Sunday, May 04, 2008

Making Sacrifices

I’ve never really been a big fan of spell points. Even when I’ve disparaged Vancian-style magic, spell points haven’t leaped up at me as a good solution. In part, this is because I consider verisimilitude to be the highest good after fun in my RPG gaming. Vancian magic may be annoying and almost completely unlike the way magic works in most novels, comic books, or movies, but at least it feels more like magic than a spell point system. Choosing spells feels more magical and involves fewer layers of abstraction between you and your character. It’s also quicker than spending points, since by choosing what you’ve prepped, you’ve cut down on the available options at the time of casting.

That said, I’m contemplating a spell-point system for clerics in my next campaign. Why? Primarily, because it bugs me that magic-users and clerics use the same mechanic for spells. If magic is so similar for them, why can’t they pinch from each other’s lists? Yeah, I could come up with all sorts of reasons, but it would just make me happier if they used different mechanics.

There are good game reasons for them to use the same mechanics, though. It means that the cleric and the magic-user will be united in their need for rest in order to recover their spells. They’re also likely to need that rest at the same time, making the group more likely to stop in order to recharge the magical batteries of their spell-slingers.

I think I can keep those benefits, and offer more. By moving to a spell-point system, I also make the cleric a lot more flexible and powerful. I don’t have a huge problem with this, because in my games the cleric is always getting dumped on by the temple hierarchy. There are all sorts of ways to rein-in your clerics, from temple politics to cranky deities. So I’m not too worried on this score.

There are two benefits I see to a spell-point system. The first is improved healing. If, instead of having healing done by spells, I instead have the cleric burn spell points to replace hit points on a one-per-one basis, that really opens things up. Like the 3rd edition D&D rule where the cleric can swap another spell for a healing spell, this actually allows the cleric to do something other than cast cure spells all day long. It makes the cleric more interesting to play, but doesn’t punish the party for it. It also means that low-level clerics aren’t stuck with helping only one person, with everyone else just having to suck it up until after the cleric rests. (In my experience, that just leads to the party camping out for three or four days while the cleric sleeps, casts cure light wounds, sleeps, casts again…)

The second, and more important benefit from my point of view, is that it gives me something to hang sacrifices on. I’m not talking about the wishy-washy sort of sacrifices you see people performing around Lent (or the fasting period of your religion of choice), where people give up sodas or chocolate. Heck, no! I’m talking about that old time religion, with snow-white bulls and ornate, unwieldy daggers, and priests up to their elbows in blood.

(Yeah, I know, James Maliszewski and others have pointed out how the cleric in OD&D was based on Roman Catholic tropes, and carried those trappings all they through into 2nd edition and beyond. That’s all well and good, but if I’m going to say my clerics are part of a polytheistic pantheon full of savage moon gods and devious spider crones, how exactly does that fit with a priest who behaves like he just stepped out of Father Francis O’Malley’s seminary lecture? Remember, I want greater verisimilitude, so if I’m going to have my clerics worshipping non-Christian polytheistic deities who are red in tooth and claw, then by God they should act like it!)

So, here’s the deal: spells cost 4 points per level to cast. The number of points you can have maximum and the highest level spell you have access to is based on your level, and this pretty much mirrors the way things were done in Moldvay/Cook D&D. When a cleric performs daily devotions, the DM or player rolls 2d10. The cleric gets their Wisdom score minus the roll plus 4 spell points (with a minimum of 4). The cleric cannot pray for more points for another 24 hours, and cannot “store” more spell points from prayer than their level allows.

However, spell points from sacrifice are held above and beyond that limit. The cleric can only be benefiting from a single sacrifice at a time (this keeps the cleric from spending down time just sacrifice entire herds of sacred cattle and racking up hundreds of spell points). Generally, a cleric gets 4 spell points for every hit die of the creature being sacrificed. If the cleric instead sacrifices wealth and jewels, rather than living creatures, it’s much less efficient, returning only 1 spell point per 40 gp value. (And note that this wealth isn’t spent on the temple, or given to the poor, or anything like that. It is sacrificed to the god and thus lost to the mortal world.)

Animals suitable for sacrifice must be exceptional in some way, and must cost at lest 150% of their standard list cost. (I’m probably going to use the costs from 1e’s PHB for livestock.) They must also be ritually prepared, and a proper sacrifice requires one quarter hour per HD of the sacrifice for preparation and performance of all the necessary rituals.

Can sentient creatures, people, humanoids, and the like be used for sacrifice? That probably depends on the god, but in general, I’d say yes. However, note the prep required in the previous paragraph; a cleric can’t simply wade into combat declaring, “I’m sacrificing this orc I’m fighting to my god!” (However, I am tempted to allow that sort of thing under special circumstances. The idea of a cleric charging into combat shouting some variation on “Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!” is just too cool to ignore.)

Ok, that’s enough for now. I’m going to roll this around in my head for a bit and see if I can find any real problems. If you see some glaring oversight, please let me know.


