20
\$\begingroup\$

Going through a number of D&D books that feature the Solar I noted that it is amongst the most powerful monsters in the book, frequently only matched in level and power by the likes of the Tarrasque. When you compare them to the other top level Outsiders it won't be much of a contest if pitted against each other, like how for example a 3.5e Pit Fiend is no match for a Solar. This seems to be consistent through a number of editions and endures to this very day.

I am wondering if there is any reason for the Solar to be one of the most badass beings in the books? Is this based on historical equivalents of Monster Manuals (grimoires that detail how to summon demons, some of whom mentioned to never ever try summoning angels because they'd wreck your face)? Or is there another reason why the Solars are consistently some of the most badass monsters in Dungeons & Dragons?

\$\endgroup\$
19
\$\begingroup\$

Why is the Solar so powerful compared to other beings from the planes?

Short answer:

  1. It's a tradition, since the introduction of that creature in Dragon Magazine issue #64, 1e edition AD&D, and subsequently Monster Manual II. (A lot of stuff rolls over from edition to edition).

    A Solar is the most powerful of spirits, usually directly serving a greater deity of Good alignment, typically as his or her marshal, steward, or like office. On rare occasions, a solar will be found attending a lesser deity. There are at least 24 solars. They can go to any plane, but do so only in service to their deity. (MM 2 p 111 & Dragon #64 page 11).

  2. Feature Creep. As supplements came out for the original edition of AD&D, the new stuff tended to be "cooler / better" than the old stuff" -- this is true in more recent editions' splat books and supplements. Demons and devils were "old stuff" from the 1977 monster manual, and the Solars (most powerful of spirits and opposites to demons and devils) arrived in 1982 (Dragon #64) and 1983 (Monster Manual II).

    (Dragon 64, p. 10). Last issue this column introduced itself with Devas, the proverbial right hand of the forces of Good. Following the same vein, here are two even stronger powers who faithfully serve the deities of the Upper Outer Planes, Planetars and Solars. Tremble, ye hordes of Darkness, at the mere mention of these shining examples of the Hosts of Justice and Freedom, the Great Servants of Good! -- ©1982 E. Gary Gygax. All rights reserved. Dragon #64 August 1982. --

  3. As with the various mythologies, deities, and pantheons folded into the game, adapting a Judeo-Christian inspired angel-type took something already known and fit it to the game. (Note the Christian god is NOT in the game). These powerful good beings serve any of the in-game Good deities already in place.

    • The original artwork took archetypical angelic form from of angels in Eurocentric art and culture: long hair, wings, long white robe. (True in Dragon #64 article and MM 2, and for Deva in Dragon #63 p 6-7. Angelic wings, good alignment, but short hair?)
    • The right hand servant of deity, supernatural being one notch down from a deity. That is what Archangels are in Christian mythology. Re-skinning that to Solar gets you the most powerful spirit (And look how long that model has lasted: see archangels in the Diablo series of video games ...)
    • Archangels of yore cast into Hell the devil (once an archangel) and all of his subordinates -- they have to be seriously badass to do that. Making Solars "the most powerful spirit" fits the model they were taken from.
    • Angels were proposed, but finally not included in published books, even though an article on p. 32-33 in on Dragon #17 explicitly notes Judeo-Christian roots of D&D.1
  4. The parallels to the Choirs of Angels from Christian belief (mythology if seen from outside the religion) is a re-skinning to arrive at "similar but different."

    • There are very few Archangels, just as there are "24 known Solars."
    • Lesser angels serve Archangels, while Planetars and Devas are subordinate to Solars.
    • Wings, robes, flying. While it's not a direct cut and paste, it is recognizable, and different enough to both deal with cultural taboos(see below) and add a balancing set of supernatural beings missing from the planes of existence. (PHB 1e p. 121).

