Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why I don't use Clerics

For some reason I've been thinking more about Clerics lately, and why I don't use them. I thought I'd jot down my reasons. Feel free to comment.

Miracles and Levels: Probably my biggest beef with Clerics is that their God/gods will help them, but only so much. I don't see why, if it's the deity's power and not the Cleric's, the power should get stronger and more effective as the Cleric levels up, unless we've got a really fickle deity here. It seems like a deity would say "hey, there's this guy that's much more dedicated to me than the average person down there, and I usually help him out when he asks, so why not grant whatever it is that he's asking me, seeing as how it totally aligns with what I'm about?" If spells and turning undead are really just the power of the deity, why does this change as the character changes?

I realize that a lot of this thinking comes from my Christian background. While a lot of miracles in the Bible are the inspirations for D&D miracles, in the Bible miracles don't tend to get more amazing as the person they are associated with gets more experienced. Instead, miracles tend to meet the needs of the moment, demonstrate the unquestionable power and reality of God and also tend to be unique, as opposed to the reproducible formulae of D&D magic. Even in, say, Greek polytheism, though, miracles are questions of the god taking on the problem and aren't based on how "good" at something (or however we want to analogize levels to Greek myth) the character the miracle is done for is.

I also realize that there are mechanical reasons why this is the way D&D Clerics work. It just doesn't make sense to me so far as setting goes. Vancian magic and spell levels that go up as you level up just don't seem to fit the idea of a Cleric nearly so well as they fit the idea of Magic Users, in my opinion. Also, for mechanical reasons, having the Cleric able to get whatever miracle is asked for is out. For non-railroady reasons, making up my own miracles and making them happen whenever I see fit is also probably not a good idea, though it might be a possibility if it was done really well.

Undead: I don't use undead in my campaign, largely because it seems to me to make the divine in the setting inept. That is, why would a deity that doesn't want undead to exist need a mortal and a little piece of metal or wood to be present in order to keep something dead? I suppose that the undead might make sense if the setting's cosmology is strictly dualistic, with Good and Evil equally powerful, and I suppose the argument might be able to be made that much of D&D, especially AD&D and later, actually does have that dualistic cosmology, but I've no particular interest in running a game like that. Most people throughout history haven't held to a cosmology of Good vs. Evil, and especially not to an even match-up of Good vs. Evil, instead holding to the concrete personhood of whoever they worship and in that deity's dominion over however much of the world they believe their deity controlled. Good vs. Evil as THE story of the universe is a pretty rare way to look at the world, and one I'm not interested in, both because I don't believe in it and because I've seen some of the evil (yes, I do believe in good and evil, just not that they are THE lens to see the world through) that can occur when people do see the world that way and I don't want to encourage it.

Healing: This is really more of a mechanical disagreement than a question of me "getting" the Cleric. I don't like healing being the exclusive domain of any one class, mostly because I don't want either that class to be seen as a "healbot," nor do I want players to feel that one of them needs to be that particular class so that healing can occur. That's why I've let classes like Barbarians and Rangers in the past and Scoundrels in my current game be able to heal. It's also why I use the rule that minor healing can occur for every character immediately after a combat is over, by way of first aid. This doesn't exactly make the Cleric worthless, as Clerics could be just another class that has healing abilities, but it also makes them less special.

So, in conclusion, if I have a problem with divine magic being tiered with levels, the existence, as well as the turning, of undead, and have given healing to other classes as well, the Cleric ends up looking like a really pious Fighter who doesn't fight as well as the Fighter, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to include them in my games. I know this is a very minority opinion, though, and I am truly interested in comments from people who do like and use clerics.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


A while ago, Sully brought up the idea of using guilds in RPGs, and way back in January, Telecanter also did some thinking on guilds (the comments are especially worth reading for ideas). Including guilds in most FRPG settings is a good idea, as guilds were very common in the pre-Capitalist Europe that serves as the basis for most fantasy roleplaying. The problem is that guilds have mostly faded away in the last two or three hundred years of Capitalism, so most people aren't really sure how they work. As Sully says in his post, it's not unusual for the only guild players ever come in contact with to be the Thieves Guild, which has roots in Lankhmar, rather than medieval London or Paris.

