Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saints and Sinners

It's 11:18am and I am down at the Baranof.

I slept in till 9:40 or so this morning, then remembered my cable box is totally kerfluey (I wrestled with the f'ing Comcast people on the phone till nearly midnight last night), and in a moment of sheer disgust sat down and watched Conan the Barbarian (or most of it anyway...skipped a few of the more gratuitous flesh scenes for the sake of expedience). In comparison to The Sword and the Sorcerer (which I watched last night prior to discovering the cable issues) it's hard not to see Schwarzie's film as the hands down best S&S flick of 1982. Which is saying something, considering the ton of competition from that year (low budget or not...recall most everyone cast in Conan, including all the protagonists, were "no names" in the movie biz at the time). But we'll get back talk about these films in a bit.

Yesterday was NOT a banner day for me. I mean, I did manage to get my car "fixed" (still need to put $400 into the brakes, but the dealership told me I could wait another thousand miles or so), got to the dentist, managed to remember not to eat meat (still Lent), and put in an otherwise full day at the office. But boy-o-boy did I have a splitting headache the entire day. No nausea, but pretty close.

And that's because Thursday night was "game night" and having my family out of town led me to going longer than normal (till close to 1am) and drinking more than usual. Ugh.

[hmm...these eggs seem a lot more over-easy than over-medium. Ah, well]

Coupled with that, it wasn't a great play-test. Two of the "regulars" weren't able to make it, and two newbies were in the house ("new" in the sense that they hadn't yet played 5AK and had to be brought up to speed). The end result was that little actual play occurred after chargen, but things ARE well set-up/positioned for next session...assuming I can get everyone present. These guys and their busy work schedules and families...sheesh!
; )

But one thing that DID get tested were the rules for holy texts...i.e. "cleric spell scrolls" which are a little different in my game. And guess what: they don't work. That is to say, the mechanics don't work. Hell, the concept doesn't work.

Here, I'll give you a little background first regarding saintly or shamanic ("clerical") magic. Unlike magician spells in 5AK, saintly magic is a limited resource. What exactly does this mean? It means the mechanics for saintly magic is very similar to the way they'd play in "normal" D& have a limited number of divine supplications ("spells") you can make of your God/gods, with said prayers being answered depending on your level of importance as a tool for the divine (i.e. your level determines how many spells and of what magnitude they can cast). And unlike magician spells, they always work...there's no casting roll to see if the saint "prays correctly." They also tend to be "spells" that don't carry saving throws, and that create lasting, permanent change (i.e. they can't be dispelled). These are divine miracles, after all.

So enter spell scrolls. While magician spells are simply "spells written down" (suitable for reading or memorizing or bundling up with your other magical books and texts), the idea behind clerical spells would be that they were an "infusion of holy power" or "a prayer of manifest power" in a bound form...or something. I don't know what exactly I was thinking. The problem was that (probably) I wasn't thinking enough. Functionally, holy texts in 5AK are the same as clerical spell scrolls in D&D. Which is to say, they have a saintly miracle (clerical spell) that if comprehended by the saint (cleric) can be "fired once" and then loses its power.

Which really doesn't make any f'ing sense.

First of all, there are holy men and women of many faiths, but they don't interact very well together (we're not talking the 21st century where you have joint-faith communities...this is back in the day when a schism within one's own faith led to wholesale war and slaughter. Think the Protestant Reformation or (for my setting) the battle between Sunni and Shia). So the idea that a holy man could pick up a prayer text of a different faith (probably a long dead pagan/heathen faith) and use the magic is just ridiculous.

Then there's the idea that a divine favor (which is what a miracle is) could be stored at all. Unless the text was provided directly to the saint by his deity (perhaps through some angelic intermediary) the audacity that a mortal could somehow distill holy power and capture it in a piece of vellum is pretty repugnant. I mean, most D&D players laugh at the idea of treating the gods as monsters to be killed (Odin has 400 hit points? What's his armor class?)...but harnessing divine might for mortal need is pretty outrageous, too, once you think about it.

Then, of course, there's the whole "fire and forget" part of the scroll which is only silly due to the context of MY game.

Originally, cleric magic and magic-user magic worked pretty much the same. You get a certain number of spells per day. The whole "spell book" is open to you (yes, in OD&D magic-users had access to the whole spell list). Once you cast a spell, you couldn't cast it again for the day (no "doubling up" on spells in OD&D). And spell scrolls provided a valuable resource to the PCs in the GAME. A place to store additional magic or (if unable to construct scrolls yourself) and occasional benny resource found in the course of the adventure. Putting a scroll of cure wounds in a treasure trove was the equivalent of putting a potion of healing there. And similar to the potion, there was always a risk associated with the thing's the potion poisonous? Does the scroll have a magical curse built in?

