Saturday, 8 December 2012

Your Local Representative

In case of Law,
break glass
Butterfly Effects
When running a game in AD&D's default "pseudo-mediaeval" setting there is always a tension between drawing on historical information about day-to-day life (such as how drains work, social classes, the value of a good horse) and accounting for those things in the game which are not historical.

A very typical example is the presence of magical street lighting in larger cities. Continual light is not a high level spell and any reasonably successful adventuring party could pay for significant numbers of castings in a year (or cast it themselves) in order to light up some district of their home city or town. This would make a huge difference to the life of people in mediaeval times who were very limited in their outside activities in winter because of the lack of light.

Light Wand
How Many Clerics Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Continual light is, of course, available to magic users and clerics alike and many Good-aligned religions would seem likely to encourage this sort of communal service (for a price, of course. Specifically 9sp per person per month in "trade, taxation and tithes" [PHB p20]). So it's hard to justify the lack of such lighting if a player moots it (which generally happens early on with any given group of players), although naturally there will be people in society who oppose this sort of thing and a dispel magic isn't hard to get either.

This leads to a related question about the availability of magic in the baseline AD&D society. This is a little tricky but there is one interesting thing about the definitions of the classes in PHB: it is easier to qualify for the cleric or magic user classes than it is for the fighter class. The first two require only a single '9' score while the fighter requires both the 9 and a 7 in constitution.

How you extrapolate this to NPCs depends on how much you feel the books' rules for player characters define the workings of non-player characters but certainly there are hints in the DMG that the normal qualifications are needed. It says nothing about ability score generation methods, however.

When I want a town or village I generally run a computer program that rolls up everyone in the place using 3dA (averaging dice) in order with a 1% chance of a particular person being "special" and such characters get 3d6 in order instead and may have a class, with the program then deciding what class, if any, they pick out of the options their scores give them.

For this general pool of NPCs, then, there is a 0.63% chance of qualifying for the Cleric class (and an equal chance of qualifying for the magic user or thief classes). So, in a population of 1000 we would expect to see 6 people capable of casting clerical spells and 6 capable of casting magical spells (there may be overlap between these groups and I'm talkig about adults here, of course).

So, if an NPC qualifies for either magic user or cleric, which isn't too unlikely, which would they go for? Simple answer: cleric. Everyone wants to be a cleric.

Back to Reality
In the real world, "the church" was immensely powerful in most nations and especially so in the West where the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim churches had their centres. The reason for this is simple: people don't want to die and those religions offered a very clear message of "you won't really die".

Quite simply, people could and did give up everything they had in order to ensure that they would qualify for the promise of eternal life even though they had, for the most part, almost no evidence that the claims were true. They didn't need evidence; they needed hope because they had plenty of evidence of the inevitability of death and any chance of escaping that would naturally be leapt on, and was.

Now look at our fantasy world. Here, there is the same message of living on but there is loads of evidence, including people raised from the dead not in some distant Rapture but right here and now and often in front of many witnesses. If you have the cash you can actually speak with the dead (only a 3rd level cleric spell) and get very specific information like "where did you bury the treasure?" instead of vague statements about how much the departed loved Uncle Harry (or was it Uncle Billy? how about Aunt Jane? Some sort of relative, or maybe a friend who was like a member of the family? A favourite car, perhaps? The veil's getting thick; put some more money in the meter).

As if that wasn't enough, look at the cure and heal spells. 6 clerics, even Acolytes, would transform the lifestyle of any mediaeval town, particularly in war time.

The First Dalek Pope
So, if you think the mediaeval churches were powerful, think about what they would be like if they literally could return kings from the dead or cure the myriad of diseases which routinely ran through whole countries.

Imagine, also, the effect of excommunication in such a world? The withdrawl of all healing spells in itself is a major threat to anyone who crosses the church. If the church says "smite this person or we will withdraw our protections from you" then that person had better be fleet of foot because pretty well the whole of society will turn on them rather than face such a loss.

At this point, our pseudo-mediaeval setting isn't looking very mediaeval any more, really, is it? There's little reason to have monarchs and those that do exist will be puppets (not radically different, I know), the populace will have decent health and be safe from the fear of disease and injury while going about their business in the brightly-lit towns with their 24hr lifestyles organized around religious duties. Almost every country will be a de facto theocracy.

