Saturday, April 30, 2011

Holmes & Cook: Magic Items

One of the fun parts about my thought experiment of creating a hypothetical home-brew amalgam of Holmes Basic and Cook Expert D&D is finding and then trying to figure out a way to reconcile discrepancies between the editions. The variable weapon damage table I came up with is an example. It is its own animal, but it definitely pays homage to both editions. One area where there is quite a bit of overlap (and therefore opportunities for discrepancy) is in the area of Magic Items.

Magic Swords

The first big discrepancy between Holmes and Cook in magic items is with magic swords. For Holmes:
Weapons with a plus after them are magical and the user adds the plus to his die roll for a hit.

That is not to damage (I find it intriguing that 3rd edition revives this concept with Master Work weapons, knowingly or unknowingly paying homage to this conception of magic weapons). In addition:
Any sword that is +2 or +3 against particular opponents (trolls, undead, etc.) does the indicated additional damage.

Thus a Sword +1, +2 vs. Spell Casters would be +1 to hit, and any time it did so against a Spell Caster, 2 would be added to damage. For Cook:
All magic swords are listed with a plus or minus. The number is the amount added to or subtracted from the result of the "to hit" roll and to the damage done.

Although Holmes curiously has most non-sword magic weapons behave like Cook's magic swords, this is a major discrepancy that must be dealt with. I could spend a lot of time arguing the merits of each approach and choose one over the other; however, I am not going to do that. This is an amalgam and an opportunity to solve problems not by going either/or but by choosing both/and.

There are clearly three types of magical weapons:
  1. Those that only affect the to hit roll.
  2. Those that affect the to hit roll and damage differently depending on the target.
  3. Those that affect both the to hit roll and damage.
This last one represents those powerful magic weapons forged by an ancient civilization whose knowledge has been long since lost. No one remembers the means by which to create these weapons any more. The second represents an intermediary civilization that knew some of the ancient's secrets but did not have a full knowledge of the techniques required to create weapons that could also affect damage other than on specified targets. The first represents current knowledge on creating magical weapons. The ability to affect damage has been completely lost.

Ring of Regeneration

In Holmes, rings of regeneration are described thusly:
regenerates injury to the wearer at a rate of 1 hit point per turn, even if the wearer is killed and dismembered, unless the ring wearer is treated as a troll.

Cook describes them this way:
The wearer will regenerate lost hit points at the rate of 1 per round. It will also replace lost limbs; a finger will re-grow in 24 hours and 1 limb can be replaced in one week. The ring will not function if the wearer's hit points drop to 0 or less. Fire and acid damage cannot be cured by this ring.

This is an intriguing mix. Whereas Cook's version is much better with a healing rate, Holmes' version is capable of rescuing somebody from death (though I would rule that they would have had to have the ring on when they died in order for it to function). Clearly, the Holmes version would be the rare ancient magic; however, the Cook version tantalizingly indicates that there are things where the intermediary civilization improved ancient magical techniques.

Potion of Giant Strength

Holmes describes a potion of Giant Strength this way:
Confers the full advantages of stone giant prowess, including doing 3-18 points of damage when scoring a hit, and having the same hit probability as a stone giant.

Cook gives this description:
The user will gain the strength of a frost giant. The effect may not be combined with other strength-adjusting magic items. The user may throw small boulders up to 200' to strike for 3-18 (3d6) points of damage, and will inflict twice normal damage on a successful hit when using any weapon.

The key difference between these two is that in Holmes, the imbiber attacks as a 9HD creature. The fact that Cook's version invokes the more powerful Frost Giant does not change the fact that it is less potent when used by low level characters. Again, this gives a tantalizing picture of an intermediary civilization trying to improve upon ancient magic and in some way coming up short.

Other Magic Items

There are several other discrepancies in magic items, but this mostly has to do with things like duration. For example, Protection Scrolls last 1d4 turns according to Cook and 6 turns according to Holmes. Keeping with the both/and theme there will be Greater and Lesser versions of these items (where current knowledge only allows Lesser items to be created).

This will also hold true for Wands of Detecting Secret Doors and Traps. Cook separates these into two different wands. Both exist, with the combo version being a lost technique.

In Holmes the Staff of Striking is only usable by Magic Users. In Cook they are also usable by Clerics. This is a bit of a conundrum, depending upon the metaphysics of the game setting. In my case, having (Christian) Clerics around is a relatively new thing. Thus, for my own purposes, Cook's version would be newer; however, I would adjust that depending upon what type of cleric you wanted using these staves and whether or not they are still around.

Medallions of ESP come in two varieties in Cook (30' and 90') and do not malfunction. Homles stats a 60' version and they have a 1 in 6 chance of malfunctioning every time they are used. The 90' version is ancient magic. Cook's 30' version is the intermediary magic. The 60' Holmes version is current magic.

Finally, in Holmes, the Potion of Flying only allows a move of 120' per turn. Cook has it at 120' per round. Thus, the Holmes version is more of a levitation kind of thing and I would probably just rename it and have it as a separate magic item, especially since Cook lists a Potion of Levitation but has no description for it.

Saintly Saturday: St. Argyra the New Martyr

Today is one of the feast days of St. Argyra the New Martyr. She lived in Bithynia (northwest modern Turkey) during the 17th and 18th centuries. At the age of eighteen, she married a pious Christian and they moved into a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. Within days, a neighbor and son of the local magistrate declared his love for her and tried to convince her to become Muslim. When she retorted that she would rather die than marry a Muslim, she was brought to trial. Using false witnesses, who claimed that she had agreed to the proposal and then changed her mind, she was sentenced to flogging and life in prison. Witnesses (fellow prisoners) testified that she transformed her prison cell into a monastic cell through prayer and fasting. She was martyred in April 5th, 1721 (her main feast day). We celebrate April 30th because this is when her relics were discovered to be incorrupt and were moved to the Church of St. Paraskeve on this day in 1735.

The title Martyr normally refers to someone who is killed for their faith during the first three centuries of the Church (normally by the Roman Empire). With the rise of Constantine as the first Christian Emperor, the era of the Martyrs came to a close. This changed with the rise of Islam (and Communism after that). The title New Martyr refers to those killed for their faith in this new era of Martyrdom.

This may have to do with the fact that over the course of the past week there have been a bunch of posts about sandbox campaigns, but the idea of the New Martyr and the moving of relics reminds me of a very important aspect of running any kind of campaign, especially of the sandbox variety. Personally, I have found both as a player and as a referee, that if the campaign world doesn't react to the actions of the players, the campaign will fail.

