Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Old School Druid Class (wip) - Atheist/BOSR/Folk Horror/Pagan/Psychedelic/Witch

This Druid is the Dionysus to this Cleric’s Apollo, and this Druid from Basic Red is a significant recent ancestor/inspiration - I was never that keen on the medieval environmentalist take.

The BECMI (or B/X) Cleric class is the template, including spell-casting not being available until 2nd level.

The Wicker Man (1973)

Description: The Druid class is defined against the Cleric, being the pagans, shamans and witches observing the Old Ways, in defiance of the True Faith and the Universal Church. Druids are not the Clerics of another religion, though some are part of priestly traditions.

The Old Ways are a sprawling array of belief systems, without any overarching harmony or hierarchy, though they tend towards a strong relationship with the elemental, natural and supernatural worlds - whether through appeasement, domination or veneration. 

A Druid does not necessarily identify as a Druid - it's a metagame term of convenience. Not all Druids know they are Druids, some will reject the label, and define themselves within their own milieu.

Within the class, there will be those who do not make full use of the special abilities - if you don't know you can Call the Wild and the Weird, you won't try; if you only get naked and high for fun, you might not notice you can Pass Without Trace.

XP, Saving Throws, Attacks & Hit Dice: all as Cleric. 

Prime Requisite: equal chance (roll d6) of any, with usual benefits/penalties – but you do this after you’ve rolled your Ability Scores and chosen Druid as your class. 

Your Prime Requisite will reflect in how your special abilities manifest, the way you carry yourself, your choice of equipment, and the nature of any uncanny forces that take an interest in you.

If you are in an Altered State, you can count a negative Prime Requisite adjustment as positive when using Druidic special abilities.

I don't know who they are or what they're doing, but they look the part, don't they?
Britannia (2018 onwards)

Armour: Any, but you can’t use your Druid special abilities while wearing iron or steel armour, or armour you didn’t make yourself or strip from a defeated foe.

A naked Druid in an Altered State counts as carrying a shield if wielding a staff weapon, and can also use their Prime Requisite modifier as an AC bonus and for saves vs. fire, frost, poison and lightning.

Kill List (2011)

Weapons: Any, but you can’t use your Druid special abilities while armed with iron or steel weapons that have not been wetted with blood in the last minute. Must be at least a dagger-cut's worth. 

Staff weapon includes anything with a long wooden haft, so spears, pole arms, flails and battle axes could all be allowed (negotiable). 

There is no reason a Druid couldn't use a firearm, though some will scorn them through affectation or strong belief.

Alignment Restrictions: None - all that True Neutral stuff was propaganda.

Special Abilities.

Richard O'Brien as Gulnar, 'pagan sorcerer'.
Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986).

Altered States: Druids spend a lot of time in Altered States, and not just because it activates or enhances their special abilities - some take them very seriously as sacred rites, others just like to get messy.

If you are in an Altered State, you count a negative Prime Requisite adjustment as positive. Because of this, some Druids will have an incentive to degrade their Prime Requisite, and this is often easier to do than to raise it.

In addition, in an Altered State you can apply your Charisma or Prime Requisite adjustment to Reaction Rolls, whichever is favourable.

I've covered Altered States a bit here, if you don't already have systems in place or want a few ideas.

A simple alternative for the mechanical effects of Altered States would be to roll Dexterity, Initiative and Intelligence at disadvantage (except when it directly relates to using a Druid special ability) or to apply an Initiative penalty like the Mystic class from AD&D 2e Masque of the Red Death. 

The undead, the faerie folk, demons and elementals are probably always in an Altered State by mortal standards. Conjured/summoned monsters, the mentally ill (your group may need to discuss whether this is appropriate), and/or those under a spell can also be considered to be in an Altered State.

Linda Hayden as Angel Blake.
Blood on Satan's Claw/The Satan Skin (1970).