That's part of the whimsical nature of the original game, which didn't take itself all that seriously. Since then, of course, a lot of folks have tried to take a more serious tact with D&D, tried to force it to make justify its nonsensical elements (those hodge-podge concepts that were combined at first simply to make something "fun"). Certainly, I've fallen into that camp more often than not...probably because I'm an up-tight individual at heart who has to remember not to take myself (and other stuff) TOO seriously. Life is short, yes, but not everything has to be "life and death."

Typical Scorpio drama-queen.
; )

Anyway, the way I see it is can either embrace the over-the-top weirdness and pursue the "fun at all costs" mode which seems to have been the way of our founders (with their mix of mythology, camp, literature, pulp, and B-sci-fi/horror flicks)...OR you can write your own game for a particular setting where everything makes sense in the context of that setting. As I'm trying to do with 5AK. The benefit to pursuing the latter (other than my own up-tight piece of mind) is this: it provides an opportunity for a role-playing experience that is deeper and richer than that of a shlocky funhouse world.

Now, I am NOT saying that schlocky and funhouse aren't cool and acceptable: I loves me my White Plume Mountain and Tomb of Horrors and Pharaoh adventure modules. But I really like running long-term campaigns where character development occurs over time, and the only way to really do this effectively is to have a setting where stuff fits together and makes sense. Which requires EDITING, something the beloved founders were none to fond of. I mean, stuff got ADDED, but rarely were things DELETED from the game, unless they thought it was going to hurt their "bottom line" (like Tolkien intellectual property or the IP of Lovecraft and Moorcock that was being used by Chaosium or the demons and assassins and half-orcs that might have brought on the Christian Right in the late 1980s).

No, if it didn't run the risk of getting 'em sued, the D&D people just "left shit in" even if it didn't make a ton of sense. And then they'd create campaign settings (like Krynn) to attempt to justify it. Why are ogres hulking brutes but then have ogre-magi? Well because the latter are Japanese of course! Poor Weiss and Hickman at least made a stab at justifying this kind of crap, even if the idea of "steel pieces" as currency is pretty friggin' bogus.

[quick: how many "steel pieces" does it cost to buy a sword? Now how many pieces of steel will you get if you break that sword up into tenth-of-a-pound coins? Does the quality of the steel make a difference in the value of the coin? Do the coins rust or are they "stainless?" Do they need to be oiled?]

SO, yeah, editing. Basically after testing Thursday I figured out that "cleric scrolls" don't really fit my all. Not in the concept of "piece of writing that provides a magic resource" (one-time or not). So I'll be removing this section from my book...which is good since I was looking to delete half a page for space consideration anyway!


Okay, it's 12:30 now (had to pause a bit to clean up my hash and toast...where's my waitress? I'm missing coffee!)...and I haven't yet gotten to my thoughts on those two movies. I think I'm going to do a separate review for each, at least with regard to gaming (I've already said all that I wanted to say about Beastmaster)...and that'll come later.

[by the way, some are probably wondering why the hell the title of this post is "saints and sinners;" originally I was going to talk more about the role of religion in S&S, i.e. swords and sorcery fiction as relates to these films...but now I'm going to do separate film reviews, I'm just feeling too lazy to think up a new title to this post. So there!]

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to run to Lowe's to return an air filter!


  1. Okay, well how about this? If the ability of a cleric to even cast a spell is indicative of some degree of divine favor, perhaps it really is 'saints' whose writings have power. I mean, fingerbone of St. Whomever having power to cure is a time-honored sort of thing so it's not a huge stretch.

    In game terms, at the end of an adventure for every act of extrordinary devotion to your deity perhaps you are granted an extra bit of favor: you can persist CL spell levels of spells (or whatever amount seems right), basically creating a scroll, though probably it's not really a scroll, your ring or garment or something becomes holy in a way that mimics spell 'scrollage'.

    As far as those heathenish ones you, of course they're no good to you, but destroying them is an especially holy act and you'll be granted some fraction of their stored power as 'scrollage' of your own.

    Just a thought.

  2. The Comcast people are being a pain in my butt too. I called four times, talked to three different people (one time, the automated service hung up on me) and still, after waiting here all day, no one came to replace the fried modem.


    Anyway, I look forward to reading the new article. Sorry to comment beforehand.

    Danny Cline

  3. @ Danny: no problem...and it really is Comcast that's mostly on my mind at the moment. Grr!

    @ Scriv: holy relics ARE a big deal in this game (or should be once I get around to writing up the magic item rules) but even if a scroll WAS appropriate (I don't really think it is) for a relic, it probably wouldn't work the same as a D&D spell scroll.

    As for breaking stuff and getting a magic bennie for the effort...interesting, but nah. Maybe XP or a +1 to saves as a blessing or something. Maybe.

  4. I have never liked the idea of cleric spell scrolls, because like you mentioned, it just seemed wrong somehow. Right, how could mortals ever dare to tap into and "store" divine power? Didn't the Ark in Indiana Jones contain divine power? We all know how that turned out... Anyway, yeah, in my D&D games I've never really allowed clerical scrolls.