Monday, July 19, 2021

Alignment and Lawful Clerics

This is the third in a series of web log posts where I describe what “alignment” must mean in the Perilous Realms, based upon our group’s tone and play-style, and its cumulative rulings so far.

Lawful Clerics and Alignment

Lawful Clerics are members of the Church of Law who have made vows and joined some order of religious (which is to say, monastic) knights. Regular, everyday priests and prelates are not “Clerics,” in this sense. Should a Lawful Cleric willingly break any of the Laws of Noe his or her clerical powers would be removed until repentance and restitution are made. That said, those who become knights of religious orders (the so-called “Clerics” of the game) have additional rules they must follow as a part of the vows that set them apart and grant them their authority to call on miraculous powers. Willingly breaking these vows also result in the removal of their special authority until repentance and restitution is made. These are the Seven Vows of the Crusade of the Orders of Religious Knights (Clerics):

The Vows of Crusade

1. Worship the Most High alone

2. Observe Sabbat, fasting, alms, and prayers

3. No shedding of blood

4. Show honor

5. Show mercy

6. Shun falsehood

7. Shun vanity

The first vow, monotheism, sets Clerics apart from their coreligionists. Other Lawful men may “worship” many gods, angels, and saints, including the offering of sacrifices and oblations, so long as these Powers are recognized members of the Council of the Most High and the rituals themselves do not involve the worship of idols. Clerics, on the other hand, may only engage in the ritual worship of the Most High, alone. That said, Clerical powers are mediated by saints and angels whom the Cleric adopts as a patron. But the Cleric does not worship such patrons.

The second vow commits the Cleric to certain religious and ascetical disciplines. These include a day of rest every week – Saturn’s Day, or the Day of Kronos. Kronos is closely associated with the Most High. (But there is debate as to whether or not Kronos is the Most High!) Weekly rest and daily prayers are necessary for the restoration of miraculous authority, Clerical “spells.” If a Cleric does not rest to pray once a day, and rest entirely once a week, Clerical spells are temporarily unavailable. In cases of evasion in the wilderness, this may prove dangerous to a party.

The third vow, no shedding of blood, is where we get the Clerical prohibition on the use of sharps as weapons. The blood is the life of the animal and belongs to the Most High. This means that Clerics are “vegetarians,” in the sense that they do not eat the flesh of mammals. Other animals and milk are not off limits. But won’t, you might ask, a mace “shed blood”? Well, yes. But here is where a little beautiful casuistry enters (and how could a game be “medieval,” without a little casuistry?). The shedding of blood by means of blunts is not necessary and is often a deleterious but unintended consequence of their use. But by fighting with sharps the means of subduing or killing an opponent depends upon cutting, and therefore the shedding of blood is inherent to their use. So: “no sharps,” but not “no killing,” see the commentary on the Fourth Law.

The fourth vow, honor, is directly related to obedience, something inherent to any form of monasticism or membership in a religious order. But it also includes the encouragement of subordinates and things such as respect for the dead by putting them to rest, etc. Clerics rarely tolerate the abuse of a corpse and must never participate. The Clerical war against the Undead is not that of corpse mutilation, but all attempts must be made to free the corpse from this unholy abuse and restore the body to rest through proper committal to the elements. This includes burial, proper, in the earth, but also burial at sea and cremation on pyres. When Clerics gain the authority to dispel the curse of Undeath, this does not cause the undead victim to disappear or disintegrate. It rather immediately restores the corpse to a state of rest, laid and in a position ready for committal to the elements.

The fifth vow, that of mercy, means that all Clerics are expected to do whatever they can to defend and, if necessary, provide for widows, orphans, pilgrims, the oppressed, etc. They are expected always to grant subdued foes the chance to convert to Law, repent and be saved. Fell races and Chaotic monsters are incapable of conversion and repentance, so mercy does not extend to them.

The sixth vow, the prohibition of falsehood, means more than simply not lying. It also demands that a cleric use no disguise, nor engage in any “sting operations” or subterfuge. Nevertheless, a Cleric may tolerate other party members who do so, they simply may not directly participate. If directly questioned in such situations, Clerics may, however, tell the truth in a “creative” way.

The seventh vow, the rejection of vanity, means avoiding the pomp of the world. As a virtue, this includes not coveting the wealth, title, or power of others. As a practice, it includes the requirement to tithe any wealth obtained through adventuring. This corresponds to the traditional monastic vow of “poverty.” It also includes the monastic vow of “chastity.” Remember, this is a medieval fantasy, so marriage in the medieval world was often a means of glory, the making of alliances, and the maintenance of worldly society. Think “trophy wife,” and you will get the picture. Although marriage is lawful and to be esteemed for those not involved in the religious life, for a Cleric, all spouses would be merely worldly “trophies,” for those who have answered the high call of Crusade.

