Specialty Priests and Balance

August 15, 2013

I’ve seen a lot of talk on forums over the years about “Balance” with regards to Specialty Priests. In general, most of the arguments, in my opinion, are ridiculous or (at best) looking at the issue in the wrong way.

The arguments tend to frame it as if all priests should be equally appealing to players, with equivalently powerful abilities at specific levels, and similar sphere distributions. But why should that be the case? Gods can represent a wide variety of portfolios, some of which work well for adventurers, some of which do not, but are by no means less crucial to the fantasy society they are designed for. Gods of fire, magic, luck, and healing will probably be more appealing to players and more useful on adventures than gods of peace, architecture, or history. For that reason, a DM creating specialty priests for the latter powers should not feel they have to choose specific powers that will draw players to want to play them. As adventurers are only a small subset of the population, those other priests would be quite useful to society as a whole, in addition to being useful to adventurers as NPCs between adventures, and their powers should reflect what the populace would look to them to do regularly. And, of course, some players may want to play them, just for the added challenge; there’s nothing wrong with that.

Besides some portfolios being better aligned to adventuring careers, certain portfolios align better with certain spells or abilities. For example, deities of music or love may get access to the power to charm person, but a deity specifically of enchantment/charm magic will probably get charm person earlier or get more daily uses of it, because the spell more closely aligns with the deity’s portfolio. Is this unbalanced? Not at all. It takes into consideration what the deities represent. One should expect that a deity of a very specific subject matter would grant priests greater powers over that subject matter than a deity that is much more generalized, or a deity whose portfolio only touches upon the matter. Similarly, the former two gods may get some other enchantment/charm spells from the wizard spell lists, but the latter deity, as a power specifically of that type of magic, may open that whole school of magic to his priests. Meanwhile, the former two deities would grant abilities that the third would have no access to at all. In fact, having more spells available to a priest can be a curse in disguise, as they have harder choices to make when praying for spells, and may be more likely to take specialized spells that turn out to not be very useful in upcoming situations. Usually only ample time to prepare and knowledge of what is to come truly turns a large spell selection into a significant advantage.

Of course, that’s not to say that a specialty priest of a god of meteors should be allowed at-will use of meteor swarm at first level. There are, after all, multiple types of game balance, and that would clearly violate one of them. But there’s also no rule that says certain powers, such as meteor swarm, can only be granted at Nth level; with suitable restrictions, or with greater usage or flexibility, powers can be granted at a variety of levels without causing problems with gameplay.

Surtr the Black

August 10, 2013

Surtr is the patron of fire giants, and of the same generation as Thrym and Skoraeus. Like his brother Thrym, he has also become obsessed with the affairs of the Aesir, in part due to his hatred of the god Freyr. He is much more patient than his chaotic brother, and is willing to wait until the right time to make his move and lead his armies against Asgard, and slowly builds the strength of his warriors. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

Spellcraft: Stoneskin

August 1, 2013

It amazes me how often people fail to understand how AD&D 2nd edition (and 1st ed and OD&D, as well) are written using standard English, primarily. Jargon usage is minimal, especially compared to later iterations of D&D, as well as many other RPGs. A case in point is the stoneskin spell. The spell is written in English, rather than jargon, and yet people still seem to insist that it does things it does not, such as block touch effects from spells (shocking grasp) or touch based-effects, such as those of ghouls or vampires. However, even though the latter are usually caused by a damaging attack by claws, it isn’t necessary. All of those abilities would take effect, if the creature wished it, from a simple hand shake or a pat on the shoulder. The relevant line in the spell description is “the affected creature gains a virtual immunity to any attack by cut, blow, projectile, or the like;” the key point here is that damage by forceful strikes are what is blocked. None of the abilities mentioned above, which are often claimed to be blocked by the spell, fit the description of attacks that are blocked. Similarly, the use of “attack” in that line, as well as the line “This limit applies regardless of attack rolls and regardless of whether the attack was physical or magical” has led many people to claim that you don’t roll attack rolls at all. But that begs the question: if you roll no attack rolls, do the attacks automatically hit and cause no damage, or automatically miss? In either case, what’s the logical reasoning for believing *either* of these cases is true? Simply put, the spell claims nothing of the sort; you still technically need to roll attack rolls regardless of whether or not the stoneskin spell will completely block the effects of the attack or not. A DM can handwave attack rolls if there is no chance of an attack having an effect or not, but even so it is often better to require attack rolls in order to let the PCs discover on their own that a foe is protected.

The silliest thing about arguments against the way the spell is written, though, are the lengths of twisting people will go to in order to preserve their belief. For example, I’ve had people claim that Skip Williams, the author of Dragon Magazine’s Sage Advice column and the DM’s Option: High Level Campaigns, where clarifications of the spell have been published, is wrong so often that everything he says should just be discarded entirely. In addition, I’ve also seen the argument that since the word “blow” is not defined in the game, it can mean anything from a “giant’s maul to the touch of a feather,” which completely disregards what the word means in the English language. If you have to disregard the English definitions of words used by the game to make your argument valid, your argument is not valid.