Posted by : David Guyll June 11, 2016

Triggered in a totally not-Tumblrina-way by Timothy's blogpost about clerics, I wanted to talk about what I don't like about the traditional/classic portrayals of clerics in Dungeons & Dragons, and how I aim to fix it in FrankenFourth and Dungeons & Delvers (and to a point already did in Dungeon World).

At the core of the problem is pseudo-Vancian magic.

I talk about it in this blog post, the gist of which is that leveled spell slots don't make any sense, even before you factor in—depending on your edition—cantrips/at-will spells, encounter spells, rituals, and class features that further jumble everything up (Channel Divinity, Divine Intervention, the stuff wizards get that lets them turn daily spells into encounters, etc).

Most of the problems with pseudo-Vancian issues can be fixed by simply using actually accurate Vancian magic, which would basically require giving wizards a universal "head space" for them to pack x number of spells into (reducing memorization time and not limiting them by the day would also fit/be nice). No leveled slots or even leveled spells, though spells with levels could still work and make sense, ala Dungeon World, where wizards can memorize a total of x levels of spells (1+your level).

I suppose that even cleric magic could work this way, flavored as the cleric petitioning his god for pre-determined divine miracles that get jammed in his mind. Though they would somewhat differ from the wizard in that they wouldn't need to pore over spellbooks to prep them (or find/steal/research new spells), this seems somewhat lazy: I'd frankly prefer to further differentiate it in some fashion if possible, make it feel more "cleric-y". But, before I get to that, I want to talk about other cleric things that bug me...

...like turn undead. Makes sense for a cleric that's actually about wiping out undead, less so for a cleric devoted to a god of, say, the ocean, war, wisdom, hunting, horses, and so on. I think it'd make more sense for a cleric to be able to turn whatever it is that his god doesn't like. For example, an elven god could "turn" orcs, and I've seen feats and prestige classes in at least 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons that let you turn other things like elementals: why not just let a cleric do that from the get-go?

Clerics being able to use all sorts of armor and shields was something I houseruled away in 3rd Edition, limiting them to chain mail and light and heavy shields (they of course could multiclass/pick up one or feats if they really wanted to use other armor and tower shields). I dunno, just seems odd that a cleric of plants, knowledge, or love knows how to wear it all. I'd restrict default clerics to lighter types of armor, and give them additional proficiencies if their god is about something like war or protection.

For our Dungeon World cleric playbook, we scrapped almost all of the core cleric and pretty much implemented everything mentioned above (except for proficiencies, since for some reason leather is just as good as chain mail and anyone can use any weapon).

You describe your god, choosing a name, domains, and adversaries to help figure out when certain class-specific moves are applicable. You can also determine rites, holy days, a favored weapon, what sort of sacrifices your god wants, sacred animals, and so on at the start, or you can fill them in later as needed/when asked by the GM (this also includes adding more domains and adversaries, within reason).

Instead of a bunch of cleric "spells", you use Favor points to keep yourself safe, gain a bonus when doing something that your god is about, and even heal others over time (no instant- or frequent-touch-healing, at least at the start). From there, the moves you pick make you better at healing, smiting, keeping you and/or others safe, and so on. Basically, we let you better control what your cleric is about, instead of just saying that every cleric is a skeleton-scaring heals on wheels.

You regain Favor by praying, which is a roll-and-result move so you might have to offer up sacrifices or perform services for your god to get it all back (some advanced moves will also force this). Oh, and you suffer a penalty on this and pretty much every other cleric move without your holy symbol on hand.

The Favor mechanic is something I originally cooked up for Dungeons & Delvers. Basically, you get 1 Favor point at the start, which you can spend to trigger a Domain Talent. For example, the Healing Domain lets you spend 1 Favor to negate a Wound that an ally would suffer (I had to do it this way in order to prevent the cleric from healing Wounds, praying to regain Favor, and repeating until everyone was topped off), while the War Domain lets you spend 1 Favor to have an ally re-roll a missed attack.

FrankenFourth operates pretty much the same way, though the mechanics differ since it's a d20 thing and therefore has more granularity and baseline complexity.

In both cases, Domain Talents drastically limit what the cleric can do, which avoids the CoDzilla issue that plagued 3rd Edition: you can't just pray to your god and change up your entire magical loadout after taking a nap. Yeah, you can pick new Domains when you level up (so long as your god has access to those domains), but even then you're choosing between spreading yourself out or getting more bang for your Favor, as some Talents can be upgraded, while others are part of trees.

The result is a class that is very much mechanically and I guess narratively different: you don't gotta worry about your magic harming you, but what you can do is limited by your god, who might limit or even revoke your powers if you're...insufficiently devout.

