Tag Archives: cleric

Boons of Ares

One of the base features of the Copernican Sovereignty setting is that characters can form covenants with any god to gain access to the deity’s boons. Clerics begin covenanted, but other characters may opt to form a covenant during play (though no more than one), if they have an exceptional Devotion* (3 or higher). Each god has a specific set of aspect-relevant boons.

Here is a list of boons from Ares, war god.

  • Recruit: weapon becomes hovering minion (L1, A1**) until end of combat.
  • Withstand: cancel up to 1d6 incoming damage (reaction)
  • Smite: add 1d6 damage to successful blow
  • Fortify: a failed morale check becomes a success
  • Persevere: slain combatant fights for one extra round***
  • Arm: conjure a mundane weapon (persists until next resource result)
  • Ignite: wreath weapon with magic fire (persists until end of combat)
  • Encourage: allies inflict +1 damage this round due to war drums

Given the multitude of deities, it would be impractical to create boon lists for every potential god. However, they can easily be created as needed using the existing King of Life boons as guidelines.

* Devotion is one of the six abilities in Hexagram and is kinda sorta like charisma.

** L1, A1 means level 1, armor 1. Traditional equivalent stats are roughly HD 1, AC as light armor.

*** For best effect, the boon caller should shout Fight On!

Daniel Sharman as Ares in Immortals (2011)

Daniel Sharman as Ares in Immortals (2011)

Stats and magics

Playing Dark Souls has helped crystalize in my mind a lot of how I want the character advancement options to work in The Final Castle. Back when I was working on the Hexagram rules, one of my main goals was to support flexible cross-class abilities without complexity or undermining traditional class archetypes, though now I find the particular approach I was working on somewhat unsatisfying. There was too much discretion, not enough structure, and the lists of system options were too long.

The Final Castle has a far simpler, and more elegant, method of advancement which I believe satisfies my original requirements. Characters may advance potentially to level ten, and each level gained allows the increase of one ability score* (though the same score may not be increased over subsequent levels). The ability scores are combined with a class bonus (which is half level, round up) to determine most action resolution. So, for example, a character is going to roll something like 1d20 +dexterity +fighter (shorthand here for fighter class bonus) when making a combat roll. Starting stats range from 0 to 3, a given stat can be increased up to +5, and the class bonus rises to +5 at most, yielding a nice range of bonus for even the luckiest and most focused character (up to +13 on the d20 scale at level 10). Such specialization comes at the cost of flexibility, as will become clear momentarily.

It may seem at first glance like this does not have much to do with the previous discussion of Dark Souls. However, like Dark Souls, the magic rules apply to characters of all classes. That is, a fighter, for example, rolls 1d20 +magic +magician when casting spells, and the number of spells that can be prepared is also governed by those numbers. (Recall that intelligence has been replaced by magic.) Now, in the case of a fighter, +magician (the class bonus) is always going to be zero, but +magic may be increased (if the fighter wants to dabble in magic) during level up rather than one of the physical stats. Magicians have access to more methods for learning spells, but any character with sufficient stats can at least learn spells from a teacher, and any character has the potential of sufficient stats through level up choices.

Cleric magic (called boons), is handled similarly, with +charisma and +cleric taking the place of +magic and +magician. Rather than learning spells one by one as does a magician, clerics are granted access to a full suite of powers upon making a covenant with a given immortal. The default covenant available to clerics at first level is with The King of Life**, but other covenants may be discovered during play and accessed by any character that has sufficient charisma score. Most immortals will not covenant with characters that use magic though, as such is considered presumptuous and hubristic. More than one covenant at a time is impossible, and breaking a covenant may come with serious consequences.

* Oversimplifying slightly for clarity.

** Inspired by Dogs in the Vineyard and used with permission.

Dark Souls magic

Almost all of the Dark Souls rules are somewhat applicable to the tabletop context, but the magic systems seem especially so suited. There are three magic systems: pyromancy, miracle, and sorcery. There are “classes” associated with each, but any character can level into the various kinds of magic by increasing the appropriate stats. Each magic requires a characteristic implement be equipped in order to cast spells of the given type. Each interacts with PC stats in a slightly different way, and the number of overall spell slots, which must be divided between all types of magic, is controlled by the attunement stat. Spells must be prepared (“attuned”) at bonfires, which is the equivalent of downtime or recovery in D&D, and may only be used a limited number of times before resting again.

