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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Rituals Gone Wrong

Since the undead project is going along reasonably well (20% of content done, maybe?) and the next big project is the cleric/spirits project, I’ve been thinking a bit about what should go into it. Yes, it’s basically an expansion of Clerics Without Spells, so that will be in there. And yes, at least some of the classes that use the same mechanic will be in there (Druid, Weather-Worker, Beast-Master, Necromancer, Mesmerist.)

But clerics are about more than just that. Priests fulfill a role in society, basically maintaining the social structure. They officiate at social transition moments: rites of passage, weddings, funerals, investitures, christenings, seasonal rites. And these are traditionally avoided by RPGs.

The few times I’ve seen anything about rites performed by priests, it’s presented in one of two ways:
  1. As a narrative device. How to include weddings and funerals in your game to make your campaign feel more alive.
  2. As yet another combat aid. Get a +2 bonus on all rolls if you participated in a wedding within the last week.
But instead of looking at the rites themselves as add-ons, maybe we should be looking at the transitions they mark. When a baby is born, a couple form a relationship, or a person dies, or when farmers are about to plant or harvest, societies see these as important events that need to be surrounded by ritual. If they aren’t, bad things can happen, at least from the viewpoint of tribal, ancient, or medieval cultures. So what happens?

The quick fix is to assume there’s a chance of being cursed every time you pass through a transition. Make a reaction roll, for example the standard 2d6 one from OD&D. On a Very Bad reaction (2, for a 2d6 roll,) everyone involved in the transition is cursed. Or, if it is a land-related event (planting season, harvest,) the land itself is cursed.

The trick is that, if there is no ritual observed, either the result rolled is halved, or the GM rolls half as many dice. This increases the chances of rolling a Very Bad result: for the 2d6 roll, there’s a 1 in 3 chance of rolling a 2 or less.

At the very least, curses should shift any reaction roll down one category, or cause disadvantage for games like D&D 5e. Things can go wrong in other ways, too. For example, weapons can break or be knocked out of a PC’s hand when damage rolled is 1. In Our Undying Neighbors, I make a big deal about Animate Dead and Raise Dead spells having a chance of creating undead when cast under the influence of a curse.

Obviously, this can be fleshed out a lot more. And eventually, that will be my job.

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  1. That's.... very clever. One might set it up once per season (Planting (Early Frost), Growing (Drought), Harvesting (Monsoons), Winter (Bitter Cold), and tie the microclimate directly to the Holiness of the population.

    I might say that "Wild" locations without religious representation are barren because of a lack of gods, wracked with monsters, etc. In this frame of reference, civilization actually mitigates wild climate swings...

    1. I wasn't thinking in terms of godly climate control, but that's certainly possible. I do tend to use reaction rolls to determine the weather, though, and a cursed land would be more likely to have bad weather.

      Most uninhabited lands wouldn't be cursed, though, although some would be.