Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Some thoughts on clerics

Kids and Clerics

The whole notion of clerics and their relationship with their deity raises the point of whether they are a good character class for youngsters to play. I mean, if you were a seven-year-old and knew that a cleric was a priest and worked for a god, what would be the first thing you'd do when your character got into real trouble?

Exactly. And this presents us with a conundrum. Either the DM allows the prayer/importuning to work or he doesn't. If he does, then there is the inevitable 'me too' from everyone else or 'why not me too?'. Suddenly everyone wants to play a cleric so that they can get out of trouble free.

If the DM turns round and says "[insert your deity's name here] doesn't answer", then the cleric's player might start asking things like 'why not?' or 'but he's my god, he can do anything' and the carefully-constructed milieu and its theology starts to fall apart, and before you know it, you're living with a seven-year-old Richard Dawkins.

I’m aware of the argument advanced in D&DG about the limited ability of deities to respond to calls for help. However, this rather goes against the grain of what kids recognise – if they recognise it at all – as the nature of a god. They’re either familiar with the Greek myths in which the gods seem to be involved in the affairs of mortals all the time or they’re aware of the supposedly omnipotent nature of the Judaeo-Christian deity. Either way, it seems to me that they’re not really old enough to grasp the notion that a god might not answer every time, that no matter how devout their cleric, the reply might be ‘no reply’. Especially if the cleric in question is a 1st leveller and it’s his first adventure. With no precedent to which to relate the experience, any incident that seems threatening is going to be viewed as in extremis.

Now, as adults, we’re capable of contextualising our beliefs or lack thereof and relating them to the way in which deities interact in D&D. We’re much more comfortable with the notion that we might not get an answer when our cleric raises his or her holy symbol and hollers to the skies

“I’m your cleric, get me out of here!”

So, clerics – a good class for kids or not?

Clerics and healing

Which leads me on to one of the most fundamental abilities of the cleric – healing.

I was discussing clerics with Dungeonmum the other day and had the following thoughts that may form the basis of a houserule regarding our holy friends.

In my campaign, clerics may have to be divided into three:

The first type would be the Knight Templar church militant bash-unbelievers-in-with-a-mace type. Keen to smite evil and wage holy war, not so happy about handing healing out to the infidel.

The second type would be the healer type, more like druids with a knowledge of herbal medicine and the current medical practices. They would be happy to lend a hand to whoever is passing by since their deities would be gods or goddesses of healing anyway and their whole ethos would be help-based, with the hope that recipients of their services would reciprocate.

The third type would be the big guns back at the main temples, the hierarchs with a direct line to their gods. They'd have the real powers but would tend to hang around the temples and not go off on adventures (too valuable to the cult). They would have the raise deads and resurrections.

In my proposed houserule, the first type could use the various cure spells, but only on fellow believers. This would reflect the rivalries of religion and give people an incentive to get cured. There may be a 'cure at a reduced rate' service, by which the cure spells would work on non-believers but at half-effect.

The second type would have full access to all the cure spells at normal effect or at a heightened effect, which I would imagine means that every time a cure spell was cast, a d8 and a d12 were rolled and the higher-scoring die would be the one to be counted. This would work on any worshipper but only if the cleric of the healing deity was doing the casting.

The third type, as we have already said, would get the normal spells but as they would be temple-based, recipients would have to go to the temple to get the help.

This argues the case quite well for the use of healing potions, which may well be made by the second type, having access to the various plants and ingredients.

There would be no change to the turning abilities of a cleric – his faith and the divine power that guides him would provide all the power he needs to banish the undead. The cleric himself is the one under threat and an inability to turn would result in his death or at the very least, extreme danger. Whether he is with a party who worship different deities is immaterial – the cleric’s survival is on the line, something very immediate and very different from whether Kravgar the fighter gets some hit points back.

I don’t want to go down the full path of spell domains and areas of speciality and that’s why this houserule is very much concerned with healing spells only, and does not deprive clerics of the ability full-stop. If I had not devised deities of healing for my campaign, this would not have come up but it has and so I felt the need to address it.


