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The Living Curse

Erik Tenkar mentioned something in passing that really struck me. It may not be new to you, but the idea that a creature that appears undead is merely cursed is brilliant.

One example I can find in the various Swords & Wizardry books is the Omgoth. They eat like ghouls, look like ghouls, and hang around other ghouls. Yet, they are not undead. It even says in the creature description that Omgoths cannot be turned.

I've used a similar idea for years for lesser undead. Skeletons and zombies are not undead, but merely animated corpses. The abilities and immunities of an animated object are remarkably similar to undead. It may not be effective at higher levels, but to a low-level party, it is really freaky when the Cleric's Big Magic Trick has no effect.

What do you mean I don't roll to turn them, they're skeletons!

I already do not consider shadows and ghosts as undead, so anyone that has played in a game I run will know that. However, the thing that never occurred to me was to have a cursed creature that looks and acts like a vampire, but is not a vampire. They can even take damage from daylight as part of the curse. How about a cursed lich? A powerful magic-user cursed to endlessly research the same spell in the vain hope of reversing the curse. Then there's new creatures like the phasma from the Pathfinder SRD. In many ways, it is a cursed Cleric. Considering that the Cleric's god did not save him/her from the curse, I almost think that releasing the curse is worse.

There used to be a blog at Monstrous Television that mentioned abdead as creature similar to undead, but not affected by Cleric in the same way. I wish that archive.org could bring back this post. Essentially, abdead skeletons are intelligent and not able to be turned. I can't remember the rest of the idea except to say that it was great.

Still, there's more to reskinning undead that removing the Cleric's Big Magic Trick. I moved traditional incoporeal undead into a new category of creature. In my games, these ghosts (including specters and shadows) can be battled by psionic characters. Whereas the Cleric takes out the undead and horrible amalgams of bone, sinew, and rot, the Psionicist battles the vengeful spirits of mortals that cannot leave this plane with unfinished business.

That's my two cents on reskinning undead. Have you ever reskinned undead creatures?


Return to Sinter

Over a year ago, I posted about Clerics and a mystery metal that provided back story for why Clerics were different from wizards. Now that I'm working on material for a zine and for a possible game in October, I wanted to refine the idea a bit to better fit within Swords & Wizardry.

Here is the standard Cleric in one of my campaign worlds. Other clerics have different power and spellcasting abilities, but this is the base upon which all others define themselves.


According to Elven scholars, the Canavari priests were one of first religious orders of mankind. The traditions of these priests have been maintained through thousands of years.  When humans have faced their greatest threats, it has been the Canavari that lead the battle.

One of the earliest threats was a creature believed to be harmless. As humans learned to work metal, these creatures proved dangerous. The threat was not due to the loss of life, but due to the loss of cities. A monster that consumed gold and iron, threatened to destroy almost all of human technology. Men had worked hard to leave behind their stone weapons and crude dwellings. They began to make clay pots, bronze implements, and even metal weapons.

When the creatures they called the Chumam-La appeared in the thousands, men looked to Canavari to implore the gods for help. The gods responded by choosing a handful of select craftsmen to learn how to make godstone, the first divine gift to mankind.

Godstone could not be devoured by the chumam-la, allowing the priests and their armed men to destroy this feared creature.

Godstone cannot hold a sharp edge, but it is a dense material with a faint grey-blue sheen. Godstone cannot rust and it is hard to destroy. All Canavari use sling bullets, chain armor, clubs, and blunt wedges made from the divine substance. Although the armor, clubs, and wedges are sacred weapons, the priests will sell sling bullets to outsiders.

The next great threat came with the learning of magic. Mankind is drawn to the few arts of elves, so naturally, a few men sought to use magic to dominate his fellow man. Tyrants arose that wielded eldrtich forces that they could barely understand, much less contain. The ground and sky recoiled. Men and their allies were subjugated. Non-humans, even the mighty elves, were nearly eliminated from existence.

Though slow to answer, the gods granted another boon to the Canavari, the gift of magic. This divine magic worked to help the weak and bring justice to the oppressors of men. With divine protection and containment, the Canavari drove back the forces of evil and saved the world.

This is why even the agnostic elves give respect to the Canavari. The elves began to teach the old ways of magic publicly. With their help, the earth and sky were healed. Civilizations were rebuilt from the ruins bringing a time of prosperity.

It did not last. Once again determined to pervert the magical arts, evil men learned to animate the bodies of the dead to serve in vast armies. As the undead armies marched on city after city, their ranks swelled with victims reborn to serve a new masters.

Again invoking the gods, the Canavari were provided with the Symbol of the Wolf. This sacred symbol, when presented to undead creatures would break the control of evil wizards and cause them to flee from the presence of the holy symbol.

Lines of Canavari priests turned away the armies and freed the undead to return to their eternal sleep. The Canavari consider all wizards as vile heretics, yet they had saved mankind once again standing with the elves and other allies of man.

These ancient priests are dedicated to their traditions and gifts from the gods. They seek to protect manking and their allies from threats large and small. They know that when the world plunges into darkness, they will stand with the forces of light and fight.

