Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cleric Abilities and Disciplines

Clerics have pretty much dropped out of my AD&D game lately; not by fiat mind you, but we've had neither PC nor NPC clerics loitering about for quite some time.  That said, I am very open to radical restructuring of the class.  Towards that end, recently I was looking at the "Matrix for Clerics Affecting Undead" on page 75 of the ol' DMG which got me thinking if I add some color to it:

... it kinda looks like the Marvel Super Heroes Universal Action Resolution Matrix:

...just expressed a little differently

Which got me to thinking, could the Turn undead ability resolution system be used as a universal Cleric action table?  Which is to say, what if cleric spells functioned not like MU spells--i.e. guaranteed success--but more like the turn undead ability, with a chance of outright failure but also a chance of super-extra success?  

Back to the Marvel Super Heroes (MSH) table: what do the different colors mean?  For turning undead, they could represent the different levels of undead to be turned; but what for spells?  Enter this recent post on Magic disciplines by Brendan over at Untimately wherein he basically establishes how shocking grasp could be a prerequisite to learning lightning bolt in a discipline-driven magic system; if I may oversimplify his thesis liberally.

Now what if we did something similar for clerics: stacking related spells into disciplines?  All the cure wounds spells, for instance, could be piled into a single discipline.  To accommodate the seven spell levels available to clerics, we could expand the 3 degrees of success of MSH--green, yellow, red--to 7 colors.

Here's a rough draft of what the universal cleric ability matrix might look like:

For this prototype, I've kept the original AD&D turning undead granularity intact--odds improve in leaps of 3 (15%), with the same level progressions across the top as on the DMG matrix--but this could easily be modified to suit tastes/statistical appropriateness.  It does show that eventually lower level abilities would be automatically successful--can you fumble at turning undead?

As an example of  how a cleric ability might work:  Rhonda the Rogue (apprentice) has contracted a bad case of rot grub, and her good friend Arnie the Acolyte (1st level cleric) is hoping to save his comrade-in-arms.  Cure Disease is the poor slob's only chance, but that's a 3rd level spell, available to 5th level clerics or higher.  But with this table, third level abilities are represented by the light red band of color.  Cross reference the table and we see that a first level cleric with knowledge of the sacred discipline of Curatives would need to roll a 20 to achieve success with a (light) red ability--I gotta' change those colors.  That only gives Arnie a 5% chance to save Rhonda's bacon; not great odds but still a better chance than the 0% chance the ol' spell system gives him.

At the other end, if Arnie were trying to use his healing ability to mend Gordie the Gallant's light wounds, he would have only a 55% chance of success; a marked depreciation from the 100% chance even 1st level AD&D clerics are used to.

Or, alternatively, you could eliminate the entire line of sequential hit-point restoration spells.  Instead, a cleric would just roll a d20 against his or her Healing ability and the color associated with is or her result would determine how many or what sized dice of healing were achieved.  Say, green scores you heal a d6 worth of HPs, yellow 2d6, etc.

One problem that this table presents is that it no longer works for its original purpose:  Turning Undead.   Seeing as there are 13 levels of undead to turn as opposed to only 7 levels of spell ability, determining affect on undead would result, I think, in an overly prissy-looking matrix.

Another problem: How do I finagle it to handle thief abilities too?


Trey said...

I'm totally unable to evaluate your suggestion as I'm too mesmerized by the wonders of your MSH style chart.

Timrod said...

Then it's working!

Brendan said...

I really like the idea of tying the chance of success to the turning progression. It's an interesting alternative to the saving throw method I was considering. Must think on this more.

Brendan said...

For comparison, see also:

Timrod said...

Man, that dude is always coming up with my ideas long before I get around to them.

This post of 9&30's was also particularly influential:

Anonymous said...

I really like the idea. It fits, and it gives Clerics their own feel. I never liked that they had "spells" just like a magic-user does (only different ones.) It always seemed awkward. This system would give clerics a more interesting flavor and make sense with god-given abilities instead of "spells"!

As for undead, I'd just put the HD into ranges instead of each being it's own category. It's not perfectly true to the existing turning system, but then the cleric is very different anyhow.

Thieves? Give them their own system, leave this for Clerics, so each class feels different.

Anonymous said...

that's kind of like Dragon Warriors RPG, where the M-U spend spell points in proportion with the spell's level and the Mystics ( read clerics ) have to succeed a dieroll according to their level and the spell's