Friday, December 17, 2010

Random Cliche Sci-fi Races

Inspired by Save vs. Poison, over lunch I coded up a quick cliche science fiction race generator in java. It mixes up a species cliche, throws in a random trait to salt that, and then grabs a couple of human cultures that can be used to fill in the blanks. Here's my best result set so far:

The Amoral Scientist Race
Natural supercomputing mentation

The Surly Technician Race
Technologically advanced in cybernetics

The Religious and Probably Psionic Race
Can't share environment with common species

The Evil Empire Race
Stand-in for topical political group/enemy

The Hedonistic Merchant Race
Basically a historic human culture

The Totalitarian Machine Race
Practically un-kill-able

The Hot Purple Chick Race
Can't use common inter-species mode of communication

The Mean-Muggin' But Scrupulous Warrior Race
Completely humorlous and stoic

Hedonistic & mercantile American/Romans? Purple Asian sex-objects that can't talk back? Un-killable totalitarian machines? Topical evil empire? Surly cybernetic technicians? Amoral supercomputing scientists? How cliche can you get!

Since I don't have a good hosting spot for my rpg coding projects yet, I'll just make this available by request.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Heritage Update

Common Folk (CF): derided as mutts by some, the common bulk of mankind may nonetheless have much to be proud of in their ancestry, as they grow hardy even on famine food and tend to thrive in adversity that weeds out those that think themselves better. Common humans tend to shades of brown in their hair, eyes, and skin, and often live to a ripe old age, many having natural lifespans of 100 years or so.
  • Wisdom Born of Sorrow: the life of the common folk builds faith in themselves and their families, often as they have nothing else to rely on. Increase their Faith  score by 3, raising the modifier by 1.
  • Trade: the common folk must work for a living, and thus have a journeyman’s level of skill from working as a farmer, shepherd, miller, carpenter, blacksmith, mercer, or such like.
Changeling (CH): some human children are thought to be stolen away by the faeries or otherwise touched by them. While most of these children die shortly thereafter, a fair number live to reach adulthood, and of those some live hundreds of years, although even such long-lived examples tend to be somewhat frail and sickly.. Changelings are always marked by a physical oddity, such as an unnatural pallor, odd coloration of the hair, eyes, or blood, or some other strange feature, and have an general feeling of uncanniness about them. Changelings tend to have very short or very long lifespans, some withering away in their fourth decade and some seemingly youthful at 200.
  • Eldritch Lore: changelings learn things without knowing how or why, making them privy to secret lore. Increase their Kenning score by 3, raising the modifier by 1.
  • Night Vision: Changelings have unnaturally acute night vision, seeing about twice as far under dim lighting as a normal human.
Giantkin (GK): in some families, particularly among the northmen, still runs the blood of the ancient giants, and a few of their children are born with a touch of the power and stature of that race. These children grow tall and strong, but such a physique can be a strain on the mortal heart, and very few live past their eightieth winter. Giantkin tend to be fair of eye and hair, and their arterial blood is often an unusually bright red.
  • Titan’s Power: the powerful build of a giantkin gives them physical strength beyond that of lesser men. Increase their Might score by 3, raising the modifier by 1.
  • Strong Back: Giantkin can carry an additional stone of weight with no penalty, easily bearing armor or other burdens that would break lesser men.
Highborn (HB): the old aristocracy of the lost empires in their decadence seeded themselves amongst the common people hither and yon, and many noble families claim descent from them to this day, some with more evidence than others. The recessive traits of the highborn still manifest in inbred noble houses and once in a while suddenly emerge in lowly places, the result of chance dalliance or ancient royal heritage. Most highborn have violet eyes, dark hair, and bluish blood, and they tend to be fairer than most. Pure-blooded highborn may reach old age in good health, but most fail by their eighties.
  • Fated to Lead: the founders of the highborn bargained with eldritch powers to ensure that their progeny would be born to rule other men. Increase their Wyrd score by 3, raising the modifier by 1.
  • Privilege: highborn characters can begin play with an extra 2d6 silver pennies and either a Rank 0 retainer OR an extra equipment choice.
Wanderers (WA): the fall of empires due to war and disaster left many without a land to call home, doomed to wander the world. Refugees and rejects, the traveling people are looked down upon wherever they go. Some say they are cursed and will be punished by the gods if they settle in one place; others simply use this as an excuse to chase them out of town. Still, they scrabble by, plying trades passed down through generations and living by hard-won wisdom.. Wandering folk have coloration similar to Common Men, and their elders generally reach their eighties.
  • Quick-Fingered: despite their reputation few wanderers make their living with quick hands in pockets, but they do tend towards wary reflexes from the harsh life of the road and a familiarity with cast stones. Increase their Nimbleness by 3, raising the modifier by 1.
  • Wandering Ways: wandering folk are travelers all, and tend to pick up a useful journeyman skill for life on the sea or road, such as that of a drover, cartwright, shepherd, musician, jester, carpenter, fisherman or sailor from the time they can walk.
Wildlings (WL): beyond the boroughs and villages secured by Law and arms dwell hermits and freeholders that survive on their wits with only the most tenuous support from the society of their fellow men. Whether religious seekers or the chosen guardians of the borderlands, Wildlings form a people apart. Wildlings tend to the same build and coloration as common men, and might live just as long if not taken by injury.
  • Rugged Constitution: hard living and adversity in the wilderness have made wildlings a tougher breed. Increase their Health score by 3, raising the modifier by 1.
  • Survivor: Wildlings are used to living off of the land and get +1 on foraging results due to their scavenging and hunting experience.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Historical Religious Pluralism

