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Identify II

In order to define a spell – to provide carefully considered and well-written rules for a power that changes the way things work – you have to first know how things work without the spell. This, I think, is what bothers me about spells like identify: there are no rules that cover the identification of magic items without the use of a spell. This is patently absurd. Take the anachronistic example of advanced technology in a period setting: it’s not only reasonable to assume that an intelligent, thinking, rational person can puzzle out the way a mechanical device would operate, it should be expected that, given enough time, a diligent person will figure it out.

Of course, we’re not talking about advanced tech, we’re talking about magic items. And I don’t know how common magic items should be. I know how common they shouldn’t be; beyond that, I have no expectation except that this is a game with certain conventions, and until such a time as I have a reason to question and rewrite those conventions, I will accept them and work with them. Therefore, magic items exist and they are common enough that adventurers will find them, NPCs will use them and there is no “trade” of magic items, because that’s just plain stupid.

But how, then, do we figure out how magic items function? AD&D seems to suggest – nay, it outright says it in a spell description – that even with the use of a spell, the player cannot know for certain the exact bonus / modifier to a magic sword. … wait, the fuck?

A fighter’s combat skill, THAC0, is representative of many things. Mainly, it represents knowledge of combat. The ability to fight goes hand-in-hand with KNOWING about fighting. It’s knowing how and where to stand; how to shift weight from one foot to the other without losing balance; how to read an opponent and anticipate a thrust; how to tell the difference between an attack and a feint; and a multitude of other things. Now give your fighter a +1 magical sword. What are the properties of this sword? Does it have better balance? Does the weight shift as you hold it, keeping it from pulling you off-balance from a bad swing? Does it hold an edge even against metal-on-metal; can you chop wood with it; does it cut through your opponent’s armor? Is it lighter, stronger, faster? And if the answer to any of these is ‘yes’… to what degree?

THAC0 represents a base skill set and the potential for progression (based on experience). Therefore, a fighter knows more about fighting than a priest at 1st level, even though they both have a THAC0 of 20, because the THAC0 progression is better for the fighter (1 point every level). Further, it stands to reason that a 2nd level fighter knows more about fighting than a 1st level, because his THAC0 has actually improved (as opposed to having the potential to improve). A 2nd level fighter thus knows what it means to have an effective +1 bonus to his attack roll. Likewise, a fighter who increases his Strength score – typically through magical means, but an ability score progression model like we find in 3rd Edition might also apply – will know what it feels like to have a Strength of 15 as opposed to a 14 (and therefore, a higher bonus to damage rolls). (A wizard has it the worst of the PC classes so it stands to reason that a wizard won’t know as much about magic arms and armor simply because he doesn’t know as much about combat and fighting. Wizards do know about magic, though, so they can recognize other signs in magic weapons. A fighter may not think much about the fact that his weapon has a faint odor of brimstone but to a wizard, that’s all he needs to recognize a flaming sword.)

Of course, let’s try to keep in mind that, in the end, this is a game so the things the player knows about the game should, for the practical purpose of maintaining our sanity, translate into things the character knows about the world.

From this, we may derive our first rule of magic item identification: a PC can learn innate, passive properties of an item simply by possessing and using the item.

Which brings me to a tangent concerning rule design: is it a good rule? Basic requirements include: does it accomplish the goal? Is it intuitive? Is it simple enough to be used in regular application? Does it apply to situations outside the initial examples; is it flexible or dynamic? Does it benefit the players? This last one is not always a hard-and-fast requirement; there are some combat rules (like stunning) that potentially harm the players more than help them, so let’s consider this question instead as, “Does the rule benefit the game?” with the caveat that the players are the game. A rule like stunning is a good rule – it is successful in that it benefits the game – because it adds a layer of complexity, tension and uncertainty – it helps create drama – which may harm the players in the moment but, overall and over many game sessions, benefits them by creating a better game.

So does my first rule of magic item identification fit these requirements? Well, it accomplishes the goal – that being to have a rule for identification. It is intuitive – my character carries a magic shield and uses it in battle, therefore I know that it is magical and has a +1 bonus. It’s simple – use the item, learn its power. It benefits the player – beyond the simplicity, the player doesn’t have to waste time or resources guessing at the item’s power. Obviously, then, all of this suggests that the rule is a huge benefit to players.

We can test that other criteria – flexible and dynamic – by applying the rule to another magic item. In this case, we started with magic weapons since players always find them (because DMs always give them out) and their powers are, by and large, innate and passive: they’re always on. Another item with an “always on” power – but which isn’t a weapon – is the ring of sustenance. This item has different rules in the different editions, but by and large it can be summed up as this:

Ring of Sustenance: This magic ring removes the need to eat or drink by providing the wearer with all the nourishment and sustenance he requires. Additionally, the character requires only two hours of sleep per 24-hour period (as opposed to the standard six to eight hours) in order to be fully rested. The ring requires a week to acclimate to a new wearer.

For my game, the description is a bit light, but for our purposes here this will suffice.

How, then, does the magic item identification rule apply to this item? All too easily: the character puts the ring on and notices nothing. As he has no means of detecting magical auras, he assumes it’s nothing more than a fancy ring – let’s say it’s a silver-ish band wrought in the shape of a grape vine. The character leaves the ring on for a week while traveling in the wilderness, not having the opportunity to evaluate it further or locate a buyer. At the end of the week, the character wakes up to find that he is not hungry or thirsty. Over the course of the day, he notices that the feeling does not go away – he does not grow hungry or thirsty, and his physical performance and mental acuity – attributes that can be affected by hunger – do not diminish. In other words, though the DM specifically tells the player that he is not hungry and the player specifically indicates that he does not eat, the character is not penalized (no stat penalties). Does the player realize that the ring is the source of his new ability? Possibly. Maybe not. There are other variables to consider; but for the sake of argument, let’s say that all other factors have been considered: there have been no significant changes to the character’s state except the acquisition of the ring. Should the DM tell the player unequivocally that the ring is magical and that it’s the source of this power?

Let’s ask a different question: how often have you worn a ring in real life and found yourself taking it off for just a moment? Perhaps to take a shower or work on the car. What if your ring was magical? How quickly would the magic fade, and how would you perceive that change? More to the point, what game are you playing where every moment of your character is tracked and recorded? You aren’t? Then you should assume that your character has the opportunity to examine his possessions at his leisure, to test them, to play around and observe their properties, and to compare them to things that he knows for certain are not magical.

Therefore… yes, this rule is dynamic and flexible enough in that it easily applies to similar magic items.

