Friday, February 15, 2019

Why Class

Wednesday's post about "team building" in a supers RPG mentioned Dungeons & Dragons as a "successful concept" because it forces players to cooperate based on its design choice of including character classifications ("class"); my point being that A) because classes have different strengths/limitations, then clearly B) players must work together to be successful (supplementing each others' limitations with their strengths).

However, Alexis over at the Tao (smart cookie that he is) was more than happy to poke holes in this idea, pointing out that (for example) an additional fighter, especially in early edition D&D, is going to absorb far more damage than a cleric (in place of said fighter) is going to be able to heal. Specific classes aren't inherently "more necessary" to a party than another type of character, unless a DM is specifically crafting challenges that REQUIRE some particular class's power set...and clearly this was never a design choice as the vast repertoire of character classes in the game have only appeared over time.

Alexis fails to mention another truth that points out the lie of my original statement: nothing in the game rules requires players to select a certain variety of classes. If all your B/X players roll high Intelligence scores, they might ALL choose to play magic-users (if they want). Likewise, if all your 5th edition players want to play dragonborn druids (*gag*), I don't see anything in the new PHB that prevents them from doing so. 

And that's fine! In a sandbox-y campaign, players can (and should) seek out adventures they appear capable of tackling (in one of the last games I ran, my players chose to deliberately leave and avoid a carefully constructed three-level necropolis because they felt it had too many undead and they were too light on clerical power)...and even in one-off, episodic adventures, it's presumed that characters can employ henchmen and hirelings to fill out missing skill-sets. 

So, then...why have classes? Just because they allow players to do the same things (kill monsters, loot treasure) in different, interesting ways? Just to give DMs excuses to throw different types of challenges at the players (undead, traps, magical obstacles, etc.) that add variety to an otherwise dull slog through a goblin-infested hole in the ground? Just so players (and DMs) can easily pigeon-hole each character's particular job/role in the game?

I've been thinking about it a lot over the last 24 hours, and I think there are a couple-three main reasons for using classes:

Classes are Expedient: a player rolls up their ability scores and chooses a class. A class provides a certain skill set (not to be confused with "skill systems!"), without too much thought being needed. Fighters wear armor and use weapons. Magic-users have no armor but get spells. Clerics get a little of both. Species (dwarf, elf, halfling) modifies these basics somewhat. Go!

You could have a chargen system that allows/requires players to build characters from a number of different "building blocks:" skills known, talents possessed, equipment desired (as opposed to proscribed). Lots of fantasy RPGs do this: Chaosium's various BRP systems, The Riddle of Steel, and Ars Magica all come to mind immediately. For players who have strong "character concepts" and love micro-managing point-buy systems, this works well (I guess). But it's not easy or expedient...especially for new players. Especially for people who just want to sit down and play the frigging game already. Some people like screwing around with GURPS or HERO System, spending whole sessions to create their perfect snowflake. Other people just want to get going.

From Moldvay
Classes are Recognizable: most classes tend to be "archetypal," based on tropes people are familiar with. Knights. Wizards. Skulky, stealthy types. Etc. The little bits and pieces add nuance (paladins as saintly warriors, for example), but the basics of a class are easily least in older editions of Dungeons & Dragons (can the average person grasp the difference between a warlock, sorcerer, and wizard without reading the page-long class descriptions? Probably not). While the set "power suite" of each class offers expedience of getting to actual play, using recognizable tropes helps players (easily, expediently) decide which direction they wish to go when building their character and gives them some idea of how their character will function within the game (based on established stereotypes)...assuming the skill set of the class matches the stereotype (as they generally do in early editions). 

Classes are Distinct: for the most part character classes do operate in distinctly different ways from each other. Yes, they all have hit points, saving throws, etc. But their unique abilities (a spell list, suite of "thief skills," full access to the game's arms and armor, etc.) gives players VARIETY in how they choose to interact with the fantasy game world. "I want to be an archer, like Robin Hood." "I want to be crafty and magical like Morgan Le Fay." Whatever floats your particular boat, there's probably a way to get to it (or close to it) using the class system...and because different players have different likes and interests, you need the variety to accommodate them. If everyone wants to play a wizard, maybe Ars Magica is a better game for you. If everyone wants to be a Pini-esque elf, maybe you should look at the ElfQuest RPG. But if you've got a grab-bag of personalities at your game table (as most of us do), having a number of different options from which players can choose is exactly what your game needs.