Pyromancy is the simplest type of magic. There is some intimation that it is more primal and less sophisticated than sorcery. It is often associated with swamp dwellers, symbolic of exclusion and the primitive. There is a similarity here to the distinction WotC D&D makes between wizards (pseudo-academics) and sorcerers (wild talents, magic by lineage). Pyromancy power is not affected by any stats, other than the slots from attunement needed for spell preparation, and their power is dependent only upon the strength of the pyromancy flame used, which is the characteristic implement.

A pyromancy flame can be upgraded independently by spending souls, which, remember, function like both GP and XP. Most pyromancy is simple attack magic, fireballs and so forth, though there are also a few defensive spells, such as iron flesh and flash sweat (which increases defense against fire damage). From a game perspective, pyromancy gives players a way to get access to magic damage by dumping souls into an upgraded pyromancy flame and a few pyromancies without needing to increase level at all, assuming a PC meets the (very low) attunement requirement to be able to prepare any spells at all.

Sorceries are more academic, and higher precision. They often have intelligence prerequisites, and spell power is affected by intelligence. A character that wishes to be a competent sorcerer must dedicate a number of levels to the sorcery-oriented stats. The characteristic implement is the catalyst, often depicted as a wand or staff. Unlike pyromancy flames, or weapons, catalysts cannot be upgraded. You must find better ones.

Though there are several attack sorceries (such as soul arrows, which are basic “magic blasts” that also have the useful function of tracking enemy movement to some degree), there are in addition many utility and misdirection spells, such as aural decoy (which lures enemies away by creating a sound elsewhere), fall control (as feather fall), and hidden body (basically, invisibility). I have been playing a warrior and have only dipped lightly into sorcery so far, so I do not have much direct experience with these spells beyond soul arrows, but for a combat-oriented action RPG, there are a surprisingly large number of spells that seem to enable non-combat creativity.

Miracles are the province of the cleric, and are mostly, by default, as in D&D, defensive or restorative. However, the miracles a character has access to depends on which covenants are formed. For example, if you join the gravelord servant covenant, there are miracles that call giant phantom blades to attack your enemies. This is a fascinating system, reminiscent of “clerics of specific mythos” in 2E D&D, but much more dependent upon action during play. Further, a covenant comes with clear, objective factional duties and restrictions. I do not fully understand exactly how this affects gameplay, but what I have seen of the periphery makes the covenant system one of the most interesting aspects of Dark Souls design, and one that has been highly influential over my conception of clerics as servants of immortals in the world of The Final Castle. Beyond this contextual aspect, miracles work similarly to sorceries, requiring attunement at bonfires, and dependent upon the faith stat for power. The characteristic implement, which must be equipped to call a miracle, is the talisman.

This system design engenders several different kinds of trade-off. First, there are the advancement decisions about which stats are increased during level up. While strictly speaking it is possible to grind souls and increase everything, in practice this is tedious, and further unnecessary to be successful*. If you are just playing the game to explore and overcome challenges, you will naturally need to choose between physical capability and the various kinds of magic. This mode is also more applicable to the tabletop context, where grinding dynamics are minimized or nonexistent. Second, there is the cost and availability of various spells. Third, when you set out from a bonfire, you must divide your available attunement slots between spells. If you have four slots, for example, two could be miracles and two could be sorceries.

Fourth, and most importantly in terms of the gameplay experience, you must wield the appropriate implement to cast a given spell. While encumbrance rules do not prevent you from carrying everything with you (an aspect of the game I find somewhat strange), they do prevent you from equipping more than a few items, and switching between items that are not equipped during combat is asking for a quick death. In practice this means that you have a primary and secondary equipped item in each hand that is east to switch between. The left hand is usually occupied by a shield and either ranged weapon or tool (such as the skull lantern). This leaves the right hand for (likely) a melee weapon and magic implement. The final result of all of this design is that it is impractical to ready more than one kind of magic on a given excursion. Fifth, and finally, casting a spell has a more or less lengthy animation and thus requires a trade-off consideration in terms of when you start to cast a spell, as enemies may take advantage of that time or your vulnerability.

