Thursday, December 30, 2010

Your Own Personal Deity, Part 2.

I’m still trying to work out a methodology for having the PCs’ deities communicate with them in a number of ways. Going back to the subject of dreams (there’s still omens, visions, and voices to consider, among other things), the obvious choices to me so far were:

1. Occasionally announcing that a character remembers their dream. The players will assume that this announcement must have some larger meaning in the game, otherwise why mention it to them? The advantage with this approach is that we don’t spend a lot of time on the mechanics of actually having the dream and simply deal with its consequences in the game. The disadvantages are many though - we implicitly ignore an ongoing creative potential of dreams in the game as as source of confusion, inspiration, and spontaneity. I would think a medieval setting filled with monsters and magic would imply that characters there would be a much more superstitious lot than ourselves. They’d be more attentive to their dreams, particularly if they worshipped a god (or more than one) knowing that their dreams may be windows into other worlds. They’d also be more likely to share their dreams with one another for help in deciphering them.

2. A more methodical approach that involves randomly determining whether a character remembers their dream and/or randomly determining whether the dream really is of any consequence - a message of some kind from the gods. I say “and/or” because allowing for unremarkable (from the DM’s point of view) dreams to be remembered enlarges the role playing possibilities. Key to this is making mention of the characters’ dreams more often so that they’re seen as a regular feature of the game, rather than as a game hook suddenly dropped like a lead weight. Every time they wake up, they roll dice. Even then, a balance would have to be sought of course, so that the players don’t become overly suspicious or paranoid. I can see the fantasy setting deepening with the surrealism that the greater presence of dreams in the game would bring, but I wouldn’t want them to become a primary focus. It might be best to be open about why the players are rolling dice, and that just because they can remember their dream, it doesn’t mean that it’s a sign from their deity. Of course, the whole discussion so far implies that only those that have chosen a god can play this game within a game - not necessarily so. Sometimes gods or demons make the first attempt at communication.

This happened in our S&W game. We play with clerics having no magic at first level - at this stage they’re similar to mystics; spiritual seekers looking for direction. The cleric character named Agnal began to have dreams where he saw a swirling cloud of darkness. At first, he thought that the swirling dark mist of unknowing might be the actual form of a god he should worship. Eventually, he reached second level. His player expressed some interest in the gods of thieves. Later, in a departure from his regular dreams, the small form of Corrno stepped out of the mist, dressed in his ragged clothes but still somehow managing to awe Agnal and make a worshipper of him.

Since I want the abilities of clerics to include a greater likelihood and ability to communicate with the gods, I’m going to factor that into any random dream calculations. I was thinking something along the lines of any character being able to remember their dream by making a saving throw. This way, as they grow in experience they’ll have a better chance. Since the d12 is so neglected, we’ll use it for our dream rolls - if they make their save and remember the dream, on a roll of 1 in 12 the dream has significance and is some kind of a sign from a god. This chance goes up at each level for clerics, ie. 1-2 on d12 at 2nd level, and 1-9 at 9th level. In the case of clerics, any significant dream remembered is specifically from their god. The degree of the dream’s significance and its content will be entirely the DM’s prerogative.

This seemed all well and good until today when I hit upon the idea of the gods communicating via dreams in correlation to the PCs location and not just random chance. What if dreams were treated something like wandering monsters? In a pantheistic culture, gods have areas of interest and influence. Maybe their presence should be felt by PCs more easily in the kinds of places or situations that correspond to these areas. I could ditch my random chance roll in favor of this, or else I could modify the dice rolls when appropriate. Agnal sleeping across the street from a bank might cause him to be more likely to have a dream where Corrno somehow helps to reveal a key’s location - if only he can remember it when he awakens. Or perhaps if Agnal sleeps across from a bank he’s more likely to remember a dream by making his saving throw, but whether or not the dream is relevant will not be affected.

In the example given, I can see how tactics, role playing, and player discussion might be stimulated by the desire to more fully consider a situation where they find themselves. The benefits of worshiping a certain god might come into play and therefore a player’s more serious consideration when choosing one.