And that's about it. Those are the main arguments I can think of for having a class-based system, and they are linked to the fact that D&D is (I believe) supposed to be a fast-paced, fantasy adventure game. For this type of RPG (there are other types of RPG, offering their own brand of enjoyment) having an expedient system of distinct, recognizable options for play is exactly what's needed to get players up and running and adventuring. That's what the players want, right? I mean, isn't that the reason they're coming to play D&D?

But lest you think the inclusion of a class system is solely for the players' benefit, keep in mind the boon such a system is to the Dungeon Master. How much time goes un-wasted when it comes to character creation? How much less time is required to explain recognizable tropes to players? How much easier is it for a DM to understand and help her players get the desired type of game play with the availability of classes at hand?

With a class system, it is dead simple to get your players settled and ready to play. After having players roll ability scores and selecting a class, what's left to explain? Attack rolls, saving throws, hit points, and alignment? Anything else? Buy some equipment (a list which is cut-down based on the character's class limitations). Pick a spell or two (maybe). Explain how experience points and level works, I suppose...though even the newest of newbies quickly grasps that "treasure is good...dying is bad," yeah?  You're off to the races...and that's thanks in large part to having a class system.

There's a follow-up post that I want to get to on this subject, but it's going to have to wait till tomorrow (or later). Folks wishing to voice their own thoughts on why (or why not) to include classes in a fantasy RPG are welcome to leave comments's quite possible I've missed something blatantly obvious.

[hmm...I'm not sure I've ever written a blog post with so many "?s" in it. Usually, I try to stay away from rhetorical questions...but maybe the whole question of "why class" is kind of rhetorical]

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Team Building

"Snowmageddon" appears to be winding down here in Seattle (at least in my neighborhood) and I've already been informed the schools will be open at the regular time tomorrow.

In the meantime, though, it's still All Day Kid Play at my house. Which mean (fun as that is), writing time is scarce. I'm stealing a few minutes right now while they eat soup and watch Johnny Quest.

[really need to get around to writing my thoughts on JQ one of these days. Add that to "the list"]

Once again I'm thinking about Heroes Unlimited (the original edition) and how I might adapt/repurpose the thing to my own tastes. Part of this has to do with being snowbound with the kids...been watching shows like 3 Below and Carmen SanDiego and getting a bit inspired (though the latter also makes me want to dig out Top Secret, I watched the former first, and it's definitely put me in an HU state of mind). Part of it is seeing trailers for things like Shazam and Captain Marvel. Part of it is the kids themselves: my boy keeps asking me "Why don't you design a superhero game we can play?"


And part of it is seeing other designers tackle superhero gaming. Ron Edwards has been doing his own "retro" stuff lately as he tinkers with early edition Champions (his equivalent of my B/X fixation), trying to incorporate his decades of experience with gaming, comics, and theory-bashing. This recent post of Edwards, Venn diagramming various super groups really got the gears in my head spinning, especially as I was already considering certain CDF mechanics would fit far better in a hero-type game than in a fantasy cyberpunk RPG.

What mechanics you ask? Well, individual rewards (tied to advancement) that provide players with the choice to either A) increase their own effectiveness, or B) improve the team's abilities. It's a holdover from when I was re-writing CDF as a post-apocalyptic "tribe building" game (yes, I know that probably sounds a little didn't really work and is one of the reasons the thing was back-burnered so long, as well as one of the reasons I went back to its original design concept).

But while building one's tribe/family doesn't really work in a game about shadowy mercenaries doing dirty jobs in the grim-dark future, it's not a bad idea for a game that centers around the superhero team.

Here's the thing: if we look at D&D as a "successful" concept in tabletop RPGs, we can see that at least part of its appeal is how it draws the party together in cooperation for a common objective. And the way it does this is pretty darn simple: while there is "strength in numbers" (to spread the attrition around), the limitations of each individual class (or, in the positive, the powers and capabilities of each class) provides an incentive to work together to solve the conflicts and problems being thrown at the PCs in their quest for treasure. Mechanically, they're semi-forced to get along with each other, because survival...and success...becomes much more difficult without cooperation.

