Saturday, April 25, 2009

Quote of teh Week

From Jeff's Gameblog:
The original D&D seems, quite obviously, to be a pastiche of Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard adventure stories, set in a Tolkeinian world of Moorcockian morality, using Jack Vance's magic system, redacted for multiple protagonists. No wonder things are confused.

-Kenneth Hite

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Right Tool For the Right Job

Alt Title: "When All You Have is a Warhammer . . ."

The first character I ever played was a cleric named (I think--I've been trying to remember for weeks) Argos of Apollodan. I remember rolling him up at the tender age of 10, not even knowing what a cleric was, just that they could repell the undead, would later get spells, could wear whatever armor they wanted . . . and couldn't use bladed weapons for whatever reason.

"So what should I get instead?"

"How about a mace?"

I had a vague idea of what a mace was from having read The Lord of the Rings a few months before, so I bought that and off I went.

For the first several years of my gaming life, the mace seemed an odd weapon created solely for the use of clerics. If you were a fighter, you carried a longsword or two-handed sword (depending on whether you wanted to forego a shield), along with a spear for blocking charges and a dagger for backup. The mace did less damage and just seemed all-around less heroic than the sword.

Of course, as I got older and more knowledgible of history, I eventually learned why weapons like the mace, warhammer, and war pick were invented, and why they were mostly prevelant in Medieval Europe, where armor-crafting became a rather advanced science: They were for getting past plate armor.

In fact, the reason Europe stayed with the straight sword-blade instead of creating curved blades like the Middle- and Far-East was not because of a deficiency in their smithing abilities (as proved by armor-crafting so advanced that Japanese Daimyos were known to import plate armor if they could afford it), but because while a light, curved blade with a razors edge (like a katana, sabre, or scimitar) is wonderful against lightly armored or unarmored opponents but lacked the same ability to penetrate chain and plate that a straight-edged blade did (especially in precision thrusts into narrow vulnerable points in the armor).

OD&D (white box and previous) presents pretty much a one-size-fits-all approach to weapons, with everything inflicting d6 dmg. This is not actually a bad abstraction since all weapons have trade-offs, but it does mean that a clumsy mace is just as effective against a nimble, unarmored opponent as a light saber, while that saber can cut through plate armor just as well as the mace.

AD&D attempted to set matters to right by creating a complex set of tables giving not only weapon damage, but the space needed to effectively wield the weapon and bonuses and penalties to hit based on the target's armor class. While this may have added historical realism, it was so cumbersome that nobody, Gary Gygax included, used them on a regular basis.

Second edition tried to simplify these attack modifiers, but did so in an optional rule that was simply overlooked by many groups. It also failed on a certain front that 1st edition had previously: The tables gave to-hit adjustments included only humanoid armor types (light, medium, and heavy), so all weapons remained equally effective against all monsters except for damage.

Rather than add a new table into my game, I've simply assigned a few weapons minor modifiers to attack rolls: Maces and warhammers get a +1 to hit against medium armor types (e.g., chainmail) and a +2 against heavy (e.g., plate). Battle axes, longbows, and crossbows get a +1 against medium or heavy. Any kind of sword can be given a curve that increases its damage range by one die (e.g., a curved longsword uses a d10 instead of a d8 for damage), but which comes at a cost of -1 to hit medium armor and -2 to hit heavy.

No new tables, just a few notes on certain weapons. I wonder how many fighting-men will start carrying a mace or battle-axe as a backup weapon when facing armored knights or metal golems?

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Belated Pesach Shalom

I should've posted this last week, but I've been rather busy. Grilling enough meat for over a hundred people can really wear one out, especially when my impending marriage means that I don't have enough vacation and personal days left to take off more than the bare minimum of required High Holy Days from work. So I was cooking for the synagogue Seder all day Tuesday, was up until after midnight cleaning up, went to work on Wednesday (where I posted my brief RIP for Dave Arneson), and then took off Thursday for the High Sabbath.

