Monday, June 14, 2021

Killing Gods, Part 4

All right…that’s a long enough break since my last post on “killing gods.” More than enough. 

As a precursor, I need a moment to talk about the relationship between clerics and deities; I realize this will seem yet another digression, but it’s pertinent to the conversation. You see, this whole subject came up because I was unsatisfied with the way I feel (many) adventure designs of recent years have been unreasonable with their treatment of gods…but it’s quite possible that this trend (and my preferences) come in part from learning different styles of play. 

I will elaborate.

I’ve written before about the shift in perspective of What Exactly A Cleric Is that came about in 1983 with the publication of the Mentzer version of Basic. As I’ve recounted (often enough) this was NOT the brand of D&D by which I learned the game. The clerics in my first campaign (which I ran up till circa 1988) didn’t receive their spells from “the strength of their beliefs.” No. Un-uh. Spells come from the gods they worship…they are divine favors, pure and simple, miracles granted by higher powers. 

This is, of course, EXPLICIT in the text. The 1981 Moldvay Basic set described it thusly:
Since clerical spalls are divinely given, they do not have to be studied; the cleric need only rest and pray for them.
"Divinely given" is the key phrase here. I can understand if there is some confusion caused by the actual description of the cleric class in Moldvay; its text ("...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...") could be interpreted as meaning that their magic is separate from their deity, that magical training is something only those who are initiated into the cult's higher secrets are taught. But unless Moldvay is speaking metaphorically (I don't think he is), the phrase divinely given in the Spell section makes clear just who is "granting" access to clerical magic...not higher level priests and patriarchs, but the god or goddess whom the cleric serves.

And Gygax is even more clear in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide:
It is well known to all experienced players that clerics, unlike magic-users, have their spells bestowed upon them by their respective deities.
The DMG text (page 38) goes on for more than half a page detailing exactly how clerics receive their magic directly from their gods, either by being divinely empowered (1st and 2nd level spells), bestowed upon them through intermediaries (saints, angels, demigods, etc. for 3rd through 5th level spells), or granted by direct communication with the deity itself (6th and 7th level spells). It is not a cleric's "inner strength," "strong beliefs," or "mystical training" that allows the character to create is the god itself. A cleric with no god receives no magic. Period.

As said, Mentzer changes this in his 1983 Basic rulebook...a book I never owned until the 2000s, and certainly not the book I learned to play with. But a subtle shift in thinking is evident in TSR's publications as early as 1982. I refer here to two classic modules published that year: N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God and B4: The Lost City. I imagine both modules might be held up as inspirations for the works of recent designers I cited earlier, examples of "sword & sorcery" style adventures featuring "godlike beings" who are nothing more than actual (non-divine) monsters needing to be killed...respectively a spirit naga named Explictica Defilus and the tentacled monstrosity known as Zargon. These false gods, whether through longevity and fear or powerful mind control, have created cults of worship around themselves, followers who hold them in awe and carry out their "divine will, much as one might expect of followers duped by a charlatan.

And yet both modules include actual cleric followers of these monsters...clerics with the ability to access clerical magic. N1 has multiple clerics of Explictica using spells of up to 4th level (7th level clerics). B4 features Darius, a 6th cleric (also with access to spells up to 4th level) of the "cult of Zargon" as one of the Big Bads of the adventure. None of these characters make sense under the rules of the game; none of these characters should have ANY spells whatsoever.

Contrast this with the backstory found in the 1980 module C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan:
Eventually a new Archon mounted the throne in Pontylver, one who claimed [lawful neutral] Alia as her patron. The Temple of the Correct and Unalterable Way grew in followers and prestige, and as time passed, Myrrha noticed that her peers and superiors were becoming increasingly arrogant and arbitrary....Myrrha saw they were falling into the heresy of believing that law is concentrated in the individual and not the community. Investigating, she discovered a well-kept secret: many members of the ecclesiarchy were no longer able to cast high-level spells, thus proving their estrangement from their deity!
If N1 was properly designed (that is, written to follow the instructions laid out in the rule books), neither Abramo nor Misha would have access to clerical spells above 2nd level (and maybe not even those) and Gareth Primo would have no magic at all because a spirit naga is not a god and, thus, not capable of granting spells.

