Halberds and Helmets

I think we end up with retro-clones not because we want to inaugurate the next kick-ass RPG but because we’ve spent—or wasted—six months of our life tinkering with rules, adding house rules, doing layout for a target audience of four to five people and by now we might as well publish it...

Halberds & Helmets is the name of my Players Handbook for old school D&D. It takes it’s inspiration from B/X D&D (1981) via Labyrinth Lord and incorporates many of the various rules and ideas I tag Old School.

If clicking the link gives you a gray or black screen and no PDF, try using a right click and “Save Link As…” instead. Perhaps your browser can’t display the PDF.

Also note the German variant, Hellebarden & Helme.

2019-01-25 Podcasting is Review

I’ve been going through my house rules, more or less one page per podcast episode. Talking about the rules, and wonder about the actual use these rules have seen at the table, has led to quite a few changes for the better, I’d say.

Today I got rid of the reputation section and ended up saving an entire page.

Too bad I can only get a three column index that spills onto a second page, or a four column index that cannot by hyperlinked, though.

LaTeX! So close... Something about the tufte class loading the hyperref package before imakeidx or something. It makes my eyes glaze over.

This is what I tried in 4col-index:

diff --git a/Halberds-and-Helmets.ltx b/Halberds-and-Helmets.ltx
index af1c9ee..751aa21 100644
--- a/Halberds-and-Helmets.ltx
+++ b/Halberds-and-Helmets.ltx
@@ -1,4 +1,4 @@
 % \usepackage{showkeys}% debugging \keys
@@ -11,8 +11,8 @@
 % Set up index
 % Set up the images/graphics package
@@ -1619,7 +1619,7 @@ years. This is her spell book.
 % prevent an empty page
 % http://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/109625/avoiding-empty-page-between-a-very-full-page-and-the-index
@@ -1631,7 +1631,6 @@ years. This is her spell book.
 \section*{Open Game License Version 1.0a}

I’ll also note that the index no longer appears in the bookmarks of the PDF.

Option 1: three column index, hyperlinks, and TOC entry, using makeidx:

Three Columns

Option 1: four column index, no hyperlinks, and no TOC entry, using imakeidx:

Four Columns

Source on GitHub.


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2019-01-23 Magic Words

I just read @linkskywalker’s blog post, Magic Words suck. Here’s Magic in the Moment.

I was immediately reminded of “Four-by-Five” Magic System for the Fudge RPG by Steffan O’Sullivan. In the four-by-five system you have four actions (enhance, diminish, communicate/sense, and control) and five realms (body, mind, spirit, energy, matter) and every spell is a combination of these two.

I was also reminded of Das Schwarze Ague Professional: Schwertmeister Set 1. There, you had 18 rune stones (18 words), each with a different value, and three places to put them: one for the medium that carries the magic (multiplier 1), one for the way of the magic (multiplier 4), and one for the target of the magic (multiplier 2). The example they gave was a spell that gave you a free critical attack using the runes Sight (2) as the medium (×2), Fight (5) as the way (×4), and Body (4) as the target (×1) for a total cost of 4+20+4 = 28 “astral” points (manna cost).

As you can see, here’s the first problem I find in these more free form magic rules: they result in free form results which you then need to interpret again and again. Or you can start writing them down, meaning that you will end up with a suggested list of spells of various power levels. You will simply give magic users more flexibility. Do they need more flexibility? I don’t think so. Also note that Link Skywalker started the discussion by comparing fighters and magic users, saying that “from this perspective Magic Users are the first example of unnecessary complexity creeping into the game’s rules.” I don’t know. I’d ask: how short can you make the rules? Short rules are a proxy for easy rules in my mind.

The second problem I had was when I tried a simpler variant of the above where I wanted to use some sort of rune-based or kanji-based magic. This time I had an actual player interested in using it and he picked the Air rune. And he flew around in some long jumps, gliding through the air. And that was it. I felt that he hadn’t taken advantage of the flexibilities given, couldn’t think of creative uses in a pinch, and I concluded that perhaps the system was too free form. Creativity needs some constraints.

