Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bruce Galloway's Piety Points System

My earlier post about Holy Lands, the explicitly Christian fantasy rpg, had me thinking more about the 1981 Bruce Galloway game I'd also mentioned there. Though it's generally considered an abomination of a rules set, if one can manage to put that aside along with the ridiculously pretentious name, The Highest Level of All Fantasy Wargaming (here after “HLFW”), does have some interesting game mechanics. One of these involves tracking a character's favor with God or their chosen deity by utilizing “Piety Points” (PPs).

For the player, there is the choice of two pantheons or mythos in Galloway's game – either the Christian, or the Norse. Rough analogies are made between Christian saints and Norse deities for logistical purposes, and I'm sure any pantheon or one of the GM's own design could be used as well.

Beginning with a base score of zero piety points, actions which curry favor with God (or “Good” gods) or with the Devil (or evil gods) will add or subtract piety points respectively. To use an example, murder might greatly subtract from your piety points – if this put you below zero points, you’d have more favor with the devil, or would have fallen from grace. Differing amounts of piety points correspond to Piety Bands (PBs), either negative or positive: 0-9 PP = PB 1, 10-39 PP = PB 2, etc. with the width of each band increasing by 10 PP each time (meaning that the more debased or in a state or grace you are, the harder it is to rise or fall from it).

Which PB the character is in will effect their ability to call upon their deity for magical purposes of divine intervention. HLFW doesn't distinguish classes from one another – characters gain experience in the areas of Combat/Adventuring, Religion, and Magic. All characters track PP, and consequently must consider whether or not their actions might be considered sinful. Even characters who aren't actively seeking favors from their deity should be wary of committing sins that may attract the attention of demons looking to bind or possess them.

It's an interesting approach to the problems alignment can bring up. Tables are provided that list the effects various sins have on PP total. Implementing consequences for immoral/unethical behavior is built right in to the game rules, dovetailing neatly with the actual mechanics of magic in the game but also even potentially effecting the direction of the overall narrative. Imagine having your character compelled to follow through on a demon's twisted plan, having been finally bound to its service because of your foolish carousing and sinful ways!

It might be a fun exercise to see if the system could be adapted for use with the Cleric class in my Labyrinth Lord campaign. Various deities would have different types of tables to consult based on the virtue or sinfulness of one's deeds and the Gods' areas of interest and spheres of influence. Still, I think most players would shun the whole concept. Just look at the recent poll here for why: “Screw Alignment!” wins handily at 32%! The (relatively) innocuous treatment of alignment in 0E/B&X/1st Edition D&D seems already onerous and freedom constricting to many. I've never played 2nd edition, but in light of this I can see why the experience point penalties outlined in that edition's rules for changing alignment might have been met with skepticism.

I’m no fan of alignment in D&D (don’t get me started on alignment languages!) and find the even stricter moral and ethical decision tracking and punishment in HLFW to be just another impediment to actual roleplaying. But who knows? Maybe this kind of mechanic would be helpful in moving the game narrative forward in a more precise and predictable fashion - something I don't want or need but that other DMs might appreciate depending on the type of campaign they’ve devised.


Don Snabulus said...

I had that book a long time ago, but found it not very readable. If I remember right, it was as if it couldn't decide whether to be a work of non-fiction or a game, hovering back and forth between prose about gaming and rules.

With that said, I think the piety point system could be workable in LL or other games system and be more natural than this idea of alignment. I have to be honest, as a DM I ignored alignment most of the time for the purposes of role playing. I would apply it when rules stated for saving throw, etc. but I let the characters play themselves as they wished.

Don Snabulus said...

Ladybug and I were discussing the whole religious aspect of role playing. I was thinking a more historically accurate set of modules revolving around Reformation and the struggles there might be interesting to play and educational for people like me whose religious history training was scant. It would be best written, I think, by someone with no "irons in that fire" so either side could be played by anyone. It would be tough to draw that line for playability considering tensions between Catholic and Protestant continue to this day.

ze bulette said...

It doesn't so much as go back and forth - the first half is sort of a primer on the Dark and Middles Ages of Europe period, the 2nd half is the rules set. The book and rules are rife with problems in any event, which I'm sure is why it never caught on at all even though it had excellent distribution.

I think most of us basically ignore alignment except for in cases of blatant disregard for it or when it's required by rules having to do with spells and so forth. 2E imposes penalties by making it harder to level up in the event of an alignment change. If one wanted to manage alignment and player character choice more, you could easily do so in a less drastic and more positive way by rewarding better role playing (in character, in alignment) with XP bonuses of some type. There's a somewhat related discussion going on at the Save vs. Poison blog today. I agree with Ryan there that the best approach towards this sort of thing is in rewarding, rather than punishing role playing characters with limitations such as those imposed by alignment (or in the case specifically being spoken about there, due to being a cleric and having to follow the code of conduct ordained by one's deity).

ze bulette said...

It would be interesting to play a game like you described. The conflict of religions in campaigns is really underutilized - I can't really remember seeing it when it wasn't a very black and white Lolth vs. St. Cuthbert kind of thing. Hmm, I smell blog post potential.

Zzarchov said...

holy crud. I have never heard of this system before, but I wrote up a priest system (that would plunk into a game like LL) which uses the term Piety Points for a similar purpose. Admitantly I had players foist the term upon me after they watched 'the gamers'.

I wrote about it on June 30th.



ze bulette said...

That is too weird. I wonder if the blogosphere's general memes just filtered down - maybe we've read some of the same forums or other blogs and started thinking along the same lines. Nice to know now about your blog in any event! Cheers.

Age of Fable said...

From memory, weren't you meant to use both the Christian and Norse pantheons? I seem to remember that if a Norse character got into negatives, the Christian devil would take an interest in them, there being no Norse equivalent - then you were supposed to track your actions according to both the Norse and Christian codes.

ze bulette said...

I couldn't remember but was interested in finding out just now - you're right, the Devil might become interested in them. In fact, worship of the Devil by a player whose character worships other dieties in the Norse pantheon is "allowed" since the gods already share worshippers and aren't offended by such things in general, although there is reference to the Norse gods holding grudges because of some slight performed by a PC and this also being interpreted as negative piety points.

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