These reactions need to be of all shapes and sizes and they need to be logical consequences to character action. For example, very early on in my Lost Colonies campaign, the party chased down a rumor that bandits were responsible for the lack caravans coming to Headwaters (and therefore a lack of supplies). Not only did the party take care of the "bandits" (which were really hobgoblins and carnivorous apes), but after increased trade with the bandits cleared off, they have periodically patrolled the road between Headwaters and Trisagia in order to keep it bandit-free. In turn, that began to attract people to Headwaters, especially after the party started to invest in building such things as a tavern, a cheese factory and a dwarven home. Although these things may seem mundane, the party feels as if they are a part of the community of Headwaters and are literally invested in its future. The growth of the town is a direct consequence of their actions.

Another example are things that can be remembered in time. People in Headwaters will talk about the battle against the skeleton army and the festival highlighted by the arrival of a cloud giant tower for years to come. Bringing these topics up in NPC conversations helps ground characters in their world. In a more concrete example (and one that closely adheres to today's feast), whenever (if ever) Dn. Goram returns the Two Swords to their proper place, this recovery of holy relics will become a feast within the local Church.

Of course, there ought to be negative consequences as well (and there have been plenty in my campaign), but, ultimately, I find that it is the positives that really help ground players in the campaign and create the sense of a living, breathing world.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

More Thoughts on Variable Weapon Damage via Holmes & Cook

After some good discussion after my post yesterday on variable damage via Holmes and Cook, I've done some more thinking. There a couple ways my table can be improved:
  • There needs to be a distinction between daggers/knives and throwing daggers/knives. The first are Small Weapons and the latter are Thrown Weapons.
  • Some weapons can exist in two different categories depending on how they are used or who uses them. For example, Bastard Swords can be used as Heavy Weapons when wielded two handed and Standard Weapons wielded with one hand. Another example would be racial weapons like the Gnome Hook. Normally, this would be a Penetrating Weapon. In the hands of a Gnome, however, it can also be used as a Small Weapon.
  • There probably needs to be another category of weapons — Reach Weapons. They deal d8 damage and will automatically win initiative in the first round against any other type of weapon (vs. other Reach Weapons they function as Standard Weapons). On subsequent rounds, however, they automatically lose initiative.
  • There also needs to be another type of missile weapon: small thrown weapons like darts. These do 1d4 damage and up to two can be thrown per round.
  • Finally, if the prospect of automatically losing initiative is enough of a deterrent for players to avoid the use of Heavy Weapons in play testing, I might suggest taking a -4 on initiative instead.
Any thoughts?

Holmes and the Thief Class

I am one of those grumpy old-school types who prefers my games without Thieves; however, I have reluctantly allowed their use (with heavy modification). In doing my thought experiment of trying to create an amalgam of Holmes and Cook, however, I've come to an Aha! moment with Thieves as written.

Holmes has this to say about dungeon doors:
Doors are usually closed and often stuck or locked. They have to have the locks picked or be smashed open. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that a door has been forced open. Of course, if the party has to hit the door several times before getting a roll of 1 or 2, there is no possibility of surprising the occupants of the room.
In other words, Thieves are door openers. They give a party an extra roll to open a door to have a chance to surprise whatever is on the other side. In addition, as they advance, they get better at hearing noise behind the door (and they begin the game on-par with demi-humans); and they get an extra saving throw when trying to remove traps (the remove trap skill). All the other stuff is fluff until the Thief gets to high enough level to take advantage of it.

The upshot of all this is that in a world where dungeon doors don't just open, Thieves become a necessity. If you don't want to face a 60+% chance of never getting a surprise round when opening a door, bring a Thief.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Variable Weapon Damage using Holmes & Cook

As I've written before, when it comes to d6 vs. variable weapon damage, I am not a partisan. Yes, in practice I use d6 damage; however, I am not 100% convinced I like it. Enter yesterday's post about creating an amalgam of the Holmes Basic edition and the Cook Expert edition. When the comments discussion turned to d6 vs. variable weapon damage, I pointed out Holmes has daggers able to attack twice per round. Then several good people pointed me in the direction of some sites that discuss Holmes and why daggers ought not be able to do so.

While all very good and fantastically interesting, my thought experiment is about combining Holmes with Cook, and the rule about daggers attacking twice per round (obviously making it an "uberweapon" with d6 damage) got me thinking about a way to combine Holmes and Cook to scratch an itch about weapon damage. What follows is a variable damage weapon table that also gives players a tactical element to weapon choice:

Small Weapons

These weapons are small and/or swift. While they do only d4 damage, they allow a character to have two attacks per round.
  • Dagger
  • Staff*

Thrown Weapons

These versatile weapons only do d6 damage but may be used both as a thrown weapon and as an HTH weapon.
  • Hand Axe
  • Spear
  • Club

Penetrating Weapons

These weapons are good at getting through armor. Though they only do d6 damage, they are at a +1 to hit in HTH.
  • Lance
  • Mace
  • Short Sword
  • War Hammer

Standard Weapons

These are standard HTH weapons. They do d8 damage.
  • Flail
  • Morning Star
  • Sword

Heavy Weapons

While these weapons do d10 damage, they are slow. Therefore, characters who use them always lose initiative.
  • Battle Axe*
  • Pole arm*
  • Two-Handed Sword*

Missile Weapons*

  • Bows do d6 damage but are +1 to hit.
  • Crossbows do d10 damage but lose initiative when they need to be reloaded.
  • Slings do d8 damage.

* = two-handed weapon

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Holmes Thought Experiment

In the afterglow (and recovery from) the celebration of Pascha (Easter), I was reading the introduction to the Cook-edited Expert D&D book and was transported in time back to 1981 when Moldvay's Basic first came out. On my way over to my best friend's house for our weekly get together, I got into an argument with him over which version of D&D was better — my Holmes Basic edition or his shiny new Moldvay Basic edition. There wasn't much substance to our argument (it was really just an "I've got a newer one, nya nya!" kind of fight), though I do remember scoring points because Holmes had stats for giants.

I had this flashback because Cook includes some tips for using my old Blue Book should I not have the Red Book version of the Basic rules (what he calls the "early edition of D&D Basic" and "older D&D Basic"). Cook explicitly states: any place where the older D&D Basic rules and the new D&D Expert rules differ, the D&D Expert rules should be used…several charts from D&D Basic have been reprinted on the back of the title page for reference.

I remember buying the Expert book before I went out and bought Molday's Basic (and before we eventually all moved onto "Advanced" D&D because that was obviously better than "Basic" and "Expert"). Thus, there was a time in my life when following Cook's advice would have been necessary.

Here is where I came up with a little thought experiment. Given that my friends and I didn't have access to, the budget for or fell into the implied advertising campaign of AD&D, what would've happened if I continued to insist that the Holmes edition was better than Moldvay's? In other words, what would my home-brew D&D games look like if I did the opposite of what Cook recommended and I allowed Holmes to trump Cook?