The first rule of magic item identification: a PC can learn innate, passive properties of an item simply by possessing and using the item. The exact time necessary will vary from item to item but should generally not exceed one week of continuous possession. (This last part we can leave to the DM to adjudicate based on circumstances.)

Foundation II

There’s an interesting post about XP at Delta’s Hotspot, where he discusses levels and XP and why it’s built that way and whether wizards should require more XP than fighters and how the crap are people still talking about this shite like it’s the fucking Bible? Sure, there’s a lot of discussion about earlier editions of the game, but so often they feel like everyone involved is just nodding their heads, going, “Yeah, good stuff, interesting how they designed that,” and never stopping to say, “You know… when you think about it.” I know this will be shocking to many, but a reality check is part of growing up: Gygax sucked at D&D. Just like Lucas sucks at Star Wars. They both had great ideas with piss-poor execution. The XP tables from OD&D and AD&D are a prime example, and Delta recognizes this in his post:

An open question would be: Why? The fact that Gygax maintained this asynchronicity in both OD&D and AD&D seems to suggest that it was intentional — that Magic-Users were intended to get accelerated advancement compared to Fighters at higher levels. Perhaps this was an amplification of the idea that Magic-Users will be weak at low levels and need assistance, but increasingly more powerful at high levels.

We’ll likely never really know the answer, but one way to look at the question is to consider the cleric’s progression and skill set, as compared to other classes. Clerics have always had it good in early editions of the game. (They had it best in 3rd though you could argue that druids had it even better.) Personally, I suspect it was due to that whole alignment thing. You know, that rules artifact that enabled DMs to dictate a player’s actions because he was a dick… I mean, because the character’s alignment wouldn’t allow it any other way. In a similar way, the relationship between a character and his/her deity seemed to condone the same kind of control dynamic: “God” says you have to do it this way because that’s what your deity wants. Except, you know, the deity doesn’t exist and the DM does so it’s really the DM being a dick. I suspect that Gygax realized, on some level, that DMs were being pricks to the players and he gave clerics an easier progression as a way of saying, “see? It isn’t all that bad,” much like an abusive boyfriend buying his girlfriend flowers after ordering her around…

So does it follow that clerics should get less XP than fighters or wizards or anyone else? Well, another way to answer the question is the methodology I outlined in my previous post. And, as of right now, I don’t see any reason to discard that process. So let’s apply it to the cleric and see what we get.

To do this, we need to answer a question about spells: what is an individual spell worth in terms of our XP modifier? I posited that we could assign 1/32 of a point to a 1 point to-hit improvement, and using the cumulative total, to determine the XP modifier for a class’ THAC0 progression. What if we do the same for spells? But there’s a difference with spells, in that once you use one, you can’t get it back until you rest and recover. You can swing your sword all day long; the ability never goes away. Cast a spell, though, and you can’t cast it again until the next day. This isn’t a bad thing in terms of balance or mechanics. Spells are game-changers. They literally reshape the world around your character, allowing you to dictate how physics and the laws of the universe should function. So if we’re going to compare a single spell to a single to-hit bonus, we need to remember that as a spell’s level increases, so to does your ability to control the world. Fortunately, the numbers are already there: a single spell slot is worth 1/32 of the spell’s level. So, for example, a 4th-level spell is worth 4/32, or 1/8 of a point. And, like with THAC0, we keep a cumulative total.

Cleric Spells XP Mods

…well, that’s a nice coincidence. Math is hard…

Damn. Looks like giving spells to the cleric very nearly equals the entire skill set of the fighter. Now let’s compare the other skills:

  • d8 hit points per level (up to 9th) (+2)
  • +2 hit points per level (after 9th) (+0.25)
  • Good THAC0 progression (2 points ever 3 levels) (+2)
  • Armor proficiency (all types) (+1)
  • Shield proficiency (+0.5)
  • 2 weapon proficiencies (at 1st level) (+0.2)
  • +5 weapon proficiencies (by 20th level) (+0.5)
  • -3 non-proficiency penalty (+0.125)
  • Turn Undead (+1)
  • Good saving throw progression (best right behind the fighter’s) (+2)

This gives us a total XP modifier of 22.575, which produces an XP chart like this:

Sample Cleric XP Chart

Well, would you look at that? Seems all the critics have been right this entire time: if you stack the cleric against the fighter, using the same standard to measure their power, you find that the cleric is much more powerful than the fighter. Maybe it should take more XP to level…? Almost like there was a good idea somewhere in the beginning of the game, but its creator didn’t realize it…

(I hope I’ve impressed upon the reader that this is all a work in progress. None of these figures are definitive until such time that the DM says, “This is good,” and introduces it to the players. What I hope you take away from this is that it’s possible and desirable to create a rational process, a methodology, or even an overall paradigm, that presents a consistent, applicable and knowable rule set to the players. Your game will be all the better for it.)

Identify

As promised. And some insight from the Tao of D&D.

Justin Alexander has a number of excellent articles on gaming, for a variety of genres and games. Specifically, it’s this one that caught my eye recently. It got me to thinking about the process by which the DM shares information with the players.

Let’s address the bottom line up front: cursed items are bullshit. They’re the tool of a dickhead DM who wants to screw around with the players. Honestly, I can’t even begin to fathom the motivation behind cursed items because, even when I was a shitty DM, I never used them.

Think about how this is supposed to play out: the players defeat a bunch of monsters in a dungeon and start going through the hoard. They’re handing out items and dividing the treasure when…

DM: You pick up the short sword, curved with black runes, and it begins to weep a thick, red liquid. Your eyes are filled with rage and you turn on your friend, raising the weapon high…

Player: Well, fuck me… (grabs dice and starts rolling)

Now this example is highly simplified – I’ve left out a lot of details on purpose, because those details don’t matter. It doesn’t make a lick of difference if the player had expressed caution beforehand, or if the DM was dropping super subtle hints, or whatever; what matters is that the player knows to be cautious, and given that cursed items aren’t required to have clues about their identity, invariably, given enough time, every player will be extremely cautious, using every resource at their disposal to the point where the pacing of the game itself is hindered. It’s the same as the “search everything” dilemma, only instead it’s “cast identify on every piece of junk we find, oh, and by the way, make sure you’re wearing a glove when you touch it.”

I don’t see how cursed items add any value to the game.

