Monday, September 9, 2013

Charisma and Undead and Clerics and Other Nonsense

I may return to the whole heroes and myths/fears thing I was doing, I may not. We'll see.

Charisma bugs me. The other ability scores are fairly straightforward. Charisma, though more useful in the rules than in previous editions of the game, has always been something of a dump stat unless you were a Bard or Paladin, and primarily only then because high Charisma was a prerequisite for the class, as it didn't have any bearing on the abilities of those classes. Charisma, yeah. Let's face it here, PCs (typically) spend way more time using metal to put holes inside people than they do trying to be comely and personable, which is much less effective at putting holes in people in an attempt to cause gold to flow out of said holes. Charisma doesn't bug me because it is usually relegated to dump stat status though. It bugs me because its description is insane.

Charisma is supposedly the stat that represents your personality, personal magnetism, leadership qualities, and your appearance. Ok, sounds good and makes sense given the name of the stat. Done? No? Oh dear. It is also the measure of necromantic lifeforce in undead. So, your rotting and stinking and just generally icky wight is a really cool guy with a knack for leading others and talking folks into things. Wights have a Charisma of 15 (kraken have a Charisma of 21, just a little note), which approaches Captain America levels of natural born leaderism and handsomeness. I always envision Captain America as having 18 in all stats, which is about the pinnacle of human abilities in DnD/Pathfinder. This beef isn't an issue of me griping about Because Abstract. This is bat shit crazy nonsense. Charisma directly measures attractiveness and personality, and a wight, which is rotted and dead and likely smells like it, has an above average Charisma. This creature's appearance and personality directly contradict what is indicated by its ability scores

Not only does Charisma cover undead lifeforce and the other personality stuff, but apparently it governs inborn magical talent as well, as Bards and Sorcerers both use it as their casting statistic, as do other intuitive type casters like the Favored Soul from 3.5 (I think). So not only is our wight (a creature that can rise from the dead simply because it was that awful and malevolent in life, no necromancy necessary) a natural born leader and well loved guy, he'd also make a great spellcaster or performer. Nevermind his eyes of glowing black necromantic energy or his rotting skull face, fucker can bring tears to your eyes with a ballad and drop panties with a word slurred through rotted and dangling lips.

I feel like there is a really awful/dirty joke about roast beef danglers in there. I have no desire to pursue it though.

The fairly haphazard use of Charisma there says to me that the designers of the game consider it a dump stat too, so they heaped as much into it as they could so it could be relevant to the game so they didn't have to create a stat to govern intuitive casters and undead lifeforce. Now, I'm not saying I have any better ideas about how to break down the various things Charisma represents. Ok, that's a lie. How about the player determines the attractiveness of their character? How about you use Constitution, the stat governing health and physical fortitude, to manage the unnatural lifeforce of undead? Keep all of the rules the same for undead, just leave out the insane part in the Charisma description that says it measures undead lifeforce along with personal magnetism and leadership qualities.

Now that my blood is up, I've got a few more comments about ability scores related to spellcasting.

Intelligence makes perfect sense to me for learned casters. You are learning something and memorizing formulas and incantations and precise movements and such to achieve specific magical effects. Learned casting is based on research and training and experience, so it makes sense that Intelligence would be used for that. Look at Wisdom though. Wisdom is about willpower, common sense, awareness, and intuition. How is that remotely related to divine casting? If anything, Charisma should be the most appropriate. Your power is entirely dependent upon how nicely and politely you can ask Yahweh to smite the Egyptians for you. It's not like you're pitting your will against the deity's and stealing the power from him in a sort of mental contest. Your spells are literally prayers for aid against your enemies. To regain spells, Clerics must spend one hour in quiet contemplation and supplication. Supplication, as in, "Hey, I know you're busy doing god things in god land, but I'd really think it was swell if you could lend me a little bit of that deity juice you've got. There are some fuckheads that we're gonna make bleed till gold comes out today, leveraging a few smites on your behalf would sure come in handy. Thanks."

If we're talking like this is an automated service, like you call in prayers and the being operating the switchboard of deity juice listens in and directs the juice to you while the deity is off managing the forces that propel reality, we could go with Intelligence. In that example, the prayers are like Mad Libs where you put in the appropriate phrases for the spells you want and all you need to do is memorize the proper prayer and speak it during your little hour of contemplation and you get the spell you want.

