Monday, April 4, 2016

C is for Clerics

I've been debating with myself regarding the thorny issue of clerics. Not whether they should have a spell at 1st level (I think they shouldn't, but at least it gives me an excuse to throw very tough challenges at the party), but whether they should be in my game at all. I wonder if they fit thematically, and whether their role in society is properly thought out.

The thing that got me thinking about that in the first place was coming across Delta's D&D Hotspot. In the sidebar giving a quick list of his "Original Edition Delta" house rules, there are two simple words under Classes: "Clerics removed."

I wondered why, and clicked on the link where he explained his rationale. And I found that I can't disagree with a single one of his points. My setting doesn't have the gods (or Immortals, in non-Advanced parlance) just popping in every week for tea - as seems to happen in, say, Forgotten Realms. So far, the only major miracle to occur in my campaign aside from the usual Turnings and cure spells occurred when my cleric, Thebabicus Roswald, encountered an altar covered in axe marks and blood, with a stirge feeding on the latter.

After the stirge was dealt with, he asked me if he could use the vial of holy water he had to perform a rite to cleanse the altar. I hadn't thought about it beforehand, but I decided that this was certainly in character, and he was giving up a potential in-game advantage (the chance of using the holy water as a grenade against later skeletons and/or zombies) to do something that he felt obligated to do. He poured the water over the altar and said a short prayer, and the altar began to steam as if splashed with acid. When the steam cleared, the blood was gone, along with the axe marks; any evidence of evil had been washed away.

The looks on my players' faces made me so happy. They were genuinely surprised and impressed. Obviously, they knew that magic existed in the campaign world, but to see it employed in a way that wasn't as predictable or dramatic as they were used to was new to them. This moment of peace had a greater effect on them than the largest horde of monsters, the tallest tower, or the most monstrous villain. Would that I could make this happen every session.

Since moving to AD&D 2nd Edition, I've considered toning down the presence of magic. Until recently, we didn't have a single arcane caster (although the bard now has the ability to cast spells, she hasn't found any to use yet), and the cleric wouldn't have had any spells to begin with under B/X. It would be fairly easy to simply remove spells, but keep spell-like abilities such as turning undead; it would also mean that the only person able to cure with a touch would be a paladin, making magical healing rare indeed. Some method of buying potions of cure light wounds could certainly be done.

Hmm... I'll have to think about some of this stuff.


  1. I like what Akratic Wizardry did by removing both the cleric and the magic-user and simply replacing them with the magician class. I think a lot of the cleric spells are thematically appropriate and have their place in the game, even if one decides to exclude healing magic. I'm thinking that my next Swords & Wizardry game isn't going to include clerics, or at least not as a playable class.

    1. You (and Akrasia, I guess) have the same idea I do, it seems. I notice that a lot of video games tend to combine the arcane and the divine spellcasters (Gauntlet being an obvious example), so why not tabletop games?