But that’s not something I’m interested in fixing right now. I’m more concerned about the identify spell. More accurately, I’m concerned about how players interact with magic items and how the DM conveys information about magic items. First, though, I think we should look at the identify spell because its description implies a certain mentality when it comes to that very question. (Honestly, given the excellent work by Delta in the Spells Through the Ages series, I’m surprised he hasn’t tackled this one yet. So here goes…)

Keep in mind, this first entry is from the AD&D game, written and published by Gary Gygax in 1978 (my copy was printed in 1980).

Identify

“When an identify spell is cast, one item may be touched and handled by the magic-user in order that he or she may possibly find what dweomer it possesses. The item in question must be held or worn as would be normal for any such obiect, i.e. a bracelet must be placed on the spell caster’s wrist, a helm on his or her head, boots on the feet, a cloak worn, a dagger held, and so on. Note that any consequences of this use of the item fall fully upon the magic-user [emphasis mine], although any saving throw normally allowed is still the privilege of the magic-user. For each segment the spell is in force, it is 15% + 5% per level of the magic-user probable that 1 property of the object touched can become known – possibly that the item has no properties and is merely a ruse (the presence of Nystul’s Magic Aura or a magic mouth being detected). Each time a property can be known, the referee will secretly roll to see if the magic-user made his or her saving throw versus magic. If the save was successful, the property is known; if it is 1 point short, a false power will be revealed; and if it is lower than 1 under the required score no information will be gained. The item will never reveal its exact plusses to hit or its damage bonuses, although the fact that it has few or many such plusses can be discovered. If it has charges, the oject will never reveal the exact number, but it will give information which is +/-25% of actual, i.e. a wand with 40 charges could feel as if it had 30, or 50, or any number in between. The item to be identified must be examined by the magic-user within 1 hour per level of experience of the examiner after it has been discovered, or all readable impressions will have been blended into those of the characters who have possessed it since. After casting the spell and determining what can be learned from it, the magic-user loses 8 points of constitution. He or she must rest for 6 turns per 1 point in order to regain them. If the 8 point loss drops the spell caster below a constitution of 3, he or she will fall unconscious, and consciousness will not be regained until full constitution is restored 24 hours later. The material components of this spell are a pearl (of at least 100 g.p. value) and an owl feather steeped in wine, with the infusion drunk and a live miniature carp swallowed whole prior to spell casting. If a luckstone is powdered and added to the infusion, probability increases 25% and all saving throws are made at +4.”

Well, fuck. Guess we know where that bullshit comes from, don’t we?

Questions:

What sort of false power should be revealed? Do I just make something up? Should there be any kind of relationship to the item’s actual powers?

What’s with the saving throw and the percentage success rate? Does one trump the other? If so, why are both mentioned? How is the wizard’s saving throw relevant to determining the properties/powers of a magic item?

Why can I not know the exact numerical bonus of a weapon or suit of armor? Are players meant to be kept in the dark about such things? If so, does that mean I have to keep track of their bonuses for them?

Why can’t the players know how many charges the item has? Is the DM supposed to hold their character sheets for them, too?

Why does the caster lose Constitution? So, as a player, I have to make a literal sacrifice? And there’s a… what, a time limit of some kind? So I have to cast this spell when I’m in the dungeon still? Why would I do ever that? How is this spell useful at all?

And what’s with this time limit for possession and identification? Seriously, what the fuck? So, as a wizard, if I’m ever going to identify items I come across, I have to have the spell prepared, like, all the damn time and I have to use it pretty much right away or… what, the magical properties bleed into the environment? It mixes with the auras from my other magic items? What if I possess no magic items during that time period? What if I have my henchmen hold my magic items so I can keep the magical impressions from blending? What if…?

Wow… I haven’t had a violent reaction to a written work since I studied philosophy in college. This is quite possibly the most asinine thing I’ve come across in a long time, and that’s saying something.

Still… it certainly stirs the mind. I won’t bother to reprint the 2nd Edition version here. The only major change is that it replaces the time limit and weird “magical aura blending” thing with an eight-hour casting time, which at least makes some sort of sense, but the spell is still limited in that it doesn’t actually tell the player anything.

DM: You learn that it’s a magical sword. No other special properties.

Player: Well, at least it gets a bonus to attack and damage. I’ll give it to the fighter. What’s the modifier.

DM: You don’t know.

Player: … Excuse me?

DM: The spell doesn’t tell you what the bonus is, only that it’s magical. It has a better balance and holds a good edge.

Player: (starts tossing dice, ready to throw at the DM)

Now, I don’t believe there’s a single DM who actually plays it this way. But I have to wonder how people actually use the spell. I’ve mostly played 3rd Edition, so this is the version I used:

“The spell determines all magic properties of a single magic item, including how to activate those functions (if appropriate), and how many charges are left (if any).

Identify does not function when used on an artifact.

Arcane Material Component

A pearl of at least 100 gp value, crushed and stirred into wine with an owl feather; the infusion must be drunk prior to spellcasting.”

Well, that’s an improvement at least.

The problem with identify is not the spell itself. The problem lies with the means by which the DM conveys information to the players. Consider this example: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks featured an alien spaceship with advanced technology. The players can find energy weapons, for example, and it presents an interesting thought experiment. How can the DM explain this object in terms that the characters would understand without giving away too much information to the players? But setting that aside, it’s basically an example of what happens every time a PC finds a magic item. Give a handgun to hoplite from Ancient Greece. He probably doesn’t have the proper knowledge of mechanics to recognize it as a machine but he knows it’s made of metal, probably a type of metal he’s never seen before. Let’s assume he knows a bit about blacksmithing or weapon crafting; he’s likely to deduce that it’s meant to be a weapon; it can certainly hurt someone if used to strike the head or body. But let’s say the weapon is loaded and the safety is off; at some point, our hypothetical blacksmith-turned-soldier will accidentally apply pressure to the trigger. And, speaking as a Soldier myself, I know this will happen – there’s a reason you’re supposed to keep your finger off the trigger at all times, unless you mean to use the weapon. So the first time that finger slips and the weapon goes off, the hoplite will immediately realize that it’s a weapon, though he may not be able to discern exactly how it’s supposed to function or what he’s supposed to do to use it again. Given the shape of the handle and the trigger, I’d reason that an attentive warrior would, after the first discharge, if he didn’t accidentally shoot himself, figure out that he needs to point the weapon at something and pull the trigger, at which point he knows everything he needs to know to actively use the item.

Why should this be any different for a magic item?

Now that this is the basis for magic item interaction and discovery, we can move on to define how identify should work and whether or not we can introduce cursed items without fucking over the players.

