The Uses of Points of Light and Greek Myth in D&D

While reading The Uses of Greek Myth a passage about Hercules which made me think of a different approach to D&D 4th ed. Point of Light-setting. Before going any further I better mention, that I don’t use the Point of Light-concept myself, since my regular campaigns all takes place in Mystara/The Known World-setting or when I need something more exotic, it takes place in Planescape, Ravenloft, Dark Sun or Spelljammer-settings. In other words I don’t use the point of light-setting and I haven’t studied it in any detail but I will none the less produce an alternative:

“It is not untrue to the spirit of these myths that Stoic philosophers finally viewed the Labours of Herakles as the civilising of the world, making it possible for men to live in it. It is a sort of clearance of a primeval jungle. There may also, sa Fontenrose (1959: 350-2) thinks, be a hint of primeval creation of order out of the chaos of the primeval waters in Herakles’ defeat of the greatest Greek river, Acheloös. It would be a simple matter, too, to patch in the Hydra (‘Water’-creature) at this point. Maybe not dissimilar is the fact that Herakles’ cattle tend to wander in the marginal territories where Greeks establish colonies and the Greek way of life – as though his slaughter of Geryon had paved the way for them and their stock-rearing (Burkert 1977: 283).”

The Uses of Greek Myth, p. 137-138

Now replace Herakles with Adventurers, Primeval with Wilderness and Elemental Chaos, Greeks with Civilised Races and the main difference is that the D&D-campaign setting in the 4th ed. DMG is set in an old world, where large stretches of land has been reclaimed by the wilderness.

With this version the adventurer’s travel deep into the wilderness, and once you are far enough, at the margins, wilderness changes into the Elemental Chaos, where you battle mythic monsters, that once defeated becomes stable land (the defeat of the water-elemental chaos in the shape of the Hydra stabilizes the land forming a river, and settlers in the area will remember how the daring heroes defeated the river). Stable land can be settled and thus the existing settlements – points of light – creates colonies thereby expanding the civilized realm.

Fallen heroes are not forgotten either. Tombs, sanctuaries and rites are used in the new settlements to remember the heroes and how they restored the world.

Herculean Heroes

Now for the next passages, when you read “Herakles”, you again read “adventurers”:

“He [Herakles] is always ready to slaughter and seduce. He murders Iphitos, a guest in his house, and steals his mares or cattle […]. And his capture of Oichalia (whereever that was) and the slaughter of its king, Eurytos, can be seen motivated by his adulterous lust for the king’s daughter Iloe […]. SImilarly he captures Ephyre, kills the king and beds the daughter […]. He is no better with children. He cuffs a boy serving him water and accidentally kills him (accidentally killing is the characteristics of heroes – Brelich 1958: 69f.).”

The Uses of Greek Myth p. 140

Now your adventurers are probably not as terrible, but all those fights in the inns and taverns, the encounters with beggars and city guards? In this setting it is the nature or fate of heroes, and it is best for everyone if they travel in the margins, defeating the chaotic elemental monsters, securing the world.

In other words with this interpretation of setting the acts of the character’s emulates the acts of ancient Greek heroes. Battling great monsters is the story itself, and whenever the PC’s start a fight with the city guard or burn down the kings castle, it is all a part of their mythic role. So next time they cause chaos, it’s okay.

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About Morten Greis

Historiker, etnolog, brygger, fægter, rollespiller, science fiction entusiast History and Ethnology, brewer and fencer, roleplayer and science fiction enthusiast View all posts by Morten Greis

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