Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Divine Magic in Starfall

Today, we will talk a little bit about the mechanics of divine magic, holy powers, and so forth. I know I said last time, we would be jumping into developing a pantheon and template for gods, but without the mechanics first, we don’t know what information we even need to write down. So first is first; we nail down the mechanics that will go into clerics, holy warriors, dungeon saints, favored souls, paladins, druids, or whatever else you want to call holy people who do supernatural stuff.

Let's Make a Deal!

Nothing in life is free. That is just a fact, perhaps most famously summed up in Heinlein’s TANSTAAFL. And guess what? It applies to holy powers, too. We said last time that anyone who divine supernatural powers tends to favor the deity that grants those powers, but what does this mean? Well, it means he spends time and money on prayers, sacrifices, celebrations, offerings, and so on to that deity. Most times, he also tries to embody that god’s values above and beyond even those of the other gods. For example, while most gods value courage, Vetra loves it, so a holy warrior of Vetra will go out of his way to exemplify courage on a scale that would earn him a Congressional Medal of Honor today.

What does this look like on a character sheet? It is generally [-10] points in appropriate disadvantages. Deities who value order or civilized behavior might demand Honesty (12) [-10*]; others might require some combination of Charitable (12) [-15]; Codes of Honor (varies) [-5 or -10]; Compulsive Generosity (12) [-5*]; Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism) [-5]; Divine Curse (Do your patron god’s bidding) [-10]; Pacifism (Cannot Harm Innocents) [-10]; Selfless (12) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Community) [-10]; Trademark (Offerings) [-5]; Truthfulness (12) [-5*]; Vow (abstinence from alcohol, chastity, vegetarianism, etc.) [-5] or (drawing blood from another, poverty – own no more than a horse can carry, silence, etc.) [-10]. Just because a deity only requires [-10] in disadvantages doesn’t mean a holy person won’t go above and beyond. Any should feel free to take as many of these disadvantages as they feel fit their character. After all, the truly saintly will embody more than just one of these!

Just for kicks, here are a few other disadvantages that often accompany those above but are not necessarily ingratiating to the gods: Delusion (The gods speak to me through omens) [-5] or (The gods will protect me!) [-10]; Fanaticism [-15]; Intolerance (Foreign Religions) [-5]; Megalomania (I am the messiah) [-10]; Nightmares (12) [-5*]; Odious Personal Habits (There’s a lesson in everything) [-5]; Overconfidence (12) [-5*]; Phantom Voices (Annoying or Disturbing) [-5 or -10]; Stubbornness [-5].

Note that there are a few concepts specifically not described by any these traits: courage, strength, etc. That is because they arise from advantages and should probably be taken as such. Having them is not detrimental, so they really don’t justify any Pack limitations, which is basically all that a god-oriented power modifier is.

Divine Power

So we know what holy people give up to obtain power – or rather are awarded power for giving up – but we still haven’t discussed the nature of this power at all. So just what can someone favored by the gods do? The snarky response is perform miracles. A better response is wield some of the power of the god(s) patronizing them. Last time, we mentioned that there are limits to the gods’ power in terms of scope, if not efficacy, so clerics who draw power from a specific god obviously have their power similarly limited in scope. Those who are favored by the pantheon may have a broader power set.

I don’t see this dichotomy as much of an issue because of the way in which GURPS handles character power. It is a point-buy system, after all, so with a little adjudication, we don’t have to worry about one character running around with bazillions of powers and abilities because he focused in the entire pantheon while another guy is only good with cats because he picked the cat-goddess. This does have the side effect of making a holy person of a single god more versed in that one god’s domain than a generalist will be in reworking reality across the board. This doesn’t really offend my gaming sensibilities; it trades depth for breadth at a given power level. This works.

So again, what sort of powers should gods grant? Generally speaking, most gods will want to see their worshipers in good health, so healing should always be on tap. I’d suggest that some basic buffs to keep worshipers alive are also in order, as is the ability to call for aid from divine servitors. Beyond this, specific gods will specialize in their own domains and generalists will get access to a broad list of abilities, possibly with some minor delay in access to powers offered by individual deities. This feels like a good trade off between specialization and generalization from a game play standpoint.

From an in-character standpoint, I’d say that those who specialize have access to a specialist god, and that god is just better at this stuff on a case-by-case basis than the pantheon as a whole. Sure, he is part of that pantheon, but he has other stuff to do, too, and won’t always be on call when a generalist asks for stuff. But when his earthly representative calls up a miracle, he’s the only one who will be delivering. Thus, specialists tend to get more oomph from their miracles in that narrow sphere of influence, and generalists can do more stuff, but generally it’s harder to pull off.