I've been keeping a stray eye out for historical examples of  temples and churches that have altars and chapels to multiple deities, relating to the vulgar monotheistic-polytheistic thematic mish-mash implied by the world's most popular role-playing game. This one on Redwald is particularly interesting, being from England:
EDWIN was so zealous for the worship of truth, that he likewise persuaded Eorpwald, king of the East Saxons, and son of Redwald, to abandon his idolatrous superstitions, and with his whole province to receive the faith and sacraments of Christ. And indeed his father Redwald had long before been admitted to the sacrament of the Christian faith in Kent, but in vain; for on his return home, he was seduced by his wife and certain perverse teachers, and turned back from the sincerity of the faith; and thus his latter state was worse than the former; so that, like the ancient Samaritans, he seemed at the same time to serve Christ and the gods whom he had served before; and in the same temple he had an altar to sacrifice to Christ, and another small one to offer victims to devils; which temple, Aldwulf, king of that same province, who lived in our time testifies had stood until his time, and that he had seen it when he was a boy. The aforesaid King Redwald was noble by birth, though ignoble in his actions, being the son of Tytilus, whose father was Uuffa, from whom the kings of the East Angles are called Uuffings.
The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Book II, Chapter XV

Friday, November 12, 2010


:Al of Beyond the Black Gate has a new post up entitled "Feats" for your old school game, which I fully intend to mine for ideas. It is much in the same vein as my list of "disciplines" for Warriors (my replacement of a Fighting-Man class). Disciplines have two goals for HH
1. Give the players of Fighting-Men interesting choices as they level.
2. Get rid of Thieves and Fighter sub-classes while throwing a bone to players that love them.
A sub-goal of #1 is to motivate exploration and the formation of social ties which may offer expanded access to disciplines for the players of Warriors, just as they can grant access to expanded spell lists for Wizards. #2 fairly flexibly satisfies the need to make different flavors of non-supernatural characters: it's easy to mix the tropes of fighter, ranger and rogue to whatever degree is appropriate to the character concept.

