Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Religion, magic and rules in D&D

I've got the race thing out of my way! Yay! Now I'll move on to the next stage - religion.

I think there are two general ways most fantasy settings handle religion:

1. Gods are almighty beings that walk the earth, influence the course of history and can reevaluate the fundamentals of the world.

2. Gods don't influence the setting directly and even though other supernatural creatures do exist, the existence of gods is often disputed.

Forgotten Realms and Dragon Lance would represent the first category, while Conan stories would belong to the second one.

As I've said before, I'm not interested in "high fantasy(whatever that means)- we are saving the world cause we were chosen by gods" adventures. That's why I'm obviously leaning towards the second category. However this solution isn't completely compatible with the D&D class and magic rules. Let me elaborate.

I think most of you will agree that in the actual world (the one we physically live in) there is no such thing as magic, or to phrase it more precisely, the existence of such a force is highly questionable. The most obvious difference between our actual world and the fictional world of my game is the fact that in the latter one the existence of magic is undeniable. In our world the existence of magicians, wizards or sorcerers can be disputed unlike in my game world.

This leads us to the problem of D&D mechanics concerning the cleric class. According to the rules of D&D clerics are not only magic users but also their magic comes directly from the gods and thus is different from the "other", arcane magic.

The thing is, in our actual world religion is based on faith, not on empirical evidence. In the fantasy world governed by the rules of D&D it's the opposite case. Clerics can summon up staffs and hammers made of pure energy, heal broken bones by touch and bring people back from the dead. In the world following from the rules of D&D there can be no dispute over the existence of gods, since the clerics and their deeds give a living proof of their existence.

So it seems that the D&D rules are in serious inconsistency with my idea, of how I'd like my game to look. However the solution to this problem is very simple. Abandon the divine magic. By that I don't mean abandon the cleric class.

Since I assume magic simply is the undercurrent of my game world's reality, it seems quite useless to divide it into two "kinds" or "categories". This solution seems simply inelegant and aesthetically crude. It seems much simpler to say that there is one magic, but two different ways of learning and using it.

Wizards (magic user class) are learning magic intellectually, through studying books, learning formulas, discussing concepts and theories. I see them looking a bit like the first greek philosophers or first physicists, trying to describe the world and rules that govern it.

Whereas Clerics undergo a more mystical training, pass through religious rites and learn to use magic with the strength of faith rather than pure knowledge. They also use formulas, but see them as prayers rather than magic theorems.

Cool. So i have rules out of my way.

The other thing I find very important in making my world seem more pulpy fantasy is establishing the fact that gods don't have direct, obvious impact on the game's realia.

By that I mean, that clerics and religious organizations have impact on the game, however the gods won't ever step in and interact with the game world or worse - the PC's themselves. This seems to be an important premise in Howard's stories and I think I should keep it.

In the upcoming posts I will discuss my world's spiritual and religious background in more detail. Until then!

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