Foundation

I did a podcast this past Sunday – and I’ll provide a link once it’s online – where I met with a friend I haven’t seen in several years. His schtick is that he invites people to decide the content for his podcast, without his input and without his knowledge, such that he doesn’t know what he’ll be talking about until the day of the recording. It’s quite entertaining and, like any artist, his work has been steadily improving since he started some 40 episodes ago. Of course, given our background together – we met as gaming buddies just after I graduated high school – and given my lack of actual roleplaying over the years, I had to talk D&D. Honestly, I was thankful for the opportunity to pick his brain about some things and to, hopefully, get him going on a few of these topics; especially since it seems that, whenever I try to engage people on the subject, their eyes just glaze over. And I’m not talking about non-gamers: I specifically mean that avid, fanatic and life-long D&D players just don’t seem to care about critically evaluating their games. It baffles me to no end.

One of the things I mentioned on the podcast, as an example of critical game design, was how I’ve adopted the XP rules from the Tao of D&D. To me, it’s a simple rule with wide-ranging implications in its application; it’s a basic reward system that the players can embrace as they see fit. Yes, it encourages players to murder the shit out of everyone they meet, but common sense – and a rational, dynamic and dangerous world – will keep them in line by balancing their desire for advancement against the risk of failure (i.e. death).

This is the foundation of a good D&D game: a fair and impartial risk and reward system.

But where do we go from there?

OD&D and AD&D have distinct XP tables for each class; a fighter advances slower than a cleric who advances slower than a thief. It makes sense when you consider each class’ abilities in terms of their usefulness at accomplishing the primary goal of the game: to kill things and take its stuff. Of course a fighter will advance slower than a thief; the fighter is better suited to dish out more damage and to earn more XP. (This reasoning fails if you have static XP awards, which the game has always had, which is why, in part, I like Alexis’ rule so much better. You can see this play out in the development of the different editions, starting with 3rd, where the XP tables were consolidated into a single advancement chart, to put each class on a even playing field. I reject this design standard simply on the basis that professions, in real life, are of varying degrees of difficulty. A pharmacy technician knows a lot more than a food service technician; it stands to reason that the pharmacy tech will require more experience to advance.)

Interestingly, AD&D gave the DM the ability to address this sort of thing. The DM’s Guide (pg.32) has a section for creating classes. It’s a brilliantly misguided and underused section, if only because the designers had no fucking clue what they were doing. But the core concept is solid: you have a base experience chart which is modified by a variable, unique to each class. The variable is determined by assigning skills to the class and adding a modifier based on that skill’s utility or power. Now, where the AD&D designers went wrong, is they didn’t design their base classes by this method – they tell us as much in the DM’s Guide. Also, the modifiers they provide don’t make sense and they don’t even list the full range of powers/skills.

(Yes, I know that Skills and Powers was a thing. I also know that it was crap, for basically the same reasons I list above, but mainly because the designers didn’t put in the proper effort to ensure that their system made sense. We can certainly look to it for ideas, but so far, I haven’t found much of use.)

So let’s fix it.

We start with the base experience chart.

Base XP Chart

The final formula is: [ (base XP) * 125 * (class modifier) ] – rounded to the nearest multiple of 250. The 125 is a static modifier; you can easily replace it with any number that suits your purposes. The rounding is something I do because I want the XP chart to be some sort of even number; again, use a different multiple or remove it altogether, whatever works.

To determine the class modifier, we need to break our classes down into skills and powers. Let’s start with the fighter. The core class from AD&D has the following skills:

  • d10 hit points per level (up to 9th)
  • +3 hit points per level (after 9th)
  • Excellent THAC0 progression (1 point per level)
  • Armor proficiency (all types)
  • Shield proficiency
  • 4 weapon proficiencies (at 1st level)
  • +6 weapon proficiencies (by 20th level)
  • -2 non-proficiency penalty (best of all classes)
  • Weapon specialization
  • Multiple attacks
  • Excellent saving throw progression (fastest and best value at 20th level)

There are other skills I would give to fighters, but for our purposes, this list will suffice.

It took some time to figure out the numbers. I started with the assumption that a fighter’s THAC0 progression is worth 3 points. I then based the other modifiers on their relationship to THAC0. In other words, proficiency in all shields, starting at 1st level, affords fighters the opportunity to improve their defense, making it easier to survive fights and earn more experience. However, it’s a defensive skill, so it shouldn’t be worth as much as an excellent THAC0. It’s also, at best, a 2-point modifier to AC, which is nothing to sneeze at but not quite as significant as heavy armor proficiency. So let’s give shields a 0.5 modifier. Following a similar line of reasoning, the modifiers we might assign are:

  • d10 hit points per level (up to 9th) (+3)
  • +3 hit points per level (after 9th) (+0.5)
  • Excellent THAC0 progression (+3)
  • Armor proficiency (all types) (+1)
  • Shield proficiency (+0.5)
  • 4 weapon proficiencies (+0.4)
  • +6 weapon proficiencies (+0.6)
  • -2 non-proficiency penalty (+0.25)
  • Weapon specialization (+0.5)
  • Multiple attacks (+1.5)
  • Excellent saving throw progression (+2.5)

Total modifier: 13.75. Final XP chart:

Sample Fighter XP Chart

We can find ways to make the modifiers more fine-tuned (and, therefore, more fair). For example, if we assume that each 1-point improvement to THAC0 is worth 1/32 of a point (as an XP modifier), and keep a running (cumulative) total over the character’s progression, we get a modifier of 3.28125. This methodology can be applied to any numerical improvement we can track, like saving throws or hit points, or even skill points (if we added such a system, which I did, and which gives me a final XP modifier, for the fighter, of 16.1796875.)

Now, I am the first to admit that this level of detail is a bit… well, insane. The final result is all the players see: a list of class skills and an XP chart. The difference between the classes is significant – it’ll affect a player’s decision to play one class over another – but it’s not so great as to immediately encourage or discourage any one class. Classes with quick progression are also weaker than the other classes.

More than that, however, this approach benefits the game by giving the DM options for expanding the world. I’m currently toying with how to use this methodology to create monster classes; combined with a standard for tracking monster XP, I’ll have random encounters where the players might face a veteran chimera; or a juvenile one, with fewer levels or immature abilities. And all of this will be done at random, such that I won’t know, until I need to know, what’s around the corner. Just like the players. Just like in the real world.