* At least in single-player mode. If you are into PvP it is likely different. The fact that grinding souls might make a big difference in the viability of character power is part of the reason I have little interest in PvP.

Cleric boons

Roerich - Blessed soul (source)

Roerich – Blessed soul (source)

Hey look, it’s another system for cleric magic. You need another one of those, right?

In addition to turning undead, clerics have the ability to call upon boons from patron immortals. All boons require an action and the brandishing of a holy symbol. Any target must be touched. A cleric may use a number of boons per adventure equal to class level. Thus, a third level cleric may use three boons. Boons need not be prepared in the manner of magician spells. The following eight effects are available.

  • Bless: grant +1d6 towards a single specific action (use prior to roll).
  • Cure: restore 1d6 HP.
  • Dispel: suppress a major enchantment or destroy a minor enchantment.
  • Exorcise: drive out a possessing spirit, which may not return to the same host.
  • Know: determine whether an object or creature is unholy or possessed.
  • Light: holy symbol shines; duration and illumination as torch.
  • Purify: remove corruption, including from contaminated food or drink.
  • Resist: 1d6 DR versus one of acid, fire, lightning, or cold for one exploration turn.

That is a simple version of the system. A more complicated version might have clerics only start with access to a few boons (say, 1 to 3) and gain one more per level attained. In that case, eight boons are probably not enough. Here are several more (with the original entries repeated, so that this list can be used as a random table if desired).

  1. Antidote: negate the effects of poison if used within one exploration turn.
  2. Awe: impose penalty to enemy morale checks.
  3. Bless: grant +1d6 towards a single specific action (use prior to roll).
  4. Clear: counteract a magical mental effect such as confusion or charm.
  5. Cure: restore 1d6 HP.
  6. Courage: counteract magical fear.
  7. Dispel: suppress a major enchantment or destroy a minor enchantment.
  8. Exorcise: drive out a possessing spirit, which may not return to the same host.
  9. Inspire: grant bonus to morale checks for all allied retainers for one exploration turn.
  10. Know: determine whether an object or person is unholy, enchanted, or possessed.
  11. Light: holy symbol shines; duration and illumination as torch.
  12. Protect: grant a defensive bonus of +1d6 for one exploration turn.
  13. Purify: remove corruption, including contamination from food or drink.
  14. Question: know if the answer to one question is a lie.
  15. Remedy: cure a non-magical disease.
  16. Resist: 1d6 DR versus one of acid, fire, lightning, or cold for one exploration turn.
  17. Seal: closure may not be opened by unholy creatures while holy symbol remains.
  18. Silence: prevents speaking or the casting of spells for 1d6 turns.
  19. Smite: a weapon’s next successful strike deals +1d6 damage to an unholy creature.
  20. Ward: protection from unholy creatures for 1d6 turns or until recipient attacks.

Some new ideas for turn undead

The main new ideas here are 1) clerics take damage on turn attempts that fail and 2) holy symbols serve as spiritual armor to reduce that backlash damage. Holy symbols also become damaged on bad turn rolls just like I have been having mundane gear degrade on bad combat rolls. The consequences of a failed turn roll are intended to provide a cost to using turn undead continuously without resorting to spell slots or some separate resource (as Pathfinder does with “channel energy” rules).

I have this vision of a cleric’s silver holy symbol melting in the face of a horde of wraiths.

The text below is an excerpt from a longer house rules document that I put together for an in-person game, and as such some terms are referenced without being defined. Overkill, for example, means combat roll success margin of 4 or better (or a natural 20).


Image by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (source)

Image by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (source)

By brandishing a holy symbol, clerics may attempt to overawe the undead. Turning undead affects a number of monster levels equal to 1d6 plus cleric level (the player may select which monsters are affected). It is resolved by a combat roll using cleric level rather than combat rating. Overkill results on a turn roll additionally deal 1d6 damage.

Undead that are affected by a turn shrink back in terror, and keep well away from the cleric as long as the turn is maintained. Such overawed creatures may not attack by any means. A turn may be maintained as long as the cleric does not engage in any activities other than concentration and slow movement. Attacking turned undead frees them from the effect.

