Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Sword and Sorcery Versus Fantasy Part 4: Magical Healing

See the previous 3 parts of Sword vs Sorcery in the previous posts..

Now we tackle the last Trope of Classic Fantasy Role playing.

Magical Healing

In Most Fantasy role playing games, whether on computer or pen and paper, one of the most fantastic elements (ie hardest to believe) is magical healing. Whether through potions, magic items, spells, or innate magical abilities, "magical" healing is everywhere in most fantasy games. The concept of the

Healing "potions" that players can buy at the local market is now considered normal in any game.
The reason this has gone on for so long is because, hit points, or damage points, or life points, are all fairly abstract systems which take into account fighting ability, endurance, luck, as well as a characters physical size and strength.

Even though characters have more "hit points" as they go up in levels, game masters found out that if characters are not fighting enemies of equal toughness the players would feel no excitement, due to there being no risk of death.

So the enemies get more hit points as well, or the characters fight more powerful monsters.

The problem with this system is that after the first fight the characters would have to go back to town and rest up for weeks to get their hit points back. And so Magical healing was born. Now characters could plow through a whole nights worth of encounters one after the other, by the end of the night their healing spells and potions were used up and they would head back to town with their treasure and tally up their experience points.

As you can see this type of fight-treasure-town cycling is what leads to alot of the mechanics and "game balancing" rules of the d&d system.  That is because the main conceit of D&D is that there are large underground dungeons, close to town, where you can move through 10 to 20 of the rooms in a night, Each of those rooms will have an encounter or a fight, but when the characters decide to leave they are free to go.
More than that all of the other creatures in all of the other rooms will happily sit in their own space waiting for the characters to arrive in their room instead of all of them converging on the characters at once.

Now lets look at a sword and sorcery version of an adventure.
We'll use the classic Conan short story "The Tower of the Elephant" (I'm not going to look up any specifics, so if my details aren't quite spot on at least you'll get the gist of it).

First Conan hears about the tower at a tavern, that there is a huge amount of treasure inside as well as a huge sorcerers gem which is the source of power for the Towers Owner, some wizard guy.

He decided immediately to break in.

So immediately he has an objective, get the gem, and any other loot he can carry. He is warned that there are terrible guards keeping others from doing so (explaining why this place is in the middle of the city and unlooted).

He also has a time frame, he cannot enter, look around, leave, and come back again. He has to complete this "adventure" in one night of game time.

He enters the garden surrounding the tower. There he meets another thief who joins him, there are now two people in the "party".

They meet some lions as their first "encounter". Now ordinarily these lions would rip them to pieces and this would be the end of the adventure but the other thief has a mysterious powder that puts them to sleep.
Note here, this advanced thief does not have a lot of hit points and is therefore able to fight the lions, he has the right connections to get this powder to defeat the lions, something a thief would not have when he begins his trade.

The first encounter over they now climb to the top of the tower to avoid the guard who wait by the front door. They do this with a super strong super light rope the thief has acquired or made, again through his connections and knowledge.

Now they are at the top of the tower.  The other thief enters the door first but is killed instantly falling back outside the door.(he was bit once by a venomous spider, doesn't matter how many hit points he had he's dead)

Conan decides to brave the room anyway and enters.

Inside is a "Giant" spider. We're not talking something the size on elephant, or even a man, but the size of a dog.  But Conan has been warned by his friends death that the spider is poisonous so a single bite will kill him.

So Conan is forced to dodge and run about the room avoiding the spider until he picks up a chest and throws it at the spider squashing it dead.

So Conan loses no "hit points" and the spider is instant killed not by an attack per se but by being squashed by a bit of room furnishing,

Conan then continues on and meets a big elephant headed guy, they talk for a bit the elephant guys asks Conan to put him out of his misery and take the gem down to the evil wizards guy.

Conan kills him takes the gem, gives it to the wizard, the wizard is sucked into the gem, The tower collapses and Conan escapes, probably with a few gems he grabbed from the spider room.

And that's it. Conan did not deal a single hit point of damage nor did he take one.

That is because a sword and sorcery story is short, there isn't time for a large labyrinth of varying bizarre rooms and endless scenes of the heroes fighting yet another group of bad guys in yet another room.

Sword and Sorcery lends itself well to short episodic adventure and without needing to rely on a lot of fantastic additional add ons to make it all work.

Making it perfect for a night of roleplaying fun.

But expand what you think of sword and sorcery because yes there are swords but there is also definitely sorcery.

All of the fantastic creatures, spells, monsters, wizards, sorcerers, rooms full of treasure, lost cities, dragons, underwater tombs, and races of terrible lizard men, all of these are sword and sorcery too. It's just how they are used that is different than fantasy. In Sword and Sorcery the fantastic is, well, fantastic. It is not everyday, everyplace, regular stuff.  And doesn't that make it more fun?