Link Skywalker has a solution for all of this. He also provides a list of words (like the runes I mentioned above). He has some suggestions for things that might increase the difficulty. And most importantly:

After successfully casting a spell, Magic Users may record the spell for later use. Each recorded spell may be used once per day without a casting roll. These still count as successful spells for the purposes of determining the base target number. Magic Users may know a maximum of one recorded spell per level. At any time they may forget a recorded spell if they wish to replace it with a new one.

It might work. But then again, a referee might also simply sit down and start writing ten or twenty spells, and then players and referees simply add to the list. You know I like D&D-as-oral-history and this kind of writing and forgetting and remembering has potential. Perhaps that’s simply what Gary Gygax and his players did way back when.

It’s something we all should do for our campaigns. As for myself, I’m trying to do something similar by simply writing up two dozen magic users and elves for my campaign setting, including their spells, for all to use: Spellcasters. It’s based on what I can remember of the spells I like, and it’s new stuff that fits the Vancian magic system as used in classic D&D. I’m excited!


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2019-01-04 Treasure on the Map

I’ve added the new treasure types to Hex Describe. This is basically my test for the real world. When I read the generated mini-campaign setting, do I like what I see? Boring magic items? Stupid lairs? Details I should add? And then I just keep working on the thing that bothers me.

More monster stats and treasure types from my Referee Guide, magic items, treasure maps... and I still want to add so much!

Wouldn’t it be cool to add maps from my Megadungeon Generator? Maybe add styles? Eleven towers, dwarves forges, abandoned mines... and stock them! Hah, it would never end. But perhaps ideas which the referee then expands upon. Just enough to kick myself out of the same old head space. Otherwise all my towers look the same, all my characters behave the same...

Things I’d like to improve:

  • magic users should get appropriate magic weapons and armour; right now they don’t and I don’t know whether I like it (they gift it to a retainer for services promised, obviously) or not (there should be two different selections for magic users and others)
  • I’d love to see the spell books for the magic users and elves, but before doing that, perhaps I should simply finish the Book of Spellcasters I’ve been working on

Tags: Hex Describe

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2018-12-28 Treasure Type

I’ve been adding more treasure to Hex Describe and once again I’m thinking about adding treasure types. Remember those cryptic treasure types in the D&D monster manuals? A lot has been written about them and what they might mean. Perhaps it’s time to start my own categorisation of treasure. I’ve been thinking about adding the following chapter to Halberds and Helmets. It lists the various treasure types, provides a very short summary of what it stands for and what it might likely contain, and most importantly, it lists which entries in my monster chapter are part of it.

What I’m still lacking:

  1. the exact compositions of these hoards (stuff like “Older chimeras often have amassed quite some wealth, for they they do not only prey on those who wish to enter but also on those who wish to leave the netherworld. 50% for 1d8×1000 sp, 50% for 1d8×1000 gp, 20% for 1d6×100 pp, 30% for 3d6 gems, 20% for 1d6 jewelry, 20% for a magic item.)
  2. example hoards (but these should be easy to add, now)
  3. average values of these hoards

What I’m noticing is that I’m assigning treasure types without considering the danger these creatures post. I’m hoping that the special abilities they have, or their numbers, make all of this “reasonable” and that none of these turn out to be “easy picking.”


Remember, “Treasure is Experience.” When a big chunk of XP is provided via treasure, fighting turns into a strategic decision: when is it worth to risk a fight? And it makes alternative approaches more rewarding: tricking a dragon makes more sense than fighting it.

Providing enough treasure is important for the party to gain levels. How quickly should the party gain levels? It’s hard to provide good numbers. If your players are frustrated, you might need to add more treasure. I like to run a campaign for fifty sessions or more. Assuming the campaign ends with characters on level ten, that means it took them about five sessions per level. Instead of handing out more treasure than provided for in these tables, consider providing more treasure in a different form:

  1. stealing a ship that is worth 50,000gp would provide as much XP when it is lost (given away, sunk, stolen)
  2. conquering a well maintained keep worth 75,000gp would provide as much XP when it is lost (given away, lost in a siege)

This sort of treasure isn’t listed in the treasure tables below!

If treasure isn’t parceled out in small chunks and isn’t gained in regular intervals, but found rarely and in big chunks, then it works a bit like a slot machine: the reward is rare and hard to predict and thus players might feel a strong urge to be there for every session, and such large hoards become part of the oral tradition of the campaign as players keep talking about it.

