07 February 2020

The Lord's Prayer

So I was reading 3rd Nephi this morning and read the chapters that are essentially the same as the sermon on the mount. And while reading the Lords Prayer in chapter 13 I noticed a pattern that doesn't exactly match up with the pattern of prayer often taught among the LDS church.

In the church we are taught to start are prayers by addressing God, then thank him for things we are grateful for and then petition for our needs/wants and close in the name of Jesus Christ. There are variations of course, and everyone learns to pray in their own way, but this is the basic pattern taught to people new to the church.

I'm going to go through the Lord's Prayer line by line and try to suss out how it can be generally applied:

"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."
We see Christ start the prayer pretty much in the same way the church teaches, by adressing our Father in heaven. However, Chirst doesn't just address his father, he also praises him at the same time.

"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
This can be seen as a sort of continuation of the praises to God begun in the first sentence. By putting God's will above all others, including our own, we glorify his nature. We are saying that He is greater than all other things, so it is His will that should be fulfilled and no one else's. By doing this we are setting ourselves as subservient of God and willing to accept his judgments.

"And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
Here we ask for forgiveness of our sins, and pledge to extend the same mercy to those we encounter in life.

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Here is where we ask god for something as is taught by the church, but not for whatever we want. By setting ourselves subservient to God previously, what we ask for must be help in following Him and not turning away to sin.

"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen."
And close by Praising God again, repeating the sentiment at the beginning.

So, in summary the Lord's Prayer teaches us to start our prayers by praising God, followed by putting His will above ours, then ask for forgiveness of our sins and help in not falling prey to those sins again, and finally finish by praising God again.

26 January 2020

Broken Rules?

I play in a 5e game every Saturday morning and sometimes one of the players and our DM will get to discussing obscure rules minutia. I generally don't join in on these discussions because I find them to be fairly inane. Yesterday they were talking about an "exploit"(like this is video game or something)that some youtuber had discovered in the 5e rules that allowed a wizard to summon and control an infinite number of summoned Elementals. At the time I didn't put much stock in the conversation; they were just discussing how a Dm should rule on that particular ambiguity in the rules and why it's probably overpowered, but it could be interpreted in that overpowered way, etc. 

Now, looking back at what they were talking about, I feel like they were completely missing the mark. The discussion was about what the DM ruling should be from rules perspective and that it would "break the game", etc. I think this sort of thing should be considered not from a rules or power perspective, but from a setting and world-building perspective. From my understanding this 'exploit' required the use of a 9th level spell in the first place, so the question isn't really about whether it's too powerful, but what do you envision the powerful wizards in you world being able to do? If the Gme wants the greatest wizards in the land to be capable of summoning armies of Elementals and doing other magnificent feats and probably waging destructive wars as a result, then the DM should support the 'overpowered' interpretation of the rules. On the other hand if the DM wants a more grounded setting where the high level wizards can still do amazing things, but there are limits to their capabilities, then the DM should rule in favor of disallowing the 'exploit'. 

The DM's interpretation of 'broken rules' shouldn't be about whether one or another interpretation of the rule will 'break the game', but instead about what a certain interpretation says about the DM's world and what supports their vision.

19 January 2020

Success in D&D

"The players want to win in spite of me. The more convinced they are that their success has been stolen from within the machinations of my game, the sweeter their success will be. Therefore, I must play the villain. My machinations must be complex, demanding insight and innovation. Yes, of course, I help the players; but I do this cleverly, in ways the players do not suspect . . . covering up my intercessions with play-acting, confusion, and a little luck on the die when it happens to not go 'my way.'"(How to Run, pg 31)

Here Alexis clearly explains what I meant when I discussed the need to be a cooperative DM.

Yes, you can 'win' D&D; It's not when you reach 20th level or 36th level or attain immortality, it's when you as player achieve a goal. The players succeed when they accomplish something they set out to do, not when they complete 'the plot' a DM has devised. And this success is only meaningful if the players feel they have earned that success. Therefore, the DM must cooperate with the players to allow them to seek out their own goals within the game and also to make the accomplishment of those goals mean something. The DM has earned that success as much as the players; It's something they've accomplished together.

