Thursday, September 29, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Level Titles

Love them or hate them, level titles are definitely part of both Holmes and Cook. Therefore, for the purposes of my thought experiment, I need to deal with them. Frankly, this is not something I mind because, personally, I am very fond of the idea of level titles.

There is something inspiring about reading old session reports where a dwarven character is not referred to as Noto the 5th-level dwarf, but rather as Noto the Dwarven Swashbuckler. It seems to me, therefore, that level names had more meaning in the early years of the hobby. Take, for example, the 2nd Level Wandering Monster Table in Holmes. He does not use class names (fighting-man, cleric, magic-user, thief) but, rather, level titles: Swordsmen, Conjurers, Priests, and Robbers. At some point in our hobby, saying Conjurer translated to 3rd level magic user. Personally, I think that is really cool.

Nevertheless, there is a big however in my thinking — for those of you who think level titles are stupid, I agree with you. They read more like a thesaurus entry rather than a progression of rank. While Swashbuckler and Myrmidon sound cool, they have no real meaning — how are they different and what makes a Myrmidon better than a Swashbuckler? As is, level titles have no real sense of rank.

In medieval Europe, there were guilds that operated on the apprenticeship system. One would get apprenticed to a craftsman, who would train you while you worked for room and board for a period of around seven years. At that time, you would become a journeyman. This word comes from the French journée, meaning one day. This refers to the right to charge a fee for one days work. The journeyman had the right to work for any craftsman, live in their own home and be paid a wage. They could not hire anyone themselves, however. This was the privilege of the craftsman. Historically, each trade and each level within a trade had its own distinctive dress. For example, in Germany a journeyman carpenter wore a wide-brimmed black hat and black bell-bottomed pants and carried a curled hiking pole.

A similar arrangement is hinted at in the D&D class-system. The first three levels are akin to an apprenticeship, for example. It follows that the next three are akin to the journeyman and the next three (up to the name level) are similar to being a craftsman. Even in a sandbox-type of game, lower-level characters can benefit greatly by having some kind of patron. By the time they reach 4th level, they have attained enough treasure and skills to go off exploring unknown lands. Higher levels, in turn, represent the clearing out of those discovered lands, the building of a stronghold and attracting what amount to a bunch of apprentices.

Name levels, therefore, ought to reflect in some way this basic structure. This can be done by various implications in the names themselves. In doing a little extra work — coming up with the names, their meaning and the subsequent behavior/costume/right that comes with the name — can add a lot of depth to a campaign world.

Take the title Swordsman, for example. If one is not allowed to purchase or carry a sword until one becomes a 4th level fighter, seeing someone carrying a sword tells you a lot about that character and about the world they live in. This, therefore, is the key to making name levels truly sing — make them specific to a campaign world.

Here, then, is an example of what can be done with name levels in a world where being a cleric means being a Christian:

  1. Crucifer — meaning cross-bearer. Wearing a Crucifer's cross indicates the beginning of the path of being a cleric.
  2. Acolyte — meaning follower. In following the cleric's path, an acolyte learns how to cast divine magic.
  3. Ostiarius — meaning gate-keeper. This is the level just prior to ordination (they stand at the gate).
  4. Exorcist — this is the lowest order of clergy. They gain the right to wear vestments. It also speaks to the growing ability of the cleric to Turn undead.
  5. Auditor — meaning hearer. The cleric gains the authority to hear cases in the ecclesiastical court. They may wear an auditor's cowl.
  6. Subdeacon — This is highest of the minor orders of clergy. The subdeacon may wear an Orarion — a thin strip of decorative cloth that is wrapped around the shoulders and waste in various patterns that indicate rank.
  7. Deacon — meaning servant. Liturgically, this major order of clergy is responsible for the preparation and distribution of the gifts, reading the Gospel and leading the people in praying the litanies. For the purposes of D&D, it is the only major order (the others being priests and bishops) that could potentially have the freedom to be an adventurer.
  8. Vicar — meaning representative or ambassador. This is a deacon who has received the seal of a bishop, granting the power to speak for and negotiate in the name of the bishop.
  9. Archdeacon — where arch means over. The archdeacon has the right and responsibility to oversee and train lower level clerics.

Please note: this is an adventurer's path. Bishops and priests follow a different path. Therefore, every archbishop or archpriest is not necessarily a 9th level cleric. Depending upon how magic-heavy or readily available you want spells like Raise Dead to be, priests and bishops could all simply be the equivalent of 1st or 2nd level clerics.

13 comments:

  1. One of the first fantasy stories I remember reading on my own is the Circle of Magic series. This gave me a sense of titles; apprentice, journeyman, master, etc. I still like the idea, especially for classes that are tied in to some sort of campaign world organization. Part of the problem though is that classes have become more abstract. If fighter is supposed to represent many different archetypes, from barbarian to knight, then it doesn't make as much sense to have the titles.

    This also reminds me a little of the way the three orders of wizards were handled in the early versions of Dragonlance for AD&D. At around third level, you needed to take "the test" to prove that you were worthy of handling the power of a wizard. If you refused, you would be treated as a renegade and hunted down. If you succeeded, you graduated to a sort of journeyman wizard.

    I like the idea behind "swordsman" in your example too, though I'm not sure I could get players to go along with not being able to wield a sword until 4th level.