Authority/Influence (Glamour): Analogous to the Cleric special ability, but you can only use it on individuals or those in an Altered State - Druids do not have the awesome centuried might of the Church behind them, but they do possess a mysterious, tangible authority or an oddly compelling manner. It's not far removed from mesmerism, but this is not mind control - they might lose their inhibitions, but they won't lose their will.

You receive no adjustment to the subject's save for your level. However, if your audience is in an Altered State - or you are using this ability to cause/reverse an Altered State in an individual - you can apply your Prime Requisite adjustment.

Three successes in a row on an individual can be used to lessen/remove emotional/mental effects of spell-level equal or lower than that the Druid could cast (in a similar fashion to the Cleric's Casting Out ability.

If both parties are in an Altered State, they do not have to be able to understand each other - the comprehension is not total, but extends to animals and monsters.

Otherwise, the same restrictions apply for the Druid as for the Cleric.

Herne the Hunter - elemental spirit or bloke in a stag's head?
Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986).

Call of the Wild and the Weird: You spend exploding d6 rounds/turns performing a sacred ritual, making loud and varied animal noises, or closing your eyes, spreading your arms and reaching out with your mind. 

You can't do anything else while you're Calling, except for slow movement, cautious or guided. You can Call during combat, but you can't fight while you're doing it.

At the end of this time (it includes narrative/nominal travel time for whatever comes to you), roll 2d6 - you can use your Prime Requisite modifier to either buy down the time or boost the roll. You can keep on trying until you give up or something comes.

On a 9 or better, normal and/or giant animals answer - roll on an appropriate random encounter table. On an 11 or better, your Call attracts supernatural (or otherwise powerful and/or unusual) denizens of the area - random roll or GM choice. Success always Fatigues you.

Spending exploding d6 turns performing the Call improves your respective target numbers to 7 and 9.

If you are in an Altered State, their Reaction is Neutral on arrival.

To try to summon something specific (a wolf or wolves is general; the pack leader/ alpha female/ Ragged General One-Eye is specific) that you know/think dwells hereabouts, your roll is 3d6D1 disadvantage.

You can’t call anything from another plane or from outer space unless you are in a Place of Power associated with it, and there may be specific additional requirements.

Penny Dreadful (2014-2016).

Invisibility to Mortals (Glamour): You must be nude, in an Altered State, in non-magical, non-daylight illumination, and cannot activate this ability if you are under direct observation by anyone who would be affected by it.

You are invisible (actually, automatically camouflaged against your surroundings) to characters of 0 to 2nd level, even if you attack. You are invisible to 3rd level characters, but will become visible to them if you attack them or they manage to hit you. Characters of 4th level and above are unaffected.

Gained at 3rd level, and requires a round of concentration to activate.

Pass Without Trace (Glamour): This is basically the AD&D Druid ability '...to pass through overgrown areas (undergrowth of tangled thorns, briar patches, etc.) without leaving a discernible trail and at normal movement rate.'

However, you get it at 1st level, and you must be nude, in an Altered State, at night. Probably works with dust, sand, snow etc. Those trying to track you might believe you have taken flight as the only explanation.

Recognise Mystery (Second Sight): Similar to the Cleric’s ability to Recognise Evil, but for subtle signs of Old Ways practice, the presence of spirits, places of power, and omens both natural and bizarre. Recognise Evil is more 'know thy enemy'; Recognise Mystery is 'friend or foe?'.

You’re much better at this when you’re in an Altered State, and you can also use your Prime Requisite adjustment to boost the effectiveness of divination (spells or magic items), if such a thing makes sense in context.

Things that might constitute Mysteries: spell-casters, some staple D&D non-human character kindred (duergar, gnomes, elves, half-elves, tieflings, aasimar, genasi), sexuality, gender, kink, secrets, dreams, lies, codes, cant, heredity, pre-scientific science, those under a spell, time travellers, undead, demons, shape-changers, illusions, faerie folk, aliens & alien technology, ancient super-science that seems to be magic, allegorical history/anthropology, arcane and divine language.

