A place for random posts about painting and modelling miniatures for historical, fantasy, and science fiction tabletop games.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rules of the Road: Deities

How do mortals interact with the Higher Powers?

This has been a question that players and DM's have asked for decades. One of the most popular views is the deity/follower interaction in the Forgotten Realms™ and Greyhawk™ settings which I refer to as Support Your Favorite Huggable Deity (SYFHD).

In these setting, there is direct communication and interaction between deities and their followers, which helps portray an intimate and personal relation between them. Which in turn brought about things like God Calls or God Rolls, the percentile chance that one's deity will come to the aid of the a follower. It also resulted in crap like the deity showing up in avatar form, Deus ex Machina anyone?

I am not a huge fan of the SYFHD idea. When I was younger it seemed like a cool idea, but as I have grown older I become less inclined to like it. I have never really written out my own thoughts on the whole Mortal/Deity interaction.

So here I go, please note this is just how I generally run deities in my own games and not how I think anyone else should. Every person is going to have their own take on this.

FYI, I run my game using the 3 Point Alignment System (L/N/C), but I occasionally use the 5 Point Alignment System (LG/CG/N/CE/LE). I am not a fan of the 9 or 12 point systems.

Rules of the Road: Deities

Gods, Immortals, Deities, Deva, etc. can be grouped into three broad categories: Major, Minor and Petty. Each category interacts with the mortal realm and the mortals that dwell their differently.

I also divide my deities into three classifications:

  • Chaos -> Infernal -> Cthonic

  • Law - > Celestial -> Empyrean

  • Nonaligned  -> Autonomous ->  Elemental

Major Deities

At the highest level are the major deities, beings of profuse power who rule over vast domains in the celestial, infernal or elemental spheres. In the mortal realm they are the deities that often have the most worshipers, shrines, clerics, etc.

Major deities never physical appear (manifest) in the mortal realm with one notable exception.  If a major deity appears in the mortal realm, then kiss your ass goodbye because it is the Apocalypse and the world is coming to an end.

They also never directly speak to mortals. The voice and words of the major deities is too powerful and would strike any mortal who heard it dead. They communicate to their followers via signs, portents, divination, dreams and auguries. They are almost never to the point and can be incredible cryptic.

In the direst of circumstances they may send a celestial messenger, such as an angel or demon, to convey a message. If an angel shows up with a message, you can be assured that the shit has well and truly hit the fan.

Minor Deities

Below the major deities, there exist a number of minor gods and goddess. They are often aligned with a major deity and reside in that deity’s celestial domain, but not always. Like major deities, minor ones almost never physical appear (manifest) in the mortal realm for much of the same reason as the majors one.

They have fewer worshipers, shrines and clerics and sometimes they are worshiped in conjunction with a major deity. They will very rarely speak directly to mortals. A mortal must make a Saving Throw vs. Death if a minor god ever speaks directly to them. If they fail, they die from the experience. They usually communicate to their followers via signs, portents, divination, dreams and auguries.

Petty Gods

The term Petty God covers a wide variety of entities. They can be major or minor gods that have fallen from grace. They could be long forgotten gods who worshipers have all died off. They could be demi-gods, gods tied to a specific location, a specific ideal, a specific trade. This can also cover extra-planar creatures like Djinn, Dao, Ifrit and Jann. 

The one thing they all share in common is they physically exist in the mortal realm. They walk among mortals, can communicate directly with them, and directly interfere with them.  Probable the most important thing about them is that they can die. They are not invulnerable to mortals and can be slain by them.

The Immortal Instruments - Demons & Angels

In order to aid them in their endeavors, deities created a wide variety of servants to aid them. Infernal deities created the Demonic Hordes, Celestial deities created the Angelic Hosts and the Elemental deities created the Jinn throngs. Demons and Angels have corporeal bodies in their home spheres, but they are incorporeal in the mortal realms, demons appear as withering inky black clouds of smoke and angels appears as sparkling white clouds of diamond dust. 

When in the mortal realm they will often take a mortal vessel, via possession, in order to communicate and interact with the physical mortal realm. They are next to impossible to kill, but can be barred, banished, exorcised and trapped. The Jinn are different and are treated as Petty Gods when they are in the mortal realm.

The Mortals Instruments – The Ecclesiastics

Priests, Priestess and Clerics are the voice of the deity in the mortal realm. They interpret the will of the deity and turn it into dogma. Through prayer, rituals and offerings these ecclesiastics demonstrate their faith to the deity. In return for this faith and piety, the deity allows them to become conduits for its divine power.

It is important to understand why I stress the word interpret above. In most fantasy RPG settings that I have seen, the clerical & priestly orders follow a set of rules laid out by their deity. My problem with this is if the god is worshiped in several different civilizations should they all not call him by the same name and practice the same rites and rituals that the deity laid out? Instead of coming up with some complicated answer involving portfolio, spheres of influence, etc. etc, I took a different approach.