That is the game, folks, and I honestly don't think it's "open to interpretation." But...perhaps because of "satanic panic" pressure over the pretending to worship strange gods (see the 1982 Mazes and Monsters where Tom Hanks plays a batshit-crazy cleric)...TSR started to move away from its own rules. Started to say, hey, being a cleric isn't really about worshipping a god, it's about your character's training and "strong beliefs" manifesting're just a magic-user in priest's clothing and it doesn't matter whether you're worshipping the One True God or some tentacled space slug that crashed on the planet a thousand years ago. We aren't teaching children about the worship of strange pagan gods...heavens, no! There is no god except God, these are just strangely deluded fantasy priests. Pay no attention!

And you see that carried all the way down to today's designers. From Jason Sholtis's magnificent Operation Unfathomable:
...clerics operate under the delusion that their deities actually exist (they do not!). In truth, clerics are merely a distinct variety of magic-user, devoted to one or more of the ten thousand Gods of Order. Clerics manipulate chaos to achieve their results through the mental constructs of their religious practices, rather than rote memorization of arcane mummery.
From 2017's Lamentations of the Flame Princess (James Raggi):
Cleric magic is divinely inspired, and is granted to Clerics through prayer. Whether these powers are granted to Clerics by higher powers, if these higher powers are what the Cleric believes them to be, or if all Cleric spells are merely ritualized forms of sympathetic magic, are all subjects frequently debated...
I would include the 2018 adventure The Red Prophet Rises in this mix of confusion, in which a heretical priest (Khazra), mistakenly worshipping an ancient vampiric entity, still (inexplicably) retains access to the spells of a 6th level cleric of "the Bull God." Why? Is the Obelisk that Thirsts a divine entity? No. Does it serve the Bull God? No. One would think spells would be withheld from the priest, if only to inform him of his delusional apostasy.  Guy uses a sword in combat anyway.

These authors (and others) seem to have been influenced somewhat by these later (post-1982) influences when it comes to explaining the relationship between clerics and their gods. Which is to say, there is little relationship, if any. Any failure of clerical magic can simply be attributed to the cleric losing faith in herself: it is not the deity that withholds magic, but the cleric's own psychological barriers to accessing a purely internal mechanism. 

I'm not a big fan of that interpretation. It doesn't jibe with the D&D I learned to play. It is not the AD&D of Gygax; it runs counter to the DMG and the information found in Deities & Demigods. And while I'll be the first to admit to being a stodgy, groggy, grumpy old man when it comes to my D&D, I'd even say that it's not very "Sword & Sorcery," either...despite what (many of) these authors hope to emulate.

Because as discussed in my first post on the subject, much of D&D is inspired by fantasy fiction of the pulp variety...and in pulp fantasy you see PLENTY of deluded cultists following charlatans and false gods, but they aren't getting any magical powers by doing so. False priests don't get spells: they use tricks and psychoactive powders or rule through fear and tradition and superstition. Real magic linked to worship is generally called sorcery and rightly so, as it is linked to the favors granted by demonic entities...but such infernal divinities are still "divine," supernatural and extra-dimensional. Only divinities grant divine powers: when Jagreen Lern or Elric conjure in the names of their chaos gods, THEN magical stuff happens. 

But maybe I need to rein in a bit and bring this all back around to the subject at hand ("killing gods"). There is, I think, a certain prevalence or attitude or orientation in the Old School Role-playing circles that has wandered far afield from the game as it was originally envisioned. Maybe. Maybe I'm wrong. But here's how I see it:
  • As Mike Mornard writes, the original designers "made up some shit they thought would be fun." It involved exploring strange environs, finding treasure, building worlds. It was inspired and influenced by adventure fiction, much of it "fantasy" in nature.
  • As a game, D&D has a system; it has rules. It models something (a fantasy world of adventure) and the rules are applied to the thing it models (the fantasy world of adventure) up to and including things like "how/why a cleric gets spells" and "how many hit points a god like Zeus might have."
  • That divine architect that Elric is always searching for? The supreme being that orders the lives of even the gods of his world? D&D has that, too: it's called the Dungeon Master. And just like Elric's "supreme being" (who would be Michael Moorcock...duh), the DM is not a creature to be encountered by the protagonists (in D&D's case, the player characters). The DM creates the world but is not OF the world. What will be encountered are game constructs, up to and including the gods that inhabit the game world.
  • As a constructed fantasy world D&D has a cosmology. As a game that models a fantasy world, that cosmology can be exactly and minutely defined...right down to just how much damage Thor can do with a hammer blow, or how many greater devils inhabit the 3rd layer of the Nine Hells...should such info ever become necessary for play.
  • The game (D&D) has parameters (structure) of play. It has assumptions and expectations of how play resolves.  These expectations of play resolution are determined by 1) the rules, 2) the way the rules model the world, and 3) the fiction that inspires the that order. Don't (for example) tell me "well, Gandalf used a sword!" The inspiring fiction (#3) comes behind the rules (#1) and the modeled fantasy world (#2).
As originally conceived, Dungeons & Dragons was never about "telling stories." It was about playing a game of exploration and survival (adventure!) in a fantasy game world. However, some folks were quite unimaginative with how they worked within those parameters, creating murder-hobo funhouses of the poorest variety and this caused pushback in the form of front-loaded drama. We shall not wait for a story to emerge from our adventures! We shall make sure there is MEANING to these characters' (fake) lives!

