Thursday, April 11, 2019

J is Lern

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic for this year's #AtoZchallengeRevamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard its B/X roots]

J is for Jagreen Lern, Theocrat of Pan Tang, high priest of Chaos. Yes, really.

Art by Rodney Matthews
Here's a little "pro tip" for all the young bloggers out there who think it would be fun and easy to do this A to Z Blog Challenge shtick: get out a notebook and write down your 26 topics (one for each letter of the alphabet) before the start of April. Yeah, ideas might change, concepts might change, and tangents will probably be travelled with wild abandon. But at least you'll have some semblance of a plan.

As an "old" blogger (going on 10 years and nearly 2000 posts) that's what I did. And here's what I originally had scheduled for J today: Jowett's Holy War. Well, actually my original "original topic" for J was going to be Justin Karameikos, but then I decided to do the Ducal Family all in one post, and that was because I wanted the "Veiled Society" for V rather than Prince Valens (yes, my notes are a mess of circled topics and arrows pointing hither and yon). Left me with a hole for "O" (Olivia), but we do what we've got to do, right?

ANYway, Jowett's Holy War was supposed to be about the competing religions in Karameikos and GAZ1's treatment of the same, but as I began to dive into my "early morning research" (what? you think I plan out what I'm going to write ahead of time? Here's "pro tip #2" kids: never let a structured 'plan' get in the way of stream-o-consciousness writing at the crack of dawn over that first cup or three of hot coffee. Seriously)... *ahem* I was saying, as I started my "deep dive" I started seeing some stuff that I figured I'd better address under the heading of RELIGIONS in general, and that means kicking the whole discussion down the road to "R."

[which was, just BTW, my original subject...then changed to "Rifillian," and finally to "Ruins." Now we're back to where we started...]

Here's the thing (we'll get to the, evil...theocrat in a moment): I learn quite a bit going through these old texts and sometimes I come across something that shows me how downright ignorant I the dramatic changes to the cleric class found in the BECMI/RC edition of the game. Sure, it's the same as B/X mechanically, but the class itself...what it is, what it models, what it means...has been gelded, maimed. Turned into nothing but a board game playing piece.

Here's the description of the B/X cleric class (Tom Moldvay):

Clerics are humans who have dedicated themselves to the service of a god or goddess. They are trained in fighting and casting spells. As a cleric advances in level, he or she is granted the use of more and more spells. However, clerics fo not receive any spells until they reach 2nd level (and have proven their devotion to their god or goddess).

Here's Mentzer's text from the Basic (BECMI) book:

A cleric is a human character who is dedicated to serving a great and worthy cause. This cause is usually the cleric's Alignment; for example a cleric may be dedicated to spreading law and order. A cleric has good fighting skills, and also learn to cast spells after gaining a Level of Experience. A first level cleric cannot cast any spells.

In D&D games, as in real life, people have ethical and theological beliefs. This game does not deal with those beliefs. All characters are assumed to have them, and they do not affect the game. They can be assumed, just as eating, resting, and other activities are assumed, and not become part of the game.

A cleric's spell powers come from the strength of the cleric's beliefs. The cleric sits and meditates, and mystically learns spells. These spells can then be used during an adventure....


Clerics as just...what? Mystics? Some sort of inward gazing hermit or yogi or something? Jedi? What the hell is this?

But now the Gazetteer makes sense. I was wondering (as I was rereading it for this series) they the various clergy members belonged to particular churches but no specific immortals were mentioned as being venerated. It's because gods (and goddesses) were removed from the D&D game in 1983. Immortals (from the 1985 ruleset) were still just "super-powered adventurers" at the time GAZ1 was published in '87 (this would change a bit with Wrath of the Immortals a few years later). Mystara is a world without gods...just "strong beliefs."

And I hadn't noticed this till today. I didn't enter the game with Mentzer's red box after all...I was already playing AD&D by the time it first hit the market. I only picked up a copy of the books (used) in the early 2000s for the sake of "completeness" (and/or because I was playing/running BECMI); however, since I "already knew" what a cleric was, I never bothered to read this new skinning of the character class.

Mm. Mm-mm-mm.

Welp, that's a whole long rant for a whole 'nother, non-A-to-Z blog post. However, back to the matter at hand, specifically Jagreen Lern. SO...when I discovered that "clergy" (clerics) in GAZ1 were simply individuals "dedicated to serving a great and worthy cause," my brain immediately jumped to the question, What about EVIL clerics? Those chaotic characters of strong belief devoted to petty and selfish, even diabolic causes? Obviously they need a church, too, right? And one with different beliefs from the Church of Traladara and the Church of Karameikos, yeah? All those guys, even if they hate each other, are LAWFUL in alignment (True! And they are ready to go to war with each other for the sake of the people's souls!)...what about the guys worshipping at the blood-stained altar in the Caves of Chaos? I mean, the Caves are still there, right? Mentzer has B2 listed on his map of Karameikos.

So what we need is the B/X equivalent of Pan Tang, the City of Screaming Statues, where man-eating tigers freely roam the streets and blood flows like a river from the doors of their sacred temple. And presiding over all the sacrificial rites and dark magic, we need the lunatic grinning Theocrat, ready to don his demon-crafted plate armor and ply the coasts in his battle barge taking slaves for the glory of the Lords of the Higher Hells, the gods of Chaos.

That's it. Jagreen Lern. And his people. Just add it in. I'm really tired of this namby-pamby view of fantasy; really, I'm sick to death of  it. Give me Jagreen Lern and let's just let Chaos sweep over all of Mystara.

Give me rivers of blood. Please.


  1. YES!!! The last two paragraphs are so much YES!!!

  2. B5 Horror on the Hill show that Chaos is followed in an organised way, in the "Menzer World". B2 might have been too popular to not "keep around", but B5 was published in the same year as the Red Box, and it doesn't contain much in the way of advise - as far as I remember, likely because all that is in the Basic set it's suppose to work with.
    In B5 there is a Chaotic Cleric and monestary. There is a lot to be written about that, and it could be turned around politician style, but it's clear for the sound of mind that Chaos is worshipped quite organised.
    Let it rain blood.

    1. GusL had some great ideas about re-tooling B5 back in 2014; if you haven't read his post, I strongly recommend it:

      It's not a module I've ever played or ran, but I *am* a sucker for a good Roslof cover.
      ; )