Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sorcerer's Scroll: October 1982

Hopefully I don't "go on a binge" and spend all re-posting old EGG articles. Nontheless, I'll post this one because it short and again falls in the file of "EGG sure said a whole lot of stuff". This comes from Dragon #66, October 1982. Upon the release of Deities & Demigods for AD&D, Gygax is apparently responding to some harsh criticism from another magazine that DDG isn't useful, in that it has insufficient details around the practices of the religions included.

This capable and knowledgeable individual suggests that data on the deities is insufficient for usefulness in an AD&D™ campaign. That religion, being so much a part of our real history, must likewise play a part in your campaign, J. R. R. Tolkien did not agree, for he wrote many pages without mention of religion. Most of the heroic fantasy and swords & sorcery books written do not feature any particular religious zeal on the part of their protagonists. Consider Conan, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser, Harold Shea, and the list goes on and on. I do not agree that it needs be a significant part of the campaign...

... Development of ideologies, rites, dogma, and so forth is purely a matter for the DM— with active participation of players, naturally. It is nothing which we desire to force upon players, nor will we. How a game is role-played is a matter of choice.

One unexpected thing here is seeing EGG turn to JRR Tolkein as the first-and-foremost authority of what belongs in a fantastic adventure. You can dig up a lot of quotes where EGG disavows being deeply influenced by Tolkein, and yet here when it suits his rhetorical purpose it's the first thing he thinks of.

Secondly, the advice here is at odds with what EGG wrote for an introduction to the DDG itself. There he offers it forth as an indispensible, necessary part of the core AD&D game. I guess I'll never entirely shake my 12-year-old naivete that publishing copy may be skewed in favor of whatever product is currently the target of sales efforts.

But thirdly in this case: I completely and strongly agree with the core analysis in this passage. When I think of precisely these authors, and precisely these characters -- personally I can't shake the impression that "Most of the heroic fantasy and swords & sorcery books written do not feature any particular religious zeal on the part of their protagonists."

I also "do not agree that it needs be a significant part of the campaign". The fit of the D&D cleric has always bothered me, and the campaign-building catastrophe that always befalls me as I try to fit it in, determine where clerics sit in the world power structure, detail a host of gods and churches before starting play, and try to fit together (1) Catholic-style crusading priests with (2) miraculous everyday powers, in (3) a paganistic pantheon of worship, is perhaps my biggest grief with D&D and all its traditions. As I've written before, I've finally expunged clerics from all the D&D that I personally develop (in OD&D, replacing clerics with Greyhawk's thieves). And here I'm rather stunned to find EGG one day arguing the same thing, when freed from the task of directly selling a specific product.

4 comments:

  1. One quick and probably naive question -- in a cleric-less world, who acts as the source of healing? Without some healing, game play would look a lot different.

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  2. Hey, Jesse, it's a good question.

    As I've said before when I do this, you just have to commit to providing some form of magic healing items in the game. Here I'm thinking of common fantasy tropes like the athelas herb in LOTR, hurtloam in the Thomas Covenant books, Lucy's cordial in Narnia, etc.

    For D&D it's probably most in-theme to have travelling salesmen selling potions of healing from a far-distant magic river.

    A few advantages I can see to this approach: (a) The healing resource is shared & usable by the whole party, so if the healer goes down the whole party isn't flat-out screwed. (b) The healing resource isn't replenished overnight, so while it gives a desired "boost" to the party if one PC gets injured, they'll still want to ration it and use days of natural healing whenever possible.

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  3. For what it's worth, when I played AD&D (1st edition), nobody really liked playing the cleric. Everyone knew that parties needed a cleric, but they couldn't use fun weapons and had to pretend to worship some god. We had a running joke that the party usually had a rent-a-cleric NPC, until a friend of mine got frustrated with having a party member that was nothing more than a character sheet and wrote himself a combat medic character in D&D terms.

    But you can see why clerics were boring -- a few weapons, spells that don't do anything but support everyone else, and the ability to turn undead, which is great for those few times you run into some undead.

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  4. Jesse, that's excellent point I tend to overlook -- my stuff's always coming from the angle of DM'ing (world-building, etc.)

    Of course, the cleric was boosted in 3E specifically to answer those issues (I remember the WOTC ad, "We won't make you play the cleric!"), and then we ended up with a massively overpowered character in that case.

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