Cook lists the major areas where the two rules differ (Alignment, Encumbrance, Weapons (both normal & magical), Monsters (where Expert emphasizes wilderness encounters and there a few statistical discrepancies) and Treasure (Holmes prefers random placement and has 5 copper = 1 silver), but there is an amazing amount of consistency. This amalgam of Holmes & Cook is not really that far out in left field.

There are a couple of significant differences and omissions that I really like, however, when Holmes is preferred over Cook where the two differ:


Characteristics are de-emphasized to a dramatic degree and their primary function is to determine whether or not someone gets an experience point bonus.
  • No combat bonus for Strength.
  • Intelligence gives the wonderful wonky percentage to know spells and a minimum number of known spells — which the Magic User appears to start with!
  • No save bonus vs spell for Wisdom.
  • Dexterity give only a bonus to hit with missile fire.
  • Constitution still gives a hit point bonus (but only for 15 and above)
  • Charisma is not a dump stat — it can save a character's life. High Charisma characters are more likely to be taken prisoner that be killed and their followers (both men and monsters) will stand by until death. There is no upper limit for the number of hirelings with high Charisma.


There is an absolutely fascinating little paragraph in Holmes about Additional Character Classes:

At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man.

Couple this with the hints at paladins, rangers, illusionists, witches, monks, druids, assassins, half-elves and the idea that Dwarves and Halflings can advance as either Fighting-men or Thieves and elves are both Magic-Users and Fighting-men gives players a tremendous amount of freedom to fiddle with classes. In addition, this creates a nice little compromise between race-as-class (which I am a fan of) and those who want their dwarf or halfling to be something other than a dressed-up fighter.

Whereas there is plenty of information upon which to hypothesize a Halfling and Dwarven Thief, there really is no immediately apparent way to proceed with the other classes suggested. The half-elf seems to suggest an elf who can be either a Magic-User OR a Fighting-man.


Personally, I love the touch that there are no holy symbols, only crosses!


In practice, I tend to ignore encumbrance until it becomes obviously important (like how are you going to move 50,000 gold pieces?). I abstractly base movement rates upon armor worn. Therefore, I love the common-sense approach Holmes takes towards encumbrance — players list a location for every piece of equipment carried. If it doesn't make sense, you can't carry it.


I love the fact that Armor Class is a representation of a type of armor, rather than an abstract number. Sans a Dex bonus to AC, magic bonuses become a penalty to the attacker's roll. This opens the door to plausible Weapon vs. AC use.


Gnolls are mentioned throughout Holmes. They exist in the wandering monster tables, as examples for spell targets, as a language demi-humans know and as the equivalent for how a kobold-chief should fight as. There is even an illustration that we modern gamers would recognize as gnolls (hyena-men); however, they are not among the monsters in the monster section. Nor are they in Cook's Expert edition. It is possible to infer that they are 2HD creatures (based on their place and number in Holmes' monster encounter tables) but zero description as what a gnoll actually is. Thus, we are free to make it anything that we want — I am personally tempted to go with Lord Dunsany's gnoles who appear to be gem-loving dark fey who live in hidden holes in trees.


Magic-users can spend 100gp and 1 week per spell-level to create scrolls! This gives them a tremendous amount of flexibility — if they can afford it. This is rather key, since in Holmes Magic-Users can only use daggers and they will always have an AC none with no bonuses to protect them at low levels.

Finally, Holmes has the Stone Mountain cross-section with its evocative Great Stone Skull, The Pit and Domed City & came with B1 rather than B2...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Christ is Risen!

It is the day of the Resurrection! Let us shine brightly for the festival, and also embrace one another. Brethren, let us say even to those who hate us, "Let us forgive everything for the Resurrection." And thus let us cry aloud, " Christ is risen from the dead; by death He has trampled death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life!"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saintly Saturday: Sts. Agape, Chionia & Irene

Normally, April 23 is the feast day of St. George; however, he is so beloved by Orthodox Christians all over the world that if his feast falls within either Great Lent or Holy Week (as it does this year) it is transferred to the Monday after Pascha (Easter) so that it can be celebrated in its fullness. In this spirit, I will forego talking about St. George. Instead, I will write about a great story that I passed over in order to honor St. Lazarus last week. Last Saturday was also the feast of Sts. Agape (unconditional love), Chionia (snow) and Irene (peace) the holy virgin martyrs.

These three sisters were orphans who were brought up by a priest named Xeno (outsider). Having seen in a vision that the three virgins would die as martyrs, he urged them to endure all things for Christ. Shortly after his death, his vision came to fruition.

While visiting Aquilea in Italy (the vicinity where the three virgins lived), the Emperor Diocletian summoned Agape, Chionia and Irene into his presence after he was informed that they were Christians. Overcome by their physical beauty, he urged the virgins to denounce Christ and become brides of some in his entourage. They refused and were sent to Macedonia and the court of Governor Dulcititus. He, too, was enamored by the three virgins, only he wanted them for himself; however, when he tried to force himself on them, a physical force prevented him from finding their room. Disoriented, he ended tumbling through his own kitchen covered in soot. Enraged, he gave the three over to trial and execution.

The two eldest (Agape and Chionia) were burned (though in death, their bodies remained unburnt). Irene was sent to a brothel; however, two angels appeared as imperial soldiers and ordered her guard to leave her upon a high mountain. When they found out that their order had never been countermanded by their superiors, they went to hunt the virgin down. They found her on top of an unscalable summit. In anger and frustration, one soldier shot her through with an arrow.


The Mountain of the Three Virgin Martyrs

This remote mountain in the wilderness has a nearly unscalable summit, at the based of which is a life-like statue of a noble dressed in armor holding out his arm as if holding something and with a look of horror. Those who succeed in climbing to the top will be rewarded by the sight of three life-like statues of beautiful women, one of which holds an arrow. They are, in fact, the three bodies of virgin martyrs killed by the gaze of a medusa's head used as a nasty means of execution by an evil lord who used to rule over the land many years ago.

The three are sisters. The older two suffered the petrification while the third was to be sent to a brothel; however, the soldiers guarding her mysteriously left her in the wilderness next to the mount on which her petrified form now resides. When the evil lord learned of the deception, he hunted the girl down. When he found her atop the summit, he ordered her shot. When an arrow pierced her through, but did not seem to do her any harm, the evil lord pulled out the medusa's head. Though the gaze petrified the youngest sister, the evil lord was not careful due to his anger and was caught in the gaze himself. Today, no one knows where the medusa head is.

Those who see the three statues more than once will testify that they are in a different pose each time they see them. Indeed, many believe the petrified older sisters walked to the mountain top over the course of a century or so.

