Saturday, March 10, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Monk Redux (Saintly Saturday)

Today is the Feast of St. Quadratus of Nicomedia. He was from a rich family and spared no expense helping fellow Christians imprisoned for their faith during the reign of Emperor Decius (A.D. 249-251). When Decius sent his proconsul Perennius to persecute the Christians in Nicomedia, Quadrates voluntarily appeared before him. The saint wanted to encourage those in prison by demonstrating his courage in the face of certain torture and death.

These, of course, followed. In the end, a fire was lit under an iron grate in order to burn Quadratus to death. After the iron was red hot, the saint voluntarily laid down as if he were crawling into bed, unharmed by the heat and fire. Out of sheer frustration, the proconsul had the saint beheaded.

This past week I posted about a possible “Western” version of the monk for my Holmes + Cook thought experiment using the Turning mechanic as a means of fitting the concept into the idea of a cleric subclass. It produced some really interesting comments.

One theme was to make the monk a “buffing” class and the bard was cited as an example. While I think this is quite an excellent idea, my Holmes + Cook thought experiment already has a buff-type class. My suggested version of the Paladin is as a leader-type that has a floating bonus that can be added to various party members. Thus, to have the monk do the same through Turning would be to blur the lines between the two.

That being said, the story of St. Quadratus is a clear example of the type of miracles that inspired the cleric spell Resist Fire and suggests that JB’s idea that the monk be an “inward channeling” character might be a very interesting way to go. In other words, instead of buffing others (like my Holmesian Paladin), the monk uses faith to push himself beyond normal physical boundaries.

Here is a list of cleric spells from Cook that could possibly fit the bill:

  • Cure Light Wounds (1st level)
  • Remove Fear (1st level)
  • Resist Cold (1st level)
  • Resist Fire (2nd level)
  • Silence 15’r (2nd level) — in a nod to the idea of Cadfael and Friar Tuck having thief skills
  • Cure Disease (3rd level)
  • Remove Curse (3rd level)
  • Striking (3rd level)

As I have pointed out before, both Holmes and Cook have eight different types of targets for a cleric’s Turn Undead ability. Above is a list of eight special effects. The question is, what order of difficulty should each of these effects have in terms of the Turning mechanic?

If one were to duplicate the Turn Table exactly as it appears in Cook and replace each undead type with a spell effect from the above list, I would propose the following (from easiest to most difficult):

  1. Remove Fear
  2. Resist Cold
  3. Cure Light Wounds
  4. Silence
  5. Resist Fire
  6. Striking
  7. Cure Disease
  8. Remove Curse

This way all the first level spell effects are available immediately, with the most useful/powerful (Cure Light Wounds) being the hardest to accomplish. The most powerful 3rd level spell (Remove Curse, in my opinion) would be available at 5th level (approximately when 3rd and 4th level spells become available to a cleric at 6th level).

I would place some kind of limit on how many times each of these abilities can to used over the course of an adventure. Once per encounter? A set number of times per day/ per adventure?
Otherwise, a monk at 11+ level would be able to do all of these abilities at will and that seems way too much to me.

Since these Turning abilities are spell-like abilities, I would remove the spell-casting abilities of the monk, but leave their fighting ability alone.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Monk

The last subclass that I have to muse about in my Holmes & Cook thought experiment is the monk. Holmes categorizes the monk as a subclass of the cleric. Given my reasoning behind using the Turning mechanism to re-skin the druid, this leads me down the path of trying to marry the mechanic with the concept of “monk.”

This is where I will be departing quite radically from the traditional view of the monk as wuxia in D&D. When one uses the word monk, there are two archetypes that stand above all others: Shaolin and Benedictine. Understandably, D&D opted for the former because the latter, being a non-martial contemplative, doesn’t really fit with the whole dungeon delving schtick of Dungeons and Dragons. While it isn’t a perfect fit, at least a Shaolin is trained to fight.

Given my own proclivities, however, and the concept of the cleric being so heavily influenced by Christian archetypes in earlier versions of D&D such as Holmes, I have a hard time seeing a Shaolin monk as a subclass of the Christian-influenced cleric. Indeed, when AD&D was published, the monk was completely divorced from the cleric class. My friends and I always classified it as a subclass of the thief. Thus, I am much more inclined to lean toward a fantasy version of the Benedictine.

The first thing to decide is what effect a western-style monk might have access to. If one breaks down the Benedictine Rule to its fundamentals they are work and pray. The first deals with the mundane while the second asks for the miraculous. One thing I know that monks are praying for all the time is health. Therefore, I am going to explore the possibility of healing as the basis of a monk' s Turning mechanic.

In Cook there are six healing-type spells: Cure Light Wounds, Cure Disease, Remove Curse, Cure Serious Wounds, Neutralize Poison and Raise Dead. Since tying healing to Turning is going to be quite powerful, I am willing to eliminate Raise Dead with the justification that a monk’s Turning ability only works on the living. This leaves us with five special effects.

Both Holmes and Cook have eight target types in their Turn Tables. Thus, there needs to be an additional three healing effects. Since Cure Light Wounds uses a d8, the three other categories can use small die types: d2, d4 and d6.

Thus the Turning categories of the monk might look like this:

  • Cure 1d2 hp
  • Cure 1d4 hp
  • Cure 1d6 hp
  • Cure 1d8 hp
  • Cure Disease
  • Remove Curse
  • Cure 2d8
  • Neutralize Poison

Once per encounter, a monk could attempt to effect 2d6 targets with a Turn. A success means affecting all targets with the effect. A ’T’ means an automatic success and a ‘D’ means a maximum effect.

As I stated before, this is quite powerful, much more so than being able to Turn undead. Thus, a monk would have to give up some other mechanic(s) to balance out the class. There are two that are obviously available: combat ability and spell-casting.