Dove-tail this with my own real-life interest in a third-way economic system called Distributism which advocates a return to a guild system. I mention this not to turn this blog into a political soapbox, but to explain how I came upon this article. The article is worth a read, but I'll break down the main characteristics of guilds according to the article here so those who don't want to won't have to:
  • The goal of the guild is to maintain the livelihood of its members, so that guild members who work hard will be guaranteed to be able to make a living at their trade. 
  • Guilds receive charters from the State that gives them the legal authority to regulate their trade.
  • Anyone can join a guild, but they have to go through a process before they become members of the guild. This keeps the ranks of the guild from swelling to the point where there is too much supply.
  • No one who isn't a member of a guild may legally practice the guild's trade.
  • Rules are put in place that keep competition from driving hard-working guild members out of business. In practice, this means that certain forms of competition are not allowed. (Like doctors not being allowed to advertise, from the example in the article.)
  • Rules are also put in place to maintain the quality of the trade. From reading books on the Middle Ages when I was in middle school, I remember that wine guilds would ban watering down wine, for example.
The best example from Western Capitalist society today probably is the practice of medicine, with the various boards that certify doctors standing in the place of guilds, but basically filling the same function. I'll assume that if you want more information on non-gaming guilds, though, that you'll read the article, so I'll stop explaining here.

So how do we apply this to gaming? The obvious answer seems to be that guilds prevent PCs from running roughshod over other characters. That'll mean that, at least in a relatively settled or civilized area, like a city or town, characters don't get to just set up shop and run a business while they rest for a week between dungeon expeditions. Instead, if they want to engage in a trade, they'll have to join a guild and go through the apprenticeship process. The article I've cited says that guild membership has to be free to anyone who can pass muster, but if you want to make your setting more frustrating and corrupt your PCs may have to have connections or buy their way into an apprenticeship. I don't particularly like this, since it makes guilds frustrating to players, and I like guilds, but it's a possibility and so I mention it.

Another possibility is to have guilds employ the adventurers. Maybe they need the PCs to investigate a member who is suspected of breaking some guild rules. Maybe someone is practicing their trade outside of the guild but hasn't been shut down by the authorities yet and the guild wants the PCs to find out why. Maybe the guild is required by it's charter to do its own enforcement, so the PCs are hired to enforce compliance with guild rules. Maybe the guild has heard about some opportunity for trade or some location of raw materials for its trade and wants the PCs to investigate for them. Having guilds as patrons in this way, I think, adds flavor and makes guilds an integral part of the setting in the players' minds.

Another possibility is having the PCs be part of an adventurers' guild. Telecanter has already kind of started this with his Five Fingers, where hirelings have rules that protect themselves from wanton PCs, but also have to hold up their end of the five protections as well. This isn't exactly a guild, though, since there's a kind of management/labor split in the relationship, but it's close. If hirelings were apprentice adventurers and the PCs and their hirelings were part of the same guild, then we'd have a true guild situation. Another possibility is that each class gets its own guild, much like my Order of the Green Hand.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Potion Components

While I acquired a PDF of Judges Guild's Ready Ref Sheets from RPGNow a while back, I recently realized that dead-tree versions are for sale, in great condition, for three bucks, over here, so I bought two.

One of the entries I'm on the fence about using is the Wizard' Guide, which goes into how much it costs to make magic weapons, armor, wands, rings and potions from which it gives an algorithm to calculate how much an item can be bought for (100 gold x MU level x weeks it takes to make, all on top of the manufacturing costs). It does make potions more expensive than most other systems I've seen (a Vorpal Blade, in this system, costs 100 gold x MU level x 124 weeks + 36200 gold!), but still adds a "magic can be bought" flavor I'm interested in keeping out of my game as much as possible.

One thing it does have, though, that I find immensely inspiring and is the first thing from the Ready Ref Sheets that I incorporated into my game, is that the potions have a single major component that must be obtained along with the regular costs of potion distillation. This creates a great reason why apprentice magic users are out adventuring at low levels: their master wants to create such-and-such a potion and believes that the major component of that potion is available in whatever wilderness or dungeon the apprentice magic user has been sent. (In my game, magic users who are not involved in a guild or magic academy are apprentices to a higher level magic user until they reach fifth level.)

So, here's the list of potions and their major components. If you want to know how long it takes to distill a potion and how much it costs, seriously, go buy yourself a copy of the Ready Ref Sheets. It's well worth the $3 + shipping.