(When such design patterns are abused, they are addictive. Signs of addiction are the inability to stop even though you want to, abandoning friends and family, the inability to maintain normal social ties. All of this isn’t true when you’re simply playing in a regular role-playing group so I wouldn’t worry about it.)

This is why treasure is defined in terms of probabilities: you roll for it. Players might get a lot of treasure, but they might also get nothing at all. Beating a dragon is not a guarantee of a rich reward. Players need to determine whether the particular dragon they are targeting does in fact have a big hoard. If it doesn’t, I hope the players are at least doing it for the right reasons and not for material gain and personal advancement. This encourages players to look gather information and to scout, both of which make the game more interesting and the decision to risk a fight a strategic one.

The following monsters have unique treasures:

Dragons: They actively seek out treasure, destroying settlements of others and looting them. And their servants bring them gifts. They have everything.

Dwarves: They actively seek out treasure, digging deep and plundering as they go. They also have everything.

Golem: Within their bodies, gems can be found.

Pixies: They have but a tiny pot of gold.

Unicorn: It’s horn and it’s hair is valuable.

All the other monsters are assigned a treasure type.

Treasure Types

None: Some creatures don’t have a fixed lair and don’t collect shiny baubles (bear, giant bee, giant beetle, boar, giant cat, giant centipede, giant crab, crocodile, elephant, giant fish, giant goat, hell hound, horse, ifrit, jinni, invisible stalker, jinni, giant lizard, marid, pegasus, giant scorpion, sea serpent, shark, skeleton, giant snake, giant squid, giant toad, giant weasel, wolf, giant worm, zombie). They have no treasure.

Poor: Intelligent creatures that live in ruins, finding the things others have left behind (giant apes, doppelgänger, frogling, gargoyle, goblin, gnoll, kappa, lycanthrope, myconid, nixie, giant spider, treant). These have very little treasure.

Baubles: Creatures that collect only gems (gnome, swamp crane).

Humanoids: Creatures that live in settlements (halfling, human, lizard people). These have a lot of silver and gold coins and a lot of magic items, but few platinum coins, gems and jewelry.

Rich: Creatures that get presents from others (centaurs, giants, rakshasa, vampire). They have a lot of coin but also gems, jewelry and magic items.

Ancients: Creatures that live underground, plundering the riches of ancient empires, or remnants of ancient empires (elf, spectre). These have magic items and platinum coins.

Robbers: Creatures that rob merchants and travellers (ettin, hobgoblin, manticore, minotaur, ogre, orc, troll). They tend to have a lot of silver and gold coins, and some gems, but few magic items and no platinum coins.

Scouts: Creatures travelling in small groups, perhaps in the service of others (bugbear, tengu). These may have some magic items and some platinum coins, but very little else.

Terrors: Creatures with magical powers cursing the land (basilisk, chimera, gorgon, harpy, hydra, medusa, naga, salamander, shadow). These treasures have a lot of magic items because of all the failed heroes that tried to kill them.

The Dead: The graves yield what people bury with their dead, mostly coins and jewelry (creeper, ghouls, mummy, wight, wraith).

Continued: 2019-01-01 Treasure Type Again.


Comments on 2018-12-28 Treasure Type

I tried to add this chapter to the book, and move the treasure specification from the dragon treasure there. But as a user of the book, that seems to lead to more leafing around. Better to keep things as they are. I can still use treasure types in the background, and I can still use this text. But I don’t want to tell the referee who just read up on elves that they can roll up their treasure by turning to “Treasure of the Ancients” table.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-12-29 21:39 UTC

And I half remembered seeing an analysis of the AD&D treasure types before and now I found it again: Rob Conley had it on his blog in 2012. Part 1 and Part 2.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-12-30 10:00 UTC

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2018-06-09 New URLs

I have a new laptop. Time to see what I need to install in order to generate those PDFs.

  • texlive – we need LaTeX
  • texlive-pictures – for tufte-book.cls
  • texlive-latex-extra – for xifthen.sty
  • texlive-lang-german – for the ngerman option
  • texlive-science – for siunitx.sty

I’ve split the Halberds & Helmets repository into three different repositories. All of them are self-hosted, now:

The old GitHub repository will remain, but I guess I won’t be updating it any more.