Attempting to turn undead pits a cleric’s soul against the undead’s power. If the turn fails, the cleric takes 1d6 damage. This damage is spiritual, and so is not reduced by armor. Clerics reduced to zero HP from such spiritual damage are not slain, but rather knocked unconscious, retaining a single hit point.

Holy symbols become damaged in the case of low combat rolls just like weapons. Particularly fine holy symbols also serve as spiritual armor. Silver provides DR 1, gold DR 2, and platinum DR 3. This DR only applies to damage from failed turn attempts.

Characters of any class may assist with turning undead by brandishing a holy symbol. An assistant adds 1d6 to the effect coverage but no bonus to the combat roll. Assistants also take damage from failed turn attempts and must similarly concentrate to maintain a turn effect.

See also:

Compassionate guardians

Compassionate Guardian in repose (source)

Compassionate Guardian in repose (source)

The demon hunters believe that their order was founded by a great philosopher who, by sheer insight and force of will, yoked the power of cosmic law to civilization. Above all, this philosopher saw the danger that elder chaos posed to the young tribes of humans. The founder’s insight transcended mortality, but his or her compassion was so great that final enlightenment (escape from the cycle of rebirth) was deferred, and instead the great presence remained lodged in a bronze statue. From this statue, the first generation of demon hunters was instructed. This was the first Guardian, though many others have since arrived, animated by other compassionate spirits. Guardians are usually made of stone or metal, and are rarely less than the height of two men. They may have supplementary limbs or multiple faces. Sometimes they radiate light or heat. Each guardian is unique.

The actions of a Compassionate Guardian are totally unpredictable. Sometimes, they remain inert, statue-like, for years, before animating without warning to destroy some lurking threat, though they never intervene in mundane political struggles. Most Guardians do not speak, though some will project thoughts into nearby supplicants or provide oracles in various ways. Those who revere the Guardians believe that Guardian actions flow directly from perfect enlightenment and are thus above any worldly reproach.

Though the Guardians are immensely powerful, they are occasionally overcome by the powers of chaos and destroyed. The remnants of a Guardian are considered to be relics, and prized by demon hunters and the superstitious, who believe that even the smallest fragment will bring good luck (and, sometimes, relics do have more direct powers, which may only be used by those on the compassionate path, which includes demon hunters, paladins, and those with backgrounds related to religious training, assuming continued devoutness). Sometimes, a Compassionate Guardian will crumble for seemingly no reason at all. Though this is rarely a joyous occasion, it is considered part of the great cycle of rebirth. As Guardians are assumed to be sacrificing their own ascension for the benefit of others, they are entitled to resume transcendence beyond material existence at any point.

Demon hunters draw their powers from Compassionate Guardians, and thus must be within proximity of a guardian (or a relic), in order to cast Demon Hunter spells. For this reason, most demon hunters carry a relic at all times (this could be something like a small bit of metal on a leather cord or a stone fist mounted atop a staff). The greatest demon hunters carry weapons bestowed directly by a Compassionate Guardian, and such Guardian weapons function as relics. Even the weakest Guardian projects demon-killing power over a radius of many leagues, but the radii differs based on the guardian, and does not penetrate into the subterranean realms. Demon hunters will be able to sense if they are venturing outside the area of a Guardian’s attention, but this will not generally be a problem as long as the demon hunter possesses a relic. All demon hunters begin with a minor relic at the start of play, which is considered insignificant for encumbrance purposes and may be described in any way desired, either separate or integrated into another piece of equipment (for example, a stone Guardian eye mounted as a helm device).

In addition to the basic Compassionate Guardian ability to confer spells upon demon hunters, many individual Guardians can also grant more specific boons, or are known for particular concerns. For example, the legendary six-armed stone Guardian Varthamadeva is said to have granted a radiant blessing upon the weapons of any who would bring the remains of the living dead to her temple. She was also said to have transformed such remains into pure sugar crystals, after releasing the corrupted souls back into the cycle of natural rebirth.

The Iron God is said to be one of these Compassionate Guardians by some, though by no means do all share in the beliefs of the demon hunters.

This sort of ended up being an answer to Jeff’s first question, What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?

