Remember last year, when I said I had more characters who began with A than any other letter? It turns out A is also a competitive letter for “highest number of interesting monsters”. I’m starting to think we’re all just lazy and we don’t bother making it to the rest of the alphabet.
Angels in D&D aren’t too different from what one might expect, except that as a race they don’t adhere to any specific god. They’re ancient, they’re powerful, they’re imperatively good, and they have wings. Their magic tends toward destroying evil, bolstering allies, and healing. I think they’re formed from souls who die, go to angelic planes as petitioners, and are eventually formed into tangible goodness by the stuff of the universe, but that may only be in Pathfinder. And, as creatures of virtue and purity, they are of course stupidly attractive.
I like angels, but not as angels. I like them more as bundles of generic stats. They’re a pretty good total package for their CR, decent at magic, defense, combat, interaction, and most other things that go into a character. If you trade out a spell or two and convert their protective aura into something more befitting a specific character (like the avatar of a metallic dragon with a bonus against chromatic dragons) you can use them to represent any number of creatures in any number of situations. They’re especially handy if you’re in a bind where your players have something unexpected and you need the stats for a monster right now. Really, the thing most holding back angels is the word “angel”.
In fact, just like last year, let’s play a game. Every time I say a monster functions better after reskinning than it does before, take a drink.
Though I think my favorite use of angels was actually as angels. See, angels want to do good, and often they want to do the most good. But they don’t have any sort of flashing warning light that happens in their heads when they’re doing something wrong, and they’re not omniscient. An angel could be tricked into doing something evil when they think they’re doing something good. I think this is one reason for their excellent interaction skills: lying to an angel to get them to do something wrong is hard. If, however, the angel looks at a situation and comes to their own incorrect conclusions, that’s more interesting.
The villain of the first Eight Arms campaign, the Eight Arms and the Shadow Invasion, was an angel who had already make two serious mistakes regarding her role as an emissary of goodness. She needed to do something good and big to get her back in the literal graces of celestial management. After some investigation and consultation with scholars, she recognized that while the universe has a Plane of Shadow, it has no corresponding Plane of Light. Light, of course, is good, so this represented a cosmic imbalance in favor of evil. To correct this she gathered an army of like-minded races and individuals, found an absurdly powerful artifact of light, and started creating the plane.
Through the campaign the players performed more strenuous math and found this would actually unbalance things even harder, but the angel was already too committed to her plans and in too desperate a situation to consider whether she was wrong. To her it was obvious: she was an angel, and thus everything she did was good; the players fighting her included a cad, a pirate, a necromancer, so they were evil; and various races of shadow, who knew the truth, were trying to stop her, which meant they were the trials she had to overcome to win. She was a full-fledged campaign villain, but she remained an angel in every way.
The players may have liked the concept a little too much. It was fresh and interesting, and it contributed to the setting in ways even I didn’t realize until recently, but “punch an angel” may had been too enticing to forget. I’m worried fighting angels set the stage for later campaigns where the players tortured an enemy for information, killed a surrendering prisoner of war, and made friends with a known terrorist in the middle of launching a war. Those aren’t the actions of one maladjusted player, either. They occurred in three different campaigns with zero player overlap among them. The tagline of the Eight Arms seems to be “we do bad stuff, but it’s often against people doing worse stuff, so, you know, whatever.”
Still, I’m not sorry. Players should fight good enemies more, and we should have good monsters. Nothing is an ally to everyone.