Druids also see better in the dark than others, especially in an Altered State. We're not talking full-on dark- or infra-vision here, but definitely at a significant advantage over other human characters.

Spell Casting: You can cast spells from 2nd level onward, using Cleric spell progression. You have automatic access to 1st and 2nd level Druid spells (or Cleric and reversed Cleric spells, if your game doesn't have Druidic magic).

Spells of higher level must absolutely come from (3rd, 4th, 5th) 'supernatural servants of the cleric’s deity' and (6th, 7th) 'direct communication from the deity itself', and should be something of an adventure in itself (1e AD&D DMG).

To cast Magic User spells from scrolls, use Recognise Mystery in an Altered State. I leave it ambiguous whether or not you can do this from 1st level.

You can also learn Magic User spells. Until you reach 9th level, these can only be from a higher level Druid or Magic User (or a monster). Each one blocks out a spell-slot for good – you can only use it for that spell. You are allowed to change or delete a spell when you gain a level. 

What Was Left Out.

The Druid class is meant to encapsulate pagans, witches, mediums, shamans and cultists (groovy and/or Satanic) - it's intended to include the type of character that isn't already a Magic User, but lies outside what is acceptable for the True Faith and Universal Church: elementalists, animists, werewolves (bloodthirsty and/or environmentalist), warlocks, berserkers, dhampirs, emergent psychics (check for psionics or wild talents each level, or when they hit 0 hp and survive), poltergeist girls, firestarters, uptight suburban Satanists, sibyls, practitioners of ceremonial, chaos and/or sex magick, unkillable slashers, seventh offspring of seventh offspring, chosen ones, dryads and hamadryads (if they're not monsters), mystic assassins, changelings, teenagers too deep into The Game of Dungeon or The Game of Vampire, planeswalkers, fairy and witch doctors, uncanny monks, tricksters, occultists, psychonauts (serious and recreational), death metal bards, kings of the wood, defenders of the forest groves, those possessed by devils, even flagellants, heretics and mystics of the True Faith.

There's a lot more I wanted to pack in - some of which can be inferred from the Basic Red Druid - but it was roaming all over the place, so I had to try and tighten things up. 

Anyway, I might revisit in future to cover: Trading Humanity for Power (think Ravenloft and The Blood on Satan's Claw, but not irredeemably evil), Spirit Possession/ Projection (this is where the wildshape special ability goes in my version), Sex and Blood Magick (drawing on the Basic Red Druid), Ceremony/Ritual spell-casting, Cause Mystery (messing with people when you and they are in Altered States).

I've also left out Druid hierarchies and organisations - partly because there isn't an equivalent to the Universal Church for the Old Ways - but I do like the AD&D feature of Druids challenging each other to claim the higher levels, which logically leads to rival covens vying for power while they attempt to defenestrate their own leaders/teachers.

The Hierophant Druid - I know it from 2e AD&D, but I understand it pre-dates that - also didn't make it, though I think there's room if it could be toned down for lower levels.


This is specifically a fictional, pop-culture class - my sources that aren't films, TV or comics (Slaine and Summer Magic from 2000AD) are the (politely) debatable anthropology/history of Margaret Murray's Witch Cult in Western Europe and James Frazer's The Golden Bough, and the religio-magickal traditions of (amongst others) Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders. 

Some of the Old Ways are not that old at all.

At some point during this process, I looked back on the AD&D Druid with fresh eyes and realised that it's always been a pretty solid Witch class (in the same way as the 2e AD&D Bard is actually a pretty solid Cleric/Priest) - it's just that the medieval environmentalist got in the way.

The original concept was a lot bloodier and sexier, but in the end I cleaved closer to the BOSR Cleric seen in a mirror in a dim room. In much the same way as the Cleric, this class is meant to look villainous from the other side of the hedge - spell-casting as a core special ability for one, rather than an option for the other, is meant to raise the narrative and mechanical stakes between them.

I don't think Clerics and Druids should be able to multi-class with each other, but the idea that the one might abandon all to convert to the other seems narratively interesting.

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