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  2. > in a world where being a cleric means being a Christian

    As opposed to a world where cleric titles zigzag among Catholic, Orthodox, Golden Dawn, Church of England and Buddhist? ;)

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  3. @Brendan
    Part of the problem though is that classes have become more abstract.
    They are generic and more abstract because over the last four decades FRPGs have given us a plethora of different fantasy worlds some radically different than others. This is why I think making Level Titles world-specific is the way to go.

    I like the idea behind "swordsman" in your example too, though I'm not sure I could get players to go along with not being able to wield a sword until 4th level.
    I am guessing that they would have no problem playing a Japanese-type game where only samurai are allowed to wield katanas...not being able to wield a sword until fourth level is just an extension of the same idea.

    @Roger.
    Exactly!;)

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  4. I really like the clerical level titles (and whole post). I was inspired to add some descriptions and rights to a list of level titles I worked up for fighters a while ago.

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  5. I like this, but have some questions.

    I don't know a whole lot about clerical adventuring in real life, but aren't missionaries (especially where they head out as the only representative of their church) usually priests, not deacons?

    I understand why bishops wouldn't typically be adventurers (unless you were doing a political game in a city). Though come to think of it, the original apostles were (if I understand correctly) also the first bishops, and they certainly did some traveling.

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  6. @Russ
    According to the practice of the early church, all clergy are ordained to a specific place. Thus, a priest is ordained to be the priest for a specific parish for the rest of his life. The same is true of a bishop. Deacons, on the other hand, were attached to a bishop and had the specific job of attending to members of the church community that were spread far and wide (see Acts for the initial mission of the deaconate). Therefore, in context of an FRPG deacons are the only order of clergy that would have the freedom of movement and mission to be an adventurer.

    The ranks of missionaries are full of laymen, actually. As far as the apostles are concerned, my understanding is that they were not bishops. The calling of an apostle is fundamentally different. A bishop is the main celebrant of the liturgy for the local church. The apostle is one who is sent out. The apostles did ordain the first bishops, however.

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  7. now you've got me thinking about Jesuits and mendicant orders, whiile previously I thought of fighter ranks being like martial arts belts. A guild can be big or small, public or secret, of course, but what you have here is social significance, opportunities, responsibilities. Which is all good, but easiest to sell to players when there's a clear reference to some existing type so they can grok the pros and cons, play the character rather than chafe under restrictions. I've dm'd c&s for d&d players and tried to explain that their non-noble characters justaren't raised to use plate armour effectively. They didn't buy it. I've a feeling a lot of made up guilds (thieves?) will suffer similarly.

    Can you level up mechanically without doing so socially, or are levels "granted" by higher ups? The cleric example works for the latter, since you never escape the hierarchy - even the Pope is under God - but what if that's not true of all professions/classes?

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  8. Exorcist at 4th level? Isn't the requirement higher for an official exorcist position?

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  9. @Alexander
    Isn't the requirement higher for an official exorcist position?
    Not to my understanding (which is that it is a minor order); however, please note that this is for the purpose of an FRPG and that my knowledge of current Roman Catholic practices (as opposed to the early Church) is sketchy, at best.

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  10. Love the level titles. Excellent!

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  11. @Russ/FrDave: My understanding is that within the Anglican communion, at least formerly, it was common for a priest to be reassigned to a different parish under the same bishop every few years. From what I understand, this was intended to prevent both the priest and the parish from becoming complacent. Whether it did/does or not, is another matter.

    @Brenden: I think a good compromise to the "no sword before level 4" would be to limit it to within civil boundaries. My players wouldn't likely go for a strict rule against it at all times, but would probably be willing to give up their weapons within the town or city limits. Then reaching level 4 and being able to carry a sword openly in town becomes a mark of privilege, possibly even marking the character as some form of law enforcement or military.

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  12. If I may, I'd like to offer a clarification for Alexander regarding the distinction between the Minor Order of Exorcist and the appointed role of Exorcist in a Latin Rite Diocese.

    The two are not to be confused, despite the apparent similarity of title.

    The Minor Order, to which Fr. Dave is referring, was traditionally in the West one of the steps towards ordination. The man possessing the Order of Exorcist was empowered by the Church to bless water, the formula for which requires an exorcism of the water before invoking the blessing of the Almighty.

    The Diocesan position of Exorcist is an office to which a priest or bishop (and only a priest or bishop) is appointed by the Ordinary of the Diocese (usually himself a bishop). That man, although some diocese have several, is appointed by the bishop and invested with a full measure of that Ordinary's authority in that ecclesiastical territory with regard to the expulsion of diabolical entities. The Exorcist in a diocese is thus more like a legate: a man dispatched by the legitimate authority and vested with the necessary authority to do his superior's will.

    Alas, in the Latin Rite West the Minor Orders have fallen into desuetude since 1969.

    I hope that clears things up.

    I've often thought of using the Minor Orders as level titles but I like this idea better since it reconciles the very active life of adventurers with the steps of the clergy. One may be a cleric without ever becoming a priest and, for the more active clergy, it might be better if they never receive priestly ordination or episcopal consecration.

    I'll have to chew on this further...but it's headed in a direction I really like.

    Thanks.

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  13. @Flambeaux
    Thanks for the clarification! I am glad you find this line of thinking inspiring.

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