23 December 2019

Religion of the Cleric: 7th level Spells

An examination of the highest powers given to a Cleric by his Deity and how those powers might influence the theology of the Cleric's Church. This spell list is spread across the Companion  and the Master sets. In the future I will be combing through these analyses to look at what are common threads in order to draw definite conclusions about the Church of the D&D cleric.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

From the Players Companion:

Earthquake
This powerful spell causes a section of earth to shake, and opens large cracks in the ground. A 17th level caster can affect an area up to 60’ square, adding 5’ to each dimension with each level of experience thereafter. For example, an 18th level cleric affects an area up to 65’ square; 19thlevel, 70’ square; and so forth. 
     Within the area of effect, all small dwellings are reduced to rubble, and larger constructions are cracked open. Earthen formations (hills, cliffsides, etc.) form rockslides. Cracks in the earth may open and engulf 1 creature in 6 (determined randomly), crushing them. 

This is an extremely powerful spell, though the major effects only occur within a relatively small area the quake can most certainly be felt from a distance even if no damage is caused. In my opinion this represents power over the earth itself is possessed by the Deity. To cause a quake with the magnitude described here the Deity would certainly need to be able to control the tectonic plates and cause them to spontaneously move. Normally an earthquake occurs after pressure has built up between plates over a long period of time, and once that pressure reaches a certain threshold the plates will snap out of place into a new alignment. On a global scale these movements are minuscule, but they appear to be huge earth shattering events to us.
      In the real world I might explain an earthquake caused by god to be something that he had planned a long time ago and set the plates in motion in just the right way to have the desired effect later. That is if I was trying to say an earthquake was an act of god. I view this spell as an entirely different case. I see this as the Cleric praying/making supplication to their Deity to cause an earthquake at this moment and location. This necessitates that the Deity can spontaneously cause the tectonic plates to shift and possibly even create new fault lines. That is unless we also give the deity the power to predict every single moment that a cleric might pray for an earthquake, and even then we'd still have to accede that the deity has power over the tectonic plates and also the power of infinite foresight.

Holy Word
This spell affects all creatures, friend or foe, within a circular area of 40’ radius, centered on the caster. When the cleric casts this spell, all creatures of alignments other than the cleric’s are affected as follows: 
     up to 5th level: Killed 
              level 6-8: Stunned 2-20 turns 
            level 9-12: Deafened 1-6 turns 
            level 13+: Stunned 1-10 rounds 
Any victim of 13 levels or more or of the same alignment as the caster, may make a Saving Throw vs. Spells to avoid the effect entirely. 
     This powerful spell cannot be blocked by stone, nor by any other solid material except lead. (It can be blocked by an antimagic shell.)

This spell seems very vague to me. Looking at the description in other editions it seems that This spell is cast by saying/shouting a single holy word that is meant to banish/kill the unholy. The rewrite done by Alexis is the most clear version I have seen, I would just change his version to say it affects any who are not of the same faith as the cleric, not just those malevolent towards the cleric. So having established how the spell is cast, what does it mean? One interesting thing of note is that this version doesn't banish extra-planar creatures like described in most other versions. Thus it is not a method of banishing the wicked, but punishing them.
     This spell is intended to kill any unbeliever nearby, the only survivors being those who are extraordinarily experienced or superhuman in physical properties. Given the intentions of the spell and its effect on the majority of the populace, this is pretty strong evidence that the Deity is not merciful to his enemies. We've already established this in the past analyses, but this spell also implies power over life and death. The Deity and his followers have the power to take away life when necessary. The lack of mercy is of more interest to me; if we are trying to compare the cleric to medieval Christianity, the Deity seems more to fall in line with the 'Old Testament' version of god than the 'New Testament' version. This Deity is a 'jealous god'; any unbeliever may be killed for the simple reason of believing in another god/philosophy.