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2018-01-14 Counterspells

Declaring the intent to counterspell or delaying actions makes me uneasy: another round lost, more time lost at the table. I think for spell duels what we need is a kind of bullet time where all the spells go off at the same time, all of them cancelling each other as far as possible.

Thus, the basic rule is this: if you haven’t acted this round and a spell it being cast at you, you can use your action to react with any spell in your repertoire, aiming to counterspell. The side with initiative declares first.

Consequently, if you have already cast a spell this round and none of your opponents decided to counterspell, then they cannot cast a spell at you this round because your spells would have cancelled as far as possible. If you didn’t cast a spell, or if they are attacking you with other means, no problem.

Effectively, all the spell casting happens in the same moment.


When somebody casts magic missile at you and you haven’t acted yet, cast shield to defend yourself. This is a perfect counterspell.

When somebody casts fireball at you and you haven’t acted yet, cast lightning bolt to defend yourself. Both sides roll damage and only the difference gets applied to the loser. This works even when there are multiple people attacking each other. The winner gets to decide how effects are distributed amongst multiple losers.

In this case we’re assuming that all damage dealing spells are somewhat alike. Over time you’ll build a collection of rulings as to which effects can cancel each other like that.

Whenever spell effects cannot be compared directly, the simplest solution would be to have both sides roll their saving throws, if any. When both make their saves, nothing happens. When only one side fails their save, they are affected by the other’s spell. If both sides fail their saving throws, the spell of the higher circle wins: hold person (2nd circle) beats charm person (1st circle) if both sides fail their saving throws.

Similarly, if one side casts hold person and the other side casts fireball, both need to roll a save — one to avoid being held, the other for half damage. If both casters fail their saves, fireball (3rd circle) beats hold person (2nd circle).

And finally, if one side casts sleep and their victim can be affected, the other side is simply considered to have already failed their save.

This also means that it can be disadvantageous to attack with weaker spells because the counterspell might simply cancel whatever you threw at your opponent and thus you effectively gave away the initiative.


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2017-12-14 Casters

OK, I have a new project! Remember how I wrote and illustrated the monster section for my Halberds & Helmets Ref Guide? Well, I decided I also needed a list of spell casters including their spell books in order to provide for an interesting selection of magic user and elf mentors, patrons, matrons, quest givers and foes. So here we are!

My challenge: to write up the spell books of two dozen casters, all with more or less unique spells. My “D&D as oral tradition” challenge is to simply not look up any spells and see what feels right. Remember the blog post about Rulings?

“If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.”

I think this might also apply to spells. I’m going to refer to the spells I wrote for my monsters, though. I really want to make this more cohesive. Casters learned their spells from these monsters!

Hopefully the spells and these monster references will help me describe the casters in a way that already suggests what their towers look like. A paragraph or two about their lair would be great. Belchion has already provided me with a magic item for most of them. This is going well.

You can find the casters I have on the Spellcasters page of the Halberds & Helmets wiki. I created all the pages with faces from my face generator but only the casters from Agrimach to Gerdana have spells right now.


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2017-09-05 Monster Manual Finished

I can’t believe it. I feel like singing it from mountain tops. My project is done!

  • Halberds & Helmets Ref Guide, where monsters are a large part of the book
  • they are also on a wiki, but I didn’t always update the wiki pages once I had entries in the Ref Guide
  • discussions on Google+, which are great for all the ideas that didn’t make it into the book

A year ago I started with an annotated monster list, based on the Labyrinth Lord monster list. I basically wanted to highlight the monsters I like to use. I was encouraged by the long comment Brian left on that blog post. Thanks!

At the same time, I had bought an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil and I was enjoying the Zen Brush 2 app, and I needed a project that would keep me drawing stuff, for practice. And I drew a lot of monsters. Check out the monster gallery. The humans, dwarves, elves and halflings are from my face generator. The rest was all drawn on the iPad.

