Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Innocent of Alaska

Today is the feast of St. Innocent of Alaska, also known as Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Alaska. He was born in the Irkutsk region of Russia where he studied at seminary. He married, became a deacon and later a priest. When missionaries were needed to go to Alaska, he and his family volunteered.

After arriving in 1824, St. Innocent realized he had a gift for languages and shortly mastered six of the local dialects and even translated the Gospel according Matthew into the most wide-spread dialect — the Unagan of the Aleuts.

After his wife died, he was tonsured a monk and ordained as a bishop. Eventually he was elected as the Metropolitan of Moscow in 1867. He died 12 years later in 1879.

This marks the third Saintly Saturday post dedicated to various American saints who made their mark in Alaska. Each time, it has inspired me to work a little more on one of my Gamer ADD projects — a fantasy campaign world based upon this period of Alaska.

As I have stated before, I would likely use B/X or LL as my base rule set; however, due to the nature of the setting I would have to do some heavy house ruling. I thought I would take advantage and summarize some of the ones I have come up with so far:


A fantasy setting set in 18th century frontier Alaska, unfortunately, needs to have firearms. Both colonial powers involved in this region of the world rely heavily on black powder. Therefore, I need to come up with a way to make them interesting without overpowering them; however, they will be much more expensive than standard weapons (I am thinking by a magnitude of around x10).


The main way I intend to simulate firearms is to have armor reduce damage rather than making a PC harder to hit. What is traditionally called AC will, in fact, be a target number based on a PC’s Dex score. Heavier armors reduce the maximum effective Dex score — plate armor will make you easier to hit, but tougher to damage.

Firearms don’t do any extra damage; however, they can ignore DR depending on the size of the weapon. This realistically simulates why armor eventually gets abandoned.

As per the B/X and LL rules there will be the three standard armor types:

  • Leather — representing the hide-type armor favored by the Natives and cloth armor sometimes used by colonial regulars. DR=1; Max Dex = 15
  • Chain — representing bone armor sometimes used by Natives and chain shirts sometimes worn by Albiones officers. DR=2; Max Dex = 12
  • Plate — representing breastplate and grieves worn by both Ruthenian and Albiones officers and cavalry. DR=3; Max Dex = 9
At the moment, I am inclined to not include shields because they had largely fallen out of use by this time.


Since this world does involve touchy subjects like colonialism, nativism and a missionary church, I am much inclined to dump the traditional D&D alignment system for one that harkens back to the days of Chainmail. In other words, there will be three different sides that PCs can choose to align themselves with — Ruthenia, with its claim to be the Third Rome and their close association with the Church (roughly akin to Lawful); Albion, with their claim to be the most powerful empire in the world, mostly due to their use of arcane science and possibly a few demon pacts along the way (roughly akin to Chaos); and the Natives who may or may not cooperate with the two colonial powers (roughly akin to Neutral).


Since this setting sits at the cusp of the industrial revolution, I want all magic to have a pseudo-science feel to it. Arcane spells are akin to devices powered by hellfire or bound demons. Divine spells are akin to objects powered by the breath of angels. Native magic will be akin to alchemy using the natural ingredients passed down through the generations. Found magic will most likely be ancient alien technology.

This may have some significant affects on how spells function. For example, I am inclined to have CLW function as it did it 0e — it takes one full turn to “cast.” Rather than being a miraculous healing during combat, it is the bandaging up with various medicines after combat.


There will be humans only; however, that doesn’t mean I won’t be using the race-as-class abilities of demi-humans — they’ll just be recast as humans (see below).


I am seriously considering having different versions of each of the three core classes based on alignment. I say three because I don’t want to mess with the Thief. I am inclined against the class in the first place and (at least at the moment) can’t think of a good way to make it fit thematically.

Here are some initial thoughts:


  • Ruthenian Demonhunter — less emphasis on healing spells (see the implementation of CLW above) and more emphasis on fighting (leaves a lot of room for non-clergy PCs).
  • Native Medicine Man — uses the druid spell list, representing local knowledge of natural phenomena and tricks. 
  • Albiones Possessed — something akin to Stewart’s take on the anti-paladin

Magic User

  • Ruthenian Haykar — a mad scientist-type that sees theology as the mother of sciences. Instead of a spell book, they would have several one-use devices that could then be repaired/reset.
  • Native Windweaver — uses the illusionist spell list, representing an intimate knowledge of local hallucinogenic plants and techniques to mislead and obfuscate.
  • Albiones Battle Mage — this is where I get to the use the elf race-as-class recast as a human playing with hellfire.