Game Data

The Canavari are played as a Cleric as written in Swords & Wizardry with very small changes. Slings are allowed and godstone sling bullets do 1d6 damage. Due to their weight, it is rare for anyone to carry more than four of these sling bullets at any time. Most of the time, Canavari use them as valuable items to barter or gift to others. Canavari can also use blunt hand-axe type weapons they call "wedges". They do 1d6 damage.

Chainmail made from godstone provides the same protection as plate mail as well as having the same effect on encumbrance.

There are no Chaotic Canavari. All of them are Lawful.

Place in a Campaign World

Canavari are the standard warrior-priests found in D&D and D&D-like games. Since my worlds often have a range of cleric choices, this is the choice for those that want to "just be a Cleric". Other cleric types have different turning abilities and various type of magic available.

They scorn all arcane magic as evil. They will begrudgingly tolerate Lawful wizards, but actively avoid speaking with them. The referee may choose to play this up if a Wizard and a Canavari find themselves in the same party.

Using the Emphasis System for Priests

There can be all sorts of fun with Clerics and emphases as well. Going back to 2e, the PHB mentions priests of different mythoi. The idea was that priests could be good/okay/poor at combat, have other major and minor powers different from Turn Undead, and have access to spells broken up into spheres of influence. The idea of spheres survived into 3.x and Pathfinder as Domains. I mention this because I'm going to use Domains later as a source of building interesting clerics.

Back to the 2e world for a minute, let's generate a list of spheres. Most of them are from the Priest's Handbook. I broke up Elemental into six different elements because I don't have elemental planes in my house rules. I also added the Moon as a counter to the Sun. Here's the final list:

Air, Animal, Astral, Charm, Combat, Creation, Divination, Earth, Fire, Guardian, Healing, Metal, Moon, Necromancy, Plant, Protection, Summoning, Sun, and Void, War, Water, Wood, Weather.

With this list, we can generate some pretty interesting priests. Whereas the handbook talked about major and minor access to spells, we are going to use +3 and +1 bonuses. Each priesthood would have four high emphases with a +3 bonus and four low emphases with a bonus of +1. Using an example from the Priest's Handbook again, let's have a Cleric that is a protector of animals. They're emphases would be:

Animal +3, Charm +3, Divination +3, Protection +3, Creation +1, Healing +1, Plant +1, War +1

In Swords and Wizardry, some spells are quite obvious for this priest;

  • Cure Light Wounds
  • Light
  • Protection from Evil
  • Snake Charm
  • Speak with Animals
  • Cure Disease
  • Locate Object
  • Prayer
  • Cure Serious Wounds
  • Neutralize Poison
  • Protection from Evil 10' radius
  • Speak with Plants
  • Sticks to Snakes
  • Insect Plague
  • Quest
  • Conjure Animals
  • Find the Path
  • Speak with Monsters
  • Restoration
  • Resurrection
  • Symbol

Going deeper, though, some new spells make sense for this priest. Charm Animals, for instance, a lesser Charm Monster spell. Protection from Plants (for wild vines, jungle crawls and/or plant-based creatures. There's also spells for learning about an animal through divination. This translates to spells that reveal weaknesses in an opponent. The War aspect could be used for Summoning War Dogs, or possibly an ability of the priest to call Divine Hounds to his aid.

For busy people like me, I can also build on other OGL work to come up with some really cool spells options. Here are some links to the Grand OGL Wiki:

Animal Domain, Nine spells are listed because it is based on 3.x games, but it's easy to use these as a source to build seven S&W type spells. My favorite is beastshape.

Charm Domain, Again nine spells that can be easily modified. There's quite a bit here including insanity, suggestion and calm emotions.

Protection Domain, Well looky here, Spell Immunity and Protection from Energy. Very handy spells that also fit the War aspect as well. With choices like these, this could because a popular priest already.

There was an Oracle Domain at some point that functioned like a Divination Domain. The spells for it were: 1st level - identify; 2nd level - augury; 3rd level - divination; 4th level - scrying; 5th level - commune; 6th level - legend lore; 7th level - greater scrying; 8th level - discern location; 9th level - foresight.

Greater Scrying is out just because I don't do Greater Spells. Identify is interesting as well as legend lore and discern location. Foresight can be used for all sorts of things, but I imagine most character would use it for, shall we say, war-like purposes. For this priest that fits just fine. It will take a bit more work, but considering how easy the first three were, it will be worth it.

So here in about 15 minutes, I've sketched out an interesting priest using a random reference to one of my books and the Grand OGL wiki.

It's true, this takes a bit of work, but like the mages under the emphasis system, it creates something unique about each character in a meaningful way.

Now, add in the ability to make Cleric scrolls, and now we have the interesting variations that the mages have. This example priest has a +1 for Healing, which helps, but if he incorporates Animal somehow, it can be interesting. Yes, you could say that humans are animals, so Cure Light Wounds wouldn't be much different. Let's just say, though, that the emblem of the deity is a fox. A scroll could be something like The Healing Fox or The Vulpine Cure. You could describe the spell as forming a mist in the shape of a fox that is inhaled and exhaled. The effect is that the target is healed 2-7 points of damage. Like the mages, the effect is the same, but the description makes in more fun.

Hopefully there will be more tomorrow. This time using the psionic guys.

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