Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Melisandre. Priestess or Witch?

"The Night is dark and full of terrors."
- Melisandre

Melisandre of Asshai - by John Picacio
Game of Thrones is in its final season and so far it has not disappointed me.  Well...there was that "whole new world" scene with Dany, Jon, and the dragons.
This past week we got to see the Red Woman, Melisandre again during the battle at Winterfell against the Night King and his army of the dead.  It was so fantastic, to be honest.   Loved the battle, loved how the episode ended.  Everything.

But I am not here today to talk about the battle.

I want to talk about Melisandre.
In particular is she a Priestess, read Cleric, or is she as many will claim, a Witch?

I thought a firey red priestess/witch would be good for Beltane today.

Let's look at what we know.  I am going to focus nearly exclusively on the TV show on HBO.  I'll grab from the books when needed to smooth out some details or get answers to questions.

In many ways, I am going to follow the spirit of my other series, One Man's God and Class Struggles.

What is Known
Or Me nem nesa as the Dothraki say.

We know that Melisandre calls herself a priestess of the god R'hllor, known as the Red God, The Lord of Light or the One True God.  In Westeros this sets her apart from most people as they tend to worship the Seven, or the New Gods. The ones that don't worship the "Old Gods".
Melisandre claims that all the other gods are false gods.  Most people have no issues with the Old or New Gods, so this also sets her apart.

She has seen to have powers of divination, cursing, breeding shadow spawn, summoning fire and the greatest, bringing people back from the dead.  She able to cast glamours and her red-gold choker seems to keep her young or at least appear young.
We know she is very, very old. She was a slave named "Melony" who was sold to the Red Temple in Asshai.

Looking at her through the lens of classes in D&D, and in particular B/X version, has many limitations.  It is still a fruitful exercise though.  For starters, it shows the flexibility of the B/X flavor of classes. It also helps me see how well my own witch classes can emulate various media representations of witches.  My philosophy in game and class design has always been "if a player wants to do to something my rules should tell them how they CAN do it, not how they CAN'T." (I hear grognards, OSR purists and other screaming in rage now. That's fine, let them scream.)

So let's pull out my D&D Expert book and give Melisandre a go.

Melisandre is a Priestess
This is the easiest of course. She refers to herself as a priestess as do others.  Her religion is widely accepted in Essos and treated as such.  The biggest clue, of course, is her ability to raise the dead, a power she claims is not hers, but that of the Lord of Light.  Her spells and powers seem closest to a cleric.
If we take "Raise Dead" as the peak of her powers then that puts her level at a minimum of 7th level for B/X D&D. I would not say she is much past 9th level, but I am willing to accept 9th.

Melisandre, Priestess of R'hllor

7th level female Cleric

Strength: 9
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 17
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 17

AC: 9
HP: 33

Magic items: Necklace of Protection Against Aging

First: Cure Light Wounds, Light, Remove Fear
Second: Hold Person, Resist Fire, Silence 15' radius
Third: Continual Light, Remove Curse, Striking
Fourth: Cure Serious Wounds, Protection/Evil 10' radius
Fifth: Commune, Raise Dead

Close...but missing some of her abilities she is really known for, starting fires and giving birth to shadow monsters.  Plus by the rules Melisandre the Cleric can Turn Undead.  That skill would have been helpful in the Battle of Winterfell.

Taking a peek at my 5th Edition D&D books it looks like a Cleric and not a Warlock or Druid would be the best choice.

Let's see how she works as a witch.

Melisandre is a Witch
Of course, for that, I would also need to decide on a tradition for her.  Something like Lord of Light Tradition.  Witches, in general, do not get the spell Raise Dead.  So I am thinking that should be an occult power.  Something they gain at 7th level.
Also, there is her lesser explored power of alchemy/herbalism.  Something all witches get.