Combine the success of that front-loaded drama (through company supported publications like Ravenloft and Dragonlance) with an imperative to cut anything perceived as controversial (i.e. impacting the bottom line) from a game now being marketed to children (this being the shift that began circa 1982), and one can readily see the consequences: we don't kill gods. We kill demons. We kill immortal liches. We kill creatures masquerading as gods. We kill surrogates in order to have our high stakes, high drama, emotionally invested play.

Because, originally, emotional investment in a character was mainly found in long-running (i.e high level) characters. And high level characters, by necessity, required greater challenges to stay engaged...tackling gods (modeled as part of the cosmology) and godlike beings (that giant ape from WG6) are a natural evolution of challenge for characters of the highest echelon, because lesser challenges don't cut it anymore. If you want to run a high level campaign, you're going to want to study up your copy of Sailor on the Seas of Fate because that's about "par" when it comes to suitable challenges. Good old Demogorgon has been a part of the D&D tapestry since 1976...and for good reason. 

[hell, I used to fight Demogorgon...on the playground...waaaay back before I ever laid eyes on ANY D&D book. Before I even opened my first box of the Dungeon! board game, even]

Not low level characters (I'm guessing).

Outside of WotC's latest-greatest editions, D&D designers have (mostly) moved away from front-loaded drama and railroad story arcs, but they've still passed some sort of threshold from which they can't seem to return. They want high stakes, high challenge, high weirdness in their adventure...but they don't want high level player characters. They want their players to continue playing "small ball" forever after, retiring (I suppose) should they ever, somehow, reach 8th or 10th level of play. "Too superheroic," is the refrain I hear. "The game is no fun after around 5th (or 6th or 7th) level."

Bull. Crap. But that discussion is for another post.

Throwing high level challenges (like godlings) into low level adventures is an attempt by designers to have their cake and eat it, too. It's an attempt to inject Elric-levels of amazeballs fantasy into the lives of grubby, Warhammer Fantasy-level adventurers in order to draw out low-level play while still keeping long-since-jaded players engaged with the game in front of them. Is that as bad as playing pre-generated snowflakes traveling the Dragonlance railroad? Absolutely not. But it's got to be grating after a while. It would certainly bug the shit out of me.

All right, that's it. I lied about this being the concluding post...just had too much more to say. The NEXT post will definitely be the conclusion to this series. 


  1. I'm not sure about N1, but for B4, I can rationalize followers of Zuggtmoy getting spells. She's a demon queen of a layer of the Abyss, in league with Iuz (a demi-god) and a competitor to Lolth (a demon queen herself). Perhaps one can argue that demons should not be able to grant spells like a god. But what is a god and how does one become a new god? In a lot of fiction, it has to do with the breadth and depth of the belief of one's followers. So perhaps one can consider a big bad monster as a proto-god, having developed spell granting powers by virtue of the "power of belief" of their followers. And perhaps these powers have long lasting residual benefits, such that old gods who have been long forgotten still have some of their power, even if their followers are long gone or few in number. My point being, the "power of belief" of clerics and the faithful has a role to play, but not in directly manifesting daily spells, but in enabling a powerful being the ability to grant spells. This is more a point of interpretation, rather than an argument or counterpoint.