Next: Alignment and Evil Clerics

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Chaos in the Perilous Realms

This is the second in a series of web log posts where I describe what “alignment” must mean in the Perilous Realms, based upon our group’s tone and play-style, and its cumulative rulings so far. The first was on the Law of the Perilous Realms.

Chaos in the Perilous Realms

Okay, so a character is on the side of CHAOS. But what does that mean?

It means you defend moral sentiment and basic instincts as all that is necessary to guide behavior. It means you believe that human culture, customs, and traditions often subvert basic human sentiment and instinct and should thus be shunned and overturned.

The above sounds rather noble. And the highest philosophers of Chaos indeed hold the above in very high esteem and may wax rhapsodic about it from time to time. But mainly folks who choose Chaos just choose it because they don’t want to obey law, or perhaps just anyone at all, so Chaos suites them just fine, whatever its philosophers may or may not say. What are the basic sentiments?

The Seven Sentiments of Chaos

1. Honor

2. Loyalty

3. Reciprocity

4. Affection

5. Purity

6. Pity

7. Liberty

Honor may well be honorable, but it can also turn into a shame-based culture and an almost gang-like vibe of constantly worrying about and accusing others that they have “dissed” them. Think gangsters or the 47 Ronan story.

Loyalty can be honorable, but it can also turn to cruelty when the demands of the superior are not fair to the inferior, but the threat of accusations of disloyalty forces obedience.

NOTE: the combination of honor and loyalty means that, in the main, Chaotic parties, and even Chaotic members of a mixed party, may, generally, be expected to be helpful rather than harmful to the party. In other words, having your character behave poorly towards other members of the party because the player claims to be playing “in character,” as someone on the side of Chaos simply will not fly. So, no Trolls, no Griefers, no doing it “Just for the Evulz.” In the main, this includes even non-player characters, at least towards their own companions.

Reciprocity means fairness and justice, but it can just as well turn into a zero-sum game of retribution. Seeking one’s self-interest can always be justified as demanding justice in the form of mere retribution in the style of a moral “tit for tat.”

So, obsessive concern for the above can turn to their opposite. A sensitivity to dishonor and betrayal, together with a strong commitment to the demands of reciprocity (render as rendered) may lead to retribution and vengeance. This is especially intense as Chaos shuns courts of law as a merely human custom that gets in the way between two parties having the “freedom,” to “resolve” the dispute on their “own terms.” So, duels, feuds, assassination, and lynching are de rigueur for Chaos.

Affection can be a beautiful thing, like a mother’s love of a child or two fast friends. It can also be the affection a master has towards his slave, or, in turn, the “Stockholm Syndrome” generated in the hearts of the kidnapped towards their captives.

Purity is an honorable sentiment, leading to the shunning of things that might degrade human dignity. It can also lead to self-righteousness, a sense of superiority, sexism, racism, bigotry –looking at another member of a free race – or even a free race as a whole – as if they were less-then. Cruelty can always be justified as simply following the human sentiment of “moral disgust” towards the “inferior,” or “vermin.”

Pity can lead to mercy, kindness and even defense of the helpless. Pity can also be condescending and humiliating. Pity is not necessarily compassion or empathy. Conan often shows pity and provides kindness and defense. He would not even know what “compassion” means, and “empathy,” would simply be meaningless to him.

Liberty cannot stand that free races should suffer any compulsion, but it can also just be a freewheeling, “don’t fence me in,” “get of my lawn,” attitude that justifies flouting any law that seems inconvenient in the moment. Liberty is often cited by the chaotic as the very reason why universal Law must be rejected. Universal Law is seen by the chaotic as a trick by which the “weak,” have figured out a way to limit the power of the strong and worthy (think Nietzsche here). (Lawful, on the other hand, sees the Law as the means to freedom. Lawlessness is dangerous and oppressive, not only to the weak but the strong as well. Law guides creativity and reasonable action, and thus true freedom.)

A note about the relationship of Chaos to being a “good” character:

You can certainly have a fundamentally “good” Chaotic character. But there are simply more evil Chaotic characters because evil folks will almost always choose Chaos as it can easily be manipulated to justify their lawless behavior.

Up next: Lawful Clerics and Alignment.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Law in the Perilous Realms

This is the first in a series of web log posts where I describe what “alignment” must mean in the Perilous Realms, based upon our group’s tone and play-style, and its cumulative rulings so far. I am coming to realize how essential to the game alignment is. It defines so many things: the cosmos, the setting, the characters, the classes, especially clerics, monsters who are intelligent, and whether they are free, language, and whatever counts as “religion” in a given setting. This shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose. It is a wargame, after all. And wars have sides.

