Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Sage's Curse

Sages have played a big role in the Dwimmermount campaign, since the PCs are always consulting them to find out obscure bits of knowledge to aid them in their explorations. For the most part, I've just been winging these consultations, since the LBBs have little to say on the subject of sages. Recently, though, I was reminded that Supplement II includes a couple of pages of guidelines for using sages in OD&D and I took a look at them to see if I could glean anything useful. As it turns out, the rules in Blackmoor are basically a more primitive version of the sage rules that later appear in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide and, while potentially useful, don't really add enough that I feel compelled to use them as written.

There is, however, a weird little rule in Supplement II that I don't recall ever seeing in AD&D (Maybe it is in there, but, if it is, my quick scan of the DMG just now didn't turn it up, though I'm sure someone will be quick to correct me if I'm mistaken). The rule states:
Anyone who attacks or kills a sage is automatically changed to Chaotic alignment unless the sage himself was Chaotic. Sages are able to cast curses when close to death or dying because of assault or mayhem or murder. The power of the curse depends upon the knowledgability of the Sage. A very low-level one might curse a person so that all of his teeth fell out, while a very high-level one could curse you so as to never be able to make a saving throw again! A normal curse removal would not work to remove a sage's curse, but some form of Cleric-assigned quest might.
It's a very fascinating rule and it implies a lot of things about the setting of any campaign that adopts it. I'm not certain that I'd ever adopt it myself, particularly since the PCs in Dwimmermount aren't the types who are likely to start killing sages, but it's intriguing nonetheless. I have to wonder about the genesis of this rule and why it came about.

13 comments:

  1. That explicitly suggests that Sages are more than simply some learned academic. More like the wise men from movies and literature, mysterious, elusive and enigmatic. Rather than going to your local library and consulting the librarian, you are travelling to some ruined tower that magically transforms itself into the same tower, aeons in the past, complete with cowled and inscrutible wise man.

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  2. What a weird rule! It has almost a Lovecraftian feel to me, that sages know forbidden things that they would never use themselves, except in extremis.

    On a more prosaic note, I, like you, wonder how this ever came about. Was TSR getting reports of "kill everything and take its stuff" campaigns?

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  3. I love the brutal 'never make another saving throw' curse. An excellent punishment for a player who has really stepped in it, while at the same time it presents a kind of epic challenge that I think some players (like me) would relish.

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  4. I think this rule is less about the implied setting, and more about the assumed playstyle back in the day. In the Blackmoor rules, sages are not mysterious figures living off in ruined towers somewhere. They are presented as a piece of equipment you buy for your castle. The organization you buy them from, the sages guild, enforces a strict “no refunds, no exchanges” policy. This way, if you roll low, and get a barely competent sage, you are stuck with him.

    Of course, in a situation like this, clever players will just poison their sage, tell the guild he “mysteriously died” and request a new one. Hence all these rules about alignment changes and curses.

    What really strikes me as weird about Blackmoor is not the sage rules, but the apparent reference to a “philosopher” class in the Ixitxachitl entry. . .

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  5. My DM made Sage a playable subclass of magic-user in his homebrew campaign (with various benefits depending on the fields of study). They have the Death Curse ability, but it's only really usable if you're killed by an unprovoked attack. If you're out adventuring, killing giants, and a giant kills you back, you don't get to do the Curse.

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  6. Reminds me of the Wizard's Death Curse of the Dresden Files.

    Of course it predates Dresden by 25-30 years.

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  7. Or the death curse of the royal family of Amber.

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  8. J.R.: I suspect that is an artifact of a mistakenly capital 'P'. The Ixitxachitl are Chaotic Clerical philosophers.

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  9. Steve Marsh on the "philosopher" class: http://dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=10718&p=928878&#p928878

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  10. J.R. and bombasticus: Yeah, I see that I misread the entry. There it is, the statement that they are "philosophers (or clerics)". I'd still read that as meaning "clerics", but that's an interesting bit of history I'd never known.

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  11. Thanks for the information bombasticus. It looks like a really useful way to build disposable antagonists.

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  12. Incidentally, there's a PC scholar class in Fight On! number 5. I guess they'd be Indiana Jones types.

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  13. I have to wonder about the genesis of this rule and why it came about.

    I think (if we can assume that the rules in Supplement II come from actual play) that it means that some player in the original campaigns were an annoying twit who angered his DM one time too many. :)

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