This concept isn't as effective, or compelling, in the superhero genre. Supers tend to be fairly capable individuals, able to handle whole swaths of mooks and villains on their own, only being held back by individual flaws (the elderly aunt or significant other that needs to protected, the power limitation against kryptonite or the color yellow, or whatever)...flaws that, more often than not, completely eliminate the character's effectiveness or ability to affect the in-game fiction in an effective fashion.

But for a team of heroes, such flaws rarely come up, because it would tend to throw one hero under the bus while her teammates heroically soldier on. Instead, the tendency is to simply throw one Giant Big Bad Threat at the team that requires the full might of the team to overcome: an Uber-Villain or a Villain Team (one foe for each hero!) or a Humongous Natural Disaster. Which, for me, gets old after a while.

Which is one of the reasons I keep looking at 1st edition HU. I like the idea of reducing the effectiveness of the PCs from the get-go, in part to give them MORE reason to rely on each other, and in part to open up a larger gambit of threats and challenges. But rather than simply allowing weak-ass beginning characters to "level up" over time, growing in power and effectiveness into Justice Leaguers, I'd like to see a way for characters to become more effective as a team over time...becoming more effective for their greater cooperation and ability to work together...becoming stronger as they develop stronger relationships within the group dynamic of the hero team.

This might be a little different from the approach of other "hero team" concepts. At least, it seems different to me; I don't usually see newly-formed teams stepping on each other's toes or having trouble coordinating their efforts in the field (their interpersonal relationships are, perhaps, another matter). Maybe you have a sidekick screwing up his mentor's activities (a way of giving the mentor additional challenge and providing the apprentice with a "teaching moment"), but in a "group of equals" it's rare that there's any significant time spent "team building" with the exception of young student types (the early X-Men, New Mutants, etc.).

Thing is, I don't want to run "hero school" for teenagers. I want a variety of different power types (hi-tech wonders, chemical spill mutations, aliens, etc.) brought together in the typical (for comics) paramilitary fashion (i.e. as an elite, supers-fighting task force) but without any kind of formal training...because there's nothing "formal" or "traditional" when it comes to supers of various different powers. Each super is unique; each group will need to find their own method of working together. Each team will have their own group dynamics born of differing personalities (often determined by how an individual hero reacts to the presence and effect of her own power set). Any "training" they receive is going to have to be "on the job;" I don't want any kind of alien tech created Danger Room.

[as an aside: has the Danger Room ever appeared in any of the various X-Man movies? I remember Cerebro being in the earlier films, but I stopped watching them a few years back]

Anyhoo...that's what I'm thinking about today. While I wait for the snow to finish melting.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Cold, Cold Dead

Snowmageddon Dos. This time, we have about six inches of snow, which is much more like the snowfalls I remember of my youth. Once the kids get up, I'm sure they're going to want to do a little sledding in the park. I'm just glad it's a Mexican wife gets as giddy over snow as any eight year old, and I'm sure she'll to want to play, too.

Me? Well, I'm not so enthused. "Brrrr" is the thought that comes to mind as I look out the window, sipping reheated coffee in the early morning hours. Pretty to look at, sure. But it's nice and warm in here. Glad I don't have any reason to drive in it.
Outside my window.
I'm sorry, I was going to write some more cleric-related posts ...actually, I wanted to get back to posting some undead musings and mods for B/X, like that mummy post I did the other day. Thing is, the snow kind of sucks the air out of my sails. It's not just that I'm driven to distraction by the need to mention it (or my feelings on it), but I don't really like mixing my undead with my snow fascination. Necromancy just isn't something I associate with an arctic climate.

Weird? Yeah, probably. I have done "dead in the snow" themed monsters and adventures before. Snow mummies, for example...they're a "new monster" that appear in my adventure module BXC1: In the Realm of the Goblin Queen. That whole thing is a set in a snow-filled pocket dimension...had to find some way of incorporating an undead or two. Hmmm...maybe I should get around to finishing that one up and publishing it.

