Friday, July 22, 2016

Gygax Regretted Clerical Turning

From the old ENWorld Q&A thread with Gygax:
Q: If you could travel back in time to the early 1970s, would you still make it that clerics can turn undead? I ask because of these words you wrote on page 101 of the original version of Necropolis:

'Priests and Priestesses have no extraordinary ability to affect the Netherrealms creatures and beings, spirits, Unliving, Undead, and Unalive in this game system. There will be no mumbled prayer followed by a "Vaporize!" or "Shoo!" removing dangers such as these foes in this tomb! Naturally, clerical personas wield many instruments which are amongst the Susceptibilities of these sorts of creatures and beings, but there are no givens ("gimmes") here. Be sure to keep this in mind--and to gently remind players of this too, if they are veterans of game systems which make this sort of fell minions of Evil lightweights to be brushed aside with the wave of a sacred object.'

A: So many of the very most interesting "monsters" were subjected to that rude capacity of turning/destroying that I initially bestowed upon the cleric class that I did indeed come to rue the initial benison given to that class. My plan for a revised edition of AD&D was such as to limit that power somewhat while adjusting things for the capacity of undead to withstand "turning" so as to make things more challenging for PCs without emasculating the power of the cleric. Alas, that was not to be in AD&D terms, so I did things differently in the DJ system, as you note, and have continued that fine tradition now in the LA RPG :-D

26 comments:

  1. Wow! I had no idea! I love the way you turn up fascinating bits of the game's history and design!

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    1. Thanks! I was looking for other stuff and then this really jumped out at me.

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  2. That's really interesting. Maybe it accounts for how much of that rule was so ill-defined (duration of turning, frex). Many of AD&D's most vague or contradictory rules, like psionics, seem to be the ones that EGG never really used himself

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    1. Yes, great observation on that pattern.

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  3. Maybe it's also an issue with the proportion of Undead in that setting. In a normal D&D game, Undead represent a minority of monster types unless the adventure area is especially haunted. I feel like some modules out there put penalties on turning because the area is unholy or whatever, to keep Clerics from winning everything effortlessly.

    I've also noticed that Undead are extremely easy to place in a dungeon because there's no ecology issues. Sealed room full of traps, with an alcove at the back? What could possibly lurk there? You can get creative, or drop an Undead in.

    One could argue that many easy-mode spells are useless against Undead. A 1st level party fighting 6 orcs or 6 skeletons will rely on either their M-U's Sleep spell or Cleric's turning respectively, but the other is useless in both cases.

    I think you could get mileage out of a modified turning rule that allowed the Cleric to transform any Cure Wounds spell memorized into a short ranged anti-Undead attack. Allow him to split up the damage dice among targets, give a save for 1/2 damage, and on a failed save the target must roll a Morale check (even though Undead are normally immune to fear). This forces the Cleric to choose between healing and turning, giving another choice in spending a scarce resource.

    I know you don't use Clerics, but I like it.

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  4. Am I right in thinking I was the one who asked that question?

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    1. Hey, you're right! The original archive I looked at had it stripped out, I think. So glad you thought to ask that question!

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  5. Are you already familiar with Daniel Boggs' discussion of turning undead in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign? Turning undead was apparently a much weaker power in Blackmoor than what it became in the Original D&D game: "Being turned in Twin Cities lingo means 'turned away from the symbol' not 'turn and run'. It means only that 'he may not attack that person'.. 'who used (the crucifix etc.)' Only when the vampire is 'turned' three rounds/turns in a row will it attempt to flee."

    http://boggswood.blogspot.com/2014/08/turn-undead-are-we-getting-it-wrong.html

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    1. I think I had heard that. That's a helpful blog post; particularly the connection between turning and the likewise-vague utility of garlic and wolfsbane, etc.

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  6. Also, while we're on the subject of clerics, have you ever noticed how many of the spells on the cleric list would actually make just as much or more sense as magic-user spells?

    From Men & Magic: Find Traps; Hold Person; and (arguably) Speak with Animals and Speak with Plants.

    From Greyhawk: Silence, 15' r.; Snake Charm; Speak with Dead; Animate Objects; Find the Path; Blade Barrier; Speak with Monsters; Aerial Servant.

    Some examples from the relevant "source material" for D&D fantasy: sorcerer John Dee summons spirits of the dead (Speak with Dead); the enchanted broom from Goethe's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (Animate Objects); Prospero and Ariel from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (Aerial Servant).