I'm always tickled by the number of gamers who are devout followers of traditional Christianity, like Prokopius and, to judge by his Easter post, the Grognard. This in a hobby that supposedly leads one into Satanism, human sacrifice, and suicide. Yeah, I started gaming in the 80s, and I'm still a bit bitter about the slander, a modern-day blood libel with gamers baking the blood of children into their dice rather than Jews baking it into our matzah.

And yet, the entire game is built around the concept of a war between good and evil, a war that requires good men to sacrifice greatly for their narrow victories--and which often leaves those same men on the outskirts of society, exiles from that which they protect, as James points out here:

As I've argued at length in this blog, the game is in fact at its most
coherent when the PCs are rogues (with or without hearts of gold). But the assumed roguishness of most characters doesn't banish the possibility of there being good or evil. Like the gunslingers of the best Westerns, the PCs are individuals who use barbaric methods to fight "barbarians" on behalf of a civilization that, by the barbaric nature of their own actions in its defense, they must be excluded from. This kind of tension can only exist in a world in which morality isn't treated as subjective or an agreed upon convenience.

This idea is prevalent in both the Jewish and Christian worldviews. In Judaism, there is a strong underlying belief found in both the Talmud and Kabbalah that at any given moment, there are a certain minimum number of righteous Jews for whom the world is maintained. This isn't egotism, but flows naturally out of the idea that the world was created for the sake of Torah, so if nobody continued to practice Torah, the world would cease to have meaning and would cease to exist. Therefore, by continuing to follow Torah and to retain the unique culture that God Himself has crafted for us despite the persecution and pressure to assimilate that we face on all sides, the Jewish people as a whole stand as a bulwark for the world.

Christianity has a similar worldview, in that the Christian sees the present world as "enemy ground," with Satan variously called its prince and even god in the New Testament. Christians, like the "redpills" in the Matrix series, must sojourn through a world that they can never be fully a part of, seeking out others of a "rougish" spirit who are willing to take up the journey and the battle as well. Only by continuing the fight and reaching every corner of the world with the message of its Creator and true King in the face of great adversity and persecution can the Second Coming and the beginning of a new era of peace and truth occur.

In both faiths, the call is to be a "rogue" by the world's standards, not to conform to whatever the current political correctness is, but to walk a different, and often lonely, path.

In the same way, the band of adventurers who live on the frontiers of civilized society in OD&D. Their goals may not be as intrinsically noble as "saving the world"--one may be in it for the money, another to become the greatest swordsman in the world, another for arcane knowledge, another just for the thrill of cheating death--but nevertheless, they end up being civilizations best defense against the forces of Chaos and/or Evil by way of breaking that civilization's rules and living according to a different code of honor. And while they may occassionally receive recognition and honor, such rewards can become a snare, as the rulers granting them expect the footloose rogues to settle down and follow the rules of civilized society in return.

This marvelous fusion of ancient mythology, Judeo-Christian ethics and outsidership, and American "Western" (of the Clint Eastwood sort) mythology is the very heart of OD&D. Small wonder, then, that so many Jews and Christians feel at home in its mythic realms, the occassional brush with Zeus and Thor notwithstanding.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

R.I.P., Dave Arneson

From the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Shalom L'kha, Dave. You will be remembered, and missed.

Monday, April 6, 2009

On Combat Rounds and Rules

It's funny how I've gone back-and-forth on the issue of the proper length of a combat round. I started with the Moldavy rules set and AD&D1, both of which stipulate the length of a combat round at 1 minute. My friends and I, teenagers all, thought this way too long, so we sort of unofficially house-ruled that the actual fighting took place in less time, but that the minute per round included the time spent resting and picking up after the fight. 3rd Edition D&D agreed, reducing the length of combat to what was previously known as a segment, 6 seconds. We all agreed that this was exactly as it should be and all was right with the world.