    1. @ Sir Rob:

      I think you're confusing B4 (Lost City) with T4 (Temple of Elemental Evil). Zuggtmoy, as the demon queen of fungi, is in the same sphere as beings like Lolth, Demogorgon, Iuz, etc. and is certainly capable of granting spells to her followers.

      "Zargon" (at the bottom level of B4)is a cyclopean, tentacled monster from another planet. Not a divine being.

      The "power of belief" is a wonderful thing...we see its effect in everything from ritual/sympathetic magic, to placebo medicine, to faith healing. In the real world it is both a testament to the power of the human mind and an unmeasurable, mysterious effect.

      In a game world, these effects CAN be measured, determined, and defined. In fact, it probably SHOULD BE defined, so that players don't accuse a DM of arbitrariness.

      How does one handles illusions in the game? Can an illusion "heal" a person? I suppose it depends on how one interprets hit points. How much is physical damage and how much is attributable to "luck" and the power of positive thinking?

      In my game world, I find it easier to leave the actual divine miracles to divine beings.

      I'll have to reread my DDG about ascension/damnation, because I seem to remember some good parameters therein regarding godhood. I might address that in my final post on the subject.

    2. Doh! That's what I get for posting after midnight! I guess one could stretch, and say that the spells actually come from the God of Zargon's kind... you know, great tentacled Cosmic God... sounds familiar...

    3. EGG's chthonic "Elder Elementals" are much more awe-inducing, in my opinion. Zargon is more the equivalent of a regenerating hydra...

      As for post-midnight comment errors: happens to me all the time. All the time.
      ; )

  2. I agree that the treatment of divine spells as originating from deities is the proper one, but I don't see RPR as doing any great violence to this interpretation.

    The idea that The Bull God would instantly withold spells is based on an interpretation of the Bull God's creed that is kept deliberately ambiguous. I envision it as a savage, atavistic, very primal deity, unconcerned with much of the happenings on the prime as long as blood is spilled in its name. The fact part of the sacrifice is 'funnelled off' would be an annoyance, but not an immediate subject for censure. These are all things that are left ambiguous, for the GM to resolve as he sees fit.

    Likewise, I considered the use of edged weapons to be in the spirit of old dnd, where various exemptions to the blunt weapon ban have popped up over the years, including, as I recall, Greyhawk.

    I offer no pretensions of rigid adherence to the rules of 1e AD&D as RPR was made for a 2e homebrew, but by my own interpretation I have done no great violence to the relationship between deity and cleric.

    1. @ Prince:

      I don't think you're doing violence to the game rules. I don't think you're "killing D&D" or anything like that.

      I use RPR as an illustrative example (more pertinent, perhaps, because it was my - in part - my criticism of your adventures that touched off this discussion). And what it illustrates (for me) is a certain handwavey-ness one sees with regard to cosmological functioning in the game.

      And why do I care? Shouldn't the Ways of Gods be Mysterious, and all that jazz? Aren't I taking the zest out of the game by taking a hardline approach to defining how a relationship works between a cleric and its deity? Aren't I {*shudder*) simply recreating the soulless, mechanistic D&D of Frank Mentzer's BECMI by taking this track?

      Maybe. Here's the thing: I'm not trying to be the "imagination police." Bull God cults are cool. Ancient, sentient vampiric tombs from other worlds are cool. Fanatical blood cult followers and giant obsidian snakes and whatnot are cool. It's neat stuff, Prince, and you got my money (*ka-ching*). A hearty thank you to both you and your PIC, Malrex, for putting your ideas on paper and making 'em available.

      But D&D, as a game, has certain rules and assumptions. And while assumptions (probably) exist to be stomped on...or, at least, do so at the peril of A) roughing up players (especially experienced players who rely on assumptions and rules for decision-making), and B) roughing up your campaign world (by breeding inconsistency into the design).

      Take RPR, for example: does Khazra NEED spells? I don't have 2E to reference, but it seems clear (to me) that he shouldn't have access to spells under early edition rules. So, it NECESSARY for him to have spells? Is it necessary for him to even be a cleric? Couldn't he be a 6th level fighter, deluded by the OtT into his Prophet conversion? You still have the crimson dust, the Veindrinker sword, the general camp chaos and faction thing going on with the ex-honcho of the Bull God, etc. It all works within the system as written.