[one more project to add to the list this month]

Yes, yes...most everyone loves Game of Thrones with its frozen undead ("the white walkers") and impending Death Frost Doom, zombie apocalypse plot arc. Me, too (do I really have to wait till April for the last season? Jeez!). But the thought of least in terms of D&D...leaves me a little, um, cold.

First off, there's the whole "creep factor" that comes with undead...for me, it just doesn't mesh well. Undead are these unholy things that lurk in half-buried tombs and forgotten caves, sneaking silently through the darkness, ready to catch you up in a cold, clammy dead grip, possibly chilling your soul (in the case of energy drain attacks) .

But everything is cold and clammy in a frozen environment. Everything scary is going to emerge from the dark in an endless winter or blizzard-swept setting. Everything is going to be creeping silently when you can't hear over the howling wind. In any snowy fantasy, it just ends up doubling up all the creepy strengths the undead already possesses...and to me, that's as ridiculous as shouting "More cowbell!" Give me a break. Undead already have a scare factor of ten...but undead in winter go up to eleven, right?

It's overkill. I prefer fur-wrapped goblins or axe-wielding savages to emerge from the snows. Hell, just give me a pack of hungry wolves (dire or not). Give me something that's going to eat the party (because it's cold and food is scarce)...not something that's going to "freeze them with fear." It's already freezing outside.

And then there's the whole (imaginary) visuals...undead just don't juxtapose well with a snowy landscape. If it's a sunny day, a field of snow and ice is bright. You can't chase a party with a group black-cowled Nazgul across something like that! You need a polar bear...or some sort of fantasy war-sledge driven by ice bandits or whatnot.

And wouldn't bone-chilling cold and snow (factors that already slow movement) grind a zombie march to a halt? Could a skeleton even wade through deep snow? How?

Can you see a wraith in a snow flurry? I don't think so. And an encounter with an invisible wraith is the kind of thing that makes players want to lynch me on that.

No, I just can't say I'm a fan of the concept. A snowy scene outside my window does NOT inspire me to write about undead, unfortunately...I need dry, sandy tombs or humid, disease-ridden swamps or creepy, mist-soaked graveyards. Snow-covered landscapes make me think of hot cocoa and jingle bells...or the jingle of mail and war harness on a gang of axe-swinging Vikings. Not the undead.

So...sorry about that. Hopefully, Seattle will be thawed out by next week and I'll be able to get back to my thoughts on the undead (including how to use them in a world without clerics). Just not today. There's simply too much white outside. And I should probably do some stretching before the snowball fight that'll inevitably occur sometime this morning.

Tell you what: I'll cut-n-paste the snow mummy entry for you. Feel free to add it to your campaigns this winter (or whenever). Later, skaters.
: )

Snow Mummy*

Armor Class: 2                                       No. Appearing: 1-4 (1-4)
Hit Dice: 7+2*                                       Save As: Fighter 7
Move: 60’ (20’)                                      Morale: 12
Attacks: 1                                               Treasure Type: E x2
Damage: 2-16 + cold                             Alignment: Chaotic

Snow mummies are a form of undead found only in Snowfell and other cold regions…they are created using an unusual form of mummy preparation before being stored in ice. Often created to act as un-dying guardians, snow mummies have all the usual mummy immunities, as well as being immune to both cold and fire. They do not cause disease but are freezing to the touch, causing an additional D8 damage to anyone not protected against cold. In addition, anyone hit by a snow mummy must save versus paralysis or be chilled, suffering a -2 penalty on to hit rolls and initiative and only moving at half speed. The effects of chill can be removed by the use of a restoration spell or spending 1 turn bundled up in front of a roaring fire.

[ it's more like eight inches of snow]

Friday, February 8, 2019

Howardian Healing

I was re-listening Dan and Paul's livecast about clerics while I was out driving today because...well, football season is over (and the regular news is depressing) and I'd finished all their other recordings

[and, yes, I'm a big geek. Thanks]

...AND I was listening again to their complaints about the cleric class that I mentioned a couple days back and they did have this solid one about "siloing" healing magic in a single class. Part of Delta's reasoning for chopping the cleric class and making healing potions common and readily accessible is to take the onus off a single (or pair) of party members being responsible for the "medic" role. Instead, everyone has their own responsibility for their health.

