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Your Sacred Cows' Mad Disease

Challenging the Tired and Used assumptions in MMO's - and gaming in general.

Author: badgerbadger

The Sacred Cleric-Cow Part2: Class and Mechanics

Posted by badgerbadger Friday September 14 2007 at 3:13AM
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  In my quest to examine and question the underlying assumptions that may well be responsible for the  trends that many people complain have made gaming stale...

 Combat brought up healing; and with healing and role-playing; comes the cleric.  Some of the attendant assumptions about class & role are central to many other metagame aspects.  I will just touch on two aspects - roleplay and "class" mechanics.  Guess which this is?

  In previous posts I have asked people to not only consider the implications of healing on game balance and design; but also the implications in terms of ability (is this healing a return of life force? does this cause you heal yourself like the sci-fi "stim-pack" - if so; how quickly... if it's addressing the actual wound; does this imply a flesh-shaper?... or the ability to create/conjure new flesh? What powers does THIS imply? What can this 'healer' do TO you?) - relatedly to all this; is the idea of the SOURCE of these abilities...

  Without going too far into the tangent of magic systems(this time); I just want to establish that most  games have swallowed the now comfortable and familiar concepts set down years ago by D&D - and so to some degree these root ideas; as a base; inform the resulting metagame...

 There are two basic "ARCHETYPES" of source/explaination for abilities:

  The first I'll refer to as the 'mystic' - someone who through some sort of studies has learned to 'cast' the 'spells' that are necessary to make some spiritual force (otherplanar; natural, the dead, etc) DO something. Maybe its a few words in Latin?  Few people have any idea that most traditional magic (root word; magi -  a "priest") involves this - particularly in the genre fiction of the pulp era that influenced D&D. Certainly; shouldn't those accessing different... sources have different powers?  However the cognizant point here is by supplication or manipulation, we have someone who as a result of completing a professional training; has the ability to cast spells.

  The Second archetype is the Champion: these aren't really casting 'spells' in the traditional sense- they have a degree of power granted to them - they are in effect themselves supernatural...

 There are those who are so as a "race" for whatever reason in the setting - be it ascension/corruption- or by being created so directly: Angels/Demons, Unicorns, The old D&D dragons (the ultimate "champions" in the old storylines - metal served good; colors evil - their ruler; Tiamat, the babylonian 'god' of Chaos); some versions of vampires & werewolves, perhaps the Fey, Tolkien's "wizards", old D&D's Drow, and certainly the Sidhe/Avalonian-inspired versions of "Elves" ...

  But also are those who EARNED - became - a champion. Sadly; for all it's potential in a story; there are few representations of this currently.

 The first example I personally saw was the 1980 "Basic D&D" clerics: they had to prove themselves and got NO abilities until 2nd level.  And xp was NOT user-friendly in those days.  Similarly; in one addition; one became a Paladin by attaining 9th level while maintaining alignment as a FIGHTER - and gained paladin, like a prestige class now.  In computer games;  In Ultima:4, your actual actions in the game could advance 'virtues' that moved you closer and closer to becoming an Avatar.  The cognizant point HERE is we have someone who has earned by their actions power that has been granted - and as such is dependent on their continuation as a representative of said powers.

  For Roleplaying and taste reasons; I have a hard time accepting mystics 'casting'  spells that a higher power (rather than say lesser spirits) responds to unconditionally; so it is the earned powers that I actually prefer.  The potential in terms of Game mechanics is; if people will "grind" quests for the reputation for, for example; an extra bank bag/slot; do you not think they would do the same to gain access to a CLASS? .. or specific powers?.. or for that matter the favors they so often ask for - healing potions? -the resurrection of a friend?

 Why make reputation/favor/aligment irrelevent?  The mechanisms exist to track this... Use them. Not only for story advancement,roleplaying & suspension of disbelief; but for CHARACTER ADVANCEMENT.

 Relatedly, Who would not like to see their characters not only gain power form their patron; but perhaps: actually begin to change... ascend or corrupt as they become further aligned with their "power".. gain celestial or abyssal qualities... begin to perfect, or grow wings perhaps? or twsit with chaos? --I always treated the drow like this in my games - the powerful ones became driders, not as a punishment(i fail to see why a spider-goddess-demon would see it so or why her worshippers would NOt want to be like her), but as a natural consequence of becoming closer to something ELSE.  My oldest druids become in time tree-ents.

   As a final example; the 1-size-Cleric-fits-all has not always been the only model.  2nd edition D&D had "specialty priests" that were effectively a seperate class for each deity.  Too complex perhaps- but within any one given setting; this is probably feasible (it made its debut if I recall correctly; in the Dragonlance materials-perhaps balancing it on a larger scale was the issue? or people just LIKED their old 'generic clerics').  In my personal D&d campaign; the 'priest' of each deity is indeed represented by a seperate class... And who in games doesn't like options?

All these are questions and ideas that I hope will make you question how these things are represented in games; and if there is not some alternatives that just might be interesting to you; rather than the "Tired and Used" assumptions.