      Is it just that you wanted to make sure there were TWO possible adversaries with your nifty new blood spells, so that the PCs would experience them regardless of which faction they sided with? There are ways to do that within the system, too.

      BTW I don't have an issue with the clerics/edged weapons thing (lots to say on the subject, but this isn't the post). My point in mentioning it was not to criticize your re-skin of the cleric class, but rather to ask what more did Khazra need?

  3. I like clerics as a player (the rare occasion when I'm not a DM) but just for the support role the character has. Otherwise I don't think they make much sense at all. Also, wasn't Gygax a jehovah's witness? I think I read that somewhere. Is it possible that his, huh, cultish/offshoot religion somehow tainted the creation of clerics?

    1. I don't think Gygax's personal beliefs had anything to do with the character class, other than the general influence that comes from growing up and living in a particular society (20th century, midwest America) that is filled with Christians and references to Christianity.

      I've written a lot about the cleric class over the years; here's an essay that a lot of folks felt helpful for understanding the concept.

      Playing D&D as designed absolutely illustrates the importance of the cleric role to an adventuring party, and from a GAME perspective is an excellent piece of design work. Players may argue over who "has to" be the cleric, but the fact that they insist on having one in the party tells you all you need to know.
      ; )

  4. "... or some tentacled space slug that crashed on the planet a thousand years ago."

    Thank you for including my religious beliefs, hoss!

    1. Even a broken watch is right twice per day.
      ; )

  5. I find it fascinating, but in the end the divine entity is still some gumnut worshiped as divine by people and imbued with power as a consequence. The Lawfuls worshiping law as divine rather than its divine dispensary still had access to cleric spells. Given time, worship of law would have surplanted worship of the divine entity dispensing what are the acceptable laws. And even diversified into the good, neutral and evil factions of law.

    1. @ Sean:

      Are you speaking in reference to my Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan quote? Because it's truncated: the "Temple of the Correct and Unalterable Way" worship the LN deity "Alia." The pregen PC Myrrha's backstory makes clear that the reason she has spells is because she remains a devout worshipper of the goddess.

      While worship of Law *might* eventually displace worship of the deity (and seems to already be happening in the background text), the AD&D Rules As Written wouldn't allow them access to clerical spells above 2nd level.

  6. What is your view of Yagno Petrovna? He worships a false god, but receives cleric powers from the Dark Powers [another divine being(s)]. How do you feel about those who worship false gods receiving cleric like powers from a divine being to serve their own ends?

    1. Mmm. It wouldn't be the only instance in (late edition) TSR's repertoire. Aaron Allston's Wrath of the Immortals campaign featured an NPC cleric mistakenly serving the Immortal ('god') Hel operating in disguise as a good guy deity and granting spells to her followers as she deliberately lied and misled them. There are all sorts of problems with this from a D&D perspective, but Allston cut his teeth writing for Champions and it's such a comic book style "plot twist" that I can forgive him going to the well on this one.

      That being said, this series isn't really about post-1989 D&D, which encompasses both WotI and Yagno Petrovna.

  7. Fair enough, but my point is more about one divine being pretending to be another, or even a false one. Since clerics receive their spells from divine beings, would it fit for one god to start granting cleric spell to someone as something akin to a divine false flag operation?

    1. Hmm. I have to say I don’t find it very sensible given the parameters of the rules. Doing so, even for a trickster type god (think Loki) would undermine the faith of both the devout and the deluded.

      In the end, I have to think ALL the gods have a vested interest in “playing by the (divine) rules;” the consequences of doing otherwise would be a widespread loss of followers.

  8. Maybe it's my BECMI-bias showing, or maybe it's my personal irreligion, or maybe it's just my aesthetic preference for fantasy settings with distant and noninterventionist deities, but I don't mind at all treating clerical magic like just another flavor of arcane magic. I was playing Final Fantasy before I ever touched Dungeons & Dragons, after all, and the white magic / black magic dichotomy is pretty fundamental to how I view the cleric and mage archetypes.

    Plus, y'know, clerics cast spells. They don't work miracles, they don't pray for divine intervention in the moment. They have memorized energy-patterns storied in their brains that get triggered by verbal, somatic, and material components — magic words and gestures that trigger specific effects when and where the cleric chooses to use them. That, to me, looks more like theurgy, thaumaturgy, hermeticism, cabalism, or any of a number of bookish magickal traditions than it does being the genre-fantasy equivalent of a Biblical prophet.

