The Book of Exalted Deeds is very interesting for a number of reasons. The thing that caught my eye first was the “Intended for Mature Audiences” sticker on the front of the book. I’m still not sure why it was there. The introduction says “…the Book of Exalted Deeds is intended for mature players. That’s not because it’s filled with lurid depictions of depravity and torture. The material isn’t meant to shock or offend (though some topics may). Rather, this book deals with tough questions of ethics and morality in a serious manner.”
This first thing you wonder is how discussing ethics is something you don’t want the immature to do. People with no kids don’t understand that young people don’t have much understanding of subtly. They don’t understand that everything isn’t black and white. And I’m sure there are parents who would rather not discuss these things with there kids, or whose lives are obviously not good and they don’t want someone telling their kids what good is.
I think CYA is a big part of it. D&D already has problems in religious communities. It takes guts to write a book dealing with good and evil with those problems already hanging over your head. The author alludes to this in the introduction when he says “In the Book of Exalted Deeds you’ll find archons with names drawn from Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic angelology, paladins with stigmata, and monks who have sworn not to touch dead flesh or drink alcohol….” Lots of people don’t want someone codifying their religion. Heck, that’s what causes most of the tensions and divisions inside religions.
You also find the interesting comment “To many of us with deeply held convictions about such matters, the subject is touchy at best.” Which implies the author, James Wyatt, has real religious convictions. I hate it when religion is discussed by people who don’t believe in it, and who therefore only understand it in a superficial manner.
(BTW: Amazon’s ability to search inside this book is way cool.)
The book actually had a spiritual impact on me. In the first chapter James discusses the concept of being good. “Many characters are happy to rattle off long lists of sins they haven’t committed as evidence that they are good. The utter avoidance of evil however, doesn’t make a character good — solidly neutral perhaps, but not good.” Those too lines are so concisely correct they almost deserve to be a signature. And it makes you wonder, “Do I base my goodness on what I don’t do?” Or even on what I think and not what I do? It has given me something to think about.