The Law in the Perilous Realms

So, a character is on the side of LAW. What is the Law? Well, since you asked, they are the Seven Laws of the Prophet Noe, revealed from heaven, through the great prophet who survived the cataclysmic ancient flood of Tiamat.

The Seven Laws of The Prophet Noe

1. Thou shalt not worship idols

2. Thou shalt not curse the Most High

3. Thou shalt establish and hold courts of justice

4. Thou shalt not murder

5. Thou shalt not dishonor the wedding vow

6. Thou shalt not steal

7. Thou shalt not show cruelty

The first law, no worship of idols, rules out a lot of behavior common to a lot of people and free races in a low fantasy setting. This limitation really stands out as something that distinguishes the Lawful from the crowd. The second law, no cursing the Most High, represents a kind of vague blasphemy prohibition that can be interpreted and enforced more or less leniently or strictly depending upon the local community, Church or otherwise Lawful leadership.

The third law, due process, is important and, in many ways, defines Lawfulness, setting Law in stark contrast to Chaos. Due process is essential to the Law. It is the key to establishing safety, order, and civilization. It forms an absolute prohibition against lynching, feuds, unlawful duels, revenge killings, and the like. Punishment may still be “cruel and unusual,” by modern standards. But they must at least seem to fit the crime. Duels may be authorized by the court as an appropriate means of settling a suit. But it must be court decreed.

An exception that is often, but not always honored by courts of Law (that is to say, by this referee) is that of “Wilderness Law.” In cases where adventurers find themselves far away from Lawful civilization, Lawful characters may declare “Wilderness Law,” and, well, let us say, “exact justice,” as the Lawful party understands it. In this case, the Lawful party (or the subgroup of Lawful members thereof) becomes a kind of de facto court of Law, likely to be recognized by the Church or a lawful civilization. So, for example, if it is dangerous to haul a captured Evil High Priest all the way back to a settlement with established Lawful courts, the party may just decide to “try, condemn, and execute” the “obvious offender,” right then and there. As the referee, I would usually uphold this if the reason were obvious and not simply a sham for making things easier on the party.

The fourth law, the prohibition of murder, may seem a little tough to uphold in a fantasy wargame. But note that what is prohibited is murder, not killing. Killing in defense of the defenseless and even in self-defense is not murder.

Capital punishment after due process is not murder. It is the removal of an individual from a corporate body, by that corporate body, through its authorized and Lawful leadership, to maintain safety and order for the whole. The court may just as well choose exile or gulag instead.

War, when declared just by the appropriate authorities, and conducted in a holy and chivalrous fashion, is about two people groups (or a people group against another free race) fighting one another. The death of individuals is a necessary and unfortunate by-product, not its goal. Thus, war does not technically count as murder.

Furthermore, you can only murder members of the free races: men, elves, dwarves, halflings, and intelligent lawful beings. Monsters, especially Chaotic monsters and fell races are not murdered, they are exterminated. Fell “races” count as monsters in the Perilous Realms. Remember, this is just a game – a medieval fantasy game based on the philosophy of Alchemy. Fell beings arise by abiogenesis. So, they don’t have spouses or children to worry about. Monsters are archetypes of our nightmares, ulterior motives, vices, passions, skeletons in the closet, etc. Try not to over think it or “deconstruct” it.

The fourth law, honoring the vows of marriage, establishes the basic unit of human order, the family, and thus ensures the safety and rearing of the next generation. This would include most traditional mores around such things, as understood by most traditional human societies. But it also includes things like the defense of widows and orphans, etc.

The sixth law, prohibiting theft, ensures the basic property rights necessary to maintain a free and orderly (medieval fantasy) society. This is an imaginary world before the industrial revolution so there is no “Capitalism.” And if wealth is not defined as the means of production, then we don’t yet need some medieval fantasy version of Marxism informing us that “property is theft”!

Finally, the seventh law, prohibiting acts of cruelty, maintains the humaneness of Law. Although there are plenty of Lawful characters who rule with an iron fist, if they cross a certain line, they may no longer be regarded as truly Lawful. The prohibition on cruelty includes not only the usual things associated with cruelty but also a wider gamut of behaviors such as: no corpse abuse, no animal cruelty (the actual prohibition of the seventh law of Noah, In Real Life) and no eating meat without humane slaughter and thanksgiving rendered to the Most High for the animal’s life.

A note about the relationship of the Law to being a “Good,” character:

You can imagine an “evil” Lawful character, one who hides behind the law in cowardice, for false motives, or who imposes the Law on others with forced conversions and an iron fist. But, in general it is “good” folks who will choose law, because they can see its obvious benefits to the oppressed and also its general benefits due to its role in the development of human civilization.

