Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Holmesian Druid Revisited

My last post on a Holmesian Druid got some very interesting responses that I have been meaning to respond to, but I have been laid up in bed for the last several days feeling rather awful and was in no shape to either write or even think straight enough to give a decent response.

Since I want to address several points from those comments and since I have ignored my blog for the last several days, I thought that the discussion deserved its own post.

Firstly, whenever I post stuff with the Holmes+Cook tag I am continuing a long standing thought experiment about what my version of D&D would have looked like if the only sources I had were Holmes and Cook where Holmes had precedence over Cook (in a reversal of what it says in Cook). Therefore, when I try and figure out how to do a subclass in this context, I am largely confining myself to these two rulesets as written and my own proclivities.

Secondly, I am an old-school Champions player. I actually played editions 1-3, still own editions 2 & 3 and, in general, it is the RPG system I have played more than any other outside of all the various versions of D&D. One of the basic (and brilliant) assumptions of Champions is that the powers of superheroes are too numerous to try and make an RPG work. Therefore, all powers are described strictly as mechanics. This leaves players the freedom to skin those mechanics however they want. An 8d6 energy blast can be a ray gun, a sonic blast, dragon breath or whatever you fancy. Therefore, when I look at RPGs, I tend to disassociate mechanics from their descriptors.

Thirdly, I am a Christian. In Holmes, there are several implicit Christian ideas. This encourages me to do what I already love to do: look at RPGs through the lens of Christianity and to use both Scripture and the history of the Church to find ideas that can be applied to RPGs.

When I look at the mechanics of the four classes in D&D here is what I find:

  • Fighters are good at combat. Therefore, subclasses ought to specialize in certain aspects of combat at the cost of other aspects of combat.
  • Magic-users are good at spell-casting. Therefore, subclasses ought to specialize in certain types of magics at the cost of being good at other types of magic.
  • Thieves are good at mundane aspects of the game. They get extra chances at surprise and opening doors, for example. Therefore, subclasses ought to specialize in certain aspects of the mundane at the cost of others.
  • Clerics are mechanically the most complex of the classes because they are okay at combat and okay at spell casting. The one mechanic that differentiates them from any other class is Turning. Therefore, subclasses ought be able to use the Turning mechanic for different special effects at the cost of affecting the undead.

Thus, the idea that a cleric channels the divine, life-giving force of God to repel and dispel the undead is a special effect — a way to skin the mechanic of Turning. The mechanic itself merely suggests that the cleric can affect 2d6 creatures of a certain type.

Thus, when I look at the druid, I do not see a paleolithic pagan that had some import in the pre-Roman Celtic world. I see someone like Daniel, several of the martyrs or the likes of St. Francis of Assisi who could look in face of fierce animals and either make friendly, have them go on their way or even become life-long companions. The mechanic of Turning is a great way to express this, because not all Christians who went into the arena avoided death by lion, etc.

St. Ignatius the God-bearer
depicted getting mauled by lions in his icon

As Scott Anderson suggested, the special effect could involve being able to have a conversation with the animals where the level of success could indicate how involved or detailed that conversation could get up to where ‘D’ indicates that the animal could function as a henchman.

In other words, the mechanic of Turning allows for cleric subclasses to express a plethora of special effects that emulate various miracles of the saints. We just have to decide which miracles are appropriate and which types of targets are applicable.

I will add that, like many of the commenters on my last post, I don’t have a lot of love for the druid class as presented in D&D in all of its forms. I have played a druid exactly once and I just remember being frustrated at every turn. Thus, one of the things that I keep in mind when I create or re-skin a character class is whether or not I would want to play one. A druid that uses the Turning mechanic to interact with animals is a druid I would play.


  1. Okay, I get it now (I wasn't fully aware of the limitations you were using). Understanding THAT makes your take on the druid (outlined in the previous post) much more coherent/tight.

    How would this turning interact with the "speak with animals" spell found in the Cook Expert set? Would one supersede the other? Or simply facilitate?

    1. Speak with Animals is the guaranteed conversation while Turning has the possibility to have a greater effect while also introducing the chance of failure. I might also allow a druid to boost his Turn roll with the spell to the level of 'D' to get henchman.

  2. Dave, I have a question not related to this post but I think you might the best person to answer.

    I have a teenage player that is very eager to play a catholic monk, because he is catholic himself.

    Any tips on running real religions in a RPG? I'm planning on using Yrth as a setting, since christianity is one of the available religions

    1. I have done it in several different games. Superhero games (using Night Crawler as inspiration), Vampire (one of the more interesting characters I played was a Muslim Imam turned vampire) as well as D&D. CAS's Averoigne cycle as well as REH's Solomon Cane stories both have Christian characters that you can go to for inspiration.

      In many ways, it is easier on both players and referees because we are dealing with a real world religion with all of its traditions and baggage. I would create situations that allow him to own it. Give him opportunities to be a catholic monk and to do and say those things that they would in the real world. I would also put him in challenging situations where he has to make some tough choices. This is the real fun of playing characters like this: playing up to their beliefs and then having to live by them, even through the tough situations. Above all: have fun!