Sham said...

I like the idea here, from a healing points stance. I'm not big on the sacrifice thing, but if it fits in your campaign, go for it. I see sacrifices more as a ritualistic or high holy day event. One could easily take this and just convert the sacrifice idea to a prayer system of some sort, using dice and referee adustment based on recent events (bonus or penalty) and leave it more abstract.

I'd like to see where this leads, it's clear you've put a lot of work into this already.

I recently instituted a Stanch Wounds house rule in Solstice, and I've been kicking around the idea of allowing Clerics to perform a post-melee battle prayer that provides a minor radius heal which increases in potency with experience.

James Maliszewski said...

Interesting you should post this as I plan on writing something that starts with a similar premise (why do clerics and MUs use the same game mechanics if they have different spell lists?) and then comes to a completely different conclusion.

trollsmyth said...

Sham: Thanks! Yeah, the sacrifice thing works thematically, and might even be important, depending on how deeply we push that.

One could easily take this and just convert the sacrifice idea to a prayer system of some sort, using dice and referee adustment based on recent events (bonus or penalty) and leave it more abstract.

I'm not quite certain I see where you're going here. Can you give me an example?

James: Well, your second principle is "D&D is always right" so I'd expect you to not only choose to keep the similarity between the two spell-slinging classes, but to "cool it up" as well. I'll be looking forward to seeing what you have to say.

- Brian

Sham said...

What I meant was that the sacrificial stage could be replaced with a more vague step which the Cleric takes after his standard prayers where he asks for favor or guidance from his gods.

I was thinking it could be a point in the game where the referee can truly portray the gods, and issue a bonus or penalty of some sort to this roll, determined by how pious (or ruthless) the character had been since his last request for favor. And if you don't like spell points, it could be in the form of spell levels.

I shouldn't have said 'prayer system' since that confuses it with the standard prayer portion.

I'm really just muddying the waters of a fine idea. I'd like to see the final version on this, Brian.

Ripper X said...

Some vikings slew captured enemies in their holds by tying them by their feet and sticking a spear in their sides, as Odin sacrificed himself to gain the knowledge of the Runes.

The goal here wasn't spell points, it was to appease the god so that he wouldn't kill them on their return voyage.

Human sacrifice was done according to holidays, and after wars. I do like the idea of getting SOMETHING out of it! That is simply awesome! I'm not so sure that I'd use it for everyday spells. I've tried to use spellpoints, but from a DM perspective, my NPCs will always have to have all of their spells memorized prior to play, and I also like to have some kind of idea what spells that the players have so that I know how to plan my own adventures.

That is just me though.

Casting high-level spells, creating magical items, opening gates to different planes of existence . . . now THIS magic could surely be made more interesting by having sacrifices taking place.

Excellent post Trollsmyth!

B. Scot said...

Another subsystem that's been used and written about elsewhere involves giving Clerics, Paladins, and possibly Druids a PIETY score. Acts that the particular deity finds 'good' are rewarded (like performing a sacrifice), while neglect or bad deeds are punished through restricted spell casting. PIETY scores can be included (along with character level) in a formula for deciding which spells a deity is likely to grant. Superior PIETY can even allow for instant spells (healing, etc.)


trollsmyth said...

Sham: I'm really just muddying the waters of a fine idea. I'd like to see the final version on this, Brian.

No, I appreciate it. I'm always looking for new ways to do things, especially magic. I can't help but tinker.

ripper x: Thanks! Yeah, if I was running 2nd edition, I wouldn't dare try something like this. The spell lists are just too huge, even after you pare things down using the rules for specialty priests. Moldvay/Cook, however, has a grand total 40 clerical spells. That's a much easier list to ride herd on. For 2e, I'd probably stick with the system as it is in the PHB, and use sacrifices for things like creating magic items or getting very special favors from the gods (blessing the crops or troops of an entire nation, for instance, or spells that need to last for weeks or months instead of just rounds and turns.)

That said, I did get some inspiration for this from the Players' Options: Spells and Magic book.

Kellri: I've done something like that before. I'm avoiding it this time because I don't want things to be quite so black-and-white when it comes to pleasing the gods. A system like you describe needs a fairly comprehensive list of dos-and-don'ts, and I've had some success with that sort of thing in the past, especially for lawful religions.

Thanks for reminding me of it, though. Do you have any links to house-rules or descriptions of that sort of thing in action?

- Brian

B. Scot said...

The most direct example of PIETY points would be FGU's Lands of Adventure. The PC must declare the character's piety level at character generation and must maintain this level or else risk losing important abilities (like spells). In Gamemaster Publications #3, Graeme Davis' article 'Defenders of the Faith' details how to apply the piety system to D&D. Lists of 'sins' are a requirement, as you noted. Finally Imagine 20 has two great articles by Paul Vernon & Lew Pulsipher which deal with all of these issues in relation to D&D.