Raise Dead Fully
This spell is similar to the 5th level raise dead spell, except that it can raise any living creature. Any human or demi-human recipient awakens immediately, with no wounds (full hit points), and is able to fight, use abilities, spells known, etc., without any penalties except those existing at the time of death. For example, a victim cursed or diseased at death would still suffer the affliction when raised fully. If any other living creature (other than a human or demi-human) is the recipient, the guidelines given in the raise dead spell apply (including time limitations, rest needed, etc.). 
     A 17th level cleric can use this spell on a human or demi-human body that has been dead up to 4 months; for each level of experience above 17th, 4 months are added to this time. Thus, a 19th level cleric could cast raise dead fully on a body that has been dead up to 12 months. 
     If cast at an Undead creature of 7 Hit Dice or less, the creature is immediately destroyed (no Saving Throw). An Undead creature of 7-12 Hit Dice must make a Saving Throw vs. Spells, with a -4 penalty to the roll, or be destroyed. An Undead of more than 12 Hit Dice takes 6-60 (6d10) points of damage, but may make a Saving Throw vs. Spells to take 1/2 damage. 
     The reverse of this spell (obliterate) will affect a living creature just as the normal form affects Undead (destroy 7 Hit Dice or less, et al.). If cast at an Undead creature of any type, obliterate has the same effect as a cureall would on a living creature (curing all but 1-6 points of damage, or curing blindness or feeblemind, etc.). 

Very much the same implications as the standard Raise Dead spell. Here are implications of power over life and death, the disassociation of the spirit from the body becoming greater after longer periods of time, and the focus of this Deity on human life above all others.

Restore
This spell will restore one full level of energy (experience) to any victim who has lost a level because of Energy Drain, whether by Undead or some other attack form. It will not restore more than one level, nor will it add a level if none have been lost. Furthermore, the casting of this spell causes the cleric to lose 1 level of experience, as if struck by a wight; however, this effect is not permanent, and the cleric may rest for 2-20 days to regain the loss.
     The reverse of this spell (life drain) will drain one level of experience from the victim touched, just as if touched by a wight or wraith. The casting of this spell does not cause any loss to the cleric, nor does it require any rest, but it is a Chaotic act, avoided by Lawful clerics.

I don't have much to say here. This is a simple case of the cleric giving a portion of their 'life force' to heal another's. I guess we could say that sacrifice and helping those in need is implied here, but I see this as more a counteraction to the effects of evil/the undead than a general principle of sacrifice.

From the Master Players Book:

Survival
This spell protects the recipient from adverse conditions of all types, including normal heat or cold, lack of air, and so forth. While the spell is in effect, the caster needs no air, food, water, or sleep. The spell does not protect against magical damage of any type, breath weapons, or blows from creatures. It does protect against all damage caused by natural conditions on other planes of existence. Examples: A cleric might use this spell in a desert or blizzard, preventing any damage from the natural conditions; underground or underwater, enabling survival without air; or in space, to magically survive in vacuum.

This just reinforces the idea that the Deity has power over life and death. it doesn't seem like this spell creates biological changes that allow a person to grow gills and breathe underwater, or adapt in other ways to harsh environments; they just get to ignore the consequences normally inherent in venturing into those harsh environments. It also doesn't seem like there is a bubble surrounding the character with ideal conditions keeping the dangerous conditions at bay. Because a Cleric/the Deity wills it the recipient of this spell doesn't die when they should. Also the fact that this spell protects against the effects of being on another plane of existence tells me that the Deity has power over more than just the material plane.