In any case, here's the (newly revised) entry from the Characters chapter:

Disciplines: Warriors , even at first level, are veterans of combat with substantial training or natural ability, and thus at least some skill in a particular martial discipline. The Warrior selects one such discipline at first level and an additional one at every level divisible by three. Disciplines are arranged in broad categories to provide guidance in creating a character with a particular focus or specialization. Certain other advanced or secret disciplines may be available in the campaign, but they are the exclusive domain of particular military orders, secret societies, etc. If you are not sure which discipline you should choose, Champion is suggested.
  • Athlete
    • Pentathlete: gain +1 to checks involving wrestling, running, jumping or throwing
    • Marathoner: can maintain a forced march for a full day with no penalty
    • Freerunner: gain +1 to checks involving tumbling, jumping, and traversing
  • Archer
    • Quick Shot: attack twice per round with missile weapons
    • Longbowman: can effectively use the war longbow, dealing 1d8 damage
    • Skirmisher: can move and make a missile attack in the same round
  • Armsman
    • Champion: attack twice per round with melee weapons
    • Slayer: make one attack hitting all targets within reach of 1 HD or less
    • Soldier: can move and make an attack in the same round without charging
  • Criminal
    • Burglar: gain +1 to checks related to picking pockets, and disabling locks or  traps
    • Assassin: may quietly disable with a garrote, sap, shiv, or sucker punch on surprise
    • Smuggler: gain +1 to checks related to hiding, appraising, and fencing goods
  • Horseman
    • Lancer: use your mount’s Might when making a mounted charge
    • Cavalry: can move and attack in the same round while mounted
    • Horse Archer: can move and fire a bow while riding a galloping mount
  • Ranger
    • Scout: gain +1 to checks related to surprise and perception
    • Hunter: gain +1 to checks related to tracking and hunting
    • Mountaineer: gain +1 to checks related to climbing and may climb sheer surfaces

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Experience & Advancement

Experience Points
So, how does my heartbreaker handle experience points? Here's the basics:

1 XP for every silver penny worth of treasure recovered by or awarded for adventuring
1 XP for every silver penny frittered away on tithes, carousing, ostentation, training, etc.
100 XP per HD of foes slain or otherwise overcome, up to several times that for monsters with especially dangerous special abilities (note that this is a comparatively minor source of XP). 

Given that HH uses the silver penny as the base unit of currency (more on that later), the first and last entries are bog-standard, whereas the second is an extra kicker that has much in common with various rules for drinking and wenching from the hobby's elder days. XP is conventionally awarded when treasure is divided, but that doesn't necessarily grant a new level right away. I don’t mind the double-counting of treasure, that just means its okay to give out less without retarding progress and that players face an interesting choice between getting more XP and making useful purchases for adventuring.

Gaining Rank

First off, characters in HH don't have levels, they have Ranks. Level is a word much over-used in D&D, so in HH it is solely relegated to describing sections of a dungeon. Similarly, spells come in grades of Complexity instead of level.

Anyway, after accumulating the necessary experience points, characters require 1 week of downtime in a relatively safe location in order to progress to the next Rank. At this time the character’s Hit Dice increase, directly improving the character’s fighting ability, hit points, and Saving Throws. All Hit Dice are re-rolled at each level, but hit points never decrease as a result (keep the old value if it is higher). Spell-casting characters also immediately gain the ability to cast more and higher-complexity spells.

Earning Titles

Part of character advancement is the renown and social status that comes with the character’s growing wealth and ability. While class ranks are not a part of the world as recognized by characters in-game, class titles are, and society in general or the character’s superiors will come to give the character new recognition as each new tier of ability is reached or shortly thereafter, often with some ceremony or other official mark, unless the character is unusually unknown or infamous. Titles are specified for Ranks 0, 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12, which are also tied to various class ability graduations.

Training and Education

Characters will have to seek out opportunities for training and research in order to learn new spells and Warrior disciplines, which may be done during the week of downtime needed to level up at the referee’s option. Characters may also attempt to learn new trades, spells, or languages at any time; this simply requires time and the availability of a tutor or other leaning materials. (Note that I use a variant of the rule from Lamentations of the Flame Princess that allows characters to know a language with a die roll, instead of having to pick them from the beginning).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Screw Tradition