The Hidden Game

I’m not going to address this topic any more than necessary. It’s been beaten to death; there are many sources available for the reader to peruse; and if you haven’t decided by now that alignment needs to be thrown out of your game, then I suggest you stop reading and move on to something that’s more appealing to your paradigm. For the rest of you – for those who believe, rightly, that alignment has always been a baneful, spiteful and divisive element of the game, such that you have discarded it with other nonsensical cows like level limits and party leaders – for you all, consider this: alignment is useful and has a place in the game, just not in front of the players.

I’ll say that again for those in the back: alignment is not a player rule. It is a DM tool.

Poorly conceived slogans aside…

Consider this thought experiment: how many souls are in hell? Not, like, actual Hell, because this is not a philosophical or religious blog – despite all evidence to the contrary – but whatever passes for the underworld in your game; how many souls have lived and died in your world, and how many of them have ended up in hell? Why does this matter, you ask? Because you’re an idiot, that’s why!

Okay… yes, I know, my readers are not idiots, but let’s slow down for a moment and consider a basic paradigm of game design: the seemingly insignificant, behind-the-scene details always matter. Consider a trade system so robust that we can know the economic impact of a war started by the players. Or a weather system that makes sense and gives the DM information in advance of the players’ questions, such that logical and consistent answers can be provided (which gives the players options during their adventures). Or a political system that helps the DM track social influence in a dynamic environment. Each of these rules sets assumes that the details of the world, the ones that are hidden from the players’ view, make a difference in how the world operates, and thus in how the DM presents the world to the players.

So… how many souls are in hell? We can start by asking how many people have lived and died in this world, then making a few assumptions for a fantasy world. First, we should assume that our world takes place in an era that matches with some similar period from Earth. Let’s assume a Renaissance world which puts our estimation for dead souls at about 10 billion. Our next consideration is the presence of intelligent races – let’s limit ourselves to humanoids for the time being, such as dwarves, elves, orcs and goblins. There are others, but if we keep it simple with five races – humans included – we can assume an even distribution, bringing us to 12.5 billion dead souls (2.5 billion for each intelligence race). (A more robust distribution will require additional assumptions or variables, but I’ll leave it to the reader to determine which are appropriate for his/her world.)

If we assume that each race is predisposed toward a certain alignment – humans are generally neutral, elves are chaotic good, dwarves are lawful good, orcs are lawful evil and goblins are chaotic evil – and I must stress the key term, “generally” – then we can assume that, over time, following the law of averages, the number of humans who lived neutral lives is… some fraction of the total number of humans who lived, of course, but the specific fraction depends on whichever number set suits your world. For myself… well, let’s look at these numbers:

Alignment Distribution Stats

I assume the racial alignment is a tendency toward a particular (broad) moral and ethical worldview. Therefore, as humans are neutral, they tend toward neutral alignment about 31.373% of the time. Dwarves are lawful good about 44.138% of the time. (I trust the reader can sort out my methodology here.)

If, in our sample world, 2.5 billion orcs lived and died before the start of our game, and orcs are generally lawful evil, then we can say that close to 1.7069 billion orcs ended up in hell. Accounting for elves, humans and dwarves, we get a total of 2,578,725 souls in hell. Of course, this doesn’t include the neutral souls, which may end up in heaven or hell, or perhaps in another place altogether. (And we would need a method for deciding which way they’ll go upon death, but let’s leave that for another time.)

There may be no need to know these numbers; this is a thought experiment that assumes you have a use for them. If you’re running a game with a heavy emphasis on demonic corruption and influence, or one where it’s important to know how strong the demonic forces are, then these numbers help; other games, less so. Let’s apply alignment to something more immediately practical: determining an NPC’s personality. I’ll leave it to the reader to look through this document (NPC Personality Charts), but the basic concept is simple: with a list of possible personality traits, we can adjust the likelihood of an NPC possessing a given trait by associating that trait with an alignment and creating a cross reference chart to the NPC’s alignment. Therefore, evil characters are more likely to possess certain traits; but since the list I’ve used here is as large as it is, and the numbers I’ve chosen are small relative to the total list, the overall impact is lessened.

I feel I’m failing to get this concept across, so let’s look at it another way: the PCs encounter some travelling merchants. Two humans and a dwarf; their alignments and personalities are:

  • Human (LN), purposeful (dominant trait) and incurious (subdued trait), with a desire to raise children and motivated by eating
  • Human (LE), ungrateful (dominant) and fanciful (subdued), with a desire for order and motivated by the social contract
  • Dwarf (LG), weak (dominant) and bland (subdued), with a desire for exercise and motivated by the social contract

That took seconds to generate. And these NPCs will likely get a few seconds of screen-time with the players. The work behind the tables is the result of several days of research, to be sure, but once in place, the benefits are countless because you can use these tables again, and again, and again, and again… And I’m not talking about the benefits of using random tables (which should be obvious). I’m talking about how you can use alignment as a means to organize your random tables, to generate meaningful results and to build a world that makes sense.

See, these aren’t the only NPCs you’re going to run in the game. They are a drop in the bucket. There are millions of people in your game world, possibly billions, and the number of interactions the PCs will have can easily climb into the thousands. Over time, certain patterns will emerge. Some of these will be based on poorly understood bias and preconceived notions, but some of your players will, rightly, recognize that dwarves tend toward certain traits which we can call “lawful” and “good.” In other words, dwarves will be different in a way that is meaningful and dynamic, instead of static and clichéd.

But none of this requires informing the players. They don’t need to know how you make the world work. All that matters is that it works, that you’re consistent and it makes sense, even if only to you.

Process

I can’t recall exactly which book it’s in – Mere Christianity or The Abolition of Man – but C.S. Lewis wrote something about human nature that struck a chord with me. To paraphrase: we all go through a cycle where our outlook waxes and wanes, and our emotions follow suit. We may ride the high for many weeks, perhaps even days, or we may experience more lows than those around us, but sure enough there will come a time when the tide will turn and we’re either on our way up or down for the next leg in the journey.

I’m not sure where I am in the process. I just know it’s time to give it another try.

My last post was over a year ago yet the sentiment remains as strong as before. I haven’t stopped working on my passion. I’ve just been unable to fit regular posts into my schedule. Work took me out of the country and it became necessary to restructure my day such that other priorities took precedent.

Now I’ve returned to a semblance of normality; at least, normal for what I was doing before. Thus it’s as good an opportunity as ever I’ve had.