Travel
This spell allows the cleric to move quickly and freely, even between the planes of existence. The caster (only) may fly in the same manner as given by the magic-user spell, with a movement rate of 360 feet (1 20 feet).
     The cleric can also enter a nearby plane of existence, simply by concentrating for one round. A maximum of one plane per turn may be entered. If desired, the cleric may bring one other creature for each five levels of experience (rounded down; for example, a 29th-level cleric could bring five other creatures on the journey). All others to be affected must be touching or touched by the cleric while the spell is cast and the shift is made. Any unwilling creature may make a Saving Throw vs. Spells to avoid the effect. The cleric must take the others, and cannot send them while remaining behind.
     While this spell is in effect, the caster (only) may assume gaseous form by concentrating for one full round. (If interrupted, no change occurs.) Unlike the potion effect, all equipment carried also becomes part of the same gaseous cloud. In this form, the caster may travel at double the normal flying rate: 720 feet per turn (240 feet per round). While gaseous, the cleric cannot use items or cast spells, but also cannot be damaged except by magic (weapons or certain spells). Also, a gaseous being cannot pass through a protection from evil spell effect or an anti-magic shell.

I don't know what to make of this one. The effects are very clear and plain, but the underlying meaning of those effects is a little harder to pin down. If we're looking for some real world inspiration, there is the incident where Jesus is being chased by a crowd of people and is carried away by the holy ghost. Also I'm pretty sure there have been similar stories in other religions. I guess the ability to transform into a gaseous cloud could mean that the Deity has power over matter/the structure of atoms. He can change how matter is structured and connected to benefit his servants. I might also he can suspend the laws of physics when necessary also because of the ability to fly like the wizard spell. Gravity is suspended on a whim. And the power to travel between planes of existence shows the domain of the Deity is not limited to the material plane. I guess I got something out of it, though I'm not entirely sure of the validity of everything I just said.

Wish
A wish spell is usable only by a cleric of 36th- (maximum) level with 18 (or greater) Wisdom.
     A wish is the single most powerful spell a cleric can have. It is never found on a scroll, but may be placed elsewhere (in a ring, for example) in rare cases.
     Extensive guidelines for wishes are given on page 10, with the magic-user spell description.
(From page 10)
     Wording the Wish: The player must say or write the exact wish made by the character. Wording of the wish is very important. The literal meaning will usually occur, whatever the intentions of the player.
     The DM should try to maintain game balance, being neither too generous nor too stingy in deciding the effects of a wish. Remember that wishes should be able to do quite a bit. Even a badly phrased wish, made with good intentions, may have good results. However, if the wish is greedy, or made with malicious intent, every effort should be made to find differing interpretations. If necessary, the wish can even be disallowed, having no effect. Whenever a wish fails or is misinterpreted, the DM should explain (after the game) the problem or flaw in the phrasing.
     Here are some examples of faulty wishes: “I wish that I knew everything about this dungeon” could result in the character knowing all for only a second, and then forgetting it.
     “I wish for a million gold pieces” can be granted by having them land on the character and then vanish.
     “I wish to immediately and permanently possess the gaze power of a basilisk while retaining all of my own abilities and items” is a carefully worded wish that’s out of balance. Characters are already quite powerful. This wish could result in the growth of a basilisk head in addition to the character’s own, or the growth of extra eyes-without eyelids, leaving the character extremely vulnerable to other gaze attacks.
     A wish can never be used to gain either XP or levels of experience.
     Possible Effects: If a wish is used to harm another creature in any way, the victim may make a Saving Throw vs. Spells. If the save is successful, the victim takes half the ill effects and the other half rebounds on the caster (who may also save to avoid it, but with a -4 penalty to the roll). A carefully worded wish can, however, move (i.e. teleport) another creature if no harm is done in the process, allowing no saving throw. The saving throw applies only to creatures, not their items carried or possessed.
     A wish may be used to gain treasure, up to a maximum of 50,000 gp per wish. However, the caster loses 1 XP per gp value of treasure gained, and this loss cannot be magically restored.
     A wish can be used, if the DM desires, to gain the use of a magic item for a short time. Generally, any magic item gained is borrowed from somewhere else, not created. Artifacts are beyond the power of wishes. The caster may usually produce any item up to + 5 enchantment. The item will remain for only 1-6 turns.
     A wish can be used to temporarily change any one ability score to a minimum of 3 or maximum of 18. This effect lasts for only six turns.
     Wishes can also be used to permanently increase ability scores, but the cost is very high. You must use as many wishes as the number of the ability score desired. All the wishes must be cast within a one-week period. You may raise an ability score only one point at a time. To raise your Strength from 15 to 16 takes 16 wishes. To then raise it to 17 will take an additional 17 wishes. Wishes cannot be used to permanently lower ability scores.
     A wish cannot raise the maximum level for humans; 36th is absolute, enforced by Immortals. However, one wish can allow a demi-human to gain one additional Hit Die (for a new maximum of 9 for halflings, 11 for elves, and 13 for dwarves). This affects only hit points, and does not change any other scores (such as Hit rolls, elves’ number of spells, etc.).
     A wish can change a demi-human to a human, or the reverse. Such a change is permanent, and the recipient does not become magical. Halflings and dwarves become fighters of the same level. Elves become magic-users or fighters (but not both), at the choice of the wisher. Levels of experience can then be gained normally as the human class. A human changes to the same level demihuman, but no higher than the normal racial maximum. If the wish is made by another, the victim may make a Saving Throw vs. Spells with a + 5 bonus to avoid the change. Once a character’s race is changed, two wishes are needed to reverse the effect, and further changes each require double the previous number of wishes used (4, 8, 16, etc.).
     A wish can be used to duplicate any magicuser spell effect of 8th level or less, or any cleric spell effect of 6th level or less. This common use of a wish is not subject to the same close scrutiny by the DM, and is likely to succeed with less chance of error than other types.
     A wish can sometimes be used to change the results of a past occurrence. This is normally limited to events of the previous day. A lost battle may be won, or the losses may be made far less severe, but impossible odds cannot be overcome completely. A death in melee could be changed to a near-death survival; a permanent loss could be made temporary. The DM may advise players when wishes are near to exceeding the limit of the power.
     Important Note: Whenever an effect is described as being unchangeable “even with a wish,” that statement supercedes all others here. However, multiple wishes may succeed (DM’s choice) where one wish would not.