Up next: Chaos in the Perilous Realms

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Saving F'dech Fo's Tomb

I've never been a collector. But this year at the NTRPGCon, I got really exciting about the Judges Guild. I bought a bunch of modules from a booth based, in the main, solely upon one criteria: the cover looked cool, or, even better, "totally metal." One of these purchases was F'dech Fo's Tomb. Note how totally metal the cover is:

I failed to read the Wikipedia article which states clearly that it received only bad reviews:

Pulsipher commented that "Even at [a lower price], this booklet is a waste of money."

I am sad for this, because most Judges Guild stuff is great. Before I discovered this, based solely upon the bad ass and totally metal cover, I decided to use the town of Dantell as one of the towns on the Outdoor Survival board I am running as a wilderness campaign for a group of mine. When I carefully read the module (assuming, since it was JG, that it was going to be filled with awesomeness) I was sorely disappointed. Perhaps I had made a mistake.

But then I realized that what I was encountering was a series of missed opportunities. And that what the module offered me was an opportunity of my own: I could save F'dech Fo's Tomb.

First, missed opportunity: the map of the Tomb itself sucks. Think of Bryce Lynch's criteria for review. Now think of a dungeon map with none of those things. That is F'dech Fo's Tomb, as presented. (Sigh.) I had to draw a new map of the Tomb itself. The tomb as drawn is a completely linear set of five rooms with no traps, no tricks, no secret doors, nothing.

Here is my map of the Tomb:

Another missed opportunity: how did F'dech Fo wind up a lich. the module just says that about a hundred years ago, pissed of that his once wandering nomadic tribe decided to settle down for the village life, got pissed off, went up on a hill outside of town, lifted up his hand, and green lightning totally burned him to a crispy black skeleton. That's it.

So I made up that in his anger he called on the shadow side of his jaguar god to curse him as a lich so that he could take revenge on his tribe. His god's shadow side willingly obliged. Then a team of associated shamans managed to pray and sacrifice enough to the light side of the jaguar god to trap him while, nevertheless, giving him an honorable burial, for, as the module says, "the people still loved him."

Next major missed opportunity: clues that help the players figure out the bad things to come. For example, the lich's inner crypt is guarded by a kind of "force field" that keeps him from unleashing his evil on the village. There is no reason given for this. It is no part of the legend anywhere else presented in the module, no NPC is said to know about any of this, the legend does not mention it nor even hint at it. No one in town knows about it. There are no clues. If they pass through the vaguely purplish veil, it comes down and he wakens and starts wreaking havoc. End of story. So I had to fix this.

The ancient society of shamans prayed to their god to protect them from the lich's wrath with much sacrifice. Their answer was to provide this magical barrier. The current town shaman knows nothing of this, but I placed various nonverbal and even written clues as to the existence of a barrier and the danger in taking it down. For example, only offering incense in the shrine room will open the secret door to the inner crypt itself. When this happens, a voice will boom out, warning not to break the seal.

I did not need half the descriptions of all the NPCs in Dantell. But I did need the chief and the shaman. But what about this dude, Ninax the Watchman of the Water, who lives just outside of this unwelcoming primitive town? So I decided, he had taken them on as a special project out of some kind of love for their simplicity. So I had him come out and greet the party as they arrived first of all. Through a series of bad reaction rolls, the relationship did not start off on a good foot. But they were warned of the villages troubles and general unfriendliness to strangers.

The chief and shaman then greeted them as they neared the town. They were warned not to enter the town and to camp only on the outside. Then the shaman promised to meet them by night (in common, so his chief would not hear). That night, he related as much of the legend of F'dech Fo as he could remember.

Another lost opportunity: F'dech Fo's medallion, is only a "golden holy symbol." Seriously? After defeating a freaking lich? No. So I made it a medallion of control lycanthropes. This will help with the were jaguar.

Another lost opportunity: the module explicitly says that although the people think that their jaguar god of the jungle, Utigetcho, has recently become incarnate, he has NOT. It is only a were jaguar. But why is there a were jaguar at all? Seriously? Dumb. So sometimes I had to just do the exact opposite of the modules explicitly stated things. Of course Utigetcho is incarnate now! He IS the were jaguar. Duh. So unless they defeat the jaguar with F'dech Fo's medallion of control, any other "defeat" will result in the manifestation of Utigetcho himself! That should be fun.

I know all this seems like a loss. Why use such a poor module? Why use a module I had to do so much work on to "fix"? Easy. A good module is like a Rorschach test. It provides contour lines and symmetry -- sources of imagined patterns. This allows my mind to free associate with some material already presented to me so that I don't have to produce from scratch but in dialogue with something in front of me. So, in the end, this bad module has turned out pretty good.

Fight on!