Thursday, August 13, 2015

Commentary On Gods, Patrons, And The Gong Farmers Almanac For Your DCC & Old School Campaigns

So this is going to be a backhanded look into DCC's take on Gods, Patrons, And The Gong Farmers Almanac. We're going to start out Lamentations of The Flame Princess as a contrast to how DCC handles divinities in the setting. Not because one or the other is better but because their takes on divinities are completely and utterly different or are they? Well, in point of fact they are very different.

When it comes to gods in old school rpgs, their shifty bastards at best and worst like something from an extensional wet dream at worst out of the pages of Heavy Metal magazine in the early 80's. Ever since Deities and Demi gods and a ton of water has passed under the bridge with the old school with regards to divinity in old school games. Gods are a fulcrum part of campaigns and yet their one of the least utilized pieces of campaign setting material.
For games such as the retroclone games on the market such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess they've become something entirely different. Within adventures like 'Better Then Any Man' we get a very clear picture of the fact that the things that we call divinity are very alien life forms to our little local space time continuum. Even the most benign goddesses and gods can reek marry havoc with the locals. Religion is a nice face that we put on the face of fantasy laden society drawing deeply from the twin wells of fiction and mythology from equal measure with a heavy dollop of sword and sorcery pulpy goodness throw in the Lovecraftian tendril fest that we call adventures. A really good example of just this sort of thing is No Salvation For Witches, the cause of all of the malevolence in that adventure is a divinity gone far off the rails because we the alien meat puppets are simply fleshy tissue paper.  

Then we go into the completely opposite direction with the DCC rpg, which draws very heavily from the Eternal Champion Michael Moorcock well for its take on gods, demi gods and divinities for clerics, wizards, etc. No at all, reading through the text I can see their take on their patrons goes all the way back to Robert Howard's the tales of  James Allison which take place both in modern times and in the far past, in that time after the Hyborian kingdoms of Conan. In these tales the divinities, Lovecraftian creatures, and legends of the past trickle down to us in a whirl wind of past life experience being relived by the protagonist. Robert Howard drew his own inspiration form  Jack London and his novel, The Star Rover (1915). The Star Rover's hero  in almost Hellraiserish transcend moment escapes his mortal body. According to Wiki:
A framing story is told in the first person by Darrell Standing, a university professor serving life imprisonment in San Quentin State Prison for murder. Prison officials try to break his spirit by means of a torture device called "the jacket," a canvas jacket which can be tightly laced so as to compress the whole body, inducing angina. Standing discovers how to withstand the torture by entering a kind of trance state, in which he walks among the stars and experiences portions of past lives.
"I trod interstellar space, exalted by the knowledge that I was bound on vast adventure, where, at the end, I would find all the cosmic formulae and have made clear to me the ultimate secret of the universe. In my hand I carried a long glass wand. It was borne in upon me that with the tip of this wand I must touch each star in passing. And I knew, in all absoluteness, that did I but miss one star I should be precipitated into some unplummeted abyss of unthinkable and eternal punishment and guilt."
Divinities in mythographic shamanism especially in the tradition of the Eternal Champion are fickle, dangerous, and completely like your drunk uncle. You just don't know what your going to find when you deal with them. A tradition that goes all the way back to the Greeks, and even into the Mesopotamian gods. DCC takes full advantage of this fact in the way in which it handles these powers. The average Greek and Roman citizen often did not want to attract the attention of the gods because of the consequences of heroes, quests, dooms, and all kinds of havoc. I draw here not from history but from mythology, Hollywood, and pop culture in equal for this conclusion. Which brings me to the Gong Farmer's Almanac. This brings me to The Gongfarmer’s Almanac 2015, a collection of five community-sourced zines of content that expands the core game of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG [AL] with additional features.Here we're brought right back into the fold because this resource not only drinks from the same popculture well, it guzzles it so deeply as to be almost but not quite obscene in its encompass of some of the traditions.  Its not trying to hide its pop culture roots with its divinities. Each and every single class here along with at least five features over laps these mythographic shamanismic ideals especially because each of the five books in the collection focuses on a particular expansion area.The gods are going to have their fingers into your PC's lives, there is no question about it. In point of fact this one of the ways in which this work keeps the overlap into the root of its game going.
  1. Volume 1: Men and Magic provides additional classes, races, and spells many of which center around the pop culture references of the patrons. These are done with the pop culture finger prints filed off but its clearly there. Everything from the Ninja craze of the 80's to immortals in the service of his or her god along with Luchadores are right out in front and center. Luchadores goes all the way back to Aztec Mummy series of  movies so this scores points with me there.
  2. Volume 2: Monsters, Treasure and Patrons  this is the book that really set this article off, many of the monsters, treasures,etc are tied directly into the business of the patrons. This isn't a book for those who have don't want to play in the back drops of the gods or in their backyards. There's lots and lots of good stuff here. A ton of it in point of fact.
  3. Volume 3: Adventures contains five new adventures from level 0 to 4.Not exactly these adventures have the PC's getting their hands into the business end of the gods.There is the potential for all kinds of mayhem here.
  4. Volume 4: Rules and Campaign Miscellany Part 1 provides new options for play. Stuff that should have been added into the game right out of the gate. There's some interesting parts of the DCC system right over here.
  5. Volume 5: Rules and Campaign Miscellany Part 2 gives some tables and an index of all the content across each volume. Some of this material feels like it came straight out of a giant twelve year old's imagination in this mythical 70's & 80's that DCC keeps talking about.
    My bottom line on this free set of books is to go and download it. Right now if your into the DCC rpg at all. This is possibly one of the best things to come out of Gencon in my humble opinion.
This brings me to Fantastic Heroes and Witchery which has one of the best takes on the whole agent of Law or Chaos mode of the eternal champion style of D20 play. Here the PC must make a choice right out of the gate because allegiance is a complete existence choice and class for that matter. There isn't an alignment system in the game at all. We get an alliance system that while completely optional, colours every aspect of a person's life. The powers of Law are good and Chaos become evil. All things of Law are good and all things of evil are of Chaos each of these things is simply vectored in an angle towards a particular aspect of one or the other. This was a trait that the third edition AD&D game had introduced through third party products back in 2005 or so. The author of FH&W has refined the concepts and made it in my opinion better and easier to handle in spades for this game.
There is a lot more too it though then this brief overview be sure to check it and its impact on the FH&W game system in the free test drive version of FH&W here.  

