Monday, May 24, 2010

Somewhere In Virginia...

Thanks to everyone that got back to me on yesterday's Animate Dead questions. I'm one of those fanatical researcher types that (if I were home and not on the road) would be pawing through my various stale tomes, looking for my own answers prior to posting. It's a bit frustrating to be out of my "library."

On the other hand, I do have a gorgeous view from the new resort/hotel window. Lot o green on that golf course!
: )

Anyway, I've got maybe an hour before I need to find a cab to my next "port of call" (another hour on the road...what is it with all these places being so spread out. Isolated communities? Reminds me of a Post-Apocalyptic novel...but with more strip malls), SO I figured I'd take a few minutes to explain exactly what's going on.

Last minute changes to the B/X Companion, that's what.

Fortunately all complete at this point. I explained much, much earlier that in writing the final expansion rules to the Basic and Expert sets I wanted to extrapolate on all the "hints" and "promises" scattered throughout the first two sets. However, at the same time, I didn't want to limit things to simply "how Gygax did it" as I find many of the goodies of AD&D to be very setting specific to Greyhawk and Gary's personal campaign.

Let's look at the spell section, for example. As with the original Moldvay/Cook/Marsh paradigm (and unlike Labyrinth Lord), I retained the standard count of 12 and 8 spells per level (for magic-users and clerics, respectively). However, these spells do NOT include Leomund this or Mordenkainen that, but were more generic. Also, while some of these may be generic versions of well-known spells (similar to what Mentzer did with his high level spells), others are completely outside of the known lists and/or function very different from similar (already published) spells.

ALL are designed to work in the prototypical Vancian style characteristic of B/X spell use...that is, even the most powerful spells require no more time to cast (or special material components) than any simple 1st level spell. You won't find any cacodaemon spell that requires hours of casting time...if a spell summons a monster, the monster simply appears with the wizard's phrase of power! Summon efreeti (a spell suggested by the text on page X31 of the Cook/Marsh rules) is one such spell.

Furthermore, with the exception of dispel magic, I originally had NO over-lap in spells between the magic-user and cleric list. The lists are so short (108 magic-user spells, 56 clerical spells) that I really didn't want to waste slots duplicating effects...besides, I see clerical and wizardly magic to be two very distinct and separate types.

This is all preamble to explaining that originally I left animate dead off the clerical list completely.

That's been rectified due to the following passages:

From page B42:

Animated skeletons are undead creatures often found near graveyards, dungeons, or other deserted places. They are used as guards by the high level magic-user or cleric who animated them.

From page B44:

Zombies are undead humans or demi-humans animated by some evil cleric or magic-user.

Leaving animate dead off the clerical spell list was thus a gross oversight on my part.

Fortunately, I had a spell on the clerical list that was dying to be cut anyway, and adding animate dead wasn't a problem space/editing-wise. The MAIN challenge for me though, is one of CONCEPT. Specifically clerical concept.

Fact o the matter is, the cleric at base is kind of a combo-templar/witch-hunter/paladin/undead slayer kind of archetype. Yes, yes...everyone uses the cleric as our favorite pagan priest also (whether they are high priests of Thor or spear carriers of Athena), but that's not how the class originated. Regardless of what they are thought of NOW, originally the cleric concept was simply a priest/champion of Light or (if Chaotic) of Darkness. THAT is the basic archetype of the class.

Which is great...until you start looking at "Animate Dead" as a basic spell of the class.

From page B11:

Lawful behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called "good." ...Chaotic behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called "evil."

From page X11:

Reversed Clerical Spells. Clerics can reverse a spell simply by reversing the required words and hand gestures. However, using reversed spells is looked upon with disfavor by the powers the cleric serves, and may result in penalties (or even an alignment change) if overused. Lawful clerics use the normal form of the spell and should use the reversed forms only in life-or-death situations. Chaotic clerics normally use the reversed forms and will only use the normal forms to benefit those of the same alignment or those directly serving the same power. Neutral clerics will have either the normal or the reversed form available, depending on the nature of the power they serve. No cleric should have both forms available.

What this suggests to me is that lawful clerics (and some neutral clerics) are basically "good," while chaotic clerics (and some neutral clerics) are basically "evil." In general, all the reversible spells are EVIL or malevolent in their reversed aspect: causing wounds instead of curing, instilling fear & disease instead of removing, slaying the living instead of resurrecting. Clerical spells that are non-reversible are generally neutral in application, detect evil being an arguable exception (arguable because I've always interpreted it as "detect danger" i.e. detecting evil intentions towards the caster, not just "evil alignment" which doesn't really exist in B/X).

However, I see the act of animating the dead to be an inherently evil act. Not a "neutral" or non-aligned one.

Animating a dead body, whether as a soldier or servant, is an act of desecration pure and simple. It does not honor the memory of the deceased to turn it into a robotic slave. It objectifies the human (and demi-human form) which, from the viewpoint of most world religions, is a sacred creation and gift from God. What lawful cleric would ever animate the dead instead of giving it a holy burial/cremation? Answer: only a truly desperate one.

Again, see the emphasized sentence in that last quote.

Some of you might already see what I'm driving at here...why the hell would I add animate dead as a spell to the clerical spell list? Just so Lawful clerics would have a "hole" in their spell list? Just so they could skip around it and be limited to seven choices of spell at 3rd level, while Chaotic clerics got a full eight from which to choose? How the heck does that make sense?

It doesn't.

SO, since I had to include animate dead as a clerical spell, and since animate dead is inherently evil (sorry voodoo proponents), and since evil clerical spells only exist as reversible spells in B/X there was only one thing to do.

I had to make "animate dead" the reverse of a 3rd level clerical spell. Here's the description:

Smite Unliving*
Range: 60'
Duration: Instantaneous

By calling on the power of his deity, the cleric destroys a number of lesser undead (skeletons and zombies) within range with total hit dice equal to or less than his level.

The reverse of this spell, animate dead, is exactly the same as the fifth level magic-user spell of the same name. NOTE: the magic-user spell has no reverse version of this spell.

Thanks for your indulgence. The N1 conversion will be released shortly.
; )


  1. One could assume the evil cleric must then succeed on a turning attempt to be able to compel these undead - although this seems like a nice juicy area for the DM to interpret exactly how much command the cleric has, how it is maintained, and what the penalties for failure are!

    Getting more excited about the companion with each post!

  2. It flew straight from your blog to our house rules collection :)