Tuesday, February 9, 2016

a god is a kind of monster

This blog is slowly turning into an extended and not very good meditation on how clerics work, so bear with me while I get it out of my system. I'm working on some dice drop tables that could actually be of use to someone for next post. I recently did a reread of the Games With Others archives, so this post leans on Pearce's work here.

SO:
Fighters solve problems with violence.
Thieves solve problems with trickery.
Magic-users solve problems by knowing things, or, depending on how you see it, breaking the rules.
Clerics tend to exist in this space between  fighters and magic-users: they have okay spells and an okay capacity for violence. This is perfectly fine, but when I crunch clerics down to the aesthetic core that actually appeals to me, I get:

Clerics solve problems by getting someone else to do it for them.

Reading over the Original Dungeons and Dragons rules, the 2d6 reaction check was originally used to determine the outcome of transactions, rather than a more general way to figure out an NPC's attitude towards the players. This meshes well with the idea of clerics doing things by proxy, but I think there is a better, easier, and more satisfying way to do that then my old warlock class.

From Monstress 1. written by Marjorie Liu,, art by Sana Takeda
Spirit Medium
Progression
HP, XP, attack bonus, saving throws as Cleric. Equipment restrictions as magic-user.

Commune
You understand and can be understood by any monster, even if you do not share a language.

Bargain
Influence a monster or band of allied monsters. You can do this to soothe hostile creatures or extract services from neutral to friendly ones. To Bargain, you must offer the monsters some form of payment and then make a reaction check. Mediums can only do this once per band of allied monsters per encounter. 

     2: The monster becomes hostile and attacks. If it was already hostile, it attacks the medium.
     3-5: The monster refuses the offer, or continues its current course of action.
     6-8: The monster refuses the offer, but will reconsider if the medium gives better terms.
     9-11: The monster accepts the offer.
     12: The monster accepts the offer and gives the medium its name.

by Bertha Lum
This is predicated on the medium offering suitable terms. Monsters pretty universally accept fresh blood (d6 HP worth for something simple like getting them to cast a 1st level spell, help in a fight, give information on the locals, or settle down if they have only a few HD, but a major secret, protection for a whole adventure, or calming a dragon could require quite a bit more); however, if the medium has an item appropriate for the monster (rare incense for a mummy, or a flower for a dryad, for example), they can use it as payment instead. These items are quite probably expensive, but they also encumber as at least 1 significant item each. Mediums can also offer to kill rivals, track down treasure, restore shrines, observe a taboo, whatever. Referees should feel free to have monsters make suggestions.

Summon
When you knows a monster's true name, you can call it forth whenever you wish. Chant its name, carve its name into the ground, burn a paper doll with its name on it, whatever. A Turn later, it shows up, stepping out of a shadow, welling up out of the earth, or scuttling down from the ceiling. You can then Bargain with it.

Miracle
If a monster knows a spell, you can Bargain for the ability to cast it once.


Mitsukuni Defying the Skeleton Spectre Invoked by Princess Takiyasha by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

The way I use "monster" here presupposed a Princess Mononoke-esque animist universe where animals, gods, and monsters all sort of exist on the same spectrum. Mediums shouldn't be able to use Bargain on a bandit (though it would be fun to put otherwise human magic-users in the monster category, now that I think about it). If you're going for a more naturalist feel, you could limit Bargain to only explicitly supernatural critters (ghosts, djinni, elementals, etc).

3 comments:

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  2. This is a very interesting concept. I hadn't really considered clerics from that perspective before, and the idea of a class very much based around *bargaining*, as opposed to one or a very limited number of bargains ala the Warlock is a fascinating idea, particularly because it puts the bargaining 'on-stage', as it were, as opposed to the general Warlock who tends to make their pact before the story begins.

    The thing about putting demons, monsters gods and so on on a single sliding scale is interesting to me as well, because one issue I have with D&D in contrast with other systems and settings (off the top of my head, White Wolf's *Exalted*) is that it feels very... bitty to me. There's dragons and fae and kobolds and demons and gods and outsiders, but there's very little connection between these things. Having them all be gradations or, better yet, having it be possible for a god to become a demon, a monster to ascend to celestial status or what-have-you opens up *tons* of potential plots. Again, off the top of my head, a cleric discovers that their god, who they've worshiped their whole life, was once a demon, and has used the power of their new divine role to conceal that fact.

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