The deity really does not give a shit what name you call it, how you pray, that you can only eat salted chicken at the highest point of the summer solstice. These are all mortal inventions designed to help mortals feel connected to their deity. The dogma and doctrine of a particular faith or order is designed to put the mortal in the correct mental or psychological state of mind that will allow them to connect to their deity. If a mortal rejects the practices of their faith, they lose that connection. While the deity may not care, mortals very much do.

Paladins are a special case of cray-cray and I will write about them at a later date.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Classic D&D + The Known World vs. Adventurer, Conqueror, King + Auran Empire


Mystara is a campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role playing game. Following Greyhawk and Blackmoor, It was the third official campaign setting for what was coined the "Basic" version of the game.

It originated as the Known World, a semi-generic setting used in early adventure modules, first mentioned in the Module X1, Isle of Dread, which was expanded upon by several semi-independent projects by different teams of writers who were each assigned to the task of developing different cultures and nations that would exist in the fantasy world that was supported by Dungeons & Dragons at the time. Their work was gathered and compiled, blended, and combined to form a fantasy world, Mystara.

The Birth of Known World 81

A couple of years ago I finally got my hands on a copy of the 1981 "Basic" D&D game, the 1982 “Expert” D&D Game and the blue cover of the X1 Isle of Dread. While pursuing these books I had a thought.

How would a modern day DM run a campaign using just the materials that were available in 1982?

I got a list of everything a DM would have accessed to and then I built-up a campaign world out of it.

  • ·        1981 "Basic" D&D game
  •       1982 “Expert” D&D Game
  • ·         B4 - Lost City
  • ·         X1 - Isle of Dread

Using just the information in these publications I created what I initially called “Known World 81” and created an adventuring campaign for it. My gaming group played for over a year in this world and much fun was had. I am planning on running a new campaign in the same world 50 years later as a generational campaign with some of my players playing descendants of their original characters.
 There is more information first campaign on the Dragonsfoot Forum, where I posted an adventure journal.

 This time around I have updated the campaign and the setting. I am going to be running it using the Adventurer, Conqueror, King (ACK) Rule System. I have also taken parts of the default setting for ACK and merged it into my campaign.

What is Adventurer, Conqueror, King (ACK) Rule System?

ACK is one of the slews of RPGs that has been spawned out of the Old School Renaissance (OSR) movement of gaming. At its most base, the OSR movement is the fan-based movement to recapture the feel of the older versions of D&D by publishing new rulesets and adventures by “cloning” older rulesets. 

With all things this is good and bad, the sheer output from the community is staggering, with some exceptional writing, some utter dog turds, and sheer money grabbing/band wagoning. ACK is considered to be a neo-clone of the classic “Basic” D&D game that was published parallel to Advanced D&D back in the day.

What made ACK standout from the rest?   

For one thing it does not read or feel like a Retro-Clone or a Neo-Clone ruleset.  It does not try to mimic the older games. The best way I can describe it is as follows.

What 5th Edition D&D is to Advanced D&D, ACK is to Basic D&D. ACK reads and plays like a new edition of the classic original D&D.

The little diagram below is how I see ACK as a rule set; it is the next iteration of the tradition of the classic D&D game that I played as a kid. It still has some of the hallmarks of the earlier versions of the game, but presents them in a new and/or interesting way.

Original D&D (Gygax/Arneson) -> B/X D&D (Moldvay/Cook) -> BECMI D&D (Mentzer) -> Rules Cyclopedia D&D (Heard/Allison) -> ACK

One of the things that has really set it apart it from other games, is the fact it is the races, classes, arms, magic and monsters are not all tied to the traditional middle/high medieval fantasy like so many other games. Instead the game is steeped in late antiquity, the age of dying empires and barbarian hordes.  The default world is known as the Auran Empire and the thought and detail that has gone into it is amazing.

Can it be used in a traditional high fantasy setting like Greyhawk or Forgotten realms? Sure, not a problem. A lot of people dislike or disapprove of having default settings in RPG’s. Who wants to run some wankers idealized version of Greyhawk or circle-jerk fanboy version of Forgotten Realms? Not many I would think.

Auran Empire vs. Known World 81

As part of a recent Kickstarter, the creators of ACK are putting out an Auran Empire Primer, which provides more details about the campaign world that is alluded to in the core rule book and companion book. As a backer I got a draft copy of it (Still Waiting for the Finalized Version). 

After reading it and then going back and looking back at my own Known World 81 I was amazed at how similar our two worlds are. Instead of Auran Empire I had the Thracian Empire and on and on. Even the timelines for our two worlds bore similarities.  Needless to say I have begun to merge many element from the ACK defaulting into my own campaign.