  1. Clerics have always been a problem with the groups I've gamed with.

    One of the DM's I used to game with had treated cleric magic much like wizard magic. Both classes had a spell book, and both classes learned spells from books or other users. I hated it. He even allowed dual class clerics/mages which I never understood. The dual was partly reasoned behind his nonweapon proficiency "spelltwisting," which would allow the caster to combine spells and the DM would give the outcome. He also let them combine mage and cleric spells. I know right...

    I allow the clerics in my group to choose which deity they follow, and then we base the spheres around it. But, we also play 2nd ed, and we have all of the appropriate books. The one problem I've always had are players that seem to forget the reason 'why' behind their character. They do as little as possible to commune with their gods, or even ask for guidance (quest spells.)

    I really like your idea of breaking the clerics into three groups. The PC can play either cleric one, or cleric two, and it'd be easy to do with some basic rules behind it. A houserule set of deities, or perhaps a deity created by the character and the DM, could be used as the guidelines. It'd be great for a basic game.

  2. That's a very interesting point about cleric characters and kids, that could be really thorny.
    In general, I prefer my games cleric-less anyway (cleric & magic user spells merged), and I've not run games for kids before.

  3. Great point (about kids as clerics) not something I've ever considered before. I guess it goes without saying that kids realise the difference between real life and the make-believe world of D&D. They learn quickly enough that if they pray to god for a bicycle they may (indirectly) or may not get one. I'd say let them play clerics if they want to, it's certainly not how clerics in this world operate (do thieves in our world work like theirs? nope they wait til you go on holiday, trash the place and crap on the carpet, not exactly sneaky).

    What I've always found hard to fathom is the link between clerics and healing. I can understand the turn undead/anti-evil aspect (the exorcist springs to mind). But the curing people with prayers always seems a little out of place to me. Are physicians such a 'modern' concept that they don't fit in to the pseudo-medieval world that D&D is largely represented as? Someone (I think it was Grognardia, I may be mistaken, sorry, nappy head) did a post on alchemist class the other day. To my mind that seems a much more suitable role for a 'healer'.

  4. Its been a while since I've owned a dead tree copy of DDG or Legends and Lore and because I'm getting on a bit I'd forgotten about most of the below apart from the general premise! Somewhere therein is a treatment of divine intervention aka get out of jail free which goes loosely thus.....
    Low level clerics are unlikely to attract the attention of deities and their servants because their daily miracle allocation is gained through personal faith, ritual and prayer...
    (1st and 2nd level)
    3rd/4th level are granted by a deities lesser servants.
    5th+ are granted by the cleric's deity/proxy.
    Low level clerics are literally motes in their gods eye and beneath notice.
    Only when 3rd/4th level spells start being granted there is a remote chance 1% per level the VERY BUSY divine agent might aid the cleric in a minor way.
    This has worked in more or less all the campaigns I've ever played in.
    Another thing with divine intervention is if a deity directly intervenes then that gives whichever deity/deities are their enemies an excuse to pitch in on the other side......
    Kind of a Divine Arms Race ........leading to mass destruction and annihilation for all in the immediate vicinity (at least for mortals........mwhahaha)

    I did like the efficacy of cures at different levels for believers/non believers, it has to be said.

  5. "if clerics can pray for divine intervention, why can't everyone?" I'm actually inclined to say "sure!" 1st-level Fighters, Magic-Users and Clerics all have the same chance to hit, so why not give them all the ability to pray, as long as they're faithful followers?

    I'd treat it as a reaction roll on behalf of the divine powers; ordinary people get their prayers answered on a Good reaction; spell level and frequency of requests are penalties to the roll, recent acts of devotion and degree of faithfulness are bonuses. Clerics get what they pray for unless they have fallen from grace (angered the god(s) on their last request.) They also get a bonus based on their level.

  6. Are you there God? It's me Frodo.

    I never have seen this as a problem other than that annoying line in Deities & Demigods that allows 1st level fighters to call on Sif. I've always looked at a cleric's spells as them beseeching their deity. As they gain levels, their deity allows them to perform greater miracles. Given that the system avoids an omniscient deity in most play. I've never seen it as a problem.