Potion: Component
Growth: Giant Centipede
Diminuation: Snake Eggs
Giant Strength: Hair of Giant Type
Invisibility: Phase Spider's Eye
Gaseous Form: Vampire Dust
Polymorph: Doppleganger Teeth
Speed: Roc Egg
Levitation: Stirge Proboscis
Flying: Pixie Dust
ESP: Owl Bear Feathers
Delusion: Wart Hog Snout
Healing: Aztheleas Plant
Longevity: Mastodon Tusk
Extra Healing: Unicorn Horn
Oil of Slipperiness: Giant Eel
Clairvoyance: Wolverines (plural?!)
Animal Control: Giant Skunk
Undead Control: Mummy Dust
Plant Control: Green Slime (!)
Human Control: Dryad Hair
Giant Control: Hair of Giant Type
Dragon Control: Horn of Dragon Type
Invulnerability: Giant Slug
Fire Resistance: Hell Hound Teeth
Treasure Finding: Beholder Eye
Heroism: (Blank, but I'm assuming it's Hydra Teeth like the next entry)
Super-Heroism: Hydra Teeth
Oil of Etherealness: Sea Monster Oil (apparently it doesn't matter what kind of Sea Monster?)
Water Breathing: Crocodile
Poison Antidote: Same as Poison (yep, the poisons all have components too- go buy this, seriously!)
Dust of Sneezing: Pepper Plant
Dust of Appearance: Displacer Beast Tentacles
Dust of Paralyzation: Purple Lotus
Dust of Sneezing and Choking: 2 Yellow Lotus (in light of the "2" specified here, it looks like it really is plural wolverines that are required for a potion of Clairvoyance)
Dust of Disappearance: Shredded Elven Cloak (!)
Philtre of Healing: Lammasu Feathers
Tanglefoot Nuts: Tanglefoot Plants (does anyone know what these are?)
Web Nuts: Giant Spider (are "nuts" just small items that you can throw down and they'll explode, releasing whatever their flavor is- tanglefoot goop or webs or something?)
Holy Water (apparently a potion that requires a week of distillation by a Magic User, unless one interprets this to be a "potion of Holy Water," in which case I have no idea what it's supposed to do better than Holy Water…): Patriarch Blessing (this makes Holy Water even more difficult to make than in Raggi's LotFP:WFRP!)
Salve of Healing: Rust Monster Claw (!)
Powder of Unconsciousness: Yellow Lotus
Dust of Death: Black Lotus

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Arduin Magic Domains

Typing up the Arduin Special Ability Charts and tweaking them for my own campaign (converting skills to my own skill system, replacing undead with fungus and so forth), I realized that the Magic User chart has a system of magic schools or categories, like many people have house-ruled and like D&D 3.x made a part of the magic system under the moniker "domains." Here it is. I may do something with this someday, but not now.

Fire and Light
Animation and Disanimation
Time and Gate
Sleep and Charm
Cold and Poison
Fear and Confusion
Teleport, Phase and Dimension Door

Is this a reasonable division of schools or domains of magic? Are there any spells you can think of that don't fit into one of these categories?

Thursday, November 3, 2011


So, I guess I'm back. Things are still kind of crazy, and my series are still on hold, but I think I can probably handle semi-regular posting. Today, along with seeing that Brendan at Untimately has done a very cool bit of OSR blogosphere archeology, linking to Sham's "D&D Cover to Cover" series, I saw that Noisms had a list of "Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About." I don't have a lot to say on any of the topics right now, but I figured I'd address them all with a few thoughts. Maybe they'll spark some conversation around the OSR, or maybe they'll percolate in my head for a while and I'll come up with a more substantial treatment of a few of them at a later date. Here goes:

