Friday, February 1, 2013

The gods are angry and I don't care !!!

This is a tiny bit rant and a lot my own experiences in gameplay and world-building:

Over the last two days I have been having a discussion, a disagreement really, on YouTube with a vlogger. The disagreement was about the place of gods in a campaign and their role in granting clerics or paladins their "spell" abilities, etc.

The video I was responding to was about how to world build. The vlogger maintained that one creates their world from the top down, beginning with the gods of the world. Top down world-building is one approach, but it is not the only one. Bottom up campaigns work, too. Many world begin as tiny sandboxes with no thought about the gods of that world. Over time the sandbox may grow and details like that fall into place as they are spontaneously or choice-fully revealed after that world has begun its existence. I have no problem with top down design. Granted, that may mean starting with gods, but not necessarily. This was my initial assertion, as I stated that one of my campaigns has no gods in it.

As the discussion progressed, I pointed out that clerics and paladins were allowed to gain "spells" in the 2e Complete Cleric's Handbook & the Complete Paladin's Handbook without worshipping any deity whatsoever. They could choose to follow an ethos, force or cause. Alternately, they could do the usual thing and follow a deity. They could gain spells from the deity they followed or by a natural force, greater being (non-divine) or just through dint of their personal faith in their cause/ethos. The vlogger was adamant that was not possible, even though I quoted the Complete Paladin's Handbook sections that stated these things. He maintained that would be a game design flaw.

Some people may think that clerics and paladins gaining their abilities without divine assistance is a game design flaw. I believe that would be a matter of personal preference, as there is no Uber-rule of RPGs that states one or the other is permitted and the other is verboten. I consider the vlogger's opinion to be that: an opinion. I find that limiting just what can and cannot be allowed by a GM is fictional rules lawyering or close-mindedness. I challenged him to expand his notions of these things, but he remained unconvinced.

It is not that I wanted to convince him, of the correctness of my opinion, rather I wanted him to see that it has been done before and that the things we disagreed upon were really personal choices, not the unshakable foundations of Atlas upholding the world. It's OK to disagree on anything game related.  No one has to agree with me, but I also do not want to be told what I can and cannot do in my own personally created game world. As a real world example, which is translated into game settings such as Kara-Tur,

While my next statements are not a precise exposition of a particular "religious" philosophy,  I thought of the classic Theravadan Buddhist monk and how that makes an excellent game example of what I positing. They worship no gods. Even if the gods exist, according to Buddhism, they are also subject to Karma, Maya, and interdependence, etc. So where does a real world monk's mental and moral strength come from? Where do the abilities that some have to control their bodies in ways that most cannot? From the Buddha within, which is not some external being, but the state of being and non-being, itself.

This convo did not upset me, but it brought me into contact with something that is the antithesis of what the gaming community on Google+ and Facebook is all about: rulings, not rules.

My special world, Sylvaeon, exists without gods. It does have great beings, but there are no divine strictures on how clerics or paladins may function within their normal abilities. I feel in matters of world-building and its effects upon characters, that the GM and the dice should roll as they will.

(DM Retro)


  1. The Mentzer rules (and rules Cyclopedia) recommend that clerics follow a 'great and worthy cause', nary a mention of god. Obviously, not all versions of TSR D&D mandated gods.

    While I frequently start top-down as well (for my own campaigns), I prefer not to explain the cosmology to the players at all, but keep it vague and undefined - whether gods are 'real' or not.

    It's a strange campaign element for someone to get so orthodox about.

  2. All good points to think about, Beedo.

    The Mentzer rules quote is definitely an interesting time capsule of how clerics have been envisioned over the course of the various TSR iterations.

    You said: "keep it vague and undefined"
    Sometimes I feel that is the most fun way to do it ;)

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