Friday, November 27, 2009

Love in the time of clerics

The possibility of death by disease was very real in history. I've often wondered how the presence of D&D-type healing magic might impact the course of an outbreak of some plague or other. Having a little bit of time on my hands, I decided to crunch a few numbers. It's a very basic analysis, omitting a lot of ancillary factors, but I think it's instructive.

Let's crunch some numbers.

Just to take something as a baseline, the Black Death of Europe (1348-1350) killed about 33% of the population of Europe. That's approximately 1.1% of the population per month. Now, I know that's an imperfect figure, because it doesn't take into account births, or other causes of death, but given my reading on the subject, it's actually not too far off, when brains mightier than mine apply themselves to the death-rate problem during the Black Death.

My question would be, how many clerics would it take to stem the tide of such a virulent disease? Would a Black Death be possible in a D&D world, or would the grace of the Gods be enough to stem the tide of infection?

Consider this: the clerical spell Cure Disease is a third level spell. That means only a fifth-level cleric can cast it, and it requires a 9 hour rest time (minimum) to recover (plus 10 minutes to actually cast the spell). Assuming those fifth-level clerics are casting their spells at the maximum rate, that gives:

720 hours per month ÷ 9 hours per spell = 80 spells per month

Wow; now that I actually work it out, that's pretty measly, and that's working full-out, with nothing else going on. And that's only counting fifth-level clerics!

But paladins have the power to cure disease as well; once per week at fifth level. So count paladins as 1/7th of a cleric. Fifth level cleric, that is.

To stem the tide of the Black Death, you'd need 138 fifth-level clerics (or their equivalent in paladins, at the going rate of 7 paladins per cleric) to cure the new cases of disease, per one million people:

1,000,000 people x 1.1% = 11,000 dead per month

11,000 ÷ 80 = 138

The question becomes, how many clerics are there in the setting? If you've got 138 5th-level clerics per million people, you can hold off an epidemic as virulent as bubonic plague. Anything short of that, and you've got a problem. The extent of the problem is directly proportional to how far short of 138 5th-level clerics are available, per million people.

In a city the size of Rauxes (pop. 41,000) or Greyhawk (pop. 58,000) that translates to 7 or 8 fifth-level clerics, respectively. I think that is entirely reasonable. In a more rural setting, where higher-level clerics are more scarce, the story might be different. Hommlet, for example, could be served by Terjon and Jaroo (twice as much as the small village needs) and come out unscathed.

Ultimately, unless the DM invents some sort of magic-resistant or extremely virulent (beyond the bounds of the black Plague of Europe) plague, clerics of a typical campaign setting should be able to handle the problem. Of course, it wouldn't leave them any time to do anything else, which might be an opening for some enterprising Arch-Daemon to wreak havoc...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sometimes wargames are not about who wins

When it came to three of my favorite games from my youth, there was absolutely no question of who would win. We went into them knowing that the Allies would win AH's Afrika Korps, Sauron would lose SPI's War of the Ring, and NATO would win SPI's World War 3. (The victor of AH's Third Reich depended on which edition of the game you were playing; Avalon Hill kept over-compensating with each successive edition, so that the Axis always won first edition, the allies always won second, etc.) But we spent hours and hours bent over those maps, shuffling counters around, and not caring one bit.

Why? Well, there was the long-shot chance that a clever strategy (or, more likely, either lucky dice or a bone-headed mistake, and I saw it happen in all of these games) would give the predestined loser a fighting chance. But a lot of the time, those games were simply played for the sake of the game.

Afrika Korps, for example, is a flat-out race for the Axis player. Can he capture Tobruk and get the game in-hand before the overwhelming mass of Allied reinforcements comes in mid-game? If the Allies play at least a halfway decent stalling game, they've got it sewn up. But before those reinforcements come in, the game is a fascinating display of how to maneuver and compensate for limited resources on both sides. After that, it's only a fascinating display of limited resources on the Axis side...

For War of the Ring, it's nigh-unto inevitable that the Free Peoples will be able to plop the Ring in Mount Doom. The real game was the maneuvering beforehand; it was a hoot as the Sauron player to send hordes of Southrons into Gondor, sweeping all before them, while Wainriders overran Long Lake and the pitiful dwarven defenders of the Lonely Mountain. But short of a few really lucky encounters against the Fellowship (like a Balrog turning up where the Barrow-Wights belonged), it was an exercise in siege warfare until Frodo made it to the magic hex. Even "Boromir Attempts to Seize the Ring" wasn't any great help; Boromir just turned into the character marching towards Mount Doom, and he was better able to defend himself.

Oh, World War 3. One of the vast line of NATO-Warsaw Pact set pieces SPI produced in the 1970's. This one was on a global scale, with counters representing entire armies. It played much like World War 2 with Russians as the bad guys instead of Germans, and have the Russians steamroller over western Europe, only to be stymied by their complete lack of naval power (thus turning England once more into America's staging area), but ultimately the NATO economic juggernaut proved too much for the Soviets. At which time, if you were playing using the optional nuclear warfare rules, the Soviet player simply launched all his ICBMs and the game ended in an apocalyptic draw. They didn't even bother to include a Soviet aircraft carrier counter. The ocean was that much of a non-starter strategy for the USSR.

