Friday, September 16, 2011

[Greyhawk] The Unified Theory of Magic (Part 3) - Clerical Magic

Clerical Magic Effects Overview

A continuing concern while working through the SoG Magic system was how clerics fit into the mechanic. While the source material treats clerical prayers and magic-user spells as being practically identical with respect to mechanics, the underlying principles by which magic-users and clerics generate magical effects are very different.

The source material states that clerics don’t actually harness magical forces. Clerics pray to their deity (singular/plural/whatever) with the desire for a particular prayer’s magical effect to occur. The deity’s power structure (for lack of a better term) then determines whether or not the cleric’s prayer will be fulfilled or not and then entities within the cleric’s faith system actually generate the magical effects on behalf of the cleric.

So to apply another metaphor (a prior post mentioned Wizardry and Sorcery were like sailing), clerical magic could be considered like “calling in an airstrike”.

To flesh out the metaphor, a cleric’s Faith (the Resolve skill, see below) is the communicator upon which an airstrike is called. Remember that classic line from the character Rene Belloq in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”?

Belloq Before

“It's a transmitter, a radio for speaking to God!”

..and we all remember what happens when you try to use that particular radio without Faith…

Belloq After

But anyway, the cleric’s specific prayer / spell would be the effect requested and the “casting” is the act of calling in the airstrike.

When calling in that accurate airstrike, the cleric would need to provide fairly specific information given the “right way” to the correct party “on the other end of the line”, so the prayer (spell) has some pretty specific requirements. This also assumes that the cleric is also “the right person to call in the desired effect”.

Despite these distinctions, to keep terminology consistent, SoG still considers magical effects generated by a cleric’s prayer as “spells” and the cleric as being the caster.

Skill “Resolve (Faith trapping)”

The basic skill of the cleric to cast spells is the cleric’s Resolve skill expressed with the trapping of “Faith”.

The cleric’s Resolve skill represents the maximum spell difficulty the cleric can cast. A Resolve skill of +3 means that only spells of +3 difficulty (3rd level) and below can be completed.

What About the Magic Stunt?

Because the cleric is not actually generating the magical effect, there is no requirement for a cleric to have the Magic stunt. There are upsides and downsides to this:

  • Clerics have no concerns about magical recoil.
  • The reliance on their deity’s power structure to generate magical effects does tend to mean that things like the cleric’s Faith, and Aspects that affect that faith (in both the positive and the negative) become especially important to the cleric’s ability to create miracles.
  • There is no currently no opportunity for the cleric to modify any spells or otherwise generate effects on the fly without some story-related mechanism being involved. A cleric’s spell must be followed “rote” or it just doesn’t work.
    • SIDE NOTE: While the above is SoG’s current general position, I have wondered about the situation where a clerical spell requiring a cleric’s holy symbol as a component of that spell--should the GM consider that the spell is not possible without the symbol, or just less effective (with chances of possible failure)?
    • Not allowing the spell places it closer to source material canon (I think), but further distances clerical spell use from magical spell use in SoG. Specifically in that a Wizard can modify the spell requirements and then deal with the potential for things like spell failure, magical recoil and a generally less effective result.
    • On the other hand, allowing the spell but making it harder (less effective) means that you have to deal with idea that a clerical spell could fail (due to 4dF and increased difficulty) but wouldn’t result in magical recoil, which taken in combination with no requirement for the Magic stunt might present balance issues.

There is no restriction against a Cleric character possessing the Magic stunt, but there would be no benefit with respect to the clerical spells that are cast. That cleric COULD however generate magical effects by themselves the same as any other sorcerous effort (see prior post for more). In fact certain faiths might actually promote their clerics being magic-users or even Wizards in their own right (Boccob seems like a good possibility) to say nothing of the whole split-class/multi-class situation. However any sort of sorcery or wizardry done by clerics would follow normal magic use rules.

Mechanics of Clerical Casting

The actual game mechanics of a cleric’s casting are similar to Wizardry:

  • The cleric commits a Fate point (doesn’t spend it) that will be returned at the end of the current scene.
  • Player rolls 2dF+2 and applies the result to the cleric’s Resolve skill and applies it against the desired spell’s difficulty. Remember that the spell must be less than or equal to the cleric’s Resolve skill.
  • Aspects are compelled or tagged as normal.
  • If the cleric succeeds in the casting, any positive shifts count towards the effectiveness of the spell.
    • Side Note: Positive shifts generated with respect to the cleric’s player doing the dice rolling might be questioned, since the cleric is not generating the actual magical effect. The source material allows for the variability and sets the expectation so it is being left in SoG. This “bonus” could be explained within the game by considering that appropriate Aspects being tagged could have resulted in the deity granting extra spell power, variability in the entity actually casting the spell on behalf of the cleric, etc.

Aspects and Clerical Spells

Compelling or tagging an aspect when praying for a magical effect would reflect the situation where the deity’s power structure might grant a more (or less) effective result based upon the Aspect.

Example of Negative Aspects for Clerics

A cleric with the aspect of something like “A Shadow of Doubt”, or “Lawful Questionable” might be compelled to deal with a –2 effect due to possible impacts to alignment or faith.

Example of Positive Aspects for Clerics

Aspects of “Smite the Wicked!” or “A Friend in Deed” could easily be tagged to increase a spell’s effectiveness.

Casting Failure & Clerics

Because Clerics don’t actually harness the magical forces of the spell, there is generally no magical recoil associated with a casting failure by clerics.

Like Wizardry, if for some reason the cleric fails a spell casting, then the general rule is nothing happens other than the loss of the spell.

While it’s possible that some sort of faith-related recoil might be possible in certain situations…

  • A cleric of one faith profaning another faith’s holy areas/symbols/etc.
  • A Lawful Good cleric trying to cast “Cause Wounds” instead of “Cure Wounds” a little TOO often.

…I think that would reflect more of a “smiting” attitude, as opposed to an actual prayer / spell going wrong. Any stress taken due to something like this would have to be considered carefully by the cleric, as negative Aspects that might arise from matters of faith could get pretty nasty.

Druids and Clerical Spellcasting

With respect to Druids, at this point SoG maintains the source material’s assumption that they are a sub-class of clerics and generate magical effects in a similar manner, but their faith is not so much a deity but rather in “Nature”. Additionally the source material provides them with a different spell list than other clerics.

More playtesting will be needed to determine if that needs to be more closely considered.

What’s In the Pipeline

Okay, that’s quite a lot of information this week. Unless things take a different turn, the next series of posts will be something along the lines of:

  • The on-the-fly “Magic Economy”
  • Translating existing spell lists
  • The Fate system and Magical Topics (Sorcerous Covens, anyone?)
  • Crafting Magic Items

If anyone’s got a preference as to which gets posted next, I’d be curious to hear.

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