The year before, James V West had posted the BX 64 challenge on Google+: “to create a 64 page saddle stitched book that fits with BX. A setting, for example.” I had plans for a setting. I wanted to write about the Planescape/Spelljammer campaign I had been running for a while. I started posting in the B/X Campaign Challenge Google+ Community. But the campaign changed. It was hard to remove the proprietary bits from the campaign setting and just leave the original stuff. I just felt tired whenever I thought of it.

But when I took the Swiss Referee Style Manual, added a bit about mass combat, added a bit about the cosmology I am using, and all the monsters, with their illustrations, I had something going. And as I posted about the monsters I was drawing on Google+ and had interesting discussions with other people, I was back in the groove. Thank you all.

The one person I remember most fondly for his long comments and insightful responses was Ian Borchardt. He is definitely not one for the TL;DR crowd. Thanks, Ian! Your replies kept me going!

And then there was Jennifer Hartogensis who I think I first saw in the King Arthur Pendragon Google+ Community with her Dutch session reports. Some of her comments will be hard to forget. Centaurs, unicorn names, with a sentence or two she always put the finger right where it hurt. I laughed!

I also want to thank those faithful followers of my Drawing Google+ Collection where they +1’d my sketches and pictures, encouraging me to keep at it, Christian Sturke, Tina Trillitzsch, Jensan Thuresson, Harald Wagener, Steve Sigety.

And there are more. The right comment at the right time by Aaron McLin. I just can’t remember you all. Thank you all, for keeping me going.

I know how hard it is to stay motivated because of the Free Software I write. I usually write it for myself, but when a random stranger sends me an email telling me they are using it, I love it. And I loved every single encouraging remark, every little +1, every discussion and every new angle.

So, what's next? I don’t feel like planning for a next project. As far as I am concerned, nothing comes next. Just play more games, run more games, and if new stuff comes up, maybe put it in a new document, who knows.

I sometimes feel like going back and fixing some of the drawings I no longer like. I think I got better over time, so I’m hoping that I might redo some things. I also know how these images look on the PDF pages, now. It just doesn’t look very good if the waves of the sea serpent are cut off, or the manticore wings, or if the shark background or the spectre background is totally black. I feel like these things need fixing.

I also started using these monsters in my games and sometimes I think they need fixing. The ghouls in my games didn’t run like I felt they should. Their aura of fear never gets used. Their paralysis is still coupled to the third attack. Something is wrong. But what is it? Some of these monsters need more playtesting, I guess. One would think that the established monsters need practically no playtesting, but I guess if you want to make them better, then you better playtest them all.

Perhaps I should go through the list of treasures again and add treasure types? I think at the beginning I was thinking more about the changes I wanted to see. Only ancient civilisations would have electrum or platinum pieces. Stuff like that. But towards the end of the book, I practically stuck to the Labyrinth Lord book. I’d like to have treasure types, with a treasure justification: “this is the hoard of a creature that attacks towns, or of creature that trades with towns”, “this is the hoard of a creature that kills lone adventurers and grave robbers”, “this is the hoard you’d find in a mausoleum”.

Oh, and I think I’d also like to write new lists of magic items.

I also worry about the file size. 50MB, really?



Comments on 2017-09-05 Monster Manual Finished

WOW! What a creative endeavor you’ve undertaken. I just downloaded it and was scrolling thru the Monsters section. I must say that the B&W line/brush art style is wonderful. It gives the art a simple elegance. I’ll be reading up on this RPG over the weekend. THANK YOU for making this.

marshomeworld 2017-09-06 03:22 UTC


– Alex 2017-09-06 05:19 UTC

I’m also looking forward to this monster manual by Sean McCoy.

– Alex 2017-09-08 09:54 UTC


– Chris 2017-09-21 18:27 UTC

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2016-08-10 Swiss Referee Style Guide Integrated into Halberds and Helmets

I integrated my referee tips from the Swiss Referee Style Guide into my campaign rules document.

On Google+, Aaron McLin commented on my opening paragraph:

“This is not a Monty Haul campaign and not a stupid dungeon crawl.”

I always find statements critical of other games and play styles to be an immediate turn-off. Who has ever described their rewards as overly generous or a dungeon crawl they have created as “stupid?” While they don’t work for me, personally, a lot of people enjoy dungeon crawling, and sometimes, being all about the new cool gear is fun for people.