The nice thing about living a normal life is the freedom to choose my workload. For example, a friend asked recently that I look over a draft of his current book and offer some feedback. I enjoy this sort of thing – I had the chance to do the same with a previous work, though the version I read wasn’t too far off from the published copy – but it’s definitely something that I can’t manage all the time. It’s fortunate that his need came about at a time when I have the freedom to fit in some extra reading.

It’s also fortunate because it got me thinking again. About the work we do and the things that inspire or motivate us. And yes, this particular post is filling out with a load of self-indulgent shit. But if that results in me pushing forward and writing more, like I keep telling myself I should, then it was worth something. So hopefully I haven’t wasted too much of your time.

Oh, and as far as Alexis’ newest work… well, I don’t know when it’ll be done and I can’t say much else about it, except that it’ll probably be worth the wait. His first book certainly was.

This

This is why I write. This is why I want to write. This is why I beat myself up for not writing, for not sticking with my plans and for not being disciplined enough to actually accomplish anything. It’s why I agonize over my dreams, why I obsess about worlds that could be.

And it just might be the thing that helps me to stay on task.

[Rant]

Delta’s house rules concerning clerics: there are no clerics.

And here’s my response to each of his reasons…

(Disclaimer: Yes, of course he can run his game however he wants. And I’m sure that his game is well run, judging by the quality of the content on his blog. My thoughts are outlined below because 1) I think he’s wrong, mostly because 2) I think he’s being intellectually lazy. These are intended as objective observations, not an attack on character.)

1. Don’t have to detail a list of gods before play begins (i.e., avoids DDG-type requirement); can keep gods a mystery or forego them entirely.

I don’t see how this is a problem. When starting a campaign, the DM should include details about the major religions (or at least, those religions that have the most influence in the players’ immediate vicinity). This would naturally include naming the deities (if the religion is a polytheistic one), explaining their relationships with each other and detailing things like ceremonies, observances, holidays, roles in society, appearances, etc. All of which takes work. So how hard can it be to assign a few spells to each as a way of further distinguishing one cleric from another?

And do we really need to start a new campaign? Because that’s how I see this issue playing out: the DM starts working on a new world with new societies and deities and all that jazz, and when it comes time to give the players options for their characters, “Oh, this is too much work.” Seriously, a good DM should have one world, maybe two, where they set their games. Never more than that. The need to switch from one game to the next, like you’re changing your underwear, is a symptom of a greater problem: you’re failing to deliver a satisfying game.

2. Don’t have to deal with integrated Christian mythology and institutions (equipment-list crosses, biblical-based spell list, Catholic class level titles, etc.)

No one has to deal with this issue unless they choose to. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the game got away from Christian influences as early as 2E (excluding vampire weaknesses, of course, which is easily fixed by removing the damn cross requirement) (please correct me if I’m wrong). Either way, if you’re that dead-set against including those influences – hey, I think I figured out why people hate clerics so much! – just remove them from the game. You don’t have to nix a full quarter of your players’ options for one small detail.

3. Don’t have to deal with proliferation of miraculous abilities among clergy in every church in the campaign.

As I pointed out yesterday, if you keep the number of clerics in your game down to a reasonable value, you don’t end up with a “proliferation of miraculous abilities.” At least, no more so than you get from having a like number of wizards in your world. And while we’re at it: are you having problems explaining the proliferation of arcane happenings in every culture in the campaign? Because if you’re not, then making half of them divine in nature isn’t going to break the game.

4. Streamlines the magic system to just one class (wizards).

…why is this a good thing? Simplicity for the sake of simplicity isn’t a bonus, it’s laziness.

5. Avoids many problematic spells (silence 15′ radius, know alignment, etc.)

Re-write or remove the problematic spells, not the class.

6. No open-access to entire spell list, thereby avoiding brokenness (becoming overpowered) and plot irregularities when spell lists are expanded.

Change the rules such that clerics don’t get access to every single spell on the damn list. Make them operate more like wizards in that regard: they receive new spells based on their training and religious studies.

And why is it a problem when the spell list is expanded? Is the world a static place where no invention or innovation ever occurs? Was there not a time when wizards only had the most basic of spells at their disposal? Or have spellcasters always been able to whip a wish out of their asses?

7. No turn-undead ability, which turns otherwise fearsome monster types into the most easily defeated ones.

8. Healing “requirement” is spread across the entire party, not just one player.

There shouldn’t ever be a “requirement” of any one player to perform a specific way to the exclusion of that player’s desire to perform in other ways. If there is, you’ve got a group of asshole players and you’re doing a bad job as a DM.

9. Creates an elegant system of one class each using d4/d6/d8 hit dice, none/light/heavy armor, and attacks progression at 2/3/4 levels.

…actually, I can’t argue too much with this point. I, too, enjoy this sort of anal-retentive attention to details. However, there is something a bit… simple… about this approach. It doesn’t allow for a more subtle, nuanced class design.

And does this mean that you’re not using other classes? What about rangers and druids? Or bards and illusionists?

10. Avoids disassociation with priest/healer archetype that is more generally seen as peaceful, robe-wearing, etc.

…where is this archetype coming from? Certainly not history because there were plenty of priests throughout the ages who engaged in war and conquest. Also, see #14 below…

11. Avoids robbing fighters of specialty in wearing heavy armor.

So take away the heavy armor proficiency. Issue solved.

12. Avoids singularity of the only class unavailable to demihumans or multiclassing in OD&D (or listed as NPC-only in the AD&D PHB).

Multiclassing sucks because it’s freaking awesome (in 1E and 2E) – two classes for the price of one with no downside except lagging behind for a level or two. And limiting classes to non-humans is fucking retarded. Both should be thrown out – the former because it’s too good an option and the latter because it makes no fucking sense.

13. Avoids oddity of one class type mostly missing from OD&D wandering monster tables.

Wandering monster tables suck. They always have. To keep using them simply because they’re the status quo is the lazy approach. To ignore their faults is likewise lazy. (I need a synonym for lazy… shiftless? indolent? negligent?)

Come on, people – we’re DMs. We’re meant to be better than this. Put some effort into it.

14. Matches most pulp fantasy sources in which fighters/thieves/wizards are common, but miraculous warrior clerics are rarely (if ever) seen.

Look, if your game is so fragile that you have to rely on the “pulp fantasy sources” to keep players engaged, then you have other issues that need to be dealt with. Granted, my view on this particular topic may have to do with personal preferences. I generally don’t aim to run games with a particular “feel” to them. I did, at one time, but each session was plagued by a hyper-awareness, a sensation that we’re just going through the motions. There was no immersion, no engagement and no reason to give a shit about what happened to anyone, PC or NPC.