The new ability score list:
Might (M): muscle and the ability to apply it. Might primarily relates to hand-to-hand combat, adding its modifier to rolls to-hit, damage, and when attempting feats of strength.
Kenning (K): observation, reason and memory. The Kenning modifier applies to the roll to know languages and to the arts of the Wizard. You play the character’s intelligence and cleverness, whereas Kenning represents their in-game knowledge and senses.
Faith (F): courage, faith, and intuition. The Faith modifier applies to rolls to the arts of the Cleric such as the roll banish horrors. You decide if the character chooses valour or cowardice, generosity or greed, whereas Faith represents their ability to call on supernatural aid in times of need and temptation.
Nimbleness (N): coordination and reflexes. The Nimbleness modifier applies to defense and rolls to perform feats of athletics.
Health (H): general fitness and endurance. The Health modifier applies to hit points per Hit Die and rolls to perform feats of endurance.
Wyrd (W): the brightness of a character’s thread in the tapestry of fate, leadership and force of personality. The Wyrd  modifier applies to reaction rolls to influence NPCs, the number of henchmen or vassals allowed in the character’s retinue, and the loyalty of those under the character’s command. You play the character’s social skills, whereas Wyrd represents intangible fate that binds people together.

Record the appropriate bonus for each ability score:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Units for the D&D Endgame, Part II: Time

Especially at higher levels, player characters sometimes undertake plans of action that take large amounts of time to come to fruition. The basic units of time larger than the days tracked in wilderness exploration are the week, fortnight, month, quarter, and year, none of which is entirely satisfactory, although months seem to be the most salient.

Again, the first place to look is the medieval record. One nice unit of time that pops out is the Knight's Service, usually given as 40 days, but sometimes as 45, which is also the figure usually given for the military service obligation of Anglo-Saxon freemen, and, by extension, probably a reasonable estimate for many other Viking-influenced cultures. The later figure amounts to about a month-and-a-half, six-and-a-half weeks, just over three fortnights, and, most interestingly to me, one-half of a standard season or quarter.

What I find neat about the half-season is that it lines up with the neopagan wheel of the year, which amalgamates several seasonal festivals of paleo-pagan Indo-European cultures, ones that all happen at natural "focusing points" of the year. So, we could break up the year into these half-seasons, each marked by a small festival marking the beginning or middle of a season (the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days) that would very easily fit into most medieval-inspired settings very naturally. Conveniently, a single half-season "turn" would also be the amount of time that a character could draw on resources like the military service of vassals and a reasonable chunk of time to retain mercenaries or specialists. It's probably also a reasonable estimate for a how much corvee-labor a liege can get from their serfs each year.

Unlike turns and days (but something like the watches in my city-exploration draft rules), each particular half-season would have its own character and social rhythm, imposing some limitations on what characters may effectively accomplish in that time. I've listed the half-seasons along with the modern months they would correspond, example festivals, and some notes about the seasonal character:
  1. Early Spring: (February to mid-March) beginning  with the Feast of Lights, the first day of the year and the day on which everyone adds another winter to their age, a time of planting for spring fields and gardens.
  2. Late Spring: (mid-March through April) starting with the Vernal Equinox, when planting is finished and armies begin to gather and march.
  3. Early Summer: (May to mid-June) starting with Bonfire Night, a time favored for courtship and marriage as well as battle.
  4. Late Summer: (mid-June through July) starting at Midsummer on the Estival Solstice, often the hungriest months of the year, prior to the first harvest.
  5. Early Autumn: (August to mid-September) starting with the Feast of Bread to celebrate the first fruits of last year’s winter crops: wheat or rye used to bake bread.
  6. Late Autumn: (mid-September through October) starting with the Harvest Festival on the Autumnal Equinox, celebrating the second harvest of spring crops and the fruits of vine and tree.
  7. Early Winter: (November to mid-December) starting with the Night of the Dead, heralding the death of the year and remembrance of ancestors amid preparations for the dark days of winter, along side the planting of winter wheat and rye.
  8. Late Winter: (mid-December through January) starting with Midwinter or Yule on the Hibernal Solstice, the cold of the year where those that are able take shelter in their homes and see to their care.
In particular, it is difficult to make war during winter or early spring as hands are needed for planting and harvest or armies are mired in snow and muck, and the trading in grain may be difficult as stocks run low in summer. The campaigning season would correspond variously to summer, likely favored by the knightly class, or autumn, for armies that moved by pillage taking advantage of well-stocked granaries and fields full of fruit.