[ if they didn't already. Risk-reward, people]

*AHEM*  Anyhoo, it occurred to me that even though my re-skinning of the clerics as bards and witches might give you the same spell suite in a more palatable package (my main reason for doing it), you still have that "onerous burden" of one person being called on to bandage the aches and pains of the team.

Which isn't a terrible thing, by the way...I mean, everyone has some role in a party (Do fighters complain about being meat shields? Do wizards whine about being the artillery?), and a cleric is no different. Some folks even get off on the position...I mean, they relish being relied on to patch up the group's hurts. Personally, I always had fun with it (the couple-three times I played a cleric)...though I also just enjoyed being The Hammer of God (B/X clerics having the same potential in melee as a fighter).

But it's still putting all your healing eggs in one basket. The cleric's supposed to be responsible for caring for the physical well-being of the party (in a game where hit point attrition is the main source of "resource management"). Party health (HPs) is the fuel that lets the players drive. If the one "pumping station" (the cleric) goes down, it's only a matter of time before you're out of gas.

Thinking about this, I was reminded of those old TSR modules adapting Bob Howard's "Hyborean Age" to AD&D...Conan Unchained and its ilk (the "CB" series). I've only ever owned CB2: Conan Against Darkness, but I definitely read through the others, including Red Sonja Unconquered, and they all have the same basic rules relating to the Hybrid setting: lack of demihumans, lack of "artillery-type" magic spells (fireballs and such), lack of heavy armor (it's present but uber-expensive), and, of course, lack of clerics and healing magic.

The rules provide a couple things to offset the absence of clerics, the first being an (unknown) number of "Luck Points." These don't heal a person; instead they're used to do thinks like make an extra attack, or automatically hit, of knock someone out, or spring away from a trap in the nick of time, etc. Luck's purpose is to aid the character in the adventure so the character quickly progresses before attrition sets in...and luck always runs out (eventually).

The other rule is a more straightforward offset: characters heal faster than normal. All Hyborian characters heal one hit point per day, whether they're resting or not, and they heal half their Constitution per day (rounded down), when they actually take the time to rest.

Considering that most of the pre-gen characters have high (14+) scores in Constitution, that's quite a bit. Conan has an 18 Constitution (duh) and can heal his 100 hit points in less than two weeks. Most of these characters can go from zero to full in 10 days; that's pretty darn rapid considering the amount of punishment needed to take them to 'death's door.'

But in retrospect, I'd say the main reason this works is because these modules are designed for high level characters, and all the pre-gens have a ton of hit points. If you were running low level characters, this would seem supernaturally rapid...1st level characters would hop up after a day or two of resting with nary a scratch, regardless of the clubbing an ogre had given them the day before. To me, that's a little too close to "long rests" and "healing surges" for my taste.

However, for folks who simply want to supplement character healing such that the players are not entirely reliant on the party healer, it's not a bad start (better than stashing healing potions all over the setting like a video game, IMO). Here's how I'd modify it:

  • Characters heal one hit point per day, regardless of rest
  • Characters at rest (in comfortable surroundings, not on an adventure) regain one-half their level in hit points per day, rounded up. The number of hit points gained per day may not exceed the one-half the character's Constitution score.
  • Characters at rest and being ministered by trained healers (as defined by your campaign: could be the House of Elrond, a temple of pacifist priests, or some roadside witch) regains hit points equal to their level; such places should generally have a price associated with their use. Again, the hit points regained may not exceed one-half the character's Constitution score.

This should still allow some fairly rapid recovery. I would only institute these rules in a game where access to healing magic was limited or restricted.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Re-Skinning Clerics (B/X)

And hot on the heels of my last post...

Folks who dig hard on the sword & sorcery fiction that inspired Dungeons & Dragons sometimes have difficulty reconciling the (largely based on) Judeo-Christian cleric class. Over the years, a common solution to "the cleric issue" has been to drop the class from the game. While some have rolled the cleric's spell list into that of the magic-user (giving wizards a kind of "white magic" option), others have simply removed all that healing magic from the game...which isn't a terrible idea if you like a more grim and gritty form of D&D (make sure to have plagues break out regularly and give PCs a chance of contracting tetanus or bad infections from their wounds!).