Divine Magic Systems

And now for the real bugaboo. Which system(s) will we use for divine magic? Dungeon Fantasy goes for a combination of spellcasting and powers and later added in Divine Favor for good measure. I know I really like Divine Favor, but I don’t want to go with just a freeform system, especially in a game intending to capture some of that old school feel. That really demands spellcasting. Moreover, the class structure of old school games makes things like holy powers really appropriate, since they kind of emulate the sort of class abilities you get as you level up. So what I think I’m actually leaning to is some combination of all three.

Traditionally, clerics – your dedicated dungeon-delving battle-priests – are spellcasters with a few special abilities tossed in for good measure. I think it’s pretty clear that they should have good access to spellcasting to maintain that feel. It also makes some of the services in town easier to price out, so I’m not against this at all. Continuing with tradition, druids are basically just nature-priests, which I’m not against. I may need to make a mystery cult for druids to adhere to, so they fit within the local religion but aren’t necessarily part of it.

Lastly, the traditional divine gish classes – paladins and rangers – had spellcasting abilities. This is where I think I’m going to break with norms because of how GURPS handles such things. Being a point-buy, on limited resources, you will only ever be so good at something, and splitting your points across multiple paths is already pretty inefficient. Having to buy all four attributes to be viable is just not going to happen at low- or mid-level play, and at high-level play, the guy who has hundreds of points in stabbing will outperform a spellcaster gish every time. So holy warriors won’t use spells.

So let’s consider powers. Clerics and druids will get some, because that just fits the trope, but how do they handle on fighter-types? Well, they generally offer always-on powers or alternate forms of “attack” – it might be turning, afflictions, etc., and not direct damage – so they don’t generally take up precious combat maneuvers better spent on stabby death. They aren’t cheap, but they aren’t as expensive as blowing [20/level] on IQ and [10/level] on Power Investiture just to not-suck. This is sounding like a viable option, right? I think so, too. And not just because that’s the direction that Dungeon Fantasy went with its Holy Warrior, either. It’s just a good design decision.

And that leaves one of my favorite systems, Divine Favor. This is a freeform system that lets you pray for the miracles by rolling against a target number to be heard, and then making a reaction roll to see if your god feels like helping. It’s fast, but it’s abstract (read: heavy GM adjudication). Point-wise, it falls somewhere between spellcasting and powers, if you exclude learned prayers, and a little more than powers, with them. As a freeform system, it offers the kind of versatility that can produce spell effects, powers effects, or anything else you can dream up, too. That’s important when you’re praying to the gods for help, since they can do pretty much anything, as a collective. I mean, they did make the world, right?

In this game, Divine Favor will be available to everyone at Level 0 [0], and can be bought up from there. This means that anyone can pray, and if the circumstances are sufficiently dire and the prayer sufficiently appropriate, there’s a slim chance a god will hear it. Those who put points into Divine Favor will have a better chance of being heard because the gods like them more. So this represents more of a direct line to the gods instead of formulaic prayers or benefiting from gifts from the gods. That said, it ties nicely in with powers, since some powers can be bought as an alternate ability to Divine Favor as learned prayers. This gives a substantial point cost discount and maintains versatility. This is generally offset by the unreliability inherent to praying – you have to both get heard and the god has to care.

Thinking on it, I think this will also be available to divine gishes. It isn’t dependent on IQ, which isn’t the best score to pump for a combatant, and it provides a level of versatility. It won’t give too much power, since it can require a huge point sink, but it does maintain the Joan of Arc feeling. Combining this with powers (or rather, using the multiple-prayer option where you just pay full price for your learned prayers) is probably the best bet here. In fact, I’m going to go so far as to suggest that divine powers won’t be an option. Instead, you can buy certain learned prayers at full price or get the point break if you have a sufficient level of Divine Favor. Other learned prayers will have actual Divine Favor requirements.

In Conclusion

Holy people need to take at least [-10] in certain disadvantages that represent the reason a god or gods would grant them power, but more is just fine. There are also other disadvantages that maybe generally appropriate but do not count toward that [-10]. The powers given are based on the god or gods granting power, with generalists getting more breadth at the expense of depth. And lastly, power comes in the form of the ability to cast divine spells or Divine Favor, with associated learned prayers. Clerics will have potential access to both, but gish templates like holy warriors will only get Divine Favor.

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