This at first seems to grant unlimited possibilities, however given the list of standard wishes I think this spell can be viewed as a series of separate spells all rolled into one. There is the spell for 50K gold, temporary increase in ability scores, species change, etc. I think what this really tells us about the cleric and his religion is is that the Deity worshiped by the cleric can have any degree of power the DM wishes to give him. Yet the definite powers of the Deity include the granting of the abilities of a magic-user to a cleric, changing the physical attributes of a person either through ability scores or species swap, the creation of items of monetary value, and the instant teleportation of items. I think all of these have been covered by other spells. What is important to remember here is that the presence of this spell specifically tells us that the powers a Deity can grant his servants, and thus he himself possesses, is literally limitless.

Wizardry
By using this spell, the cleric gains the power to use one item normally restricted to magic-users: either a device (such as a wand) or a scroll containing a 1st- or 2nd-level magic-user spell. (Spells of 3rd or higher level cannot be cast, though they may be present on the scroll.) This ability lasts for one turn, or until the scroll or device is used. The cleric magically gains knowledge of the proper use of the item, as if the character were a magicuser. For the duration and effect of the magicuser spell, the level of caster is treated as the minimum necessary for the casting of the spell.

This demonstrates the Deity's power includes the power of the magic-user. Simply the Deity limits the access his followers get to certain kinds of magic. It seems that The Deity limits access to his power as a way of encouraging a specific type of behavior and only entrusts the unfettered use of magic to his most trusted servants(this being a 7th level spell) and even then its use is still very limited. Despite these restrictions, this makes clear that the Deity has access to the same kind of manipulation of reality that magic-users make use of.

11 December 2019

Tribes in The Book of Mormon


While watching this video I noticed his description of Native American communities bear a strong resemblance to the picture painted in The Book of Mormon. He talks about how kinship was more about belonging to a community of people and not about blood. From a European perspective, everything is about blood, literal ancestry and who your parents were. For Native Americans it was about contributing to the community and being accepted as part of that community, even slaves could rise to be important members of a tribe.