For those who'd like a third that A) doesn't lose the spells, yet B) doesn't pull priests out of their temple, soiling their vestments in dank, dirty dungeons...I offer the following, fairly easy re-skins of the class:


Bards are wandering minstrels. One day may find them singing for royalty and the next find them on the street busking for enough coin to eat. Bards pick up many tales and rumors in their travels, and their music can produce magical effects.

The prime requisite of bards is Wisdom. A bard with a 13 or more in Wisdom adds +5% to earned experience; a bard with 16 or better in Wisdom adds +10%.

RESTRICTIONS: Bards roll six-sided dice (d6) for hit points, adding the +1 HP per level after 9th level. They can use any weapon and wear any armor except plate mail; bards do not use shields. They use the same experience, attack, and saving throw charts as a cleric of equal level. All bards must possess a stringed instrument such as a harp, lute, or mandolin (cost: 25 gold pieces); without such an instrument, bards cannot perform magic.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Bards learns spells as a cleric of the same level; all spells must be chosen from the clerical spell list. Each bard spell is a song; to cast the spell a bard must have both hands free to play her instrument, and must be able to sing. All bards have the ability to sing for their supper, earning 1d6 gold pieces per day playing in town (the coins they receive may include silver and copper). Bards have a 25% chance to know a useful rumor or legend about any place or dungeon they visit, and a 10% to identify any permanent magic item they come across.

Bards never build strongholds or acquire apprentices; however, bards are welcome to the hospitality of any household of noble rank after sundown, provided the host does not already have suitable entertainment for the evening.


Witches are practitioners of low magic, a humbler form of spell craft than the more flashy sorcery practiced by magic-users. Sometimes called "wise women" or "hedge wizards," most witches come from humble origins and focus on magic helpful to the common villager: healing, protection charms, spells to preserve food or combat the elements. Even so, many face prejudice and persecution by the superstitious, and choose solitude (or practice in secrecy) to protect themselves from the very people they could otherwise help.

A witch's prime requisite is Wisdom. A witch with a 13 or more in Wisdom adds +5% to earned experience; a 16 or better Wisdom adds +10%.

RESTRICTIONS: Witches roll six-sided dice (d6) for hit points, adding the +1 HP per level after 9th level. They face the same armor and weapon restrictions as a magic-user, but advance as a cleric and use the same attack and saving throw charts as a cleric of equal level.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Witches cast the same number and level of spells as a cleric of the same level. Unlike clerics, witches do not have free access to the spell list but are instead limited to the spells they actually know, which are learned in the same way as a magic-user (being taught or else acquired through spell research). The spells available to a witch are the same as those found on the cleric spell list (including all reversed spells), plus the following:

1st: Spoil Food and Water (reverse of Purify Food 
    and Water)
2nd: Charm Person, Phantasmal Force, Sleep
3rd: Fly
4th: Charm Monster, Polymorph Other, Polymorph Self
5th: Animate Dead, Magic Jar

Witches perform spell research as a magic-user and may also create magic items after reaching 9th level. A witch of any level may brew magic potions (with the usual time and cost for creating magic items), so long as the potion's effect is equivalent to a spell the witch already knows. Witches are masters of herb lore and healing and can create poultices for treating wounded characters (cure 1d4 hit points of damage) at a cost of 25 gold pieces per dose; such a poultice may only be administered once (when a character is first wounded), and will have no further effect until the character has a chance to heal fully through normal rest and recuperation.

A witch may build a home or stronghold whenever she has the money to do so. A witch of Name (9th) level that has settled in place will attract 2d6 1st level acolytes seeking to form a coven under the matriarch's guidance and leadership.

[okay, I have to say it: this may be my favorite version of all the "witch" classes I've created over the years. I'm tempted to throw it into my own B/X games in place of clerics!]
; )

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Making Clerics Work

The last couple days have been "Snowmageddon" up here in Seattle. Not really an issue (I've got four wheel drive these days, even if I wanted to go somewhere...and who needs to when the supermarket is across the street from my house?), but my kids have been out of school. Which is fun but means I've been "on duty" for four straight days without a break.