Thus, we have four options:

  1. Monks fight as Magic-users (no armor, limited weapons)
  2. Monks cast as fighters (no spell casting)
  3. Monks fight as thieves (leather armor and limited weapons) AND cast as fighters
  4. Monks fight as Magic-users AND cast as fighters

I think Option 4 would make this class largely unplayable. Basically, the class would be a heal-bot that could offer nothing much else during an adventure, especially during combat. Option 1 would blur the line between magic-user and cleric in an interesting way, but I think it would be too powerful. This leaves us with deciding on the fighting ability of the monk: fight like a cleric or like a thief.

I am sore tempted to go with Option 2 for playability reasons. With no spells, the monk becomes a glorified medic. Limiting their ability to jump into combat in a meaningful way would make me think twice about playing it, whereas being a legitimate second-line fighter that allows clerics to freely use utility spells without worrying about healing sounds like a lot of fun.


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.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Druid

Since I am in the frame of mind to do so, I have been meditating upon how to fulfill the promise of this paragraph from Holmes:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).
The most challenging of these (given my own prejudices and predilections) is the druid. Traditionally, the druid forgoes the cleric Turning ability and heavier armor in order to excel at nature-based skills and magic. Given that my only source material for creating a druid class for my version of Holmes & Cook is, well, Holmes and Cook, that approach really doesn’t lead me anywhere. There are no real mechanics about nature skills nor are there that many spells that could be described as nature magic.

This leaves me with an extant mechanic that normally is never associated with druids: Turning.

While this may seem odd, given the context of Holmes, where the druid is clearly labelled as a type of cleric and Turning is clearly a cleric-based mechanic, it actually make more sense in my head to go down this path rather than the one historically taken by D&D.

Therefore, the question becomes what exactly will the Turning ability represent in the case of a druid?

Given the whole nature schtick that is normally associated with the class, it occurred to me that the Turning ability of a druid could be associated with animals in the same way that it is associated with the undead with clerics.

Thus, a druid could use the Turning table to represent their ability to scare off or make friends with animals of various HD. A result of ‘D’ could then indicate the ability to take on an animal as a henchmen, rather than just being friendly.

Otherwise they function exactly like clerics.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Illusionist (Saintly Saturday)

Today is the feast of the Martyrs Eutropius and Cleonicus who were betrayed to the Governor Asclepiodotus of Amasia (northern Turkey) during the reign of Diocletian (A.D. 284-305). They were tortured and crucified. Both of them were kinsmen of the Great Martyr Theodore the Recruit who had been martyred under the previous governor.

This last fascinating piece of information has me meditating on such things as legacies, mantels and traditions of what has come before. In context of RPGs, my first was Holmes Basic D&D. Recently, this reality has hit home because I’ve been watching Matt Finch run Swords & Wizardry Complete on YouTube. 


One interesting quirk about the Complete edition of S&W is that it offers up several different ways to do initiative, one of which emulates Holmes. Fascinatingly, it is this version that Matt uses when running his games. I’ve always wanted to try it out, and I’ve got to admit that it is a lot more elegant that I ever imaged.

This got me reminiscing about my own meditations on Holmes and the thought experiment I had about using it in conjunction with Cook’s Expert D&D. Specifically, this quote:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).
I’ve postulated an Assassin class (which still needs work), a Paladin class, a Ranger class and a Witch class (reskinned as an Alchemist). Since my last post reskinned magic in terms of language I decided to see what would happen if I used some of the principles I postulated there to come up with a spell list for a Holmesian Illusionist class.

The principles I used look like this:

  • All the spells come from either Holmes or Cook no new spells
  • I took all the spells (from both the magic-user and cleric lists) that could be understood as illusion magic and moved them one spell level down. For example, Mirror Image (a 2nd level magic-user spell) becomes a 1st level Illusionist spell.
  • I then filled out the rest of the spell list with mostly utility spells, moving most to be one spell level higher. For example, Floating Disc (a 1st level magic-user spell) becomes a 2nd level Illusionist spell.
  • I went half-way in-between clerics (8 spells per spell level) and magic-users (12 spells per spell level) to give the illusionist spell list 10 spells per spell level.

Finally, there weren’t enough spells to justify a 6th level spell list, so I limited the Illusionist to 5 spell levels:

1st Level

  1. Audible Glamer
  2. Charm Person
  3. Dancing Lights
  4. Detect Illusion
  5. Invisibility
  6. Light
  7. Magic Mouth
  8. Mirror Image
  9. Phantasmal Force
  10. Read Magic

2nd Level

  1. Cause Fear
  2. Dispel Illusion
  3. Floating Disc
  4. Hold Portal
  5. Invisible 10’r.
  6. Shield
  7. Silence 15’r.
  8. Sleep
  9. Snake Charm
  10. Suggestion

3rd Level

  1. Charm Monster
  2. Confusion
  3. Continual Light
  4. Detect Illusion
  5. ESP
  6. Hallucinatory Terrain
  7. Invisibility 10’r.
  8. Levitate
  9. Massmorph
  10. Wizard Lock

4th Level

  1. Clairvoyance
  2. Dispel Magic
  3. Feeblemind
  4. Fly
  5. Haste
  6. Hold Person
  7. Infravision
  8. Magic Jar
  9. Protection from Normal Missiles
  10. Water Breathing

5th Level

  1. Cloudkill
  2. Dimension Door
  3. Geas
  4. Hold Monster
  5. Invisible Stalker
  6. Projected Image
  7. Remove Curse
  8. Telekinesis
  9. Teleport
  10. Wizard Eye
Spell progression would look like this:
Level…Spells Slots per Spell Level
Otherwise, they function as magic-users.