04 June 2012

Why Resurrection Is Bad for D&D

As presented in Dungeons & Dragons, spells that restore life to the dead — actual life, not an undead existence — would have catastrophic effects on any world if taken to their logical conclusion. The primary culprits are the clerical spells raise dead and resurrection. Unsustainable population explosions are often cited as one side effect of this boon. Another, likelier, byproduct of such spells would be the inevitable rise of theocracies wherever there are clerics with the ability to cast them. Surely the ultimate tool that could be used to win converts would be the allure of eternal life. Surely the primary form of corruption would be the fleecing of the wealthiest to ensure their resurrection. The highest level clerics would inevitably become either the power behind the throne, effectively reducing all monarchs to puppets, or they would rule outright. Who would deny their legitimacy at the risk of losing the opportunity to be resurrected? In such a world, the primary concern of all people would be to earn the right to be resurrected. All wars would be religious wars, because every nation would be under the direct control of a specific religion. The ultimate form of rebellion would be the deliberate rejection of resurrection and those who control it. All of this is fine for an alternative dystopia, but it utterly fails to reflect any fantasy world I've seen depicted in literature or gaming.

Apart from the vast global implications of resurrection spells, what about the personal implications? If I am playing a lawful good cleric capable of casting resurrection, how could I not spend the rest of my days restoring life to every corpse brought to me by a grieving relative? Do all clerics rise in level to become resurrection factories? How can one be selective without being consumed with guilt? Whether the scale is large or small, raise dead and resurrection as standard clerical spells simply fail to support the emulation of any fantasy world I've ever read about, gamed in, or seen. That is why I would abolish them.

I would be willing to consider resurrection as a unique power that might exist in a single relic, or which might be granted by a god under extraordinarily rare conditions (perhaps once per century... or millennium), but as a spell, most emphatically no.

Reincarnation is another matter.

02 June 2012

Liberated Clerical Spell Selection

I confess I'm not very familiar with editions of D&D past 1st edition AD&D, so the following may not be the first time this idea has been expressed. (I'm fairly certain it has already been expressed in some capacity, if not an official one, by someone. I'm just recording some thoughts on the subject.)

It seems to me there ought to be more to differentiate clerical spells from magical spells than their source. I addressed the idea of changing the nature of verbal components to reflect the communicative role of clerics (spreading the faith), but I think the nature of spell selection lends itself to modification as well.

If magical spells are selected and memorized as a matter of forethought and strategy (an intellectual exercise), perhaps clerical spells should be chosen only in times of need (an exercise in faith). Unlike magic-users, who owe their powers to academic study, clerics owe their powers to their deity and their faithfulness in serving that deity. (This is not to say that clerics do not engage in study, but that their study is of a theological nature rather than quasi-scientific inquiry.) A cleric should not have to guess which spell may or may not be useful in advancing his or her patron deity's divine plan. Rather, when the time comes for divine intervention through the agency of the cleric, the right spell within the cleric's capacity should be available for casting. In other words, a cleric prays daily for his or her due allotment of spells based on his or her level, not for specific spells. When the time comes to cast a spell, one spell slot of the appropriate spell level is marked as having been used for that day. If the cleric's mission necessitates that three cure light wounds be cast in a single day or one cure light wounds, one protection from evil, and one light, so be it. It is the deity's will. Clerical magic should, after all, be miraculous. It is a little less than miraculous for a cleric to be forced to admit, "Well, remove curse would have been useful, but I'm afraid I picked locate object instead. Sorry." Aside from falling short of inspiring awe, it doesn't even resemble how divine magic is presented in mythology or literature. The cleric's deity should either enable the clergy to predict which spells would be needed (in which case the referee is choosing the spells for the cleric each day), or the cleric should be able to invoke an available divine power when the need arises. The latter more accurately reflects a priest's decision of which prayer to say or which verse to read on a given occasion (and this ties into the idea of reciting an extemporaneous prayer when casting a spell).

Does this unbalance the game? Does this flexibility make clerics too powerful? I haven't playtested this yet, but I think the fact that clerics must act strictly in accordance with their religion or lose their spellcasting ability is a strong limitation. Certain deities may even render the casting of a spell impossible on a case-by-case basis if it is judged to be a frivolous (or maybe selfish) use of divine power. Magic-users, of course, have no such restrictions.