Dark Avalon  by Rpg Pundit and Dominique Crouzet  is another game setting that treats the gods and the powers of darkness in another fashion that I find fascinating. Here the gods and church while remote are facets in every day life and even the most ordinary citizens of  Avalon fear and loath the powers of darkness. The gods are elaborate,dangerous, and capacious at best and survivals of earlier mystery religions based off of the post Roman/England pseudo historical period of the setting but heroes, gods, and adventurers clash in very dangerous fashion a direct contrast to all of the other games mentioned above. I do love Dark Albion's take on its own internal religion though its not connected with Fantastic Heroes and Witchery at all. There is some common ground with the dark forces in both games.
How the agents and priests of the gods is really worth noting, here the agents of the gods are warriors completely and almost forces of nature unto themselves with the blessings of the gods. But not necessarily the state forces with this game can often put the PC's and the state itself at odds over the will of the gods making this a stand out issue that can come up in these high quality settings in this article.

One thing to note with all of the OSR style games mentioned in this article is that all of this material in some fashion or form derivatives itself from its source in the form product

TSR 2006 Gods, Demigods, and Heroes which is where all of this started from. Kuntz and Ward do a good job going over the mythological, pulpy, and weird in equal measure.

These rules would much later be completely refined into the Immoral Rules by Kuntz and Ward's good friend Frank Mentzer. Even before this AD&D1st edition  had refined and digesting this book into the classic and infamous Deities and Demigods

What I find fascinating is the fact all of the above products are all derived from the same sources, all of these products have wonderful pedigrees yet they go through incredibly different OSR motions to arrive in very places for the gods to play in the lives of  PC


  1. Loving this analysis - thank you for posting! It is nearly identical to the thoughts swarming around my head these days regarding the various religiously-affiliated PCs in my gaming groups. Some of them are cresting into mid-levels (4-7) and I believe it's time for them to start reckoning with the Powers-That-Be - you know, the ones that have been bestowing spells upon you for the the last several months/years of your life? These pious (or not-so-pious) PCs are ascending from mere pawns of their deities to forceful hands of their patrons! It's time for them to step up their games - and this DM must follow in suit!

  2. Yeah, you might want to check out today's blog entry coming up later Andy. There's a whole host of thoughts with this.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.