Anyone who climbs to the summit and asks for the intercessions of the three sisters will be given the effects of a Bless spell for the next 24 hours. Lawful characters who sleep on the summit will gain the effects of a Cure Light Wound spell.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Druids as Monsters Redux Part 3

Here are some more musings about the Druid Redux I have been working on in the last few posts:

The four Druidic cults do not like each other. This rivalry is particularly bitter between the Fire Druids and the Water Druids as well as between the Air Druids and the Earth Druids. These rivalries spawn from the fact these cults are particularly effective at canceling out each others' powers and therefore pose the greatest threat among all of the cults.

When faced with a bitter rival, a druid can cancel out a power/attack by sacrificing a combat round if they are of the same circle or higher than the power/attack being cancelled. For example, if a 3HD Fire Druid were attempting to shoot a fan of flame, a 3HD or higher Water Druid could spend a combat round canceling out the Fire Druid's attack.

Currently, the weakest cult is that of the Water Druids, because it was their stronghold that was decimated when the Temple of Elemental Evil was "destroyed." As a result, the Fire Druids are currently the most powerful of the cults. This has driven both the Air and the Earth Druids into a reluctant alliance with the Water Druids. Each is harboring and protecting the remnant Water Druids in order to counter the growing power of the Fire Druids. In the meantime, the remaining Water Druids are playing the other cults against each other and biding their time.

Although there are rumors of more powerful circles beyond the 8th (12 & 16HD elementals supposedly exist), no druid has ever managed to get beyond the 8th circle. Indeed, it has occurred to some that the 7th circle is actually more powerful than the 8th. [And it is. I did this on purpose in order emphasize the complete loss of humanity that comes with the 8th circle]. Though rare (because when found out they are hunted down and killed) there are rogue druids (normally of the 7HD variety) who are either seeking a way to increase their power while holding onto what remains of their humanity or that seek a way to gain back the humanity that they have lost.

Finally, there are also rumors of Druids who have successfully merged the disciplines of the various elements to create brand new circles such as mist, steam, mud, lava, etc. Given the rivalries that exist between the four main cults, however, such heretics are normally hunted down and killed.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Druids as Monsters Redux Part 2

Continuing with my thoughts from my last post, here are the stats for the other three classifications of Druids for use in my own version of the Temple of Elemental Evil:

Air Druids

Number Appearing: 1d6
% in Lair: 30%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: see below
Move: 120' (see below)
Hit Dice: 1 to 7
Attacks: 1 (damage see below)
Special: see below
Save: C1 for every HD
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVIII
XP: 1HD=10; 2HD=29; 3HD=65; 4HD=190; 5HD=650; 6HD=1320; 7HD=1840

These Chaotic cultists are completely dedicated to the annihilation of the self into becoming one with the element of air. Within the cult there are eight "circles" that the cultists advance through. Each circle as a corresponding power:
  • 1HD = the cultist begins their journey to "union" by learning how to manipulate the air that is immediately about their person. The first application is effectively making a shell of swirling air. This grants the cultist an effective AC 2 against missiles and an AC 4 against other attacks
  • 2HD = The cultist learns how to project his control of air at a distance. The result is a line-of-sight attack with no range penalties that does 1d6+1 points of damage. The cultist may fire off a number of these attacks per round equal to their HD/2 rounded up.
  • 3HD = The cultist begins to learn to integrate the air around them into their own flesh. As a result they may Levitate as per the spell at will.
  • 4HD = The cultist can now project much of their own physical self into the air around them. As a result they cast create an Obscuring Mist as per the spell once per turn.
  • 5HD = As the cultist becomes more aware of their own presence in the air around them, they begins to radically affect the air around them. They can create a Gust of Wind as per the spell at will.
  • 6HD = The cultist is now able to control air at a molecular level, able to create friction within the air itself. The result is massive amounts of static electricity which can be focused into a Lightning Bolt, as per the spell, 3 times per day.
  • 7HD = At this point, the cultist is almost completely one with their chosen element. They are able to Fly as per the spell at will.
The eighth circle is the final transformation of the cultist into an 8HD air elemental. Whatever humanity and personality they had is completely destroyed. They have completely given themselves up in order to become one with air.

Fire Druids

Number Appearing: 1d6
% in Lair: 30%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: see below
Move: 120' (see below)
Hit Dice: 1 to 7
Attacks: 1 (damage see below)
Special: see below
Save: C1 for every HD
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVIII
XP: 1HD=13; 2HD=38; 3HD=95; 4HD=300; 5HD=950; 6HD=1820; 7HD=2790

These Chaotic cultists are completely dedicated to the annihilation of the self into becoming one with the element of fire. Within the cult there are eight "circles" that the cultists advance through. Each circle as a corresponding power:
  • 1HD = the cultist begins their journey to "union" by learning how to acclimate themselves with fire. As a result, they are immune to all normal fire damage and take half damage from magical fire. A tactic they like to use in combat is to douse themselves in oil and set themselves on fire using a torch. Thus, anyone they hit in melee takes an extra 1d6 fire damage and anyone who hits them must make a save vs. breath or take 1d6 fire damage.
  • 2HD = Having acclimated themselves to fire, the cultist learns how to spontaneously Produce Flame as per the spell at will.
  • 3HD = The cultist begins to learn how to manipulate the fire they produce. They can create fan of flame in a 120' arc that shoot out 3' from their hands. Anyone caught in the flame take 1hp per HD of the cultist with no saving throw.
  • 4HD = The cultist can now produce tremendous amounts of heat from their body, as they begin to internalize the flames that they produce. Thus, they can Heat Metal as per the spell at will.
  • 5HD = The internal fire grows within the cultist and they are now able to throw a Fireball as per the spell three times per day (1d6 per HD).
  • 6HD = The internal fire is now an inferno. The cultist can produce a Wall of Flame as per the spell at will.
  • 7HD = At this point, the cultist is almost one with their chosen element. They can produce a Flame Strike as per the spell three times per day.
The eighth circle is the final transformation of the cultist into an 8HD fire elemental. Whatever humanity and personality they had is completely destroyed. They have completely given themselves up in order to become one with fire.