What I like about this scale is that it's a good amount of time to accomplish things like domain management activities such as construction or development, realistic periods of convalescence, whole exploratory or military campaigns, enchantment or spell research, and the like, with a full period of "rest" fitting nicely into the winter phase. It also allows parties to do things like meet "the day after midsummer" and give the players and referee a good idea of what can be accomplished in the downtime allowed, along with what resources are available to domain-owners each year.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Units for the D&D Endgame, Part I: Domains

I've been thinking about sketching out some rules for running a campaign that has reach the natural end-game of D&D. Taking a point from Delta's "Realism in Game Design" and Cariadoc of the Bow's adage that the medievals usually knew what they were doing better than we do, my thoughts naturally turned to researching the the units actually cited in the historical record.

Arable and in England was traditionally divided into units known as hides, each notionally capable of supporting one peasant household. The actual physical size of each hide varied depending on the quality of the land, but it is generally assumed to be about 120 medieval acres, or 30-40 modern ones, pretty close to the American “forty” or ⅟₁₆ section (usually  ⅟₁₆ square mile, depending on whether in was next to a township boundary where the convergence of lines of latitude made a difference). After the conquest, these were generally grouped into knight’s fees, the fief required to support a single knight with his household, horses, and equipment. The amount has been cited variously as between 2 and 27 hides and most typically at 5. We may assume that in practice an “average” manor, like that shown in Shepherd’s Historical Atlas, had about 10 such households, equivalent to an Anglo-Saxon tithing, plus a varying amount of additional forest, wooded parkland, wasteland, water, etc. A “typical” small barony might have the duty of supplying a group of ten knights, known as a constabularia, to the baron’s liege lord, roughly corresponding in size to an Anglo-Saxon hundred (literally, 100 households, grouped for administrative purposes), and thus consist of ten manors averaging out to this size. Baronies around the time of the conquest ranged in duty, from being required to supply about half of a constabularia to several such units. With even a small two-league hex being about 31 square miles, many such baronies could fit within a single hex on most campaign maps.

The knight’s service, the basic unit on which this is founded, involves supplying one man equipped with lance, mail, shield, helm, and warhorse to fight for up to 40 days each year  when called to war (close to the previously mentioned half-season). Usually, this was done by granting a manor (known as a knight’s fee) to a knight in return for such service, along with additional duties guarding his lords castle, etc., but it could also be done by hiring a mercenary free lance (hence, freelancer) on the occasion of service, running about ₤20 in 1200 CE, or more commonly expressed as 30 marks (nota bene: for convenience, the mark used in Heathen's Heartbreaker, for now, is a variant mark of 120d rather than 160d). Later, as the use of mercenaries and the cash economy became more common this money would be paid directly to the king, a tax know as scutage. Beyond such formal vassalage, each freeman (perhaps 10% of the population, more in towns and cities) was required to keep at least a spear, gambeson, and iron cap, and so a manor might expect to bring as many or more footmen to war as it did knights, and each knight was likely to bring a substantial retinue of their own.

Most manors were run on the open field system, in which the manor’s land was divided between planted and fallow land, and the land to be planted was divided into narrow strips, with peasant households assigned to strips scattered about the manor, about ⅔ their own, with the rest going to the manor’s lord (known as his demense, which would also include various parks or waste) and the local church (the glebe). 

The height of agricultural technology of the time was three-field crop rotation system, in which ⅓ of fields were used to grow winter wheat or winter rye, planted in early winter (September to December) and harvested in early autumn (August, hence Bread Feast or Lammas), another ⅓ used for crops planted in early spring and harvested in late autumn, such as oats, barley, peas, legumes, or fiber crops such as flax or hemp, and the last ⅓ was left fallow and often used for pasture (which further restored the land by providing manure). Earlier than the high medieval period a two-field system was in place, but it would likely be less than the naive estimate of two-thirds less productive than the three-field system of crop rotation, by virtue of the more advanced technique growing a more diverse set of crops, some of which had a further positive influence on the condition of the soil. Similarly, the later four-field system, cycling winter-grain, spring-grain, turnips, and clover over four years, is likely more than one-third more productive than the three-field system, as the crop diversity further increases and the fallow period is replaced by one of fodder production, which indirectly increases the production of human food. It would not be unreasonable to estimate a doubling of productivity with each technological advancement (if not more).