Strict Spell Learning

S&W Complete revised cover (lifted from here)

S&W Complete revised cover (lifted from here)

I have already discussed this on Google Plus, but I figure I should put it in a post for officialness (and stable accessibility). These rules are somewhat similar to the spell training rules for the recent sorcerer class, but in this case are intended to apply to standard magic-users.

In the upcoming S&W Complete based Finchbox campaign, sorcerous classes (magic-users, elementalists, necromancers, vivimancers) will begin with three first level spells and learn one per level gained as described below. The same procedure will apply to clerics demon hunters (which will use the LotFP cleric spells), but with only one spell to begin with at first level.

Magic-users will learn spells from the Dying Earth list, while elementalists, necromancers, and vivimancers will use the appropriate spell list from Theorems & Thaumaturgy.

See also Alex S.’s related comments.


Characters may only learn spells when a new spell slot is gained. For odd levels (including first), this spell is determined randomly. For even levels, spells may be selected by the player from the appropriate spell list. One new spell slot is gained per character level, with spell level equal to character level divided by two, rounded up. This means that spells will be acquired by magic-users as follows: 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, and so forth.

Spells may not be copied from spell books or scrolls. There is no need for players to decide which spells to prepare, as each spell known may be cast once per session.

Read magic is a class ability rather than a spell, and requires a successful intelligence check (only one try per magical text is allowed per character). Magic-users can cast spells that they do not know using scrolls, talismans, and fetishes. Such items cannot be created and must be found by adventuring (or, occasionally, purchased from curiosity shops or wandering cheapjacks).

Improved Turn Undead Spell

Mount, Saul and the Witch of Endor (source)

Mount, Saul and the Witch of Endor (source)

As many probably are already aware, Lamentations of the Flame Princess makes turn undead a spell rather than a cleric per-encounter class ability. In general, I think this is an attractive change, as turn undead can totally obviate certain challenges in a way that is not so engaging (especially at higher level). However, I think there are some problems with the LotFP implementation.

Specifically, though a spell slot must be dedicated to turn undead, the player must still resort to rolling on a traditional turning table. This is both mechanically awkward (as it requires a table lookup or extra data copied to the character sheet) and somewhat against the spirit of spell slots. Though it is true that some “slotted” spells can also be avoided based on a target saving throw, in general I prefer when players deciding to dedicate some resources results in at least some effect. As written, the LotFP turn undead spell occupies a spell slot and may still prove useless if the 2d6 roll is unlucky.

I still like the basic idea though, and I can think of two ways to adjust the spell. In the first method, you keep the turning table, but allow as many turn attempts as desired (though no more than one per encounter) for the duration of the spell (which is given as 1d4+2 turns; see Rules & Magic, page 146), rather than being terminated by failing a turning roll. I might also prefer to base the duration on cleric level, perhaps 1d6+level exploration turns rather that 1d4+2. The second method, presented below, bases the strength of the spell on the level of spell slot used (or the level of the cleric divided by two, rounded up if not using spell levels).

Turn Undead

Cleric spell of any level, range is 30′ or as light source, whichever is less.

This spell may be prepared in any available spell slot. The power of the spell is proportional to the level of slot used. Undead of HD less than or equal to the level of the slot are automatically turned, and those with HD equal to half that level (rounded down) are destroyed (reduced to ash and blown away as by a strong wind). While turned, undead will not enter the light, but instead creep around its edges. All undead within the range are affected. Turned undead may be kept at bay indefinitely with concentration. Attacking turned undead or pressing them aggressively (such as into a corner or over a precipice) ends the effect.

D20 Turn Undead Variant

Appearance of Banquo

Appearance of Banquo (source)

Quick: 1d20 + cleric level + CHR vs. 10 + HD. Succeed by 5 or more banishes or destroys. Nat 20 always succeeds, nat 1 results in a complication.