Water Druids

Number Appearing: 1d6
% in Lair: 30%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: see below
Move: 120' (see below)
Hit Dice: 1 to 7
Attacks: 1 (damage see below)
Special: see below
Save: C1 for every HD
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVIII
XP: 1HD=13; 2HD=38; 3HD=95; 4HD=245; 5HD=800; 6HD=1570; 7HD=2190

These Chaotic cultists are completely dedicated to the annihilation of the self into becoming one with the element of water. Within the cult there are eight "circles" that the cultists advance through. Each circle as a corresponding power:
  • 1HD = the cultist begins their journey to "union" by adhering pockets of water to their skin. As a result, they have an effective AC of 4. In addition, in combat, the water blurs the cultist's outline. Opponents suffer a -2 to hit the first time they attack during combat.
  • 2HD = The cultist learns to extend the water that now surrounds them to devastating effect. At will they can create a spray of water that has the same effect as a Color Spray spell.
  • 3HD = The cultist begins to learn how to bend light itself with the water that surrounds them. Three times per day they can become Invisible as per the spell.
  • 4HD = The cultist begins to internalize the water that surrounds them and they can breath in water as in air.
  • 5HD = The cultist now begins to be able to affect water at a molecular level. They can create a Wall of Ice as per the spell at will.
  • 6HD = The cultist's molecular control of water becomes more refined. They can produce an Ice Storm as per the spell three time per day.
  • 7HD = At this point, the cultist is almost one with their chosen element. They can move through water better than they can air. While in water, they can move twice their ground movement.
The eighth circle is the final transformation of the cultist into an 8HD water elemental. Whatever humanity and personality they had is completely destroyed. They have completely given themselves up in order to become one with water.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Druids as Monsters Redux Part 1

Due to the fact that I've been working on a concept for a redux of the Temple of Elemental Evil, I've been inserting various ideas to play test into my current campaign. One such idea is having Druids as the movers and shakers behind the Elemental Cults that vie for power within the Temple. Thus, I snuck in a few druids among the Blighted Fist orcs to see how much fun I could have.

The results were not very inspiring. Whereas I can almost see why someone might enjoy playing a Druid (I've never been a big fan), as enemy combatants…(let me see if I can put this nicely)…they suck…er, they aren't any fun to play. "Do what I say or I'll warp wood!" just doesn't cut it and casting Entangle still requires closing and trying to survive while wearing only leather armor (read: suicide). Even when you get to monster-cool spells like Call Lightning, you have to be outside. Obviously, if I am going to have any fun at all with a Temple redux, it will require a redux of the Druid.

In the past I have posited two simple answers to the identity of pagan priests (aka Druids). The first is to dress up magic users in priestly garb. The second is to make Druids Anti-Clerics who are only able to use the reverse versions of Cleric spells. While both have their appeal (I even began the process of making elemental spell lists by uniting the spells lists of all the various spell casters in AEC), I really wasn't all that interested in playing around with classes, whether old, modified or new. Only when I remembered my own axiom — Druids are monsters! — did things begin to fall into place.

If I embrace Druids as monsters then I am free to scuttle all the trapping of class — spell lists, levels, XP, variable HD, allowable armor & weapons, etc. What I am left with is the beautiful simplicity of HD and special abilities. What has resulted is an alternate vision of Elementals and where they come from. This is compatible with cosmologies that range from the systemization of Gygax and those who simply want to deal with only the "prime material plane."

Since the impetus of this project is the Temple of Elemental Evil, there are four flavors of "Druids." The first in this series will be those dedicated the the Cult of Earth.

Earth Druids

People are mortal, and what they make with lawless hands is dead; for they are better than the objects they worship, since they have life, but the idols never had. — Wisdom 15:17

Number Appearing: 1d6
% in Lair: 30%
Alignment: Chaotic
Armor Class: see below
Move: 120'
Hit Dice: 1 to 7
Attacks: 1 (damage see below)
Special: see below
Save: C1 for every HD
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XVIII
XP: 1HD=10; 2HD=29; 3HD=65; 4HD=190; 5HD=650; 6HD=1570; 7HD=2540

These Chaotic cultists are completely dedicated to the annihilation of the self into becoming one with the element of earth. Within the cult there are eight "circles" that the cultists advance through. Each circle has a corresponding power:
  • 1HD = the cultist begins their journey to "union" by fusing bits of earth to their skin. Thus, the cultist has an AC of 4.
  • 2HD = The cultist begins to be able to manipulate the fused earth on their skin. They are able to form vicious spikes on their fists. They gain a +1 to hit in melee and do 2d4 damage.
  • 3HD = The fusion of earth to skin is complete. The cultist now has an AC of 2.
  • 4HD = Now begins the process of fusing muscle to earth. The cultist gains an 18 STR — +3 to hit and damage.
  • 5HD = The outer crust of the cultist becomes so hard that they are now immune to normal missiles.
  • 6HD = The cultist begins to have control over earth. They may Stone Shape at will and 3 times per day may encase targets in contact with the ground (or a wall made of stone) in earth with the same effect as Hold Person.
  • 7HD = At this point, the cultist is almost completely one with their chosen element. They are able to pass through stone and earth as if it were air.
The eighth circle is the final transformation of the cultist into an 8HD earth elemental. Whatever humanity and personality they had is completely destroyed. They have totally given themselves up in order to become one with earth.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lost Colonies Session 37

This was one of the shortest sessions of the campaign, and one of the most brutal. The party decided to delve back into the lair of the Blighted Fist orcs and very quickly found the dragon — but not before the party had made enough noise killing off guards and vandalizing the place that the dragon was completely aware of the invaders. As a result, the party walked right into a buzz saw.

Hamlen, Grak and Orysus all failed their saving throw vs. breath weapon and died. Dn. Goram managed to avoid death and charged the beast in hopes of giving the survivors enough time to escape. The rest of the party, however, had different ideas. One of the things the characters had managed to salvage from the space ship were some unstable energy packs (one of the ways that they managed to cause the reactor meltdown that destroyed the ship just after they managed to escape). Ahkmed, using his ring of invisibility, carefully placed the packs next to the dragon, along with some black power.

Since his own plan had failed to find fruition, Dn. Goram, in desperation, pulled out the Two Swords. He felt a presence well inside him and a voice declared, "I'll take care of this." He then saw a vision of a saint standing before him, expertly wielding the Two Swords.

In the meantime, Fedorsha took aim at the black power/energy pack combo. The result was a massive explosion that took out the dragon. At this point, Ahkmed pulled out some of the preservation formula he had collected from the dwarven monastery and covered the bodies of the dead party members in a desperate attempt to give them time to find a way to raise them from the dead. They raided the treasure hoard (guarded by a pair of rot grub-infested pits, which they easily got through by casting Resist Fire upon themselves and then setting themselves on fire). They took what they could carry, got onto their giant eagles and got home to Headwaters as quickly as they could.

On the way, Dn. Goram used Speak with the Dead to confer with each party member as to their wishes (both to see if they wished to be raised and if not, what to do with their belongings). The session ended as he then arranged for the party to head to the Monastery of St. Urheim to not only complete his quest to restore to Two Swords to their proper place, but to try to contact the saint himself, in an attempt to find a way to raise his dead compatriots.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Lazarus

Every year on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the Orthodox Church celebrates St. Lazarus the Friend of Christ. We read the account of Christ raising him from the dead in the eleventh chapter of John in anticipation of the resurrection that we will see on Pascha (Easter). Because the chief priests wanted to do him harm (see John 12:10), Lazarus fled the Holy Land and ended up in Cyprus. There, he became the first Bishop of Kition (modern day Larnaca).

