Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rethinking Clerical Turning

As I start to ramp back up for season two of my after school Dwimmermount campaign, I've decided to switch back to B/X with this year's batch of players.

It's pretty much a selfish decision: I can run Moldvay in my sleep, which lets me focus more on the complexity and tone of Dwimmermount as a setting ... but on the flip slide my players won't find books in either of the area's big box bookstores (which stock only Pathfinder and a tiny dribble of 5th edition D&D core books) should they be so inclined.

Freed from considering exhaustive skill lists, feats, paths and whatever else ("How's a warlock different from a sorcerer?"), I've been thinking about what I can tinker with in my B/X game.

Though Dwimmermount isn't undead-heavy, clerics and divine powers are really important to the setting.  For some reason, perhaps because I recently read Three Hearts and Three Lions, I got to thinking about clerical turning.

What's that all about?
Image result for hammer films van helsing

I know the game origins of the cleric ... Sir. Fang, a vampire villain, needed a VanHelsing-type to put him in his place ... basically a guy to brandish a cross at the vile undead.  But why solve that problem with a character class?
Werewolves were well established in the genre and they didn't spark the generation of a separate character class to battle them.

What is turning anyway?

Is it ...

A. a supernatural power granted the cleric by her divinity?
B. a potent, psychic expression of the cleric's own faith?
C. a fear undead hold for the temporal and spiritual organization that the cleric represents?

Obviously it is the GM's job to address this question in his own campaign (should he even feel the need), but I'm interested in exploring option "C."

What if turning is expressive of a phobia or aversion that the undead have?  One which makes them hesitate to strike a member of so potent a force of Law?

This model has some pretty interesting implications.

1. If turning is not the expression of an invisible force field, but a purely mental aversion, then those undead lacking minds (skeletons and zombies) would be immune.

2. Since it isn't the cleric's own piety per se, but instead the undead's regard for the holy agent of Law that stays the hand of evil, what if every character who presents herself as an agent of Law can turn undead?

3. Higher hit dice undead have progressively less fear of the power of the church.  Because the power that the undead are responding to is static (the temporal and spiritual power that the agent of Law represents vs the character's own potence or faith) a simple saving throw can suffice.

Image result for mummy4. The effect of turning could be an unwillingness to initiate combat with the agent of Law.  The mummy could still block the way, posture, converse, scheme, or even command minions to the attack, but would be unwilling to risk directly raising its hand against the character.  Of course if the undead is attacked itself ... well then all bets are off.

5. If the saving throw was made in secret, you can't really tell if the lich is staying its hand to lull you into lowering your guard or if it is legitimately intimidated.

6. Why should "turning" be limited to undead?  What if fairies, elves, and other sorts from beyond the borderlands of the fields men know can likewise be kept at bay by turning ... or chants, church bells, burning incense and the like?

Image result for late roman christian soldiers

This all may be a bridge too far of course, and wanders far from the upcoming Dwimmermount campaign, but I have this picture in my head of some late Roman soldiers daring to go north of the wall into the edge of the land beyond the rule of Law, hoping to hold elves and others at bay with the threat of iron and the tokens of the faith embraced by Theodosius.