  • Book Binding: I read somewhere about how great spiral-bound binding would work for RPG books, and I agree. I don't know how many times I've not been able to just lay a book down when running a game and not have to worry about keeping my place with a bookmark, or even just the book closing on me. If the pages are reinforced with plastic along the spine, that would also make this one of the most durable ways to bind a book.
  • Voices: I'm generally weak on the sensate aspects of running a game, but I do try. Kobolds have my attempt at "chirpy" voices. I think I'm slowly getting better at this, but I have a ways to go.
  • Breaks: When you're running a Skype game, like I do, there's not a lot you can do when your players want to take a break (read, you can't throw your d30 at them through the screen). They're usually pretty good about this, but we game over dinnertime, so there's usually a few short ad hoc breaks a session. We try to keep this to a minimum.
  • Description: Again, I'm pretty weak in this area, though I am putting effort into getting better. My stocking of my megadungeon with dungeon dressing is the latest step I've taken to get better at this, but my descriptions, I'd say, only rarely hit what you could really call "evocative."
  • Anti-social/Evil PC behavior: I ban evil PCs in my game, and my players generally aren't interested in playing horrible people either, so I generally let my players have free reign when they think their characters would do something they don't necessarily condone. It hasn't been much of a problem so far. FrDave's recent post on how horror is most horrific when you realize that you're the monster has actually got me thinking about ways to give my players opportunities to do things they'll later regret.
  • PC-on-PC violence: I've never had any in games I've run, besides one instance of attempted grappling (I don't remember specifics, but one character tried to grab another character who was jumping overhead, and missed quite badly). There's a general assumption that I'm not going to stop it if it happens, however. My very second roleplaying experience involved me being on the losing side of a PC-vs-PC fight where I'd struck the first blow. I didn't end up dying, but got pretty close, so I got what I deserved.
  • One of the ways I think RPGs are a positive good, rather than just a really fun hobby, is that it involves people sitting in a circle (usually) and telling a story; I see it as a way to get back in touch with oral tradition, a way to fight back against TV and video games, have real interaction and have shared stories again. Because of this, I tend to describe RPGs as a shared story, where the players control the protagonists and the referee controls the setting. If people don't "get it" after just a bit of explanation, I usually tell them that it's hard to explain but it's pretty easy to "get" if you play or see it played, and encourage them to join in a game.
  • My first experience with alcohol at the table was at a SoCal Minicon, when Brunomac of Temple of Demogorgon brought some of the fruit of his other hobby to the evening game he ran for us. I didn't really notice it having any affect on the game compared to the others I'd played in that day that hadn't had alcohol. More recently, one of my players has been drinking Mikes Hard Lemonade, which also hasn't seemed to affect anything that I've noticed. No one's getting drunk, or even tipsy, so, if anything, it's probably just helping him relax and hopefully take risks and be more creative, which is great when you're playing RPGs and aren't driving afterwards.
  • Absent PCs: Right now, when a player is absent, so is their PC. My campaign is North March-y enough that it can handle that. I've considered using Zak's table of things that happened to your PC while you were gone. Taking PCs along with the rest of the party and killing them, or letting other PCs take advantage of them, are right out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Toys for Tots

So, ChicagoWiz's gaming blog is finally closing down. For those who are newer to the OSR blogosphere, ChicagoWiz was much more active in the past – I'd rank him among the "elders" of the OSR like Maliszewski and Rients – but, for various reasons, he's been much quieter of late. I'd like to write a long post about how much ChicagoWiz influenced my gaming and helped introduce me to the OSR, but when I suggested doing that on his blog he said that he'd be more comfortable if this was kept low key, and I'm going to honor that request.

One thing that he is OK with me doing, though, is talking about his Toys for Tots drive. Basically, the deal is that we donate money through PayPal, he goes out and buys toys for kids who might not get presents for Christmas otherwise, rides in a motorcycle parade where every motorcyclist brings toys to donate, and then gives the toys to Toys for Tots. His explanation for this year is here, his longer explanation from last year is here, the parade he'll ride in is here, the official "About Us" of Toys for Tots is here, and here's his post with pictures and a receipt from last year to prove that this is all legit.

If you've been influenced by ChicagoWiz's blogging, please donate as a "thank you" to him for what he's done for the OSR. If you're new enough on the scene not to be familiar with ChicagoWiz, go check out his blog; except for a few "best of" posts, they won't be up for long, so be sure you do so soon. Then, once you have an appreciation for what he's contributed, and how you've probably gotten some ideas or resources, please donate to his Toys for Tots drive. Please also post about ChicagoWiz's toy drive on your own blog or any other way you maintain a presence in the OSR blogosphere. Let's give ChicagoWiz the send-off he deserves with more toys than he can carry!