In one of the most interesting (and, for me, most personal) stories of his time in Cyprus, St. Lazarus missed his family and friends so deeply that he sent a boat to get the Virgin Mary and others to come visit him. On their journey to Cyprus, a storm blew them off course and they ended up on Mt. Athos (a peninsula in northern Greece). The locals were converted to Christianity and today the mountain is the spiritual center of Orthodox monasticism (it has twenty monasteries, a dozen sketes and several hermitages and the monks there still have a very special relationship with the Virgin Mary).

The Gospel According to John makes a very big deal out of the fact that Lazarus had been dead four days prior to being raised from the dead. This was important, because at four days, the body began to stink — someone was really dead and beyond the hope of resuscitation. This is why Christ rose on the third day — He was not to see any corruption (decay, putrefaction, etc.). In other words, the only way that Lazarus could have been raised from the dead was if God Himself had done so.

This is in stark contrast to the various editions of D&D, which place the number of days a person could be dead prior to the casting of Raise Dead at either 4 days + 4 days/level above 8 of the spell caster or 1 day/level of spell caster. Thus, for those who worry about the ramifications of a world with Raise Dead readily available, Scriptural tradition actually provides for a bit of control — 3 days or nothing.


The Shroud of St. Lazarus

This holy relic appears to be a battered and stained cloth, though it detects strongly of divine magic. Its efficacy only becomes apparent, however, when used to wrap the body of someone recently dead. As long as the body is wrapped within three days of death, the Shroud of St.Lazarus prevents putrefaction. While so wrapped, a Raise Dead spell may be successfully cast upon the body no matter how long it has been since death.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Different Kind of Megadungeon

Awhile ago, Staples of Grognardling began blogging about his efforts to create a megadungeon based upon various philosophies within the OSR. One of his inspirations was one of my own maps:

His own efforts got me thinking about a way that I could turn my own experimental map into a megadungeon. Step one in this thought process was to replace each room in the map with an entire dungeon area. Step two was to completely re-tool that marvelous old-school trope of the endless stair. The result has been a multi-level megadungeon with hundreds of encounter areas that for all intents and purposes uses only one map for each and every level.

First, a little background: as I've stated before, one of my all-time favorite modules is T1 The Village of Hommlet; however, one of my biggest disappointments was T1-4 The Temple of Elemental Evil. I have always wanted to do my own version of the Temple, but have never been satisfied with the several aborted beginnings I've made over the years. Thus, when I started musing about doing a megadungeon based upon my experimental map, I immediately began musing about a potential TEE redux.

Thus, the top level of this dungeon is the Temple as found in T1-4. Immediately beneath are catacombs, roughly in the form of an eight pointed star. This corresponds to the central room in my experimental map above. Each"point" in the star has a pair of locked double doors. These doors lead to dungeon areas inspired by the alchemical signs for Sun, Moon, Air, Earth, Fire and Water (and each corresponds with a different room in my experimental map). The Sun and Moon have two sets of doors leading to them and the others have one each.

Every area has a pair of teleportation rooms (just as each room does in the map above). One of the teleportation rooms in the Air, Earth, Fire and Water regions teleport the party to an identical dungeon located somewhere else (either on the same campaign world or potentially a different prime material plane). The other (requiring a key) will teleport the party outside the dungeon to a given spot (thus, mimicking the endless stair concept).

One of the teleportation rooms in the Sun and Moon regions requires four different keys (one for each of the four elements) to operate. It will teleport the party to a section of the dungeon inaccessible any other way. Within this inaccessible area is a teleportation room that will send the party to some fantastic place (such as a space station orbiting the sun or a moon base).

There are effectively four levels to this megadungeon (with each "level" existing in completely different places). Each one is dominated by a sect with the TEE cult dedicated to one of the elements. Only one of these levels (and thus, only one sect) was decimated by the forces of good that "destroyed" the Temple. These sects are bitter rivals, made only worse by the decimation of one of the sects. Each is trying to find their way into the inaccessible areas of the dungeons in order to gain access to the fantastic "magic" available to those who find themselves orbiting the sun or on the surface of the moon. Ironically, their rivalry is preventing any one of them from succeeding (because they need the keys from each of the sects).

I am very interested to see how this plays out. Map-making will be critical, because once one level is mapped out, the whole dungeon is mapped out giving the party the opportunity to carefully plan their expeditions.

Here is the rough draft of the map that I came up with for this concept. Enjoy:

Thursday, April 14, 2011


I've been meditating on megadungeons recently. Intellectually, I adore them. Although there are plenty of historical examples of dungeons underneath cities, megadungeons don't really make much sense from a realistic, practical point of view. And I don't care. They are all about exploring weird, scary and mysterious places. They are all about delving into the mythical underworld. They only need to have a sort of internal logic and *BOOM* my suspension of disbelief is firmly in place, and I am ready for the ride.

Speaking of internal logic (and a great way to spend the time), a fantastic way to come up with a megadungeon that has a history, of sorts, is the game How To Host a Dungeon. I usually will stop play when things look "interesting" and record a map, inhabitants, etc. Here is an example of one of my favorites:
To date, no one has found this place. It exists, somewhere, waiting to be explored. . .

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Eupsychios the Martyr

Today is the feast day of St. Eupsychios the Martyr. Considering the recent flap about a pastor burning a Koran down in Florida, St. Eupsychios is an extraordinarily politically-incorrect saint to be celebrating. He lived during the reign of Julian the Apostate (331/332-June of 36). The title Apostate refers to someone who renounces a religion. In his short reign, Julian tried to re-impose a systematized paganism over and against the Christianity that had taken hold of the Roman Empire. Whether he himself was once a Christian or he simply represented the renunciation of Christianity in the office of the Emperor, I cannot say for certain.

St. Eupsychios was on his way to getting married when he and others saw a sacrifice being offered at the pagan temple to Fortuna (a cult beloved of the Emperor). Seeing this, the groom-to-be led a group that destroyed the temple. Enraged, not only did Julian have Eupsychios tortured and beheaded, but he gathered an army to raze the city (Caesaria in Cappadocia) on his way to fight the Persians. He was diverted from this task by the bishop of Caesaria (St. Basil the Great) and subsequently died in battle from a stray spear. Legend has it that the spear was thrown by St. Mercurius (a Cappadocian martyr from a century before).

Setting aside the real-world merits and consequences of St. Eupsychios' zealotry, I can't help but meditate on one of the most beloved of Gygax's modules (and one of my all-time favorites) — T1 The Village of Hommlet.