I hate this. I hate resenting my family, who I love. But my wife gets home from work and she wants my attention even (or especially) after the kids have gone to bed. Damn it, I need some time to myself! And sleep...some time.


Mainly, I just want to get back to my writing. Been working on putting Cry Dark Future together. It's been slow going, but it IS coming together...finally. Was working on it last week (till Thursday...Fridays are the wife's day off and, as said, she wants/needs some attention). Now, well, hopefully I'll have a couple hours tomorrow....literally. As of now, I know the school's going to be two hours late, which means I'll have from 10:30 till 12:30 to write before my preschooler needs to be picked up.

ANYWAY...while staying up too late last night (folding laundry), I got the chance to listen to Delta's most recent "livecast" video with the Wandering DM. I found myself (in my usual fugue state), nodding along with their ideas of chopping the cleric class from their D&D game, quickly eliminating (in true Gordian Knot fashion) all the multitude of issues associated with the class.

[if you' this moment...saying, "what issues?" then you might want to go check out the video. They do a good job explaining]

[jeez...while I'm taking a few minutes to type this up, my wife is in the other room watching CNN with the children, explaining what the State of the Union address is. My kids are eight and four. We are such crazy parents]

Anyway (did I already say that?) I was trying to drift off to sleep, sometime after midnight, I found myself thinking of all the ways to answer those clerical "problems" without cutting the class from the game. Despite the spinning wheels preventing my rest, I have to say I really appreciated my brain's efforts because I LIKE having clerics in my games (for lots of reasons), and I think it's easier to make minor tweaks that deal with the problematic aspects than defaulting to a "nuclear option."

And because I've been neglecting

[...whoops! Duty calls!]

[many hours later]

...because I've been neglecting my blog readers, I figured I'd share some of MY answers to the problematic parts of clerics.

Wizard or Evil High Priest
(or both)?
1) Sword & Sorcery world VS. Catholic Crusaders: this is an old complaint. D&D is an adventure game largely inspired by fiction based on the pre- (or non-) Christian worlds of Howard, Leiber, etc. yet features a class whose abilities are based off Christian scripture and (Christian) horror fiction. How do you reconcile a monotheistic theology in a polytheistic cosmology? The short answer is: you don't. Keep your Christian pantheon (or fantasy/fictional equivalent) and spurn the other pantheons (whether demonic, Norse, Mesoamerican, or whatever) completely. All "true" clerics worship (and gain spells/abilities) from the "one, true God" though different sects/religions might call that deity by different names (Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, etc.). Priests of "false gods" belong to other classes (magic-users or fighters most likely, depending on the emphasis of their training)...or are simply clerics that lack spell-casting ability.  In a world like Lankhmar or Aspirin's Thieves World where filthy, crowded cities have whole districts of temples and shrines, you (the DM) will need to determine which ones belong to a "true faith," which ones are demon-worshipping sorcerers, and which are simple hucksters of false gods. They don't all have to be "clerics."

2) Clerics ever-expanding spell list: another old complaint...every time a new clerical spell gets added, all clerics become more powerful (because clerics have access to every spell, unlike wizards). The easiest fix is to treat clerical magic as spells: each spell is a prayer that must be learned just like a wizard's spell formula, limiting clerics to a finite number of spells. This allows clerical spell research (not to mention clerical spell scrolls) to make sense. "But if cleric magic is just another type of spell, why are the spell lists different from a magic-user's?" For the same reason illusionists have a different list...or druids. They are simply different types of magic.

3) The importance of healing (and clerics' healing ability) forcing the class into the role of "medic": I have to say Delta's idea of simply populating his campaign with easily found healing potions really bugs me. First off, OD&D specifically limited spell use to one use of each spell per day (page 19 of Men & Magic), so for folks basing their game on the LBBs, there should be no issue with "lack of variety" of cleric magic (you can't use cure light wounds more than once per day anyway). Another idea I've used before (in Five Ancient Kingdoms) was to limit clerical healing to adventures only: as God-granted miracles, healing magic (or any type of clerical spells) are unavailable between adventures (i.e. "back in town"), instead only being granted when out on an expedition. Clerical magic is a plea of desperation for divine intercession when facing incredible danger...not some trip to the fantasy spa for a little R&R. Make characters heal the "old fashion way" (bed rest and chicken soup) once they've left the dungeon.