This describes the patterns of tribal associations on the BoM very closely. In the BoM, it's all about being associated with one tribe or another, the Lamanaites or Nephites. People dissented from the Nephites and became Lamanites, and Lamanites joined the Nephites. None of these people were treated differently because they were born among a different tribe; it was more about who they associated with.

I think this pattern of tribal association is evidence that supports the theories of some that the Nephites and the Lamanites weren't the only people in the Americas during the time of the BoM. We even have a case of this presented in the BoM; The Mulekites are discovered and then pretty much never mentioned again, they are just absorbed into the umbrella term of Nephite. Where association and community is more important then direct bloodlines, any other non-Lehite tribe would either be lumped into whichever group they associated with or not even mentioned because they are irrelevant to the religious narrative. It's something interesting to consider; applying the same basic societal structure of the Native Americans which we have concrete records of can reveal hidden patterns of why things are described in certain ways in the BoM

09 December 2019

Perspectives in History and The Book of Mormon

I recently read the beginning chapters of 3rd Nephi in the Book of Mormon, and the lack of context really struck me, especially concerning chapter 3 and the letters exchanged by Giddianhi and Lachoneus. I think if there were more records pertaining to this conflict, that the whole thing would look less like a battle between the good guys and bad guys, and more like a civil war between political factions.

From a certain perspective, the Gadhianton robbers could be seen as the disenfranchised lower classes. They've been chased away from the rest of society and must live like beasts in the mountains. And when the natural elements force them out of the mountains, they try to survive off the produce of the agrarian society with a surplus of goods. Yet the 'civilized' people claim that these outcasts are robbing them, conflict happens and the cry of 'murder' is raised. And why do the numbers of these 'robbers' keep growing? Why would someone choose to forsake society and live as a hunter/gatherer in the wilderness? Maybe that situation looks better than their current prospects; I think it likely that most of the 'robbers' were the poor and disenfranchised and they took up arms in protest because they had nothing to lose.

And the fact that the law code was revised after the civil war was over is evidence in my mind that there really were legitimate grievances and the legal revisions were made to assuage any further political dissensions that might arise. This only acted as a stopgap though, because the government was overthrown just a few years later. I don't think such a drastic revolution would have occurred if the political and social situation were beyond reproach.

This just goes to show how much the Book of Mormon is a religious text, and not a historical one. It doesn't show an unbiased history of events, but instead highlights certain events as a method of teaching certain moral lessons.

05 December 2019

Are We Good Enough?

A few months ago I discovered that I'm an anarachist, meaning I had developed certain opinions over the years and then a few months ago I came to realize they were in line with anarchist philosophy. In relation to this I was having a discussion with my father about the idea of communism in general and its relationship to the history of anarchists. He brought up something which I have often heard him say before, but which I now mostly disagree with. It relates to the United Order, a communist like organization Joseph Smith triewd to establish within the LDS Church in the 1830s, basically my father's argument is that men are imperfect and so we can't live without government, the failure of the United Order is evidence that there will always be corrupt/wicked men who take adavntage of others if there is no government to stop them. We need government because we won't be good enough to live under a perfect system until the Second Coming/Millennium.

I was going to draft a rather long rebuttal, mostly because I'm better at expressing my ideas through writing than speech, but then I found out someone had beat me to it by over 130 years! The perfect answer to this argument was written by P√ętr Kropotkin in 1888 and is titled "Are We Good Enough". I listened to the audio version today, and a copy can be found on the web here.

Sure people are imperfect, but that doesn't mean we should wait for revolution and/or reform until everybody will miraculously become perfect. I'm under no illusions that the current system of nation-states and capitalism/corporations will be overthrown in my lifetime. However, I do think that a public opinion will trend toward wanting/demanding a more direct form of democracy, and leaders/those in power will work even harder to consolidate the power they do have. I guess what I really want to say is that just because people aren't perfect doesn't mean we should hesitate to work toward the dissolution of corrupt systems that oppress us.