We are told at the beginning of the module of a battle to destroy the Temple of Elemental Evil:
So great was the slaughter, so complete the victory of good, that the walled stronghold of the Temple of Elemental Evil fell within a fortnight, despite the aid of a terrible demon.
Interesting parallel, is it not? When one re-reads T1, there are those who go to the newly established Church dedicated to St. Cuthbert and those who cling to the Old Faith (along with a local Druid). If one recasts this module in terms of paganism vs. Christianity, the questions posed about Hommlet by Gygax for the players in his introduction are given added depth:
Will outsiders be shunned? Are reports of the whole community engaging in evil practices true? Are the folk here bumpkins, easily duped? Does a curse lay upon those who dare to venture into the lands which were once the Temple's?
Imagine, for a moment, if the open worship of St. Cuthbert's God is a recent phenomenon made possible by the conversion of those in political power. What if we recast the Viscount of Verbobonc in the role of Julian the Apostate? What if he were were either openly or secretly funding the renewal of the Temple?

Suddenly, Hommlet is transformed into a hotbed of political intrigue where every person in town who clings to the Old Faith is a potential spy for the Viscount and therefore the Temple. If the module (and implied campaign) goes ahead as written, the players will play the role of St. Eupsychios and risk the wrath of the Viscount, inviting an exciting end-game.


The Spear of St. Bywarian

This item, though it will radiate magic if detected, appears to be a rusted spearpoint upon a broken shaft. Its efficacy as a weapon depends upon the alignment of the target. Against Lawful creatures, it will function as a Staff of Healing. Against Neutral creatures, it will function as a normal spear. Against Chaotic creatures it will function as a +1 magic weapon and do double damage if the "to hit" roll is 5 or higher than the target number. For example, if the target number is 14 and the roll is 19 or 20, than the damage will be doubled.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lost Colonies Session 36

For a variety of real-life issues, this session saw a very small table. Faced with the choice of putting off play until such time that folks could actually show or coming up with some lame excuse as to why everyone else's character couldn't participate in the session, we decided on the latter. Given that the party was trudging through the wilderness where they knew an active orc lair existed, we decided that the characters and henchmen of the players who showed were outriders for the party — scouting out ahead to root out any wandering monster encounters.

The evening began with a night encounter with a Troll who seemed to be in command of a group of blind-folded, feral orcs. Armed with nothing but brutally spiked gauntlets, they bore a wide variety of nasty scars and had been branded on their stomach and chest with the tribal symbol of the rot- grub-tossing-orcs that they had encountered on their way out to the Dwarven mountains.

Desperate to track these orcs back to their lair, they were forced by darkness to wait until morning, when they woke to a nasty surprise. The orc's bodies decomposed at a much faster rate than one might expect and out of the muck emerged several small carrion crawlers. Though these were relatively easily dispatched, it greatly disturbed the party.

In the daylight, they managed to find a series of cave openings that they hoped would turn out to be the lair. As a side note, we decided to make extensive use of miniatures for this session. My players have been hinting that they would like to and given the relative complexity of some of the encounter areas, I didn't really mind the visual aids. It actually made the combats go quite smoothly.

In process, they encountered orcs decked out in leather aprons with long leather gloves armed with tongs. They discovered the purpose of these outfits when they interrupted some kind of ceremony where the tongs were being used to place rot grub on the stomachs of other orcs. They also found a "birthing" room where it seemed orcs were being manufactured. Mixed in among all of this were some carrion crawlers (which the party accidentally made angry) and a type of carrion-undead that caused those that looked upon them to be frozen in fear.

The most intriguing part of this session was the way a bunch of 1 and 2 HD creatures affected a mid-level party (ranging from 3rd to 6th level). Although the party PCs were immobilized a number of times via entangle spells, paralyzation and fear (leaving the henchmen to do the heavy combat lifting) no one was ever really in danger of dying. Rather, this session was all about resource management. Things like ammunition, torches, oil, spells, potions and scrolls got eaten up. When the party decided to retreat back to their camp, it was not due to low hit points, but rather because they had run out of virtually all of the above.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Meditating on Maps

This month Dyson Logos of A Character for Every Game is hosting the RPG Blog Carnival. The theme du jur for April is Cartography, which got me to thinking about my own obsession with maps and how that has continuously manifested in a desire to play RPGs.

I suppose I have to credit my dad. When I was a kid, he would insist on driving places for family vacations. I would get carsick in the back seat, so I was graduated to the front seat, where my dad would make me the navigator. Thus, I have always strongly associated maps with exploration — all those abstract symbols represented something real that I could go see. This was the seed that would later spore into a full blown obsession; however, despite the fact that I had been paying D&D for several years, had studied Tolkien's maps for hours on end and had dreamed of fantasy worlds of my own, it wasn't until I ran across a map of a fantasy world created by my dad when he was kid that I really began to appreciate the power of maps.

My dad has always harbored a love for all things related to rails. His basement is a maze of electric rail sets that have three distinct destinations (a mine and two towns), he has an ever growing collection of train time tables and his childhood was defined by the electric rail system that used to dominate Cleveland. He still dreamily remembers being able to leave home with a quarter, take the electric train, see a Saturday Matinee and come home with change.

Thus, his fantasy map was not of a Sword & Sorcery world filled with magic, lost civilizations and ancient secrets. His was a world of modern transit. He had cities connected by roads, tram systems and railways. There were places with names like Forgetown, Valley Port, Willowgrove and Bannocksburg. I was taken in. What did these cities produce? When did people move there? Why did they get those names? Who lived in these places? How can I explore and see the reality of something that does not exist?

The answer came in the form of Pro Foto-Football. I came up with a football league based on the cities on my dad's map. I designed all their uniforms, came up with a schedule and a random means of choosing offensive and defensive plays for each team. Then I played out I can't remember how many seasons.

A game, using random tables (Pro Foto-Football) became the means by which I was able to interact with my dad's map in order to tell a story. Thus, maps aren't just a means to tell you how to get from point A to point B. They are a tool for interactive story-telling. They imply questions like: What does that look like? How did it get there? Why is it called that? Why is it there in the first place? etc. Maps invite us to answer these questions, even when the places don't really exist. Most importantly (for me at any rate), games are the best outlet for answering these questions.

I could have written a story about my dad's fantasy world and have answered all my questions via a piece of fiction; however, maps are about exploration. If I'm making up the story and making all the decisions for myself, I can't be surprised and I can't really discover anything. Games — especially the interactive story-telling of RPGs — with their built-in randomness allow for that discovery and surprise.