As I've gotten into D&D's roots, I've become ambivalent about the proper length of a combat round. The 1-minute length, I've found, actually makes historical sense within D&D's wargaming roots in simulating mass combat, e.g. where each mini on the board represents 1o or 20 armored men. You can make the case that it makes sense in one-to-one ratio of D&D combat, but then, you can make the case that a lot of blows and parries can be made in six seconds as well.

My own experience in melee combat comes from a brief stint in LARPing and some small amount of kendo training from a friend (who happens to be one of the best swordswomen in the USA). It was never my experience that it took whole minutes to land a telling blow, but I'll be the first to acknowledge that in LARPing one doesn't really get a sense of what armor is supposed to do (it simply adds hit points) and in kendo, one is unarmored. However, if one takes the hit-point bonuses from armor into account in LARPing, combat could take a couple of minutes to resolve as blows were exchanged. I've watched SCA fights, and the length was about the same in most cases. However, my martial artist friend is also quick to point out that in unarmored one-on-one fights, even (especially!) between two skilled opponents, the fight would tend to be over in a matter of seconds--and yet, we know from medieval records that a battle between two armored knights could go on far longer.

OD&D was never designed to simulate one-on-one duels between unarmored swashbuckers or samauri, but between small to large groups of heavily armored opponents; hence the one-minute combat rounds. It seems that we actually need a separate rules-set for the duel between two musketeers--but since the game presumes a medieval European flavor, where duels would take place between armored knights, I see no real reason to try to create them now. (If one of my players gets into a situation where such rules are needed, we'll just ad hoc them on the spot.)

Given this, I'm planning on returning to 1-minute rounds in my OD&D game: It makes sense of the "talking is a free action" rule (which is horribly abused in 6-second rounds), provides a literary rationale for the length of spell-casting (more on this in a moment), and makes sense when it comes to giving PCs a chance to work out their strategies and try crazy maneuvers.

Speaking of "crazy maneuvers," one of the things that I like in principle about editions 3-4 is that they provide rules for doing things like maneuvering your opponent into position, fighting defensively, doing hit-and-runs, etc. That's not to say that one couldn't do these things in OD&D, but how much one could pull off largely depended on referee fiat. Provided that each instance of fiat was remembered (or written down) as a reasonably consistant house rule, this wasn't a problem, and formed part of each group's organic experience of the rules arising out of the gameplay instead of vice versa (as James explains here). However, I remember well how quickly something I had let a player get away with once under the "rule of cool" heading would become a headache as everyone used and abused it, leading to me nerfing said maneuver or coming up with odd reasons why it wouldn't work, leading to cries of foul play from my players . . .

The trick, as with dealing with non-combat skills, is to have some sort of baseline that lends itself to play without creating artificial strictures. For example, during our brief stint in 4th ed., I really enjoyed employing the rogue's ability to manuever opponents into more advantageous positions via the use of Erroll Flynn-style swordplay. However, this came at the cost of two disassociated mechanics: 1) Only rogues could pull this off for some reason, and 2) they could only do so a limited number of times per day. So I created the following rule that any character could employ:

Maneuvering Opponents
A character may choose to forego the opportunity to do damage against a given opponent to instead attempt to maneuver him into an advantageous position. On a successful attack roll, the combatants make contesting strength of dexterity checks (combatants choose), if the attacker wins, he can move his opponent 5’ for each point that he won by. He must follow the target to move it more than 5’ in any case.

In other words, the burly fighting-man might drive an opponent back by hammering blows down upon his shield or locking shields and shoving hard, while the nimble thief Erroll-Flynns the guy into position. The one being driven back might choose to stand his ground and simply push back, or else maneuver to one side without actually leaving his square.

