Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thoughts On The Cleric

For a while now, I’ve had sort of a vague dissatisfaction with the Cleric as it exists in most D&D iterations and spinoffs. I’m not sure if it’s because as it usually ends up being played as my idea of a Paladin, or if I don’t like the whole “healer” moniker, which I think tends to rather obscure other features of the class. I think it’s a valid type of clergy, but I’m not sure it’s the type I want representing as Cleric.

With Castles & Crusades, I’ve become enamored of the Friar (described here and here--thanks Rusty Battleaxe!), which seems to fall more in line with my idea of what I’d like from a cleric. I’m going to allow both Friar (slightly rewritten) and Cleric in my upcoming campaign, and see how that goes. But I like the aspects of defender of the faith, chronicler, loremaster in a dark age, etc., more than the healing. Part of me would almost like to see that ability in the hands of an arcane class, an herbalist, or limit it for the Cleric. I guess in the end, it doesn’t match my thoughts for clergy in the pseudo-medieval part of my imagination. I think of Friar Tuck, Brother Cadfael, or Saint Patrick before I think of your standard Priest of Tyr.

We’ll see. Ultimately, it’s something I’m still chewing on, and probably will be for a while. It's not that I think the Cleric as written doesn't have a place in the game--it's just I don't want it to be the only option for clergy.

For those of you who do something a bit different, how do you address clergy (and the cleric class) in your games?


anarchist said...

I used to have a 'priest' class in my game ( But I got rid of it, because I realised that it was only in there because D&D had a cleric class. It's quite hard to look at fantasy directly, without going via D&D!

Rob Donoghue said...

I have found priests only work once you move beyond the generic idea of gods you get in a lot of fantasy stuff - if the gods are actual characters who can be interacted with or the church is a robust political institution, then clerics get a lot more interesting, but when it's just a generic handful of basically interchangeable gods it falls flat. The money question for me really seems to be whether you'd pick the god for any reason than the mechanical benefit it provides (or, in the absence of godly mechanics, which sounds coolest).

This has really stood out in 4e, since the Paladin and Invoker both do a better job of capturing the fantasy-generic holy man than the Cleric does, making the class all the more thematically dodgy (exacerbated by the fact that the cleric really seems to be the vanilla of Leaders).

It's an unholy breakdown of failure and mechanics. When clerics had mechanical distinction (being the only healers) then that could translate into a setting role - priests in dragonlance being a good example of this. When a setting gives them a niche, then they also tend to stand out. But when they have neither mechanical distinction nor setting vibrancy? Blah-tastic.

-Rob D.

PS - This is, curiously, an area where I think older games do better than new ones. Religion, lie history, becomes bland when polished to a smooth finish. Nonsensical, contradictory pantheons feel much more robust than coherent, symmetrical ones, at least to me. This is why I've always felt like clerics were interesting in Greyhawk, but kind of dull in the Forgotten Realms, for example.

Jeff Rients said...

Nonsensical, contradictory pantheons feel much more robust than coherent, symmetrical ones,

I agree. I also like more nonsense and contradiction in my campaign's history and politics.

Giga boy said...

I like the idea of clerics, it's paladins I find redundant.
Anyway I think that AD&D2e had it right with spells and weapons limited by the choice of deity.
In AD&D/OD&D/C&C clerics are just too strong for my tastes

Rob Conley said...

In my game religion is very important however clerics are not. A lot of the adventures go on have at least a toe in some religious conflict of my Majestic Wilderlands.

Clerics are not as popular among my players because I emphasize the importance of faith which means that clerics wind up be being more agents of their religion than the typical happy go lucky adventurer.

There are advantages in that the player has access to the resource his religion's hierarchy. Clerics in my game have extra powers like a Shield of Faith against spells.

I only have 12 deities in my pantheon. However they are known by different names in different cultures. They all teach some type of universal philosophy. I.e. a complete system by which a culture or person can live their life by.

They all teach different ideas. For example Thor/Mantriv is about self-reliance, improving oneself, showing bravery. The various religions that grew around him invariably have their adherents seeking out monsters and killing them. Although one may emphasize the self-improvement while another the bravery aspect.

Another quirk of my system of religion is that I have no truly evil gods. That role is taken up by the demons. I do have gods that have very unpleasant philosphies. Set (Order to the point of Tyranny), Kalis (Obsessed with Revenge), and Hamakhis (Death and human sacrifice).

Still another quirk is that some of the gods have a chosen people. An entire culture that worships that single god.

1d30 said...