    And this is very much a function of the way D&D's mechanics specifically have been set up. Regardless of how Gygax explained the tiers of clerical spell levels in the DMG, it's still the case that clerics have spell levels, and those spell levels look (and can effortlessly function) just like magic-user spell levels. The game rules make clerical spells APPEAR TO BE "arcane white magic." So it's hard to blame anyone for treating them that way!

    After all, the way clerical magic works is often one of the first things that gets changed by a "fantasy heartbreaker" — how many fantasy RPGs are out there where clerics pray directly for miracles rather than memorizing spells? Countless many, I'd wager.

    1. Probably because of my religious nature, I have looked at different ways to re-draw the cleric, so I understand.

      I think it’s best to think of the term “spell” as a game concept, a convenient shorthand for “magical effect produced by a character.” Perhaps, in-game, the characters have their own unique terms for magical effects produced by different classes’ magic types. But as is, I think (in AD&D especially) there are quite a few differences between the cleric spells and those of the magic-user that help to distinguish them as two very different types of magic.

      However, we may just have to “agree to disagree” on this one.
      ; )

  9. These 4+1 entries have been a very stimulating read. I think your conclusions are spot on, although in my personal case, while I also prefer low level adventures where "gods" appear, the reasons are different:

    1. In Mexico it is impossible (scientifically proven) for players to commit to playing a long campaign of any game other than Vampire. Almost all my LotFP, Mutant Future or Into the Odd campaigns end when the characters reach level 4 or 5 (ItO has no levels but an equivalent system), because the players lose interest and start asking to play Vampire (or WoD in general). It's not my own ineptitude as a referee (at least that's what I want to believe), the same happens to all the referees I know, who if they want to play a long campaign, must resort to Vampire. Simply put, a game where there are clear procedures for exploring a dungeon, traveling from one city to another, or fighting enemies, is boring for almost all Mexicans (I guess that's why soccer is preferred over football or baseball here), and a game like Vampire is preferred, which, although it also has strict rules, nobody follows them, because "it's a game where you can play a role, not roll dice"... yes, very few Vampire players have read the manual).

    2. While I like the foundational D&D authors, at least the ones I've read (REH, Moorcock, Vance), my biggest influence is Lovecraft, and what I look for in my games are two things: weird shit & high-stakes lowbrow (scoundrels and rogues encountering things that surpass them). But, of course, I don't run D&D as written.

    3. I'm a hardcore atheist. I started my path to atheism in 1989 when a catechist lied about my age to do me some good; I realized that lying was not evil, that evil is in intentions, not actions. When I first encountered 2e in the mid 90's, I was never sympathetic to the idea of clerics and their true gods. Being a newbie, the idea that clerics were magic-users with delusions of theism never occurred to me. But after 25 years, such is the status quo of my fantasy worlds.The gods are false gods, they are aliens, they are slimes, they are robots, they are supercomputers, they are ignorant people who believe that a stone is a god.

    I didn't learn the game with either the pre-Satanic Panic adventures or the ones immediately after.I don't know about Jason Sholtis, but James Raggi has said on several occasions that he learned the game with BECMI, not B/X, and that the adventures he writes would not work well with the restrictions B/X has versus BECMI's less restrictive approach, specifically the issue of repeating a failed roll to detect traps or secret doors. He probably also learned the game with those adventures you suggest, such as N1 and B4.

    1. Interesting stuff:

      I have many Mexican friends and family members, but have never played RPGs with them. Some of them are quite fond of “geek culture” (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, superheroes, etc.) though largely confined to film. But I’m not sure any of them have even heard of D&D. Not sure if that’s an age thing…they tend to be my age (40s) or older, which might have been too young to ever see translated versions of the game. None have much of a Vampire fetish.

      On the other hand, they DO enjoy American football, and both my wife and brother-in-law enjoy the occasional Blood Bowl game.

      2. Lovecraft’s stuff is certainly good to inject, but a campaign solely consisting of Lovecraftian cosmology is bound to be a hopeless, horrific one. I could see myself getting tired of such a campaign after three or four levels. At least with VTM, I have the option of hunting down and diablerizing my Antediluvian elders and working towards a “better”world (or Galconda or restored humanity or whatever).

