MadInkBeard by DerikBadman

Ancient Greece D&D, a Gene Wolfe quote, and a rule attempt

One of the reasons I wanted to start my blog back up again is because I’ve started work on a D&D based project. I’m hoping the end result will be some zines (with drawings). I used to make minicomics/zines, and I think I missed that creative aspect in my life after getting a bit burned out on it and reaching a certain endpoint in my experimentation with non-narrative comics poetry.

At some point a few months ago I decided I wanted to do something with Ancient Greece and D&D. I thought I’d make a little project, trying to make use of all the things I’ve learned following various people online and reading their books, zines, posts, etc. I like the way a few people (like Gavin Norman of Necrotic Gnome and his Dolmenwood setting zines) are using zines to slowly expand on a setting. I want to make something that can provide the start of a campaign world (or part of a world) in the form of useful information. No walls of text, instead lists, tables, illustrations, etc. I want it to have all the information I look for when I’m trying to plan my games and when I’m running my games.

For how much of the myths of that time are integrated into the basic canon of the game, there seems little material that actually tries to use that historical setting as a basis for gameplay. I’ve always had an interest in the period, I’ve read a lot of the literature (poetry, drama, proto-novels, etc.), but I think what got me going in this context is reading Gene Wolfe’s Latro series (the first two collected in Latro in the Mist and the third a standalone Soldier of Sinon). I highly recommend the series in general as beautifully written historical fantasy, but what I want to note here is the way the Ancient Greek deities (and Egyptian in the third book) are treated in the books. They are not clearly identifiable actors from on high (like in Homer) but awesome (in the original sense) and mysterious players in the plot.

The Dark Mother frightened me. She is gone, but I am still afraid. I would not have thought I could be frightened by a woman even if she held a knife to my throat; but the Dark Mother is no common woman.

When I left the fire and went to speak to her, she seemed nothing more, a woman such as anyone might see in any village. Her eyes were dark, her hair black and bound with a fillet. The top of her head came only to my shoulder. She held a torch in each hand, torches that smoked, sending up black columns into the night sky.

Her dogs were black too, and very large — I think of the kind kings use to hunt lions, though I cannot remember ever having seen such a hunt. Their muzzles came to her elbows, and sometimes their ears stood erect like the ears of wolves. Their spittle was white and shone, even when it had dropped from their flews to the ground.

“You do not know me,” the Dark Mother said, “though you have seen me each night.”

When I heard her voice I knew she was a queen, and I bowed.

Wolfe, Gene. Latro in the Mist. Orb, 2003. 168.

Reading that got me thinking about the role of deities in D&D. They’ve never been a big part of the games I’ve played, and I note that a lot of the published materials don’t make use of them very much. In 5e D&D if you make a cleric you are told to pick a deity, but then nothing you do has any real relation to that. So one of my starting themes for my project:

Deities are active in the world.

Deities take an active interest in the doings of people. They also involve people in their interactions with other deities, frequently to the detriment of the people involved.

Characters should be aware of the deities acting upon the world. They may be quest givers, antagonists, and sources of power, information, conflict, or intrigue.

Religion is a major aspect of society.

I don’t want this project to be a lot about new rules, but, in light of the above, I thought adjusting how clerics and their magic interact would help reinforce that theme.

I’m still working out the specifics, but I’ve decided casting cleric spells (and I’m still debating whether the traditional magic-user should exist at all, and instead just be a form of cleric, since all magic must come from the deities) will be based on a reaction roll. Clerics gain there spells from the deities and since they are fickle, one must remain in their good graces if one wants to be granted a small slice of the deities powers.

So basically casting a spell requires a reaction roll for the cleric’s deity (and potentially non-clerics in special circumstances). This will be adjust by some of the following factors:

I still need to work out how these will all specifically play into the roll, but the reaction roll, modified will decide the success (or not) of the spell and could also decide some kind of backfire or extra bonus to effects.

Roll 2d6 modified
Modified Roll Result
2 Failure and possible backfire
3-5 Failure (counts as spell cast for the day)
6-8 No effect (does not count as a spell cast for the day)
9-11 Success
12 Success and bonus to effect (range/duration/etc)

I’m perhaps thinking about too many modifiers to make this wieldy, especially with such a small range of rolls, but it’s at least a start.

I’ve also started looking closer at Ancient Greek vase painting as a potential avenue for illustrations. My drawing skills are quite rusty at this point, but I’ve always loved the clean lines of figurative vase painting.

That I’m currently playing the new Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on my Playstation has also been a nice inspiration in regards to landscape and setting.

So expect more on this topic in the future, I already have a bunch of notes from various reference sources I have been reading.