Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Class Struggles: Clerics, Wizards and Witches

This is Zohir Totek. Is she a cleric, wizard or witch?
Ok so stop me if you have heard this one before...
a Cleric, a Wizard and a Witch walk into a dungeon...

ok, you likely haven't heard that one before.  Why? Well there is still some confusion over what roles each of these character classes play.

I mean we all, old-school gamers and new-school, seem to have a good grasp on the concept of what a wizard does, or at least can do.  They cast spells. They are the "smart guys" in the group. So I am not going into detail about them just yet.

Clerics also cast spells.  But they also heal and are better at bashing in skulls and killing undead.  Some old-school blogs in the past have posted things about not needing clerics in games. I believe that Lamentations of the Flame Princess doesn't even have a Cleric class.   I have seen other posts over the years that also attest to this anti-Cleric vibe.    This is not even getting into the divide between clerics, druids, mystics and invokers.   I never quite got this. My first character was a cleric.  For me he was a hunter of the Undead and later demons.  While certainly there is the "party medic" part to the cleric's job, there is the "occult" aspect too.  When you stop fighting orcs and goblins and move to ghouls, vampires and demons then you are going to need/want a cleric in your group.  Yes. Wizards can and should cover some of this as well.

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 Wizard,  but the cleric's input should not be understated.  For me I guess I look at what is the prime attribute of the any-school Cleric.  Wisdom. Always has been, likely always will be.   Compare this to the equally constant Wizard; Intelligence, always has been, likely always will be too.
For me, if your cleric and wizard are not getting into heated arguments in the game then you are missing out on some good roleplaying experiences.

Matters become more complicated when you through in a witch or a warlock (as I am wont to do). Or even and Oracle (Pathfinder), Druid (any), Invoker (D&D4), and/or a Sorcerer (Post D&D3).  It can quickly become a mess really.

I have talked at great length on what the roles and powers of a witch are or should be:
so I am not going to recount those all here.

In my book The Witch I have an appendix of things you can do with the Magic-User to make it more Wizard like.  I know this goes against the central conceit of the "magic-user" but it is what has worked for me. Yes you can play a by-the-book magic-user and give her "witch" spells.  I have done this for every edition of D&D I have ever played to be honest.  I spend a lot of time and energy on this topic.

So here are some rough guidelines.  These are based on my games really and focused on my own particular flavor of Old-School.  So your mileage will vary.

Clerics (Wisdom, Divine): Max spell level 7, some powers (turning undead, healing magic in other editions), greater combat ability and greater hit points.  Knowledge of outer planes and evil magical monsters.  Worship and follow their gods.  Best healing spells.
See also Mystics, Druids, Healers, Invokers.

Wizards (Intelligence, Arcane): Max spell level 9, not a lot of extra powers (I give them Read Magic for free). Weak combat ability, best at knowledge on monsters.  No special attention is paid to gods.  Best at spell research and magic item creation.  Best damage dealing spells.
See also Sorcerers, Illusionists.

Witch (Charisma, Occult): Max spell level 8, extra powers. Spells are overall weaker than a wizard. Weak combat ability.   Knowledge of supernatural and fey creatures.  Learn spells from patrons via familiars.  Might call them gods, but they are not necessarily so.  Best change of condition/state spells (curses, polymorphs) that may or may not cause direct (HP) damage.
See also Warlocks.

I can see a relationship that goes like this:

Of course, this is overly simple. But I can see other magic using classes here.
I wonder what is in the center?  Any ideas or guesses?

Compare to this RPG Archetypes graphic I saw on facebook, G+ and recently over at Observations of the Fox.

Click for much larger

I love graphics like this.  I could do the next 10-12 Class Struggles on that triangle alone.


Tim Emrick said...

What's in the center? Hmm...Hecate?

Timothy Brannan said...

My youngest said Baba Yaga.

Dennis Laffey said...


JB said...

[no idea what's in the center]

Have you considered (or run) a game where witches simply replaced magic-users?

Reading this post and your earlier ones, I'm struck by the idea that the "witch" (which I've written several times myself) may need to be something setting-specific, rather than an archetypal class. So much of the witch...and version (folkloric, historical, literary) intimately tied to its particular setting, mainly with regard to culture. Sure, they do magic...but that magic varies from source to source (I know you're an expert on the subject, so you can draw references from tons of sources). Real witchcraft is extremely personal to its practitioners, and in a way that parallels the media depiction of witches: each filmmaker or TV producer or book writer has their own personal interpretation of the abilities of a witch. There's a shit-ton of differences between Bewitched and the film Warlock and those Harry Potter books...and a galaxy of difference between any of those and Baba Yaga!

The real defining thing about witches is their (sub)culture, not their powers. They are outsiders from normal society. They are close-knit (have shared ties) with each other. They're feared and often persecuted (or shunned if too powerful...see Baba Yaga). Even so, they can be helpful to non-witches. They seem to have an appreciation for the natural world, especially animals and plants. Their "natural world" also includes forces that mundane folks see as "supernatural" (whether you're talking about spirits, sympathetic magic, or whatever).

The default setting of most editions of D&D don't really leave room for this culture of the witch. People don't shun and persecute magic-users. Magic-users are prone to secrecy and isolation in order both to guard their power and to prevent every Tom, Dick, and Jenny from banging on their door asking for help with some quest or village plight. The evil ones go crazy and live in dungeons and command legions of orcs and monsters. The helpful ones are out on adventures, fattening their purses, getting in knife fights, and acting as magical artillery. I don't know...for me, there's just nothing "witchy" there (culturally speaking).

To really do witches, you need a specific campaign setting that works with their culture. After that, most any spells or abilities will work (and there's plenty of inspiration to draw from). But without the right setting? I don't see a real place for witches in the D&D game.

Timothy Brannan said...

Awesome! Thanks for this post Jonathan. I am going to have to answer it in detail later today.

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