I've had a problem reconciling Clerics myself. I look at them as healers, which means peaceful healer, right? So why does this guy get to wear armor and use a mace when a Magic-User fizzles his spells in anything heavier than a +1 Speedo?

I guess it comes down to magical systemization. Two sources of magic seem weird to me, especially since they're so restrictive. Clerics, who get their powers from a god, generally have sucky damage-dealing spells. But Magic-Users, who can create their own spells and approach magic scientifically, cannot heal damage. That seems to be the split.

But Clerics do have damage-dealing spells. Not many, but they do. So why is it that a Magic-User can't create a spell to knit wounds together, replace blood loss, set and fuse bones, revive the unconscious, reduce pain and fatigue, remove scars, purge poisons and diseases, cure insanity - there's no good in-game reason! Except that any DM knows to keep the two apart or else the Cleric is a clear winner. Free spells and no spellbook? Wear armor? Bonus Wisdom spells per day? Double the HP? Half the XP required? Turn Undead? Sign me up!

But Clerics don't make up new spells, right? That's the only downside. So why not just take away Cleric spells in general? Keep his XP chart, his equipment use, prime requisite, Turning, and HP. Just remove the spells. Then give him a certain amount of healing per day, consecration / burial / wedding / etc. ritual duties that don't do much mechanically, and let him cure disease and poison once a day per five levels.

Oops we just created a Paladin.

I agree with you on that one.

But then why can a Magic-User not use healing spells? My argument is that creation and repair is always harder than destruction and entropy. Like the difference between making a ceramic jar or smashing it. Or making someone like you vs. hate you. I'd love some counter examples, I haven't found many.

So give the Cleric generous daily healing capacity based on level, and let Magic-Users scour and scrape to learn spells that heal way less. Say, a Cure Light is a 3rd level M-U spell. Cure Serious is 5th. Cure Critical is 7th. Heal is 9th. This would also set the maximum efficacy of Limited Wish and Wish for healing.

Jonathan said...

FWIW I did a 5-part series on the evolution of "The Cleric" in all the editions of D&D over at The Core Mechanic last year.

The New Cleric if the Old Cleric
links to the other parts are in the preamble.

Personally, I've always prefered the lightly armored, speak softly but carry a big stick pugilist style cleric.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I like the approach used in Avalon Hill's Magic Realm.

In that game, they have 5 colors of magic (white, grey, gold, purple and black) and the pilgrim (cleric) and white knight (paladin) have access to white magic. Most of the 10 spellcasters are limited to one (or very few) colors of magic. The only spellcaster that had access to almost all colors is the Magician, and he is weak, magically, until he expands his spell repertoire.

As for paladins and clerics I've never liked the paladin class, because it seemed redundant and was a contributor to the whole stat inflation phenomenon.

Tim Shorts said...

The trouble I've had with clerics is their gods are usually aspected, but the powers of a cleric are not. Vancian magic doesn't work for me in this case. So I try to develop aspected cleric classes that reflect their god.

I'm currently playtesting a C&C adventure and the major villian is a cleric of an undead god. So his spells/powers are geared toward there undead. You will not find a healing spell in his list.

Hope you don't mind if I add a link Zack, please wipe it out if you do:

Zachary The First said...

@Tim: No, my thanks! Any link from Gothridge Manor is always welcome here—especially the relevant ones! ;)

Zachary The First said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AslanC said...

I have a similar view of Clerics and wrote this little bit about it a month ago.

Feel free to read it as well :)

Yes Friar's are more useful, but even then I think spellcasting is too much for them, maybe scrollcasting yes.

Zachary The First said...

@Aslan: I liked the suggestion of trashing the spells almost entirely, and just giving them a lay-on hands ability. I might leave some 0-levels on there. Thanks for the link—I will check it out!

The Rusty Battle Axe said...

I pretty much agree with all of the above. In 0e, it is clear that clerics stand on a continuum between fighting man and magic user. Less potent spells but clearly capable in combat. In AD&D, the presence of the paladin and, to a lesser extent, the ranger, upsets that relationship. Clerics are the only class of the original three to be dependent upon their setting--the identification with a god or religious system. I quit identifying clerics as priests and moved back to what I think the original intent was, a militant order (Templars, as it were, instead of the village priest). I did the same with paladins and am doing so with friars--all fighting versions of benedictines, dominicans, and jesuits. I have thought about just dropping the paladin as it is the steroid version of the original intent of the cleric.

Some of the cleric/paladin overlap is less of an issue in C&C as C&C version of the paladin has healing ability and can turn undead but cannot cast cleric spells (rangers and bards have no spell-casting ability either, an interesting difference compared to AD&D and OSRIC).