This rule works well with another that I've ported over from OD&D, the fighting-man's ability to make attacks on multiple opponents of 1 HD or less. In my house-rules, this ability is negated if there is any opponent of more than 1HD within 15', the distance one can move in a single combat round without having to charge (which leaves one vulnerable to set spears, pikes, and pole arms). Basically, the nearby presence of an "elite" on the other side prevents the fighting-man from mowing through the scum, whether due to having to trade blows with the elite, the elite's leadership keeping his men in formation, or whatever.

It is easy to imagine how a party might employ these rules, with one character maneuvering around the line of orcs to attack their leader and push him away from his men to allow the fighting-man a chance to quickly dispatch the 1HD orcs. Of course, this could happen in reverse as well, with the orcs pushing back the 4th level fighting-man to let the 4+1 HD ogre decimate the PCs' hirelings . . .

Another rule that I swiped from one of the OD&D blogs (and unfortunately, I can't remember which one--if anyone knows, please let me know and I'll update this entry to give credit to the source) was on the proper use and sacrifice of shields:
Shield Block
Any combatant who is carrying a shield may, after being targeted by a successful attack, choose to sacrifice his shield to avoid the attack. If the character doing so waits until after seeing the damage roll of the attack, he must make a successful save (modified by strength or dexterity; player’s choice) to successfully intercept the attack. If the saving throw fails, the shield is not broken and the character takes normal damage.
This will also let me give a little more life to my humanoids without having to up their HD, since most will be happy to sacrifice their shields to have another chance to slay or run. It also has a fine literary and historical precedent: In viking duels, each duelist was given three shields. If all three were broken, then he had to fight shieldless--a huge disadvantage. (This was portrayed in Crichton's Eaters of the Dead and the movie version The 13th Warrior.)

Other rules arise easily enough out of these two: Disarming an opponent uses opposed strength/dexterity checks just like maneuvering them. Breaking a weapon is not always possible (Mythbusters showed that a properly forged steel weapon will flex rather than break), but doing so requires a strength vs. dexterity roll at a significant penalty (-2 for breaking a spear haft, -6 for breaking a two-handed sword, for example). One does not provoke an "attack of opportunity" by making attempts at special maneuvers, however--one simply loses the opportunity to do direct damage that round.

Theoretically, a character could spend time training in the fine art of disarming, either using a d8 instead of a d6 or else getting a bonus to the attempt.

The flexibility looks right, and the necessity of a successful attack roll first should balance things out at various levels of play. When my turn to referee rolls around again, we'll see how these rules do in actual play.

Our Prayers for Dave Arneson

Word is quickly percolating through the blogosphere (yes, I'm using up my cliche quota for the day) that Dave Arneson's health is rapidly declining. I got the news from Lord of the Green Dragons. Dave has been struggling with cancer for some time, and it looks like that battle is drawing to a close. Our prayers go out to Dave's family and for Dave himself, and we hope for a peaceful passing and also to see both him and Gary at the Resurrection.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Sephiroth in D&D

No, not every fangirl's favorite white-haired pretty-boy. The actual Kabbalistic idea, worked into the Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope's Stonehell. That's just awesome bonus for the players who will discover it as they map it out.

And I have no idea why I didn't catch it in the first part of the map. I must be slipping or something.

I Want These Frakking Toys!

Why couldn't they make this kind of cool stuff when I was a kid?

Santa Claus Gods

The Greyhawk Grognard has made a post today talking about the role his faith (neo-paganism) plays in his games. It's a question that I've wrestled with over the years as well, so I thought I'd ramble about it a bit today; like many of my posts, this is completely off-the-cuff and being written in between getting work done, so you'll have to pardon the complete lack of structure (and likely the complete lack of a point as well).

My own faith is Messianic Judaism: That is, while I believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah and the Son of God (though I've got different ways of expressing that than classical Trinitarianism), I don't believe that He came to establish a new religion called Christianity in place of the "old law" of Judaism. I don't have a problem with Christians in general, nor do I think they're going to hell because they treat Sunday as holy instead of the Sabbath, but I do get amused that they seem to think that Yeshua came to set me "free" from all of the feast days that I love and enjoy as a Jew. (How many Christians want to be set "free" from Christmas and Easter?)