To turn away unholy creatures, such as demons or the walking dead, present an object of faith. Roll 1d20, add cleric level, and add charisma modifier. If the roll is equal to or greater than 10 + creature HD, the creature shrinks back or flees. If the roll exceeds the target number by 5 or more, the creature is destroyed or banished. Roll no more than once per encounter, and compare this single roll to all potentially affected monsters. Lower HD creatures are affected first. On a natural 1, your faith has failed you (or your god has deserted you), and your hubris only angers the monsters, giving them some form of bonus for the remainder of the encounter (perhaps +1 to everything, or a burning desire to slay and feast on the cleric specifically). Most of the time, you can assume that all undead in the encounter are potentially affected, but if there is a true horde, the max HD of affected creatures could be the modified turning roll (so a 6th level cleric with CHR of +2 that rolls a 10 affects up to 18 HD).

Advantages of this method:

  • Easier to remember than reaction roll ranges or (shudder) the whole turning table.
  • Less certainty makes every attempt interesting.
  • Gives lower level clerics more potential and higher level clerics more risk (relatively).
  • The turning roll always has 4 potential degrees of success.

Potential variations:

  • Require the use of a vial of holy water to add resource management restriction.
  • Allow anyone to turn, but widen the “fumble” zone to 1 + monster HD for non clerics.
  • Games without charisma modifiers would obviously just use + level.
  • Works as influence undead, of course, for necromancers or anti-clerics as well.

Somewhat reminiscent of Delta’s house rules, though his approach is framed as target 20 (and he has done away with clerics). Also similar to the 3E/Pathfinder method, though player-facing rather than referee-facing. In PF, the undead make a will save with DC 10 + half cleric level + cleric CHR. By the book, the PF method probably requires much more dice rolling, as each creature should get its own save, though I suppose you could roll one save per creature type to save time. In general, for PC abilities, I tend to prefer player-facing rolls, as they are more engaging (this is one thing that 4E definitely got right).

2d6 Casting Again

Nicholas Roerich - Snakes facing

Nicholas Roerich – Snakes facing (source)

On monday, I got to test out the petition system for cleric magic that uses a 2d6 casting roll. Here are my findings. I think they apply to other 2d6 casting systems that I have considered in the past as well.

Overall, I was pleased, but I would like to simplify the presentation somehow (the fourfold categorization did not seem immediately obvious to the players). I think there also needs to be some sort of exhaustion mechanic built in. There were no problems during the session exactly, but magic did feel a bit to accessible, especially compared to the party magic-user. Thus, I think I’m going to modify the 2 and 3-4-5 ranges to apply a cumulative penalty. So:

Spurned (further attempting this petition is at -1)

Becomes something like:

Spurned (failure, cumulative -1)

This is similar to a previous idea I had for accumulating arcane stress. It’s also related to this other recent post about another cleric magic system, which allocated “disfavor” points for successfully casting spells. I think the arcane stress post had the right of it by only causing cumulative penalties on lower rolls, as disfavor arising from success seems slightly strange.

Here is an adjusted cleric magic roll:

Petition Roll
2d6 Result
2 or less Abandoned (specific petition unavailable, any abjuration ends, cumulative -1)
3, 4, 5 Spurned (failure, cumulative -1)
6, 7, 8 Ignored (failure, may try again next turn)
9, 10, 11 Answered (standard success)
12 or more Rewarded (double effect, demons or undead destroyed, etc)

And a magic-user version:

Sorcery Roll
2d6 Result
2 or less Catastrophe (chaos surge/mutation/backfire, spell lost, cumulative -1)
3, 4, 5 Miscast (failure, chaos leak, cumulative -1)
6, 7, 8 Delayed (goes off at the end of all actions, may be interrupted)
9, 10, 11 Success
12 or more Puissant success (extended duration, full damage, or something similar)

Cumulative penalties go away and spells may be re-prepared after characters return to civilization and rest for a night, along with appropriate prayer or study.

The differences between cleric petitions and sorcery are as follows. Cleric magic need not be prepared, but is limited to the powers granted by a particular order or patron. It also is more ritualistic, and with the exception of a few limited combat effects (such as turn undead or hold person) requires at least an exploration turn (and often a full day) to attempt. Sorcery, on the other hand, requires preparation, but the set of effects to choose from is limited only by spells known. Sorcery is also more directly potent and more dangerous (potentially causing chaos leaks, mutations, backfires, and all kinds of nastiness). Both kinds of magic become harder to use as failures accumulate, which is important for the resource management aspect of game play.