The statement strikes me as a cheap shot (and something of a straw man) designed to establish some “I’m smarter than some other gamers, so my game is better,” cred. But (and I feel that I’ve said this a million times) I’ve never met a salesperson who has sought to undermine their customer’s feelings of thoughtfulness and intelligence by attacking choices they may have made earlier - in other words, when you go to a Ford dealership, they don’t open by going on about how crappy Volkswagens are - after all, they might not know what you drove to the lot.

My reply at the time:

It seems to me that the statement made it really easy for you to know that you don’t want to play at my table. Works for me.

On a more self-critical note, I guess that in general, I’d agree with you. Putting other play style downs is lame. But here’s why I started out with those statements and links: when I tell some gamers that I’m using a version of D&D from the eighties, I have to also tell them that I’m not running the kind of game they are thinking of when they hear it. So I need a short hand for “no, not that kind of game”. After all, this is not a generic rule set, this is the document we use at my table, so I want to use the first page to tell potential players: this is what I like, this is what it is going to be about. It will not be about prestige classes, cool new gear or killing gods. Some people might enjoy that, but that’s not what they’ll find in my game. That’s why I feel justified in starting out with a value judgment. It also tells the reader: if you don’t share these values, you should read something else.

I’m still wondering about the choice of words. I have played and run sessions where the game is about moving from room to room, opening doors, finding traps and fighting monsters, but all activities happen on the simplest level where practically no thought is required.

Moving from room to room has a clear procedure:

  1. write down walking order on a piece of paper
  2. thief is checking for traps (rolls dice)

Opening doors has a clear procedure:

  1. thief listens carefully (rolls dice)
  2. thief checks whether it is locked
  3. thief opens the lock if necessary (rolls dice)
  4. alternatively, the fighter kicks in the door (rolls dice)

Finding traps is also a thoughtless process:

  1. thief checks chest for traps (rolls dice)

Fighting monsters is also thoughtless:

  1. roll for initiative (roll dice)
  2. roll attack (roll dice)
  3. roll damage (roll dice)
  4. say your armor class when targeted
  5. reduce hit-points when hit

The thoughtlessness is there because at one point we determined this to be our optimal procedure and we didn’t want to keep restating it, and there was no reason to change it. There were no trade-offs to make, no decisions to make, only the motions to go through. Thus, while I wouldn’t have called it “stupid” at the time, that’s how I see it now.

I hope that I managed to turn the game around whenever I realized that we were descending into this routine. What I’m trying to tell new players at my table is that this is not how I want to play, except I want to use a few words as possible.

Is “stupid” the right word?

Update: After some discussion on Google+ changed the intro page. Aaron McLin is right! :)


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2016-01-29 No Clerics

I’ve had this discussion in German already (Keine Kleriker) and I’m thinking of sticking to it.

  1. no clerics in my setting
  2. every faith can have priests with an appropriate spell repertoire and they’ll be magic users for all intents and purposes
  3. if you really want to cast spells like a pro and fight like a pro, you can be an elf

This necessitates an appropriate repertoire for the relevant priests in my campaign. Luckily, only two gods have made an appearance until now: Freya and Marduk.

I already have a spell book notation that I usually follow, so making the two lists should be easy. Once that’s done, I can type them up using LaTeX and add them to my house rules document, Halberds and Helmets.

As for the campaign currently in progress, I don’t mind letting players continue to play their characters using the old rules. All the new player characters will be converted, however.

At the same time, fighters dedicating themselves to a god can be sworn paladins and they may get a small number of enumerated powers. If you’re a paladin of Freya, for example, you’ll get a wolf that turns into an ice wolf until it’s as big as a pony. Each increase is related to how many “Freya points” you accumulated.

Priest of Freya

In my other campaign we’ve had a Freya cleric for a very long time so these spells were easy to pick.