As a Jew, I've a certain sympathy for the "evil church" trope that floats around fantasy literature and by extension, D&D. At the same time, I've enough historical background to know that that's an oversimplification: There were good popes who tried to protect the Jews and who issued papal bulls denouncing the synagogue-burners as well as those who put us in ghettos and initiated the Inquisitions. There were many individual Christians who have been friends of the Jews in every era, including during the Holocaust (as the garden of the Righteous Among the Nations in the Yad Vashem testifies).

Btw, while we're dispelling bad history, let's knock down a few mythical edifaces that the neo-pagan movement is trying to build: The Inquisitions were not going after Wiccans, because Wicca didn't exist at that point. They were targeted against Christian heretics and Jews--specifically, Jews who had converted to Christianity but still retained Jewish practices. Messianics, in other words. Moreover, pagans were not more open-minded and inclusive than Christians: Pagan Romans were feeding Christians to lions for the first three centuries of the faith's existence, and pagan Vikings and Saxons were raping, pillaging, and burning Christian villages before the northmen were converted by (mostly) peaceful Christian missionaries.

Nor are pagans more open-minded today, in my experience. The Greyhawk Grognard admits to characaturing the church in his games--which is his right, but one wonders if he would appreciate a campaign in which good faux-Christian clerics went around converting blood-drinking, violent pagans who were characatured as a bunch of unthinking imbeciles who worshiped the devil himself and fed the good clerics to lions for sport.

I've got some experience with this. My old home-brew world was based heavily on Europe of the 500s, including having fallen portions of the old empire but with a strong Byzantinesque empire still running in the east. I based it heavily off of Guy Gavriel Kay's Sailing to Sarantium (which, along with its sequel, should be required reading among gamers) and the movie Excalibur, specifically on Merlin's wistful line, "The One God drives out the many gods." I didn't take a personal stance on whether this was a good thing, and on the frontiers I had numerous cults rising around a resurgence in the belief in the old gods, which I based on actual Celtic and Teutonic beliefs. Several of my players, particularly those with a pagan or pagan-sympathetic worldview, didn't like it. Word got back to me that they thought that I was trying to force my own beliefs into the campaign and on them. (One wonders how they thought that an analogue to Eastern Orthodox Christian beliefs reflected my own, other than the monotheist part . . .)

Nevertheless, this was a major part of my decision to go with the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting; as a referee, I'm here to entertain (and be entertained, of course), and if a significant number of my players feel I've erred in how much of my personal beliefs I've brought into the world, then I'm willing to make adjustments for the good of the group. I don't hand out tracts at my table (or anywhere else, come to think of it). Nor is this a tract for my particular religion; rather, it's a rambling discourse on religion and clerics in D&D in general.

There is an implied assumption by many that D&D is inherantly polytheistic and pagan. Certainly, there is some truth to this in 2nd and 3rd Edition, where one's cleric's powers are dependent on which diety they worship, but there is no reason that this has to be so. As has been documented elsewhere, the original rules implied a kind of Christianity (with "crosses" being sold instead of "holy symbols," for example), with the quasi-Christian clerics going to battle against demons drawn straight out of Judeo-Christian lore. One could also easily cast clerics in the role of mystics in tune with "the cosmos," as the Grognard does, or men supernaturally empowered by pursuit of some great cause, as the Moldavy Basic rules do. I once toyed with the idea of clerics being attuned to artifacts called Foundation Stones, which offered protection to cities from the dangerous wilderness a few miles away from their walls.