The base fighter will be available to all alignments. There will be specialized versions, however:
  • Ruthenian Grenadier — this is the dwarf recast as human. Grenadiers are basically the biggest and toughest infantry men used to fighting in the trenches and functioning as sappers during siege combat.
  • Native Hunter — some version of the ranger (which one I have yet to decide).
  • Albiones Musketeer — this is the halfling recast as human. These are soldiers imbued with hellfire in order to make them tougher and better marksmen (remember, Halflings get +1 with missile weapons). This also limits their potential (the reason they only get to go to 8th level).


Andrew said...

You have some interesting ideas here. Is your objective at the end to have a .pdf available?

Reskinning D&D is a challenging and interesting exercise. I look forward to seeing how it goes.

Roger G-S said...

Very cool and inventive!

Anathemata said...

Long time fan, first time writing. I always preferred St. Herman of Alaska :). Anyways, I like where all this is going, but especially love the DR/DEX approach to armor. An elegant balance between a number of attempts at this idea. And I love the idea of playing in Alaska.

richard said...

really interesting thoughts. Since you're taking a fantastical and eclectic approach to sources, have you seen the film The Fast Runner?

FrDave said...

Yes, I have, back when it first came out. It is one of the reasons why I think that this campaign idea has legs (no pun intended).

Necropraxis said...

I like this quite a bit, particularly the alignment-based class variations.

Matthew Slepin said...

Seems to me that having armour as DR misses the design-idea of D&D armour. You can do it one way or the other, but both ways (one way for melee and another for firearms) seems a bit off to me.

FrDave said...

The reason it misses the design idea of D&D is because D&D doesn't do firearms and never has done them well. In this setting, which is based on an historical period where firearms have made armor largely obsolete, but were in some ways less deadly than a good sword, it is difficult to do with traditional D&D combat. Giving a musket more damage than a sword fails to acknowledge the inherent inaccuracy of a single gun shot. Making them inaccurate vs. traditional D&D AC fails to acknowledge that by the 18th century virtually no one was wearing armor because of firearms.

Going the DR route seems the best option to represent how plate could protect you from a sword, but was obsolete vs. firearms.

Dave said...

WOW! I want to play! I'm curious about your choice of Ruthenia as a major group... I know your game world is fantasy, but did Orthodox from the Carpathians really hang out in Alaska? Are your Ruthenians Orthodox or Catholic (well, game analogues anyway) and was there a Union of Uzhhorod in your campaign world? (I have priestly relatives and ancestors on both sides of this sad divide, so am intensely interested in such things!)

FrDave said...

Thanks for the enthusiasm! I went the name Ruthenia because, like Albion is for Britain, it is an older name for a region associated with Russia. Also like Albion, it sounds cool and has a fantasy feel to it.

My intention was for the Church of the Ruthenians to be an Orthodox analogue. As far as a Union of Uzhhorod, I hadn't thought about it. Albion is secular at best, demonic at worst and I have yet to decide what effect that would have had on Western Christendom; however, if a player of mine were ever interested in exploring such an idea in the campaign, I wouldn't say no...

The Jovial Priest said...

Great stuff. Great setting.
Using Dexterity as target number to hit - does overpower dexterity, especially if it also increases missile weapons chances to hit - a point made out to me on my own blog. Min maxing for dexterities sake, almost essential.

I then toyed with base armor class that is class specific (e.g. fighters 14, magic users 10) but now wonder if movement could be the base, with dexterity modifying up to +3. Makes slower moving encumbered characters easier to hit.

Large creatures half movement to give defence rating (evade score?), small creatures double?
A horse with 24'', would be L, therefore 12 defence rating.
A halfling with 12' would be, 24! Better use that marksman skill.

FrDave said...

I worry about making Dex too powerful as well; however, the DR aspect of armor combined with firearms makes for a very interesting tactical choice.

Using universal d6 damage, a 1HD creature would do an average of .3 hp per round to a character with a 9 Dex wearing plate armor (DR3). That same creature would do an average of .525 hp per round against a character with a Dex of 18.

Therefore, mathematically, wearing the armor and taking the hits makes more sense until a firearm shows up. As long as firearms are rare rather than ubiquitous, there is an interesting risk/reward aspect to the choice of armor or no armor. Thus, there shouldn't be an overwhelming need to max out Dex.

Necropraxis said...

This post of yours has been rolling around in the back of my head, and I finally got around to writing down my thoughts about how I might do armor in a setting like this.

Would be curious to hear your thoughts.