Though I’m tempted just to hand wave the whole thing and make rulings on the fly, I think if I can come up with a fairly quick dice rule about it, I’ll be more likely to take the various possibilities into consideration. The end goal will have been served - the players will be taking a greater interest in their gods and their relationships with them.


Trey said...

Great discussion. I like the idea of treating dreams like wandering monsters (with modifiers), though I can definite advantages to letting the dice decide at time and just having the DM decide at times.

Telecanter said...

The sleeping across from the bank idea is interesting: essentially calling a dream is a ritual with a certain chance of success and different requirements for different deities.

I was thinking about this since your last post. There is a kind of tyranny of description, in that what ever DMs say players really pay attention to. So what if we sneak in info when they are expecting detail, like descriptions of treasure found, interactions with npcs, and room descriptions. If a god had as a totem an elk and the party just happens to find gold cups with elk in relief and gold coins with elk and the npc they meet on the road is hunting elk . . .

The players would catch on but it might be more subtle, especially if these details are spread across sessions.

ze bulette said...

@Telecanter: There’s some similarity, but there aren't requirements as with rituals, just positive modifiers if the PC is in surroundings or a situation that corresponds to their gods sphere of interest or influence. Also, dreams happen whether or not they’re desired, and everyone has them, not just clerics - although these have a much greater chance of communicating with their gods. With everyone else, it’s a cable whose origin is less certain. It is a ritual in the sense that you might go to a place with the intention of getting closer to your deity though. If you’ve a goddess of the desert, then she’s less likely to speak to you at sea, or vice versa. It gets more complicated if you have a god of poetry or the like.

Re: “Tyranny of description” - that’s a good phrase for it. There seem to be two ways to deal with the problem. The one way is what you suggest and I’ve proposed here - using more description more often in the hope of camouflaging and making less certain the things we hope to use as game hooks. The interesting thing about that approach is that what we might think is irrelevant, the players might think is anything but - and the game might take an unexpected twist for both sides.

The other way is in acknowledging the obvious (Zak’s proposal for fortune-telling for example) rather than trying to obfuscate it or create doubt about its perception, and dealing with the elephant in the room by mutual agreement. “Look, we all know that there’s an elephant in the room, but if you do this, then I’ll agree to (not) do this, and nobody gets hurt (feels railroaded).”

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Hmm. What would, say, Senahein's areas of influence be? Places near the ocean, as the moon controls tides? What about the Raven Queen? Graveyards and crypts seem appropriate, but fairly useless as far as dreams. Maybe anywhere large groups of people/things, or someone/something important died?

ze bulette said...

I must confess to being unfamiliar with Senahein, though re: the Raven Queen, I don't know that your example would be useless - what about when a party has to sleep underground to rest (perhaps in a crypt or near a graveyard?). Gods with more loosely described interests might be more challenging to deal with though.

My knowledge base is mostly 1st edition AD&D and earlier... When describing a deity's area of interest and influence above, I was probably unconsciously thinking of their "sphere of control" as outlined in the "Clerical Quick Reference Chart" in the back of the AD&D Deities and Demigods book. To answer your question more directly, I'd say that this is something best left to the discretion of the individual DM - after all, one DM may have an entirely different vision of a god's area of influence than another, even regardless of the god's basis in actual mythology.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Well, one of the reasons you may be unfamiliar with Senahein is that the name is actually Sehanine. Anyway, what I was wondering was: What kind of things would The Raven Queen do? The god of thieves provides details on getting into (and out of?) a bank, but what would the goddess of death send in a dream?

ze bulette said...

I think to answer this you'd have to decide how you personally envision her relationship with Death. Is she a gatekeeper, just guiding those who have died into her domain, or is she actively trying to create more death in the universe? Maybe her dreams would act as a guide, attempting to lure unbelievers into mortally dangerous situations, but true believers are guided towards situations where they will be more able and likely to kill (rather than be killed themselves).

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

That is the problem isn't it? Not only does it vary by deity, it varys by player and DM. Still, you've inspired me to try something like this in my game, so that's something. I'll let you know how it works for me, but don't take it hard if it doesn't work well. I've never really DMed before.

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