Longer Answer:

  1. Cutting and Pasting Angels(Christian) as could be done for some devils and demons could not done for two reasons.

    • The first is the taboos of the time. (see below)
    • The second is the game had already promoted a multi-theistic paradigm since the publication of Gods, Demigods and Heroes (OD&D supplement 4, 1976) and Deities and Demigods (1e supplement). Demons didn't have to be re-skinned. A game-friendly re-skin of the Angel and Archangel solved both problems.
      • One can recall that originally Balor (demon) was called a Balrog and Type VI (Eldritch Wizardry) when first introduced. That had to be changed (re-skinned?) due to external pressure: Tolkien's estate. With angel, the re-skin came before publishing.
  2. (Slight digression) An example of the kinds of cultural taboos that Gygax and friends dealt with in contemporary culture surrounding them: in films in the 50's and 60's you almost never saw anyone portray the character of Jesus Christ and have the actor show his face on screen. (Ben Hur is one example.) This taboo was eventually broken, but shows such as Jesus Christ Super Star and The Last Temptation of Christ earned criticism from Christian groups in a variety of denominations ... including the "face of Jesus" complaint. (Lost in a long list of complaints). I remember reading about this firestorm as a teen, when it was a contemporary flailing - culture clash. Gygax was aware of the cultural sea they were swimming in, and, he also didn't want to mix his religion and his business. (1) D&D received its share of vitriol from Christian sources.

  3. D&D was influenced by a variety of literature, stories, myths and legends, and added from many sources as it grew and developed. Influences on the authors included basic Western Christianity, civilization, and cultural touch points. D&D was originally built on a Dark Ages / Medieval European chassis

I'm very fond of the Medieval period, the Dark Ages in particular. We started playing in the period because I had found appropriate miniatures. I started devising rules where what the plastic figure was wearing was what he had. If he had a shield and no armor, then he just has a shield. Shields and half-armor = half-armor rules; full-armor figure = full armor rules. I did rules for weapons as well. -- Gary Gygax--

  1. Christendom, as a cultural model, was the state of being of Europe around the time of the Crusades. (Note, the Castle and Crusade Society was the wargaming club that fought medieval miniatures table top battles.(See intro to Men and Magic p. 3)).

  2. Core cultural references from Christendom embedded in D&D from it origin include:

    • Clerics' strongholds (when achieving Patriarch level) levied tithes (Magic users and Lords levied taxes)
    • Paladins influenced by Oiger the Dane, Sir Galahad, Sir Lancelot (the last of whom healed a slain opponent at a joust by laying on of hands)
    • Raise the Dead spell brings people back to life (cf. Lazarus raised from the dead, and legends of the Apostles doing same)
    • Clerics and Paladins influenced by the Knights Hospitlar / Knights Templar of the Crusader era
  3. Adding a supernatural archetype(angels and archangels), albeit re-skinned from standard Christian symbols and mythology, is (a) NO surprise and (b)fits the game's theme. It also served to both balance to the demons and devils already present, and flesh out the higher planes of existence. (See Appendix IV to the original PHB, on p. 121). The occupants of evil planes were well accounted for, the good aligned planes ... not so much, even though it was proposed in Dragon #17 in 1978(see footnote 1).

  4. Finally, Gary Gygax was a life long Christian(1). Him fitting angels into a game full of the supernatural is consistent with the core themes woven into the game from before its first draft. Re-skinning them to deal with taboos is related to his internal conflict between his game and any overt Christian influence on it. Gary Gygax spoke about later in life: (Gencon Indy, 2007, discussion with Christian gamers).

(1) At GenCon Indy 2007, Gary sat on a panel discussion, hosted by the Christian Gamers’ Guild and treating the topic “Christianity and Gaming.”

Gygax described himself as a Christian, but for much of his life had been reluctant to discuss his beliefs, citing fears that he would hurt the reputation of Christianity because of his connection to the moral panic that some people associated with D&D as a reason for not having been more vocal about his faith.

"I was reticent to say the fact, you know, that I was a Christian, mainly because I was afraid that I would give Christianity a bad name because I did D&D. So I did, I kept my mouth shut. But I just decided no, I’m not going to do that any more."


1 (Dragon #17, p. 32-33; August, 1978; Stephen Dorneman)

In Eldritch Wizardry, Gygax and Blume have given nefarious Dungeon Masters a plethora of immensely evil, incredibly powerful supernatural beings, the demons. A worthwhile and logical addition to Dungeons and Dragons, and just the thing for trashing that arrogant twelfth-level’s castle. From Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes a DM can draw for purposes of divine intervention that practically omnipotent being particularly suited to his or her universe. But something is still lacking in this panoply of other-worldly creatures. There is a need for beings powerful, yet not omnipotent, who would be in the service of the good gods. And so, in keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition of D&D, propose the creation of a new class of supernatural beings, Angels.