Furthermore, many D&D and other fantasy worlds assume that there is in fact a Creator that the gods are subject to: The annotated Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends indicate that Weis and Hickman intended to explore the gods relationship with the All-Father someday (before this was derailed in the abominable Dragons of Summer Flame). The Forgotten Realms has Ao (though it is stated that he's not at the top of the chain either). Middle-earth has Iluvatar. Dennis McKiernan's novels have Adon. Jordan had the Creator--and no other true gods (unless one counts the Dark One).

Likewise, many real-world religions have some acknowledgement of the Creator, even if they emphasize the worship of lesser beings: Many Native Americans will speak of the Great Spirit, as did an African ex-shaman that I heard interviewed once. The pre-Confucian Chinese religion worshipped Shang-Ti, which translates as "Emperor of Heaven," and speak of Him in terms that could have been pulled straight out of Genesis and Isaiah. Even today, Oriental peoples will speak of "the will of Heaven"--a phrase not unknown in Traditional Judaism. Hinduism ultimately looks past its pantheon for the Brahman, and though there is less in common with HaShem in the Brahman than there is in Shang-Ti, nevertheless, the search for "the One" is still present. This was true of the pre-Christian Greek and Roman philosophers as well, who had become disgusted with their adolescent super-hero gods and had been seeking in fits and spurts the truly transcendent for some centuries before the world ever heard of Yeshua HaNetzerai.

The Bible itself, while consistantly insisting that there is only One Creator and One God for Israel, is frank that there are many lesser beings (angels, demons, etc) running around, many of which will provide miracles in return for worship and sacrifice. The issue was never whether these other "gods" have a real existence, but whether they are worthy of worship in place of or even alongside the Holy One.

Given the variety of real-world religions and the imaginations of the referees and players out there, there is absolutely no reason to be locked into a "there are many gods, but each cleric only worships one--and the Creator, if He exists, doesn't interfere" paradigm for fantasy gaming.

What if the gods were clustered into particular families or "political" groupings, and clerics represented these groups rather than specific individuals?

What if there is a single Creator, but He (or She, if you insist) interacts indirectly through servitor powers just like a human king is more likely to interact with a band of footloose adventurers through his agents instead of personally? And if that's the case, is that Creator neutral, or are some of the gods fallen from their original purpose? What if the Creator went "missing" (as in Kalamar)?

What if clerics are simply mystics whose source of power is unknown, and whether there is a God or gods is just as hotly debated in the campaign world as it is in ours?

What if clerics (and possibly magic-users) get their powers from attunement to some artifact or group of artifacts rather than from sentient beings? Could such artifacts be stolen, and if so, what would happen?

What if clerics serve the Law of the Cosmos, while magic-users get their powers from Chaos?

In all cases, it is necessary to think through the implications of one's implimentation of the cleric class in the way that it will shape your world--because it will shape your world.

There is a great tendency in D&D to treat the gods as Santa's elves, the harbringers of nifty toys--er, spells--and sources of quests, but who don't really affect the rest of the culture. This is hardly surprising, since most Americans treat God the same way, but the result is an impovershed world and many missed opportunities for not only adventure, but immersion.

Take the subject of holy days, for example. Most American Christians have exactly two religious holidays, Easter and Christmas, but don't understand the symbolism behind the trappings. Most campaigns never mention holy days unless there's a plot-specific reason to do so (and then the day in question tends to be just dropped haphazardly into the calendar to fit the timing of the adventure). But to most of the world, feastdays and holy days aren't matters of commercialism and pretty lights for pretty lights' sake, but symbolic recreations of history and legend, reconfirmation of ancient pacts and covenants, and prayers-in-action for future hopes. Failure to carry out these feasts were not just lost opportunities to eat, but were (and are) believed to actually bring down the wrath of the powers ones tribe was beholden to.