I get it: these are the books we grew up on. These are the stories that tickle our fancies, that spark the imagination and hold us rapt with attention. We want to recreate these moments. The problem isn’t the desire to be the hero from our favorite fantasy novel. The problem is that the medium we’ve chosen – roleplaying games – is not conducive to recreating that sensation.

Each of these reasons (or benefits) are superfluous at best. They’re justifications for avoiding any real work – like reworking the wandering monster tables to include clerics or creating a rational explanation for why monsters can’t be clerics.

[/rant]

All the Work…

Let’s keep this going, shall we?

“Gods, clerics, and holy spells cause logistical problems. If you can heal, cure disease, and resurrect, then do leaders die? Are their [sic] epidemics? Does each god have a portfolio? Is that a lot of extra work? Are gods, gods or just beings on a power-level beyond characters? Does Healing magic just waste everyone’s time, devaluing hit points as a resource and shoehorning in a character “because we need a healer”? Are armored spellcasters really a good idea?”

“These are a lot of annoying work-heavy questions for elf-games.”

At this point it’s not the idea that the cleric should be removed as it is the idea that it’s too labor intensive to answer the question. As I said before, there is no sacred cow to the game. If the DM feels that her game is improved by adding or removing certain elements, then she should do it. But when the only reason she can offer is, “it’s too much work for something that’s supposed to be fun,” then she needs to step down and let someone else run the game.

Look, I like -C and Delta. I have their URLs memorized because they often provide content that, while not exactly right, is at least rational and thought provoking. It’s clear that they put a lot of effort into their blogs and their published products. So let me be perfectly clear: these two have accomplished more as writers than I have, and I respect them for that.

Even though they’re wrong.

I’ll address -C’s questions above and, in due time, address Delta’s house rules concerning clerics (specifically, the advantages of not having them in the game).

If you can heal, cure disease, and resurrect, then do leaders die? Are their epidemics?

Yes. All the damn time.

It’s true that the presence of divine magic – or, more accurately, miracles – suggests an inconsistency where it comes to the life and death of NPCs. After all, the powerful NPCs must have clerics working for them, right? Yet this question inherently fails to recognize that prayers and miracles – as distinct from arcane spells – are a limited commodity. Like any rare commodity, their use (or exploitation) is limited. After all, we have modern medicine which is capable of attaching a severed hand to a leg in order to keep the hand alive until it can be reattached to the arm. And yet, people all over the world lose hands and legs all the damn time.

First, we must consider how many clerics exist in the world. There are several methods we could use and, naturally, the final answer comes down to the DM’s decision. Regardless, it’s fair to say that clerics are rare. They’re members of an elite group – player character classes. They require specialized training, primarily in religion and prayer, but also in things like combat, ritual, politics, theology, philosophy, leadership, management, etc. They have stat requirements – typically just an average Wisdom score, though again, each campaign world can make this more restrictive.

For my own world, I estimate that, on average, 624 persons in 100,000 would be clerics. Compare that to about 1 in 20 for the number of leaders in the world. (Note that the difference is a matter of specialization. The cleric is a highly specialized, clearly defined character. A leader is, generally speaking, any person who leads a group of people. There will always be leaders, even if those who lead are not even remotely qualified for the job.) But clearly that’s not what we mean when we’re talking about leaders – I’m just quibbling over semantics. Not that it matters. If we look at just the number of people (per 100,000) with levels and assume that they represent the number of (effective) leaders in the world, we find that there’s 2,537 leaders for every group of 624 clerics (or a ratio of about 4:1).

(And yes, I’m using numbers according to rules for my game; I will address my methods in a different post. No, this doesn’t have to apply to your game. Either way, fuck off: if you want to disagree with the basic point I’m making, please show your work or provide some form of a rational argument.)

Please note that I’m only talking about the raw number of clerics in the world as compared to the general population (and to a population of “leaders”). This says nothing about the levels of these clerics, which gods they worship or their exact suite of powers.

Oh, and when epidemics do happen, you can damn well be certain that the local church will pay a little less attention to the king and his lackeys, and a lot more attention to the HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE DYING FROM THE SHITS.

Does each god have a portfolio? Is that a lot of extra work?

Yes. No.

Really, how many times must we go over this inane detail? Of course it takes extra work. It might take a lot of extra work or it might take just a little. That depends on how prepared you are. But let’s try looking at it from another direction: why are you creating new deities all the damn time?

A DM should only ever create one world. It’s her world, her pride and joy, her life’s work – well, not literally, but in the hobbyist sense – so why is she constantly scrapping it for a new world? Yes, I myself have spent many hours on creating new worlds. And I did it because I always felt like my games were constantly getting away from me. And they were but mostly because I was a bad DM who let bad players run amok and unchecked. Still, even during that time, I always had my personal game world and I tried as much as I could to keep the players in that world, regardless of how many characters they made or how many “new campaigns” we started. So, no, it’s no more work to assign the gods their portfolios than it is to answer the damn question, “Which gods have influence in this part of the world?”

Are gods, gods or just beings on a power-level beyond characters?

I don’t know. Is magic, magic or is it just a form of science that we, with our modern minds, don’t fully comprehend?

The answer is simple: you, as the DM, should KNOW THE DAMN ANSWER before you start running the game. And don’t change the answer once you figure it out. That’s just rude.

Are armored spellcasters really a good idea?

Honestly, I haven’t had any problems with this in my games. But if you find that it genuinely unbalances the game and detracts from the experience the players share at your table, then change the damn rules and be done with it.

Or would that require too much work for a simple elf-game?

Does Healing magic just waste everyone’s time, devaluing hit points as a resource and shoehorning in a character “because we need a healer”?

Story time: in college, one of my regular players usually played a cleric, especially for pickup games. She’s always been an active, engaged player; she always contributes to the action by becoming immersed in the fantasy; indeed, when given the chance to pick players for a new group, I always tried to get her involved because she brought so much to the table. But she’s terrible with numbers; she never cared for memorizing the rules; and she always let herself be talked into playing whichever class was lacking at the table.

More often than not, the class that was lacking was the cleric.

Part of the reason for this was my own fault. I used to play with alignment and my players, during the 3E era, were always wary of being told what they could and could not do. Part of this fear was justified in the case of clerics because they have an inherent social structure linked to the class, and the implication is that alignment is the foundation for that structure. It’s all bullshit, of course, but I didn’t realize that at the time and would occasionally let my asshole side seep through (in an attempt to adhere to the rules of the game, naturally; not justifying my bad behavior, just saying why it happened…).