Spell Level Caster Level Spell Name Traditional Name
1 1 Watchful Eye of the Peace Keeper detect evil
1 2 Scent of Sorcery detect magic
1 7 Weather the Storm resist cold
2 3 Language of Animals speak with animal
2 4 Sound of Silence silence 15’ radius
2 8 Paralysis of Men hold person
3 5 Light of the Moon continual light
3 6 Weapon of the Gods striking
3 9 Wolf Shape limited polymorph self
4 7 Honey of the Valkyries neutralize poison
4 8 Wall of Ice wall of ice
4 10 Curse of the Völva curse and remove curse
5 9 The Path to Sessrúmnir raise dead and ray of death
5 10 Freya’s Quest quest

Priest of Marduk

And this is work in progress with Marduk only recently making an appearance...

Spell Level Caster Level Spell Name Traditional Name
1 1 Bolt of Power magic missile
1 2 Protection from Harm shield
1 7 Voice of the Ruler charm person
2 3 Club of Law limited striking
2 4 Courage of Marduk bless
2 8 Eyes of the Overlord detect invisible
3 5 Bolt of Lightning lightning bolt
3 6 Protection from Hail protection from normal missiles
3 9 Wings of God fly
4 7 Chariot of Fire new
4 8 Voice of the Master charm monster
4 10 Wall of Fire wall of fire
5 9 Eyes of Truth true seeing
5 10 Melting Walls transmute rock to mud

Paladin of Freya

Anybody swearing eternal fealty can be a paladin.

The goddess of winter, of spring, of fertility, of grain, of war, of cats, of magic… She leads the Valkyries and collects half the slain in battle. These dine with her in Sessrúmnir.

Defeating stronger, human opponents in single combat after a challenge to a duel in her name pleases her, as this dedicates those brave souls to her hall. Keep track of the number of people you thus slew in battle. This is your Freya score!

(We’re assuming that player characters are not too interested in bearing children and bringing in the harvest. Those activities would also increase your Freya score, of course.)

Score Way of the Wolf
2 Adopt a wolf and it’ll turn into a loyal companion. No training required.
4 Share beneficial spells with your wolf.
6 Your wolf is blessed by Freya and turns into a winter wolf: HD 3+1 AC 4 bite 1d10 (1–4/6) or breath of ice 2d6 for 5m (5–6/6) F4 MV 15
7 The winter wolf grows larger: HD 4+1 AC 4 bite 1d10 (1–4/6) or breath of ice 2d6 for 5m (5–6/6) F5 MV 15
8 The winter wolf reaches the size of a pony: HD 5+1 AC 4 bite 1d10 (1–4/6) or breath of ice 2d6 for 5m (5–6/6) F6 MV 15

Winter wolves are immune to cold. Magical cold only deals half damage. Magical fire deals +1 per damage die.

Paladin of Marduk

Anybody swearing eternal fealty can be a paladin.

Marduk is the patron of war chariots, of war lords, of might, of lightning, of punitive justice, of commandments and stone tablets. Marduk is popular in big cities and the dwarves love him as well.

Marduk enjoys smashing things with his giant club, throwing lightning bolts, and the slaying of monsters and demons. Keep track of the number of stronger monsters and demons you slew in single combat. This is your Marduk score!

If you’re a favorite of Marduk, you can rise in power!

Score Way of the Slayer
3 When bellowing commands, you can increase morale of mercenaries by +1
4 Lead a company of men (at least a hundred) into battle and fight in the first rank to become a champion of war – your enemies will die when you bring them to 5hp or lower
5 The morale of troops in your immediate surroundings are increased by +1
6 Kill a devil of the fifth rank and become a devil slayer – devils and demons with HD 10 or less will recognize the invisible mark on your forehead and prefer to negotiate instead of fight no matter their numerical superiority
7 Cut down a hundred men in battle using the scythes of your war chariot and become a reaper of blood – when you ride on your chariot, the armies of your enemies will part and you’ll be able to strike deep into the heart of you opponent

But why!?