Manors of this sort might be thought of as fairly typical, but in practice they varied in almost every possible detail. Other arrangements of similar scale could also fit well into a similar structure, given a varying economy of scale implied by the agricultural technology available.. For instance, an Anglo-Saxon hundred-reeve would have similar judicial and tax duties over the same area and people as such a Baron (in fact, these institutions often existed side-by-side in England), but prior to the conquest would have ruled over free men that owned their lands and was obligated to a lead a larger number of less well-equipped foot soldiers to to fight in the fyrd instead of providing knights. On the other hand, a Roman latifunda might cultivate a similar area, but with the workers being slaves owned outright by a master rather than nominally free serfs, with military service performed by member’s of the owner’s immediate family. A later period knight, whose title was in name only and implied no actual military role, might rule over a larger number of peasants that work the land more productively and simply pay a tax to the king for the support of his armies and clerks.

This leaves lots of significant questions to answer. How much income should a baseline barony provide, in terms of crops, corvee labor, and ready coin? What could a barony's worth of corvee labor be expected to build each year, and how much would it cost to hire more? What could a lord to expect to make from a resource such as a forest of bee-trees, a flock of sheep, a small lead mine, or a toll bridge? One of the most important relates to the length of time to make a "turn" for such high level play; I've got some thoughts on that for another post.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thoughts on Clerics in D&D: Polytheism, Monotheism, and other False Dichotomies

One of the core tensions people seem to find in the D&D oeuvre is that between Clerics as crusader-types straight out of the monotheistic religions of the middle ages and the notion that the world assumes a vague polytheistic mish-mash of beliefs, courtesy of Appendix N. Further, people often express doubt about the likely hood of priests going off on adventures of conquest, pillage, and exploration.

I think these tensions are in fact illusory.

1. Polytheism vs. Monotheism, 
or, A Guide to Recognizing Gods & Saints
Much hay can be made of the cultural and material differences between monotheistic and polytheistic religions/societies (see this post by Alexis on Polytheism), but the reality is that human beings  are too messy to be easily and cleanly fit into such pigeonholes. Or, at least, into what most people seem to think those pigeonholes entail.

This may seem like so much nonsense; after all, clearly a person can’t both believe in only one god and in multiple gods. “A or not-A has to hold, right? Well, of course it does. But that’s not the point on which the argument turns, rather, the essential pivot is: “just what do you mean by god, anyway?”.

There are two ways to think about this (well, actually, there are a lot more ways than that, but I’m gerrymandering for the sake of argument):
  1. A god is any entity with really big medicine.
  2. God is the unique entity that possesses god-making qualities (omnipotence, etc.)
Now, clearly, it’s possible to believe in both a god¹ and a God² at the same time. My contention is that most of the time when people say “polytheism” the theo root they’re using means god¹ and when they say “monotheism” the theo root means God². Given that, it should be possible to be both monotheistic and polytheistic in the specific sense that I’m using the words. And, in historical fact, many if not most people believed in both without much problem.

The upshot is that the transition between, say, traditional Roman polytheism and monotheistic Roman Christianity isn’t as big a deal in certain areas of practical effect as one might suppose. After all, there is still today a Pontifex Maximus on the Palatine Hill (or near enough) making regular offerings of praise and blood (or near enough) to the Best and Greatest (Optimus Maximus), just as there has been for the last 2500 years or so since we can establish some historical record of religion in the Roman republic. And, at the same time, most people living under that official religious order believed in lots of other things besides the Best and Greatest that had enough medicine to make a difference in their lives if properly approached, whether they be called Saints or Olympians. The transition in names from Jupiter Optimus Maximus to just God or from Diana to St. Anne isn’t that big a deal across a few generations of believers.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t a great deal of important theological differences that believers live and die for, but that you shouldn’t sweat it so much in dreaming up a D&D campaign world. In real life people have had wildly heterogeneous beliefs, and not just in the modern era, but amongst the ancients and medievals as well. Names and doctrines change while beliefs and institutions adapt and endure.