Passover is coming up, so I'll use that as a personal example: As a Jew, I keep the Passover Seder every year in remembrance of how God brought my people out of slavery in Egypt as a matter of real history. As a Messianic, I keep the Passover in remembrance of Messiah's sacrifice, which also took place on that day as a matter of real history. Every year, Passover serves as a re-confirmation of the covenants made between the Holy One and Israel as well as my own personal covenants. Every element of the Seder--every food we eat, every cup of wine we drink, every action we take and word we speak--is symbolically tied to these events and covenants; there is nothing that is done "just because."

All ancient cultures have similar rituals and feasts. Men didn't sacrifice animals just because, but as a symbolic way of giving a gift to one's patron diety and/or as a way of saying, "I know I've sinned; take this animal's life in my place." When aboriginal cultures put on masks and paint themselves, it's not for cosplay, but to act out the legends of their people and actively put on the personna of the gods to do so, letting the gods enter into them so that they became temporary incarnations of them. When the Celts put out food on Samhain, it wasn't as gifts to children, but to placate the ancestral spirits they believed roamed free on that night (a similar practice of offering food to ancestral shrines continues to this day in the Far East). Even activities that we in the modern world think of as being purely secular, like prostitution, had a religious meaning: The prostitutes were priests and priestesses, or temple servants at the least, and having sex with them was considered to be a ritual way of having sex with the gods.

The upshot of all of the above is that in every era except for the last two centuries, and even today in most places in the world, religion and culture cannot be separated. And if they can't be separated in the "real" world, where what magic there is is so subtle as to be completely missed by those who aren't looking for it, what chance is there for a secular society in a fantasy world where prayers seal up ghastly wounds and wizards hurl fireballs at their enemies?

I've previously written about how pleased I am at Kingdoms of Kalamar's approach to religion, giving us just enough details about the worship of its various gods to let us quickly construct some local flavor just by seeing who is worshipped thereabouts. The Player's Guide gives additional details about the holy texts each "church" uses. The trick is to insert these details in such a way as to interest players rather than have them rolling their eyes and tuning out. A quick write-up, no more than a few paragraphs (like in the linked post) may prove of interest; setting adventures on certain holy days and using them as backdrop is also a good idea (e.g., the PCs are commissioned by a town to bring them amber from the Urgoth Hills in preparation for the summer solstice ceremonies). Maybe there is a ceremony that nobody remembers the symbolism behind that some curious players might dig into (which I also gave an example of).

PCs should not be forced to participate in religious rituals--but they should know that other characters in the world do, and the better players will get right into the action for the fun of it.

In the end, a world with verifiable miracles should not be a world in which the gods exist only to give spells to clerics, like some etherial Santa Claus being asked for a pony. It should be a world in which the gods influence the culture--yet always in the background of the actual game action, or as hooks for future adventures.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Way of Peace: A Cleric Variant

Since I'm trying to keep to the "basic four" character classes, I'm also working on "variant" rules for each; basically, small changes in each class that can be taken to give them each their own twist, or even take on the characteristics of the sub-classes in AD&D. I've started with backgrounds and skills that can, for example, let a fighting-man take on the role of a ranger. Here are my rules for a non-combat oriented cleric:

The Way of Peace: A Cleric can choose to forego shields and metal armor and weapons (i.e. restricting themselves to leather and hide armor and clubs, staves, and slings) in return for increased magical ability. This option may be taken at any time, but once chosen cannot be reversed unless the Cleric falls into the Dark path. The Cleric undertaking the Way of Peace receives the following benefits:
  • Casts spells at one level higher than normal; i.e. a 1st level Cleric who follows the Way can cast one 1st level spell per day.
  • Receives his Wisdom modifier to his armor class in addition to his Dexterity modifier.
  • Can do 1d4 + Sm subdual damage with an unarmed strike, and does not cede initiative to an armed opponent when using an unarmed strike. (Dark Clerics who once followed the Way can do normal damage instead of subdual damage when fighting bare-handed.)
"The Way of Peace" may not be the best name for this variant, since it also gives the cleric some martial arts ability--perhaps "Mystic" would be the better name.

Next up, a shaman variant.