Here’s the gist of it:

  1. I’ve never read any Fantasy books that had clerics in them.
  2. Having healing magic available during combat makes combat last longer without improving the game in any other aspect.
  3. Having healing magic available between combat devalues hit points as a resource to be managed.
  4. Having healing magic available between sessions reduces the need for longer recovery periods. (I’m actually not sure whether that’s required or not. I’ve been running a game of “the time between sessions is more or less one week in-game” and it worked just fine.)
  5. Turning undead makes undead a special challenge like traps being a special challenge for thieves. A separate mini-game that is boring for everybody else. (There have been interesting fights of low level parties against hordes of skeletons, but these encounters would have been just as interesting without clerics.)
  6. Having a potential healer in the party puts social pressure on the player to do just that.
  7. I’ve had a few players that had a hard time picking spells for clerics – both when they had to memorize them at dawn and when picking them freely from their repertoire in combat when I no longer insisted on memorization. Few spells means less choice means less paralysis.
  8. The spells available to clerics by the book often have a weird biblical backstory to them. I don’t want to be reminded of Moses and Jesus when playing D&D. It’s jarring. Unless you’re playing Unholy Land, I guess.


Comments on 2016-01-29 No Clerics

A very interesting discussion on Google+. I’ll need to summarize some of the points made.

One alternate system: allow PCs to “burn” physical stats (STR, DEX, CON) to heal HP, one hit die per point burned, whenever the PCs are not in an emergency situation. Stats recover one point per day.

This solves #2,3,4. Taking more damage leads to lower stats, a limited resource, which also creates a negative feedback loop resulting in worse performance. The one point per day heal rate leads to slow recovery as desired.

This system also matches the fiction - the points burned represent the lowering physical capability of the players as they take cuts, bruises, flesh wounds, and become generally weary.

Ian Wyckoff 2016-01-29 20:30 UTC

Something to keep in mind if it turns out not to work as intended! Thanks.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-01-29 20:39 UTC

Some of my points from the discussion on G+:

I suspect that game play will change a bit. Certainly adventures will be a bit shorter because of less healing. I don’t think I’ll need to do a lot of active changes myself since I run a sandbox so effectively players get to choose the kinds of risks they’re willing to take. There is no Challenge Rating (CR) system like there was in D&D 3.5.

When I was a player in parties without a cleric, the added tension made the game more interesting for me. It’s probably a problem if you play adventure paths or longer adventures, design encounters based on some assumed baseline (challenge ratings and all that), and keep the adventuring party small (retainers, hirelings, mercenaries – all ways to mitigate the lack of healing). So, I’m excited, I’m curious, and I hope my players won’t mind. If it turns out that it doesn’t work, no problem, we’ll add clerics back in. But I want to try without, for now.

One of the reasons I wanted to get rid of healing is because I felt it just prolonged fights and I don’t really enjoy the fighting aspect of the game. I like the strategy of when to fight, who to fight, how to fight, and then I want the fight to be short – in a different discussion a while ago I said my preferred fight was two rounds.

Healing outside of combat would not prolong fights, it would allow players to make longer expeditions into dangerous areas because they could handle more fights before having to retreat. Perhaps I’m not noticing any pressure in this respect because my actual gaming sessions are so short. We play on workdays for three hours, eg. 19:00 to 22:00 or 20:00 to 23:00. And since my group consists of a large pool of players and not all of them are regulars, I often push for “you all need to return to safety at the end of the session.” The length of the expedition is not limited by party hit point totals but by session length. Healing in combat would simply allow them to fight more dangerous foes that they need to avoid at the moment (i.e. longer fights), and healing between combats would allow them to continue for longer but they can’t because the session is over.

Tsojcanth also posted about Classic Greece and the D&D Cleric Problem. There, they suggest to replace turn undead with other abilities. Harald then suggested I could simply replace healing spells with other spells. And that, to me, is where I’m going with this. Just turn them into magic users.

Norbert suggested the use of Wonder & Wickedness by Brendan S. The reason I never checked out W&W was that I didn’t feel unhappy with magic-users and traditional Vancian magic, and I like some spells only being available at a higher level. It’s part of D&D’s promise of changing gameplay over time and thus a significant element of long running campaigns.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-01-30 11:13 UTC

Courtney offers a longer discussion on his blog. He links to a blog post by Delta where he notes that “it is the cleric class which makes the least overall sense in the context of pulp fantasy [...] the armored, adventuring, miraculous man-of-Catholic-faith is simply not a type you see very much in the roots of the genre, if at all.”

– Alex Schroeder 2016-02-01 14:30 UTC

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Halberds and Helmets replaced the old Pathfinder House Rules.

– AlexSchroeder 2017-03-12 10:40 UTC

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