So, don’t worry too much about the weird place D&D Clerics are in. The real-world English priests at the Church of St. Anne and the Church of St. Brigid might, as a matter of official propaganda, be priests of the One True God, but they’re arguably also just priests at the temples of the goddesses Diana and Brighid, whereas the Flamen Martialis and Flamen Quirinalis might officially be the head priests of Mars and Quirinal, but they’re arguably also just priests of particular temples in a single religion that says Jupiter is the Best and Greatest. Further, through medieval history you often had pagan and monotheist kingdoms side-by-side and in practice saying their prayers to gods and saints with the same names. So, throwing what seem to be vaguely monotheistic-style Clerics into the roles of priests of diverse polytheistic gods whose cults have strangely similar hierarchies and oddly cooperative attitudes with one another may look weird to modern eyes, but it actually has a fair verisimilitude to the history that inspired it.

2. Priests as Adventurers, 
or, a Flamen, a Goði, and a Bishop Walk into a Dungeon
So, these Cleric guys might not be so out of place in the setting after all, but, allowing that, why are they out delving into dungeons, exploring the wilderness, and setting up strongholds in conquered lands instead of staying in their temples and doing their sacred duty? Well, two reasons:
  1. It’s more fun that way.
  2. Lots of the real priests we know about did the same kinds of things.
Augustus Caesar fought a half-dozen wars, winding up in an impressive ship-wreck a time or two, formed a military junta that ruled Rome, put down a long series of rivals and rebellions, founded and expanded the Roman Empire, rebuilt half the city, tooled around with redesigning the coinage and calendar, and still found time to be Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Jupiter and the head of all Roman religion. I mean, he may not have been quite as regular at services as some of his predecessors, but who was going to complain about it to the most powerful man in the world so long as the gods seemed satisfied?.

Ingólfr Arnarson sailed to Iceland around 874, becoming the first vikingr (which, more or less, translates to “adventurer”) to settle there permanently, founding and naming what is now the city of Reykjavík. According to the sagas, he left home to get out of a blood feud, set out for an island that he heard had been found recently by some guys sailing around the North Atlantic, settled where the gods carried the wooden pillars that represented his chieftainship (having thrown them overboard), and later  sailed out to the western islands to hunt down the slaves that murdered his best friend.Along the way, he became the prototype of the Allsherjargoði, the prima inter pares sacral chieftain (goði) that blessed the meetings of the Althing, and thus laid the foundations of a Comonwealth based on a polycentric legal order that would endure longer than the United States has been around.

Odo of Bayeux was one of the chief lieutenants of the Conqueror, even his right-hand man, and certainly one of the most powerful men in the newly established kingdom, at least until he got up to something that lead to him being tried and imprisoned as a traitor until William’s death. In between, he also became Earl of Kent and likely commissioned the medieval world’s greatest comic book, the Bayeux Tapestry, gained renown in battle, accumulated great wealth through robbery, plunder, and extortion, built a cathedral, and founded a school for young men. Incidentally, he was also named Bishop of Bayeux by his first cousin Duke William (the later King of England) while still a teenager, and carried his crozier with him on the conquest. It’s probably also worth noting that the bishop and king were only fourth or fifth generation Christians, William’s namesake and great-great-grandfather William Longsword having converted a about 150 years earlier, on or about the occasion of his marriage to a local noblewoman in order that he might cement his conquest of what would become Normandy.

So, don’t worry to much about what irresponsible shenanigans player-character Clerics get up to. They’re in good company. Sure, these examples are extraordinary men that did extraordinary things and so get a pass, but that’s the point: adventuring just is doing extraordinary things.