Josie/Jocelyn Deane

A D&D campaign in which we invent praxis to kill the gods

First, make sure you have a d20, can’t destroy unjustifiable hierarchies without d20s or the players handbook, the spell list, containing such critical magic as polymorph— which forms an instant transqueer polycule— and summon large animal. In another game, the players summoned a quetzalcoatlus to disrupt a fae monarchic ball, designed to demonstrate the truth of the aesthetic, its organising power/logic over fantasy-direct action. It goes uncommented: the servants, valets, labourers employed in the castle, the Disney roles I imagine for feudal castle workers— there are butlers right? and chefs with Outrageous French Accents, a minister or two, a gay person— can’t magic, and the nobility can. There is no resistance until the player characters swoop in, magic in abundance, gold hyperinflating everything like Mansa Musa, in the same way the world doesn’t exist until the DM dictates the players there, projecting it onto a cave wall. A Non-playable character is just someone subjected to the player’s Beholder-like gaze. The gods exist so that Clerics and Paladins have a source of power to bring the game to life, like lightning to Frankenstein’s monster. One can conclude that to try and kill the gods in D&D is to try and kill D&D itself, to rebel against our sitting there, eating Dominoes, taking turns in initiative order, fighting racialized goblins, casting fireball and Tasha’s hideous laughter. There is no document of civilization that isn’t a document of barbarism, says our party barbarian, our primary damage dealer. But here we are.

Second, recognise that the binary of ideal/reality is worthless. Gods exist, magic is real, within limits. If Marx were alive in fiction, he would be fighting the ruling class with lightning bolts. He’d have a red dragon as a mount/companion. All D&D revolutionaries are Posadists by the air they breathe. There is no oxygen in D&D, only wishes. Characters survive on pure will-to-power; the gods epitomise this in-universe, their presence ingrained in every structure/narrative device of the world, which is why they must die, which is why there are no good hierarchies. A fluidity of tactics becomes the base line: our paladin heals the sick and casts “create food/water” for the homeless, while noting cheerfully “the gods are dead”. Our Druid follows the sewer system, tracing the city’s blockages, perhaps repeating fantasy-Dominique LaPorte to himself: To touch, even lightly, on the relationship of a subject to his shit, is to modify not only… their relationship to their body, but their very relationship to the world… Civilization despises odour and will oust it with increased ferocity as power strives to close the gap between itself and divine purity.
By daylight he will find the city’s food storage and destroy it.
Our bard ferments schism in the churches by sleeping with everyone, as bards do.
We are putting on a role-play for an audience, our characters are playing our characters. The Roman emperor Vespasian, as he was dying, sadly muttered ‘shit, I’m becoming a god’, and that is where we begin and end.

Finally, recognise that since killing the gods must end— necessarily— with our deaths as characters, as D&D heroes projecting our will over the medium of dice rolls and Radiant Damage, we are free from death, and can act accordingly. Death herself— the Raven Queen, who in fiction is a mortal that killed the previous god of death— conspires to help us. Everything must die, everything must change, she says. We assure her that after we finish the rest of the pantheon, we will return for her and keep to her word. Eventually the city, and the gods’ temples, are a carnival of competing fantasies, rioting spreading as we walk through the piazzas, knowing how it ends, watching the guards approach, drawing our weapons. I remember Twitter clips of a French ex-boxing champion who fought the gendarmes on a bridge, pushing them back as protestors flanked him, pelting them with stones. He was stripped of his title after he went viral, shrugged and went on with things, supporting the growing strikes. He’d stopped playing that character already; a brief resurrection couldn’t hurt.

“Form” is nothing

This is what you’ll see, from the university handbook page for “The secret life of the body”. If you google “Buddha in purple field”, click images, you’ll find it immediately; every image is a hyper-link. There’s a concept you searched yesterday— “overdetermination”— from following a wiki-hole (you like the metaphor because it implies to you a tunnelling animal; a tunnel as part of a larger burrow, a litter of kits at its heart). A single effect as determined by multiple causes, any of which would be sufficient to account for it.

Louis Althusser imported the term into Marxist analysis, referring to the interrelating forces at work in a crisis at a given time, without framing those forces as “contradictory”. That is how you feel on the internet, looking at all these hyper-links of the purple field Buddha. Some to architecture websites, describing the location (it’s a memorial cemetery in Sapporo) and how the Buddha was there before the hill was constructed. Apparently its scale was awkward and off-putting to visitors. “The project might be considered on the scale of landscape rather than architecture. It required a special frame of mind to rearrange the environment, and was a challenging and precious experience for us,” said Tadao Ando, the architect responsible, on a site describing their artistic process.

You’ve become fascinated with a kind of representation. The statue’s head just peaking above the rim of the hill. A friend has a photo of the Bamyan Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. They were carved into the cliff-face; what stands out to you, more than the statues themselves, is the Buddha sized holes in the rock. Homes built into the same substrate. Qudratullah Jamal, the Taliban minister of information at the time: “This work of destruction is not as simple as people might think. You can’t knock down the statues by shelling as both are carved into a cliff; they are firmly attached to the mountain”. You don’t know if there were any surviving fragments, after they were detonated. No there, there- now. No graven images. It corresponds with the etymology of Nirvana: a blowing out of candles. The Buddhas will not be reincarnated into new forms, more serene depictions. It reminds you of Wallace Stevens: the nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is.

In The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner talks about the virtual and the actual poem. The transcendental ideal of pure language in pure play, and the necessarily compromised reality. The best poems, he says, engage with their necessary failure: their inability in limited space to represent what you sense, before you write. They imply this larger poem, this absence keenly felt, like a Grand Unifying Theory. Another way to imply this virtual poem— citing the example of William Topaz McGonnagal’s “Tay Bridge Disaster”— is to fail so comprehensively that we imagine, out of the poem’s formal wreckage, what it could have been, and what is. It seems a limited perspective to you. The Bamyan Buddhas, and the Buddha veiled with a purple hill.

Josie/Jocelyn Deane is a non-binary freelance writer/programmer/student at the university of Melbourne, and their work has appeared in various places.
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