It has been said before, but I have a lot of beefs with the way Clerics work. If I ever run a campaign in a "normal" DnD world, I am going to mangle and rape that class into complete ruin. Players would not get to choose their spells every day, I would, as it is the deity that bestows the spells on the Cleric. The Clerics aren't invited into the deity's brain to go shopping for abilities. There would be no casting statistic. Your casting statistic would depend entirely and completely on A) The power of your deity, and B) your standing with that deity and commitment to the faith and the pursuit of its ideals. Referring to point A, obviously greater gods have much more divine might to spread around than say a demigod. So obviously their deity juice should have more snap, crackle, and pop to it. Referring to point B, gods don't care about your levels or lewts. You want to play a Cleric? Play a Cleric, be a priest, act like it, serve your god and all that jazz. You've been granted the ability to wield the powers that motivate the cosmos. Maybe act like it, maybe act like your deity's goals are more important than window dressing for the blank boxes in your character sheet.You know what concerns (most) gods in fantasy games? The shit in their godly portfolio. You worship a deity of healing? Prepare to spend the next twenty scenarios working in the plague quarter to get your casting statistic up to twelve. You worship a deity of war? Stop fucking killing Goblins in caves for villagers and start a war.

As a reminder, I do not agree with the rules in allowing ideals and concepts as deities. At least not outside of a Planescape campaign. Planescape is a setting where thoughts having the power to reshape reality is a key aspect of the campaign's underpinnings. If I remember correctly, this was not the case in other 2nd Edition campaign settings and taking an ideal or concept or philosophy as your deity was not an option for divine characters. To continue, if you are using the depth/strength of your belief in good triumphing over evil to provide you with supernatural power, guess what, your power has an internal source: your mind, imagination, and will. Welcome to psionics, please take off your armor, you are not proficient in it's use. But, you know, keep it if you want because it has no bearing on how well you manifest your powers.

Gods are a weird issue for me. My own preconceived notions about reality obviously affect them, as I have no faith in deities, so I tend to not include them. I also think I consider them in a much more godly sense than the rules do. I feel like gods should grant power based on your devotion to them and their cause and that you don't just get spells, your god decides to give you them. Fire priests should start fires and spread the power of their god, which should be rewarded. Being a Cleric isn't like being a Fighter or Wizard. You have no skill, no abilities. Yeah, you can wear armor and hit things with sticks and stuff and have some knowledge about spellcasting and religions. But everything that defines you as a character, is because of your god and the power they grant you. (Unless you're an Ur Priest and can steal divine power from gods. Which is dumb and not something I'd allow in a campaign.) Your god and your relationship to them is an integral part of your character. It should be a stat represented on your sheet in some way. It is something that should ebb and flow based on your actions and interactions with the world, not a static statistic that has little believable bearing on your spellcasting power. Clerics aren't granted power because they're wisdomous and intuitive, they're granted power because of their devotion to their deity, and you can't measure devotion with a static ability score determined at level 1, you measure devotion through actions during a scenario. It doesn't necessarily mean role-playing either. You don't have to come up with inspired prayers or theological arguments and hold conversations in your head with your character's deity. All it has to amount to is saying, "My character, a devotee of Healergod, goes into the sick house and leverages some spells to aid the sick before joining the rest of the party at the inn."

I mean honestly, every Cleric or Paladin should be a batshit crazy fanatic. Look at all the fanatics in our world, and all the deities they believe in are fake. Imagine the shitstorm that would erupt if their gods could actually do things. It'd be bananas.

I suppose Wisdom could have bearing on divine spellcasting if you are like a devotee of a trickster or riddle god and you progressively gain more power by unlocking riddles and such hidden within the hymns and prayers of the priesthood. Aside from that though, I really feel like your divine casting ability score should be determined by how well you show your character is devoted to their deity and their cause. But that can be a tricky thing to adjudicate, so perhaps that is why designers went the route of using Wisdom.

With intuitive casters, Charisma makes sense as a casting statistic for Bards. I don't argue that. Almost everything about their magical abilities, and the majority of their spellcasting, depends upon their ability to manipulate emotions, which Charisma ties into enough that I can handwave it. With Sorcerers though, that's different. Charisma somehow represents the innate magic in the lineage of a Sorcerer. Sorcerer's typically have some sort of magical ancestor like a storm giant or dragon or elemental that gives them their knack for magic. It's literally something in their blood. The only innovative thought I have in lieu of Charisma representing this is clunky and overly complicated. It breaks down intuitive casting into a two stat system, rather than one. Constitution indicates the power of the Sorcerer's magical abilities. So instead of adding your Charisma modifier to the DC of any Sorcerer spell you cast, you add your Constitution modifier. Everything else is managed by Wisdom, which indicates your ability to use your willpower to command your inborn magical powers. So your Wisdom determines bonus spells and that sort of thing rather than Charisma.

That method, despite being clunky and making Sorcerers need two decent stats, makes more sense to me. It also circumvents the crazy shit you run into like icky looking undead bloodline Sorcerers having a crazy good ability to drop panties and lead people even though they're super icky and scary to most people. It also avoids insane things like a kraken with a 21 in Charisma.

I dunno, just some thoughts I guess. 

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