Melisandre, Witch of R'hllor

9th level female Witch, Lord of Light Tradition

Strength: 9
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 17
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 17

AC: 9
HP: 26

Magic items: Necklace of Protection Against Aging

Occult Powers
Familiar: Spirit of fire
Herb Use
Raise Dead

First: Bewitch I, Burning Hands, Glamour
Second: Augury, Dark Whispers, Hypnotize
Third: Bestow Curse, Brave the Flames
Fourth: Divination, Intangible Cloak of Shadows
Fifth: Summon Shadow

So I had to raise her level to 9th to get the Summon Shadow spell.  In general, I like her spell choices as a witch better.  BUT that could be my biases since I have written so many (900+ so far!) and I have many to fit an exact situation.

She doesn't really have a familiar, so I am saying her "familiar" is her ability to look into flames.
I also did not give her any "bonus" spells since I wanted a pure B/X experience here.

I should point out that Green Ronin produces a very fine game based, not on the TV show, but the books in A Song of Ice and Fire.

It's Beltane! A time for witches to celebrate.  Start your own celebrations with my new witch book: Daughters of Darkness, The Mara Witch Tradition


Charles said...

The principle issue with any sort of "stat this character challenge" is that the classes don't really have the same structure.

A fighter is ANY fighter: he can be a soldier, a knight, a samurai, or a barbarian sell-sword -- they all follow more or less the same rules, and their class progression means pretty much the same thing.

But a Wizard is ALL wizards: she will dabble in sympathetic magic, alchemy, runic magic, incantations, summoning, divinations.... Despite later attempts to add more focused, flavorful magician classes, the core Wizard is already a witch, a scholarly wizard, an alchemist, and an invoker of higher powers. And she will be, even if she prioritizes some certain school over others.

The basic Cleric, in contrast -- and again, despite later attempts to broaden it -- is a SPECIFIC MASH-UP OF SPECIFIC INSPIRATIONS: of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, of Van Helsing and his Hammer Film descendants, and echoing the miracles of Moses, Jesus, and other saints on demand. Much of the weirdness of the Cleric class comes from just not being able to accept how specific it was from the star.

And, to round things out, the Thief is SOME thief: it's really the only class to try to set a broad perimeter around all thiefly things, then navigate your path within it.

As for Melisandre, she always struck me as a witch working for a god. There are things which she disavows that seem outside of her scope without divine assistance, but there's also a lot of ritual and hidden knowledge that she seems to expect to work even without.

JB said...

In general, I agree with using the mechanics of the rules to model what you want, rather than the "fluff." It's why I could easily use the mechanics of the Halfling class as a framework for Tormund (even the AC bonus...he's just made of "sterner stuff" than other men).

However, the world of GoT is sooo magic poor, that I think a bit more radical paradigm might be needed for characters like Melisandre. While she calls herself a priestess, others call her a witch, and I'm inclined to use the magic-user class as a base. The ability to "raise dead" appears to be more of a plot-driven (i.e. based on DM fiat) thing than an actual, daily spell, and I don't recall her having a whole lot of other "healing magic." Her prayers are simply spell incantations as far as I'm concerned.

I don't think the world of Westeros has such a thing as B/X clerics in it.

Sean Robert Meaney said...

Is the necklace from 5e or unique, otherwise I would call it a minor Artefact (Collar of Vigour) which reduces her age from 'ancient' to 'Mature'

What was that Four line poem?
Like the kiss of sweet wine.
Like the sting of a maddened queen.
Like the ecstasy of consuming desire.
Like the fading of a dream.

Thats the vibe I get from her and the other red witches. Four tiers of witchcraft and she has long since reached the last.

JB said...

I always thought her necklace was a "periapt of proof against poison." Doesn't it protect her from an assassination attempt in the first season/book?

jamescbennett said...

I agree: the necklace grants poison immunity and the illusion of youth. The Red God can keep you alive as long as he needs you, which is why she was still around for the Battle of Winterfell.