Other Spellcasters
As a bonus, here's how we are handling magic for other classes in FrankenFourth (and by extension, at least conceptually in Dungeons & Delvers).

Arcane magic as used by wizards is flexible-but-dangerous: you currently start with three Talents, which you can spend on three entry-level school Talents, invest two in one and dabble in a second, or even dump them all in three to specialize right from the start.

When you level up you can choose new schools or focus on what you know. It's really up to what you want to do, which leads me to the downside of wizards and their brand of magic: wizards are more fragile than other classes, and most of their talents carry a Fatigue cost, which drains your Mana, then Vitality, and finally your Wounds.

Fatigue costs are paid before any magic is used, and worse, many wizard Talents generate a random about of Fatigue. This makes wizard magic more dangerous than the rest, and prevents you from setting up a huge spell (even if you fully intend to go out with a bang). Sure, you can try to play it safe and only use one or more Talents whose total cost won't knock you out, but a monster can just as easily finish the job if you severely tax yourself.

(I should note that this is also how we handle wizards and their magic in A Sundered World, though instead of magic-school talents they learn and speak magical languages.)

Similar to wizards, sorcerer magic also generates Fatigue, but sorcerers are a bit tougher and manifest new powers once they run out of Mana and Vitality, reflecting their magic transforming them when used too much. This was inspired by early 5th Edition playtest drafts of the sorcerer, which in turn made me think of Howl from the anime version of Howl's Moving Castle.

For example, a dragon sorcerer grows scales when he runs out of Mana (bonus Armor), and his blood burns when he runs out of Vitality, allowing him to make a free attack when damaged in melee. We haven't worked on any other bloodlines, but I could see a storm sorcerer's body crackle with lightning and/or surrounded by strong winds.

The downside is that sorcerer magic is limited by your bloodline: dragon sorcerers, for example, can't summon demons and teleport, while storm sorcerers are basically about conjuring wind and lightning.

While we don't have a working druid build (yet), we have made a druid for Dungeon World that others have said is much more playable than the "official" version, and I think the FrankenFourth (and, again, Dungeons & Delvers) druid would follow a similar trend.

Wildshape is probably going to be an at-will thing, and let you simply choose from a list of benefits based on whatever form you're changing into. That, or it could use a set of stat blocks that evoke a kind of archetype. So, if you want to be a big, heavy hitter you can do that, or something fast, or something that can fly, and so on. I want to avoid choosing from monster stat blocks, because then you'll just run into the 3rd Edition issue of finding the "best" animal form.

As for the nature magic aspect of the druid, I'm debating having it also be at-will, or require a Wisdom check and/or blood sacrifice (which would cost Wounds, but probably wouldn't be a random amount like wizards and sorcerers). Definitely going to have it's share of ritual magic for stuff like growing plants, conjuring up storms, and summoning animals.

As with the druid, we made an improved bard for Dungeon World a while back. Also, as with the druid, others have said it's much more playable. This makes sense because Melissa's terrible experience with the normal bard was the impetus for us to create it, and having played both she of course vastly prefers the one we did.

Initially the class focuses on knowledge and telling stories, with a bit of magical music that only works outside of combat or when you rest. You can also deliver stirring speeches (also only outside of combat), which wasn't something I'd intended to include at the start but that's what the overwhelming majority of people providing feedback wanted.

Now, you can opt to focus on your magical music, but it still only ever works outside of combat: you don't sit there and strum a lute while the rest of the party dashes about carving up monsters around you. If you want to focus on combat, there are not-singing-moves to help you out in that regard: graceful swordsman, war skald, rallying cry, riposte, and even cutting jibe would qualify (we also included a couple of combat-oriented magic items).

Getting back on track, for a FrankenFourth bard I'm thinking that instead of Fatigue or points, their magic is dependent on Charisma/Perform checks or attacks. It would also largely be only usable outside of combat, allowing you to cause creatures to become drowsy, fall asleep, enchant/lure them, frighten them away, and the like.

The psionic classes we've cooked up for Dungeon World differ quite a bit: the psion just does things, often with roll-and-result moves, while much of the nomad focuses around sensing cracks in the fabric of space and exploiting them (a roll-and-hold move).

I think FrankenFourth classes would deviate from this by relying largely on power points like in Dungeons & Dragons, though I dunno if I'd let you exhaust and/or kill yourself using them (when you're out of power points, you're out). Maybe I could provide set points costs, and let you drain/kill yourself if you really want to. I recall some sort of psionic-focus mechanic from Expanded Psionics Handbook, which could also be useful.

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

A Sundered World is out (and also available in dead-tree format)! If you for some reason don't want the entire setting, you can just snag the races and classes.

The Cleric is out! Next up, The Paladin and probably The Mimic, after which we'll run another class vote.

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

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