Tuesday, 4 December 2012

How much should characters be able to cheat death in a (fantasy) game setting?

My train of thought is something like -

Akrasia has some very interesting suggestions on making magic in OSR type games more like the tales that spawned them (old post found via Brendan via Dr Bargle).

In that post, Akrasia casually drops in that he has "removed the spells ‘raise dead’ and ‘reincarnation,’". Which is right and sensible, since it deals with a couple of the biggest potential mood issues of D&D, in my view -
  • At a certain level, death becomes a road-bump rather than an ending
  • Even with Autarch's rather good The Demographics of Heroism, your small duchy / large city still has a high priest(ess) who can 'raise dead', so it's not just your PCs who won't stay dead
Just because it's a good fantasy setting, that doesn't mean it's a good game setting (Lord of the Rings being one of the stand-out examples here). And a key differentiator in my view is whether a fair degree of magical (or at least non-natural) healing is available to the characters.

So, my thought is that Akrasia is right, and those two spells should be removed, unless you're going for properly high-fantasy. But that characters should be given Fate Points a la WFRP, to partially make up for this.

I also really like his view of merging cleric and magic user spell lists, and having there be consequences to 'black' magic - the latter point also being echoed in Brendan's post.

However, I'd do things slightly differently -
  1. Magic users get the merged spell lists, and the consequences of 'black' magic, and the normal magic user armour restrictions. This, as per Akrisia's intent, gives you magicians from the vast range of architypes.
  2. Clerics you keep, and with their armour / weapon options. They also get no consequences of spell casting, as the power comes from their deity - except that over time (levels) they get more and more like the deity they follow. Presumably they're OK with this, but it might seem like a tough bargain when viewed from the outside. Mechanically I'm not sure how you represent this, since the alignment 'penalty' that Brendan alludes to for magic users is irrelevant for clerics, and you want the player to still have control over their character. What you can do mechanically though is, per deity, limit the range of spells from the full list that clerics can cast (although this requires a lot of preparation work on fleshing out the deities and their spell lists). Perhaps starting with few restrictions and low levels and ramping this up at high levels is how this would work