Sunday, March 8, 2015

Divine Intervention Pt. 1

I probably won’t use this for my own game, at least not in the near future. I’ve written about my issues with gods and clerics before, and how I like to deal with them. This is another way of approaching that facet of the game. I’m hoping it makes some sort of sense by the time I’m done but no promises.

There’s a roguelike called Powder (free trial version at the itunes app store) that I’ve been playing for a while now. It has an interesting set of mechanics that I don’t think I’ve seen before, which dictate divine intervention. Class selection is also folded in to this system, which makes sense because there’s a god of fighters, a god (no, none of them are goddesses. I didn’t write the game, I just play it.) of thieves, etc. Each time you level up, you pick which god you want to worship until next time, and your character advances according to those choices.

Powder also keeps track of what the gods think of your behavior. Cast a lot of spells, and the god of magic will become your protector, but the god of barbarians will constantly try to smite you. The gods of healing and necromancy are similarly opposed.

This actually works pretty well for a solo RPG, and as long as you don’t use too many or too vague triggers for divine judgement, similar deities might work as well at the table as on a tablet. Powder’s pantheon falls apart if you introduce standard D&D parties into the game, where not many PCs are members of the same class. You’d have to keep track of each deity’s opinion of each member of the party, and it would discourage players from trying to do anything that doesn’t follow their class tropes.

I think the way to get something useful out of this is probably to write a pantheon in the opposite order to what I’m used to using. In the past, when I’ve felt the need to come up with a specific set of deities for a game, I would start by thinking about what powers I would want their priests to have, and base everything else on that. This time, I’m going to try starting off with what behaviors they like and dislike, which is normally the last thing I would think about, or even leave it up to whoever's playing a cleric.

So what sort of behaviors should these deities care about? The main concerns are that each behavior must be something the whole party could be judged for, and that it has to be impossible to keep all of them happy at once. Now, the laziest and most obvious way to achieve both of those goals is to use moral/cosmic/political/whatever alignments. I completely hate codified alignment though, for more reasons than are worth discussing right now.

So here’s an incomplete list, off the top of my head, of things that A) a party could do to piss off some deities while ingratiating themselves to others, and B) are not as vague and morally simplistic as alignment:
  • kill first talk later/avoid combat through diplomacy
  • throw extravagant parties/hoard wealth
  • acquire or use magical devices/destroy all traces of magic
  • enforce justice/offer mercy to sinners
  • protect mankind from nature/protect nature from mankind
  • carefully gather information before acting/immediately act on a whim

Oh hey look there’s six of them. I think I’ll stop there and grab 3d6. Let’s say 8-12 is neutral.

9 9 12 14 10 11
8 15 11 6 8 8
12 10 9 13 6 16
6 6 12 12 13 11

Okay so the first deity doesn’t really give a shit what you do as long as you spend time punishing bad people. An unforgiving deity of justice and the afterlife, whose symbol is an iron scale.
The second one wants to blow your wealth partying, be merciful to sinners, protect nature from mankind, and act on the slightest whim. Huh. St Hubert maybe?
The third deity wants you to enforce justice, protect nature from mankind, and carefully gather information before acting. A more old-school vengeful nature spirit.
The last deity wants you to avoid combat through diplomacy, hoard wealth, and protect mankind from nature. Obviously a deity of civilization and wealth.

This tells us that deity 3 has issues with 2, but neither one of them likes 4 much. 3 is the only one that deity 1 thinks is basically okay. If your PC is running around smiting the sinful like there’s no tomorrow, deities 1 and 3 will be down with you, but deity 2 will want to put a stop to this madness. Deity 3 will turn on you if you ever decide to champion civilization over the wilderness, but deity 4 will be out to get you as long as you’re acting like a nature hippy. It’s up to the referee to create situations that force you to make those decisions.

Okay, that part actually worked pretty well. Despite the fact that they're neutral about most things, there's some divine conflict implied with a pantheon of just four beings. Adding more would lead to yet more conflict, but might be more of a pain for the ref to keep track of. I’m gonna stop while I’m ahead for now. Tomorrow I’ll get into some abilities that divine beings could use to fuck with or help you.

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