Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bring Enough for Everyone, Did We?

Of course, the first thing that most role-players think when finding rules for practicing medicine without the use of magic is, "why bother?"  After all, magical spells are much faster and less problematic, yes?  What party doesn't have a regeneration scroll just kicking around?

Well, my parties, for one. Regeneration is a 7th level spell and requires a 16th level cleric to cast.  16th level clerics are ridiculously rare and invariably very busy.  Think of it this way: the pope can easily lay his hand on your shoulder and bless you . . . but given that there are a billion other people who want the same thing, the simple act of receiving a personal blessing is probably not going to happen for you.

In short, even if the party in an everyday munchkinish game has enough of every kind of healing spell available to ensure never having to worry about getting their hands dirty with ~ shudder ~ surgery, most of the other people filling all the towns and rural countryside of the world probably have little choice about it.

But why should that matter?  Why concern ourselves with what the simple people do ~ we're busy adventuring here!  We can't worry about what limbs or diseases the common folk care to die from ~ right?

This thinking expresses a kind of bubble that most campaigns simply ignore, one where the setting is built wholly upon the party's specific needs.  If a member of the party catches a disease, no problem: we have a spell for that.  If a member loses a limb, boom, here's another.  If a member slips and falls among a patch of razor cactus, we have a handy rod of resurrection right here.  The important thing is that we survive, we keep going, we get the adventure done.  Other people don't matter.

Suppose the party, having just come from killing off an otyugh in some slime filled trough five miles into the forest, returns to the nearest village, all safe and sound.  Quite by surprise, by the middle of the first night, half the inn's residents are mysteriously down with some sort of malady.  The party is awoken by the tramping of twenty pairs of feet going up and down the stairs and with doors opening and shutting, because all of these poor souls have the trots.

The next day, finishing their breakfast, the party notices the bartender and the barmaid are clearly pale and in poor shape.  As they collect their horses from the stables, they see signs of a spreading ailment everywhere: there are slop buckets full of vomit and rumours that half the village has been infected.  As the party is saddling their horses, the chief magistrate approaches them, saying, "Within a single night, there are more than a hundred people who have some sort of disease!  You must have brought it with you, you're the only outsiders here!  What are you going to do about it?"

Well?  What are they going to do?  There isn't enough disease-curing and resurrection to go around for everyone, is there?  And since the party are clearly carriers, as they are unaffected themselves, are they really going to go to another place and spread whatever they've got there, too?  If they leave this horror behind, someone is going to have to deal with it.  Sooner or later, someone is going to have to deal with the party, too, before their selfishness kills half the kingdom - just how hard do they think it will be to identify them and follow the trail of disease and death they leave behind them.

But this sort of thing never happens in most campaigns, because DMs don't think of it.  Evil is something that happens to the party, not to the innocents . . . and the party is never at fault, never put in a position where their clumsy indifference to the world where they live eventually turns up some consequence they can't wave away with a single cleric.

I'm steadily coming to the conclusion that "simple rules" work for most campaigns because the adventures ~ and the problems ~ are kept as two-dimensional as possible.  Simplistic adventures don't demand many rules.  On the other hand, complicated situations and catastrophes can't help but challenge the magic parachute most parties depend upon, because usually they involve more than a population of just three to five persons.

Yes, I do know about the ridiculous healing rules that have been included in the Pathfinder system.  They have been explained to me.  Even those, however, falter when dealing with thousands of people suffering from large scale disasters and holocausts.  No party, ever, has enough resources for everyone.

It's a question of how hard do we want to bring this home for them.  It's hard to feel like a hero when we're lambing it out of town to avoid admitting that we'd rather just let people die rather than risk contracting the disease ourselves ~ even as we make excuses for our behaviour.  Excuses, however, are a lot easier than performing ordinary, mundane, non-magical surgery for 42 hours at a stretch because we are able . . . long after the spells have run out.

Just for a little perspective:


Maxwell Joslyn said...

Obviously I agree with you on this point or I wouldn't have a website where I'm doing my own accumulation of detailed rules (often by tweaking and borrowing yours.)

But the problem I find myself running into is this: at this time I would not want to run the kind of disease scenario you give as an example here. Not because I think it's not good D&D -- it is, we don't have to go into that -- but precisely because I don't yet have the rules to support meaningful assessment of disease, injury, and so on. So I feel like although I want to run more complex scenarios, I feel like I can't make it meaningful without least a draft of the relevant rules in place.

Obviously one method is just to be writing all the time. I'm trying! I'm ticking away at my skill rules, at my economy, at my this, at my that. But I can't invent everything all at once and so I feel like the stuff I haven't had inklings about yet is, in a way, "off limits" as part of a scenario.

Do you get what I'm saying? Do you think you can help?


Thinking about this "I don't want to use scenarios until I've got their underlying rules decently worked out" makes me think about using monsters. Maybe the reason writing and rewriting monsters is so popular is because a monster is a kind of contained rules unit all on its own. It can have its own special abilities or unique rules without calling out to other parts of the game documentation. And if it's a draft, hey, it's only one type of monster, I never have to use it again if it pans out badly. Or I can tweak it afterward, since (except in cases like your Identify/Predict XYZ Creature skills) monster rules are usually much less transparent to the players than, say, the rules for "how my Authority medic does amputation." The latter is directly player-usable and feels to me like it has to be gotten closer to Right before I can deploy it, where a monster can exist as more of a draft forever.

Scarbrow said...

Expand, expand, expand the world...

You are always challenging our preconceptions, Alexis. Wish you wrote the book on AD&D (Alexis' Dungeons And Dragons) already, so we could point the infidels and unbelievers at it. The rulebook and ambient book, I mean. The "How to DM" and "How to play" you already wrote.

Jonathon said...

All other considerations aside, I imagine that it would be frankly dangerous to be the cleric with no medical knowledge in such a situation. Let's say you're a mid-level cleric who can definitely save one person from this disease. There are a few hundred people of varying wealth and personal power around you, all of whom want to decide who that one person you spend Cure Disease on is. Even for purely selfish reasons, there's a solid motivation to know how to help people after you've cast your spells for the day.