Angels, unlike demons, should only appear on Earth with a particular mission, a manifestation of a god’s will. They may appear in response to prayer (with a base 1% per cleric’s level chance of response), if summoned by various holy artifacts, as guards for certain holy shrines or relics, or at the whim of the gods.(/snip the rest of the article)


This answer to the original question came before Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes was published. @illustro's answer covers that gound in this answer.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ While far better sourced than Dale’s, far too much of this answer still relies on “the parallels are obvious” and assertion. You claim that “The most likely reason that a Solar is so powerful is that the Solar is an attempt to fold into the game something like a Judeo-Christian Archangels without calling it an angel,” while providing no evidence towards the likelihood of this assertion. The parallels do appear to be there, I’m not saying you are wrong, just that this answer is not self-sufficient; it relies too much on the reader accepting your assertions \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 31 '15 at 19:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, I suspect that what went on in Gary’s mind is actually what the question is trying to determine, so just chalking it up to it’s always been that way may not be a very satisfying answer; prior to 1982 it hadn’t been that way. And I don’t think you have to go that far. I would just beef up the answer’s justification that solars are Judeo-Christian angels (with the serials filed off), making explicit the parallels between the two that indicates this. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 31 '15 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, simply re-organizing would help, I think. I don’t think the short answer/long answer thing is doing you any favors; the short answer’s still pretty long, and the long answer ends up repeating much of it anyway. I’d focus more on, 1. solars are meant to be angels (which we can see by comparing X and Y or whatever, and considering Gygax’s own religion as well as that of the setting’s inspiration), but 2. some of the explicitly-Christian aspects were removed to fit with the existing game and because of taboos, would lead you to a stronger place to talk about angels. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 31 '15 at 19:33
18
\$\begingroup\$

Solars are not cognate to pit fiends

Solars are angels, or aasimon, beings of generic goodness and service made and invested with power by the gods but independent of them. They have no canonical counterpart in Law, Chaos or Evil. They are so powerful because they are the highest non-proxy, non-avatar servants of the gods themselves. Planetars and devas (astral, monadic and movanic) are other members of this group.

Pit fiends are actually stronger than their good-aligned cognates

The closest things that Good has to exemplars on the level of a pit fiend or balor are the CR 15 throne archons, CR 12 leonals and CR 18 tulani. There's enough of a power gap there that in absence of a well-placed holy word, the good outsider in question is going to be having a very bad day indeed.

What about pre-3.5?

A different kettle of fish altogether; in 2nd Edition, the approximate strength of these beings was at times radically different, with tulani eladrins being the most powerful and balors and ultroloths just below them. Pit fiends came next, then leonals and finally throne archons, who were at the time not considered the top caste of archon. However, solars, who were

absolutely the most powerful servants of the good deities of the Upper Planes.

were still stronger than any of those listed above. So while the 3rd Edition conversion managed to do a great disservice to tulani and ultroloths, the position of solars has never been in question, because they are as powerful as the gods who create and invest them desire they be.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Has a canonical explanation for the absence of chaotic-, lawful-, or evil-themed angel-equivalents ever been supplied? If not, given your knowledge of the subject, would you care to speculate? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 31 '15 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan He has hinted at his speculation for evil equivalents a few times (e.g. footnote here), but pretty sure he has not yet actually written up his ideas on the anathemas. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 31 '15 at 14:21
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The absence of lawful and chaotic counterparts is likely due to the fact that angels are servants of gods, and that the time of gods is far more associated with the conflict between Good and Evil than with any echoes of the War of Law and Chaos. Lawful good deities don't want to work with lawful evil deities on a suite of servitors when they already have some kicking about who outclass much of creation, mano a mano. \$\endgroup\$ – afroakuma Aug 31 '15 at 16:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Exemplars came when: 3e or 2e? I see your point. The one for one doesn't fit. The in-game lineage is clear: first came demons(EW), then came gods(GDgH), then came devils and demons(1eMM), and finally came good aligned planar reps(MM II). As newer editions arrived planar beings are more fleshed out ... credit Planescape for the added depth? The introduction for devil in 1e was The inhabitants and rulers of the planes of hell are principally devils, the most powerful of lawful evil creatures. Has grown richer since then. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 3 '15 at 20:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Aye, the one for one doesn't line up, I think Planescape is correct on exemplar. FWIW, my answer was on solars rather than angels, so angels (or whatever their analog is) didn't get ported in the same way that demons and devils did. Comment deleted, and we may as well scub all of these as "too chatty" before we attract mod agro. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 3 '15 at 20:31
6
\$\begingroup\$

