past selves.

And the "angels of [noun]" (angel of battle, angel of protection, angel of valor, angel of vengeance) that appear in 4th Edition sources? I'm partial to the idea that a deva, or possibly a planetar or solar, sent on a specific mission might take on specific characteristics tied to that mission. A movanic deva sent to guard a mortal hero becomes an "angel of protection" and gains an ability similar to the 4E angel's ward power. An astral deva sent on a mission of vengeance to the Lower Planes becomes an "angel of vengeance" and can use something like sign of vengeance and cloak of vengeance.

What Do You Think?

Well, a lot of rambling there, but I hope the specific bits about angels spark some ideas.

  First, what do you think about earlier-edition archons, guardinals, and eladrin?  
1-They're essential to the game and should appear in the world at least as often as angels.
2-They're important to the game and need to be part of the core.
3-They're dispensable and best used as the peoples of the Upper Planes as described in this article.
4-They don't belong in the game at all.

  Now, how do the angels I described fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creatures?  
1-They're practically blasphemous.
2-They might be interesting creatures, but they're not angels (not even aasimons).
3-They're OK, but needs some rethinking.
4-Yeah, I recognize them as angels.
5-They are the paragon of angelic awesomeness.

  What do you think of the elemental archons?  
1-Kill off the celestial archons and let the elemental archons reign supreme!
2-Keep them in the game with a different name.
3-Get rid of them.

  How about the eladrin?  
1-Get rid of the Feywild eladrin and keep the celestial eladrin.
2-Your proposed solution sounds good.
3-Get rid of the celestial eladrin and keep the 4E Feywild eladrin.

  And devas?  
1-Let the 4E deva die a final death so the angelic devas can fly.
2-I like them as a fourth branch of deva.
3-Forget the angelic devas. The 4E devas are much more interesting.

  Evil angels?  
1-Always! Bane needs his angels too.
2-Sometimes. Fallen angels are good.
3-Never! Angels = good.

  And finally, angels of [noun]?  
1-Each kind of 4E angels should be a separate kind of angels, alongside devas, planetars, and solars.
2-All the 4E angels should become one family of angels, alongside devas, planetars, and solars.
4-The angels described here should get a new name (aasimon?) while the 4E angels claim the angel name.
5-I like them as a sort of template for angels on a mission.
6-The 4E angels should just fade quietly away.

Previous Poll Results

First, what do you think about the Feywild or the plane of Faerie?
1-A fey plane belongs in the core cosmology. 749 44.8%
2-A fey plane is a fine optional element for building a custom cosmology, and I'd definitely use it. 699 41.8%
3-A fey plane is a fine optional element for building a custom cosmology, but it's not for me. 197 11.8%
4-A fey plane has no place in D&D. 26 1.6%
Total 1671 100.0%

Now, what do you think of my description of fey creatures in general?
1-It is totally off base. 41 2.7%
2-I still don't know what a fey is. 50 3.4%
3-I think I see what you're getting at, but I'm not sure I like it. 263 17.6%
4-It's definitely heading in the right direction. 924 62.0%
5-That's exactly how I'll think of fey from now on. 213 14.3%
Total 1491 100.0%

And do you buy my arguments for including fey creatures in a Monster Manual?
1-Well, I can think of lots of reasons characters might want to fight one of these creatures. 245 15.6%
2-I agree that the Monster Manual needs to describe the world as well as present adversaries. 596 37.8%
3-Evil adventurers need stuff to kill, too! 23 1.5%
>4-All of the above. 670 42.5%
5-No, use that space for more things to kill! 41 2.6%
Total 1575 100.0%

Now, how does the dryad I described fit with your sense of the iconic D&D creature?
1-I am repulsed and annoyed. 19 1.4%
2-It's sorely lacking. 69 5.1%
3-It's getting there, but it needs more work. 233 17.3%
4-Yeah, I recognize that as a dryad. 775 57.7%
5-It is as beautiful as a dryad itself. 247 18.4%
Total 1343 100.0%

How about hags?
1-I am repulsed and annoyed. 14 1.1%
2-It's sorely lacking. 49 3.7%
3-It's getting there, but it needs more work. 224 16.9%
4-Yeah, I recognize those as hags. 808 61.0%
5-It is everything a hag should be and more. 230 17.4%
Total 1325 100.0%

And nymphs?
1-I am repulsed and annoyed. 27 2.1%
2-It's sorely lacking. 79 6.0%
3-It's getting there, but it needs more work. 270 20.6%
4-Yeah, I recognize that as a nymph. 692 52.7%
5-I'm blinded by her beauty. 245 18.7%
Total 1313 100.0%

And what about the wee folk?
1-I am repulsed and annoyed. 37 2.8%
2-It's sorely lacking. 65 4.9%
3-Some of them are dead on, but others still need work. 382 28.6%
4-Yeah, I recognize those as the creatures you describe. 582 43.6%
5-I've never been happier to see these in the game. 270 20.2%
Total 1336 100.0%

James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
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