Friday, May 6, 2011

Clerics in D&D

There has been a lot of talk of clerics and their value in a D&D game.  This ranges from the the old school of whether or not the Cleric is an appropriate trope for a fantasy game to the new school of whether a cleric is needed in a game that also has healing surges.

Here are some posts to illustrate what I mean,

I am firmly in the camp of Clerics are as much a part of D&D as Fighters, Wizards and Thieves.

My first character ever was Father Johan Weper, Cleric of the God of the Sun, Hunter of the Undead. He was a bit of a generic cleric to be honest, and I choose the sun god because I thought that as a quasi-medieval priest  the sun would be a major feature of all the is holy, bright and good.  Plus I had been reading a bunch of Greek Myths and I though Apollo would make for a good god.  But the real reason I choose the cleric; Turning Undead.  That was an AWESOME power in my pre-teen mind.   So that has colored my views of the cleric ever since.

In real life I am an atheist, but I like the play the religious character.  So clerics, witches, druids, all fascinate me.  But clerics are where it all started.

Clerics as Occult Researchers
In nearly every other game I have ever played there have been occult researchers.  There is usually someone that is the pary's muscle, the magic-guy, the sneaky guy and then the smart guy.  Sometime the magic guy and smart guy are the same, sometimes though they are not.  The Cleric takes on the roll of the Smart Guy or the Occult Researcher.  The books, the ill fitting glasses, and the wisdom to know what to do is the roll of the cleric.

It is fairly well known that the idea behind clerical undead turning  came from Peter Cushing's Van Helsing characters in the various Hammer Dracula films.  Why not extend the metaphor to include the rest of Van Helsing's portfolio.  As a class that puts a high value on Wisdom then the cleric should be a font of knowledge. Sure, this can also be done by the Magic-User / Wiazard,  but the cleric's input should not be understated.

In D&D 3 and 4 knowledge of the undead fall within the Knowledge (Religion) or just Religion category.   These characters tend to have more training in this area than other characters.  While wizards are typically the font of magical knowledge, clerics should be the source of knowledge beyond the ken of mortal man and into the realm of the gods.

Clerics as the Party Leader
The cleric also can serve the roll as the leader. While the cleric can run the gamut of influential high priest to crazy street prophet to diabolic cult leader, players typically take on the roll of the cleric of the local church, usually good.  Certainly that is what D&D4 wants you to do and that is fine.  This type of cleric also works as the default leader, whether he/she is or not. So if this is the hand you are dealt, then play it because clerics make great leaders. Under most circumstances they access to power, money, a hierarchy and can expect a modicum of respect from the locals.  All this adds up to instant authority figure.  Even if they are not.

Cleric as the Party Medic
The obvious role.  Clerics have healing magic in earlier editions of the game, have spontaneous healing spells in the 3.x era and can activate healing surges in 4th.  The role of the cleric cannot be overstated.  Parties with out a cleric die.
During my run between 1st and 2nd Ed I created a Healer class.  It shared a number of features that my Witch class did including the ability to heal by touch as she went up in level.  Completely unneeded in 3.x of course, but in 2nd Ed it was quite a game changer.  I also made an NPC healer a pacifist.  She would never raise a weapon to any creature, unless of course it was undead and then she went all Peter Cushing on them.  But running that class and character (she was the only character I ever made for that class) showed me how important the healing aspect was.  There was not just the regaining hit points, there was the player morale.  Also since the character was an NPC it was easy not to have her fight, but the Players really did everything they could to protect her.

BTW. Her name was Celene Weper and she was the youngest daughter of Father Werper above.  Yes clerics in my world get married and have kids, since it is a life affirming thing.
Plus keep in mind that Clerics as Healers has a long tradition even in our own world.  If ever a character decided to become a pure healing cleric and take an oath of non violence then I would give them XP for every hitpoint cured and a share of combat XP.  I would also give them 2x the starting funds (even though they would give what they don't spend back to the church) to represent the investment their churches/hospitals have made in them.  After all, can't send a healer out into the world with shoddy armor. Reflects bad on their organization.

Clerics as Combatants?
It almost seems counter to the above, but clerics are the second best major class when it comes to fighting.  Only fighters (and their related classes) are better.  The get good saves vs. magic due to their high wisdom, or Will saves for the same reason and their saves are pretty decent to start with.   Plus they have one thing fighters don't have, the  ability to use magic.  So what you say, so can Wizards and even your favorite witch.  Yes, but can they do it in field plate armor?  Clerics can.  Sure they do not get the combat spells the wizard gets, but they have a few good ones too.  Creeping Doom is a nasty little spell for Druids.  Finger of Death and reversed Heal spells can also ruin someone's day.
In games without Paladins, Clerics are the "righteous fist of (their) god".  Wizards don't smite.
Clerics can also be one of the few character types that can actually kill monsters with out the moral hnagups.  Even fighters, who get paid, and thieves, that might be working as assassins, don't get the same kind of "get out of jail free card" as do clerics operating within the doctrines of their faith and church.  Think back to the Crusades and the Inquisition, the faithful got away with murder, torture and even more horrible crimes in the name of their God and the law had little to say about it or were in collusion with them.

Clerics might then be one of the more well rounded characters in the group.


Pontifex said...

Have you read Errant, Tim?

I would be interested in your thoughts on the Scholar as a replacement for the Cleric class.

Dangerous Brian said...

I am now, and always have been, a huge fan of the cleric class. In the 2nd ed games of my school years, no-one else ever seemed to want to play the cleric. Mostly, I think, because they had all these interesting spells and only rarely ever got to use them. Cure Light Wounds was just to vital to let even an Augury or a Bless appear on the roster.

Like you, I fell in love with the turn undead ability. Did you know that in pathfinder, all clerics can chanel energy to harm undead but need to spend a feat to be able to Turn them?

Havard: said...

Great aricle Tim! I earlier wrote about that first Van Helsing inspired Cleric played by Mike Carr. Clerics are truly one of the classic classes :)

5stonegames said...

I don't mind the mechanics of the cleric class in any of the editions but the idea of wandering combat priest as a standard archetype is not my cup of tea.

I prefer them as Van Helsing types or white mages

Also, if "occult scholar" is what one is after the Archivist from WOTC's Heroes of Horror is IMO the penultimate version.

Its the only WOTC specific class I still use in my Pathfinder games

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@Greg. I am actually very interested in Errant, I just can't DL it at work for some reason. But thanks for reminding me, I'll get it here soon.

@5Stone: That is a cool class and one I had forgotten about.

Thanks all!

Woodclaw said...

Personally I love the cleric as a concept, I think that they're an important part of D&D iconography.

Whta I usually don't like are the rules, plain and simple clerics are the class that can do everything. They're good at fighting, at spellcasting, at diplomacy etc. they really seem to lack a real weak spot, so sometimes the balance of the game suffer a bit from this.

Elton said...

I typically play Psions, though. But the Cleric is a good class in Pathfinder. Although some people have their woes about the cleric now.

The reasons why I play a psion because I'd like to think that if I lived in the D&D world, I'd be a psion. A shaper. :)