Pit Fiends are not the appropriate devil-based comparison to Solars, the Archdevils of Hell are. Similarly there now exists an equivalent Demon to be compared to the Solar, the Molydeus.

Following the release of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes the equivalent of the Solars for Outsiders in 5e has now been published, the Molydeus.

Solars are described as:

A Solar is the most powerful of spirits, usually directly serving a greater deity of Good alignment, typically as his or her marshal, steward, or like office. On rare occasions, a solar will be found attending a lesser deity. There are at least 24 solars. They can go to any plane, but do so only in service to their deity.

For Demons the Molydeus is the equivalent, being described as:

The most ruthless and dangerous of demons - more feared than the dreaded balor - the molydeus speaks with the authority of the demon lord it serves as it enforce's it's master's will.

both are classified as a CR21 creature, and one would expect both to be equally matched in battle.

Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes has also published stat blocks for the Archdevils. The Archdevils include:

[...] the various lords, the nobles who owe them fealty, and some exiles and outcasts who have fallen out of favour.

The Archdevils have CR ratings ranging from 16 - 26. Zariel in particular is the best comparison we have as she is described as:

Once a mighty angel charged with watching the tides of the Blood War, she succumbed to the plane's corrupting influence and fell from grace.

Her CR is 26 (the next highest of the stat'ed Archdevils from MTFs is the CR22 Geryon).

\$\endgroup\$
4
\$\begingroup\$

There's a theme in 1e that the lower planes are populous (e.g., the 666 layers of the abyss) while the upper planes are less so. If there is to be a "balance of power" then it follows that the fewer units of the Good planes must be individually more powerful than those of the Evil ones.

Thus a solar does not need to be more powerful than a pit fiend, it needs to be more powerful than a gang of pit fiends.

\$\endgroup\$
0
\$\begingroup\$

This probably has more to do with the Judeo-Christian origins of the monsters concerned.

Solars are arch-angels and the direct instruments of God. Demons and devils are fallen angels and lost souls and the minions of Satan. Biblical references portray arch-angels as second only to God in power and majesty. Lucifer is a fallen arch-angel so the correct comparison is not solar to pit-fiend but solar to Asmodeus.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ I definitely think this answer needs more evidence, right now it's very close to bare speculation. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 31 '15 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also incorrect, as demons (at least in D&D 3.5) are a direct manifestation of chaos, and not related to angels in any way. (Fiendish Codex I) \$\endgroup\$ – BgrWorker Aug 31 '15 at 12:47
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Going back to their origins in the AD&D monster books may yield citations that would support this analysis' argument. Gygax drew most of Deities & Demigods directly (thus, obviously) from Earth mythology/religion, for example, even if he altered them after the inspiration. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 31 '15 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SebastinoRoncato Reference your point, you make the distinction between demons and devils. So does the game, as far back as 1e, with devils being more LE and demons being CE. Interesting to see the 3.5e (retcon) spelling it out more clearly. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 31 '15 at 19:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM. I think you mean "solar" rather than 'deva' as that was the question: on solars. C&P solar for deva and your answer fits the question better. (Tend to agree with the origin ...) The mixing of various mythologies into the game, and of various pantheons, makes a lot of supernatural game creatures a tough fit, since they are/were modified to "fit" into the game world's broad ranging mythology/theology. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 31 '15 at 19:06

protected by Oblivious Sage Apr 26 at 16:59

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.