So no one really wanted to play a cleric. Well, there was also the concern that clerics were just heal-bots and never got to do anything cool. Part of that had to do with 3E and the power creep inherent in every new edition. But part of it had to do with the underlying social structures at play. The former I could – and do – control by changing the rules to limit how often clerics can use their spells. The latter… well, again, I was an asshole and a bad DM, and it took me a few years to realize it.

Look, if your players are avoiding the cleric because it forces an obligation to play in a certain way – like, always memorizing heal spells in order to keep the party alive – then you’re playing with dickheads. Kill their characters in the most final way possible, wait for the ashes to settle (and the tears to stop) and make them roll new characters. When they do, have a good heart-to-heart, come-to-Jesus talk with them. Tell them that, while they are a team and they need to figure out how to work as a team, you won’t tolerate bullies. Give them a one-strike rule: anyone caught being a bully will get a warning. If the behavior persists, you’ll kick them to the curb. And yes, I’m saying that a group that insists the cleric always use healing spells – and nothing else – is a group of bullies.

More to follow…

 

I’ve seen this around the ‘net before. I’ve had this discussion many times. The ideas are persistent, pervasive and downright insidious. And in each and every case, they are dead fucking wrong. These arguments are based on laziness, pure and simple.

1) D&D has always had clerics.

Yes, this is a shitty reason for keeping clerics. No aspect of the game should be held onto simply because it’s a sacred cow. That being said, it’s important to note the historical roots of the class if only because…

2) The players expect clerics.

Again, not the best reason in the world, but players are accustomed to having the cleric as an option. Sit down with a new player – one who is new to your game but not the game – and there’s going to be preconceived notions about how things operate. If you want to buck the status quo, you have to be prepared to offer a valid reason for the difference. Especially since…

3) The game needs clerics.

Yes, you read that right: D&D needs clerics. More specifically, the game needs the powers and abilities that a cleric brings to the table. The first and foremost of these is the ability to heal. The game has always been rather harsh on natural healing (and it should be, considering how difficult it is to recover from damage in real life). Clerical healing gives the players an option that helps keep the fight going.

More than that, clerics are the moderators, the mediators, the social characters, the politicians and lawyers and leaders of the community: they are the foundation that holds a group together.

Seriously, have you ever thought about where the cleric comes from? And I don’t mean those fucking “references” from Appendix N (besides, there’s a rather significant lack of cleric-like figures in fantasy literature). I’m talking about the real world for a moment. If we strip away the magic – because real priests don’t have spells – clerics are little more than priests operating within a structured religion. Structured religions arose from two driving forces: 1) our need, as a species, to understand the world around us and 2) our need to organize into larger groups. Religion helps with both these needs: it gives us an answer to our questions (whether the answer is right or wrong is immaterial) and it gives us individuals who are skilled at managing people.

Now, certainly, we may argue that any of the other core classes have a need to manage people and can, therefore, fill that need within a society at large. Fighters are warriors and it’s the older, more experienced fighters that are often leaders in war. If you’re going to fight a war effectively, you need to organize and mange your troops. Similarly, thieves have a need to organize and manage people toward one or more goals, often with the acquisition of wealth or power in mind. Even wizards can do more with a team of skilled artisans, scribes or collectors. But it is the cleric that best represents the real world analogue of a skilled manager with a vested interest in the survival and success of an entire town/city/nation.

4) The reasons for not having them are lazy.

This will require another list…

  1. Clerical healing is too powerful.
  2. Clerics do nothing else except heal.
  3. In games where clerics can do more than heal, their powers are unbalanced.
  4. The proliferation of pantheons in the game encourages special, unique clerics for each god, which requires special, unique abilities for each cleric.
  5. Clerics require gods and gods encourage alignment, which sucks.

I won’t be able to address all of these issues in this one post, but I will address them all in due time.

The last one, the argument for ridding the game of gods (and therefore, clerics) because alignment is a pain in the ass, is just plain stupid. If you’re having such a hard time dealing with alignment – and to be fair (a rare thing, so don’t get used to it), alignment can really such the life out of a game – just get rid of alignment. It’s not hard to do. Change a handful of spells/abilities so that they don’t deal directly with alignment, and you’re done. For example, instead of detect evil you can have detect malevolence. There, simple. No need for alignment and you didn’t have to gut the entire game of a quarter of its rules.

I’ll skip back to the first reason for getting rid of clerics: that their healing is too powerful. This often shows up in discussions about the impact of magic on the world.

Yeah, I’m not sure how to properly address this other than to say… if you believe these arguments, you’re a fucking moron.

The player character classes are meant to be used as written: by player characters. Yes, a DM can (and probably should) use these classes for NPCs, but they are not standard representations of the general public. They are specialists. They are experts. They are the heroes and villains of the world. Each requires special training, which takes time and resources that your average denizen does not have access to. Yet in all the arguments I’ve heard, it’s assumed that everyone in the world has an equal chance of being a member of the elite. So the assumption is that magic is far more common than it really should be. This is the result of lazy thinking and people need to just stop.

Further, these arguments assume that simply because something exists, it must exist despite the cost involved. I’m not talking about the literal cost of casting a spell. I’m talking about the investment of time. Whenever a cleric casts a spell, she has to give up some of her time to get that spell back. She also has to give up the opportunity to use that spell for other clerical effects. Instead of casting animal friendship or charm person, she casts cure light wounds. Then she has to wait until the next day and she has to devote a portion of her day to prayer in order to get that spell slot back.

Now, just in case I’ve lost you, let me remind you that we’re talking about NPCs. See, these arguments – that clerical healing is too powerful and inevitably results in a sort of “free healthcare system” where no one dies, ever, because there’s so much healing available – these arguments ignore the fact that there’s no incentive for a given NPC to heal someone. None. At all. NPCs are not one-dimensional entities that exist for the sole purpose of a single task – especially one assigned by some random chum-guzzling internet troll. They are supposed to be people, in their own rights, who live and die in a fantasy world in order to make that world seem more real to the players. So even if your fantasy world has enough clerics – of any level or power – that you could provide one to every single household, there’s still the problem of motivation. Why should a cleric dedicate herself to just healing people all the time? What if she seeks out evil and destroys it before it can hurt anyone? Wouldn’t that be a more effective approach to healing, to end suffering before it can start?

Really people, it’s the 21st century and critical thinking has been around since the dawn of our species. Just try it once; I promise you’ll like it.