Sure, I could decide that this particular ruin is occupied by bandits and that they have allied themselves with an evil cult trying to recover from a near death blow from the forces of civilization and good. But it is so much more fun when that story emerges from a couple of random rolls on a table when a party of adventurers that I have no control over interact with them…

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ecology of the Rot Grub

This is an example of what happens when random rolls, Gygaxian naturalism and OSR goodness get mixed within the recesses of my imagination. Awhile back, a simple random wilderness encounter turned into the Blighted Fist orc tribe (itself a randomly generated name). Playing off this name, I decided to give these orcs a special weapon — clay pots full of Rot Grub. In prepping for my players' most recent foray into the wilderness, I rolled up an encounter with a dragon in the same territory occupied by the Blighted Fist. In my mind, these two random encounters ought to be related somehow. . . it's that fuzzy warm place in my mind where I actualize my own distorted version of Gygaxian naturalism.

When I get a series of random encounters that share the same space, I like to try and link them via an ecology that makes sense — somehow, whether biologically or socially, these creatures have a relationship. Contemplating the disparate encounters of orcs and dragons, two things formed the foundation for this relational ecology. The first was a nice little post by Dyson Logos over at A Character for Every Game where he re-skinned some dragons with a variety of cool concepts. The second was a comment on a post at Grognardia musing on purple worms that postulated the cool factor of purple worms being the larval stage of dragons. The link between these two was the lowly Rot Grub.

I decided to steal Dyson's idea of the Carrion Dragon since it fit nicely with the Rot Grub theme. Imagining that the Rot Grub is a kind of (very nasty) egg, I added this wrinkle: 1 in 6 Rot Grubs won't go for the heart, but rather for the stomach. When they come into contact with the stomach acid, they start to produce a chemical that serves two purposes: 1) it starts a metamorphic process that will result in the larval stage 2) it causes the adrenal gland in the victim to go into overdrive.The result is the victim is driven mad/transformed into a berserker. Riffing off the Carrion Dragon, the larval stage is the Carrion Crawler. The overactive adrenal gland serves two purposes — it protects the egg in its initial metamorphosis, and it eventually leads to the death of the host giving the small Carrion Crawler its first meal.

The Blighted Fist enters the picture as willing hosts to the Carrion Dragon's eggs. The orcs see the dragon as a kind of avatar bearing divine gifts that transforms worthy recipients into uber-orcs. As such, they have become a bunch of zealous fanatics dedicated to the care, feeding and harvesting of the Rot Grub eggs and their Carrion Crawler hatchlings. These uber-orcs are created during ceremonies in which Rot Grubs that are most likely to go to the stomach instead of the heart are chosen and placed onto the stomach of those orcs undergoing the "transformation." If the wrong Rot Grub is chosen, the victim orc was "not worthy." Those who receive the eggs successfully are transformed into a berserker class of orcs. Upon their death a small 1HD version of the carrion crawler will eat its way out of the corpse in 1d12 hours. The Blighted Fists shower their enemies with Rot Grubs in order to feed enough so that they are ready to go into the stomach of a willing orc.

In turn, when the carrion crawlers have engorged themselves enough on rotting flesh, they will form a cocoon. Eventually, a young carrion dragon will emerge. Upon reaching adulthood, these dragons will start producing Rot Grub and the whole process begins again.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Titus the Wonderworker

Titus the Wonderworker was a monastic saint from the ninth century. He was called to the ascetic lifestyle from his youth and he became a monk at the Studion monastery outside of Constantinople. He was beloved of his fellow monks and through their requests, St. Titus became a priest. He defended the use of icons during iconoclasm and lived into his old age.

The title Wonderworker refers to a classification of saint through which God has chosen to work miracles. Most often, these miracles include:
  • Healing of physical and spiritual illness
  • Raising from the dead
  • Physical feats of great wonder
  • Healing of Demonic Possession
  • Myrrh-streaming relics and icons
From this perspective, all Clerics in D&D are Wonderworkers — which leads me to think of that brilliant observation from the Incredibles: when everyone is special, no one will be. In a world where magic is an everyday occurrence, what constitutes a "wonder?"

Beedo over at Dreams in the Lich House recently delved into the DMG about how Clerics get their spells. At first glance, it might seem to answer the implied question posed by the title Wonderworker in that low level spells are merely training (i.e. they can be understood as mundane) whereas higher level spells (3rd level and higher) are granted through prayers, intermediaries and the deity itself.

My major quibble with this understanding of Cleric spells is that it runs counter to a Christian worldview. In the Orthodox tradition, chrismation (what has become confirmation in Western Christendom) happens at baptism. The person being brought into the Church is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself. Indeed, those who are baptized and chrismated are called the newly illumined because they shine forth the light of God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. We are the temple of God. Thus, there is no separation between a Christian and God as implied by the DMG's understanding of Clerical magic.

In addition, Christian tradition understands ordination as a laying on of hands wherein the candidate is given a special chrism from the Holy Spirit for the ministry. Thus, Clerics would have an even more intimate relationship with God specifically for the purpose of being a Cleric.

There are several ways to deal with the question of the Wonderworker and honor this Christian understanding. The first I've already spoken about in a previous post. In short, the only sort of the Cleric that does adventuring is the deacon. Thus, bishops and priests are almost entirely low-level Clerics. Couple this with the fact that in older editions of the game Clerics don't get spells until 2nd level, and then the healing-by-magic thing becomes severely limited and very rare. There is, however, the implication that PC Clerics will begin to have the reputation of being a Wonderworker and might get very popular indeed (not always a desirable thing).

The second accepts magic as normal for those campaigns that use later editions (or LL) and that embrace the implication of level names — high level Clerics are bishops. Note the last example in the list of miracles above. In a fantasy world where magic is abundant and normal, myrrh-streaming relics and icons could be the standard by which a saint is called a Wonderworker.

The last option is one that takes the DMG take on Cleric magic and modifies it with a splash of the first option. If first and second level Cleric spells are re-skinned as mundane skills (CLW is medical training rather than magical healing), than the implied period of testing (as stated in Moldvay's Basic that Clerics must prove their devotion to their god) can be expanded until the reception of 3rd level spells. It is at this point that the Cleric character is ordained.

Given my own understanding of the deacon-as-adventurer, this still limits the level of priests and bishops as well as the amount of actual divine magic in a fantasy RPG; however, it does add a very nice level of spice to the progression of the Cleric character. The player is forced to ask various questions about their character: will they be celibate or married? will they retire from adventuring in order to be a priest or a bishop? are they really ready to dedicate the rest of their life as clergy?

There are a couple of very interesting implications from this third option:
  • Low-level Clerics are laymen. This opens up the possibility for monastics to simply be low-level Clerics without the implication of ordination.
  • It also opens up the possibility for characters to be low-level Clerics without formal training (the spells represent natural abilities), but get the notice of the Church through their adventuring.
  • In order to get 3rd level + spells, one has to be ordained and be within the Church; however, one could theoretically continue to advance in levels outside the Church, but never receive any spells beyond 2nd.
  • Should there be an option beyond this for Cleric characters who decide not to get ordained? Could they be allowed to dual class?
The life of St. Titus, by the way, implies the third option...