Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blue Book, Cover to Cover (Part VIII)

Clerical magic, in contrast to that of magic-users, is noted for being "divinely given," thereby freeing the cleric from having to study to learn them. This would seem to be a reference to the Chance to Know table based on Intelligence rather than an account of how spells are memorized by clerics. There's in fact no explanation given for how long one must rest, if at all, after exhausting one's daily complement of clerical spells, so one must assume that it's similar to that of magic-users.

Holmes details eight first and eight second level spells, although, as he notes "Second level spells are not available to clerics of below fourth level, and are included for use with non-player characters and scrolls." This is in contrast to the 3rd-level MU spells, which he lists only by name but provides no descriptions for.

Of the 1st-level spells, two are new: remove fear and resist cold. Cure light wounds follows OD&D but with the added detail that "the cleric must touch the wounded person to heal him." Detect evil and detect magic are identical to their MU counterparts, as are light, protection from evil, and purify food and water. Remove fear is an interesting spell, because, despite its name, it does not remove fear but instead grants a bonus to a saving throw against fear equal to the level of the cleric. Someone who is already failed a save and become afraid when remove fear is cast upon him gains a second saving throw at the appropriate bonus. Resist cold, meanwhile, gives both a flat bonus to saves versus cold and a reduction of -1 per die of cold damage dealt.

Of the 2nd-level spells, two are new here as well: know alignment and resist fire. Bless follows OD&D, right down to the bonus to morale, a concept Holmes treats only obliquely in his rulebook. Find traps and hold person likewise follow the LBBs. Know alignment is, as noted, new and it's, in my opinion, a terrible spell that runs counter to the treatment of alignment in both OD&D and in Holmes. The spell doesn't merely let the caster know the target's alignment (i.e. Lawful Good, Chaotic Evil, etc.), but also "how lawful or chaotic, good or evil, a creature is." It's silly and problematic on many levels and I think D&D was better as a game without it.

Resist fire
functions nearly identically to resist cold, except that it states it allows the target to "resist normal fire for a maximum of 2 melee rounds," while resist cold allows one to resist freezing temperatures "while the effects of the spell last," which is 6 turns. Granted, there's a common sense difference between mere freezing temperatures and fire but, still, I find it noteworthy that resist fire is a better spell. Of course, it's also 2nd-level, so perhaps that explains it.

Silence, 15' Radius functions as in Supplement, but includes a note that conversation is impossible while under its effects. No mention is made of its effect on spellcasting, although there's good reason to assume, based on other passages, that it would negate it as well. Both snake charm and speak with animals follow OD&D.

Holmes continues the tradition of giving evil clerics (no longer called "anti-clerics") reversed versions of several spells. The implication of the text -- "Evil clerics have basically the same spells as do good clerics. However, spells in italics are reversed for evil clerics." -- is that evil clerics cannot cast, for example, cure light wounds at all, being limited to cause light wounds instead. The list of reversed spells is the same in Holmes as in the LBBs, although the spells are explicitly given names here (Curse as the reverse of bless, for example). What's interesting is that, while there's no reversed version of protection from evil included, there is a detect good. I find this intriguing as detect evil detects only "evil thought or intent," a description that could be viewed in a relative fashion, with "evil" meaning only "antagonistic." That doesn't seem to be the case here, although, honestly, it's hard to tell just what detect good would detect and what use that knowledge would be to an evil cleric. In any case, it's further evidence that, by the time of Holmes at least, alignment had undergone enough permutations of meaning that it was on its way to becoming incoherent, both mechanically and as a game world construction.


  1. I guess 'detect good' will detect benevolent moods, sweet people and caring ideas. If someone is about to help an old lady to cross the street, or to give her his place in the tube, the evil cleric will detect that thought. This is the reverse of the 'detect evil', isn't it?

    and the confirmation word is 'harful'. Hopefully it isn't harmful...

  2. "If someone is about to help an old lady to cross the street, or to give her his place in the tube, the evil cleric will detect that thought."

    Evil priest: "I detect a Boy Scout in the room... there! Get him!!" :)

  3. No, no, I was only doing it so I could steal her pearls, honest! And tell her about all the mean things I do to cats!

  4. Cases like this help explain why Dr. Holmes, in Dragon #52, wrote that he didn't care for the introduction of good and evil in alignment, why he approved of Moldvay switching alignment back to law, neutral, chaos as in OD&D.

    Alignment in OD&D, as literally picking sides in a great war, makes perfect wargaming sense and is coherent. Trying to switch it to describing human motivation and ethics moves into very tangled territory, above all because we don't really understand how to describe human motivation and ethics.

    In terms of motivation and ethics, we can still make some sense of law versus chaos - though in real life law more often fights against other ideas of law than against chaos - but good versus evil lacks all coherency, since just about everyone - even psychopaths, bigots, and warmongers all think they are good.

    Dr. Holmes was right. You can't introduce good versus evil unless you're willing to take a stand about what they mean, like Richard Garriott did when he invented his system of virtues for Ultima IV.

    Come to think of it, that would make an interesting alternative to alignment in D&D.


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