      3. Having read and played both B/X and BECMI, I find the latter far more restrictive, at least in terms of design and campaign construction. BECMI’s infamous Immortal set does its best to take all mystery and magic out of gods, godling, and artifact-level magic, and I can’t say I find much in LotFP that seems heavily inspired or derived from its ruleset.

      I’ve spoken with many atheist players who preferred to embrace D&D deities as written, precisely because they are a form of fantasy “fiction.” I’ve met other non-atheist players who preferred less gods/religion in their campaigns because the themes made them decidedly uncomfortable. To each their own (in the end) because D&D allows folks to run their worlds either direction. However, I think that game works best under certain presumptions and I think it was written with those presumptions in mind.

      ; )

  10. Oh, yes, RPGs are really small here, most people have never heard about it.

    A Lovecraftian game works when you don't take it too seriously; I think horror in general works better when you add humor. The game world is terrifying for the people who inhabit it, but me and my players have a laugh playing in these worlds. I tried to run it seriously, but jokes and laughs came naturally, perhaps as a defense against all that darkness, I don't know, but since the beginning, whenever we play in this world, laughs are ensured.

    As for BECMI/LotFP, mechanically it's mainly the first two books, which are pretty much B/X, but while B/X doesn't allow some re-rolls, BECMI does. I honestly haven't read the Immortals set.

    1. @ Vagab:

      Huh. That is interesting (re LotFP). I am always astounded/confounded at the small rule differences between B/X and BECMI/RC editions...I find them on occasion (like this particular one you're citing) and it's fascinating to me how such small "tweaks" can change the shape and feel of the games despite all that they share. Another rule difference between BE and B/X is with regard to awarding experience for treasure: B/X simply divides the x.p. total for all gold by the surviving party members, while Mentzer (BECMI) only awards x.p. based on a PC's treasure if you take the bag of gold and your buddy takes the +1 sword, only YOU receive x.p. (since magic items don't award x.p. in old editions). The dude who gets the gemstone (that cannot be divided evenly) gets the x.p. count for it. Basically, Mentzer rewards you for being a better negotiator with more business savvy. That's not my type of D&D.

      RE Lovecraft, Horror, and Humor

      As has oft been pointed out to me, humor generally goes hand-in-hand with horror, in order to "take the edge off;" humor, as a mechanism, works well with a lot of genres in this fashion.

      I prefer to take my games VERY seriously (perhaps to my detriment). That's not to say there aren't laughs to be had, but they are usually outside gameplay (between sessions or during breaks in play), not in game. I treat the game more seriously than I treat myself: I generally laugh at my own foibles, while I generally attempt to excuse, justify, or make sense of the game's own flaws. The "people inhabiting my world" includes my players (though their habitation is only mental), and while 100% immersion is impossible (and not even desirable!) due to the need to attend to game rules/systems, I feel the players' experience of play is richer for being more immersed...which happens best when the game is approached seriously.

      [it's one of the reasons I detest games like Toon, and why Paranoia is more fun...for me! read than to actually play]

      This is one of the reasons my (Mexican) wife doesn't enjoy RPGs, even something as silly as D&D (though she's also played Ars Magica): she finds them too intense, and doesn't like the way she ends up identifying with characters. She "invests" very easily, to the point that having her 1st level character eaten by a carrion crawler is horrifying and shocking to her. Perhaps, if I approached the game less seriously (as we do with Blood Bowl) she'd have an easier time of it...but then the game wouldn't be as satisfying for me (part of the reason I continue to enjoy D&D after decades is its intensity as an experience).

      I wonder if this is a cultural thing. Generally speaking, my wife is quite funny, and enjoys poking fun and finding humor in things, though this "light-heartedness" comes out far more often when we are in Mexico or around our Mexican family (like right now, while my in-laws are in town). While that's understandable given the nature of her life (she's often less comfortable or more self-conscious in her work and life amongst gringos), our Mexican friends and family are far more light-hearted and irreverent (even the "serious ones") than I generally observe in the United States, and their wit tends to be less caustic, never (or rarely) "mean-spirited." Mexicans are quick to laugh; I have been told before (jokingly) that they have to laugh so that they don't cry.