Populations will be much more urban, too, as the numbers of clerics suggested are probably still too low to take these benefits out into a scattered rural hinterland, so town life will be more attractive because that's where you're most likely to have clerics on hand. Agricultural output will probably be higher for several reasons (health of farmers and the availability of long-term weather forecasting via divination spells, as well as some perhaps non-adventuring spells for blessing crops which are not listed in PHB) so the lower farming population level will not be a problem.

Good, Innit?
The Duke of Slyonnia
Of course, this all assumes that the dominant religion is basically Good aligned and wants to spread the benefits of clerical magic throughout society. But that's actually a pretty safe bet because those are the sorts of religions that will prosper. If Slyonnia's clergy offer nothing to the peasants and support only the rich elite, while neighbouring Bennifica's clergy support everyone, then Bennifica's population (and therefore its army) will be stronger and healthier and the border regions will see a continual flow of deserters from Slyonnia to Bennifica. With a certain degree of irony, Darwin will ensure that Evil religions will struggle to become dominant in the face of Good.

Evil cults will tend to attract the powerful excommunicated characters from other religions, as they will offer them the healing and so forth that they have lost. The weak can go jump, of course, because Evil despises weakness by definition (AD&D definition). So such cults will be small but with a disproportionate number of high level characters. Zero-level types will still exist because every Evil religion needs its cannon-fodder.

The Evil perspective on all of this is that they are marginalized because the sheep have banded together to thwart the "natural" order where the weak perish and the strong rule and prosper (see previous note about Darwin and irony).

In-Joke for Smalltalkers
The Ivory Tower
I said that everyone who can be either a magic user or a cleric will want to be a cleric. Why? Why are the magic users not ruling the world from their collages of magic instead of the clerics ruling from their churches?

The simplest answer is that first level magic users are rubbish. They certainly offer society at large very little that would work as a seed of a power-base, unless it is a society of insomniacs. Compared to an 18-Wis 1st level cleric with his/her 3 cure spells per day, the 18-Int magic user with one sleep spell is on a hiding to nothing in the popularity stakes.

Cultural values will naturally see the cleric as more useful, and therefor more valuable than magic users and there's an obvious snowballing effect here as the clerics are more respected and therefore have more secular power so more people want to be clerics and the church grows in power and gains respect, gaining more applicants etc.

Meanwhile, people may hear tales of world-shattering arch-mages and army-destroying wizards but the path to that level of power is "back loaded" in terms of reward.

So, while it's certainly possible to imagine isolated cities or maybe nations that are dominated by cadres of magic users, the implication of the rules is, to me, clearly in favour of magic users being loners looking, if at all, for that rare dedicated apprentice who is willing to trudge through the grind of the low levels for the big payoff. A payoff that itself has implications for the numbers of magic users compared to clerics.

When Two Tribes Relax Go To War
The relationship between magic users and clerics also has a bearing on why I weigh NPC generation towards clerics. Basically, I see AD&D as having a built in rivalry between the two classes. There is an inherent challenge to the gods in the way in which the magic user class works.

Clerics get their power from their deities; they may even have to take different spells from the ones they want if the deity disagrees with their choices.

Magic users take what they want, when they want it. Of course, they have to find it first but that's a minor detail. There's a clear statement here that the magic user doesn't need gods.

Clerics, druids, and illusionists get 7 levels of spells; magic users get 9. As I've mentioned before, this is not an accident nor is it some odd design error in AD&D - it's quite intentional. A power word kill is two full levels above a Holy Word in power. This has implications for daemon magic resistance but also various magicks which block spells and effects based on level. In any case it is also an implication that magic users ultimately gain knowledge witch is either denied by the gods or unavailable to them. Neither is something that a cleric would, I think, find a comfortable inference.

So, there is an implied rivalry between the two classes and even mages and clerics of the same alignment must to some degree regard the other as "doing it wrong". And if clerics are in the ascendancy in society then the implication of this is that magic users will find life a bit easier outside the areas where clerics operate. So, it's off to the lonely tower in the middle of nowhere to get on with unpicking the secrets of the universe without some priest constantly saying to leave the universe alone, thank you.