4) "Weaponized" clerical magic: have to say I agree that I hate the idea of using clerical spells like light and silence in an offensive capacity (to blind an opponent or neutralize spell-casters); even B/X does this, which just isn't right (permanently blind someone with a targeted continual light? This should be the purview of the curse spell). The easiest fix here is (again) to go back to OD&D where there are no such use of these helpful spells (neither light nor continual light allowed targeting of opponents' eyes, and silence 15' radius was used to "move with no sound" or to silence "an object or thing" not an enemy spell-caster...see Greyhawk, page 30).

5) Providing parties with a "too easy" method of neutralizing undead: this is only an issue if you allow multiple turning attempts against the same opponent in a single encounter (I don't) and/or you're using undead in singular numbers like some cinematic horror antagonist. Mummies (as tomb guardians) should be buried in numbers, vampires should have their "spawn" with them (brides of Dracula?), and Ring-Wraiths (i.e. "specters") always travel in packs. Against multiples of undead a cleric is going to have a much lesser effect, given that no more than one 7 HD vampire can ever be turned/destroyed, even by a cleric of level 11+ (since a successful result only affects 2d6 hit dice of undead).

Drac and "Friends"
Oh, wait...I see this is a case where B/X is actually more limiting than OD&D (in OD&D clerical turning affects a number of undead equal to 2d6). Okay, so the fix here is use the B/X system instead of OD&D...and then make sure your undead are found in numbers greater than one. At least, the undead that you don't want to see turned/destroyed. One of the methods a B/X party has to overcome monsters is breaking their morale; the undead's fearlessness in this regard (which makes them even more dangerous than their special abilities) is offset by the cleric's ability to drive them away. I don't particularly mind that myself.

[okay, I ended up writing most of this post Wednesday morning. Sorry for the delay]

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Harder Than I Figured

Yesterday, I started on some of the re-writes I talked about for Cry Dark Future. It was some slow going...I mean, really REALLY slow. By the end of my time in front of the Word doc, I had a few more than 600 words. I knock out blog posts longer than that in a fraction of the time. True, my blog isn't carefully crafted design or incredibly accurate grammatically or anything, but still...I'm talking first draft here. And a first draft of "easy" material at that!

[to be fair, I was a bit distracted yesterday by the whole Howard Schultz meltdown that's been going down locally. People outside of the Northwest might think it's "interesting" to have a coffee magnate billionaire as a possible presidential candidate (or "crazy" considering he has no public service experience or "selfish" considering his stated desire to run as an Independent). People around my neck of the woods, OTOH, are losing their shit due to Schultz being a reviled persona non grata for his role in costing Seattle the Supersonics. As one local radio pointed out, "Ken Behring tried to tank the Seahawks and move them to Anaheim, even hiring a general manager later accused of murdering someone with a crossbow, and HE's not as hated as Schultz." Now, I happen to have info (and on fairly good authority) that Mr. Schultz is actually a kind and decent human being, but I'll be surprised if he goes through with a presidential bid, considering the difficulty he'd have even winning in his (adopted) home state...and Oklahoma only has half the electoral votes Washington does]

Still, the more I peck away at the thing, the quicker the molasses seems to to flow. It's just been a while since I've actually done this kind of thing (working with B/X, writing rules in this format, getting this type of design into my "headspace," etc.). I'm a little leery about the magic system, as there are still a couple issues I haven't yet solved...though it turns out I already got the spell lists written a few years back (when I was re-writing the game as a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting), so that's not an issue. But...well, one thing at a time.

Anyway, I'm working. I'm writing. I really am. I'll throw an update up here by the end of the day, just to give folks an idea of the, uh, progress. At least, I'm (mostly) over my cold, but I'm still tired...went to bed earlier than normal and still slept in. Ah, well: baby steps.