    More generally, spells from the cleric list that _are_ appropriate for clerics could also work for magic-users, given the traditional sources--can't wizards and witches cast spells of healing, for example?

    To solve these problems, one would have to port spells over from the cleric to the magic-user spell list, rather than doing away with the spells altogether as you have done with the Book of Spells (a superb document by the way!).

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    1. "Brother wizard! Why hath we seen so little of Prospero of late? He keeps to his tower and does not socialize."
      "Ah, my brother, it is surely because he recently learned to cast Ariel Servant!"

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    2. I can definitely see several of those spells, esp. the "Speak with X" and Animate Objects. Of course the standard rule for Silence 15' radius is one of the chief trouble spots I'm happy to have out of my game; and I read that Blade Barrier was intended to represent the "flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way" from Genesis 3:24 after the folks exited Eden. But that's starting get tangled up with my personal opinions towards the spells in-game.

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    3. I did not know that about Blade Barrier! The biblical references to most of the other cleric spells are clear (Sticks to Snakes, Part Water, etc.). Very cool.

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    4. Delta: "Of course the standard rule for Silence 15' radius is one of the chief trouble spots I'm happy to have out of my game;"

      Re-read the original wording in supplement 1. There's nothing in there about using it to foil spell casting. It makes reference to silencing movement, with no mention of its effect on the ability of the silenced individuals to talk. So, if we avoid all the rules lawyering built into the AD&D rules, it's an "everybody in the AOE gets to sneak like a thief for the duration" spell.

      Compare it to "Invisibility 10' radius" -- where it seems that the intent is to make each individual person in the AOE invisible as if they each had an invisibility spell placed on them, and not make people blink in and out as they walk in and out of the AOE. So, my reading is that silence 15'r and invisibility 10'r are both instantaneous spells that place the designated enchantment for the designated time on the people/objects in the AOE.

      My rule is that Silenced people can still talk quietly and cast spells, but they won't be able to make monster-attracting noise even if they try.

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    5. Well put, I totally agree with that, and if it somehow came up in an OD&D game I'd rule exactly that way (symmetric with mass invisibility). However, the expectation and standard usage (in both AD&D and B/X) is so hard-coded in player's minds, I'd rather not deal with teaching the re-interpretation every time it comes up. Also it's slightly weird tonally for clerics to have powers to assist thieving-type operations.

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    6. I think it would make a great Ranger or Druid spell though. Kind of like a shaman assisting hunters.

      And I think Invis 10' Rad works way better as "you can stay invisible if you all stick close to me" than just a bunch of separate Invis spells. I never heard of anyone trying to read it as being able to wink back to invis if you return to the circle though. Once you're out, you're out!

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    7. Then again, by the time you get to AD&D, clerics do have other spells that assist in thieving activities. Find Traps and Darkness are obvious ones, while Detect Magic, Augury, Speak With Animals, Speak With Dead, and Locate Object can all provide vital information before undertaking clandestine ventures.

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    8. Sustarre's Chariot makes a great getaway vehicle. After being pickpocketed, few would risk painful immolation by pursuing.

      Need a handy diversion? Reincarnate all the stuffed trophy heads and fur coats in the mansion you're burgling, and set the resulting menagerie free! Bonus points if you reincarnate the dead bugs in the kitchen too.

      Do you find a wizard's tower too challenging to burgle? Melt it with Transmute Rock to Mud and strain it through a colander to remove valuables! A summoned water elemental can help sluice through the mess, especially if trained to simulate the high-pressure "geyser" setting of a Decanter of Endless Water.

      Really, with high-level Druids around, it's a wonder anyone has anything anymore.

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  7. I always hated how turning nerfed a whole class of monsters. Good to know I am not alone. I have been using the LOTFP solution of making turn undead a spell for several years now. Still let's them do it, but keeps it in check and costs them a CLW.

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    1. Ugh once again someone else comes up with my idea before I do :P

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  8. Perhaps turning would have worked better as a spell.
    : )

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  9. Not to be a douche but... "regetted"?

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  10. My very first D&D game was a trip through Zenopus' tower from Holmes' blue book run by my 16-year old brother. I was 5, and I played a Cleric. It was 1979.

    I found the skeletons in their crypts (room "B") and turned them shouting, "In the name of the Lord!" They all ran back into their crypts. Then I activated them again and again and kept turning them cackling with glee, "In the name of the Lord!"

    You may hate turning, but I'll always remember it fondly. :)

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    1. Well, it's hard to dislike that. Pretty sure my first player death was in that same room.

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