All this stuff flows more or less naturally from material contained in PHB and as such the DM is likely to face questions about it from players in a long-term campaign.

The Big Picture
As I see it, the implied reality of the PHB and DMG is one where magic is both common enough to have an effect across the whole of society (it doesn't take many raise deads to transform people's attitudes) and mostly clerical in nature.

The Friendly Face
of unspeakable
Magic users are likely to be viewed with suspicion by normal people who see clerical magic as something that offers them day to day aid and the possibility of long term salvation from personal death while the wizard has no heal spells and no cure spells, but does have animate dead, disintegrate, and fireball. They may well be of great value when danger threatens, but perhaps with something of the air of nuclear weapons about them - "wouldn't it be better if we got rid of all of them?" may well be a sentiment that gets bandied about from time to time.

The dominant church in an area will generally be Good aligned, but in isolated nations where it is harder for people to simply vote with their feet, a Dr Doom or Dracula might be able to keep people under their control with a religion based on doling out favours to those who tow the line. Such nations, of course, make excellent places to set adventures in.

Similarly, magic users will dominate only where the churches are weak, and that probably means out of the way places which have managed to develop more or less independently of the mainstream cultures.

Fighters will be outnumbered by clerics and thieves, but will probably outnumber magic users by a fair margin in most places. The fighter class will tend to be represented more by the lone hero rather than by a ruling warrior caste.

End of Part One
All this is very simulationist, of course. But role playing is by its nature simulationist in that we're trying to simulate a character in a story which emerges from group play (aren't we?)

The DM can certainly fix anything with the above picture that they don't like by fiat but there are alternatives. But this post is long enough and I'll come back to this next week.


  1. you hit upon vast potential stumbling blocks in the AD&D game.

    I'm not sure average joe clerics and magic users (11 wisdom & 11 intelligence) would end up so dispirate however; if truly opposing each other, the MU's sleep allows him to slit the cleric's throat quite often, but far more effective would be casting charm person on the cleric & subverting him or her.

    continual light is a massive problem. Banning it & leaving eternal light sources for L16+ MU via light & permanency spells lets a setting remain somewhat more mundane.

    I'd agree that theocracies would be extremely common, but in truth & as you know, they already were/are WITHOUT any actual divine intervention.

    I'm not really a great fan of the cleric class at all, but you have laid out a good case to banish or rework/rethink the whole idea. One of 2 campaigns run with reason/logic dictating power/politics ought be enough for most people to want to move on.

    1. I'm not suggesting that Clerics and MU's are attacking each other on sight, just that there's a "birds of a feather" element and that combined with a strong social status for the clerics is likely to mean that magic users are happier away from their bases of power. Which is fine with me as it plays into the "lonely wizard's tower" trope which I rather like.

      Theocracies were indeed common but individual rulers could really buck the Church if they put their minds to it even without being a flat out atheist like King John.

      Those who don't like the status quo, of course, can head off to the boarder lands and carve out a niche for themselves there and have minimal contact with those things that they find oppressive. Maybe one day they can even do something about it. That's certainly a potential set up for a long-term AD&D campaign and not very far off the assumed "end game" of the DMG.

  2. Am I misunderstanding you, or did you forget about the NPC generation methods listed in the DMG and class proportions in the henchman section? Well, minor quibbles at any rate, interesting reading, though personally I do not see much of an inherent contest between magicians and clerics.

    1. I didn't forget about them (how could you suggest such a thing!) but I was really looking at that table from a role-playing PoV. If I were an NPC who could qualify for cleric or magic user, which would I want to be? And in a society where the church is even more prestigious and powerful than it was in the Middle Ages, I think the question is pretty easy to answer.

      As to the Cleric/Magic user thing - I see it, in most cases, as being like Bible Studies students and Extra Physics students. They're unlikely to come to blows but each has a basically different view of the world which such that they won't tend to hang out together. Given that the Bible Studies students are also running the show socially, the Physics geeks are probably going to just go somewhere quiet and get on with the experiments rather than spend all their time in debates. Obviously there are exceptions (The Dawkins Clause) but I think that's a fairly realistic guess at what people would do.

    2. Probably I see magicians as more mystical sorts; they deal with the same powers as clerics, they just do not use the same method.