But even so, the fun part was playing up to the point of inevitable doom. There was a tipping point to each of those games before which they were really enjoyable. Then one side or the other slid down precipitously. But man, it was a fun ride while it lasted. At the time, I didn't really have the wherewithal to try to balance them out. It might be fun to try. Anyone want to buy me a copy of SPI's War of the Ring for Yule this year so I can give it a whirl?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Religion in the World of Greyhawk


In previous posts, I gave a run-down of the Oeridian, Suel, Flan, and Baklunish pantheons individually. They share many (most) deities, but there are interesting omissions and overlaps. The Flannae Gods are ubiquitous; they found their way into the common pantheon of the Flanaess. The Gods of the Bakluni are the opposite; Istus, the Big Goddess of the pantheon, is unique to the Baklunish, and only appears as a prominent figure in those places with a significant Baklunish population. There are some "obvious" groups of deities; the Oeridian Gods of the Winds, for example, or the Divine Pair of Heironeous and Hextor.

Some deities, such as St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel and Pholtus, seem to be robust enough to have full-blown religions centered on them alone; the twins Heironeous and Hextor could almost be said to constitute a dualistic religion. Medegia being the center of Hextor-worship, Almor being the center of Heironeous-worship, and each mortal enemies of the other, influencing the policies of the secular states around them in their religious quest.

We also have the problem of the "Old Religion" as we see in the module The Temple of Hommlet. The druids seem to have their own faith, completely separate from the religion of the clerics, and yet the Gods of each (notably Obad-Hai and Ehlonna of the Forests) have followers of both clerical and druidic bent. Add to that the fact that Gygax, in later years, said that the druids worshiped not conventional deities but the forces of Nature itself.

How to reconcile all this muddle?

First off, it's important to note that such a muddle is very historical (the example of the Roman Empire comes to mind), and the very fact that there is no clear delineation of religions, deities, and priesthoods is actually a strength of the setting; religion in Greyhawk is messy. In a more "rational" campaign setting, where religion was designed in a more systematic fashion (and I have been as guilty of such in my own homebrew campaigns as anyone), we might miss the sort of organic feel that religion in Greyhawk presents us.

Clerics (and Druids), operate in a polytheistic fashion, although some are henotheistic in nature (other Gods exist, but they aren't worshiped). That is, if a cleric dedicated to, say, Fortubo, was in need of help with healing, he or she might well make an offering to Pelor, despite the fact that they weren't dedicated to that particular deity. I note that Pelor is also a member of the Suel pantheon, so it's perhaps a first-order leap.

A cleric of a deity noted for a more henotheistic approach, such as St. Cuthbert or Pholtus, on the other hand, might well rely on his or her patron deity, regardless of the specific need. But just because a cleric of Pholtus might not be willing (for reasons of ideological and theological purity) to make an offering at a shrine of Wee Jas, the reverse is not necessarily the case. An adherent of Wee Jas might well be more than willing to make an offering to Pholtus, because Wee Jas isn't so picky about exclusivity. The cleric of Pholtus who does so, on the other hand, might well find his fifth-level spells being withdrawn...

The question of clerics vs. druids, and the issue of the "Old Faith" is an interesting one. On the one hand, we have references to druidry as "the Old Faith", utterly distinct from the religion of the clerics of St. Cuthbert (and presumably the rest of the Gods and pantheons), and Gygax's statement that Druids worship Nature itself. On the other hand, we have the fact that the Guide to the World of Greyhawk states clearly that several deities can have servants of both the clerical and druidical classes. Maybe the Nature-worshiping Druids are the "old faith", and those who worship conventional deities are regarded as interlopers. The monolithic structure of the druids is already cracked by the module "Dark Druids" by Pied Piper Publishing. Maybe there are more fractures than we have been led to believe...

On the whole, I think the less-than-systematic reality of the religions of Greyhawk, and the relationship between some deities and pantheonic religions, as well as the lack of clarity vis-a-vis clerics and druids, adds a great deal of color and flavor to the World of Greyhawk. Just as in the real world, we see different people with different approaches to particular Gods, and no One True Way.

Let a thousand flowers bloom...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage: Dreamation 2010

I am pleased to report that I will be running two sessions of Castle of the Mad Archmage, my humble megadungeon creation, at the Dreamation convention in Morristown, NJ, February 18-21, 2010. (I'll also be running the Diplomacy tournament, as well as one other game yet to be determined.) I don't have any scheduling information yet, but will post it once I receive it. This was a real blast to run at Dexcon last summer (another convention held in the same place and run by the same folks as Dreamation), and I'm looking forward to another fun time in the crumbling ruins.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I know I've been posting much less frequently than usual. My usual computer has mechanical difficulties, and I was forced to order a replacement fan from Singapore(!).

So I'm basically on almost-no access until the new part arrives and I can do the five-minute replacement. I feel like I should be selling pencils on a street corner.

All kinds of goodness when I return, promise!