Monthly Archives: March 2013

Alternate cleric magic

Giotto – The Miracle of the Spring

Here is an idea for another way to do cleric magic, based on a d6 roll and my idea of competency (which is character level divided by 2, round up).

All cleric magic is ritualistic, and requires a turn (10 minutes) to attempt. This time represents the cleric petitioning for aid, reciting prayers or sutras, and so forth. Roll 1d6, add competency, subtract disfavor (see below), ritual succeeds on a 6. If the magic works, the cleric gains a point of disfavor. Disfavor is reset to zero when the cleric returns to civilization (generally, between sessions). Rituals available would be the standard spell list and max level of spell known would be equal to competency, just like for magic-users. Or maybe competency minus one to make it so that clerics don’t get any spells at first level.

Clerics are thus differentiated from magic-users, as cleric spells do not require preparation, are not useful during combat (unless they have been performed beforehand), and consume exploration time. This does slightly change the number of spells that can be cast per session. For example, a second level cleric would be able to get off two cures (or other spells) rather than one, but this is offset by the uncertain amount of time required to petition for aid.

Banishing demons or turning undead might also decrease effective competency, though I’m not sure if turning undead should require a roll or not.

Inspired partly by the patron disfavor system in DCC.


The plague city

Poussin – The Plague at Ashod (WikiPaintings)

I’ve been reading a book called Necropolis: London and Its Dead (a souvenir I picked up in Cambridge), and it gave me an idea for a campaign. Just jotting it down here so that I don’t forget.

The seat of the empire, the City, has served as the seat of power and the source of culture for ages untold. The hegemonic family’s rule has been unchallenged. But now, plague stalks the city, and the Heavenly Family was one of the first to succumb. In the power vacuum that followed, lords stood dumbfounded, but only for a moment before they were at each other’s throats.

Quickly, the disease raged unchecked, and the city descended into chaos, law fleeing to the hills with the nobles outside the now cursed city walls. The one accord the warring nobles made was to seal the city from the outside, hoping to save the surrounding lands by a great quarantine.

The PCs have been sealed within. Food dwindles, and many of those with arcane knowledge have turned to necromancy, either to preserve themselves from slow and painful death through un-death, or to make use of city’s now greatest resource: corpses uncountable. This is D&D as survival horror, with “treasure” often being another meal. Like insanity in Call of Cthulhu, death, while not fated, would be to some degree expected at some point.

In addition to some human classes, several types of B/X-style race as class undead would be playable, and would probably have some sort of humanity stat (perhaps shoehorned into wisdom) which would be the undead analogue of constitution/hunger for the still living. Negotiating the factions, building new power structures within the anarchic confines of the City, and maintaining enough resources to survive would be the primary objectives of gameplay. Perhaps playing an undead would need to be unlocked first, by finding and performing the appropriate necromancy.

OSR dogma recency

It have long thought that many old school gaming principles are fundamentally reinventions and reinterpretations rather than rediscoveries. Here is more evidence for that, from N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God, page 20:

The DM must remember that it is important that the party get to the dungeon. Encounters that are obviously too strong for the group (especially if they have been weakened by previous encounters) should be reduced or bypassed—for example, the party might come across a predator’s kill or war party’s trail instead of the the actual monsters; or they might be able to sneak past a monster that is otherwise engaged. On the other hand, a very strong party might encounter up to double the number of creatures or more. In all cases the DM should match the challenge to party strength and to the general flow of the adventure.

Basic D&D has some similar advice, but the text from N1 is notable in that A) it is even more explicit and B) it occurs in the first “beginner” module, ostensibly designed to teach new referees and players how the game works. N stands for “novice-level” and N1 was published in 1982. If this passage was found in a recently written module by someone like James Raggi or Matt Finch, it would be considered the rankest of heresies.

Personally, I prefer OSR distrust of predetermination and balance over the TSR advice. Why bother even putting numbers to challenges beforehand if you are just going to scale them to party strength? Why roll dice if you are not willing to live with the result?

Spell competency and other competencies

Spell competency is the highest level of spell that the magic-user can prepare. This is usually equivalent to experience level divided by 2 (round up). For example, a fifth level magic-user has a spell competency of 3. The original magic-user spell progression followed this pattern up until 6th level spells are considered, which are not gained until 12th level (rather than 11th, as the pattern would require).

I find treating this number as a separate stat is useful. For example, in the spell-casting roll. I imagine it could also be rather useful for some sort of magic duel as well. Relatedly, I read something by Jack on Google Plus about how he has spiced up the fighter class and simplified the thief for his Labyrinth Lord game. One of the abilities he added was a bonus to weapon damage every few levels (not exactly level divided by two in his system, but it easily could be with similar effect).

Does this risk the numerical inflation and illusionism of 4E? Regarding combat, as long as it’s not applied to the accuracy part of the equation, I don’t think so. I probably wouldn’t use this in OD&D, which has a very low numerical baseline (especially if you avoid +1 style magic items, like I do). But I could see it working well in a game that used B/X power assumptions perhaps.

As discussed by Talysman, this kind of “level divided by 2” number also fits well into the reaction roll when opposed by a similarly scoped difficulty number. He uses this as the basis for his X without spells class design paradigm:

The “without spells” approach is based on the reaction roll, and the interpretation of Turn Undead as a reaction roll: subtract the HD of the creature being commanded from the level of the character making the command, double the result, and use it to modify a 2d6 roll. On 9+, the command works.

The math is not exactly the same, but the similarity should be clear, I think. What if we generalized this kind of “reaction roll power” to every class? For example:
  • Cleric: turn undead (opposed by undead hit dice)
  • Fighter: intimidate or rally (opposed by enemy hit dice)
  • Magic-user: casting roll (opposed by spell level)
  • Thief: misdirect or dissemble (opposed by interlocutor hit dice)
And, if almost all capabilities are based on level divided by two, why not cut out the middle man and collapse level into that competency number? Attack progression does not happen every level in OD&D or Basic D&D. Saving throws do not increase every level. The only thing that increases every level is hit dice, and I think most of us can agree than D&D characters end up with too many hit dice anyways. An added benefit of this approach would be to do away with some of the ambiguity around the level numbers (as, for example, third level spells would be useable by third level magic-users).